Valentine

It’s Valentine’s Day. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of it. There are many reasons behind my disdain but I’ll tell you one thing: not celebrating Valentine’s Day has scored me a lot of dates. Boys think I’m the coolest cat in town because I’ve lowered the bar on my expectations of them. While my problem with Valentine’s Day started in the first grade (revisit my post of Β being falsely accused of cheating on the word “Valentine” on my spelling test) I decided long ago that it was a dumb holiday. Pink and red have never been my favorite colors and WHO decided that a heart was shaped like that? It resembles the human heart in no way, shape or form. So, when I learned that the symbol of Valentine’s Day was no more real than Santa Claus, leprechauns, Easter Bunnies, or jelly beans and toast for Thanksgiving Dinner, well, I discarded it along with the stack of other dumb holidays. The only holiday that matters is Halloween, because ghosts do exist. Just watch Ghost Hunters for proof of that. πŸ˜‰ I’m just kidding. What it comes down to is that I’m a cynical soul and holidays make me uncomfortable. That, and love stinks.

Actually, I love celebrating with my kids. I enjoy making little treats and cards for their classmates. In fact, I try to do it for all holidays because I do sincerely love giving gifts like that. It was nine years ago today that I was wrapping treat-filled cups for Ben’s preschool friends. I was pregnant with Madeline and desperately worried because nobody could figure out what was wrong with Ben. He’d been getting increasingly worse. Constant low-grade fever, intermittent limping, crying and saying “Ouchie” with his sweet two-and-a-half year old voice. It broke my non-Valentine’s shaped heart. Within a week of Valentine’s Day we would finally learn that Ben had neuroblastoma. After SIX MONTHS of doctor after doctor, urgent care after urgent care, misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis. I try not to get caught up in the “what-if’s” but it’s hard to not wonder if he would have had to endure less pain and therapy if someone would have just done a simple blood test and spent less time patronizing me by saying I was nothing more than a “nervous first-time parent.” I knew something was wrong with him, and, unfortunately, I was right.

February 19 is the nine year anniversary that Ben was admitted for tests to rule out cancer. Oh, how it pains me to say that they didn’t rule it out. When those doctors came in to say those horrible words that Ben had a 20-30% chance of survival, my heart flooded my ears with blood. I inserted my own Emergency Broadcast System noise in place of those horrible words. I clung to Matt because I knew I was going to collapse if I didn’t hold on to something. My son. My baby. How could this be?

I looked over at him laying on my mother’s lap while she rocked him in a rocking chair. He was sleeping soundly. He was wearing a little blue hospital gown and his diaper was full from all the fluids they were pushing through his IV. He had a board taped to his arm to not only keep his little arm straight, but also to discourage him from trying to pull the IV out on his own. The doctors kept talking. A long list of what he was going to have to endure if we wanted him to survive. I heard minimal of what they had to say because that buzzing in my ears was much louder than the volume of their heart-breaking words.

In addition to not loving Valentine’s Day, I generally don’t get too worked up about anniversaries, either. I usually enjoy birthdays – both my friends and my own – but other anniversaries kinda float in and out of my mind, with the exception of February 19, 2004. The start of finally getting some answers. The day it got worse before it got better. Ben certainly had worse days after starting treatment – days that nearly killed him – but, if it weren’t for that day and finding out about Neuroblastoma invading my son’s body, we might have lost him altogether. It’s certainly a bittersweet anniversary.

So, with my non-Valentine’s-shaped heart, I’m going to finish wrapping up treats and take them over to the school. I’m going to celebrate the fact that I still have my son – and of course, Madeline, too. She was born into this crazy world and has been subject to her own torture throughout his illness. But, in an effort to remain positive, their beautiful souls were ultimately enhanced by this horrible disease that we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives (in some shape or form).

Nine years. It’s so hard to believe it’s been that long. But as I look back on all the memories, the most important one is to embrace the life that we’ve been given, regardless of all the bumps. And love is pretty darn important after all.

Happy Valentine’s day!

 

I gave myself this word. I’m awesome (and humble).

Redeeming

Redeem: to recover possession or ownership of by payment of a price or service; regain. To exchange (trading stamps, coupons, etc) for goods. To reinstate in someone’s estimation or good opinion; restore to favor.

There’s so much I could talk about but the main memory that keeps popping into mind revolves around my grandparents. I lived with my biological father’s parents for a brief period of time during the early 70’s, when I was about five years old. My grandma, Sarah, was very kind and loving – perhaps a bit overprotective – but she spent hours playing with me, which I craved desperately. My grandpa, Jake, was a cantankerous old man. He taught me how to fish. He had moments where he was very kind and loving but was, unfortunately, a professional alcoholic. He’d get so drunk – nearly every day – that he didn’t remember his actions. I’m sure many of the things that he said – and did – were fueled by nothing more than the alcohol. Nevertheless, it left a lot of unnecessary scars that I’ve carried with me for nearly 40 years.

My grandma and I would spend hours talking about what my life would eventually be like. How I would go to school and do something amazing… be able to take care of myself and not have to depend on anyone else for help. I understand now what she was saying, but back then I just thought she wanted me to have a fancy job and make lots of money so she and I could go live in Hawaii. That’s what we talked about doing anyway, running away from our dreary lives and living in the sunshine. But in her own way she was trying to instill in me the confidence to be my own woman.

My grandparents were in no way financially stable. Money was very tight and they scraped to get by. My grandma would hide money in the lining of her coat because she knew that if grandpa found it he’d take it to the liquor store. So, in order to make ends meet she collected coupons and stamps. Grandma and I were constantly clipping coupons from the paper to redeem for groceries. She also collected S&H stamps (which is still in operation!) to exchange for presents that she gave to others. The one that I remember the most, though, was at the gas station. When coming home from our early morning fishing trips at Buckeye Lake, grandpa would always stop by the same gas station to get gas. This particular station had coupons that you could trade in for stuff… and he always redeemed them to get a Matchbox car for me. Now, I don’t remember playing with these cars but I was always so excited that he used those certificates on something just for me. I’m sure that back then you could trade them in for convenience items or even cigarettes (which he did smoke), but he always spent them on me. I think those mornings he took me fishing and stopped by the gas station for a car were his way to try to restore his favor with me – to redeem himself. He never said much to me unless he was drunk – and those usually weren’t kind words – so the cars were tokens of him saying “I’m kinda trying.” I loved them. Then as I grew older I resented them. Now, well, I’m a work in progress. The bad stuff is slowly slipping away.

Eventually, my grandpa died and I thought that grandma would take her life back. She had paid a high price of sacrificing most of her life with this man who was horrible when he was drinking, which was nearly all the time. She had every right to redeem her life. But she didn’t. She stopped eating and caring for herself and eventually died because she didn’t know what else to do. She’d been in that horribly abusive relationship since she was 13 years old and had no idea how to do it for herself. She’d saved all her coupons to use on a day that never came. I was kinda mad at her for that.

But what it comes down to is that my grandma had a ton of redeeming qualities. Some of my fondest memories are of times I spent with her. Turns out that my grandpa had a couple, too. I’m getting to the point where a Matchbox car holds mostly good memories for me. I’ve learned that we’re all human. We all make mistakes. Some of them are pretty freaking terrible. I’m not sure what demons my grandpa felt that he had to drown in alcohol but I wish I could tell him that – despite his shortcomings – I loved him. He could be a total turd but if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t exist. So, ultimately, he was good for something, right? πŸ˜‰

It just goes to show that even when what comes out of us is the worst, there is nearly always a redeeming quality that will eventually pull us through.

 

Shelly Neer Adams gave me this word. She is a dear friend of mine who has faced many heartaches and hurts over the past nine years that we’ve known each other. We met in 2004 at Children’s Hospital on the oncology unit. Her step-daughter, Eden, fought Neuroblastoma along side of Ben. Shelly and I walked the halls together, shared some laughs and definitely some tears. While the oncology unit wasn’t a community I was excited to be a part of, Shelly certainly was a bright spot of sunshine to look forward to. Eden lost her battle with Neuroblastoma and I’m not sure how Shelly has survived it all. My heart breaks for all she’s endured. Shelly, here’s hoping you’ve found some sunshine during your dark times and found that life has many redeeming qualities. <3

Paradise

I’m fairly confident that I have a completely different view of what Paradise should look like compared to others. If I could sneak into people’s heads I’d probably find visions of palm trees swaying against an azure backdrop tinged with vivid orange and gold as the sun sinks into the sea. While that is a truly beautiful image I have to admit that it immediately makes my bottom itch because I can feel the presence of sand in my swimsuit. I can find things to entertain myself in that sort of setting but it wouldn’t be my version of Paradise.

I’ve never been a beach girl. While I like boating and swimming and other activities that go along with water, lying on a beach has never been the type of vacation that calls to me. I got wicked sunburns on every trip to the ocean as a kid, which, if you add sand to that, makes for a very miserable redhead. So I wonder why it is that I made plans to get married on the beach in Maui in 1997? Sincerely. What on earth was I thinking? Given my predisposition to sand and salty air, why would I choose that location to marry the love of my life? It had failure written all over it. As it turned out, we broke up just days before our planned wedding/honeymoon in “Paradise.” I took the trip without him, which furthered my disdain of tropical destinations. I ended up taking surfing lessons and wondered why there was never a shark around to kill you when you needed one. We ended up getting back together and married a year later – at a beautiful cabin in the mountains – but he ended up not being the love of my life after all. I’m sure it was ultimately the beach’s fault.

Regardless, when I close my eyes and dream of my Paradise, I cannot pinpoint a singular place. It all depends – on mood, on situation, on feelings. I fell in love with the rocky beaches of Rhode Island during a spring break from college. Setting foot on the top of the Continental Divide during a starry night prompted me to move to Colorado in 1993. Walking the theater district of NYC gives me an incredible thrill. And it’s not always a destination. It’s often a memory. Or a person. Something that makes my heart feel bigger. Like my daughter’s leg intertwined with mine as we snuggle on the couch, laughing at some ridiculous movie. My dog laying his furry little head on my shoulder. Holding a lover’s hand while walking through the crunch of fall leaves. Hearing a song that reminds me of an old friend. Listening to the quiet of the snow pelting my ski jacket. Laying with my son in a hospital bed, feeling his steady breathing on my neck, knowing he is resting comfortably despite the circumstances.

Paradise can be found anywhere. In any situation. Even if the situation is less than ideal, you can close your eyes and find the joy and contentment. It’s something that you can always keep in your heart and visit whenever you wish. Free of charge.

And without leaving sand in your crack. πŸ™‚

 

Melissa Birkhimer gave me this word, probably because she’s on a fabulous beach vacation with friends as I type this. Now, admittedly, if they would have invited me to come along with them, I would have gone. I’m always up for making new memories, sand or not. Now, I’ve never met Melissa in person, but thanks to the genius of Mark Zuckerberg (or the Winklevoss twins) we’re friends on Facebook. I look forward to meeting her in person someday since she is obviously close to the heart of someone I greatly admire. πŸ™‚ Hope you’re having a blast on your trip, friends!