Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Test

Monday, I read an article about a man who saved his marriage with a little bit of creativity. I thought the simple gestures he made were pretty incredible in that they were so simple, and so important.

My hubs and I do not have an endangered marriage (thankfully). We get along pretty well and while we do have our arguments, after nearly 14 years together, I feel blessed that I still wake up every morning feeling like I won the lotto with him. In thinking about the article, however, the author's actions really stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. 

Hubs and I have our stresses. We both work full time jobs. We have two kids with nightly homework. They also have ballet class two times a week, drum lessons, theatre class, and more baseball than I like to think about. We're constantly shuffling here or there (with a little help from my wonderful in-laws). Some days we might only see each other for about half an hour, and that's usually when we're trying to quickly eat something to head out the door or get to bed.

I thought it might be interesting to see what my own family responded when I asked them that question. I didn't just want to ask hubs, but to also ask my kids.

It's only been a few days but in those few days, I'm starting to see what the kids really feel is important - and my husband too.

On Monday night I asked them, individually, what I could do to make their days better. They were all a little unsure about my request and looked at me to see if I was serious. My son quietly asked if I would let him stay up ten minutes later. Daughter wanted an extra snack. Hubs asked if he could shower without being interrupted. (I should note: I'm usually sitting in the bathroom yakking at him about what's coming up the rest of the week, what we have to do, where we have to be, because that's pretty much the only private time we get to talk all week, lol). So all three happened without much ado.

Tuesday I asked the same thing. My son wanted me to sort Pokemon cards with him and asked me to put them in order. (I won't even get into the structure of his Pokemon cards. His room is a disaster and he can't seem to remember how to put things away, but his Pokemon cards are organized like he's starting a professional card dealership.) My daughter wanted extra cuddles, and hubs - still unsure why I was asking this question again - just wanted me to get him a glass of tea when he ran out during his favorite tv show of the week: The Flash. Easy enough.

On Wednesday, I woke up feeling not so hot. This darn weather has a thousand bugs running around the schools and being brought home, but I hoped as the day went on I would perk up (thankfully, I did). I asked all three the same question that morning. Son wanted to go to Pokemon night at the library; daughter wanted to get extra books at the library, and hubs responded with, "Nothing - if you're not feeling good I will take the kids to Pokemon night." It's not abnormal for him to volunteer, but during the winter when his work days are extra long and extra hard, he's usually not overly excited to run another errand after work on top of the kid's usual activities, so his offer was pretty priceless.

Then yesterday rolled around. Daughter wanted me to play a game with her, and son wanted extra snuggles before bed (I'll take this while I can. Pretty soon, he'll be too cool to snuggle with his mom). And hubs wanted snuggles, too. Done, done, and done.

What I noticed about this week was that there was a lot less arguing in the house. Less of me trying to get the kids into bed; less begging them to get dressed in the morning. There was less tension, less whining from everyone. Anyone who is a parent knows the whining and struggle that comes along with getting kids in bed and getting them ready for school. It's an epic battle most days. It was pretty nice, actually, to have them bounce up and get ready. The kids fought with each other less, which was awesome in itself. I didn't hear a constant barrage of "MOM, HE TOOK MY BALLOON!" or "SHE IS IN MY ROOM!" They. Got. Along. Bonus!

I probably won't ask it every day, because hubs still thinks it is kind of corny, but I'm going to make a point to ask it more often. We get so busy in life that sometimes we forget to make the time for the things that the people we love value the most - from a quiet shower to a board game. Before I know it the kids will be grown and I'm going to miss having the opportunity to get extra snuggles before bedtime. 

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Such Ponders

Today would have been Katie's 35th birthday. I woke up yesterday morning not remembering what today was, but felt this strong push that I really needed to send her mom an email. Very weird coincidence.

I try not to focus on the what-ifs of life too much. To sit and dwell on something that will never be reality seems a little wasteful, when we should be doing something to honor the memory of those we've lost. That's where I'm at today - wondering what I can do to show how grateful I am to have known Katie.

I was trying to describe her to someone today.

Katie was this beautiful,  happy girl. I'm not kidding when I say she always had a smile on her face. Her laugh was contagious. Once she started, I had no recourse but to join in. She was goofy and serious all rolled into one. She listened during my worst and best times, and put up with my ridiculous teenage girl attitude. Then my ridiculous college girl attitude.

She was the loudest laugh during sand volleyball, a beer in her hand and her determination to win. She was the voice of reason. She let me cry the night we bumped into a boy at a bar who I hadn't seen since one of the worst days of my life - a day where I'd lost so much of myself in one afternoon that I wondered if I'd ever be whole again. He'd broken me in ways I didn't believe I could be broken and to see him made me physically ill. Just like she had years before, she comforted me and assured me that life was just beginning. That I was more than what had happened. That's who she was - she took care of those she loved with an unwavering heart.

That was so many years ago and today, I try and remind myself of her words again. Life ended far too soon for her, but every day we wake up is a new beginning. Not a chance to wipe the slate clean; we need to remember the lessons we've learned. But a chance to see the world with fresh eyes and be grateful for every moment, every smile, every obstacle we have the opportunity to overcome.

Happy birthday to my friend. I wish we'd found our way back to each other sooner, but I'm glad we found our way back, period. You are, and always will be,  a part of my heart. I wish I had the courage to reach out to old friends the way you did to me, but my heart was always the one more scared of that rejection. Today, I will just be grateful again that you were never the scared one ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Perpetually Broken Heart

Don't let the title deceive you - I am a very lucky woman with a very beautiful family and life filled with laughter and good memories. (Watch our video at the bottom!)

But yes, I have, and forever will have, a perpetually broken heart. Let me explain.

I have been reading all evening that Brittany Maynard, an advocate for Death With Dignity, has passed away. And I've realized yet again that growing up brings along with it a very large path shaded in gray where the answers in life are not so clear.

When we're growing up, we are taught that choices are black and white; all or nothing; right or wrong. We are taught to take the theories and lessons taught to us and keep to them, not questioning the reasoning behind it. Then we grow up and see that nothing in life is truly black or white, but instead an eternal shade of gray.

I don't know Brittany. I can't say that I even know how she felt, because I myself have never (thankfully) had brain cancer. But my mother did, and I was one of her main caretakers during her illness.

My mother was beautiful, inside and out. I loved her smile, loved her laugh. Within months, this monster in her brain had stolen those from her. From all of us. So many people have rushed to judge Brittany, saying her decision was cowardly and wrong. Even those of us so close to brain cancer have no right to judge her because we have not walked that path. I can say that I don't think she was cowardly at all. Mom had stage IV inoperable glioblastoma brain cancer, and it ravaged her pretty quickly.

May 2004, right before diagnosis

July 2004

December 2004, on my birthday


February 2005



Every brain cancer is different. It will affect each person differently, and no two stories will be exactly alike. She is absolutely right though, that with her exact diagnosis, the end did not look anything but bleak and terrifying for her. You can see from the pictures of my mom, everything changed for her. Physically and emotionally, she was slowly robbed of dignity a piece at a time.

I never knew what the end would hold for my mom. She and my dad tried to shield us from that truth, although I could have easily researched it. I chose not to. Partly because I didn't believe she would die, and partly because looking it up would make it seem real. I wasn't prepared for either. Prepared or not, my mother's last months were devastating to say the least.

We were surrounded by family and friends non-stop; that is the silver lining on the eternal rainstorm that is brain cancer. As each day passed and more obstacles presented themselves - inability to walk, loss of 99% of her speech, unable to use her right side, bedridden, seizures (the list goes on and on) - a new kind of awful presented itself. I don't know that she would have chosen what Brittany did, because my mom is the type to fight tooth and nail until the last breath, but I do know that if she had been shown a reel of her final days, she would have been beyond mortified at what we had to do to care for her. 

I know my mom, and I know that she would have absolutely hated being in that position and having us there to be an active part. She would not have wanted that. I know that faced with the same outlook and knowing what I know after having been there at her side, I wouldn't want those same memories for my children or my husband. And yet not being in that position, I don't know what choices I would make in regards to my care. No one does until the situation is their reality. Brittany's family will miss her more than any words can explain, just as they would if she died after a few more weeks or months. But their last memories with her are beautiful; time spent as a family and checking items off her bucket list. I wish those were the last memories I had with my mom.

I wish that I could describe it to those who are judging Brittany. I wish I could relay to them the reality of those last months, weeks and days. What caring for someone with this diagnosis is like, to even offer a glimpse of what it must be like for the person with cancer if this is what caregivers experience. I want to tell them what my last memories with my mom are like, and how I would pray that my husband and children NEVER have to experience what we did. I won't, because even detailing it would strip my mom of the little dignity she had left at the end and I cannot do that to her. Telling the world those details would remove the beauty of her fight, the good moments that we had with her. I won't do that to her. I never have, and never will. So trust me when I say that Brittany knew what was ahead for her and it was not pretty. It was so ugly that even almost ten years after mom died, I won't say out loud what daily caretaking involved out of respect.

My heart goes out to the Maynard family. Sitting here tonight, my eyes are filled with tears and I know that no choice is an easy choice when dealing with cancer. May she rest in peace.

I hope my mom was there to greet her, and that the family knows so many people are thinking of them now. I'm really missing my mom tonight, just as I do whenever the holidays roll around. And without her here, yes, I have a perpetually broken heart.

This was the video done on our experience when we did the 5K a few years ago.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#TBT - Letter to the younger me

I found this letter I wrote to my younger self for a writing assignment about 5 years ago. I think it's still pretty accurate and I wanted to share it. I haven't written much at all lately (work, kids, their activities, all that grown-up stuff) so I'm being lazy and reposting. Happy Thursday, everyone!

Hello Allie, Circa 2000

I spent a great deal of time around the time my mother died in 2005 looking back on the person that I was back five, 10, 15 years ago. When you’re facing someone’s mortality – I think even when it’s not yours – you start to question and ponder all of the decisions you made. In my case, it was because I wanted to change my life into something greater, something that my mother would be proud of. That's how it started at least. I eventually found I wanted to just be proud of myself.

When more than one thousand people attended her wake and funeral, I began to wonder who would even show up to mine. I’d spent a great deal of time the previous 10 years pushing those who cared about me away by suggesting through my actions that the world did, in fact, revolve around me. From being a nightmare to my parents; to a boyfriend I loved and said goodbye to ultimately because he got into the college I didn’t (pretty shallow, huh?); to partying til dawn with everyone I wanted to be friends with (this was always fun for my parents and the friends), my life was a revolving door of poor choices for a few years.

Not all poor choices – I maintained my 3.4 GPA and was president of the television studio, on the school paper editorial staff, and had a weekly radio show. I had three jobs and went to school full time. On the outside, at least academically, I was thriving. It was the inside of me that needed work; the soul part of me. I could make a hundred excuses: some close friends had died when I was younger and I feared losing people; I was trying to be popular; I leaned towards the dramatic because I'm a drama queen. The funny thing is that while these were really what I felt at the time, none of these were truly excuses – they were just attempts at justifying the person I’d let myself become. A person I didn't like.  All it did was serve to make myself more miserable. 

I hid it well, because I wanted everyone else to think life was perfect. I smiled, received magna cum laude honors at college, went out, laughed and told jokes, had tons of pictures to prove how happy I wanted everyone to think I was. In fact, I was the exact opposite, because I was being who I thought everyone else wanted me to be, and not who I truly wanted to be myself. It wasn’t until after college that I began to relax and just be me; and when my mom got sick, I couldn’t be anyone else. There was no energy left after caring for her and working to be anyone but tired, sad, desperate me. And despite the pain of what we were going through, I found great relief in being able to just be me for the first time in so very long. My mom was my heart and soul, the only person that I could talk to about anything and who really knew me inside and out – and still loved me despite it. When she died, I lost my heart and soul. While sad, it gave me the opportunity to make a fresh start; to start from scratch and try and become the person I knew I could – and wanted – to be. And in the same token, build back a new heart and soul.

So what would I tell the me of 10 years ago?

Make mistakes, and be okay with making mistakes – they are how you learn. It’s going to happen. You’re going to fail a test or be late to work or disappoint people – that’s just the way life is. You cannot please everyone all of the time – and that includes yourself. Just don't make it a habit. A lot of people have a lot of expectations, but the most important ones are the expectations you have for yourself. Just do the very best that you can do at this point in time, and have that be good enough.

Stick to the goals you want in life, and don’t settle for anything less. Don’t let anyone make you feel that what you want to do is anything less than exceptional.

Don’t take a job if it’s not your dream job - or a step on the way to your dream job. Money is just…money. It’s not life. Life is the people you love and surround yourself with. You’ve been rich and you’ve been poor, and you’ve been pretty happy at either time, so you’ll make do. Happiness isn’t dependent on the amount of money you have, but in the time you spend with friends and family smiling. 

Travel. Before you know it you’ll have a family and kids and a need to save for retirement, and there won’t be time to do all the things you had wanted to do. 

There is not always something better waiting around the corner, so just get rid of that mentality early on. Most times, the best things in life are sitting there right in front of you while you’re too busy looking off in the distance for the next high. If you find yourself constantly chasing those highs, eventually, you begin to feel numb to the things that come along that are, in actuality, really great. So look – really look – at what you have, and appreciate it, and admire it, and respect it. 

That applies especially to people. Ten years down the road, you’re going to write a letter to and old friend asking for his forgiveness for how poorly you treated him, thinking you don’t even deserve the time of day in this regards (and that would be a pretty accurate assumption). He’ll respond with how you have played an important role in his life, and that you were and are a great person. Take a moment now and be grateful for having had people like that in your life, who have such kind words for you, and treat them a little better in the here and now. You have friends down the road – Patty, Jackie, Carrie, Nancy – who have seen you at your worst and still love you for your best. Love these people for who they are every day. You won’t stay close to everyone you wish you would, but you’ll find that down the road you’re all living the lives you’re supposed to live, even if it’s not the way you'd wished all those years ago that it would turn out. Life happens as it does for a reason, and while you can’t have some people in your life forever, that doesn’t mean they don’t remain a part of your heart for your whole lifetime. Respect all of your friends while traveling your individual roads, and learn from all of their amazing attributes.

Be content in knowing that life happens the way it does for a reason, and you will always end up exactly where you are supposed to be. When things happen, deal and move on - there's not much else you can do that isn't a waste of time. It's true that when one door closes, another opens. It's simply how life works, and if you go with the flow, you'll do just fine. While there are times you didn't want to be at rock bottom, if you weren't, you wouldn't have an appreciation for all the good things. And you wouldn't have the strength you have for dealing with things. Be grateful for that.

Forgive yourself sooner. You forgive others – so do the same for you. Don’t carry the guilt or anger around day after day, year after year. Life is a series of mistakes and joys. Learn from them both, and make the most of every day. It’s a waste of time to wallow in things you can’t resolve, or to worry about resolving the things you could if you’d just speak up.

For all the bad things you’ve done, you’ve also done things you should be proud of. Remember that and carry it with you. Don’t be ashamed to be proud of the good things. Don’t brag about it, but hold them close to your heart.

Don’t be afraid to live for yourself and not everyone else. Find what makes you happy and go with that. Do not let others dictate what type of life you should lead, and how you should lead it. 

There’s a lot I’ve learned over the last ten years – and I know that at 30, I still don’t have my life figured out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for lifelong friends (and am lucky to have a few), for those who overcome obstacles in their lives, and for people who fall in love so young and are still together today. I’m lucky for the friends who have stuck by me while I’ve grown; and I can only know I’m lucky I didn’t marry someone at 19, because I think that we do the most growing in our adult lives from the time we’re 18 until were 30. We change so much, learn so much, build our lives so much. While you may not be proud of everything from your life ten years down the road, know that you wouldn’t change a thing (well, mostly. You definitely would have handled personal relationships better, including avoiding a few). They’ve built you into who you are today. If you hadn’t made those mistakes, you would have made others. It’s not about looking back and wishing you could change things, because wishing doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s about taking the time every moment of your life to make sure that the decision you are making is good for you at that time. But every choice, every decision, and every repercussion makes you into the person you are down the road. We’ve all got baggage and histories; but that’s just what it is – history. Every day is a new day and a new chance – and that’s what you build on.

Oh, one more thing – don’t get that shamrock tattoo for your 19th birthday. You’ll get more down the road that are beautiful and meaningful and you enjoy having. Trust me!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Constant Smile...

Tuesday night, both of my kiddos got grounded. They were fighting over having to help the other one turn on nightlights. My son came and said his sister was being rude and selfish and pushed him. I called her downstairs and asked her what happened, and if she pushed her brother.

She said she hadn't. Now, I can tell when the kids are lying, especially when my little girl is trying to cover up something she did. She was not lying. She was genuinely hurt that her brother had said she'd pushed him. He maintained his story, and I said since I couldn't see and since they continued to fight - and one of them was lying to me - they were both grounded from their much-loved half hour of television the next night as well as dessert. (I'm so mean, I know!)

They went to bed with tears in their eyes. I went up a few minutes later to tuck them in. I assured them both that I loved them very much and that I knew they could do better tomorrow. Then they went to sleep and after my favorite television show, so did I.

I woke up yesterday morning to two happy kids, although I was questioning my ability to read them the night before. Just as I was debating whether my daughter had been the one lying, my son came up to me.

"Mom, it was me who lied last night. I'm really sorry. She didn't push me. She bumped me but I was so mad at her and just wanted her to get in trouble."

Wow.

I asked him what he thought he could do better next time, and he apologized to his sister. I asked him to explain to her what she might do so that in the future, they didn't fight about the same thing. He asked her, politely, to say "please" and "thank you" when he helped her - after saying he would always help her because he loved her.

I interrupt this post for a moment of mommy pride! I thought that would be the highlight of my day. Nope.

Came home last night after work and I have a terrible cold - right before our biggest work event of the year this Saturday! All I wanted to do was lie down on the couch, so after dinner, homework, and getting the kids situated with coloring/playdoh/etc. (and by this time my son was not feeling well), I took the opportunity to relax.

"Mommy, why are you laying down?" my little girl asked.

"Because I don't feel well, sweetie. I have a headache."

She disappeared for a few minutes, which isn't unusual. She had taken her toy shopping cart which usually means she is going to raid the cupboards and ask me to play grocery store (which is a totally fun game. Except when I have to pay her in real money, and she pays me in money she drew on cut up pieces of paper. Smart kid.)

She comes back in with the cart and wheels it over to me. 

"I brought you some snacks. Some healthy ones. Here's a yogurt and string cheese. And a spoon. And  mommy, when I'm sick I like cookies so I brought you Oreos and milk."

She had a big cup of milk and the entire package of Oreos tucked in there with the yogurt and cheese, all on top of a decorative napkin.

These are just a small example of the many moments of motherhood when all the memories of sleepless nights, constant running around, dirty diapers, and sibling fights dissipate and I remember all over again how blessed I am to have these two sweet kiddos. There are times when I get done listening to them argue with each other and wonder, "What in the hell am I doing wrong?" Then days like yesterday happen and remind me that none of us gets everything right all the time - we all make mistakes and we all get frustrated. Even kids. Especially kids. And yet underneath it all is this beautiful, sweet little person I get to love.

Oh, and in case you were wondering... we ate the cookies first. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Brain Cancer Looks Like

This is my mother. This is the face of brain cancer.

Beautiful, isn't she? 60 years old and secretary of a school she loved dearly with all her heart. 

With the ALS challenge, I've been watching a lot of videos. A lot of heartbreaking videos about what the disease does to people; does to families (and I encourage you to donate whatever you can at http://www.alsa.org/ - they have done a phenomenal job raising awarness and funds). 

My mom didn't have ALS - she had brain cancer. So before this post gets confusing, let me explain: watching these past few weeks what people go through with ALS made me think about the injustice that so many awful diseases present the world with today. Robbing good people of the opportunity to live long, healthy lives. And thus, reminded me of my mom's journey. I want to share with you the face of brain cancer, and how it changes over time. The picture above is what my mom looked like right before her brain cancer diagnosis in 2004.

This is her three months after.

 

Still smiling even when the rest of us couldn't. Lying in a hospital bed in our living room. Diagnosed in mid-April 2004; told on July 3, 2004 that she had days, maybe a couple weeks, left to live.

I remember when the next photo was taken; right after Mom had been given those three days or so to live. I was sitting there and every second that ticked by, all I could think was "That's one less second with her now." Brain cancer isn't the only disease, sadly, where families go through moments - or months - like this; wondering what tomorrow will be like or how much time is left.


The cancer robbed her of her hair; the steroids added on weight. Her physical appearance changed so much. What didn't change was that infectious smile. Even in the hardest moments, she smiled and pushed on and crushed any of the survival numbers the doctors uttered. Three days turned to three weeks turned to three months turned to 13 months. Friends and family visited and she began sitting up again, battling back.



She was surrounded by love. All of us were surrounded by love. The pictures below show how she changed over the months. Her skin became fragile from the medications and she bruised so easily. Her hair grew back in tufts - curly tufts. She lost use of her right side. She stopped saying more than a word or so at a time, and most of the time, it didn't make sense. 

But she pushed on, and that's why I share these pictures. I don't want the year she fought to be hidden. I don't want her bravery and her gusto to be forgotten. I don't want to erase the days where family and friends reminded us how good people can be and how loved someone can feel. She didn't fight for herself; she fought for all of us. And hopefully, someday, someone will find a cure and the timeline photos of brain cancer warriors will all look like their "before" photos.







I even took a picture towards the end where mom was smiling - the last time she smiled at us. (I'm not posting that though; I want that photo to stay something special.) She was beginning to really sleep more and had stopped talking, and this particular day she started smiling again. I wanted to capture that smile once more because I wanted to remember that even in the worst of times, mom was a fighter.

Love and miss you, Mom. Sending a hug to all the warriors and caregivers of all diseases, and those who are missing their loved ones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Favorite scenes of parenting...

Each night as I walk around and sneak in the kids' rooms for one last kiss goodnight and to drop off toys that littered the floor moments before, I try and take a peek at what they did in their rooms in that half hour before bed.

What I find are usually some of my favorite sights (well, minus when there is food or juice snuck in there). I love to see how their minds work and what they've created with the oodles of toys they are lucky to have.

So instead of being angry at the messes next time, I challenge you to take a look around and see not the dolls littering the floor, but the creativity that brought them to life earlier that day, or what is most important to them in the vast array of toys. I promise you, the smile will be worth it.

I love that she tucks barbie in with whatever she can find to make a blanket - in this case, a leg warmer. She loves playing "mom" and taking care of all her dolls.

This doll was actually my mom's. I adore how she puts all the jewelry on and really dresses them up! 

This is how I know which Lego's are his favorite - they earn a space on an out-of-reach shelf.

And of course, he washes and rearranges his trophies often. 

He collected these vinylmations on our trip to Disney. He adores them.


He learned this from me. Dart stick to televisions. And it makes a fun game to try and launch them at people on the screen... 

An army of Skylanders, arranged in order from smallest to biggest. 

Impromptu summer math equations, done on a sticky note stuck to the headboard. The kid loves school. He's soooo my child.

It's a party of Squinkies and Playmobil and Little Pet Shop randomness! 

And, the one thing my daughter cannot live without - paper and crayons. This is a picture she's making for her first day of school, for her new teacher.

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