Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Birth Story: The Trilogy

Birth Story (n): The tale of how a pregnant woman gets a baby out from under her ribs into the waiting hands of a doctor who has gotten way too familiar with her insides without even buying her dinner first.

2016 has been a year that's taken more than it's given. I know that's an odd way to begin the story of the birth of a child, but it's impossible to separate the joy that is my son from the heartbreak that surrounded my pregnancy.  But in the beginning, there was love.

On February 12th, 2 days before Valentine's Day, I found out I was pregnant.  The next day, I was set to host my annual Valentine's Day party for my girlfriends.  I had this delicious little secret all day that I kept to myself.  We had just moved into our new house and were so excited to expand our family.  For one week, Trevor and I just reveled in our gratitude at this baby that would come in the fall.  For one week, life was so sweet.  By the end of the following weekend, life would all come crashing down around us imprinting my pregnancy in ways I couldn't comprehend until much later.

Some time during the night of February 20th, during a windy, winter storm, the power went out at my cousin's home.  A generator hooked up in their basement to restore power filled their home with carbon monoxide.  My cousin, his wife and their 4 children lost their lives that night.  We wouldn't find out until Sunday.  On Saturday of that weekend, a man would drive across my city on a murderous rampage killing people at random, including a father and son 1/2 mile from our home. This little baby had appeared during a time of chaos and mourning.  I carried the secret of him throughout visitations and a memorial service, finally revealing him to my family after the funeral was over.  There were tears.  Tears of joy this time.

3 was our number.  We had always wanted 3 children and our plan was always to move to a bigger house and get one kid to kindergarten before having another one.  3 kids in daycare is expensive, y'all.  I remember that Friday morning in February staring at 2 pink lines on that pregnancy test.  "Hello, baby."  I took a moment to mark the occasion.  It was the first of the lasts.  This would be the last time I anxiously waited for the results of pregnancy test, these would be the last 2 pink lines I would ever see.  This moment would begin a series of lasts that I would mark.

My pregnancy progressed through the winter, a hazy, sleepy, nausea- filled few months which eventually melted into spring when I began to feel like myself again.  I was back on blood thinners- 1 shot/day injected right into my belly.  This was in response to a pre-existing condition that makes me more susceptible to blood clots, as I learned during my 2nd pregnancy when I developed them in my right calf.  And as painful as those shots can be, they were again marked as a "last time" inconvenience that was keeping the baby and me safe.

Summer came and the big moment- the 20 week ultrasound.  When you're pregnant for the 3rd time and you have 2 boys, it's safe to say that the pressure is on to have that elusive girl.  We got asked constantly if this was our attempt to have a daughter or if we were hoping for a girl.  Of course we would have loved a daughter, but I truly believe that you receive the children you are meant to receive.  I'm sure one day I'll know precisely why these 3 boys chose me, but there isn't one part of me that feels that my family is incomplete without a daughter. I love my Three Amigos!

Our birth announcement
The ultrasound showed a healthy, thriving baby boy.  "There's the scrotum!" is literally the first sentence ever directed at my son.  I need to make sure that's captured here...for posterity's sake.  You had a good looking scrotum, son.

Jack and Will had come up with several nicknames for their brother early in my pregnancy, but Kiwi is the one that stuck. It was perfect as we tend to make small, hairy babies that probably resemble kiwi fruit. I learned an interesting fact about kiwi birds during my pregnancy.  The small kiwi bird lays one of the largest eggs in the bird world- taking up 20% of her body!  I will get back to the kiwi bird later on as I very much empathized with her in the last week of my pregnancy.

Nestled inside of me, he escorted his brother to the first day of kindergarten,he was with me at countless work meetings and conference calls and finally, Kiwi and mama made it to October- baby month.  By the 2nd week in October, I was feeling pretty much exactly how this kiwi bird mother feels. The baby had dropped significantly and his head was like a round cork wedged into my pelvis rendering me barely able to walk. I knew he was coming, he had to be coming, I felt that if I sneezed too hard he would come shooting out of me like a pinball with my uterus acting like some over aggressive paddles.  

On Friday, October 14th, I worked from home, doing meetings over the phone.  By the afternoon, contractions had started coming in more regular intervals, somewhere between 15 and 2o minutes apart.  That night, I slept upright on the couch because mama kiwi could no longer sleep in any sort of comfortable position.  At 4:30 in the morning of Saturday October 15th, a contraction woke me up.  5 minutes later, another...and another...and another.  I tracked them for an hour.  5  minutes apart, each lasting 1 minute.  I called the doctor at 6am and she told me to come in.  Unlike my first 2 labors, this one came on more gradually so Trevor and I had to time for showers and could drive to the hospital at a normal pace, which is not to say that when I had one foot out the door and he stopped to make himself some coffee, I wasn't a twinge bit annoyed. In my defense, I will just say...

We got to triage and I gowned up. A moment of your time to discuss hospital gowns.  Who in the actual hell designed them?  "They close in the back" is what every nurse tells you.  First of all, what piece of clothing ever made buttons in the back?  Even zippers in the back are a pain, often requiring someone else to help you with them.  But a hospital gown with 800 snaps and 2 strings for tying is some kind of evil altogether.  You know who wears hospital gowns?  Sick people.  And pregnant people.  People who ain't got time for this.  They gave me the gown and had me go pee in a cup. Peeing in a cup while contracting is, in a word, awkward.  Clean catch no less. Wipe yourself, pee in the toilet, but don't pee all the way, catch the remaining pee in a cup, don't get the cup dirty or drop the cup while your body is contracting and a 7-10 lb human is suspended upside down in your stomach making it so you can barely reach your arm under your pee stream or see what's happening.  Clean catch peeing in a cup while contracting in a hospital gown that is falling apart has got to be the reason why people birth their babies at home in a bathtub.  The whole ordeal just really sets you off on the wrong foot.

After cleanly catching my pee, they did an exam.  I was at 3cm.  I would have said "CHECK AGAIN" but a cervical exam isn't something you desire more than is absolutely necessary. But as contractions were consistent, they kept me in the triage bed for a couple more hours to see how things progressed.  After another check, I had progressed to 5cm so I was finally admitted. Our room had a view of downtown.  The sun had come up which was odd.  My first two deliveries happened at night.  It was nice laboring in the light of day.  It's odd, but you feel more connected to life during the day- to the hum of people moving about their day, to cars passing by, to people on their way to work.  The Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk was happening that day and I caught glimpses of people decked out in pink.  The sky was gray and overcast which only served to make the autumn trees that much lovelier.  The bright reds and oranges had exploded and I took it all in as my body ran through the motions of preparing for the birth of our son.  "This is the last time I'll be in a bed like this. This is the last time I'll have to wrestle with a hospital gown during contractions."  I took in the sights and sounds of that room to imprint them in my mind as the last chapter of pregnancy was being written.

By early afternoon I was still stuck at 5cm.  Not that I wanted one of those hyper dramatic birth stories where the 3rd baby was born in a car because it all happened so fast, but I had convinced myself that after 2 pretty quick labors, the 3rd would have to be wicked fast.  It was wicked alright, but I'll get to that in a minute.  I remember distinctly the silence of the room.  Trevor softly flipping the pages of his book, the woosh-woosh-woosh of the heart rate monitor counting my baby's beats.  I watched the world from outside of my window move along throughout its day so unaware of the major event that was about to take place inside of this room.  I relished the silence, something a mom of young kids doesn't get too often.  I thought about my cousin and his wife. I felt their presence in the room with me as clear as anything.  Len's wife Heather was an ultrasound sonographer.  I imagined her standing by my bed coaching me through it, herself the mom to 4 kids, she had been there and she had seen her share of nervous pregnant women laying beside her equipment.  I felt them both in the room with me and it made me glad.

Dr. Carly Davis, soft spoken, young and kind came into the room asking if I would be open to having her break my water to help move things along.  

I was, she did...holy hell, oh dear God, oh sweet baby Jesus.  

She broke my water.  Not much water came out.  Remember that skull cork that was burrowed into my pelvis?  Yeah, it was pretty much clogging up the works.  So after the water broke, his head was like a dam keeping everything backed up.  And then, the contractions started- unyielding, intense, agonizing.  With every contraction, I could feel his head crammed into my cervix like someone taking a combat boot and stomping on a bruise.  I had passed up an epidural, again, thinking that it would go quickly.


After an hour of combat boot on a bruised cervix type agony, I was only at 6cm.  So at that point, feeling like I was having an out of body experience, I asked for pain relief.  Enter the anesthesiologist.  One thing to know about anesthesiologists, especially during labor is that they stride into the room like Golden Gods on invisible chariots.  They know that they are the most welcome sight in the world.  They go through the motions asking you questions that you can barely breathe enough to answer.  You are asked to sit on the edge of your bed and curl your back into a "C" shape.  Remember, baby's head was pressing so hard on me, that sitting on the edge of a rock hard hospital bed puts pressure on all sides of you.  He gave it his first attempt.  "There's blood in the catheter, I'll have to try again, I hit a blood vessel."  "Whaaa-- u mean--uhhh--not working?" is what I think I managed to gasp out.  What follows is a summary of the attempts made at inserting the epidural:

Attempt #1: NOPE
Attempt #2: NOPE...but with all assurances from the doc that he had never not gotten this to work.
Attempt #3: NOPE...but hey, now that I've got you to the point of delirium on this bed curled up into a "C", drenched in sweat, shall we give it the old 4th college try?  At some point during the 40 minutes this was all taking, I remember Trevor asking the nurse to wipe my brow.  I was sweating and digging my fingers into his shoulders as he sat on a chair facing me on the bed.  He probably still has claw marks.  He is amazing in every way.
Attempt #4:  Success?  I add the ? because it was in, I was asked to lay back down, they put the smallest bit of what's called a loading dose to test it out, but by then it was time to push.  
I was stabbed 4 times in the back on the Ides of October.  Trevor and I discussed this poetic injustice later that day once the healing could begin...

You know it's time to push because it feels like you're about to take the biggest dump of your life, I'm sorry but there is literally no other way to explain this.  I yelled out "I have to push!!"  And without the benefit of any pain relief, Dr. Davis was called into the room, gowned up, gloves on, ready to catch this baby.  I gave it a push.  It was really a garbage push, I knew I could do better, but I was feeling like I was on the last leg of a 100 mile uphill mud run.  I tried again and gave it everything like the labor and delivery champion I knew I was.  It was happening, he was coming out.  One more gigantic, get this kiwi egg out of me, push and his head was out. I know it seems strange to be very aware of this particular moment, but remember- I was counting lasts.  And I remembered the last push.  By the time baby's head was out, he was crying.  Trevor confirmed this for me.  His head popped out and he was already wailing!  One last push, one last time for this pain, this agony and this incredible moment would happen for me.  

Shoulders, torso, legs and he was free.  4:08pm, not many milestones are marked to the minute, but that was when our family was made complete.  Trevor cut the cord and just like that, he was here, he had a birthday, he was ours. A very quick towel off and he was quickly moved onto my chest for skin to skin contact and connection.  As with every other moment like this, the tears flowed freely, but this time I didn't just cry for joy at meeting my baby.  Remember how I felt that Len and Heather were in the room for me?  After 8 months of the reality of losing them, I finally let all of that go.  This baby's entire existence had been book-ended by tragedy.  One week after finding out I was pregnant, my cousin and his family were gone and one week before this baby was born, Trevor lost his cousin, Kristy, very unexpectedly and tragically, something we haven't discussed much, but has weighed heavily on our hearts.  Tragedy and joy were both intermingled in those tears that flowed that afternoon. I cried for joy, I let go of sadness that had been held on, buried deep so I could try to find the happiness for this new life.  I let it all go.

Happy birthday!
But we're not done yet!  There was one thing I hadn't quite let go of.  The placenta still wedged in me!  Yes, the life giving, amazing, and heavy ass placenta.  Dr. Davis sat at the bottom of my bed holding the umbilical cord like a kid holding the string of a balloon that had just popped.  Oh yeah, I thought, I need to get this thing out too!  I couldn't really feel the contractions, not because of the epidural, remember that was doing nothing for me, but I was just too overcome.  But yep, ok, there was the contraction I was waiting for and out she came and that, my friends, was almost a bigger relief that the 7 lb human who has preceded it. And that was it.  The last of the lasts when it came to childbirth.  As I held this warm, squishy baby on my chest, I had the sublimely happy feeling that our family was complete.  This baby was the exclamation mark on our family and the reason we all got through the ups and downs of 2016.

After the euphoria of childbirth begins to subside, you realize that you're more hungry than you've ever been in your life.  Hospitals don't let you eat anything while you're in labor.  I did manage to devour 2 popsicles though which were amazing.  I hadn't eaten anything real in over 20 hours. I ordered a hamburger from room service.  It was a blackened hockey puck wedged between Gordon Food Service buns a sad tomato slice and a limp lettuce leaf.  It was the most delicious, amazing, incredible hamburger I've ever had in my life. I inhaled it, all the while gazing over the tray at my baby boy laying in his crib. It was the first time in 9 months, he wasn't inside of or on top of me. It was a beautiful view.

Happy birthday to my baby who was born on Sweetest Day; my baby who was soon to be named.

What's in a name?  I'm going to explain the genesis of Teddy's name which I fear will sound very silly when it's all typed out, but I don't care, he's perfectly named for who he is to me.

All of my life I have had a deep affection and connection to bears.  Keep in mind, I'm a person who really doesn't love animals.  I never grew up with pets, hate zoos, but just really love bears.  I've had teddy bears all of my life. I've had bears as stuffed animals, art prints and knick knacks. I identify very much with bear mothers who protect their cubs to the end. So for me, bears are comforting, especially teddy bears. During what has been a very, very difficult year, my baby was a source of comfort, safety, happiness and connection to the wonderful things life has to offer if you're open to receiving them. He was always my teddy bear, the thing I quite literally slept with and held on to during tough times.

Not wanting to limit him to being a Teddy or Ted all of his life, Trevor and I discussed Theodore, Edwin or Edward.  We landed on Edward as our favorite of the three and we later learned that Edward is Trevor's grandpa Jack's middle name.  Perfect.  Jack Stefanick was a teddy bear himself being a very loving man who happened to be a large animal vet in PA. Doubtful he ever helped a bear, but he would have if one had happened into his practice!

Teddy's middle name was always known to us. Lenox. Lenox is a combination of Leonard "Len" after my cousin and grandfather and Trevor's grandpa Rex Lee, a fighter himself who's had his own share of bad health lately but who stays resilient in spirit and mind even when his body can't keep up.  Edward Lenox pays homage to men who mean so much to Trevor and I and whose spirits, I know are held deep within their great-grandson/cousin.

"Loved by my family"

My mom has said that 3rd babies are a gift to the whole family. That has been absolutely true for us. Jack and Will adore their baby brother. They probably love him a little too much at times, I worry that they'll be like Lenny and the rabbits from "Of Mice and Men", but Teddy is used to noise and chaos.  When I was pregnant, his brothers would blow raspberries on my belly and yell "hi Kiwi"! Noise does not faze this child one bit. I couldn't wait for the boys to meet their brother.  Trevor left the hospital Saturday evening to go bring the boys to see us.  Teddy had "purchased" big brother gifts for his brothers which we gave to them at the hospital.  People ask how the boys have taken to Teddy.  Let me tell you, these boys have been totally hooked up.  Being big brothers is a very lucrative business, they have definitely received more gifts than their baby brother. How could they be anything but pleased at this little cash cow baby? But as these photos show, their love for Teddy is sincere, deep, and profound. In the immortal words of Maria Von Trapp- "somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."

I always knew my birth stories would end in a trilogy. Teddy is our Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  The birth of my last child was my last crusade, the very last time I would embark on the long journey necessary to bring new life into the world based on this crazy idea that the genetic combination that is Trevor and me would bring something good into the world.  That's been my crusade for almost 6 years, which is how long we've been parents. It's been our crusade to raise these little men to be loving and compassionate, curious and brave. So now we wait. Jack, Will and Teddy are in the world and we're pretty confident, the world is all better for it.

So that's my birth story, the story of how the most difficult year of my life yielded the sweetest gift.  In the summer of my life, the autumn baby came to town and turned this upside down year back on its feet. He is a gift to our family and he'll be a gift to the world.  In the words of the great Lin-Manuel Miranda in his song "Dear Theodosia" from this little Broadway show you might have heard about called Hamilton, he and Leslie Odom, Jr sing the words of every new parent.

I'm dedicating every day to you
Domestic life, was never quite my style
When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away…
Someday, someday
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away.

I love you Teddy, you will most definitely blow us all away.
Love, Mom

The trilogy baby. There will be no Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull kid...

Friday, September 9, 2016


I remember this day so well. It was the end of summer, 2011 on the shore of Lake Michigan. The wind was whipping through my hair and within a few minutes, Jack was asleep in my arms.  I wondered what he thought as we stood at the edge of that great lake.  It seemed so big and he seemed so small and I can remember the feeling of his tiny hand clinging to my shirt as he slowly nodded off.

This morning was Day 3 of Kindergarten. We got to school early and walked over to the playground, Jack in his new Sketchers Memory Foam sneakers ("they give me good memories") and his Pokemon backpack on his back. I saw his dark brown eyes dart around at the throngs of kids running and jumping.  We walked around the edge of the playground in silence until he whispered "there are a lot of big kids here."  We decided to wait near the door for the bell, his hand slowly slipping into mine.  We walked to his classroom, put his backpack and lunch away and just as I was about to leave, the tears started spilling onto his cheeks.  "Don't leave," he whispered.  We walked out into the hallway and I knelt down to his level and just like this photo taken 5 years ago, he rested his head on my shoulder, tiny hand clinging to my shirt while tears dropped onto my hair.  I rubbed his head and kissed him. "I'm not good at kindergarten."  "You will be," I assured him.  I walked him back to his seat just as his teacher came over to give him a pep talk while I walked out of the room.  The confident boy we picked up and dropped off at preschool last week had been replaced by a wide-eyed and fearful boy and I couldn't help but feel like I had left him on a vast shore all alone.  The excitement of the first day of school had been replaced by a new awareness of everything that had changed.

A happy first day filled with excitement
We've been through a lot of firsts with Jack.  As our oldest, every one of his firsts is also our firsts as his parents.  We go through every transition together, none of us completely knowing what to expect or how to feel.  Sometimes I feel so ill equipped to see him through something new because I'm right there with him, trying to sort it all out and just hoping I'm not messing it up in the process.  

A few weeks ago I heard the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic on the radio.  I hadn't heard it in years. I learned some time ago that the song was actually written about the birth of a child. The lyric that stuck with me was this one- "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."  I have to remind myself that our track record for getting through new beginnings is 100%- first teeth, first steps, first day at daycare, first day at preschool, a new brother, a new house and soon, another new brother.  I remember the first day baby Jack and I toured his first daycare.  Those little brown eyes darted all around then too. Daycare was a huge beginning, kindergarten is daycare's end.

I told Trevor that we both need to buckle up for the autumn that lies ahead.  This little family has been through so many changes this year and more are coming.  "100% track record" is my new mantra.

But this week has come with a lot of unexpected joys- spending all day Tuesday with Jack since kindergarten started Wednesday.  I took him out to breakfast after we toured his classroom and met his new teacher.  At breakfast, he played barista requesting that I swirl together Vanilla and Pumpkin creamer.  I proclaimed it was absolutely delicious (to his great delight).

Wednesday was another morning spent together, getting him ready for his first day, buying him his favorite donut and standing nervously with the other parents around the edge of the classroom as we watched our babies become students.

I know that with time he'll get his sparkle back about school.  He will make friends and find a love of learning.  At the end of every day this week, he's had more happy memories to share than tough ones. He's growing and changing right before my eyes.  Before too long, he'll be one of the big kids that look so intimidating to the kindergartners. I know all of this because he's our kid.  He's the oldest child of two oldest children whose firsts were also their parents' firsts.  Oldest children who found their way through life whose track record of getting through tough stuff is 100%.

But my favorite image of Jack from the summer of 2016 was taken by his dad on a field trip his preschool took to Western Michigan University.  The field trip was to a geological exhibit, but Trevor and Jack took a detour to the massive auditorium on campus where Trevor used to work.  Trevor captured this image of Jack up on the stage and while we'll never know what he was thinking in this moment, the image of my confident and thoughtful little boy brought a tear to my eye.  I've kept this image close to my heart this week as the perfect illustration of how capable my boy is of facing big things. Tonight I told him that I knew he was going to be ok because he's my kid and I make brave, strong, and clever kids who will be awesome at kindergarten.

There will be so many new and vast shores, wind whipping, sand shifting beneath his feet and I won't be there for all of them, but I won't need to be.  Jack has always known and will always know, that I am always behind him every step of the way. For all the beginnings and for their tearful, bittersweet, and inevitable ends. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Push Away the Unimaginable

Alexander Hamilton is having a moment these days as his political life is center stage in the ridiculously popular Broadway show Hamilton: An American Musical.  In one particularly heart wrenching moment, Hamilton and his estranged wife reunite after the tragic and sudden death of their son. Their post-tragedy life is narrated in the song "It's Quiet Uptown".  Hamilton's sister-in-law opens the song:

There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you're in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down.

If you are lucky, you will never find a tragedy that strikes your family covered by the media, leaving you wide open and vulnerable to the opinions and assumptions of the world wide web.  I lived through that in February when I lost my cousin Len, his wife, and their four children in a tragic accident in their home, a carbon monoxide leak that swiftly and quietly took each of their lives.  

It didn't take long.  It didn't take long at all for the internet comment sections to explode with armchair quarterbacks who unequivocally asserted that such a tragedy could never, would never happen to them and they couldn't imagine how it could happen to anyone for that matter.  They couldn't comprehend, probably refused to comprehend that the names in the article were people who had an extended family and friends who would replay every moment that led up to that night; how any one of them would have filled that house to the brim with carbon monoxide detectors, would have swept up every person in that house during that storm when the winds howled and the lights went out and brought them to their own homes where there was light and warmth and safety.

I have seen the same thing play out in the news when a 4 year old climbed into a gorilla enclosure at a zoo, when 5 cyclists were quite literally mowed down and killed by an erratic driver in my hometown, to a much larger scale when the gun control debate roared back to life after the Orlando massacre, and most recently when a 2 year old was taken by an alligator at a Disney World resort beach.  One common refrain...

Not me.  Never me.  Someone else.  I'm smarter, savvier, more diligent, more alert, more prepared than [ ]

And then we collectively push away the unimaginable...

If she had kept her eye on her son.  If only the cyclists had been on a trail.  If only more people had guns.  If she had read the signs.  

If only he had installed a carbon monoxide detector.  If only that generator had been outside.

If only.

Social media and media in general has been made available to everyone, but I don't think it's designed for everyone.  I've seen my friends grow increasingly anxious and nervous about how they work, how they parent, how they love their spouses, the world around them, the dangers, the risks, the pain.  I worry about that for myself too.  To this day, since Aurora, I have never been able to sit in a dark movie theatre without scanning the room for the nearest exit and who looks out of place, who's sitting alone, who shouldn't be there.  And here I sit, 22 weeks pregnant with another child I'm bringing into a world that no longer offers me a peaceful night at the movies.  What business do I have bringing more life into this world?  A child that I'll fear for in a zoo or on a beach in Florida or farther into the future, in his elementary school, on a bike or in a club?  That's the soul of a woman, isn't it?  For centuries we've brought babies into worlds filled with war, inequality, slavery, violence and life keeps on flowing and we do our best to equip our babies for what's ahead and then we let them go.  Women have been doing the unimaginable since women have been on earth.

In October when this baby boy comes, I will have successfully divided my heart in three pieces and sent it out into the world where I am no longer guardian of it.  Becoming a parent seems like the most unimaginable task you could undertake and parents who have lost children like my aunt and uncle would do and have done anything to prevent anyone else from going through that same pain. Whenever I see my uncle, I look into his eyes.  They've changed.  I see him searching for joy in whatever place he's in and when he finds it, and he laughs, his eyes crinkle up at the sides and the sound of his laugh fills the space with the spirit of his son.  He tells Len's story with every laugh, every goofy joke, and every hug.  When the laughter subsides, the glimmer in those eyes fades and I can see him shift and adjust to once again be the soul of where he stands and simply be present for all of us in his company. He steels himself, braces himself for the wave of grief that may crash upon him at any moment. But he stays present, he stays in the moment because for the moment he allows himself a bit of joy.

I imagine my ancestors spending nearly the whole of their lives in the same small village or town, being sheltered from anything going on anywhere else.  Current events were limited to the square footage of that space. Tragedies were balanced by the fact that most days were uneventful, boring even.  I fast forward to today.  If you look for it, you'll find tragedy in every second of the day.  The internet has exposed us to every sadness, death, war, and inequality and when we let them all in it quite literally envelops us in despair.  It's crippling.  The moments when you're in so deep, it feels easier to just swim down.  I don't blame us one bit from trying to distance ourselves from tragedy. Our brains can't possibly process the sheer volume of sadness this world throws at us.

It's here that you might expect me to tell you to go out and look for the goodness in the world, go find the heartwarming stories, look for the helpers.  Make no mistake, when you look for the bad you'll find it and when you look for the good you'll find that too.  But what if you stopped looking for either?  Look for only the good, you'll forget that people are still suffering, the world is in need; look for only the bad, you'll forget that the world is filled to the brim with caring people influencing change.  My advice?  Stop looking for either. Wherever you are, be like my Uncle Phil.  Be the heart of that space and hold that space with the people who share it with you.  Then build strong and sturdy boundaries that allow you to stay informed, but keep you grounded, prevent you from being crippled by fear or delusion. Turn off the TV, set down the phone and go put your bare feet in the grass and remember that you are a passenger of this earth in this time, for better or worse and do your part to make it better.

This weekend, we'll take our boys to the drive-in movie theatre to see Finding Dory, we'll do a normal family thing on a normal night surrounded by other families escaping to the movies. Hopefully for the span of time we share together, we'll all forget about the sadness, about the pain that wraps this world up like a thick black cloak.  We'll hold space together under the stars watching a movie together.  As the sun goes down, Trevor will point out the constellations to the boys, we'll look for shooting stars, I'll look for signs of my cousin, I see them everywhere.

In the movie Finding Nemo, this sweet and brief exchange sums up parenting quite perfectly:

Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

We can't promise our children that nothing will ever happen to them without preventing anything from happening to them.  So we do our best, we love them, we teach them and then we let them go. Unimaginable?  Yes.  But we do it and life keeps flowing on.

And we all just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When I See Me in You

When all you want is to be snuggled
I see me in you.
We share a need for closeness and affection.
We want to be sure of those we love.

When we sing together at night
I see me in you.
You have a song in your heart,
And we both love The Carpenters.

When you strut around in your Darth Vader cape
I see me in you.
It's the complex characters we love
Which is why I married dad.

When you cheer up your brother
I see me in you.
Our glass is half full
And we're always willing to share.

When you eat chocolate ice cream
I see me in you.
We get most of it on our lips and chin,
Sweet Wooly Willies.

When you do funny voices
I see me in you.
The world is your stage
And you live for applause.

And then there are days when
I see you in me.
When I battle you with light sabers
Or find Easter Eggs that you hid.

On the day you turned 3
I saw me in you.
Shyly clutching my face while we sang,
Reveling in adoration.

If you ever lose yourself,
You will find you in me.
In my smile, in my laugh,
In my chocolate covered chin.

I know when I'm lost
I will find me in you.
My tiny harbor, my sweet guidepost,
My amazing reflection.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Last year, I blogged about the loss of two dear friends, taken far before their time was done on earth. Writing helped me process and helped me grieve.  On February 21, my father called me sobbing.  His first words were "I have terrible news."  He asked if I was sitting down.  I told him I was.  Through tears he told me that my beloved cousin Leonard, his wife Heather, and their 4 beautiful young children had passed away due to a carbon monoxide leak in their home over the weekend.  I can count on 1 finger, the amount of times in my life that I have burst into tears.  I have wept over the loss of those I love, but my body has always taken time to process before tears could spring into my eyes.  But on February 21, I burst into tears.  My entire body shook so hard I almost dropped the phone.  Len. Len is gone.  Len's family is gone.  My uncle discovered them.  Unfathomable does not come close.  Through the fog of grief, I have to remember the Len I knew, the Len I grew up with, and the Len who loved me with a devotion only known to big Italian families like ours.  This is my Len.

Leonard was one of my first best friends.  I've said that a lot as I've memorialized him, but it's true.  Memories of him stretch back as far as I can remember.  As children we were obsessed with The Mickey Mouse Club.  I was Annette and he was Cubby.  We would watch old black and white episodes of the show in my tiny house in Redford.  We would lay under a long, wooden coffee table with a blanket draped over it.  Our own little fort.  Afterward, we'd pretend we were Mousketeers and sing and dance around the living room.  There are recordings of us singing together.  Two of his greatest hits were a song about Spring and a song about a Skunk.  Leonard clearly loved nature.

Len and I were named for our grandparents and in many ways we were carbon copies of our namesakes.  Len was goofy, full of jokes and puns just like our grandpa and I was (am) a spitfire like our grandma.  We spent so much time together as kids growing up outside of Detroit, #1 and #2 of what would eventually be 23 grandchildren.  

We were ring bearer and flower girl in our aunt and uncle's wedding.  I remember twirling around my grandparent's house in my flower girl dress.  Len was less impressed by his tiny gray tuxedo.  When the big moment came and we stood at the end of the aisle, ready to walk down, Len was frozen.  Some combination of cold feet with a dash of stubbornness kept him standing still at the end of the aisle.  So I did what any spitfire named Nancy would have done, I physically dragged him down that aisle. Refusing to let go of his arm, I got that boy to the altar, all the while keeping my beautiful navy silk flower wreath perfectly attached to my head.  10 years later, that same aunt and uncle would ask us to be godparents to their son Joseph.

Len was a renaissance man, at once, incredibly gifted in all things tech, like his father, but also absolutely content growing up in his family's country home on beautiful tree-filled acreage, far away from any city.  Every fall, their family would host a hoe-down with a huge bonfire, tractor rides, and of course, buckets and buckets of pasta.  Len greeted each cousin, aunt or uncle with his signature bear hug.  He would smile with his whole face at the sight of you.  He was soft-spoken, humble, and loving.  Was?  Can I really be talking about Len in the past tense.  I can't.  He is all of those things.  He is all of those things.

In high school, little Annette and Cubby took to the stage.  In a great coincidence, Len and I were both cast in the musical Bye Bye Birdie in our respective high schools a year apart.  He played Albert and I played Rosie. I remember making the drive from Holt to Linden to see him. He was wonderful, of course. After the show, he pulled me onstage and we did a duet together from the show. The song was "Rosie" and one of the lyrics is, "Now my life is rosy, since I found my Rosie." He changed Rosie to Nancy and we sang and danced together just fumbling through made up choreography. That's Len. Even in his big moment, he made it about family. He wanted to multiply the joy.  

Len and Heather's story was one filled with love and mutual admiration.  As the story goes, Heather's sister Rhonda met Len by chance.  He was wearing a T-shirt with a Bible verse and believing him to be someone with shared values, she asked him if he was single.  Thinking Rhonda to be quite beautiful, Len was all too happy to answer "YES."  She quickly pointed out that the question was on behalf of her sister. To Len's great joy, Heather was her identical twin sister so by nature, also incredibly beautiful.  Len was the first of us to get married.  Len getting married was big.  All of a sudden we were grown ups!  His wedding day was beautiful and Len was beaming.  I promise you, this time, nobody had to drag him down the aisle.  

Heather is a woman who I admire so much.  As a working mom, finding role models can be hard.  Heather managed to foster a career as an ultrasound technologist while raising 4 gentle, loving, and playful children.  She was a perfect match for Len.  They complemented each other in the most beautiful ways.  Theirs was a love that brought so much joy into the world.  Luke was the second great-grandchild in the family (after my sweet nephew Tommy)  I remember holding him at Christmastime sitting next to Len on our grandparent's couch while Len just beamed.  Len and Heather (Leather, as they affectionately referred to themselves) loved their children with a strong devotion.  We all celebrated each new Quasarano that came into the world because a Leather Q was one to celebrate.

Memories swirl around my head- our family cruise in 2002, less than a year after Len married the love of his life.  Along with my brother Tom, we all explored San Juan Puerto Rico together.  I remember standing on the shores of the beach with Len, our toes buried in the sand.  Len gazed out into the surf, the picture of someone whose happiness had been hard fought and hard won.  Len's childhood was complicated.  All of ours were.  But Len's tenacity at carving out and sustaining his own happiness is what drove him to be the man he was, the man we loved so greatly. 

Spring is just around the corner.  Last weekend, in fact, was quite beautiful; our first glimpse into the season that waits just on the other side of the gray.  I mentioned one of Len's favorite songs was about Spring.  The song, which we always called "Your Feet Go Skipping" went like this:

The air is warm and the sky is blue,
The leaves are green-yellow because they are new!
Your feet go skipping, the birds all sing,
The whole world is happy because it is Spring.

Those 4 little lines capture the absolute essence of Len's spirit.  His was one of great optimism and faith.  His warmth, positivity and love of life was contagious.  He is in the background of so many of my most cherished childhood memories.  My little thumb-sucking cousin grew up to be a man of faith, of joy and of great talent.  He prided himself on being a man of God.  Let me tell you, if God is anything like Len, we are loved and cared for more than we could ever imagine.

I also mentioned that he was fond of singing a song about a skunk, which goes like this:

I'm a little stri-ped skunk
Sleeping under someone's bunk
No one likes to sleep with me
'Cause I'm stinky as can be!

And there you have it, the other side of Len.  The goofy, boyish side of him that loved a good or bad pun.  He would sing this song and we would giggle and wave our hands in front of our noses imagining a poor stri-ped skunk stuck sleeping on the floor.

Spring is a season of hope.  God knows we need that now.  Len, I will look for you in the spring.  I will look for you in the playful, rowdy squirrels who dig through my grass and stuff their cheeks and I'll look for you in the green-yellow new leaves.  I will look for Heather in the blossoms about to poke out of the ground into the light.  I will seek out your children in the laughter of my own as I look at them with new and grateful eyes.  I will look for you and I know I'll find you all.  Your very essence is entwined with my own.  Look out for me too, sweet cousin.  Nobody in the world will ever greet me the way you did- eyes sparkling, arms outstretched with a loud and joyful "NAAAAAANCE!!!!  Cousin!!!!" 

I think you always knew how much I loved you.  How proud of you I am.  Your happiness was the result of all of your hard work.  The legacy of your family will live on.  Your light, your joy, and your spirits live on long after you're gone.  I will see you all on the other side sweet, sweet family.  Kiss your namesake for me.  I know he's holding and kissing the grandchildren he never got to meet in this lifetime.


 PS- Thank you for sending the sunshine just now.  It started pouring through our windows.  I wasn't sure how to stop writing, how to say good bye.  You showed me that I don't have to.  You're here.  

Hi Len.  

Friday, January 8, 2016


9 months later, there you were,
my 5 pound warm and wriggly baby.
I never knew 9 months could go by so quickly.
You were a speck of a person, so tiny and delicate,
you fit right into your dad's hands.
You were my muse, the gift which unlocked
a sea of emotions and thoughts.
You were my heart.
12 weeks later and back to work,
my heart felt outside of my chest for a long time.
I never knew 12 weeks could go by so quickly.
You were stronger then, but still so small,
you fit into the crook of my arm.
You were my motivation, the reason for my success
and the one who I longed to be proud of me.
You were my inspiration.
1 year old and a birthday celebration,
with a single glowing candle for a wish.
I never knew 1 year could go by so quickly.
You were strong and sturdy, eyes darting all around,
out of our arms and onto the ground you sprang.
You were my joy, the simplest love I'd ever known
and the benefactor of all my wishes and hopes.
You were my dream come true.
2 years old and a cyclone came to town,
with your mischievous grin and constant motion.
I never knew 2 years could go by so quickly.
You were fast and eager, racing across hardwood,
when crawling gave way to sprints.
You were my curiosity, the mystery I tried to solve
and the puzzle I longed to piece together.
You were my jolt of energy.
3 years old with a new brother by your side,
when the laughter and tears were multiplied by two.
I never knew 3 years could go by so quickly.
You were stubborn and tenacious, lost in your daydreams,
when the world was your kingdom and you were its king.
You were my pirate, my superhero
and I saw new worlds because of you.
You were my imagination.
4 years old with a pebble in your pocket,
and a smile that lit up a city block.
I never knew 4 years could go by so quickly.
You were playful and sensitive, articulate to your feelings,
whether your days were "fun" or "rough", you always let me in.
You were my companion, my buddy,
whose smile made me believe that everything would be alright.
You were my compass.
5 years old on the shore of a great ocean called life,
standing with an open heart and a dazzling mind.
I never knew 5 years could go by so quickly.
You are brilliant and wise, so capable of everything,
I stand in awe of any part of you that is me.
You are my baby, my firstborn, my loveliest prize,
who makes time stand still and sail rapidly all at once.
You are my Jack.

Footnote, January 7, 2016, 8:00am...
In the blink of an eye we are standing outside of the car, parked outside your preschool in the wintry air.  I scoop you up and hold you.  You let me.  We stand there frozen in the early morning light.  Your feet touch my shins but your head nestles into my neck.  You're silent which is rare for you these days.  So in silence we stand there on the snowy curb.  I whispered in your ear, "I'm so proud of you my boy, I'm so very proud of you".  I remember that same head full of hair nestled into my neck 5 years ago for the first time.  We stand there holding space until your brother yells out from inside the car, "MamaMamaMama"  And the silence is broken in the best way it can be.  I set you down on the ground, we go to get Will and all three of us walk into school, an ordinary moment in an extraordinary day.