Sunday, March 31, 2019

Deacon you are F I V E

Deac Man,

You are five!  A whole hand!  And just like that my baby is becoming a full blown kid.  Watching you grow up simultaneously rips my heart apart and makes me feel more whole.  This year you've solidified your spot as the up and coming extrovert (you're giving me a run for my money) and you've begun to find your place in this big big world.

You started t-ball, fell in love with t-ball, and decided that you would be a professional baseball player.  You go big, my boy.

We got to travel this year.  Virginia Beach, Asheville, Costco.  No matter where we go you find a way to fight with your sister and make everything a game.  You have the same gift I do of feeling everything SO MUCH.  Some would call us 'extra' others 'emotional' but for us it's just the way we move through this world.  At some point you will be able to harness this and own it and it will make you soft and fierce.  Right now it makes parenting you a holy mess but one we feel privileged to do with you.

You love outside; hiking, biking, exploring.  Those six and a half acres we are building on... I can't wait to see what you make there.  When you and your sister are outside it's one of the few times you don't pick each other to tears.  Outside is our jam.  You've shown up and done big things on our property; moving a rock foundation, exploring the bamboo forest, and clearing land on the tractor.  You have your dad's work ethic and it's a beautiful thing to witness.  I know so much life will happen on that land, so many firsts and lasts, so watching you make it ours makes my heart happy.

We can't talk about life lately without talking about Tutu.  This year continues to be HARD and BIG and more than your pre-school self should have to handle but you bring joy and laughter at moments that feel impossible. You love her just like she is in that moment, which is exactly what she needs.  You never hold back a hug or a game and while she has become more childlike and it hurts my heart you see it as a chance for someone to play the way you like to.  I know how much she loves you and I'm so grateful for the way you love her.

This year it was clear that you are a connector.  You have PEOPLE that have nothing to do with us. Your teachers came to your 5th birthday party.  They are THE BEST but also... only you.  Only you would have teachers crash your party because you are that loved.  It was so hard leaving the small town where I felt like SOMEBODY to come here.  And while I'll always be a Kailua Kid you are a Crozet Kid.  This small town is in your DNA.  We go places where you know more people than I do.  Being held by a community can change your life.  It gave me the confidence to go and do scary and wonderful things in my life and I believe it will give you that same gift.  You are a fierce friend.  It takes us 10 minutes to leave school everyday because you make your rounds and hug EVERY SINGLE PERSON.  You love your people so much, your friends bring you more joy that I could have hoped, and you are connected in a way that reminds me we are in the right place.  Your easy way in the world and charisma takes a lot of my mama fears away and also scares me to death... your capacity to get people on your team may mean I need lots of extra eyes on you in high school.

You've adventured, you've tie-dyed, you've sledded, and you've fallen... lots... but not matter what you do you do it with THAT FACE.  Here is just a little sampling of the many expressions you give within any day.  Welcome to the wild world, my boy, you have been given the curse of my face, whatever you feel appears directly on your mug.  No matter what, at least we know what you're thinking... there is no hiding it.

And the four of us... Team Rut... we are the four corners of one wonky square.  We fit together like an impossible puzzle.  None of us are whole without the others.  We yell and we cry and we lose our cool and go on crazy adventures and we forgive and we laugh... a lot.  As we continue to become us and you and Aubrey become your own people I am grateful every single day for this safe space to learn about love and grace and forgiveness.

We love you, our dude. This world is built for you.  You are a white man in America.  As our country continues to show it's preference for YOU we are working hard to teach you that your privilege is both undeserved and gives you power to create change.  As you walk though this world we hope that you will always make space for people whose space has been taken from them.  We pray you will be loud for justice and never turn your back to inequality.  We are trying hard to give you lots of chances to see what that looks like and surround you with people who are doing the hard work NOW and showing you that real change happens thanks to real people being real brave.

Your dad and I love you more than life.  While we parent you very differently we love you the same.  Completely.  You have buckets of other people who are behind you.  Sometimes I think you are more aware of that then most kids and it's why you are so sure of your place in the world but of all the people that love you in the world there is NO ONE who has your back like we do.  We are so glad you picked us to be your parents.

Even though I cried when I found out you were a boy I take it all back.  I was so afraid to raise a boy because I just didn't know what that looked like (as a girl raised an all female household who went to an all girls school). Little did I know that your heart would mirror mine.  I adore you, sweet boy.  The best is yet to come.

You will always and forever be my baby and I love you to the moon,


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.