Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year’s Wish

Tonight as Ed and I were finishing our cheese fondue (which we’ve decided will be our family’s New Year’s Eve tradition), the version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that we think of as Hudson’s (by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) came on our iPod. We were both struck silent. We sat quietly, holding hands, listening and weeping. I was, as I always am in the wake of Hudson’s death, especially moved by these lines:

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me
Oh, somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly
And the dream that you dare to... Why, oh why can’t I?

All I could think was that this had to be her wishing us happiness in the new year and every minute until we can be with her again, somewhere over the rainbow. 

Oh, how I want to believe that.

Happy New Year, my little bluebird.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Monday and Tuesday of this week were hard. After a long weekend at home in North Carolina full of shopping trips and visits to Santa and gift-wrapping and gift-unwrapping and picture-taking and eating and visiting, coming back to DC was rough. On the drive back, I inexplicably found myself mired in my memories of those days in the hospital, all the terrible images and sounds and grave pronouncements from the doctors and my helplessness and my hopelessness. I replayed the moments leading up to that trip to the ER again, wondering for the millionth time if there were something I could have done differently. I wanted so much just to be able to close my eyes to all of it, but it was impossible. I spent much of the drive home crying or fighting back tears. 

Tuesday was much the same. Hard. Sad. Lonely. It wasn’t until Ed got home that night that I started to understand why I’d been having such a tough time, much more than usual. He mentioned that he’d been having trouble concentrating at work, and then commented that the “re-entry” after vacation is always difficult, trying to settle back into work mode. It struck me that that had been my problem, too. Even though the Christmas holiday came with its own sadness, it was so full of noise and distraction that I was able to avoid sinking into a darker place. But coming back home to a quiet house, back to my days alone with my sweet boy, back to my life with only one child where there should be two—it served as an incredibly powerful and sorrowful reminder, once again, that Hudson is gone and she is never coming back. 

The worst part about this realization was a further realization, which is that this kind of “re-entry” occurs all the time, sometimes multiple times within the same day. It doesn’t require coming home from a busy vacation. One minute you are bopping down the stairs, humming a tune, talking in a sing-songy voice to your living child, feeling practically normal for crying out loud, and the next, you remember, all over again, that your child is dead, that you will never see her again or hear her say your name or sweep her hair out of her face or watch her sleeping or hold her hand to cross the street. I “re-enter” that reality over and over. All. The. Time. The vacations my mind takes can never hold enough distractions to stop it from happening again and again and again.

Today, I was on the way home from an errand with Jackson, listening to NPR, thinking about the fondue I’m going to make tomorrow night for New Year’s Eve. I’d parked in an unusual place, so I found myself cutting down a street I don’t usually take in order to get back on my normal route home. I came to an intersection and all of a sudden I realized exactly where I was. 

It’s the restaurant where we took Hudson for dinner about eight hours before she first woke up with fever. It was our Mother’s Day dinner because we knew Sunday night was going to be difficult for some reason. It’s a brick-oven pizza place, and while the patio is closed up for the winter, on that Saturday night in May 2010, it was bustling with people and dogs. It is the last memory I have of her before she got sick and our lives changed forever. 


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Days of Thanks #32

For this, my final day of gratitude during our second holiday season without our girl, I am so grateful for the precious new memories we made with our sweet Jackson this Christmas. Hudson was with us so much in spirit these past two days, and we spent some time as a family at the end of this busy day watching the slideshows of our Christmas memories with her.

But there is no doubt that the joy Jackson has brought into our lives made this day so much lighter than its predecessor last year, when I couldn’t even bear to stay at home and open gifts with Hudson’s cousins. Yesterday, Jackson opened his first presents ever with his Grandma and Grandpa at Ed’s folks’ house. And last night, he wore his sister’s “Perfect Little Present” Christmas jammies to bed (the ones she wore when she was a whole 5 months older than he is now) and then today changed into his own “My First Christmas” outfit, complete with a penguin just for him. He spent the day entertaining his cousins and aunts and uncles and playing with his new blocks and making all of us smile.

And the best present I got was watching him learn to clap his hands in delight for the first time. 

It will never be the same without Hudson, but I was so grateful to learn that this day would not forever be shrouded in darkness. I so look forward to one Christmas soon when we can share our Hudson memories with Jackson—I know he’ll love her pictures and videos as much as we do.

And finally, I want to say again (I could never say it enough) how grateful I am to all of you who continue to read here, to remember with us, and to send us so much love and support. I remain humbled and amazed by the depth of humanity that has been shown to us since we lost our girl. I hope that all of you enjoy your holiday season—thank you for embodying the very essence of the Christmas season for our family.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Days of Thanks #31

Tonight, on Christmas Eve, our second without Hudson, I am feeling so very grateful for my memories of the two Christmases we had with her. 

My family and I just watched some old home videos that no one but my dad had ever seen. They were actually of Christmas 2001, ten years ago, and almost exactly one year before my mother died. We watched long, wonderful minutes of video of my mom, a rare treasure in our home—she never liked being photographed or videotaped. It’s almost like she knew she was seriously ill (she wasn’t diagnosed for another four months after that) and so she wanted us to be able to have these memories of her. I stared into the TV, barely able to remember a mom so vibrant and beautiful—she was always in her element on Christmas morning. It was probably her best day of every year. It would be only a few short months after that when she would start dropping weight and start becoming the gaunt shadow of a person she used to be. I cried and cried watching her, remembering so fondly those Christmases she made so very special for all of us.

 All day long, we have been so busy—wrapping, doing last-minute grocery shopping, opening presents and eating Christmas dinner with Ed’s family (who we will not see tomorrow)—I haven’t had nearly enough time to spend with my memories of Hudson, time to grieve just as I also celebrate a first Christmas with our precious Jackson. After watching those videos of Mom, all I wanted to do was spend some time with my girl. I miss them both so much right now, it hurts. How much fun they would have had together on this holiday (as I was so tenderly reminded watching Mom’s face light up after grandchild upon grandchild opened gifts she had selected so carefully and wrapped so lovingly), especially this year, when Hudson would really be getting into Christmas and Santa for the first time.

So I came back to a quiet room and sat down to watch these slideshows I made last year of our Christmas memories with our girl. I ache to think of what a wondrous time of year this would be with her now. I miss her in a whole new way now, as I imagine what Christmas would be like with not one, but two excited kids being fawned all over by their cousins. Each of the songs in these videos hold so much meaning for me. I’m sure the reasons will be obvious. I am so grateful for the way that a photo or a video can take me right back to a precious moment in time, like Christmas with my dear mom or Christmas with my dear girl. 

Tomorrow, I will make the grief wait and I will enjoy Christmas morning with Jackson and my nieces and nephews. I will make new memories with our sweet boy as we continue to learn to live without his big sister. But tonight, I’m so very grateful to have such amazing Christmas memories with my Hudson, and I’m grateful to have a moment to sit and be sad that we will never make any more with her again.

I miss you so much, my dearest girl. I am crying for you tonight and wishing more than anything that you were here throwing sprinkles on a cookie for Santa and reading “The Night Before Christmas” with me and having a hard time going to sleep because you are so excited for tomorrow. My heart hurts with longing but it also bursts with the joy of these memories with you. I love you, sweetheart.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Days of Thanks #30

I am so grateful to be celebrating Jackson’s first Christmas. It is an incredibly bittersweet time, especially thinking about how Jackson and Hudson would be interacting now, but there’s a whole, whole lot of sweet.

We took Jackson to see Santa at the mall today. All three grandparents came along and we lined up before Santa even started taking visits. About 5 minutes before 10AM, Santa arrived, walking down the mall concourse and waving at all the kids. Parents started telling their kids, “Here comes Santa!” and kids started craning their necks to get a glimpse of the big man himself. The excited din was, momentarily, more than my poor heart could take. We’d have been doing the exact same thing if Hudson were alive, Ed putting her up on his shoulders so that she could see Santa approaching, her clapping her hands and squealing to us that Santa was coming. I couldn’t help myself—I started to cry. I turned to Ed and put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed, trying not to let myself go. He hugged me and within a minute or two, I was OK and could focus on the moment at hand.  (Sadly, it occurred to us too late to bring a stuffed turtle for Jackson to hold in his Santa picture, just like Hudson held a penguin in hers.  Next year.)

We stood in line for another half hour or so waiting for Jackson’s turn and when it came, it was glorious. Several kids in a row in front of us had cried and cried, hands reaching out for their moms. When it was Jackson’s turn, Santa came over to talk to me (it turns out he and I used to teach middle school together years and years ago). Jackson just looked at him curiously and grabbed his gloved finger and shook it up and down. When it came time to hand him over, he was totally game. He sat in Santa’s lap and I went around behind Ed to try to get him to smile for our personal camera. All it took was a big smile from me and a high-pitched “Jackson!” and this kid just broke into an ear-to-ear grin. And I’m not kidding, y’all—the line of parents behind us erupted into delighted applause and laughter. It was hilarious and uplifting and precious. We took some more photos and then said our goodbyes.

It wasn’t until later that I looked back at the pictures and saw a precocious little three-year-old girl sitting on Santa’s left side, maybe with pigtails by now, smiling the cheesy smile that kids put on once they learn to ham for the camera, leaning in to whisper to Santa what she wanted for Christmas, and galloping away with her new Santa Claus coloring book. I made the grief wait. It surprised me that I had done so—I was caught off guard looking back and realizing that I hadn’t been thinking of Hudson in that moment when I was trying to get Jackson to smile. I felt some regret for that but I also felt glad, because in that one moment, I was just enjoying my little boy, giving him some undivided love and attention for his first Christmas. And oh, how he rewarded me. That little grin is just priceless.
How I wish we had different pictures, but the ones we have are so very special in their own right.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Days of Thanks #29

I am grateful every single second of every single day for my precious little boy. And I am so grateful to his big sister for continuing to remind me of how grateful I should be.

We are really getting put through our infant parenting paces in the sleep department. I meant it when I told the doctor we were getting a hard lesson in how your second child can be so totally different from your first child. We somehow managed to sleep train Hudson right at 5 months—it took only two nights and a tiny amount of crying right in our arms to get her to give up the last middle-of-the night nursing session and get her sleeping from 7PM until 6AM, which she did until the day she died, no matter where we slept or how off her routine she was. The only exception was when she was sick, in which case she woke up coughing and we just rocked her back to sleep.

Mr. Jackson is made of much feistier stock, apparently, where sleep is concerned. After his first three months, where he regularly slept through until 4 or 5 in the morning, he started waking up every three hours. So I would just nurse him and put him back to bed, with plans to try the same sleep training method with him at 5 months that we did with Hudson. And we did try it. And it was a LOT more work with him, but after two nights, it seemed to have worked for him, too. He was waking at around midnight or 1AM and talking to himself for several minutes before going back to sleep on his own, and then he would wake for good at around 5:30AM. The 5:30AM wake-up was tough for me (and made for a long day) but it was worth it for the solid 6 or 7 hours of sleep I could get overnight.

But it didn’t stick. Within a few days, he started waking earlier and earlier, and soon he was back to waking twice during the night. And then it was every three hours again, and he would not nurse right back to sleep like he had before. It started to get harder and harder to get him back to sleep and often we’d spend 45 minutes to an hour trying to get him back to sleep only to have him wake again an hour later. That’s about where we are right now—he usually wakes at least every two hours and sometimes more frequently than that. Sometimes I can nurse him and put him back in the crib asleep but sometimes that doesn’t work and it takes another half hour or more of singing, soothing, bouncing, replacing the pacifier, or whatever else to get him back down. Many times I’ve just taken him into the guest bed with me for the rest of the night, but that’s not a great solution, either, because then we BOTH sleep pretty fitfully and he seems to wake even more frequently.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. There are times when I literally can’t see straight and stumble trying to get to his room because I’ve woken up at the worst possible point in my sleep cycle. And I feel so awful for him because sometimes we just can’t figure out what will soothe him and get him back to sleep (sometimes letting him stay latched on for however long he wants to will help, but sometimes it doesn’t, and really, I just can’t deal with that discomfort—it’s hard on the obvious places and also on my back because I’m trying to stay on my side and not roll forward onto him). And worst of all, I feel completely terrible for even thinking, “Oh, why can’t you be easy like your sister was?” I know that every parent whose second child is harder in some way than their first goes through this—I know that it’s inevitable and totally normal. But for me, it just feels so different, so very loaded—I already worry every single day about how to best let him be his own self, how to help him feel loved and valued for who he is rather than for how he measures up to his dead sister who inevitably will someday seem larger than life for him. So every time I let the thought cross my mind that I wish he was as easy as she was in the sleep department, a tiny little knife stabs me in the heart.

The other day, my dear friend Debbie (not even knowing of our current plight) sent me an email telling me that she has been going through the same thing with her 10-month-old daughter, Leah. Leah used to sleep solidly through the night but recently has been waking and screaming and refusing to be soothed. Debbie said that because of Hudson, she doesn’t get upset during these middle-of-the-night meltdowns—she just sits with her little girl, rocks her, sings to her, and tells her how much she loves her and how grateful she is to Hudson for teaching her to appreciate those hours she gets to spend with her daughter in the middle of the night, for teaching her to be a better mommy.

I’ve heard so many stories like this from so many of you, and I remain so grateful to all of you for sharing with me how Hudson’s story has changed the way you parent your own children and how you respond in these situations. As I have always said, these stories are some of the surest evidence I have that Hudson’s spirit is still working in the world and will never be forgotten.

I wish I were perfect, but I’m not. I wish that my own experience of devastating loss had rendered me completely impervious to piddling little things like crazy night-wakings, but it hasn’t. I am exhausted, I am at a loss for how to help my little boy sleep better, and I miss my little girl and the comic relief and perspective she could provide right now.

So it’s right now that I am most grateful for Hudson’s lesson working in my own life. Right now that I am most grateful for your stories. Right now that I need to be reminded how piddling a thing night waking is, how temporary. Right now that I need to be reminded how I felt two summers ago when I would have cut off both of my arms for the opportunity to try to soothe a baby who wanted to wake up and scream half the night. Right now that I need to remember what a gift Jackson is, his night waking and my zombie walking and all. Right now that I need to remember during those difficult hours in the night to pull that sweet little boy in close, breathe in his lovely baby smell, kiss his face, and tell him how much I love him. Because he deserves it.  And because I will never be able to do that with Hudson again. Remembering that helps put it all in perspective.

How amazing is it that Hudson can be such a good big sister even in her death?

Cherish what is.

I love you, my sweet girl. Thank you so much for helping me be a better mommy to your little brother.

And I love you, my sweet boy. I am so grateful for every single inch of your warm, living, breathing little body and every single screaming second with you in the middle of the night. Even though I can’t always see it, I am so grateful for you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Days of Thanks #28

Today, I am grateful for a good visit to Jackson’s doctor (I took him in for a rash-turns out it’s just eczema). The office was pretty busy, so I had to wait a while and ultimately didn't get seen until the doctors’ lunch break. Because they were so busy, we saw for the first time the doctor we saw with Hudson on that fateful May day. I was a little nervous because she and I had not spoken of Hudson since the doctors visited us in the office. Whenever we ran into each other in the office, we always said hello and exchanged friendlies, but it always felt to me as though there were a big elephant in the room.

She came into the room and apologized for the wait and explained that Jackson's regular doctor was still with another patient. We chatted about our travel plans for Christmas (she either went medical school or did her residency at Duke--I can’t remember which--so we always used to tease each other about the Duke-Carolina rivalry) and she asked me how my dad was. I was surprised and really touched by the fact that she remembered our long-ago conversations about my dad.  

She took a look at Jackson’s skin and immediately pronounced that he had eczema. Then she said something I will probably remember forever. She asked, “Did Hudson have eczema?” And it was like I could really breathe for the first time since she came in. I said, “No,” and then laughed and said I was getting a lot of lessons in how much one’s second child will be nothing like one’s first child. “Except that he looks just like her,” I said.

And she looked at me and said, “He DOES look just like her.  Beautiful.  Well, she was beautiful, and you [speaking to Jackson] are handsome”. And I exhaled again and smiled.

I almost didn’t even take Jackson in today, because it seemed like such a minor thing. But maybe I was supposed to go. And I’m so glad I did. What a difference a day makes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Days of Thanks #27

I am grateful for a little extra inspiration during my swim workout tonight. Our coaches are slowly ramping up our yardage at each workout. Tonight I had 1550 yards to do (almost, but not quite, the total length of what I will swim during the race), the last 300 of which were two sets of 150s (that’s 6 lengths of a regular pool) that I was supposed to swim at a pretty good clip. I got about halfway through the first one and was already thinking that I would just skip the second one. After all, the race is still more than four months away—what harm will it do if I skip the last 150 yards of this workout?

And then I thought about my girl. And what it was like to lose her. And how many other parents have lost their children or whose children are currently facing life-threatening diagnoses of blood cancers. And what a struggle every single day is for them. 

I kept swimming. My girl’s spirit is still so hard at work. And I’m so grateful for it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Days of Thanks #26

I am grateful for my mom, Carolyn Hudson Hitchcock, who died nine years ago tonight from pancreatic cancer. I wrote about her at length on this day last year, and all I can think to say tonight is how much I wish she and her precious namesake had had the opportunity to know each other in life. And how much I hope that they somehow know each other in death. And more than anything, just like last year, how much I wish they were both here with me this Christmas.

My parents on their wedding day-- December 2, 1972

Christmas 1976-- I am 11 months old.

Mom and me--I'm about 5 years old.

I think I'm nine or ten here.

My beautiful mom

 I think this is the last photo of just the two of us.  Taken around Mother's Day in 2002,
just after she was diagnosed, and about 7 months before she died.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Days of Thanks #25

I am grateful that I have managed to muster up just enough holiday spirit to finally feel like getting some Christmas shopping done. This Christmas has been really hard. I won’t say that it has been harder than last year—it is difficult to imagine a season much harder than that, what with having to endure our first Christmas without Hudson right after having to endure our first celebration of her birthday without her—but it is harder in a different way. My friend Amber recently moved, and one of the first moms she met in her new town had also lost her first child, a little girl. Amber’s friend told her that the second Christmas without her daughter was in some ways harder than the first—she also had a new baby and really wanted to be in the Christmas spirit and enjoy the holiday, but it just didn’t feel right. Hearing this brought me so much comfort. It describes my feelings exactly, and it is always comforting to know that what I am experiencing is not crazy and does not make me an awful, ungrateful person. I do wish that I could enjoy Christmas the way I used to, but such a big part of my heart is and will always be missing, at this and every other time of year. And Christmas is just so very much about our children—I was so looking forward to reliving the magic I experienced at Christmas as a child by celebrating old traditions and creating new ones with my own kids. I know that I will still get to do that with Jackson and any other children we have, and I am so glad for that. But I will never get to share that magic with Hudson, and that will never be right.

So I have been having trouble really getting into the holiday spirit this year. Seeing everyone taking their little girls to see the Nutcracker and decorating gingerbread houses with them and baking Christmas cookies with them—well, it’s just hard on my heart. The other day at Costco, I saw a big sister and little brother sitting next to each other in the two seats on their shopping cart, and I realized that with all the imagining I’ve done, I’d never pictured that scenario before. It hit me right in the gut. That’s what I should have, too. Jackson shouldn’t be sitting alone in the center of his cart as I do my Christmas shopping. His big sister should be sitting next to him, making him laugh and pointing out every single toy she just HAS to have. It is so hard for it to feel like Christmas without her. 

But I have little bursts of spirit here and there. They don’t last very long, but I cherish them and try to make the most of them. That’s how I managed to finally get the tree and the house decorated (over a period of almost two weeks), to crank out some brownies and cookies, and to buy almost all of my Christmas presents in the span of the last two days. I’m not finished yet, and the presents that need to get mailed are probably going to be late, but after skipping Christmas altogether last year, this is at least progress. I’ll take it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Days of Thanks #24

 I am grateful for a little surprise I received from the universe today. I had heard that some of the northwest suburbs of DC might get a tiny bit of snow this evening, likely just flurries, but I knew that the District itself was not supposed to get any. I ran out to the grocery store after dark to pick up some ingredients to do a little holiday baking and as I was driving back home, all of a sudden, I saw thousands of tiny flecks of white in my headlights. My heart leapt, and I exclaimed out loud (to my empty car), “It’s snowing!” I was truly excited.  

The flurries disappeared as quickly as they’d appeared—it must have been just a quick burst of moisture, because I saw them for only a few seconds. But those few seconds were long enough for me to realize that snow can still thrill me. Last year, any news of snow here in the city filled me with dread, so sad was I to think of a snowstorm without our beautiful snow-loving child (I posted a few snow pictures the other day, but if you haven’t already seen all of these pictures and videos of her from the 2009-2010 winter, you should go look at them now—they are some of our most treasured memories). 

But today, I got excited before I could even think to be sad. The sadness settled in soon after, but I was so grateful for that initial shot of delight. Hopefully, as time goes on, the delight will last longer before the sadness hits me. And hopefully, one day, the sadness will transform into a softer nostalgia, sweet memories of our precious snow angel to keep us warm on a snowy day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Days of Thanks #23

I am so grateful for this little giggle. It can brighten even the very saddest of days.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Days of Thanks #22

 Today I’m feeling grateful for something very simple: the group think on Facebook. I love that whenever I have a problem or need suggestions about how to handle something with my kids or new ideas for what to cook for dinner or a list of good books to load up on my Kindle, all I have to do is post something on Facebook and within hours (and often minutes), I have a load of thoughts to sift through. As only one example, I’ve been cloth diapering Jackson since he was about 6 weeks old (and to be totally honest, I’m probably doing cloth only about 70% of the time—I rarely take an extra cloth diaper along when we’re out and about and we never take them when we are traveling and sometimes I just can’t get them washed in time to use at home and sometimes I’m just too darn lazy) and throughout the process I have gotten so many good ideas from other friends who are cloth diaper folks, too. From the simplest things like a good recipe for sugar cookies up to complex ones like how to get a kid to stop biting, Facebook has been an ever-useful DIY manual for just about everything. And when I can’t do it myself, it’s also a great resource for finding someone who can do it for me. 

It’s such a little thing, but it can make my life easier in a big way, and some days I need as easy as I can get. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Days of Thanks #21

I am so grateful for my health. Having now suffered the untimely deaths of both my mother and my child as a result of illness, I understand more than I ever did before what a luxury good health is. And I know far too many people who have died too young due to illnesses that should be curable.

On April 29, 2012, I will compete in a triathlon with Team in Training, an endurance sports training and fundraising program for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Two things motivated me to take on this challenge. The first was a recognition that while there was nothing that I could do to save Hudson’s life, nothing I could do to prevent her death, there are thousands of parents out there every year whose children actually DO have a chance at surviving life-threatening illnesses like leukemia. Helping to raise money for LLS is one small way that I can try to help ensure that other parents never have to endure what I had to endure when Hudson died. It’s not very much—it’s very little, actually—but it’s something. And when I’m training, when it gets hard (as it does every day for someone who is as out of shape as I am), all I have to remember is that I have already survived one of the hardest things there is, and that there are so many parents out there who are enduring incredible challenges every moment as they try to help their children fight these awful diseases. And then whatever I’m doing won’t seem very hard at all.

The second thing is that Hudson’s death has made me see so many things differently. Before she died, part of me still believed that tragic things just don’t happen to me or my family, even though I’d already lost my mom. I don’t believe that anymore—if anything, part of me now sits around waiting for the other shoe to drop. I still take my health far too much for granted (see, for example, my continuing addiction to Coke), but now that it’s possible that I could be 40 before we are done having children, my youngest would be only 17 when I am 57, the age that my mother died. The idea of leaving a child behind as a teenager is harrowing, and although it may be morbid to think that way, it’s certainly a remarkable motivation to try to get and stay healthy. I grew up in a totally sedentary family, and I figured this spring might be my last chance for a long time to try to cultivate a real habit of daily exercise, a habit that I want to continue forever and eventually include my children in, too.

I feel a little strange posting my fundraising link here on the blog (see the button on the right), but I figure lots of people like to do year-end giving, and I’m happy to give you a good cause if you’re still looking for one.

And really, this triathlon endeavor is about Hudson. It’s about honoring her life by helping other parents and children facing frightening illnesses, by taking on a difficult challenge, and by trying to get healthy so that I can be around for her dad and siblings for a very long time.

I’m grateful for my health, and I’m trying not to take it for granted anymore.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Days of Thanks #20

Today I am grateful, as I so often am, for serendipity that brings sweet memories of Hudson to mind. This evening, my friend Lindsey posted on Facebook about how much she was enjoying the Indie Holidays Radio on Pandora. I had never heard of such a thing, but I knew I had to check it out immediately. (I am, as my mother was, slightly addicted to holiday music. While she had dozens, maybe even hundreds, of holiday music CDs, I am lucky enough to have Spotify. My current holiday playlist is over 500 songs, and it keeps growing whenever I hear something new that I love. Hence my instant curiosity over “Indie Holidays Radio”).

I loaded the Pandora station up on my phone and started listening while I was knitting Jackson’s Christmas stocking. The first song was a She and Him song that I already had on my Spotify playlist (again, not surprising, since it’s 515 songs long).

The second one I recognized instantly, but not from my playlist. It was Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal,” which I heard for the first time almost two years ago, not long after the epic snowstorm that blanketed DC in February 2010. Somehow, I came across a timelapse video of the snowfall from a spot on Capitol Hill and was fascinated both by the images and the soundtrack. The song so perfectly captured the haunting nostalgia that the photos evoked for me (and this was before Hudson died)—I was mesmerized. 

So when that song popped up on my phone today, I was transported back in time to that lovely week we spent at home while the city was buried underneath 20 inches of snow. I remember so clearly smells of blueberry baked French toast and mulling cider, the sound of Hudson’s no-slip fleece jammied feet pattering across the floor, the puddles of melted snow in the entry way as hard evidence of our fantastic days playing in the snow, Hudson’s ruddy cheeks flush from the cold and wind, the gleeful look on her face as she experienced sledding downhill for the first time. It was a magical time, in the truest sense of that word. 

It is so hard for me to believe that Hudson had only three months left to live after those wonderful days. I’ve thought before that I almost wish we would have known the end was coming so that we could have cherished our time with her that spring even more, but in this case, I’m not sure we could have enjoyed those snow days any more than we did. And I’m so grateful to be able to say that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Days of Thanks #19

I am grateful that Jackson’s first adventure with solid foods went well. We started him off yesterday with some mashed avocado mixed with breastmilk (this will be our family’s “first food” tradition) and he was a big fan. Since he’s already well into his seventh month, he handled the eating and swallowing like a pro, and today, he was going after the spoon with his mouth. I think he’s going to be a voracious eater like his big sis (represented here by that awesome turtle bib).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Days of Thanks #18

Today, I am grateful for all the turtle and penguin ornaments covering our tree. Some of them existed before our babies ever did, some have been given to us since Hudson died and since we got pregnant with Jackson, and some I bought impulsively because it is hard for me to pass by a turtle or penguin anything without being at least a little bit tempted to buy it. 

As we finally put up the tree tonight (after a week of wrangling with strands of lights that kept shorting out on us), I hung two ornaments that I purchased in the two years after my mother died. I volunteered at Duke Hospice during that time, and each year, they sold a memorial ornament every year as a fundraiser. As I hung them tonight, I thought about how those should have been the only memorial ornaments I ever had to hang, if I had to hang any at all. 

But here I have a tree full of turtle ornaments, photo ornaments of Hudson, and a letter “H,” all to memorialize our child who should have been here helping us decorate the tree tonight. 

And then alongside these are all the penguin ornaments, the ones that honor our child who is with us still, our child who has brought joy back into our lives and given us hope again. 

I cried half the time we were hanging the ornaments, but I am grateful for yet another symbolic way that my children can be together, another way that Hudson can remain part of our family and our traditions. It is not what is should be, but I have to be grateful for what it is.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Days of Thanks #17

I am so grateful for the power of music. I have written so many times about music, its power to heal, its power to bring the grieving to our knees, its power to express the inexpressible. 

Yesterday, I happened upon a song that spoke to me so powerfully that I have listened to it again and again. I was just looking for the lyrics to Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” (a favorite of mine) and happened upon “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, both of whom I have become very fond of in recent months through the beauty of Pandora and Spotify. 

This song, like so many others that have become companions in this awful grief, is both haunting and uplifting, mournful and hopeful. And for that, I love it and am grateful for it, because I need both so much, especially during this season.

It is among the most beautiful songs I think I’ve heard. Another love song for my precious girl.  

*Sorry for the ad at the beginning, but the video itself is rather lovely.

Winter Song

bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum
bum bum bum bum bum bum
bum bum bum bum bum bum

This is my winter song to you.
The storm is coming soon,
it rolls in from the sea

My voice, a beacon in the night.
My words will be your light,
to carry you to me.

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love

They say that things just cannot grow
beneath the winter snow,
or so I have been told.

They say we’re buried far,
just like a distant star
I simply cannot hold.

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
‘cause you’re not where you belong
inside my arms.

bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum
bum bum bum bum bum bum
bum bum bum bum bum bum

I still believe in summer days.
The seasons always change
and life will find a way.

I’ll be your harvester of light
and send it out tonight
so we can start again.

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
‘cause you’re not where you belong
inside my arms.

This is my winter song to you.
The storm is coming soon
it rolls in from the sea.

My love a beacon in the night.
My words will be your light
to carry you to me.

Is love alive?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Days of Thanks #16

I am grateful for three hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. Sleep has been fairly hard to come by recently, for both Jackson and me. I’m still not sure what’s behind all of his night waking for the last few months, but I am trying hard not to stress so much about it (and not doing a very good job). Here’s hoping for another few hours straight tonight.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Days of Thanks #15

Right now, I am incredibly grateful for the warm, comfortable bed that awaits me in a few minutes. I don’t think often enough about how fortunate I am to have one.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Days of Thanks #14

Today, I’m grateful for this little boy right here. This little smile. Those little teeth. Those chubby little hands on the sides of my face. Those fat fingers that love to pat things. The giggle that comes up out of that little tummy. The cry that comes out of that little heart when I leave him alone for too long. That hungry little mouth, even when it is still hungry every two hours at night. Those strong little arms that are just now learning to pull that little boy forward in an army crawl. 

This precious creature, a gift that I did nothing to deserve.

*Photo courtesy of Emily Large Photography

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Days of Thanks #13

Today I am grateful for compassionate medical caregivers. After a bad experience with the first pediatric GI specialist we saw (I won’t go into detail because I am trying to just forget about it, but among other problems, she did not return a phone message I left about the treatment instructions she had given me), we saw a different one today, and she was just wonderful. She was compassionate and kind when I told her about Hudson and how I approach medical problems differently now. And she projected total confidence when reassuring me that whatever is going on with Jackson is not serious and doesn’t need any major intervention right now. The most important thing she said was, “Let’s figure out what’s worrying you and focus on that, because I don’t want to overdiagnose or underdiagnose because we’re not paying attention to the right problem.”

Music to this anxious mother’s ears.

Jackson at Six Months

Given that we are almost halfway through his seventh month now, I HAVE to do Jackson’s six-month update. I am already starting to forget what things happened in his six month versus his seventh month. I won’t get so behind again.

It’s been a pretty rough month, actually. I wrote last time that it was too early to crow about successful sleep training, and I was right. Jackson slept through the night (until about 5:30AM) a few times, and then started waking up around 4:30, and then at 2:00 and then 4:30. It wasn’t long before we realized the sleep training just hadn’t taken and that we needed to hit the reset button on it. But in the meantime, he started having some gastrointestinal problems of unknown origin—lots of details that no one really wants to hear about here, but suffice it to say that not only did it have us pretty worried, but it seemed to be making him pretty uncomfortable and fussy, too. So the last thing we wanted was to cause him any more stress by trying to get him to fall back to sleep without help. We went back to our regular routine of nursing him whenever he woke up. And this would have been OK, except that after not too long, he started having trouble going back to sleep even after nursing. And then he was back up to waking 3 times in the middle of the night. And then we went to North Carolina for a few visits and he wouldn’t sleep in the Pack-n-Play anymore, so he was up even more frequently than that and Ed had to sleep in another bed so that Jackson could sleep in the bed with me. It was a rough patch that hasn’t really ended. We’re feeling a little bit lost on that front—the sleep deprivation doesn’t help much. And it’s hard to know if his fussiness during the day (which is not constant by any means, but he’s definitely not as laid back as he used to be) is a result of too little sleep or of his tummy troubles.

So at his 6-month well visit, he was only up to 18lbs, 10.5oz, meaning he’d only gained about 9 oz since his 4-month visit. Obviously, while he couldn’t be expected to keep growing as rapidly as he did the first four months, this is not a lot of weight to put on in two whole months. The pediatrician sent us to a pediatric GI specialist, and the first one we saw was awful. She treated Jackson for c. diff. without even knowing for sure whether he had it, meaning that he had to take this REALLY terrible-tasting antibiotic for ten days for NOTHING. And I say “for nothing” because the GI doc that we saw for the follow-up (because I insisted on a different doctor) told us that his chances of having c. diff. were pretty much zero. She thinks that the slower weight gain may just be due to the natural plateau that breastfed babies start to hit, combined with a possible drop in my milk supply that’s keeping him hungrier all the time (this could certainly explain the increased night-waking, if he’s reverse-cycling and trying to eat more at night than during the day). We’re still working on resolving all that, but I feel better knowing that there doesn’t appear to be anything serious wrong with him. And even though he only gained 9 oz in the last two months, he’s still a pretty hefty, healthy guy. So hefty that I had to install his toddler seat this month because it was getting too hard to buckle the straps in the infant car seat and forget about trying to carry him around in it anymore!

Which brings me to some new tricks. He started sitting unsupported soon after he turned five months, but for a while, I still kept lots of pillows around him because he was still prone to falling over. But as the month wore on, he got significantly better at it and now does a pretty good job keeping himself upright.

He sat in his highchair for the first time, and once again, we were blown away by how much he looks like his sister in the photos we took of him there.
Hudson                                                     Jackson

We started helping him learn to drink from a cup, putting just a tiny amount of breastmilk into one of the plastic caps for his bottles (about the size of a shot glass). He took to it pretty quickly, and figured out how to close his lips and sip, but he still probably got more on his bib than in his mouth. We’ll keep practicing, though. I learned my lesson last time with Hudson—we need to offer milk in a cup EVERY day. When we tried to get her to start drinking milk in a cup instead of a bottle, she balked. She was only used to drinking water from a cup and did NOT want to drink milk out of anything but the bottle. So we’ll be doing that one differently this go round. 

He’s also rolling all over the place now and sleeps mostly on his tummy (and now that he’s six months old, I worry about this much less than I did before).

And what a precious personality he’s developing. Fussy, yes, but when he’s not fussing, he’s delightful. Everywhere we go, people comment about how smiley he is. Whatever stranger anxiety he was going through earlier seems to have dissipated. He’ll smile at anyone who smiles at him. One of his favorite things to do now is to touch people’s faces. He loves to put each of his chubby little hands on each of my cheeks and just hold them. On one of the rough nights in North Carolina when we were having such a hard time getting him to sleep in the night, I laid down on the floor with him (we’d taken the mattress out of the Pack-n-Play because it was just too hard trying to lay him down in the bottom of that thing and he hated it anyway) and he fell asleep in that exact position, his little hands on either side of my face. Oh, so sweet. He also loves to pat your face and hands and anything else that will stand still for him to pat. And he’s very giggly. It’s so easy to make him laugh. It is such a gift, because I so often need to hear it—that happy laughter is such a balm on this mama’s broken heart.

My precious, precious boy. It’s hard to believe that his little tiny infant stage is already over. He’s about to start eating solids and crawling and then he’ll be on his way to being a little boy. So I’m going to keep squeezing him tight as much as he’ll let me and keep taking pictures left and right. Here are a few more from Month Number Six.