My little sister graduated from high school yesterday.

It's hard for me to not feel sentimental about it. 11 years after I graduated from the very same high school, she put on one of those burgundy gowns and marched across the stage and it's hard to not rattle off some familiar story about the day she was born as I sat in the hospital lobby submerged in Step by Step reruns. Back then it didn't feel as if there was some gigantic age difference between us. Back then, I planned my college courses around having enough time to drive three hours home and have lunch with her in the school cafeteria and she would clutch my arm as her class began to line up and beg me to not go. I never wanted to go. I wrote her a letter nearly every single day that I was away at school and her being here was as good a reason as any for us to rush back after.

It wasn't until she turned seventeen that the age difference felt huge. If I can be honest, I've shed plenty of tears over the past couple of years over a fear that I lost her. I lost her, somewhere, and the guilt was there. Is it because I went away to school? Does she think Ethan replaced her? The truth is I'm a 29 year old mother of both a toddler and baby who passed away, and I am navigating a life of marriage and parenting and grief and grown-up activities and My Gym and playdates and organic food -- and she is an 18 year old girl graduating from high school and beginning college and experiencing freedom and eating fast food and being young as I was when I was her age. I know in a couple of years, the gap will be bridged again. I try to remember this on days where I beat myself up and bite my lip when other parents talk about close in age siblings being the best gift they could possibly give their children. I try to remember this on days when Ethan tells me about his friends who have baby siblings with a longing in his voice and then looks at me with innocent eyes that become immediately concerned when tears fill my own.

I was almost 11 when my sister was born but she was the best gift I ever received. She was the best friend I ever dreamed of having. She is rooted in the depths of my soul beyond what she can understand at eighteen when we bicker and she rolls her eyes and lays in bed and pretends she cannot hear my voice. My love deepens with the way Ethan looks at her and admires her, reminding me so much of her when she was that age. She takes his love for granted as I'm sure I did as a teenager when I assumed things would never change, when I assumed she would always be cheered up by Lizzie McGuire karaoke and a trip to the Original House of Pancakes. And things did change, but only temporarily.

My baby sister is a high school graduate and this feels like the end of an era in some way. I wasn't one of those kids who particularly enjoyed school and neither was my sister. There are bigger things that lay ahead in a world begging to be explored and my heart is happy at the thought of her being able to do these things, see these things, conquer the dreams that are hiding somewhere behind the obligatory teenage apathy. She was, after all, the first person who showed me what it was to love unconditionally and without barriers or limits or fear -- and now it is her time to take on adulthood with that same bravery. With a uniqueness entirely her own and an all in attitude that she rocks in a way that balances out my own timidness, I'm just happy to be along for the ride. As long as she'll let me stay by her side, because I still never want to go.

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time spent with tortoises

A few months ago now, Ethan got to participate in the Palm Beach Zoo's Aldabra Tortoise experience (you can check out that post here). It was such a fantastic experience that we began planning our next one before we even wrapped up our zoo trip on that chilly February day. My aunt is visiting from out of town and it seemed like the perfect time for Ethan to get to spend some time with her and make some special memories.

It's been just about a year since the last time Ethan saw my aunt -- his great aunt -- and he was so excited both for her visit and to introduce her to Noto, his favorite tortoise. Both Noto and Shelly, the zoo's Aldabra tortoises, were hungry for sweet potatoes and seemingly excited for their visitors, too. As a parent, I love to step back and soak up these magical experiences through Ethan's eyes. Let's face it, these tortoises are really, really cool, but everything sort of pales in comparison to the glimmer in your child's eyes when they get to experience something like this.

The Aldabra Tortoise experience is a pretty special one. Not only do you get to feed the tortoises, interact with them and pet them, but you get to give them a bath. Due to the chilly weather on our last visit, Ethan wasn't able to give the tortoises a bath. He had been so very much looking forward to this part of the experience. After the tortoises finish eating, it was bathtime!

I no longer have any living grandparents and my family is very small. Ethan's experiences with relatives are therefore very limited and my aunt -- his great aunt -- has long since been the "leader" of the family. Having her live so far away is difficult, but being able to share these special moments together is so special and such an important thing for Ethan.

It was a pretty great day spent with the tortoises! It was wonderful both being able to observe these incredible animals up close as well as get in some precious family time and memories.

Thank you to the Palm Beach Zoo here in Palm Beach, Florida for this wonderful experience! For more information on the Aldabra Tortoise experience as well as the other experiences offered at the zoo, visit their website here.

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being the one whose baby died

I think when you talk so openly about your child who has died, you are automatically cast into this category of hopelessness and sadness. After all, I'm fairly certain every other bereaved parent I know has been told at least once (five times, if we're being realistic) that they're grieving incorrectly or somehow "stuck" in their grief for even bringing up their child's name. Not only is there this weird stigma about stillbirth (and miscarriage, for that matter) but your flesh is automatically erased and you're penciled in with gray pencil instead. I don't think I post one memory or mention of Wylie without a :( emoticon being given in return, confirmation that my words are saturated with sadness and despair and heartbreak and depression. Sometimes I get so many :( that I peer into the mirror expecting to see Morticia Addams, but, nope, I just see myself.


Myself, the same frumpy mother I was before I had a child who died. Only now I really am the picture of gloom that I so deeply desired to be like at fourteen when emo kid was a way of life. Or, I mean, that's how others make me out to be. Of course, a huge piece of me has died with my child. My perspectives have all been replaced with new ones -- some not so shiny, some a little jagged -- and instead of a picturesque perfectly planned future, I feel like most days I'm walking backwards with my eyes closed down a path I've never been down before. But I'm still me, and I think that is made most clear by the fact that Ethan's life has not changed. It has taken great strength and greater selflessness, but Ethan's life continues to be what it was before we said hello and goodbye to his sister a year ago. I went from overwhelming, paralyzing fear that I would never know how to get my living son over this pain or the shattering of innocence to navigating our nightmarish tragedy with a natural sort of ease. That is my greatest accomplishment as a mother, if we're being honest: normalcy. Ethan's normalcy.

My days without Wylie are frighteningly a lot like our days before Wylie, in terms of routine. There is someone missing, of course, in the biggest way imaginable, but our routines are on track. We have adventures and I make lunches and I homeschool and we make art and we do all of the things that we've always done, only now I'm not just a mom. I'm the one whose baby died. I'm the recipient of the sad face emoticon when I bring up any memory or longing for the little girl who I carried and birthed. I've wrestled with this. I've wrestled with the frustration over an unnecessary rebirth in the eyes of others. I'm Ethan's mom. I'm still Ethan's mom. I'm still the overly analytical, party planning, lunch making lunatic that I've been since I held my little boy in my arms for the first time. I'm Wylie's mom too, but she doesn't get any parties or lunches with shapes cut into cheese and I think that gives me the right to talk about her in any way that I can. I think it makes me the same mom I was, the same mom that I think I am. I don't think mentioning her name makes me someone entirely different, someone morbid and grim and sad. Really, I swear, I'm a functioning adult.

But I've also wrestled with being okay with being the one whose baby died. That would be an accurate description, even if it's not my preferred name or the way I'd address myself personally. I'm okay with people interpreting my words or sharing them because they're talking about them and that in itself is a karate chop against the stigma that has been holding it's own. I'm okay with getting people talking about stillbirth even if they're gossiping in the grocery store check out line about me because they're still talking. I'm okay with being the person that makes others uncomfortable because they spend too much -- or too little -- time thinking about the right -- or the wrong -- thing to say. I'm okay with it all because I lived the loss of my child. I did. I pushed out a baby who was cool and quiet and I gave her to a funeral home and never saw her again. I will live every day from here on out navigating through this life, but I've made great strides. I continue to make great strides. I continue to honor my daughter who has passed and also make life the most incredible, amazing adventure for my son who is so very alive. I'm okay with being the one whose baby died because it means I can help someone else. It means I can be a sounding board for someone who is first going through the pain. It means I can work at making the world a better place for the moms who will be in my place next week, next month, next year, a decade from now.

I'm okay with being the person people contact when they know someone who is going through a loss or a devastating diagnosis in utero. I can take the loss of my child and use it as a light to help others navigate through the darkness when they're close to giving up. And, so, yes, I'm okay with being the one whose baby died because although Wylie's death does not define me, her life did. As does Ethan's.

I'm their mom, after all.

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someday we may see a woman king, or: wylie meadow's first birthday

I woke up this morning before Ethan -- a feat, really -- trying to assess how I was feeling. It can be frustrating when your child's name and memory is met with sadness, although understandable. Death is sad always. Death of a child is sadder yet. Wylie's circumstances were sad, of course. Here was this much loved, much wanted baby who quite literally had a broken heart inside of her chest and somehow death and birth came entwined. As time goes on, I have wanted Wylie's name and memory to be synonymous with happiness. I have wanted her love and legacy to somehow go on to bring smiles or touch lives somehow, someway. It isn't so cut and dry. I will miss my daughter with every shred of my being until the day I, too, am gone.

Truth be told, I had been planning Wylie's birthday party since the moment we had her name picked out. I do that, plan parties (if you haven't noticed). Wylie And The Purple Crayon was the theme of the party that I never got to throw; the decorations I began sitting in the drawers of her closet underneath the racks of clothes she would never wear. And, yes, it's sad, all of it. It's heartbreaking, every bit of it. I shocked myself when I woke up feeling slightly numb, a little peaceful, a tiny bit anxious. I took myself to Target early on and sat in the parking lot sobbing nonsensically at Alkaline Trio's I Remember A Rooftop which held no secret meaning, it was simply a release.

Our daughter's name was mentioned often by friends today. A few friends paid it forward for Wylie throughout the day, some even bringing donations to the humane society in Wylie's name. Another friend put a birthday girl button at Wylie's tree. Her name was spoken often today and, for the most part, I think it was in joy. Of course, there is still sadness. How can there not be? How can there not be sadness in tragedy?

I knew that Wylie And The Purple Crayon couldn't happen now. It felt wrong. I also knew I wanted to celebrate her in some way more subdued and so my friend made us a cake and I posted an open invitation on Facebook to meet up with our family to have some. Recently, Wylie's tree had bloomed for the first time and though the branches were still too small for shade -- and the day was hot, believe me -- it was perfect still.

So many friends surprised us by stopping by to share in Wylie's memory and to talk, laugh, be with us to bring a little of the joy that I sought out back. In light of the massive loss and inevitable devastation of today, we were gifted comfort by those who came to remember Wylie with us. (Thank you, to anyone reading this, who came to have cake and celebrate Wylie with us. It means more than you know!) The afternoon brought peace and a little bit of calm to the storm that has been rolling in my stomach since this day last year when we said hello and goodbye to our beautiful little girl. I think it went well, her little party. At first I didn't want to call it a party, but then once it happened, I did.

At this point, the night is here and I thought I would end this post with the post I made on my personal Facebook this morning as I was up before anyone else in the house with time to think and search for some clarity. It says the things I am too drained to say:

Four hours ago now, a beautiful little girl was born.

Through the pain of labor, everything seemed a blur. As I screamed and pushed, I remember focusing on the deep, black tattoos on the arms of the nurse who held my hands and leaned in to me lovingly, sadly, knowingly. The dark contrast of the ink seemed like the only thing my eyes could see through the pain. And then you were born, only there were no cries like the ones your big brother had let out into the world. There was the silence of the night and the reverberation of my screams which broke the silence for you. I can still see the love in my doctor's eyes as she met my gaze and told me what I already knew: that you were perfect. That you were beautiful.

Your father and I took turns holding you as you slept. I regret not taking a lock of your dark, black curls but the coarseness of your hair is etched in my memory and lives each day atop your father's head. His hair. You had his hair. You slept and we held you and told you we loved you even though you could not hear us and even though I knew, confidently knew, that you knew firsthand our love. The outside world is flawed, but inside of me you knew only warmth and love and happiness (and Captain Crunch cereal, your favorite). It's not unlike your own body. Outside, you were perfect. Inside, your heart was broken. There is a frustration that arises when things seem simultaneously so right and so wrong and so I, as your mother, choose to remember you as only perfect. How perfect you looked wrapped up in the baby blanket your grandmother crocheted for you. How perfect you looked tucked inside the layette gown that your brother wore on his first night home from the hospital.

I have believed since the moment I became a mother that it is my job as a mother to exist to honor my children. I will never stop honoring you. I will never stop remembering you. I will never stop prioritizing you despite the resistance from a world that would rather I not. In my days, I often hear "haven't you moved on yet?" or "aren't you over your loss yet?" and I am back to that place of holding you in my arms, kissing your forehead as my tears fall onto your cheeks and I realize then that the problem isn't with me. You aren't "a loss," my sweet girl, my child. Your tiny fingers never gripped mine as I turned your hands over in my palms. Your eyes never opened to look longingly at me. You never cried or breathed or saw the world that wishes you were swept under the rug but I promise, I promise, I will honor you until I am no longer here myself. On this day one year ago, I held you with the love and intensity of a mother and cried as your father lifted you up to study your perfect, tiny face. "It's like looking in a mirror," my grandmother used to say whenever my sister walked into a room. For him, I know, looking at you was like looking in a mirror. One year ago, I handed you over to the funeral home, bundled and swaddled, and felt broken as they took you from me. That brokenness will never really go away. My arms will always ache for you and, my darling, what could have been. Who you could have been. Even so, you have changed the world more than you know.

One year ago, I learned you do love your second baby as much as your first and that the love between mother and child is never broken. It doesn't die with the physical body of either. It transcends all else and always will.

Happy birthday to my beautiful baby girl, Wylie Meadow. My woman king. Born still but still born.

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the anniversary.

This Saturday, May 23rd, marks 6 years since I walked down the aisle and exchanged vows with the love of my life, the father of my children, the man I have loved since we were children. It also marks one year since the stillbirth of our beautiful daughter. When Wylie died and we made plans for induction and labor, I asked a nurse if she thought Wylie would be born on our anniversary. With Ethan being a c-section, I really had no concept of how my body did in labor (not that any two births are alike, of course). I mostly received sympathetic sighs of pity. Everyone said we could hope for the 22nd, of course. We could cross our fingers and hope she was born a day before our anniversary. In my head, I laughed. Would that one day change a thing? Would we be amped up and ready to celebrate a mere day after we said our hellos and goodbyes to the little girl we wanted more than anything? Of course not. In a way, having her come on our wedding anniversary felt more like a testament to our love. There's nothing parents love more than their children, after all. When babies are born alive on anniversaries or birthdays or holidays, we hear them being described as the best gift. That's what our daughter was to us, she just wasn't alive.

I remember days. I hold onto days with a force I'm never aware that I possess. The day of my first kiss? The day I had my heart broken for the first time? The first time my husband told me he loved me? I remember them all. As this week began and I let my eyes rest on the days on the calendar that lay ahead, I can remember each day with such vividness that the memories pinch at my flesh. The 20th was the last evening I went to bed with the ability to feel her move inside of my body. On the 21st, she was dead. And on the 22nd, I labored in drug free agony while the man I love sat in a chair across from me and cried tears that he tried so hard to hold in for my sake.

As this week unfolds, I want to write more about my daughter. I want to share her with the world for what she is: my child. My beautiful, wonderful child. Wylie isn't a bad thing that happened to us. She isn't a reason to feel sad. She is a life that mattered more than I can fumble into words. Anyway, as this week unfolds, I will talk more about my daughter. Today, though, I wanted to talk about our wedding anniversary.

I loved our wedding. I loved every aspect of planning (obsessing) over the details. I still love to flip through our wedding album and let the photographs take my breath away. It was a beautiful evening celebrating a love that I am fortunate to have experienced for so many years. When we were first married, I felt a little sad that we were suddenly gifted this new anniversary other than the one we had celebrated yearly since we began dating as teenagers. By "a little sad," I mean that my eyes sort of welled up and the back of my throat stung as I tried to accept that January 17th, 2002 had been overrun by May 23rd, 2009. It didn't sit right. It didn't feel right. For so many years, we had clung to January 17th as some sacred anniversary date that the new one felt more like an imposter. "Let's just celebrate both, then," I'd begged my husband. And so we did, but January 17th always received a warmer welcome.

I will forever romanticize our wedding, remembering the beautiful details and the magic in the air as we got to exchange vows of equality and love and forever in the way we dreamed of doing since we were high school students planning out the rest of our lives on a blanket under the stars in an open field. Our wedding was beautiful, but it wasn't the day we first promised to love one another forever. That day was January 17th, 2002, as I sat tucked into the home office in my parent's home hoping they wouldn't realize I was still awake. "I really like you. I like you more than you know. Please be my girlfriend." "I will. I will." The barely-past-puberty exchange of I do, the vows that sealed us together as tight as we stood in the field watching local bands play on our first date. "I love you. I can't stop telling you that I love you. I just love you."




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building magic and making memories with the legoland: the grand opening of the legoland hotel

I'm no stranger to open-ended play and I'm not shy about praising the often overlooked intricacies of simplistic play. Children are so naturally creative and, in life, we can provide them with either toys and tools to nurture that creativity or ones to stomp it out completely. Legos are the former and they have always topped my list of favorite children's toys for that very reason plus -- and I'm sure you would agree -- they are completely timeless. Give a child a set of Legos and watch their brilliant imagination create something incredible. Not surprisingly, Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen felt the same. Lego is essentially synonymous with endless possibilities and though it has been almost a year since our family's first Legoland trip, I can still feel the magic of seeing Legoland -- and all of the magic of the park -- through Ethan's eyes for the first time. When I learned that Legoland Florida was opening The Legoland Hotel in May 2015, I was wondering if and how they would be able to pull off that same Lego magic.

From the moment we stepped through the front doors of the Legoland Hotel, it was apparent that all of the love, thought and quality synonymous with the Lego name had gone into this hotel, too. There wasn't a single detail spared in transforming the hotel lobby into a place of magic. While I checked in with the kind and incredible staff, the Legoland Hotel employees proved they knew how to make a kid feel special. Instead of hanging around impatiently while I filled out paperwork and signed some forms, the employees included Ethan in the process and really helped him feel important!

The Legoland Hotel lobby in itself was one of the highlights of Ethan's trip. Kids were encouraged to use their imaginations to build on the lobby pillars and there was even shelving in the lobby for children to show off their Lego masterpieces. This emphasis on building imagination, creativity and confidence completely touched my heart. After all, that's what life is all about!

The question I've been asked the most since we've gotten back from our trip is about the age appropriateness of it all. Is the hotel a good fit for older kids? For honeymooners? For teenagers? For parents who want to take a little break since this is their vacation too? My answer is an overwhelming yes. Just to the right of the Lego castle play structure is an aesthetically pleasing Legoland lounge. On Tuesday evening, I was able to grab a Shirley Temple (hey, I know how to party, okay?) alongside fellow blogger Essentially Erika at the Legoland lounge and it was impossible to not feel a little swanky and grown up. Yes, even at Legoland!

The rooms themselves were also nothing short of magical! Each floor is assigned a different theme (Pirate, Adventure, Kingdom or Lego Friends). We were given a room on the ancient Egypt floor -- the adventure floor -- which was actually a fantastic surprise for Ethan, who has been a little obsessed with the exhibit of the same theme at our local science museum. When the elevator opened on our floor, Ethan exclaimed, "we are in ancient Egypt! How did we get here?!" Before I gush about the awesomeness of our room in particular, let me take a minute to explain the rooms to you. Every single guest room -- that's right, all 152 of them -- include two separate sleeping areas. The adult sleeping area has a king size bed (that is so comfy) and the children's sleeping area can sleep up to three between the bunk beds and the trundle. Each children's sleeping area and adult sleeping area have their own high-definition flat panel televisions. If you wanted to upgrade, VIP rooms are available and contain more elaborate decor. VIP Suites are also available and can sleep up to six, plus they include a kids play area and a living room.

Back to our room, it took our breath away when we opened the door! All children are greeted in their rooms with a welcome treasure hunt. Once you crack the code, you open the safe and find some cool Lego treasure to take home with you!

After getting acquainted with our room, Ethan wanted to take the elevator back down to the lobby. This is both because the lobby is incredible and also because the elevator ride is a good time in itself! That's right, from the minute the elevator doors open, it's disco fever time!

There is also nightly entertainment for the kids in the lobby which meant Ethan got to participate in an awesome pirate and princess show before having dinner. Ethan's favorite part of the evening was getting to meet real Lego characters! Both the costumed Lego people and the characters did a fantastic job interacting with the children. Ethan was a little starstruck by the knight, Sir Phur, and his day was made when Sir Phur spent a good ten minutes building with him and holding a great conversation. The characters also came by the dining room tables to spend some quality time with the kids.

Speaking of dinner, we had two meals at Bricks, the restaurant inside the Legoland Hotel lobby. Let me preface this by saying taking my little family out to eat is no easy feat. My husband has Celiac and requires a gluten free diet and, out of nowhere, Ethan has decided he's a strict vegetarian. We weren't sure what to expect when it came to hotel dining, but we (especially my husband -- the food is his forte) were blown away by the options. For dinner, guests were welcomed to a buffet that featured everything from a meat carving station to a fajita bar to pastas to macaroni and cheese (and Ethan let me know this was especially delicious), to rotisserie chicken and beyond.

Upon waking up the next morning -- and to a newspaper delivered just for Ethan! -- we headed downstairs to check out the breakfast buffet before another day at the Legoland park. The breakfast buffet offered a smoothie bar, omelet bar, meat carving station, an oatmeal bar, bagels, an array of yogurts and pastries and so much more (my husband wants me to note that the smoked salmon was delicious). An added perk for families with food allergies, the chef at Bricks was very knowledgeable about gluten free dining and food allergies. If ever a staff member wasn't sure, they didn't hesitate to ask the chef for us. Another cool part about Bricks is that most of the items on the menu were fresh from Florida.

How can I forget the make your own sundae bar?!

On our drive home from Legoland, I asked Ethan if he wanted to be a master builder when he grew up. "Mommy," he laughed as he held up one of his Lego masterpieces, "I already am a master builder!"

As the staff at Legoland Hotel and Legoland Florida seems to understand, one of the best things in life is watching magical moments through the eyes of the child. Watching Ethan take it all in with wonder and sheer excitement was the best part of the trip for us. We are grateful to Legoland Florida and the Legoland Hotel for working so tirelessly to help children continue to believe in magic, in play, in imagination and in the power to be whatever you want to be (and build whatever you want to build!).


The Legoland Hotel is located just 200 steps away from the front of the Legoland Florida park in Winter Haven, Florida and opens to the public on 5/15/15. For more information on accommodations and to check available rooms and dates, visit the Legoland Hotel online or call 877-350-5346.


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