Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Year in Review

Last year this was back by popular demand, so this year I just went ahead and started working on it in the car on our drive home from Pittsburgh. I'll post soon a little bit about our holiday travels (so fun! so exhausting! so glad to be home!) but for now, here's the NYE reflection on all the things of 2018...

1. What did you do in 2018 that you'd never done before?
* went to Disney World in Florida
* met a Supreme Court Justice
* saw Hamilton 

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Flashback to my Goals for 2018:
- Meal Plan
- Meal Prep
- regular yoga + exercise
- more fun stuff with friends
- more fun stuff with family

We did pretty well with meal planning, although we definitely fell off of it toward the end of the year. It's something I'll try to continue in 2019 for sure. David did the heavy lifting on meal prep, but we definitely appreciated the weeks that there was a casserole or chili in the freezer. I did a pretty good job with yoga, keeping to it almost daily except when I was sick (I love Yoga with Adriene, and I'd often follow her monthly calendar, making adjustments if I needed a shorter routine due to a time crunch in the mornings). As far as "fun stuff" goes... I think that was too vague. Yes, we had fun. I do think we could have been more intentional about seeing friends, and we definitely concentrate our fun stuff during the summer, which makes me think about spreading it out a little more and making the school year more fun instead of a daily grind.

I will definitely be making resolutions for 2019. I love a fresh start and setting new goals. I'm still working on them, so I'll probably post about those later. I know I want to write more, read more, and play more. We're also going to do some serious budget tracking and saving, which sounds much less fun.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister-in-law JoAnna had my nephew, Kelvin, otherwise known as Baby Bucky. My friend Nora had her baby Lena and my friend Natalie had her baby Bash.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Stayed in the U.S., visited West Virginia, Indiana, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania

6. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?
A coffee table in my front room, a puppy that doesn’t eat all the things,

7. What events from 2018 will remained etched upon your memory?
Bucky’s birthday, Zuzu’s first day of first grade, meeting Sonja Sotomayor, and Brave Magic weekend 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finished my memoir, wrote a novel

9. What was your biggest failure?
Stalled out on publication efforts, impatient with my kids, letting clean laundry sit in baskets for days

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Illness at beginning of year—bronchitis led to coughing so hard I strained a rib. My husband thought I was “overreacting” even though my pain tolerance is actually pretty freaking high so I’m still mad about the fact that I drove myself to urgent care where I got a chest x-ray, a steroid shot, and antibiotics. Fortunately, that was my only illness except for a cold during finals week.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Brave Magic weekend, Disney trip, this acupressure pad, and a new couch (David says the air fryer)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Women running for political office and Zuzu’s first grade teacher

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The President of the United States (same as last year!)

14. Where did most of your money go?
If you know, please tell me! (#budgetgoals2019)

15. What did you get really excited about?
Brave Magic, novel writing, memoir, Disney

16. What song will always remind you of 2018?
Soundtrack to The Greatest Showman

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? happier
- thinner or fatter?  fatter
- richer or poorer?  cash poorer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Time with friends

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Reading the news

20. How did you spend Christmas?
break started with a trip to Disney World in Florida, then we returned home to St. Louis for Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my parents, then drove to Pittsburgh to spend time with my brother, his wife, and kids

21. Did you fall in love in 2018?
with my nephew and (most of the time) with Clementine the naughty puppy

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Father Brown (I need soothing television so it’s like the only thing I’ve watched this year)

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No one specific!

24. What was the best book you read?
Another year of reading so many good ones...  I set a goal of reading 52 books this year but ended up reading 64. I do count books that I re-read, though. My top six in no particular order:
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I’ll Think It You Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (I became a huge fan of Sittenfeld this year)
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Educated by Tara Westover
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
I'll count the one I made tonight--watching the Taylor Swift concert on Netflix with my kids. The girls were mesmerized and inspired for their own karaoke. So fun!

26. What did you want and get?
a new couch (this is what I wanted and didn't get in 2017!)

27. What did you want and not get?
a new coffee table (if you give a mouse a cookie...)

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Black Panther and A Star Is Born

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 38. We were in Indiana with my dad’s side of the family. No complaints!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting on top of organizing and printing photos and photo books beyond Chatbooks (or maybe just settling for the fact that Chatbooks will be the only printed record of Zuzu's and Coco's childhoods?)

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
Casual, comfortable, with some effort to look polished for work days

32. What kept you sane?
Smart, capable, funny female friends, my mom, and my awesome life partner of a husband

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Michelle Obama

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
The children separated from their parents at the border. I look at my own kids and I still can't even wrap my mind around that trauma.

35. Who did you miss?

36. Who was the best new person you met?
We Stories community members

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.
Plan for surprises.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
from "Slow Down" by Nichole Nordeman - I went to see Jen Hatmaker speak with my friend Michelle and I wasn't familiar with Nichole Nordeman before that evening. She has a lovely voice, and this song about her daughter had me getting teary-eyed. 

Here’s to you 
You were pink or blue 
And everything I wanted 
Here’s to you 
Never sleeping through 
From midnight till the morning 
Had to crawl before you walked 
Before you ran 
Before I knew it 
You were trying to free your fingers from my hand 
'Cause you could do it on your own now Somehow
Slow down 
Won’t you stay here a minute more 
I know you want to walk through the door 
But it’s all too fast 
Let’s make it last a little while 
I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly 
I am your biggest fan 
I hope you know I am 
But do you think you can somehow 
Slow down

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Recap

I remember being eight. I remember a lot about it. I was in third grade. I had one of my favorite teachers that year. I lost my front two teeth right before I turned eight, so I had the big gappy smile. I wanted to be a detective and an actress and a teacher when I grew up. Also an author. I started reading books I really loved--The Secret Garden and A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables and all the Ramona books. When I was eight, I couldn't wait to be twelve. I had three best friends, Mandy and Kelly and Erin. I played four square at recess, but still played dress up and pretend, too (Erin and I loved to pretend that we were twelve). I got a diary with a lock that I only wrote in sporadically. I was already me at eight years old.

If life had gone a different way, I'd have an eight year old. A little big kid. 

Eight years is long enough that grief sits familiarly. The week leading up to her birthday wasn't too bad this year--sometimes the days proceeding are harder than the actual day. This year that wasn't so much the case. I was busy enough to be distracted at work, but I'd deliberately cleared my evenings to make space for early bedtimes and good books (I finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing and really loved it; I also finished Claire Tomalin's nonfiction memoir A Life of My Own, which addresses the loss of her daughter Susanna in a heartbreaking and honest way). 

I took the day off work, which I knew I would need, based on previous experience. I was able to respond to e-mail from home, but I spent the day mostly on my couch, addressing Christmas cards and half-watching Netflix Christmas movies involving princes and identity switcheroos. 

I picked Coco up early for a quick run to the cupcake shop and Trader Joe's for flowers. 

What I really want is for us to go out to dinner on Eliza's birthday, but David would have to take off work early for us to be able to do that and get out to the park for the vigil by 7pm, so we weren't able to do that this year. Next year we'll plan accordingly.

The girls were weirdly jazzed about Eliza's birthday. I say weirdly because I obviously have mostly sad feelings about it, but they were very intent on a "celebration" with cupcakes and candles and they sang happy birthday and I just went with it. I think it was also exciting just to do something besides get ready for bed at 7pm on a school night. We had them put on their pajamas and at the park we bundled them under blankets in the stroller. I only had one battery-lit candle that worked and there was bickering over blankets and Coco was SO FREAKING LOUD that I threatened to take her back to the car and we got there about two minutes after the ceremony had already started. But we made it. The song and the talk (a mom who lost her baby girl to meningitis at five days old) made me cry and Coco looked at me wonderingly and said, "Are you sad?" and I said, "Yes. I miss Eliza a lot today." And she said, "All these people are sad because all their babies died."

After there ceremony we stood in the long line to put a white flower on the Angel of Hope statue. A newspaper photographer snapped Zuzu's picture (she looks like a miniature college student with her zebra stripe fleece pajama pants and her messy bun) and she was featured in their write up of the event. I didn't realize he was snapping her photo (which is why my mouth is open and I'm flailing my arm in the photo), but he caught up with us as we were walking away to ask Caroline's name and where we live. Then he said, "And who are you here for?" So I said, "Her sister Eliza, who would be eight years old today." And then he asked me when Eliza was born and I said, "December 6, 2010." And he said, "December 6? So today is her birthday?" and I said yes and he started to say, "Well, happy birthday--" but then he kind of caught himself like maybe that was inappropriate and I just said, "Well, we do the best we can." And then he sort of looked up at the sky and said, "Happy Birthday, Eliza," and it made me get totally teary-eyed.

She got featured in the story here (she's the top photo) and the girls also are in another photo later if you scroll down (they appear unsupervised, but I swear David and I were right behind them!). 

And then we drove home and everybody went to bed by 8:30pm (late for the girls, early for us).

It wasn't the worst December 6 I've ever had, by a long shot. I felt the love of texts and e-mails and IG comments and facebook messages. It helps so much to know she's not forgotten, that other people miss her too, that other people besides us see the gap that's left in this world by a little girl who would have certainly lit it up just like her sisters do. 

Eight years is when I really started to figure out who I was and what I loved. And I just wish I could know Eliza at eight. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thoughts Deep and Shallow

I had the most amazing experience on Sunday.

After someone had an accident that went right through the “water resistant” mattress pad, I knew I needed one of the plastic mattress covers that are completely waterproof. I ordered it on the Target app as we were leaving church. I selected “pick up at store” and then I chose “deliver to car.” We had brunch and a play date with friends, then I opened the Target app and told them “I’m on my way.” I allowed the GPS to track me in the app and it KNEW when I arrived at the store. By the time I parked in the clearly marked “pick up here” parking spot at the store, a Target employee was walking the mattress cover to my car. 

I signed for it and left and I didn’t have to get my kids out of their car seats. It was AMAZING!


This week at church was a child dedication service. I had seen this announcement weeks ago, but we missed three weeks of church in a row in November--one or the other of the girls woke up on a Saturday running a temperature two weeks in a row, and then we didn't go on Thanksgiving weekend when we had family in town. Anyway, it was not on my radar and then I got to church on Sunday and saw it in the bulletin: 9:30am Service: Child Dedication.

My heart kind of flipped. This is precisely the kind of service I have deliberately skipped for the past eight years. It has felt too difficult, too tender, too emotional. Certainly not something I would have decided on purpose to sit through the first weekend in December.

But we were there. Well, David stayed home to do some yard work, but Zuzu and I were there, and Coco was already in the preschool room. (At our church, kids in kindergarten and older sit in the service for the first fifteen minutes so they are there for the opening greeting and the "Time for All Ages" story time. After that, we sing the children out of the sanctuary to their classes with a song that goes, "From you I receive, to you I give, together we share, and from this we live," which is a little tradition that I love.)

I looked at the order of service, took a deep breath, and decided I could do this. I didn't need to run to the bathroom and hide. I could manage to sit through the dedication. It was a mix of ages--not just babies--and some of the kids and parents I knew, and I told myself it would be fine.

And it was.

I was sitting in a row with a good friend of mine and her son and daughter. Her son is in kindergarten and her daughter is a second grader--she is just a few weeks older than Eliza would have been.

There were five seats in the row, and five of us sitting there. Zuzu sat on the end of the row, then me, then my friend's daughter, then an empty chair, and my friend sat on the other end, holding her son on her lap.

And I had this moment of sitting there, noting the spacing that we hadn't planned, watching Zuzu play quietly with the stuffy she'd brought, watching my friend's daughter draw in her little notebook, imagining what it would be like if it were my second grader on my left and my first grader on my right. What if that were my normal? What if that were every day life? What if a child dedication was just one more little event at church instead of something that made my heart seize up? What if every December didn't feel start with me feeling like I have to gulp enough oxygen to get through the hours when I know I'll feel like I can't breathe? What if life were just that simple?

And then it was back to real life. The child dedication was lovely. It did not make me cry. We sang the kids out to Sunday school and we sat through the service and then we joined that same friend and her family for brunch and playtime at her house that was--as we could have expected--was noisy and hectic and left little time for actual talking, but was still a really nice moment of connection that I needed at the start of this week.


Eliza's eighth birthday is two days away. I sent an e-mail to Zuzu's teacher because I'm not sure whether Zuzu will talk about Eliza at school, but I wanted her to be prepared and aware of the situation if it comes up. I got a lovely response from her, which of course made me cry.

Sometimes I feel that old anger flare up, that feeling that, okay, yes, we've survived this great loss and we've been lucky enough to have two more amazing children who are here and healthy and alive and yet WHY did my baby have to die? Why does my life have to be complicated by this grief? Why do I have feel this extra level of complicated feelings about ALL OF THE THINGS ALL OF THE TIME?  Why am I e-mailing my first grader's teacher to let her know that it's possible my daughter will mention her dead sister's birthday this week? Why is this my life? Why can't it just be simple and easy?

And I know it's never simple or easy.  I know it may look that way, but everyone's story is more complicated and messier and uglier than we could possibly know. These stories emerge slowly, a comment here "When my mom died..." a remark there, "After my first marriage ended..." or "When I got my diagnosis..." and I realize that everyone gets their share of hurt and sad. (Don't they? Because if there's anyone who's still missing out on that completely, than I am definitely angry and jealous about it.)


This year, I don't feel like I've been super emotional, but I think grief is manifesting itself as exhaustion (I see you, Grief! I know your tricks.). I feel really tired. I did all the things in November to get ready for December and I'm relieved I did because I'm definitely not productive right now. My plan for tonight is to go home, light a fire in the fireplace, watch the snow fall, and read. Or maybe just sleep.

I've already gotten some messages from people thinking of Eliza, recognizing my grief season, sharing it due to their own losses, and I'm just so grateful. For those of you still reading this ancient blog, for those of you who have shared your stories with me, for those of you who light a candle for my girl and hold Eliza in your hearts.


I went to a concert last Friday with a new-ish friend who has also become a very dear, kindred spirit kind of friend and one of the songs they performed in concert was "For the Better" from Wicked. This song never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It makes me think of all the ways I've been shaped by being Eliza's mom--by knowing and loving her, and by all the people I've been led to because of her, including this friend, all of the babyloss moms I've e-mailed or connected with, and pretty much all of you reading this.

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn.

And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you.

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun,
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood.

Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.