Friday, August 17, 2012

School Starts

Last week my boys started school.  Caleb waltzed into 2nd grade no problem whatsoever, but Joel was pretty terrified.  Though he was all grins and giggles at our celebratory Dutch Monkey Donuts breakfast, he clammed up completely the second we pulled into the school parking lot.  I don't think he said a single word when we took him to his class and gave him goodbye hugs.  He was shaking in his shoes.  I was already emotional about taking him to kindergarten, but when I saw his fear, my heart just melted.  I had to exit the room quickly, so he wouldn't see my tears, but just outside his door, I started bawling.  Bryan and I walked into the school auditorium where I cried like a baby on his shoulder.  I struggled to pull myself together, and all day the tears would rise up and spill over.  I was that crazy crying mom on the first day of school.

When I picked Joel up, he was all smiles and pretended he didn't want to talk about his day, but really he was itching to tell me about it.  Since then getting my boys to tell me about their days is like pulling teeth, but that day he clearly wanted to talk about it.  He had a great day and so did Caleb.  And now Joel does beautifully at dropoff; he didn't even think to give me a hug when I dropped him off on his second day.  He just bounded in right next to Caleb.  It is so sweet to see them walking in together.  They sit by each other at lunch each day, which I find irresistibly adorable.

As I was leaving school on the first day, I kept thinking about the well of grief in me, just how sad I felt about leaving my second born at his first day of school.  When Samuel was alive, I remember swearing off tears about routine shots and the stuff our healthy kids go through.  I was determined to rejoice in them -- in the fact that my child was healthy enough to get the shot or meet the milestone.  I never thought I'd be dry-eyed about my kids starting kindergarten, but I also didn't expect such sorrow.  I do rejoice in their health, in how they are well enough to attend school, in how I get to homeschool them half of the week, in how they are growing into these amazing kids of whom I'm so proud; there is much in which to rejoice.  And I do.  But I think my loss of Samuel informs how I feel about these milestones of childhood.  Knowing what it is to miss every single milestone, I cling to the ones my healthy children face.  I feel the steady rhythm of time, ticking away beneath me, the days already gone and the present ever-changing, my children always growing.  Time is fleeting by nature;  there is not a thing I can do to slow it down.  Samuel's death in many ways intensifies my desire to savor these early years with my children.  I won't get them back.  Knowing I won't ever take Samuel to his first day of kindergarten, I find myself grasping on to the now and wanting to make the most of it.  Though I've held true to my refusal to lament the routine shots and heel pricks and common colds, I do grieve when my kids keep growing up, though of course it's the very thing I want for them.  It's a paradox, I suppose: wanting them to be well enough to grow up and yet resenting that they continue to grow.

Now, a week in to the school year, it's been pretty easy to send the boys to school, and they are happy to go.  I find that the homeschool days make the school days easier.  And I have loved my days with just Anna Pea.  We go to the grocery store or walk the greenway, and I get some much appreciated time to myself during her morning nap.  As an introvert, it fuels me.  I think it's going to be a great school year, and there is something simply beautiful about the new bond of going to school together that my boys share.  I love all the ties that bind those boys together.

My kindergartener

My 2nd grader

Huge donuts to celebrate the start of the school year
Watching donut-making magic

My fabulous school boys at their favorite breakfast spot

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Celebrating Samuel's 3rd BIrthday

As we approached the month of August, I realized I hadn't really prepared mentally and emotionally for another round of anniversaries.  I wondered if Samuel's birthday would be harder as a result.  Ordinarily, I do a lot of my emotional work ahead of time, so when I actually get to the day/place/encounter it's usually goes decently.  But this year, I felt like I was going in unprepared.

A few days before Samuel's birthday I was watching a show called Bunheads about a ballet studio and the people who dance there.  In the episode, someone's son had unexpectedly died, and the high school dancers wanted desperately to "do something" for the mom, so they choreographed a dance just for her.  It's a beautiful scene, and it left me weeping.  My emotions totally took me by surprise.  It stirred up in me the sorrow of the mom -- such desperate grief and overwhelming loss, and it also reminded me of the many people who "just did something" for us -- the myriad of ways in which people served and loved us.  I was so moved by the show, that I actually cried myself to sleep.  Poor Bryan wondered what in the world had happened to me when I climbed into bed sobbing. 

The next day Caleb and my mom had a creative date on skype to work on their 5 book series they're writing together.  It's Caleb's brainchild, and my mom is compiling his ideas in a notebook so they can hopefully turn it into a bound work someday.  It's an impressive plan about robots who secretly live in our house and protect us.  It takes place during WWII (hence our need for protection), and each member of our family has a robot.  Caleb was parked at the kitchen table chatting away with my mom while I was making dinner.  When Caleb started telling Mom that Samuel has a robot too, and that Samuel's robot has a secret weapon called "Epic Escape," I found myself crying into the pot of noodles on the stove.  I love that Samuel is still part of our family for Caleb.

After my two showers of tears, I thought perhaps I was more ready for August 1st than I'd previously expected.  I thought maybe it would be a fairly do-able day afterall.  So I was caught off-guard when it was such a teary day.  I cried and cried and cried.  It was good crying -- the healing kind, but I was not expecting the day to be so wet.  It was a sweet day in lots of ways, but it was harder than I had expected for sure.

We made a birthday cake for Samuel, and Bryan and the boys designed and decorated it.  They decided to put a sun and clouds on the cake and an owl flying in front of the sun like in Bryan's owl painting.  Joel wanted there to be three sunbeams since Samuel would have been three.  It was a fun time working on the cake, and the boys were excited to eat it.  My mom had sent us money to go out for Samuel's birthday, and she said the boys should pick a restaurant they think Samuel would have liked; they picked Red Robin.  They loved eating there and celebrating our birthday boy in that way.  Once we got home, we wrote messages to Samuel on balloons and released them in the backyard.  All in all, it was a precious time remembering and celebrating the life of Samuel.  I am glad we have traditions as a family of celebrating our boy and that Caleb and Joel feel like it's a fun day.  It's what we've hoped for.

I love this picture of 3 of my boys.
At Red Robin

Watching the balloons fly away
Earlier in the afternoon, Caleb made a voice recording on his voice recorder (which my mom gave him to record his ideas for their books) for Samuel.  He took it around and had each family member wish Samuel a happy birthday.  He even introduced Anna to Samuel.  It was so precious and sweet and such a treasured glimpse into Caleb's heart and mind.  Unfortunately, he accidentally erased all the recordings in that folder, and the poor kid was beside himself with disappointment.  We're both sad to lose the record of those thoughts, ideas, and love.

On Friday we headed down to Egleston Children's Hospital with lots of cookies for the doctors and nurses of the CICU.  Ahead of time, I was willing to forego our Egleston tradition, but I'm so glad we went.  Bryan and I both found ourselves taking deep breaths and sighs in the elevator from the parking garage to the lobby of the hospital.  It's always hard to go back, and we call it a full-sensory experience.  All of our senses spark memories of our month there with Samuel.  From the smells of the handsoap to the sound of the double doors releasing to the brightly painted walls and yellow linoleum floors to the feel of the textured walls in the elevator, there is something around every corner to churn up some memory.  My heart always feels clenched when I walk in and especially when I walk down the hall to the CICU.  But once I'm there and smiling at the receptionist and greeting one of Samuel's doctors, I'm so glad to be back.  It's good to remember, even if some of the remembering is hard.   We got to see one of the doctors who was very kind to us during Samuel's life and who seemed genuinely happy to see us, and best of all, we got to see Richard, our very favorite nurse and the one I prayed would be with us when Samuel actually died.  (God answered that prayer.)  It was so good to give him a hug and watch him shower our boys with kindness once again.  We enjoyed our short time in the CICU, and on the ride back home, we both expressed how glad we are that we return every year.

Cookies galore
Anna "helping" me in the kitchen with the cookies
With Dr. Sri and Nurse Richard
It was a hard few days but also a good few days.  It's good for my heart and soul to remember my boy in a very intentional way -- to go back to the place where we knew him, to dedicate a day to celebrating his life.  Though it's oftentimes weepy, that's good, too.  I miss Samuel more acutely in August.  It's my least favorite month of the year, and I may always feel that way, but it's also healing to have hard days.  And I love how God shows me the mighty healing work He's done in my heart in the last three years.  Happy Birthday, sweet boy of mine!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Samuel on His 3rd Birthday

Dear Samuel,

Since I write a letter to each of my children on his or her birthday every year, I am continuing the tradition with you, too.  Caleb, Joel, and Anna each have a journal of their own.  In many ways, your journal is this blog, so it seems fitting to write your letter here.

Happy 3rd Birthday, sweet boy!  I don't know how it can be true that three years have passed since I first set eyes on your perfect face.  I know every parent is totally biased toward their children, but I still believe you were the most beautiful baby these eyes have ever seen.  You were perfect in every way.  Tiny features, smooth skin, rounded head.  Your beauty took me by surprise, and I couldn't stop marveling at it.  Your Great Aunt Colleen tells me how she still daydreams about seeing you for the first time and how stunningly beautiful you were in the hospital's NICU.  All of us just wanted to scoop you up and snuggle you close and shower you with kisses, but we contented ourselves with staring at you instead and remarking on your perfection.

So much more than your outward beauty was perfect.  You were perfectly made by God.  Perfectly knit together.  Not one single mistake did God make.  He made your heart and your lungs just as He intended, and I don't resent that one bit.  I don't wish He had made a different you.  I wanted you -- just as you were, and I will always want only the you He gave me.  He made your heart to be flawed by human standards, but, Samuel, you had God's heart, which is much of the reason we named you Samuel.  It means "asked of God" and "God's heart," and both were so true of you.  Your heart, which confounded the doctors, pointed straight to your Creator.  And your life, brief as it was, drew people to Jesus.  It drew me to Jesus in new and profound ways.  Your heart that was a mystery to humans was no mystery to the One who made it; it worked just as God intended: it made God's name great.  And I am so thankful.

Though I wish I could write you a letter like the ones I write your brothers and sister -- filled with stories about you, the funny things you say, your deep questions, the ways in which you are changing, and the things I hope you learn as you grow up -- I rest peacefully knowing that someday I will know you intimately like I know Caleb, Joel, and Anna.  And you already know everything that matters.  You've seen Jesus face-to-face, and you know Truth, Love, Joy, Goodness, Grace, Mercy, Wisdom, and Peace.  Instead of hoping I can teach you something about our good God, I know there is so much (infinitely much?) that you can someday teach me.  And I can't wait to be your pupil (as in many ways I already am.  You've taught me so much, sweet boy.)  Will you show me Heaven when I get there?  Will you be there to greet me when I arrive?  Will you take me to Jesus and introduce your momma to her Creator?  Will you share in that moment of awesome wonder with me?  I hope so.  I badly hope so.

Though your birthday is never what this momma would have dreamed up, I am so grateful for this day to celebrate your birth.  I love spending a day praising God that YOU came into this world and changed our lives forever.  I love that I get a chance to tell the world (well, my little world, anyway) how happy I am that you are my son, that God chose US to be your family, and that we have the privilege of being refined by your life.  I consider us so incomparably honored to have been chosen as your momma, dadda, and siblings.  I'll probably never know why God bestowed the blessing of you on us of all people, but I will always, always be thankful beyond words.

As time has gone by and you being in Heaven is a "normal" part of our lives, I realize more and more that going straight to Heaven isn't such a bad thing.  I remember being taken aback and slightly offended the first time I heard this idea, but it rings true despite the initial harshness of it.  There are worse things than going straight to Jesus' presence and skipping all the trials and tribulations of this life.  Who knows what all you've been spared.  And though I would have loved to walk by your side in whatever trials you faced, I am genuinely happy for you to already be in the perfect presence of God.  I would never want to take that amazing gift away from you.

I know there is no gift I could possibly give you for your birthday that you don't already have; you lack for nothing.  But if I could, I would send you my kisses and hugs and cuddles, and I would ask Jesus to give them to you Himself, and they would be a tiny cherry on top of the icecream sundae that is your whole life -- every single moment of it is already full to the brim of unchanging joy, fullness, love, and life.  You don't need any more -- in fact, you probably couldn't even hold any more.  But sending my love to you would make me feel better and more whole and might ease the ache in my soul that I have grown to accept as part of who I am and always will be in this life.  But maybe love never reaches capacity in Heaven, so there is room for my tiny cherry of love in your heart.  I think I will ask God to give it to you, afterall.

Samuel, as I sit here with tears pouring down my face, there is really one thing I want you to know: I love you.  I always will.  And I will always, always, always be thankful that you were born my son on August 1st, 2009.  Happy Birthday, Samuel Erik Apinis!  Your momma is crazy about you.

I love you to the end of the numbers.

Love, Momma