Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Just Born Photo Shoot

 I must have been about 10-12 years old when my mom tried her artistic touch at photography and got one of those fancy digital cameras that are now on every new moms must have list. One of the only times she ever splurged on something for herself when I was young that I can remember. We would spend hours dressing in my dance costumes, a new dress she made me or just fooling around in the backyard between the trees. Mostly it was portrait style. We would hang a sheet, she had a big light reflector thing and her fancy camera. For years we did this as my love for dance grew along with my not so hidden dreams of modeling. I was rail thin and confident and we had fun playing around. We tried countless times to capture my battement at the very top height, toes kissing the sky far above my head. I learned how to angle my head just so to capture the best version of myself, and how to jut my chin straight forward to eliminate any chance of a double chin.

I've been told I can't take a bad picture, but that's silly of course I can. Before the age of digital I typically carried the camera, developed the film and threw away the bad pictures. It is a science though to know your face, the best angle to tilt to automatically and most times I nailed it. Looking better in photos than in person most cases. Something I have always been ok with, photos last longer after all.

So pregnant with my fourth child, sitting in a PTA committee meeting I learned of one moms passion of documenting the first moments of a baby's arrival and of the family as they meet their new bundle of joy. Years ago my initial reaction would have been -- not in a million years. A photographer at the hospital hours after a c-section, dopey from anesthesia, and no chance of prettifying myself? Please. Ask me 6 years ago, never, but 3 years ago, when my mother was still so vibrant before the tumor stole so much? I would give anything to have those moments captured.
This is my favorite picture maybe ever ofSydney  and Mimi together and it still doesn't capture all the joy I know she felt being able to hold that little girl.
It wasn't even on my radar though. The posey pics, you know the ones with the adorable hats and newborn faces propped up on the hands that make you swoon, I wanted those. I tried capturing that myself and let's just say its a skill to prop babies in those crazy poses.
So when Tracy offered, asked to "practice" on our family I didn't hesitate to say yes. I say "practice" in quotations because the girl has skills, and talent, and a grace that makes you feel as though she's a normal presence in the most intimate moment of your life. To see more of her brilliant talent check out her online gallery and if you live in the Cleveland area she is the cherry on top of the sundae.
I was nervous of course to be caught forever on film looking horrid and at my heaviest, but I pushed it down because to have these pictures forever of our youngest son and his first moments, our 3 other beautiful children gaining a new sibling, my father and mother in law in their first embrace with their youngest grandchild, respectively, well it's all priceless. My ego had no play in this decision. If I were to do it again, which I am not, I would beg Tracy to fit me into her soon to be thriving business.

I love this shot for many reasons. First Veronica's curiosity makes my heart melt, Frankie's excitement is hardly contained and that Sydney has no idea that life is changing forever as soon as she walks through that door.


Nana and Levi's first snuggle

 A papa showering him with love enough for 2

These 3 kiddo's experiencing unconditional love and excitement. Moment's that would have been lost on everyone...

Frankie wanted a brother so badly and you can see the tenderness in his embrace and the love that is just beginning. I hope he will always be thankful for this little guy.

This girl when she walked in the door looked so grown up to me. In a matter of a day she went from being Baby Sydney to Siddy Girl and my breath was taken away seeing her so big.


Forever our first family photo

 My dad had whispered he brought a small piece of mom to be with us before I went in to surgery and the first thing my husband did when we made it to our room was set the tiny urn high above to watch over us. There were so many moments that I just stared at it and I could feel her love so completely with having just a small tangible token of her. It calmed me in a way that I still don't fully understand.
Before I would have thought this creepy and I debated whether to even share these photos of my mom's urn. I wouldn't have understood the comfort this could bring before my mom passed away. When I was pregnant with the twins, I was on bed rest, spent a few nights in the hospital and ultimately developed preeclampsia and had to have an emergency C-section. In the moment I had a false sense of confidence that it would all be ok. It was more the difficulties we would endure - not seeing my son for 24 hours because he was in the NICU, the magnesium that prevented me from standing for 24hours and throwing a tissue box at my husbands head so that he would wake up and bring our daughter to me to feed. I'm sure my parents and in-laws were sick with worry, but I didn't get that. Not then. It was all going to  be fine and it was. It's not until the worst happens that you forever fear when the next shoe will drop.
This being my 3rd C-section I was relatively calm about the whole procedure, but its always in the operating room waiting for the spinal that is the hardest moment for me. Panic sets in as all these masked unknown people buzz around you getting ready for surgery. Missing my husband and screaming on the inside for my mommy.  When they took 3 tries to get it placed correctly I wasn't even trying to hide the pain or sadness and was openly weeping into the pillow they give you to hug; praying for the numbness to sweep over me. It took a long time to sew me back together again and even when we were all safe and in recovery I still felt the impeding doom lurking around the corner. Being able to glance up and see her presence calmed me and I could feel her in a moment that I so desperately needed her. This blog has become more about documenting my experiences for my children so that one day they will have this as a reference, as a comfort, and as knowledge of who I was at these most intimate moments.

As the year has progressed we have since hired Tracy to document the 1 year anniversary of our business and Levi's baptism and I am converted. I don't want posed pictures, I want the moments captured. Because of her talent I will remember this day more vividly, with more intensity and am immediately transported back with every ounce of emotion felt that day. Forever thankful and grateful of her gift.

Mama and Levi's first snuggles


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Best Birthday Ever

Yesterday marks the 2nd birthday without my mother. Last year I felt her loss to my core and every minute was one minute closer to the day being over. I was grateful for the birthday wishes but I also wanted to pretend it was just another day. I was angry, and bitter, and grief stricken. Worst birthday of my life. 

As the day approached this year I was extremely nervous of how I would feel, if those same feelings would overwhelm me again. I didn't even mention my birthday to the kids until that morning; which I realized after that that was not the best choice. They were so sweet, upset really that they didn't get me a present or were ready to celebrate. And in that moment I realized I had taken something from them. However, we didn't dwell and I let them spoil me with breakfast and cuddles and by the last moments of the evening I was humbled by how incredibly happy I was. I realized that my mother was still giving me presents on my birthday. How grateful I am for the lessons her journey has taught me but also who I have become because of her. I have never been more at peace, more in love, more grateful for my incredible family, more sure of who I am and where I want to go, and so happy my heart was filled completely with joy for the first time since she passed. No guilt for the happiness I felt, and if she's somewhere watching over I know how happy that would have made her. 

A few months ago I wrote a post about being motherless on Mother's Day and although I truly felt her loss intensely that week, I realized how false that statement really was. As I sat by the fire last night, my four angels sleeping soundly, enjoying the quietness with my best friend and soulmate; all the women who are mother figures in my life started coming to mind. From the best mother in law a girl could dream for, to the women who are my sisters, to my aunts and cousins and nieces, my neighbors who pop in, to my friends who are mothers and aunts, to a Facebook community wrought with incredible mamas, and to the mommy blogs that continue to teach and make me laugh. How lucky I am to be surrounded by so many incredible women and I have never felt more loved, more supported, than I do now. So thank you for the love, support,  friendship and being patient while I found my happiness again. I am so grateful.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A tough week

The week leading to your birthday was a tough one. Most days I can push through the sadness that has been burned into my heart, realizing that this is just the way things are now. The roller coaster of cancer finally derailing us all off track. Each struggling to find a new way along an unfamiliar and solemn road. In a way it's brought us closer and I know that that would have made you happy. 

I fought back tears while I filmed Veronica's first dance recital. So proud of her glowing and smiling and confidence; amazed really as she is normally very shy when people are staring at her. She shined and you would have loved it, excited that I found a dance teacher that values developing the person not just teaching steps like you gave to me. Anger bubbled under the surface at the unfairness of it.  You would have been there crying with me, happy joyful tears -- instead I fought sad tears that you were missing it.

That same weekend came my first Mother's Day motherless, I was overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of my emotions. Both happy and in love with my family, but also detached so I wouldn't feel the pain of your absence. This of course doesn't really work and it's exhausting on every level. Then leading up to your birthday, anxiety that this will be the moment I lose it in public. Never knowing when it will happen but fearing it will every time I'm out in the world. I used to only see the pity not the empathy; felt the scarlet M seared across my chest, publicly branded so that everyone I crossed paths with could see it too. Fighting back the urge to scream when an innocent comment from someone unaware leaves me wanting to say "she can't go into business selling her amazing hats my daughters still love to wear because she's dead." But I can't say the words, I won't because it's a whole new level of reality that I don't wanna face. One more day that person has no idea that our worst fears that day my dad called, and said something happened to mom, came true.

I love this picture of you. A rare true smile caught on camera and you let me have it. No more insecurities, just joy that we were celebrating with 59 gorgeous roses. Even this birthday was a dream come true. That was 2 years ago, but it feels like a lifetime away. 

A few weeks ago dad and I took MLK Jr Dr to take the kids for a play date at the museum. A winding, serene passage from the highway to the hospital. These gorgeous arched bridges that remind me of the bridges we saw the first time we visited NYC in Central Park. Along MLK Jr Dr are parks and monuments; each one dedicated to someone or something. There was a monument under construction during your stay downtown that is called the cancer survivors monument. Every time I drove past it I wanted to throw rocks at it. So angry that you never even had a chance at surviving cancer. That we couldn't sit there one day after you were in remission and be grateful together that you were given a new lease on life. It made me resentful and hard as I rounded the corner and headed back to the hospital; mad at the world. A painful reminder that there was not going to be a happy ending to your story.

Headed to the museum that day, it didn't hit us until we were on it where we were. Both dad and I sat in silence left to our own thoughts, mine both lonesome and loving, a beautiful reminder of you and just like that you were there with us. I felt a connection to you and it was comforting. We didn't say much more than a startled acknowledgement of the road we were on, but I hope he felt your presence  with us that day as I did and could find some peace in that moment as I did. I was surprised that I was happy to see the monument was finished and I was taken aback by it's beauty. 

Until recently, my grief and anger were too strong to realize how wrong I was, that you absolutely were a cancer survivor. Everyday you lived with cancer you were a survivor. Every time you were scared and instead found a way to smile and be grateful for one more day, you were a survivor. In the lessons of the beauty in strength, that we are worthy, of wanting to spare us the heartache of your loss for one more day, you were a survivor. 

Of course we prayed that you would see sixty never truly believing it. And as we approached the day, your day one year ago, I got nervous that something would happen just before and you would be gone. But you did make it. I had gotten decorations and balloons and a cake to celebrate. I came down stairs that morning beaming, so happy we had one more birthday to celebrate. You smiled when I said happy birthday and I started to decorate around the hospital bed. As you watched me you became irritated, insisting I was wrong. And if you could have you would have slapped me over the head like grandma used to do when we disappointed her, I could see it in your eyes. Maybe I should have talked more about the big 6 0 leading up to the day, but I was so scared I'd jinx it. You were a good sport even though you thought I was crazy wrong and we celebrated with cake and watched Annie (the original). I wish we could have all climbed in your bed and surround you with hugs and cuddles and love, but we were too scared we'd hurt you. So I settled for holding your hand; both of us holding on for dear life.

And although I hugged my kids harder on your day, I couldn't find the strength to celebrate your birthday with cake and singing, let alone even tell the kids you should be 61 that day. But one day when the kids can understand I will take them to your monument and tell them of strength and beauty and worth and what it means to survive. Your story encompasses it all.

I started training for a 10k at the start of the year, my race landing on the one year anniversary of grandma Palmer passing, and a few days after your birthday and Mother's Day. I didn't realize the significance of the day until my phone chimed in with the reminder shortly after I finished my first race, and although she lived a long and beautiful life it was a loss I feel deeply too, another part of my life and my heart gone. Another affirmation that I was on a path that was true for me.

When I started training I needed something to focus on, get moving after baby number four, and I liked having a structured program to follow. Somewhere along the way running became a great place to put all these emotions. About 15 minutes into my soundtrack is where I want to stop the most. Where I almost convince myself to stop every time, and then the song "I bet my life" comes on my playlist and even though I wanna cry it pushes me forward. And although this is not a literal interpretation of our relationship, far from it actually, there are aspects that resonate deeply. It's the resurgence I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Running feeds the overwhelming need I feel to refuel and gear up, but also gives me time to soak up all the goodness in life. It is inevitable that tragedy will strike again, it is the way of life. It's not a matter of if but when, and I want to be ready. And part of that is putting myself first, and also squeezing in as many cuddles and laughs I can get. I may not have lost an inch or a pound; it may not matter how healthy I am or how well I eat; but if it gives me one more day where my children don't feel this ache, then I will do it. 

One step for every day you survived and a step for every day I get to love my family fiercely. To choose me, that I am worthy, that my kids are worthy of one more day.