Friday, June 25, 2010

Bookends

First Day of School:



Last Day of School:
Nathan grew 2 inches this school year.
Benjamin grew 1.5 inches this school year.

If you really want to see how much they've grown, compare it to last year's Bookends post.
Why do they insist on growing up? Where is the pause button?

Summer vacation starts in four hours!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

5,110 Days

624 Weeks.
168 Months.
14 Years.

All of them married to the same great guy, Michael Chase. I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being old enough to claim 14 years of marriage, but after last year's mix up, I double checked. 14 years, sure enough.

But look at the photo above, where we are brand new newlyweds. Then look at the photo below, taken right before we left for our anniversary night on the town.

Barely recognizable as the same two people!  Looks like fourteen years have passed to me!

The only thing that hasn't changed is our love for each other. In the last fourteen years, our hearts have broken as we've been witness to the carnage of the broken marriages of our family and friends. We've never said that could never happen to us, because we've seen firsthand that it can happen to anyone. We've worked incredibly hard to keep our relationship a priority, even through multiple international moves that have stressed us to the breaking point, impossible work schedules conspiring to keep us apart, and our romance-busting children. Getting married is easy. Staying married is much more difficult. Every single day we are confronted with choices that will either hurt or help our marriage. Fourteen years ago, we committed to choosing the things that will help, even when it's not the easiest choice.  We don't always get it right. But if I had to do it all again, I would still choose to marry my handsome fella. Happy Anniversary, Michael! I love you so.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Best Day Ever

Happy Father's Day to the father of my beautiful boys!
I remember vividly how I told Michael he was going to be a dad. It was early 2000, and my husband was a Star Wars maniac. He was drawing me to the dark side, forcing me to become a fangirl myself. I'd saved up and then secretly pre-purchased the first Star Wars Trilogy (episodes IV, V, & VI) on VHS which was going to be distributed close to Valentine’s Day. It was a big deal, the first time George Lucas put it out there for people to own. It cost a fortune as I recall (which makes me giggle, you can't even buy VHS anymore!). I put the receipt and claim ticket in a sealed envelope, wrote Top Secret on it, and stuck it to the fridge. I showed it to him and said it was there to be opened when he had the WORST DAY EVER. As the weeks passed, he had a few bad days, but none he'd classify as the worst.

We'd been married for almost four years, and I'd known from the time we started dating there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to conceive without medical intervention. We had options, but we weren't pursuing them. I'd just quit my high-stress job and was taking a month off to ponder a major career change. Michael was in the middle of his own high-stress job, working on a project that would eventually move us all to Japan. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life while Michael's career suddenly hit the fast lane, and life felt like an emotional roller coaster. However, there was one day where everything made me cry and fume and laugh and rage, all at once. Forget the emotional roller coaster, this was a bullet train direct to Crazytown. There was a little bitty whisper in my head suggesting what it might be, but I tried to tell it to shut up, it wasn't possible. Days passed, and the whisper became a shout. I went and bought a pregnancy test. It said to wait two minutes to read the results, but it wasn't necessary. That thing lit up like a neon light saying there was a baby on the way. My jaw hit the floor. I picked it up and then danced around the living room with Bruce the Cat (he didn't much care for that), and then paged Michael (on a pager! How quaint! How 2000!).

I continued my little dance around the living room until Michael finally called. Before I said a word, he jumped in to tell me that he was having a bad day. A day so bad, it could only be called the WORST DAY EVER. The worst day in THE HISTORY OF BAD DAYS. He asked me to meet him after work and told me to please bring the Top Secret envelope from the fridge. Then he was off the phone, back into the land of WORST DAY EVER. I was filled with sorrow. Moments before I had been dancing with unrestrained joy. Now I was bawling uncontrollably at how insensitive he was to have chosen his WORST DAY EVER to fall on the very same day as my BEST DAY EVER. How could he?!

I managed to pull it together and put the positive pregnancy test in a small box and tied a ribbon around it. I grabbed the Top Secret envelope and met him in the parking lot after work. He slouched into my car, thunderclouds swirling around his head, a stream of grumbling words coming from his mouth. He was not a pretty sight. He told me about his horrible day. I gave him the envelope, which he tore into. "Thanks, this is nice," he said. Nice? Slightly disappointed that my thoughtful gift was only in the category of nice, I handed him the box with the pregnancy test in it. He opened it up, clearly puzzled at the white plastic stick in the box. I pointed to the small picture on the stick. One pink line: not pregnant. Two pink lines: Pregnant. Then I pointed to the two glowing pink lines. He caught on.

"You're pregnant?" I nodded. "You're going to be a Mom?" I nodded again. "I'm going to be a Dad?" I nodded once more. He grabbed me and held me and together we shed some tears.

"I'm sorry your day was so bad," I whispered into his ear.

He pulled back and looked at me, slightly confused, bad day completely forgotten. "Are you kidding me? This was the BEST DAY EVER!"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Party of 11 1/2

So guess who showed up on my doorstep this afternoon?

It's Chris! We haven't seen him in 18 months, and yes, I started crying when I saw him. He's finished up his 2+ years of Navy training, and now he's been assigned to the Naval Base in San Diego. Hopefully he'll be here until after the birth of Chris and Alyssa's son, due in August. The last few days they've been driving cross country from Connecticut to California, crossing the State border this morning. We're all so happy that they are here on the West Coast! Hooray!

To celebrate having them back in arm's reach, our family and Alyssa's family all went out for dinner. Chris requested Mexican food and guacamole, and we were happy to oblige! Welcome back to California, Chris and Alyssa!
Left to Right: Heather, Michael, Tommy, Chris, Alyssa, Tahnee, Sandra, Peter, Aaron. The kiddos in the front are Benjamin and Nathan.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Family Ties

I lost my first Grandparent, my Dad's father, when I was in the third grade. It was a devastating experience in many ways. I'd never been exposed to death or dying before that. It was very difficult to see my family, a very jovial bunch of people, deeply grieving. The funeral itself was a nightmare, as all the family members except my brother and I sat in a separate section to the side, evidently to provide some privacy. My brother and I sat in the back of the packed church with my Mom's parents, where we cried and wailed, both for the loss of our grandfather and the unexplained (to our satisfaction) separation from our parents.

When Nathan started third grade this year, I unexpectedly spent the day on the verge of tears. On the surface, it was an absolutely ridiculous reaction. Third grade is hardly a milestone year. But I couldn't shake the deep sorrow that enveloped me. The truth was that I was scared of history repeating itself and of my own son losing a grandparent at the same age I did. I finally called my Dad in tears, hardly able to express why I was so upset. We cried together on the phone for an hour as I asked him to tell me everything he could about my Grandpa. What did his hands look like? What did he sound like when he laughed? What made him happy or angry? My memory of him is nearly blank, and that made me grieve even harder when I thought of my own kids. If they lost their grandparents right now, would they have any memory of them when they are older?

Earlier in the year my Dad's sister arranged a family reunion. It was held at a park, noisy with activity. I was very late due to previous plans I couldn't get out of. Most everything had been put away, including the giant boards plastered in family photos. My cousin kindly pulled them out for me to look at. I immediately saw a black and white photo of me and my little brother standing on either side of my Grandfather, a long table behind us set up for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It took all my strength to not rip the photo off the board and stuff it in my pocket to save forever so that I could have some small token of proof that we were together. Instead, I've been pestering my Aunt Barbara all year to send me a copy of the photo. It arrived this morning.


There's no secret to the fact that of all the places in Los Angeles we could have called home, we moved a block away from Michael's parents. And although my parents live about five hours away, I make sure the kids see them at least every other month. We tend to give our children the things we didn't have growing up. For me, that is giving Nathan and Benjamin every possible opportunity to get to know their Grandparents. Not just on holidays when everyone is dressed up and on their best behavior, but as part of everyday life. When they are my age, I want my parents and Michael's parents to be part of the rotating cast of characters that fill up their childhood memories. I know that almost every single time my kids are with their Grandparents, I pull out the camera and get a picture to go with the hundreds of other photos of them with their Grandmas and Grandpas through the years. I wonder if when they have children of their own, they’ll work this hard to make sure Michael and I are part of their lives. I certainly hope so. I'll make it easy on them, meet them at least halfway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Queen Bee

Today my house was filled with bees. I was minding my own business, printing payroll checks, singing along with the radio, when I heard some serious buzzing. I was a little surprised to see a bee in the house. After all, the windows were open but they all have screens. I quickly opened the sliding patio door and did some jumping and dodging, hoping the bee would understand my little interpretive dance and make his way outdoors. He did. Big sigh of relief. I double checked all the screens and left to pick the boys up from school.

We came home to find many more bees buzzing around the living room. They were having a little bee party in our absence. I didn't jump or dodge, I screamed like a teen horror film queen, pushed the boys out of the house, and slammed the front door closed behind us. This particular reaction may have frightened the boys just a bit, judging by their fearful expressions. I tried to calm down so I could calm them down. I sat on the front porch, pondering what to do while they stared at me speechlessly with eyes wide open. Tuesdays are Michael's really late nights, so it's not like we could keep sitting there on the porch until he came home at 10:00 p.m. to let him deal with it. Something had to be done.

I left the kids in the driveway and went back in the house. I pulled on a long sleeved sweater and pushed open the back patio door again. While I was standing there trying not to hyperventilate, I noticed more bees coming in from the fireplace. Not good. I went back to my perch on the porch to think some more. I thought of Winnie the Pooh, always thinking about his “Hunny” and trying to outsmart the bees. I got a little comic relief when I noticed that the boys were hiding behind their backpacks, cowering in fear.

I asked them what they thought we should do about the bee situation. Benjamin suggested we move to a new house and start over. Nathan suggested we throw a bomb in the chimney and blow up the bees. I decided the key was to somehow block up the fireplace. I searched around in the garage for something fireplace-shaped, but came up empty. Then I saw the Duct Tape and realized I could just cut open a big black Hefty bag and tape it over the opening.

I left the boys outside again and got to work. I could hear the bees in the chimney which made my hands shake as I tried to tape the plastic to the brick. I chanted please-don’t-sting-me-please-don’t-sting-me while the boys stood on the porch, calling out, "We love you, Mommy! You're so brave!" I finished my work on the fireplace, did some more interpretive dancing to get the remaining bees out of the living room into the backyard, and then let the kids back in the house. They said I was their hero, fighting the bees like that. They gave me hugs and kisses without me requesting them.

Michael just got home from work. I think we'll pull off the plastic, light a nice fire, and then sit on the couch while I tell him about how I saved the whole family, maybe even the whole neighborhood, with my quick thinking and heroic actions. Of course, he'll just laugh and say, "So how loud did you scream?"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Broken Heart


My son Benjamin was born with Pulmonary Stenosis, a type of congenital heart disease. The pulmonary valve that pumps blood to the lungs was closed when he was born. There was just a pin-prick hole in the valve that allowed the blood to push through. His tiny heart had to work much harder than it was designed to, and within hours of his birth there were already signs that his heart was struggling. He had heart surgery when he was four days old to open up the valve. From the time he was one month old, he's worn the medical bracelet in the photo above. We've never taken it off for any reason. Last week he came home quite agitated and pulled me into his bedroom and held up his wrist. It took me a moment to realize what he was showing me... naked skin without a bracelet. I asked what happened and he handed me the broken bracelet, covered in seven years worth of dents and scratches. Through tears he told me he didn't know, it just broke.


His bracelet is like the little engraved plaque next to a work of art, a way to identify and classify. Of course it's more than that. It's also a way to let medical personnel know what steps to take in an emergency. And considering Benjamin has worn it for just shy of seven years, I can understand why he was so broken up about it breaking. I was a little broken up myself! When we brought Ben home from the NICU after surgery, there wasn't a minute that didn't go by without me thinking of his heart. It consumed my life. He had daily appointments with the cardiologist. After awhile, the daily appointments became weekly appointments. When he was eight months old, they became monthly appointments. And then they became quarterly, soon followed by every six months. Now we see his pediatric cardiologist just once a year. Throughout the last seven years, I've gone from thinking about his heart constantly to actually having weeks and months go by without it being the number one thing occupying my thoughts. I never dreamt that would be possible when I first brought our baby home, newly minted with the title of Medically Fragile Child and his accompanying stack of appointment cards and prescriptions. As we get closer to Ben's birthday and his annual appointment with the pediatric cardiologist, I've noticed my thoughts are constantly coming back to his heart. Seeing the broken bracelet and Ben asking me each day if his new one arrived certainly doesn't help. Our last few visits with the cardiologist haven’t been overflowing with great news. As he grows, the muscles of his heart are thickening as they work extra hard to push blood through his pulmonary valve. Thanks to the surgery, the valve now lacks a way to make a perfect seal after each heartbeat, allowing some blood to rush backwards. I’m eternally hopeful that the next appointment will be the one where the measurements show no change from the previous year.

Life is so short. The days seem long and never ending, but I'm shocked that Benjamin has already been with us for seven years. The silver lining in the ominous cloud of Ben's heart is my reminder to take advantage of the time I do have. To tell my family and friends I love them, and not become casual or complacent with the gift of waking up every morning. I’m not a morning person, so that doesn’t come easy for me! But you get the idea. We have a finite number of days to make a difference in the world. Although it happens, no one is actually promised that they’ll live into ripe old age and die peacefully in their sleep. Makes me wonder how we might live differently if we knew things would all end next week, or even tomorrow. Right now I gotta go check if the new bracelet has arrived and then pick the kids up from school. They’re done with homework for the year, so maybe we’ll celebrate with a quick trip for ice cream. Because if today was my last day, I’d want to spend it celebrating. How about you?