Five, six

Dear Rowan,

Three-hundred sixty-four days ago, you turned 5; tomorrow, you turn 6. I never got around to writing your birthday letter last year, something I’ve regretted all these months in between. In fact, I haven’t written much at all this past year, the reason for which I’m not entirely sure (though I have a suspicion), but I do know that specifically I’ve missed writing about you. As I prepared to write this letter, I re-read the letters I wrote for your first, second, third and fourth birthdays, and oh, how you’ve grown. How you’ve changed. I don’t think there’s any way a single letter can adequately recap the last two years of your life, but I felt it important to try, so that one day you’ll have these words as a record of when you were 5-going-on-6.

Since your last birthday letter when you turned 4, your life has changed in the biggest possible ways. You became a big brother. You started (and finished) Montessori preschool. You learned to write your name. You learned to write all the letters. You started Kindergarten. You started to learn how to read. You made so many new friends, more than I ever had when I was a kid.

Ro ferry

Since you were 4, you lost some very important people in your life. Just typing that last sentence has me swallowing a lump in my throat and holding back hot tears. In some ways, I don’t think you’ve fully grasped what it means for a loved one to die, that they’re never coming back. But sometimes, your perceptiveness knocks me off my feet, like when we picked your dad up from the airport after GrammaLo died, and you said, without skipping a beat, “How’s your dad, Dad?” Or when we walked down the street to pick up gyros for dinner the night we found out Grandpa Manny had suddenly died, and you said, “I’m sorry about your dad, Dad.”

I’m sorry, too, that you’ve had to experience so much loss in such a short period of time. Five-going-on-6 is such a tentative age for memory retention. I know you remember your Grandpa Manny — he was here with us this past summer, and his little plastic LED suncatchers still sitting on the window ledge serve as a physical reminder — but I can feel your memories of GrammaLo fading. You were still 4 when we said our last goodbyes to her. Do you remember that moment? Were you scared? (I was.) Do you remember how much she loved you? (I do.)

In the last two years, I’ve watched you figure out what it means to be a big brother. There have been some rough patches — jealousy, resentment, mean faces. Most recently, though, you’ve relished your role as “the guy who can make Milo laugh more than anyone else.” The sound of you two playing and laughing is probably my most favorite sound in the whole world. Sometimes your dad and I beg you to “make him laugh, make him laugh!” and usually you oblige our demands.

Boys collage

A couple of months ago, you started sleeping in Milo’s room. We moved you there to be closer to the portable air conditioner during the warm summer months, but you never moved back to your own room. I think it’s because you like you like sleeping in a bigger bed, but I also think you kind of like being close to your baby brother. I find it comforting knowing you two are sleeping soundly just above our bedroom, and sometimes I can even hear both of you breathing over the baby monitor. I can’t imagine you wanting to share a room with Milo when you’re older, so for now, I’m letting this happen and not questioning it too much.

You started and finished Montessori preschool when you were 4 and 5. There you learned how to write your name, follow the rules (mostly), sew a button (really!), play hard (so sweaty!) and so much more. At your first parent-teacher conference, you were described as a “social genius,” so warm and welcoming to school visitors, so quick to make friends. You’ve always had an advanced vocabulary for your age, but your verbal bank of words hasn’t translated easily to reading and writing. But, at your second conference, your teachers said you persevered through frustration and completed two whole workbooks. As I flipped through the pages, I could see the progress you made, and it gave me so much hope for what was to come in Kindergarten.

Ro sand

As you turn 6, you’re right in the middle of your first year of elementary school. You’re in a class of 60-plus kids, with three teachers, and you go to a before-school program across the street and an after-school program down the street. Before Kindergarten, I was pretty nervous about putting you in three different places every day — would you get lost? would you know what to do? — but you’ve done so well, shuffling one place to the next. After the first couple of days of school, I asked if you were making lots of new friends, and you sighed, “Not so much.” But then you proceeded to list off at least a dozen different names. You’re a humble social genius, I guess.

We met with your homeroom teacher last month, and she showed us how far you’ve progressed, academically, in a short amount of time. I was particularly struck by your storytelling skills and how much your drawing and coloring has improved. At 5-going-on-6, you’re learning how to express yourself and you often let your imagination run wild. I just love how you’re always thinking, hypothesizing, scheming, whimsying.

Speaking of scheming, I witnessed this in full effect a couple months ago during the celebration of life event we had for GrammaLo and Grandpa Manny. While us adults were talking, eating, drinking, listening to a live reggae band and otherwise not paying attention to the kids, you became the ringleader of a group of several boys and girls of different ages, on some sort of secret mission. I watched out of the corner of my eye as you and the kids ran back and forth between Grandpa Manny’s garden and the house, tomatoes and peppers in hand, and soon your ragtag group had set up a salsa-tasting competition. As in, you and the kids made salsa in the kitchen using the Vitamix, with the help of some of the older kids. I have no idea where you got this crazy idea, but the symbolism of you using up the last of Grandpa Manny’s garden to make something we could all eat was not lost on me, or anyone else there who knew your grandparents.

Ro edit

At 5-going-on-6, you are really into rocks and crystals, so certain you’re going to uncover sparkly treasures in our urban backyard. You were so excited at the very unlikely possibility of finding a pearl in one of the dozen oysters we bought for dinner when we stayed in Port Orchard last summer. When you didn’t find one, you cried as if this was the greatest injustice in the world. Sometimes you cry when you don’t get to have dessert, too, which seems to be the second greatest injustice in your world.

You adore Star Wars and have seen five of the six movies, but you still like watching Curious George, even after all these years. You’re pretty into Frozen, too, which has granted you access into the exclusive world of girls. Your favorite songs of the past two years include “Chasing Stars” by OneRepublic, “All About That Bass” by Megan Trainor, and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. We let you stay up late to watch cooking competition shows like “Master Chef Junior,” which you love, and you’ve been known to mellow out on the couch to “America’s Test Kitchen,” too.

When you turned 4, I wrote how you were starting to transition into being a big kid, and I was right: in two years, you’ve grown several inches and outgrown several sizes. You’re taller than most kids in your class, and when you hug me, I can feel how strong and solid you are. There’s no doubt about it — you are now a big kid.

But you are also a GREAT kid, Rowan. You are so loved, by us/your parents, of course, but by your grandparents, uncles, great aunts/uncles, our friends, your classmates, and pretty much anybody who spends any amount of time with you.

Gonzales_2014-24

Happy Birthday, bud. You’re the best.

xo Mama

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Another year in the rear view

I still need to write Rowan’s 5th birthday letter, why we chose the name Milo Burke for our second born son, some thoughts on brotherhood and nature versus nurture, and about a dozen other posts that have been percolating in my mind for awhile, but I’ve enjoyed doing the year-end wrap-up style prompt post that floats around the blogosphere right about now, and since I spent the last few days sicker than I’ve been in a long time, it’s about all my brain can handle at the moment.

I like the revisions RA made to the list ‘o questions, so I’m going to use those this year. Here we go!

1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 34 on October 13. The day before, we celebrated by hosting an afternoon BYO cheese party at our place. We made prosciutto-wrapped haloumi, herbed burrata and sliced manchego with quince paste and fig jam. Everyone brought a favorite cheese (or three!), and we drank growlers from Georgetown. It was a lot of fun! The next day, on my actual birthday, Roth and Rowan made me Eggs Benedict for breakfast, and like the adult that I am, I had a slice of leftover pie immediately following.

2. What are your strongest memories from this year, and why?

Twenty-thirteen was such a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, we experienced the birth of our last baby. On the other, we also experienced the death of a loved one just a few months later. I’d have to say those two events will stand out as my strongest memories from 2013, but for very different reasons.

Additionally, I won’t soon forget that: we went to Maui in January; I was let go from my job three days after we got back; Milo spent four days in the NICU; I spent two days in the hospital for an infection after that; we drove to California to visit Roth’s mom one last time; we drove to Idaho for a family reunion on my mom’s side; we celebrated Thanksgiving in Seattle with Roth’s dad and brother; we surprised Rowan with a visit to an indoor water park for his birthday; and we spent Christmas in shorts and flip-flops.

3. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

For Roth’s 35th birthday and as a second babymoon, we went to Maui in January. I’d never been to Hawaii before, and it was such a lovely little kid-free getaway. While there, I tried snorkeling for the first time, which was an epic fail. I also collected unemployment after I was laid off from my job and started doing freelance marketing work from home.

4. What did you want and get?

I wanted a safe labor and delivery resulting in a healthy baby, and I got both in April, despite a scare that landed our second son in the NICU for a few days. I wanted my mother-in-law to be able to travel from California to Seattle in-between chemo treatments so she could be with us for the birth of her second grandchild, and I got that, too. Anything else I thought I wanted or had to have was trumped by those two things. Nothing else really mattered more than Laurel being here when Milo was born.

5. What did you want and not get?

I thought I wanted a full-time job, and I had a lot of interviews, including a handful of second and third interviews, but I was either passed up for the position in the end, or I rescinded my interest because it just didn’t feel right, for right now, anyway. I’m starting to think this opportunity to do freelance work from home is the universe’s way of reminding me that a work-life balance is paramount to any “benefits” a full-time might be able to offer me. Thankfully, I have affordable insurance through Roth’s work, so I can continue to work from home as long as there’s enough work, while my boys are young and need me to be close by.

6. What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year?

For the first time in … ever?, Roth and I are 100% debt-free at the start of 2014. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and I finally feel like we can start saving money. For a new car. For a vacation. For a house. For our kids’ education. For real. I’d like to have some real money in our savings account by the end of the year. Oh, and maybe a bicycle and blonde hair, too.

7. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t publish any resolutions here last year, but I’m sure I made some of the same declarations I make each and every year about getting healthier, being happier and writing more. I don’t feel like I’m healthier, really, and I’m definitely not writing more, but I think I’m happier now than I was this time last year. Certainly, pregnancy discomfort played a major part in thwarting true happiness, but if only I could’ve known the joy another son would bring into my life, maybe I could’ve smiled just a bit more back then.

I have some specific tasks and goals I’d like to accomplish in the next year, and I may decide to write about them here at a later date. Or not. We’ll see.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

In general, not losing my mind trying to take care of a baby and work from home. I came close a few times, but we both survived. Specifically, there was a day not so long ago when I had a two-hour conference call with my freelance client. I tried so hard to get Milo down for a nap beforehand, but he had other plans. I ended up taking the call on the floor of the living room adrift in a sea of baby toys, as I toggled back and forth on my phone’s mute button, pretending to be a Professional Marketing Person. During that two-hour call, I also managed to change a poopy diaper, nurse Milo, and put him down for a nap — all while participating in a meeting. Despite feeling frazzled at the start of the call, I felt like a Certified Rock Star by the end. AND, I got paid for those two hours, too. I definitely unlocked some sort of achievement that day.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Getting upset whenever Milo didn’t sleep at night. So, pretty much every night for the last five months. I know I KNOW this phase won’t last forever. I know I KNOW we need to put forth just a little bit of effort to help him learn how to sleep better, but still: so much middle-of-the-night rage and frustration on my part. One of my goals for 2014 is to get Milo sleeping through the night. The first step toward that goal is getting him out of our room. (Yep. He’s still with us. Sigh.)

I also lost my temper with Rowan far too often, especially during those first few months after Milo was born, as I was trying to figure out how to be a parent to TWO kids, each with a very different set of needs. Things have improved recently, now that Rowan is in full-time preschool where he can channel his energy, but I still need to work on being more patient and consistent in how I parent him versus Milo.

10. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?

I’ve always talked to my mom on the phone a lot, but I felt like the frequency of calls increased quite a bit after I lost my job, and then when I became the mother of TWO children, and then again after the loss of my mother-in-law,  just because I needed to hear her voice. I also relied heavily on texts with Kerri, who is always a source of calm and comfort — and laughs. Always laughs. It was nice to meet up with Terrell for lunch or coffee every now and again. And, of course, Roth. Roth made me feel sane.

11.What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies, music, etc)

I think I said I wanted to read at least one book per month, and that definitely didn’t happen in 2013. I did manage to read The Fault in Our Stars, which was a’ight, I guess, and I slogged my way through Bringing Up Bebe, the memoir about how French parents are far superior to everyone else (I kid, I kid!), but that’s about it. I’ve got a small stack of books next to my bed that I plan to read in 2014: Raising Your Spirited Child, Eleanor & Park, and Ready Player One, which I’m about halfway through.

We got rid of full cable television a couple years ago in favor of Netflix, and since we’ve survived with only basic cable, which has been fine. More than fine, in fact, as I have not missed all of the garbage TV we used to watch in the past. That’s not to say we didn’t watch anything, though. I enjoyed the heck out of New Girl and Parenthood. We also binged on Orange is the New Black in about a week. And since we didn’t have AMC, we splurged on episodes of The Walking Dead and the final season of Breaking Bad via Amazon. Our favorite new show of the past year is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (SO FUNNY.) We also finally watched the first two seasons of Homeland on DVD, which we both enjoyed quite a bit.

(Also, we finally cut the cable cord completely by getting an indoor HD antenna. More on that another time.)

Didn’t see tons of movies in the theater, but the one that stands out as being totally worth the price of admission plus extra for 3-D was Gravity. I also saw Before Midnight, the third installment in the Before/After Sunrise series, at a theater when Milo was smaller and slept all the time. I felt that the conversations between Jesse and Celine seemed authentic and raw, and I liked how it ended. I also enjoyed The Way, Way Back and Enough Said, which I saw on our flight to SFO last week. On Christmas Day, I went with Roth and my brother to see American Hustle, which was pretty good, too. There was also a whole slew of forgettable kids’ movies we saw with Rowan at the theater, the best and most entertaining being The Croods.

One of my decade goals is to try to see at least one live music show each year, and we failed in 2013. Oh well. Some of the music I enjoyed was the new The Head and the Heart album, crap pop stuff on my car radio, and that’s about all I can recall. Sad state of affairs with regard to music. I’ll try harder in 2014.

12. What song will remind you of this year?

I played the heck out of “White Walls” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and I really enjoyed dancing in my car to “Blurred Lines” by Alan, I mean, Robin Thicke.

13. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year (not necessarily from the song that reminds you of the year).

“I was burned out and lost. A dusty bulb, an abandoned lot. And the nighttime was the worst. It shows you all the things you’ve lost.

There’s no light in here now. There’s no light in here now.

10,000 weight in gold. Never feels like treasure until you lose it all.”

From “10,000 Weight in Gold” by The Head and the Heart

14. What was your most enjoyable purchase?

I asked Roth this question, and he said, “Milo.” Which is pretty much the truth given how we had to pay for his four days in the NICU. Honestly, though, with insurance, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. (OMG. I’m so glad I paid for COBRA to extend my insurance.) We also got our landlords to buy us a new stove with a functioning oven, which is quite enjoyable now that we can cook a large pizza without fear of setting the house on fire. I hope to have a much more exciting answer next year.

15. Did you travel? If so, where?

Yes! To Maui in January. To Sonora, CA, in August. To Twin Falls, ID, in September. And to my hometowns (San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande) in California in December for Christmas. I don’t see us doing a ton of travel this year, but maybe down to CA a couple of times to see family/for Laurel’s celebration of life, which has yet to be scheduled.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. Documenting my sons’ lives in some meaningful way. The details of various milestones are already fuzzy. I have an idea of how I want to do this in 2014. More on that soon, too.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

As always, stressing. Especially over the small things.

18. Compared to this time last year, how are you different?

Well, let’s see. I’m not pregnant. I’m not full-time employed. My hair is a lot shorter. I’m the mom of TWO boys. Quite a bit different, I’d say. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

19. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?

For some reason, this was the hardest question for me to answer. Despite some pretty big changes in the last year, I don’t feel like I’m all that different when it comes to my core values, so I guess that’s how I’m the same?

20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year?

Oof. It’s a simple one, but an important one. Life is so goddamned short, and it can end at any time, sooner than you’d ever imagine, so enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

***

Happy New Year, all. I hope to spend more time here in 2014. Will you come around and say hello once in awhile?

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Coffee talk

I recently met up with a former colleague/old friend for coffee after more than a year not seeing or speaking to each other. There wasn’t a falling out, or anything dramatic like that. Life just got busy and pulled us in two different directions over the last many months, and then one day I got an e-mail from LinkedIn bullying me to congratulate said friend on a new job title, and I was like, oh jeez, has it really been that long since I last caught up with her? I mean, hell, I’d since gotten pregnant again, we sold our house and moved, I lost my job at the company where we once sat across an aisle from each other, I had the baby, I lost a mother-in-law to cancer, and I started doing freelance marketing work from home. Yep, it’d been far too long.

My life sure looks a whole lot different now, as does hers, than when we last got together, but it didn’t take long to get her up to speed with my goings-on because she’s the kind of person who really listens when you tell a story and remembers the details about you that make you, well, you, so it didn’t really matter that so much time had passed. What mattered was that our two-hour coffee date felt like old times. We didn’t have to give each other the back story about the things that had happened during all that time when we weren’t in touch. We just talked while sipping our respective caffeinated beverages, and it was really nice reconnecting with an old friend.

That’s how I think about my blog, like an old friend, always here waiting for me to reconnect. But, sometimes the thought of trying to catch up this space with everything that’s happened while I’ve been busy is daunting. I worry that if I don’t fill in the gaps, my life is going to read like a TV show whose writers went on a strike in the middle of the season, leaving the viewer, or in this case, the reader, wondering if the baby from the first episode is the same baby in this episode, as he can’t possibly already be 8 months old, can he? (Oh, he can.) How did that happen, writer? A segue would be nice. Sheesh.

I think if I’m going to continue writing here — and I DO want to keep writing here, because I miss it terribly, and I think I’m in a good place to pick it back up again — I’m just going to have to write the CliffsNotes version of the last many months, or else this post will be thousands of words long and take two hours to read. I’ll just have to think of you, reader, like that old friend of mine and pretend we’re catching up over coffee. Sound good?

OK, good.

***

First off, the kids. KIDS. As in, I have two of them now. Two boys, to be more accurate. Sometimes that fact still blows my mind. Milo, who I’ve written about all of two times (Sad Second Child Syndrome), is 8 months old. He’s a peach of a baby, just the sweetest little dude who is trying to do everything all at once. He’s very close to crawling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he skipped it altogether in favor of bipedal means of getting around. We keep thinking teeth are going to pop through, as surely that will explain why he sleeps so crappy at night, but no pearly whites to speak of yet, which means he’s a terrible sleeper for other reasons, likely because his parents are too lazy to actually train him. (Truth.) He started eating solids a little before he turned 6 months old, but it wasn’t until last week that he finally seemed interested, and all of a sudden he’s insatiable. At his well-baby check-ups, he’s measured middle of the road for weight, and top of the charts for height, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his newfound interest in Real People foods pushes him up some percentage points on the scale. Seems like he’s bulking up now for a big growth spurt in advance of some hardcore mobility. Also, he’s the cutest, and I can’t wait to tell you more about him.

Milo 7 months

Then there is Rowan, who is going to be 5 next week. I’m planning to write his annual birthday letter, so I’m going to save a lot of details about him until then, but guys? He’s a bonafide KID now. He’s really grown up a lot in the last year, particularly in the past three months since starting Montessori preschool. He got a haircut the other day, and it reminded me of a haircut he got when he was 3, so I did a side-by-side comparison, and HOO BOY. Heart.breaker.

Ro collage

Can you even handle it? More on Rowan soon.

I alluded to this earlier, but my work situation is VASTLY different now than it was a year ago. I wrote about my layoff and how it took the wind out of my sails, but after awhile, I realized what a freaking blessing it was that my former company let me go. It was definitely the kick in the pants I didn’t know I needed to branch out and do something different.

After Milo was born, I started hearing back from companies to which I’d applied for jobs, and while one of the very first in-person interviews I went to didn’t end in an offer for a full-time job, it did present me with the opportunity to work for this company in a freelance capacity instead. I’d never seriously considered freelance as a viable option for me. Could I do the work from home AND take care of a baby? I was dubious. But I took a leap of faith, and since July, I’ve worked as an independent marketing consultant/project manager for this large utility company, and it’s going pretty well. I bill just enough hours, 15 or so per week, that I don’t have to put Milo in daycare, and I bill at a rate much higher than I’ve ever made before, which means I take home about the same per week that I did when I worked full-time. D’oh. That math’s real nice.

But, freelance can be hard, especially now that Milo is more mobile and active. His naps are unpredictable and vary wildly in length, so sometimes I have to do my work at night or early in the morning, which is tough because of Milo’s aforementioned crappy sleeping. (SO TIRED.) Earlier this week, though, I had a two-hour conference call with my client and colleagues, and during that time, I also managed to change a poopy diaper, nurse Milo, AND put him down for a nap, all while on the clock. I high-fived myself that day, but other days are quite the shitshow (literally!), and if I’m going to keep doing freelance at this pace without losing my mind, I have to find a babysitter for a few hours a week on my meeting days.

Or, I’ll have to find a full-time job and put him in full-time care. More on that soon, too, as this topic probably deserves its own post.

Roth is doing well considering what he went through in August with the loss of his mom. He’s working a lot, sometimes early morning hours, which is hard when Milo doesn’t sleep well the night before. He’s a trooper, though, as he handles the lack of sleep much better than I do. Ahem.

We’re kind of in the baby barracks these days, so life isn’t very glamorous and our fatigues are covered in mysterious fluids. (Spit-up? Pee? Pureed peas? Who knows!)  Some nights we manage to get both boys in bed and asleep before 8:30 and then enjoy a little kid-free down time before collapsing into bed ourselves, which I consider a WIN. I’m finding that I’m happiest when things are calm and copacetic, a rarity as parents of two young children.

For Christmas this year, we’re headed to my mom’s down in California. We haven’t spent the holidays there since we moved to Seattle (I think?), so it’ll be a change of pace from what we usually do, which is drive for a dozen hours or more to visit Roth’s family. We’re flying this time, and even though tickets cost SO MUCH MONEY, I’m grateful to not spend forever in the car with the kids. It’ll be great to stay with my mom and stepdad, visit my brother (who I haven’t seen in a long time), and see a bunch of friends, too.

That’s about it. No big whoop.

I’ve missed you. What are you up to, old friend?

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Infinity

Every morning I tell myself that today is the day to finally sit down and write about Laurel. Today is the day to wrap my head around and put into words what happened. But, it’s almost as if I don’t write about it here, then it maybe it didn’t happen. Then maybe it’s not real.

Except it did, and it is.

And I can’t avoid this space forever.

***

It’s been more than a month now since Roth’s mom, our sons’ beloved GrammaLo, passed away. She died as a result of colon cancer that she battled as long and hard as she could for the last year and a half. She left this earth in peace, at home and surrounded by her closest family and lifelong friends. Some of her last hours were spent with Roth and his brother Lane, who held her hands and reassured her that it was OK to let go. Roth showed her pictures of Rowan and Milo on his phone, pictures that I’d texted him from earlier that same day. She couldn’t talk anymore by then, but he said he saw a tear fall from the corner of her eye.

She was just 62.

***

Today she would’ve turned 63.

It’s still unimaginable that Laurel got sick, let alone that she’s now gone. She was one of the healthiest, most vibrant people on the planet. She did everything right, everything she was supposed to do in order to live well into her nineties, just like her mother and her grandmother before that. She never smoked, rarely drank. She exercised, ate a balanced diet, took vitamins. She never even had a cavity in her life. And yet, none of that mattered because somehow she still got cancer.

The cancer was already stage 4 when she was diagnosed. It had spread to her liver, but it was too risky to do surgery. She managed to fight it for many months with chemo. “Stay positive!” she always said in her Caring Bridge updates. And so we did our best. I never Googled the odds. I never let my mind wander into a world without her in it. For a while, she seemed to be doing pretty well. The side effects of the chemo were minimal, manageable enough that she could travel a bit. She went to Tucson and Hawaii, and she came to Seattle to be with us for the birth of her second grandchild.

But things took a turn after the Seattle trip. She started experiencing a lot of pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy returned. She lost more weight, grew weaker by the week. In early July we got a call from Roth’s dad after a visit to her doctor at Stanford. He said it’d been determined that there wasn’t anything else her doctor could do for the cancer, and he recommended shifting from curative treatment to pain management. It was a short phone call, but Manny’s few words spoke volumes. We could read between the lines. We knew then that it wouldn’t be long, so we started planning a trip down to California.

On the drive down, we told Rowan that his GrammaLo was very sick, which was why we were going to see her, and he seemed to understand, but nothing could really prepare any of us for those next few days. She was in a lot of pain, and the first two days of our visit were, according to Roth’s dad, some of her worst days ever during her cancer fight. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Manny finally agreed to call hospice.

There is definitely a stigma attached to seeking help from hospice. It can feel like defeat, I’ve heard, like throwing in the towel, but just a day after receiving care from hospice nurses, Laurel was more comfortable and feeling less pain. Hospice couldn’t change the inevitable outcome, but I think we all felt relieved that her suffering had been lessened as she headed into her final chapter.

It was such a bittersweet visit, but I’m so glad we were able to see Laurel when we did. After she was set up with hospice, she had a couple of decent days, relatively speaking. She was able to eat a little, enjoy sitting next to Rowan while he played games on a tablet, and touch and feel Milo’s baby feet and hands. A few times, I was able to put him down for a nap right next to her while she napped. Roth and I both chatted with her about everyday things, just as we would have during any other visit before.

But this wasn’t like any other visit. We couldn’t stay forever, and soon it was time for us to head back to Seattle. Before that, Roth’s dad asked him if he’d come back “when things got really bad.” Of course, he said, but later we talked about how it seemed like things then were already really bad. How could they get worse? I managed to keep myself together until we had to say goodbye. When it was Ro’s turn to give her a hug, I lost it. She hadn’t been able to speak much above a hoarse whisper during our entire visit, but clear as day I heard her say to him, “I love you infinity.” Then Roth held Milo on her lap so she could look right into his face, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. That was the last time Rowan, Milo and I would see her.

***

I’ve grappled with whether or not I want to write about the details of Laurel’s last two weeks, and I think the answer is no. Not here. It’s not my story to tell, I wasn’t there in the final moments, and out of respect for the family, I don’t want to make anyone relive that intense and emotional experience.

Roth did make it back down to see her one last time, and he was by her side — along with his dad and brother, her sister, and some very good friends — when she passed. I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the text from Roth. It’d been a very long and challenging day of solo parenting the boys. I was in the kitchen, frantically trying to get dinner on the table while Rowan complained from the dining room that it was taking too long for his noodles and Milo whined at me from the bouncer. I saw the text in the midst of making pesto, and my heart sank. Even though I knew that moment was coming, it was still a shock, and I instantly ached to see and hold Roth. As life chaotically swirled around me in the kitchen, a life had ended in a room just off another kitchen. It was all too much, and too soon.

Fuck cancer.

***

Roth is doing OK. His brother seems to be doing OK, too. Roth’s dad is dealing, mostly focused on regrouping and reorganizing his own life after sharing it with someone for 43 years. He has plans to get away for a while, to go someplace warm, but now he’s reeling again after the death of his own mom, who passed away a month and a day after Laurel. She was 90. I think it’s high time the Universe give my father-in-law a break from all this sadness.

Life goes on because it has to, and it’s what she would want for her family, but this is the sort of loss we’ll feel in different and unexpected ways, for some time to come. Our day-to-day lives here in Seattle are the same, but it’s the bigger picture that’s still unclear. Grief sneaks up on me, in the quiet moments I share with Milo, or the conversations I have with Rowan. I reach for my phone, to send her a text or a pic of the kids, and then I remember. Roth said he listened to his dad make phone call after phone call to family and friends after she passed away, and he kept saying the same thing: her biggest regret is not being able to see her grandsons grow up.

That’s the lump in my throat, too.

***

There’s so much more to say about Laurel, more than the 330-word obituary I wrote for the local newspaper, more than the 1,300 or so words in this space. I’m thinking a lot about how I want to honor her legacy, how I want to ensure Rowan and Milo remember this amazing woman. There are photos and videos, of course, but there is the intangible, too. The way she loved her sons, and loved being a mother. I want my own sons to feel that same sort of love. I want to be the kind of mother to them that she was to Roth and Lane.

She was a daughter, a sister, a friend. She was a wife, a mother. She was a teacher, a mentor. She was a grandmother. She was GrammaLo.

Lo collage bw
She will be missed infinity.

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Maybe I was born to hold you in these arms

When you decide not to find out the sex of your unborn baby, you’re unwittingly subjecting yourself to the thoughts and opinions of just about everybody on what they think you’re having. Be it old wives’ tales (barfing for five months? GIRL!) or the shape and position of your belly (carrying round and high? GIRL!), everyone likes to pretend they’re an expert when it comes to predicting the sex of the baby.

Despite a general consensus among family and friends that the wee sapling in my belly was probably-maybe-perhaps a girl based on the aforementioned fantastical reasoning, I could never really commit to thinking we would end up with a daughter. I don’t know if that’s because I already had a son and he’s all we know, or if there was some sort of cosmic, biologic connection between me and the baby, but anytime I thought I might buy a pink onesie, just in case, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

So when the baby was born and Roth announced, “It’s a boy!”, I laughed, and then I cried tears of joy and relief as the nurse placed another warm and wriggling baby boy atop my chest. Of course he’s a boy. I think I knew all along that he was a boy, that I was destined to end up with two of my own, just like Roth and his brother, and their dad and uncle.

Yes, yes. Milo was meant to be.

***

I didn’t intend to let two months pass in between posts, but man, have the last 10-plus weeks gone by in a blink. Whenever I thought I might take advantage of a small pocket of hands-free time to write Milo’s birth story, I found laying prone on our bed way more appealing. Sorry ‘bout the radio silence here, but pressing pause to close my eyes for a bit took precedent over anything else. If there’s one thing I learned from taking care of a small baby the first time, it’s sleep (or lie still/take a shower/play Candy Crush/eat a sandwich/scroll through your iPhone pics of them) when they sleep.

I know long-winded birth stories are not everyone’s favorite thing to read, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d even write anything about Milo’s birth since so much time had passed. But I think it’s important to have a record of what happened, just as I did for Rowan, so that one day I can refer to it when the details become fuzzy. I mean, things are already starting to feel a bit blurry.

Forgive me all these thousands of words to follow.

***

It’s no secret that I didn’t love being pregnant this time. I grew increasingly more miserable with each passing week. I was tired and cranky and achy, and by the 36th week, I was very ready to be done. When I made it to the 38th week, sailing past when Rowan was born at 37 weeks 5 days and the doctor (not my own) declared on Thursday that no progress had been made toward labor that week, I started to feel a little depressed. I just wanted to have the baby that weekend, to put an end to the acid reflux and carpal tunnel, to have the delivery time out with the arrival of Roth’s mom. And yet, nothing was happening.

Except, of course something was happening. I was just so caught up in waiting for contractions to begin, as they did with Rowan, that when my water broke in an apparently unceremonious fashion, I had no idea for about a day before I started to wonder if something was going on. Like an idiot, though, I didn’t tell Roth that I thought I was maybe leaking amniotic fluid and instead buried my nose in my phone to Google “what does amniotic fluid look like?” and similar other searches that did nothing to quell my paranoia nor point me in the direction toward L&D. Roth’s mom arrived Friday night, and I was able to shift my focus to helping her feel settled in to our house.

Outside of a spate of three or four middle-of-the-night, very mild contractions, nothing really seemed to be happening, but by Saturday afternoon, I was feeling more anxious than normal. Rowan and I watched through the living room window a freak thunder- and hail-storm that brought with it a frosty chill in the air. After dinner, Roth and I decided to bundle up for a quick neighborhood walk in the hopes of spurring some contractions, and it was then that I finally expressed my concern to him about my water breaking. Had it? Should I call my doc? What if it’s nothing? GAH. I don’t know what to doooooo.

(A bit of foreshadowing: Ladies, don’t be as dumb as I was. Just get checked out at the first sign of something amiss. You’ll thank me later.)

Roth was of the mind to call my doctor, just to see what they’d say, but I knew they would tell me to come to the hospital, even if it turned out to be a false alarm. Suddenly I started to feel scared, not as ready as I thought I was to have the baby. Our bags had been packed for weeks, Roth’s mom was in town to stay with Rowan, and yet, maybe I just needed a little more time, or at the very least, a good night’s sleep. But there was no way I would be able to sleep at that point. After Rowan and Roth’s mom went to bed, I finally felt brave enough to call my doctor. About 30 minutes later, around 9:30, we were headed to triage.

***

It was eerily quiet at the hospital that night. After getting checked into triage and confirming that indeed my water had ruptured at some point, we walked around the halls of the fifth floor for about an hour while waiting for a delivery room to be set up for me. I wasn’t in active labor — I was dilated maybe 2 cm — but because my water was broken, and for who knows how long, we decided to go forth with augmentation, aka Pitocin, to get things going. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the turn of events, reflecting on my first experience with Rowan wherein I gradually started having contractions over the course of several hours and never needed the medical help, but in the interest of avoiding infection — and meeting our baby, of course! — I quickly came to terms with the trajectory on which we suddenly found ourselves.

Final belly shot.

By midnight, I was in my delivery room, hooked up to the smallest dosage of Pitocin, and mentally preparing myself for a long night. My nurse was pleasant, though not nearly as warm and comforting as the nurse who helped deliver Rowan. Mostly, though, I just wanted to close my eyes and try to get a little rest. Roth tried to do the same on the converted lounge/torture chair, but for the most part, deep sleep evaded both of us.

Just a couple hours later, minor contractions turned to pretty major, and I cried uncle. I never planned to deliver the baby without an epidural, but I was surprised by how quickly the Pitocin amped up the pain. With Rowan, I managed to go from 2 to 7 cm without any pain medication, but the ramp up was slower and more natural-feeling. I was definitely on a faster track this time. By 3 a.m., the anesthesiologist had administered the epidural, and like last time, my body immediately started shaking as if I were very cold. I wasn’t cold or hot, nor was I running a fever, but the shaking made it very difficult to rest, despite not being able to really feel the contractions.

By 5 a.m., my contractions were pretty steady, and the nurse checked my dilation, declaring me ready to start pushing. She paged the on-call doctor (not my own, of course, just like last time) and started preparing the room. Before the doctor arrived, the nurse assisted me with some practice pushes and breathing techniques. By then, the sun was starting to come up over the horizon, and we remarked on how different this delivery — and pregnancy, too — was compared to the last. Rowan was born in the winter, on the eve of a city-debilitating snowstorm; this baby was going to make his or her entrance into the world on a sunny spring morning.

The doctor finally arrived for the last few rounds of pushing. Like last time, the doctor could feel that the baby was face up. She tried to turn the baby, but didn’t have much luck. Instead, the baby’s positioning prolonged labor just a bit longer than if it’d been face down. As I got closer to the end, I started to feel really excited about meeting our baby and finally finding out if we had a girl or a boy. Both the doctor and the nurse commented that they could see the head, and that we had ourselves a “little baldy!” A couple more hard pushes, and out came the baby at 6:16 a.m. Roth was able to get a good look and lo, it was a boy!

“Really?” I confirmed. Yes, really. Another boy. I laughed, and then I cried as the nurse placed him on my chest. “My mom is going to be so surprised!”

***

Milo Burke was 7 pounds 3.3 ounces and 20 inches. He didn’t let out a really good cry until the nurse gave him his vitamin K shot. But his apgar scores were high and seemingly, he was perfect. He latched on right away to nurse, and then snuggled up in the crook of my neck as we waited to be transferred to a recovery room. By then, the sun was up, and everyone had been called to let them know our son (yes, a boy!) had arrived. Grandma Lo was just waking up with Rowan, and Roth got to talk to him about his baby brother. He seemed excited to meet him and anxious to see me, having gone to bed the night before not knowing anything was going on.

We finally settled in to our recovery room and marveled at the fact that we had another boy. He looked so much like Rowan did, too, that it was almost surreal. At one point, a few hours after he was born, I looked down at him in my arms and felt overcome with emotion. “I love him,” I said to Roth, who had endured so many months of my misery. All of the barfing and constipation and swollen hands and exhaustion turned to distant memories in that instant as I stared at my beautiful new son. It was all just meant to be.

Later that morning, Roth went to pick up his mom and Rowan to bring them back to the hospital for a visit. When Rowan got to meet Milo for the first time, it was almost too much sweetness for me to bear. And then Rowan asked us why we had a boy when he wanted a girl. Oh, dear. Roth’s mom got to hold Milo, too. I was just so relieved she was able to come to Seattle, to be with Rowan when I went into labor, and for this exact moment, to hold her brand new grandson hours after he was born.

***

Rowan quickly grew bored of the hospital, so Roth left again to take them home. The staff pediatrician came in then to examine Milo. She said he looked good, and told me not to worry too much if he hadn’t been able to nurse again since his initial latching, that newborn babies sometimes sleep for 12 hours after they’re born. She asked if he’d pooped or peed, and again didn’t seem too concerned that he hadn’t yet. Hmm.

By the late afternoon, after Roth returned, we started to feel pretty worried about our little guy. I hadn’t been able to get him to nurse since right after he was born, and he had not pooped or peed. Additionally, he would occasionally wake up just enough to spit up. We expressed our concern with the day nurse, but like the pediatrician, she did not seem alarmed. It wasn’t until several hours later after he started spitting up bile that our night nurse decided that something might be wrong. She asked to take him to the nursery to have him examined more closely. Wearily, we agreed.

She came back shortly with a neonatologist who explained that something was indeed wrong, but what exactly, she wasn’t sure. It could be a blockage in his bowels, or it could be as serious as an infection, but further testing had to be done in the NICU. It was midnight by then, and I was so tired I could hardly see straight let alone comprehend what was happening. They wheeled Milo back into the room so I could hold him for a minute before taking him to another floor. And then my perfect baby boy was whisked away.

No sleep was to be had as we waited for him to return. Finally, the same neonatologist came back around 2:30 a.m. with news. She prefaced the news by saying that while it might not be the news we’re hoping for, it’s actually quite good news that Milo didn’t have an infection, because if he did, it could kill him. KILL HIM, she said to a mother who just delivered a baby 20 hours earlier. The “good” news was that it looked like he had a bowel blockage and that it required surgery. She said the surgeon had been paged to come in early that morning, and that we would be contacted soon with more information. Oh, and we should try to get some rest.

I don’t remember this neonatologist’s name nor would we ever see or talk to her again, but she had the worst bedside manner of all the medical professionals we would deal with thereafter. I still can’t believe she would use the phrase “it could kill him.”

The next few hours were some of the worst of my entire life, not knowing what was going on with Milo. It was such a stark difference from what was happening the same time the night before, and yet both times we were waiting, waiting, waiting. I called my mom around 3 or 4 in the morning and bawled my eyes out, absolutely sick with worry. Roth tried to stay strong for me, but I could see the concern behind his eyes. This turn of events was so unreal.

Finally, I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on, so Roth called the NICU around 8 a.m. to inquire. He spoke with a nurse (a male nurse, in fact) who had been with Milo all night. He said there was some good news to report, that he had peed once and pooped twice, all on his own, and that it appeared the blockage may have been his meconium plug, which he had finally passed. But, the on-call doctor had ordered an bariatric enema to be followed by another x-ray to see if things were moving on their own. We asked if we could come see Milo then, but the nurse recommended we wait a bit longer so they could keep him quiet and calm before the enema. He expected we would hear from the doctor soon, but that they were “cautiously optimistic” about his progress, and that surgery may not be as imminent as the neonatologist thought.

Despite not being able to see Milo then, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my chest. Roth and I hugged each other long and hard after that phone call. I think we both knew that he was going to be OK, that our little Milo was a trooper — a soldier, just like his namesake.

Meanwhile, terrible events were unfolding in Boston surrounding the marathon. I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the news, but I pieced together what was happening via Facebook and Twitter and decided I couldn’t let myself get sucked into that nightmare while I was dealing with my own scary situation.

At 2 p.m., we got a call from another NICU nurse who said then was a good time to visit Milo. She said he did really well during the enema, and that he was just the sweetest little baby, how all of the nurses were falling in love with him. My body ached to see him. It’d been 12 excruciating hours since they took him away. When we arrived on the sixth floor, I began to feel a little nervous about seeing him hooked up to cords and monitors. Would I be able to hold him?

It was definitely an intense experience, visiting Milo in the NICU, but not because of how he looked. He was definitely the biggest, most robust baby in Room 2. While it pained me to see him with a tube in his nose, it was harder to watch all of the other parents visiting their smaller, sicker babies, to know that things could be so much worse. We weren’t out of the woods just yet, but I felt so much more hopeful that things would be fine.

During that initial visit, the nurse showed us his x-rays and explained what had transpired in the last 12 hours. The tube in his nose was draining his stomach of bile to prevent him from spitting up, and to keep his stomach clear so that all of the contrast dye from the enema could work its way through his bowels. He also had an IV of sugar water for food and a heartbeat/pulse monitor.

Despite all of those tubes and cords, I was able to hold him again for the first time, and oh, it made my heart swell with even more affection for this little guy. Truth be told, I don’t think I felt very bonded to the baby before he was born, probably due to a combination of hating being pregnant and not finding out the sex, but I’d have endured an awful pregnancy all over again if it meant he didn’t have to be in the NICU.

Unfortunately, he had to stay in the NICU for three more days. The doctors who checked him every day were being extremely cautious, it seemed, even though it appeared the blockage had resolved itself. Once they determined the blockage was no longer an issue, Milo had to be weaned off the sugar water and introduced to breast milk, by bottle at first and later by breastfeeding. It took a few tries, but eventually Milo got the hang of nursing and started eating like a champ. By Thursday, he was downgraded to the level 3 NICU where we were able to “in-room” with him one night before he was officially released on Friday.

As all of this was unfolding, Roth’s mom was taking care of Rowan at home. It was definitely a confusing and frustrating time for him, as I came home without the baby on Tuesday, then went back to the hospital to stay on my own that night in one of the parents’ rooms so I could try nursing Milo every few hours. I wasn’t able to get a room for Wednesday night, so I stayed at home that night, but then went back to the hospital early Thursday with Roth to be with Milo when he was moved to another floor. Rowan didn’t have preschool that week, either, to distract him from what was going on at the hospital, and it was just rough.

On Wednesday night, I started having the chills followed by a high fever every few hours. I thought maybe I was coming down with mastitis, which would make sense, since I had been pumping every two or three hours to make a store of milk for Milo. Other than a fever, though, my symptoms didn’t match, so the triage nurse at my doctor’s office told me to treat the fevers with Tylenol and call back if I had any abdominal pain. I didn’t then, but by Saturday night, I could barely get out of bed to help Roth change and feed the baby in the middle of the night, I was so doubled over in pain. On Sunday morning, I finally called the on-call doctor, and soon after, I checked back into the hospital to be treated for endometritis.

I spent two nights in the hospital getting intravenous antibiotics to treat the uterine infection, which is likely a result of prolonged ruptured membranes — or, because I was a moron who didn’t get checked out when I first thought I might be leaking amniotic fluid. My case is a bit curious, though, because I didn’t show any symptoms for three days postpartum. I can’t help but think the stress of going back and forth to the hospital that week might have exacerbated my condition, too. I was a wreck that week, not really taking it as easy as I might’ve had I gone home with the baby after two days instead of five. Roth was an absolute rock star taking care of both boys on his own for those two nights. The only upside was that I managed to get some much-needed rest.

***

I’ve had a lot of days and weeks to mull over Milo’s birth. For one, it was very different than my experience with Rowan. I just assumed things would go similarly, but I should’ve known to expect the unexpected after a more difficult, much different pregnancy. Two, I can’t help but wonder if augmentation had anything to do with what happened to Milo. Did the Pitocin speed things up too unnaturally, and his body just didn’t have enough time to pass the meconium plug had I been able to labor without the aid of medication? And three, when did my water break? Is it possible it happened during my last pelvic exam on Thursday? It was done by another doctor in the practice whom I’d never seen before, and I recall it being far more painful than other exams.

Regardless of whether or not I could’ve changed or controlled the circumstances of Milo’s birth, I’m extremely grateful for the stellar care he received by the nurses in the NICU. They were all so caring and accommodating. I felt like he was in very capable and loving hands, and I didn’t worry too much whenever I was away from the NICU. I am also so glad I decided to keep my insurance through COBRA. Even though I could’ve jumped on to Roth’s plan after I lost my job, instead I kept my current plan because I’d met my deductible and also because it provided Milo and me far better coverage. We are faced with some out-of-pocket costs for my two hospital stays and Milo’s time in the NICU, but it’s not nearly as financially devastating as it could’ve been.

Now that Milo is here, though, it’s easy to forget those few stressful days. Now that Milo is here, it’s hard to imagine life without him.

Photo by Jessica Eskelsen.

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