Monday, October 8, 2018

Aubrey you are S E V E N

Dearest Aubrey,

YOU, my darling, had a year.  You started lots of things; yoga, Girl Scouts, and arguments with your mama.  Your personality is becoming your own and the ways that I see myself in you are exciting and terrifying.  You are hanging on to your dad's ability to stay quiet when I am always tempted to get loud. You are cautious of new people, something I'm realizing is a sign of security... you don't need the world to love and affirm you- you love yourself without the rest of the world telling you to.  Oh, how I long for that kind of confidence.

You worked hard this year.  School is one of your favorite things and also the hardest.  Reading has been a struggle and we have been working on figuring out why. You have been a trooper through it all and while I have felt discouraged and frustrated you have just kept putting one foot in front of the other and doing whatever any of us ask of you to help you succeed.  Never defeated.  Never giving up.

Six brought you to lots of things that were just for you... Yoga; which has been key in keeping that anxiety monster in it's place, Girl Scouts, which has made you feel strong and powerful, and lots and lots of chances to do new hard things when it come to caring for Tutu.

Most six year olds are not tasked with being part of a caregiving team but we are advanced in this family.  Since you look just like I did as a kiddo Tutu feels especially connected to you, you are extra safe for her.  This year we lost a lot of the spark which makes Tutu Tutu.  Her beloved dog died which broke your heart in half since you have inherited our deep deep love of furry four legged babies.  You have held my hand tight when she has forgotten my name or even who I am and when my eyes fill so of tears I tip my head back to stop them from falling you are quick to remind me how much you love me.  You somehow, no matter how wild you've been all day, pull it together when we are with her... being sure to make everything as smooth and easy as possible.

I wish I could prepare you for what's ahead but the truth is, all we know is that it's going to get worse and we are going to have to keep showing up with love and kindness and sometimes ice cream and hang on tightly to the moments of joy.  I have to remind myself sometimes of the weight you are silently carrying.  There are not many little kids whose lives are so closely intertwined with a situation like ours.  We all see it when we go out into the world and see how other people's grandparents are able to care for them. Games, performances, birthdays, special trips... you see your friends with their grandparents but you never complain or lament, you just love the Tutu you've been given.  If she could tell you, I know Tutu would let you know how much you mean to her.  Little girl, you are bringing joy and light to this hard time.  I don't know how I'd do it without you, which is far too much pressure for a seven year old, yet it is what we've been handed.  You are doing hard things, my little warrior. Your relationship with Tutu may look very different from the way your friends spend time with their grandparents but the love you two share is deep and real and will live on in you forever.

And you do all of it... with a smile.  You are funny and silly and always ready to make a fart joke or do a crazy dance.  With all the heavy that you carry you bring lots of joy and laughter into our home.  This past year you GREW... a lot.  You've lost your baby face and I'm still mad about it.  Thankfully, you still let me hold your hand and kiss you goodbye and want me to show up in your classroom.  I'm holding tight to that.

It is hard to talk about who you are without talking about MY dog.  I would like to remind you that ten years ago this dog loved me best.  Now she sleeps in your bed, lets you dress her up, and follows you on all your wild adventures.  When your heart is anxious Dixie settles it.  When dad and I don't understand, Dixie does.  When the world is too hard, Dixie is a safe place to land.  You are your best self with her and boy does she love her some Aubrey. When people say 'a boy and their dog' they have no idea the power of a girl and her dog.  This year I finally gave in... she's yours, I only pay for the vet bills.


There are two kinds of people in the world... outside people and inside people.  We, kiddo, are outside people.  You live that every day.  Bike rides, hiking, mountain adventures, and playing in the woods; nothing is better than being in nature and covered in dirt.  You are fearless and strong and I'm amazed (and afraid) at what you can climb and what you are unafraid to discover.  Stay wild, my girl, the world needs you to. Wild women get things done.

There was lots of change this year.  No matter how many friends moved or plans changed you led the charge of looking for the good.  You take your role as sister pretty seriously.  While most of your time is spent arguing or scheming the deep connection you and your brother have is what I am the proudest of as a mom.  I know that no matter what lies ahead of us you two will have each other.  Your lives are intertwined and you don't try to untangle them.  He cheers far too aggressively at your soccer games, you regulate his fashion choices and help him plan for the beginning of kindergarten. When you think we aren't looking we see the ways you are always watching out for him, making sure that his soft heart is protected from the world because he isn't the magical unicorn you are and, just like me, is constantly looking for the validation of others.  

I adore you, my sweet girl.  Thank you for making me a mom seven years ago.  Thank you for being my best teacher, my hardest challenge, and my heart.

I love you forever...


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Mother Trucker... A Dementia Update

Four years ago when I went on a tour of the nice new retirement center down the street from me I was woefully unprepared.  Mom had just been diagnosed and I was unsure of how to get her go to go to her doctor in Hawaii, much less move across the ocean and country into a retirement community.

All the research, all the reading, all the prepping could not prepare me for what lay ahead.

On the day of the tour I saw each section.  

I toured the luxury apartments of independent and assisted living, knowing that my mom would think she could be independent but that the incidents occurring in her home pointed to her needing to be in assisted living.  I put that fight away knowing that was a battle to be fought later.  Getting her on an airplane would be a big enough brawl.  Then I'd have to clear out my childhood home.  I'd become the only person my mom had nearby.  On top of all of that I'd need to work and raise my kids... I just couldn't fight battles that were not right in-front of me.  I laid that to rest as I moved on to the last part of the tour... the memory care unit... the 'someday' place.  It was bright, gorgeous, lively, and filled with a bunch of people who needed memory care.  

I bit my lip the entire tour until I got in my car and proceeded to ugly snot bubble cry for 15 minutes.  

Found hidden in mom's old room.
So many damn tears.
That place... my mom would eventually need that.  Although she had been leaving the stove on and forgetting basic things she wasn't there yet.  I had to block it.  That was a battle for a different day.

As the past few years have rolled by I have passed the door to memory care hundreds of times.  I've watched distant children nervously escorted through to visit a parent.  I've heard hushed conversations outside it's doors about 'how much worse' it's gotten.  Mostly, I've pretended it didn't exist.  

Since mom's dog died in early March I've noticed that door much more.  It has tugged at my heart.  It began to feel like something I may need to eventually walk through.  In my weekly check-in emails with the staff (ain't nobody talking about Margo's health in front of Margo... you know that wouldn't end well) I would look for updates on her placement, on her cognition, on her emotional state.  

Each week the report was worse but everyone was going above and beyond to make assisted living work.  Like most things in life, it worked... until it didn't.

A status report two Mondays ago was things are progressing but putting your mom in memory care would mean hell would reign down on all of us to which I responded, 'you really get her'.  No matter how much memory or daily living tasks my mom looses her will, wit, and fire does not waiver.  

Good thing I live for ORGANIZING
Four days later on Friday, an email came to me (after a ridiculously difficult meeting about AG's academic struggles at school because shit is never easy) titled: Mother.

I've learned an important thing these past few years.  Emails titled 'Mother' are never good.  I usually insert my own expletive after it.  Use your imagination, I bet you can figure it out.  It rhymes with trucker.  

Mom was getting lost on her floor, she was unable to entertain herself at all and sat in the hall waiting for the next activity to begin, or she was weeping for the loss of her dog (and her mom, dad, & sister whom she also believes have all just died in the past month).  Things were progressing fast. 

That damn door was opening.  The following weekend she spent some time in the memory 'neighborhood' as they call it.  She did well, she didn't cry as much, she laughed with her buddies she's missed since they've moved, she slid right into life there.  

Best. Humans. Best. Friends.
So YES... it's time.  Oh, by the way, it's time in three days.  Team Rut had went into GO MODE, storage unit, moving supplies, a mission impossible like timeline where I take mom to Target and lunch with the kids and Jay magically moves her entire life down a floor and into a new place.  Furniture, clothes, pictures, art... and damn if it didn't happen.  We should all get trophies. 

We are beyond grateful for good friends who joined Jay and somehow got my mom totally moved after all our kids played soccer together in the morning and before t-ball at 1pm.  

Soccer, Memory Care, T-ball... just a normal Saturday in our weird ass life.  

Since mom's short term is totally gone, preparing her was fruitless.  I brought her to her new room.  She was PISSED and I am her caretaker but still her daughter and I am scared to death of my mom when she's mad.  I made as graceful an exit as I could and am following the advice of the staff and doctors... give my mom two weeks to acclimate before seeing her or you will regret it and slow her acclimation.  

I call and get a daily update from the saintly staff.  These women are GOLD.  

Saturday: She's mad but she's okay.
Sunday: She's trying to escape back to her old apartment (see picture of note on door... I had to document)
Monday: She doing much better but if you don't deliver her brush, blow dryer, and makeup (Jay's a great mover but not super intuitive as to what women need to get ready for the day) she may kill you.
Tuesday: She hasn't even asked about her old apartment.  

So it's a new phase.  A new world.  It's amazing how once mom progressed the place that made me ugly cry became a place that makes my heart feel peace.  Mom has friends, she isn't left alone to stew in her misunderstanding, and she gets to participate in things she hasn't been able to in a long time like cooking, dishes, and laundry (apparently you miss that, I can't imagine but I respect that it's true) because the care is specialized.  It's only people with memory issues, it's not people with declining physical health.  Staffing ratios are increased and so are activities. 

And once again... dementia is a Mother Trucker.  

*Look for my next dementia update I'm calling...
How many dirty ice cream bowls can one woman fit in her dresser drawers? 
hint: over 25.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The SECOND Worst Thing

I have been writing this update in my head since Wednesday.  I just haven't been able to do it because it's the SECOND worst thing.

We had to put my mom's beloved dog, Puna, down on Wednesday.  Suddenly.  Without planning or preparation. With lots and lots of tears.

If you've known mom at all in the last 13 years you've known Puna.  She rescued him a month before I graduated from college and he took his place as favorite child instantly.  He has been my mom's constant, her heart, her safe-place through the rollercoaster of the past 13 years.  He was there for my marriage, our move, mom's retirement, her diagnosis, her move, and her new life here.  They were an extension of each other. 

So much so, it seems, that he was plagued with the same disease she was... neurological decline. What we thought had been a stroke a couple of weeks ago quickly spiraled into a clear quality of life issue.  I got an urgent call at work at 1:55pm Wednesday that the dog was not doing well.  I rushed to her, we loaded into my van, and headed to the vet.  What unfolded was painful, beautiful, and a testament to the good that lives in the world. 

Our vet honors mom, and although he knows that I will be paying the bills and decoding the lingo to her, he always speaks directly to her.  He honors her love of her sweet dog and is more compassionate that I knew possible.  When he told her the most humane thing would be to put the dog down I thought my mom would collapse, but even as her cognition declines her strong spirit remains.  She knew she had to do what was right by her dog.  We cried, we told stories, we said goodbye.  The women that work with our vet not only gave us the space and time we needed but then wept with us, honoring the powerful love that my mom and Puna shared.  They got it.  They felt it with us.  They felt it with me.  In what has been the clearest moment yet that our roles have reversed those women made me feel less alone in the shitty place of parenting your parent. 

Jay called The Lodge ahead of us to prepare the way for mom's grief, which we knew would be deep.  We walked the painful path back to her apartment and I sat with her as she wept and wept and wept.  We gathered up donations to take to the SPCA of treats and leashes and blankets.  I knew I would need to eventually leave to get back to work for Wednesday night programming.  When I finally slipped out of her room I was greeted by a gaggle of employees from the owner to the executive director waiting to jump in and wrap mom in love. 

They created a memorial for the dog as they do for residents. 

Y'all, they created a MEMORIAL for a DOG to help my mom through this.  They get her.  They get how hard this is.  They are saints.  The love and care she gets from a million sides gives me the peace I need to walk through this.  She has been busy. No one lets her sit too long because that is when the pain starts to seep in.  They let her cry and help her keep going. 

I am not sure what loosing Puna means for us.  It's been one of my biggest fears for a long time.  So far, the pain of this loss is being wrapped up in love and grace and compassion from all sides. 

As we held Puna during his last minutes my mom turned to me, looked me directly in the eyes, and told me, "this has been the worst month of my life; first my dad dies, then my mom, then my sister, and now my dog." She is experiencing all of her greatest losses at once.  My grandfather, her dad, died in the early 1980's.  My aunt, her sister, died in 2001.  My grandmother, her mom, died in 2006.  In her mind, it's all been this month.

This disease does some cruel things but so far, this is the cruelest.  There is no telling my mom differently, this is what she believes is true, this is what her brain is telling her, this is HER reality.  I can only sit in it with her and hold space for that unimaginable pain. 

So there it is.  What many of us were utterly afraid of, has happened.  My mom has proved her resilience even in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.  I am once again grateful for the ways that people extend compassion and kindness and work tirelessly to give my mom dignity in a million ways.

Puna, as much as you smelled bad and drove me crazy for ALL of my adult life...  I am grateful for what you were for my mom: a constant source of love and connection through unimaginable life changes.  I believe you saved her, time and time again... thank you for being the companion she needed on this leg of her journey.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

Deacon... you are F O U R


Today, you are FOUR!  As I write, you are sitting next to me, on the couch, eating a pint of raspberries, watching Cars 3, living your best life (or as best you can on your birthday when you wake up with an ear infection).  This morning you didn't eat your birthday breakfast cupcake so I knew something was up.  By the time I realized that you'd have to stay home and miss celebrating at school I was in tears and you were joyously enjoying the present you got to open this morning.

You see every opportunity as a chance to have fun.  You find joy in your imagination and in following  the big kids around and joining their worlds.  You love your friends, fiercely, and love us with such a BIG and BOLD love that it makes us want to do better.

This year brought a turning point for you and your sister, you discovered two things:

1. Bickering.
2. That it's easy to do things you are not supposed to do if you are quiet and we are in another room.

While you still have a bond bigger than anything I had even hoped for, you are both living life in your own way.  While Aubrey keeps it inside and we have to dig for details, you are wide open and we sometimes wonder at what point a filter will be a healthy life skill.  The other day your entire class stayed on a star (the highest spot on the behavior chart) and your joy for your universal success gives me hope for the future.  After a rough weekend getting along as a family (winter doesn't bring the best out in ANY of us) I picked you up from school and asked how your day was, your response, "it's easy being nice".  I laughed because I had wished it was that easy at home but it is also you... you lead with your heart.  I LOVE YOU flows freely from your lips and hugs are as common as deep breaths.

You are fearless- in love- and in your body.  If something seems crazy you are the first to jump in.  You love the pool and bike riding and anything that makes you go fast.  You learned to ride a bike this year, a two-wheeler at 3.  It wasn't because you are some super athlete... it's because you are desperate to keep up.  This red big wheel you are on, on the 4th of July this year you caught your foot on the top of the driveway you were bombing and ripped the entire top off your foot.  There was much screaming and gnashing of teeth but you were back to the backyard celebration in time for s'mores.

You are the youngest in our posse of 9.  The families in our neighborhood are what I never thought you'd have.  I grew up with my cousins and was heartbroken that by living in Virginia you would never get that experience but amazingly we were given the Rockbridge Crew.  Everyday you are surrounded by your people.  You are lucky enough to have a mom and a dad and three more moms and three more dads who are ALWAYS looking out for you, cheering you on, and loving you.  It's been a hard year for mama.  One of my students died this summer and it broke my heart in half.  It also means I've been holding you even tighter.  Our people rallied around so that I could do all the things I had to do this summer to show up for his family.  I'm not one for advice but I do want you to know this; there is NOTHING in life more precious than friends.  Nothing.  Having people who choose you and show up for you makes even the worst parts of living bearable and the best parts even brighter.

Your Tutu has progressed and as her memory fades you continue to be her joy.  You bolt to her and jump into her arms, you remind her of the fun in life, and you don't care (or notice) that she forgets--so being with you is easy for her.  I'm not sure how long we'll have her with us but we are so blessed she lives down the street and you will always know she was a big part of your childhood.  I'm learning that even though life isn't always (or ever) like we plan it... it can still be good.

You bring out the crazy in your dad.  Fishing, bike riding, wresting, silly jokes.  You two are clones.  I will never tire of reminding you that you were born into privilege.  This world is actually bent toward you.  You are a white man in America.  You have a choice of what to do with that, and we are working our hardest to help you harness it so that someday the bend towards you lessens.  I dream you will grow up to be like your dad; a powerful voice for LGBTQ friends (even when he's questioned at the Pride Festival gates because his appearance doesn't fit with what people expect at a Pride Festival), a man who honors the innate power of women, and a defender of the forgotten.

You live wild, my boy.  You sing loud, you dance, you cry, you laugh, you GO BIG.  You are deeply compassionate and are your truest self outside and dirty.  While you look just like daddy your insides are just like mine.  We wake up early ready to go, we hate being left out, we feel things more than most people, and we love on a level that can be physically painful but is earth shatteringly beautiful.  You eagerly reach out for communion each week and see God in all the things.

You, my boy, make our family complete and remind us how fun being alive is.

Happiest of happy birthdays, D, thank you for choosing me to be your mama.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Aubs & Deac you are L O V E D (and 6 & 3!)

For everything there is a season.

Last year (the year you two turned 6 & 3) was a season of death.

If you read my last post with radio silence on both sides of it; this year held the death of a beloved student that not only broke my heart, but called me to hold space in ways I wasn't sure possible.

It was the death of my long running love affair with the scale.  For an entire year I didn't weigh myself.  By the time you are old enough to read this you will know the ways your mama has forever struggled with her body... I needed to spend a year seeing myself not as a number but as a person who knows how to feed herself and love herself and be worthy and whole no matter what number who's up on a machine that represented her body's interaction with gravity.

This year held the death of having my shit together.  Hence me missing both of your birthday notes.  You two are little, my mom/your tutu is sick and slipping from us, church is wonderfully busy, and we have made amazing friends ... so much of my downtime has vanished. With that, my checklists are far less checked and things fall off the plate.  No one has died because I did not clean the counters or write a thank-you note the day I received a gift.  Also... no one has their shit together.  Life lesson: if someone looks like they do, they are just hiding the truth.  We are all a mess.

So here's my bandaid to hold you over to your next birthday letter.


You made it through kindergarten just as kind as when you entered.  You love people, make friends easily, but somehow don't let mean kids or difficult situations get you down.  You don't dwell or mope or feel sorry for yourself.

I am not exactly sure if you are mine.

Except that small thing that you are my clone.  Book learning has been hard, we've realized recently that you inherited both your parents attention deficit.

You haven't let it stop you or discourage you.  Again... not me.

We have already had some pretty good blow ups with each other.  We both often cry and apologize.  I have a strong feeling this will be our reality.  Living with yourself, even when she is 6, is hard! You are teaching me so much about owning our mistakes and apologizing.

You love yoga and the outdoors and art and art and art.  You still have the magical skill of making anything that is happening into a song.  It makes me laugh so hard it hurts.

You and your brother are a pair.  You don't complain about him tagging along to everything and you make sure he's safe. You two keep each other in line (often by tattling).  Yet, dad and I catch you two deep in play using such tenderness with each other that we have to take a mental note that you to do, in fact, adore each other.

You are Tutu's joy.  I hope you remember these moments.  There are a million ways that dementia breaks my heart but you give me a glimpse of who my mom used to be to me and you make her happier than anything.  You roll with the constant changes and bring joy to all of us in the midst of the hard.

I am so proud that you are my daughter.  I adore you.



You are T H R E E (for another month) and although this year you have swung back and forth between team mama and team daddy on the 'one more baby' fight it's pretty clear you're it for us.  You have the energy of 10 kids and somehow make as much noise.  Advanced.

You are sweet and affectionate and so connected to the Holy I am constantly reminded that there is more to God that my mind can comprehend.  You are so eager for communion you would think it's birthday cake and feel totally comfortable responding in the sermon... aloud.

You love sports and baby dolls and are funny and so compassionate it's going to break your heart a million times.  We are proud of that.  This August was horrible in Charlottesville.  A bunch of white men who look very similar to what you will look like came into town and spewed hate and killed a woman.  Your daddy and I are working very hard to make sure you know that your gender and race are going to give you power, we don't like it but we need you to recognize it, and use it in ways that recognizes and honors the power of those society doesn't automatically give power to.  The way you reacted to placing flowers on the Downtown Mall where Heather died and the number of times you've asked about it since remind me that you will throw this world for a loop.  You will be just like your dad; the world will look at you and make assumptions and then know you and be surprised how wrong those assumptions could be.

You, my boy, are a natural born empath.  I'm excited for when you grow up and we can sit around and feel all the feelings together while your sister and dad stay logical and laugh at us.

Love you to the moon.