11.24.2014

things i never said

I've spoken very openly about stillbirth and very frequently about Wylie.

But I realized tonight that there are some things I never said. There wasn't any reason in particular for me to not say these things other than perhaps I thought they were obvious and therefore it never occurred to me that these things needed to be said. It was brought to my attention that these things do need to be said and so I am going to say them, because it's important that they are said and important that they are understood.

I am so lucky to have had Wylie. I am so fortunate to be her mother. I am as lucky to be Wylie's mother as I am to be Ethan's mother. Being the mother of these two beautiful children is my biggest source of pride.

Wylie is not her illness, she is not her diagnosis, she is not her death. She is not a stillbirth or a stillborn -- she is my daughter. She is my daughter and I am so fortunate to have had her for the short period of time that I was able to physically have her with me.

If I could go back in time and choose between getting pregnant with Wylie again as she was or with an altogether different baby who was healthy and would have survived, I would have chosen to be pregnant with Wylie as she was and do it all over again. She isn't replaceable. I would lose her over again just to have had her in the first place as having her for a short period of time is hands down better than never having had her at all.

What happened to our family wasn't a sad thing, it wasn't bad luck, it wasn't something that anyone else is immune to. What happened to our family is a tragic loss. What happened to our family is the death of our child due to a severe congenital heart defect.

We may not have been lucky in that our daughter died, but we are so lucky to have had her.

Having to say goodbye to your child forever is a reason to give compassion, not pity. Pity is the reason I refused to attend my high school reunion -- I didn't want to be "the girl who had a baby who died." I am a mother, a wife, a person not unlike you reading this right now. If you ever read this blog and think "I'm so glad that I'm not you" -- well, yes, I am glad that you're not me, too. Because if you were, I never would have known my beautiful son and my incredible daughter and because I had the opportunity to do so, I am lucky.

I will always wonder who she would have been. I will always long to see her face for just one more day, to hear her laughter, to watch her play. I will always imagine what could have been. What could have been if Ethan got to become the big brother he was so looking forward to being, the big brother to the little sister he so very much loved and was waiting for. It was a tragedy what happened, the greatest pain a parent can have -- but my daughter Wylie was a beautiful little girl.

And how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to know her. How lucky I am to be the one who gets to advocate for her and honor her legacy for the rest of my life. I'll wear that honor proudly.

11.20.2014

turkey handprint cookies because i didn't totally skip thanksgiving

Every year, I got Ethan a custom cookie cutter made from his handprint through Chinaberry. It appears that they have stopped making it this year, so all I had was Ethan's last year cookie cutter. I decided that was okay because the cookies grew as they baked anyway and, well, it's the thought that counts. Not that it will be your child's true handprint, but you can find other hand shaped cookie cutters elsewhere online. I've admittedly been eager to skip to Hanukkah and Christmas (and Kwanzaa, which Ethan insists we should celebrate) and, truthfully, Thanksgiving is pretty much my least favorite holiday ever. Still, I knew we had to do something for Thanksgiving and the only thing that I know about Thanksgiving crafting is the handprint turkey. Using Ethan's cookie cutter, I brought the handprint turkey to a fun new level.

I used a simple rolled sugar cookie cough recipe that I found online. It probably speaks volumes about my lack of skill as a baker, but Ethan couldn't understand how the dough made cookies (we're a slice and bake family, sadly enough). I wound up tediously cutting all of the handprints myself. Ethan totally wasn't feeling it.

Once the cookies were baked and cooled, things got a lot more fun. I made up a little muffin tin with icing in "Thanksgiving colors" (that's a thing, right?) -- brown, red, orange and yellow. I used a simple confectioner's sugar and milk recipe for the glaze. Ethan got to work painting the "feathers" onto the turkey which he actually really enjoyed. It was probably the longest cookie decorating session in the history of, oh, ever.

Once the glaze dried, I began bagging up some of the turkey cookies that were taking over the dining room table. Ethan painted some of them more subtly and others way more...vibrant. We'll go with vibrant. Either way, they looked awesome.

Ethan spent the next three days handing them out wherever he went: Publix, Starbucks, his pals at MyGym. And that's as Thanksgiving-y as we get, folks.

11.18.2014

you're-being-bad culture

Growing up, we weren't allowed to call kids "bad." Kids couldn't be bad. It was one of those things, my mother would insist, that just wasn't possible. Kids weren't bad just as they weren't good. They were simply kids.

I hear it a lot, the "bad" thing. If a child whines or cries, if a toddler throws itself on the floor while kicking and screaming, if a child says "no!" when it's told to do something it doesn't want to, it somehow falls in this little box of "bad." Bad behavior. Being bad. Acting bad. I mean, I love self-deprecating cracks about exhaustion and eyebags as much as the next person (okay, maybe even a little more than that), but did anyone actually become a parent because they thought they'd be well-rested inside their clean home raising little soldiers who are mindlessly obedient?

Toddlers haven't been there, done that for too long. They haven't been around the block for 20, 30 years like we have. They haven't even been trying to navigate life for half that. Still, it seems there are parents who expect their young children to have this whole life and living thing down pact. They expect them to express their wants and opinions like they are reading from a script in which there is virtually no room for self expression or personal growth. I'm not really cool with that. Honestly? I think it's a little terrifying.

I want Ethan to tell me no. I want him to tell me what he wants and likes, even if it's not something that I want and like (like cauliflower). I want him to say "I like that shirt" and mean it literally, not like "I like that shirt because it's what everyone is wearing." I want him to understand his inner voice, his conscience, his morality on the basis of what he believes to be right and true, not because someone promised him damnation otherwise. Maybe these issues all seem irrelevant bouncing to them from Rigorous Toddler Training, but I believe they're all connected. I don't think my child is bad when he rolls on the ground screaming because he doesn't want to leave My Gym. I don't think he's bad when he throws his apple skins on the floor even when he knows they belong in the trash. I don't think he's bad when he tells the random stranger in Target that he doesn't like her after she gets up in his face telling him how cute he is. I don't think he's bad if he doesn't want to hug someone he hasn't seen in a long time or doesn't know. I don't think he's bad because kids cannot be bad. I think he's being three and a half. I think he's trying to figure out life and how to deal with the vast emotional outpouring going on in his little body right now. I think he's a human being and as hard of a time as it feels like he's giving me, the truth is he's having an even harder time.

I get it. The other day Ethan lost a dollar spot Nutcracker head in the grocery store. Myself and three employees spent forty minutes trying to locate it while Ethan wailed so loud that I thought we would be banned indefinitely from buying groceries there ever again. My face was red and I could feel myself sweating both from stress and humiliation as the crowd grew to see what was wrong with the little boy. (Nothing to see here, my kid just dropped a Nutcracker head.) Sometimes it takes a while to step outside of yourself and realize that he's crying because he's sad, because he doesn't understand permanence, that to us it's a silly piece of a toy that can be replaced but, to him, it's something of his that he cherishes. Something that is wildly irreplaceable because it is his and it is loved.

I like to treat Ethan like he is a person because he is one. I like to ask his input when buying groceries and picking out our weekly dinners because he eats, too. I like his input when buying him clothes because they go on his body. He isn't a guest in our home, but a person who lives there just as much as I do. Sometimes he screams. Sometimes he makes intentional messes. Sometimes he pitches a fit because he didn't want to stop playing with his dinosaurs and missed My Gym even though he was previously confident he could schedule both into his day. These things seem ludicrous to me, but I'm almost 30. I'm not three years old trying to figure out this big world while still honing the necessary skills to do so. I mean, I get time. I get time and scheduling and urgency. But three year olds? They just get that they have a huge bin of dinosaurs that need to be played with right now and My Gym sounds fun, but maybe later on.

I give Ethan respect and he, in turn, gives us respect. We build him up to understand his worth and the beauty of being who he really, really is -- even if that means singing Rancid in the car when the other kids are singing songs from Frozen. We build him up to believe he is capable of making good decisions and guide him to understand how to make those good decisions. I want him to think critically. I want him to question authority. I want him to question anything that doesn't seem right to him. I also don't want him to think he's bad if he stumbles or makes a mistake. I don't want him to think he's bad if he acknowledges when something doesn't feel right to him. I want him to do the right thing because he knows it's the right thing and why, not because someone else told him to do it.

I am sure that we will have many lost Nutcracker heads in our future (figuratively speaking). I am sure these incidents will be stressful. I am also sure that, no matter how badly I want to lose my mind, my place is to take my little boy in my arms and tell him that I understand his frustration and am here to help him learn how to work through it. That's my job as his mom, after all. Call me any name you want, but I believe that taking Ethan into my arms and helping him hash out his feelings is my job as a mom way more than sending him off to a behavior bootcamp (no, really, that exists) where he memorizes a script to follow and doesn't dare improvise any of his own lines.

Improvise away, beautiful boy. I'll always care about what you have to say and am eager to learn all of the new things you are able to show me.

And for what it's worth, I've hot glued on all of the limbs on Ethan's new Nutcracker. Consider that one of many lessons I know he will teach me.

11.17.2014

it's officially holiday card season (and a special pear tree greetings giveaway to celebrate!)

I've gone a little crazy for holiday cards for as long as I can remember. In college, I'd force our cats to wear ridiculous gingham collars with jingle bells for the sake of snapping their photo just to have printed onto a photo card. I mean, I'm going to be as bold to say that sending and receiving holiday cards is my favorite part of the season. It's just so much fun to spread holiday cheer, what can I say?! Pear Tree Greetings makes this even more fun because, you guys, there are so many cute options.

Growing up, my dad would always string the cards we would receive across the wall using fishing line, which is a technique I started doing each year in our home, too. One night last week, Ethan and I decided to start a new holiday card display tradition of our very own. Enter the washi tape Christmas tree:

Each day, Ethan eagerly stalks the mailbox in hopes he'll finally receive that first holiday card to string up on our washi tape tree. November is flying by and I know it won't be long before our tree will start to fill up. Photo cards are always my favorite to receive because it's always cool to see how everyone's kids grow up a little more each year. I like to keep our cards by punching holes in them and putting them on a binder ring for safe keeping. It's a fun way to flip through some special memories of your friends and loved ones and see the changes each year can bring.

A few weeks ago, I took some photos of Ethan for our cards. (Drawing a blank on how to pose the kids or wanting some inspiration for family photos? Check out Pear Tree's Pinterest page!) I don't want to ruin the surprise that is unveiling this year's card just yet (I know, the horror, right?) but I promise, it's good. In fact, it might be my favorite card of ours yet. Anyway, I don't want to ruin the surprise but here are some photos that (some obviously) didn't make the cut.

(He's lucky he's cute.)

Once we got the perfect photo, I spent a whole lot of time scouring Pear Tree Greetings website to find the perfect card to go with it. This was difficult. I mulled the decision over for a couple of days, driving my husband nuts ("just pick one!") because this is a big decision and Pear Tree Greetings makes it so hard to choose -- all of their designs are just that incredible! Finally, I found the one and as I stick the cards into their envelopes to get them ready to be shipped out all over the world, I know I made a great choice. Again, that whole pesky "can't ruin the surprise just yet" thing -- but here are some of my close contenders from Pear Tree's 2014 collection. It was really, really hard to choose this year!

I love Pear Tree because there are so many choices. We're a mixed religion family so they offer plenty of neutral holiday cards options for those of us who celebrate everything (Ethan has also decided we're celebrating Kwanzaa this year, so...). There is also something for every budget, with options ranging from postcards all the up to unique ornament keepsakes. I love the range in price that Pear Tree offers it's shoppers and I especially love that choosing an inexpensive option doesn't mean you compromise on quality. We absolutely love using Pear Tree Greetings each year to make holiday card season -- I mean, the holiday season -- as magical as it can be!

Also? I am a huge fan of this sparkly foil trend. (Cue the heart-eyes emoji.)

SAVE $20 OFF YOUR ORDER Click here to order and you'll receive $20 off your order, just like that. In addition, Pear Tree will also donate $20 to CaringBridge, a non-profit organization that assists families in crisis situations. How incredible is that?

WIN $50 TOWARDS YOUR PEAR TREE GREETINGS ORDER Because 'tis the season to send holiday cards (and celebrate with Pear Tree Greetings!), I get to host a giveaway for a $50 credit to Pear Tree Greetings!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope we get to string lots of Pear Tree cards up on our washi tape tree this year! Happy shopping and merry holiday card season!

11.16.2014

open letter to formula companies

Dear formula companies,

I'm one of the moms who defends you until I'm breathless and stressed out on a regular basis. I'm the one who sings your praises because your formula nourished my beautiful little boy when I couldn't and it was your formula that was going to feed my daughter because I didn't want to go through all that again. You know, the stress and anxiety and feeling like CPS was going to knock at my door to take my son out of the home simply because I couldn't feed him from my own body. I wasn't going to do that again. Actually, once the fog lifted from having to use your formula to feed my son, I advocated pretty hard for you. I don't know if you heard, but a huge percentage of the internet seems to believe the most pressing issue in the world is what you're feeding your infant. Forget war or famine or anything else so second tier -- formula versus breastmilk is where it's at. Anyway, I advocated for you big time. We were supposed to be friends, you and me. I looked out for you and you, in turn, looked out for me.

So, please, knock it off with the formula deliveries on the doorstep. Knock it off with the boxes with "hi, mom" written on the side next to the photo of the joyful woman snuggling up to her infant. My stillborn baby daughter doesn't need your formula and I, her weeping and pathetic mess of a mother, don't need your reminders.

I know, it seems like I'm picking on you. Where's the blog post dedicated to the baby store coupons that come in my mailbox, the pleas for me to finish the registry I deleted just as my shower invitations had begun being received? Where's the rant geared towards the mommy and me group invitations that come addressed to "Baby Girl Joly" on the regular or the pleas to open a savings account for my second child like we do our first child? Trust me, I die a little inside whenever another medical bill from a pediatric specialist who couldn't save her shows up and I pretend the mail didn't come when I open the box and am greeting with some knit booties from a company who wants me to choose them for my deceased child's college plan. But every few weeks when I think I'm brave enough to face the day -- when I think okay, self, you can get through the holidays -- I open my front door while my three year old stands next to me and explain to him that the box of formula isn't a Christmas present for him. What is it? What is it? What is it then? Is it for a baby? I mean, come on, formula companies, you can't even make this you-know-what up. You're killing me.

I love your products. I think formula is awesome. I am sure that someone will inevitably leave me a comment on this post that reads like an "I told you so" about formula companies being money-hungry hogs and wanting to destroy everything good in this world because, hey, people are really good at missing the point sometimes. My point is, this hurts. It's not very nice. It's also Florida and it's hot here -- I'm not entirely sure I'd be using the formula left out on my doorstep in the hundred degree weather anyway (okay, I totally wouldn't be using it). Samples are cool. I wish I had them for my son when I was trying to figure out what formula was and what type did what, because I was totally clueless. But at some point, it's taunting. At some point it's a kick in the gut when I open the door to grab some morning coffee before I spend a day with my family. It's a big, fat "no you can't!" to cancel out my "okay, self, you can do this."

So, please, knock it off. Take this formula and give it to a family who needs it. Give it to a women's shelter. Let it be available for pick up at doctor's offices or fire stations or police headquarters or places where moms who need the samples can get them. Let moms who need them call you and ask you to deliver the samples to them where they can be eagerly waiting to use them. After the last five boxes we've received since our daughter's death, I don't even want to hear that you don't have the budget or funding to do that. A waste of money is hot, rancid formula tossed into a trash can by a mom who wishes she could be holding a baby not in an urn.

Anyway, think about it. Consider it. But please leave me out of it. My daughter died nearly six months ago. I probably would have had her feeding figured out anyway. Let's go back to that place where I can advocate for you and you can just feed the babies who need you, okay?

Sincerely,
Ethan and Wylie's mom

11.14.2014

thanks for saving christmas

Oh, Ethan. We have had a rough couple of days. Not with one another, but with everyone else on the planet, it seems. When you're upset or scared, you do this thing where you crinkle up your face in the most forced fake smile ever. Sometimes your bottom lip quivers. Sometimes you do a thumbs up while sputtering out the words "I'm okay." You've been doing this a lot lately. You have a lot of feelings and lately you're really into fleshing them all out and trying to understand them. Usually this doesn't go so well. Usually this results in a scrunched up, fake smile and "I'm okay" that says you are anything but.

I do that thing that moms do where we stay up all night worrying about something and nothing and everything all at once and then you do that thing that kids do where you wake up and everything is fine. A new day is truly a new slate for you and that's awesome. This morning you called for me as you stumbled out of bed. You needed help to get onto your potty. In your sleepdrunk state you muttered "thanks for saving Christmas, mommy" as your good morning greeting of choice.

You are dreaming of Christmas and Santa Claus and wondering what you will feed the reindeer and pointing out things like the fact we don't have a chimney or that it doesn't snow in Florida. Our Halloween decorations are still up and this frustrates you. I mean, it frustrates me, too, because we're that house on the block. But it frustrates you because you pretty much think it's my fault that Christmas isn't here yet. So long as there are spiderwebs on our front trees, Christmas isn't cleared to begin. You think really cool things so I let you lecture me. I mean, you're sort of right. There's really no reason our Halloween decorations are still up.

I heard three was the hardest age yet. I get it, I do. You are blossoming into you right now and it's trying and worrisome and stressful. Still, I am loving you at this age. I am loving you as my companion. I am loving spending every minute of every day with you. I love our conversations and I try to take them all in because I know one day you will be thirteen and refuse to speak to me anymore. Right now you still think I'm pretty great and I can fix any problem you're presented with. No pressure or anything.

The other day I asked you what we should ask Santa for and you said you don't need anything because you already have me. Today you rode your ride-on toy back and forth over some cheddar bunnies until they were ground up into the grout.

You are my favorite adventure.

11.10.2014

postcards from the heart of writer's block

There is so much that I've been meaning to write about but I'm tired. I'm tired and my laptop won't stay charged. I'm tired, my laptop won't stay charged and I've also hit a little bit of writer's block. I mean, there's so much I want to say but I fumble over my words and start drafts that I don't finish. "Tomorrow," I say. But tomorrow comes and by nighttime (it gets dark so early now!) I just want to sleep. Or lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling, wishing I could muster the energy to write a few entries. The want is there but the words are escaping me. Case in point: I haven't posted Ethan's Halloween Tot School activities yet. Actually, I haven't even set up new tot trays since Halloween and the guilt -- oh the guilt -- is eating me alive when I am trying to fall asleep at night. Since we worked all summer, can I call this our holiday break? Because I'm going with that.

The holidays are (almost) here and Ethan is so excited that he can't stand sleeping in fear he might miss Christmas and Hanukkah (we do both). Thankfully, this has kept us very busy. The holidays are hard this year, definitely harder than I anticipated. There are the matching Christmas pajamas that won't be worn this year as intended. There will still be one child on Santa's knee, still one child in our holiday card photos. This will equal being told hundreds of times that everything I do is easier because I only have one child which stings extra badly around the holidays, I'm realizing. Ethan keeps me busy. He is in love with the holidays just like his mom. He can spend thirty minutes in the wrapping paper aisle of Target, turning every last roll over in his hands and admiring the print. I am trying to soak it all up and take it all in as he does, letting my desire to throatpunch everyone fall to the wayside and instead focus on the way his eyes light up at the first sight of the cardboard reindeer hanging from the Target ceiling. (We go to Target a lot and I'll fight anyone who thinks that Disney World outranks Target as the happiest place on Earth, just saying.)

I'm actually throwing Ethan's holiday party this year and even looking forward to it. It's more of that "keeping busy" thing that I hold so dearly (or is necessary for my survival, you choose). Ethan is really looking forward to it and has sent several postcards to Santa requesting his attendance (and I hear he's coming -- thanks, Grandpa!) so I'm looking forward to it, too. The holidays are going to be hard, but I'm not going to let them kill me.

That's really all that's been going on over here. Forgive my absence. It's unintentional. Bear with me as I trudge through this writer's block. I promise I'm not abandoning this space and have every intention of going back to regularly blowing up your news feeds with random abreactions and rambles.

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