Thursday, September 21, 2017

Longer than a Blink, Yet Faster than We Think

Andrew and I wander the yard holding plastic bags. He points out dog poop when he sees it, which is not as often as I do. I scoop it into a bag and carry it until we find more. When a bag is full, I tie it, and Andrew proudly deposits it by the garage door. Our task is made more difficult by the brown oak leaves all over the ground. This is Andrew's first time recognizing the change of seasons, and he says "Uh-oh" every time a leaf falls.

I hope we won't discover any poop the hard way today.

His help is a bit nerve-wracking, but I try to embrace it, realizing that it's good for him, and that someday getting him to help won't be this easy. I think back to when little Margaret thought it was fun to scrub toilets, and Jack made our bed with hospital corners each morning. These days, I slip out of the sheets, damp from night sweats, and leave the bed unmade to air out. Margaret hasn't cleaned a toilet in a decade. I leave the extra bags in the garage and wonder if I've prepared her at all for adulthood. Those preschool days seem like yesterday.

We enter the house,and I expect the aroma from the crock pot to delight me. Instead, the house smells terrible. Another dinner fail? Certainly not worth cutting celery at 7 am, I think.

From the adjoining room I hear "Uh-oh" and enter quickly enough to see Andrew pointing at dog diarrhea sprayed and pooled on our carved wool rug, trailing off onto the cover of Andrew's favorite book. He knows we've been on poop patrol, but this is no job for a baby. I scoop him by the waist to deposit him in his little chair and say, "Stay," as I would to one of the dogs. Just as I'm trying to figure out which dog is afflicted, Shadow starts vomiting. Another "Uh oh" and pointing from Andrew. I tell him I'm not quite sure how to approach this mess, but if he stays in his chair, he can watch Little Einsteins while I figure it out.

What I see is neither a solid nor a liquid. I dive in, and do the best that I can, grateful for rubber gloves.

The fact is not lost on me that in a fit of optimism and/or stupidity I'd ordered a WHITE SHAG rug for my office just the night before. Something about a quiet house at 11pm made me think that the world of HGTV or Pinterest could me mine. Even as I pressed ORDER, I knew it was likely a mistake, but I did it anyway. Did I  hope that making my beloved office cozier and more chic would jump start my writing again? That bare feet on a soft rug would somehow garner me the time and creativity to put words to paper? I hadn't been in that room for weeks, except to set up a laundry drying rack in the corner. Now I realize I'll have to close the door at all times, to keep the dogs, their hair, and their funk out, and I wonder if I'll spend time in there at all, the beautiful room that birthed Rare Bird.

I know Tim will be annoyed when he hears about the diarrhea and vomit. He'll toss the dogs outside, as if they will be able to equate evening exile with early afternoon grossness. With a sweep of his arms, he'll say maybe we shouldn't have rugs in the house at all. That rugs are disgusting. I'll agree, and hope that that exact moment is not when the delivery truck pulls up with my new shag.

I've never been one to get too riled up about messes, or when things break. My mom used to say, "Everything has a life," and I've interpreted that as nothing lasts forever, and that it's okay. It applies to the material as well as the those things we cannot touch. Who knows if the new rug will outlast the our dear dogs, or vice versa? I do know these days of traipsing around the yard with Andrew will not last forever. Stopping to look at ants, pointing at airplanes, waiting for the mail man and school bus to arrive are distinctly toddler occupations. In the not too distant future, I'll have more time to write, to sit in my office, to think. When I look ahead, it may seem far off, but I know that the warp-speed of life I've experienced up until now will not change.

After all, I wouldn't have believed another fall had come so soon, if today I had not felt the leaves crunch under my feet.





Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whew and Woah

So how did Andrew's first 4 HOUR stint at Mother's Day Out go yesterday?

He cried...when it was time to come home.

Whew!

I had to pry two little trucks out of his hands because he wanted to keep playing.

A happy morning for him was a WIN, made even more awesome by the fact that he fell asleep on our long drive home and TRANSFERRED to his crib for a nap.

I forgot how much these little things feel like such big things when you are in the thick of it.

Way to go, Miracle Baby!


In other news, we ordered a homecoming dress for Margaret online and it came with only a few days to spare. It is more revealing that she'd anticipated. To give you an idea:


So, I may be learning to sew between now and Saturday.


p.s. I promise I did not buy Margaret a dress like J. Lo's (above)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Redemption

I am often asked what it's like to have another little boy, when my first boy went to heaven. It's different than I expected, and much, much better.

I remember meeting with a lovely bereaved mom while I was pregnant with Andrew. Her two young daughters died tragically. She had a sweet toddler boy at home, and was hoping and praying that she and her husband would someday be able to have another girl as well. I didn't really understand what she meant when she talked about wanting to use the girls' bikes in the garage, and their hair ditties up in the bathroom again. That sounded painful to me.

And wasn't the joy of a new baby, regardless of gender, what was important?

I didn't get it.

In fact, I secretly wondered if the little boy I was carrying, who might, gulp, look a lot like his big brother, would hurt my heart more than a baby girl would. Just accepting that I had an unplanned pregnancy at this age and would be starting the whole parenting journey over again was MIGHTY SCARY-- did we really need to it be more difficult in another way too?

I get what that mama was saying now.

I experience it daily, and the closest word I can come up with is REDEMPTION.

For more than four years, I couldn't walk by the boys' section of Target without aching. It didn't matter if my eyes landed on a toddler outfit, or something for a teen-- my heart seized with pain as I missed Jack at every stage, even the ones he never got to.

Now, I hold up little boy shorts and ponder whether they will fit around Andrew's prodigious belly. I shudder to think of going into the toy aisle again, not because Jack died, but because it's mind-numbingly boring, yet I know I'll go there with Andrew. I see super hero paraphernalia on an end-cap and wonder if I'll need to learn the good guys' and the bad guys' names for the very first time.

Andrew shifts me to today. To next week. To the future.  He doesn't take away or diminish the past, but he somehow redeems much of it. I can think about Jack's love of baseball now, and try to guess whether Andrew will play, or whether soccer will be his game. Each stage Andrew is in takes me back to Jack and Margaret and the happy memories of their childhoods. Instead of tears, there is the remembrance of their own quirky cuteness, the chaos, and their snuggly love. It was a sacred time, even though I didn't know it then.

There is also a joy that comes from experiencing life through a toddler's eyes. Margaret and I've noticed we get excited about the little things-- a butterfly, a turtle, a fire truck, a helicopter-- when  we wouldn't have paid attention to them just a year ago. He has brought wonder back into our lives.

My delight in Andrew is not because he's a boy, or because he looks a bit like Jack, but his being a boy has been somehow healing.

I remember a sad scene in the movie Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp playing J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Depp's character says the one time his mother ever truly looked at him with delight, was when he walked into a room dressed in his dead brother's clothes.

Ouch.

Andrew may wear a few of Jack's things that I had saved for grand kids, or play with Jack's toys, but Andrew is Andrew, and we see him, love him and delight in him. Ok, not so much in the middle of the night, but you know what I mean.

Somehow Andrew helps us look at the past and remember it with joy not sadness, and he helps us look ahead at the possibilities that await us in this weird, exhausting, wonderful life. If he has also taken the sting out of Legos, toy cars, boy clothes, and Target, I am grateful for that.

And I know any joy, gratitude and hope that we have makes my first boy happy too.





Friday, September 1, 2017

Ikea Toddler Table Re-Do

I saw this red Ikea table and chair set in someone's trash the other day and nabbed it. There were 4 chairs, but I just took 2.


 The red didn't match my house, so I saw what paint I had on hand: gray chalk paint and  green spray paint.  I tried a much prettier shade of green first, but the can jammed and I switched. It was nap time, and I knew my painting window was not going to last forever.

Not my best painting job ever. I just noticed one of the chairs needs another coat. But that's the nice thing about free-- It FREES you up to do a half-way job and not feel guilty about it.  I think Andrew likes it!






Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Toddlers are Weird and Fabulous

From the Toddler Files:

Andrew woke up from a nap and was pretty attached to his Lovey and Pacifier. He wanted a snack, but didn't want to relinquish either. In the absence of pockets, he found his head to be a great place to store Lovey:

This continued outside as he played with the dogs and explored the yard.







I can't even deal with the cuteness.
video


Monday, August 28, 2017

Friend Level Platinum

I was talking to a young person recently who had experienced the death of his mother. He mentioned that he thought some friends were just around because they felt sorry for him, and that it felt weird. When I asked what he meant, he said they hadn't really been friends before his mom died, maybe just a grunt in the hallway now and then, but now these teens reached out to him, commented on his social media, and wanted to get together.

His feelings make sense to me.

Teens crave authenticity, and if anything has a whiff of disingenuousness, they will sniff it right out. No one wants a pity friend, because it feels out of balance. We want to be liked for who we are, not for what we've been through.

But here's what I said to this teen, since I'm a bit farther down the road, grief-wise, than he is, and I've got 30 years on him of seeing the complexity of life.

I told him I, too, had people reach out to me after Jack died, and my friends list is vastly different now than it was before Sept 8, 2011. Many people came into my life, and yes, it was a direct result of what happened to our family. However, those friendships are not based on pity now. A one-sided relationship is not sustainable in the long-run, but a friendship with someone who has already PROVEN a willingness to reach out despite awkwardness, is a treasure. Empathy and generosity are amazing qualities in a friend. How great is it to know up front that a person has those?

I also told him many people exited my life, never in an overt or hostile way, but because things became so complicated after Jack died. How impossible would it have been for us to hang out with baseball parents immediately after the accident? What about families from youth group, when we no longer had a middle schooler? Friendships shifted. We changed churches, jobs, schools, and neighborhoods. We had no energy, and some relationships faded away.

I believe many friendships are for a particular season in life, whether it's due to having babies close in age, working on a project together, being in the same school, or even in the aftermath of a tragedy.

I told the young man that if his loss led to his being placed on people's hearts, and they reached out of their comfort zones to express sympathy or be a friend, that's never a bad thing. There is a level of intimacy that comes from experiencing hardship together, while it could take years to get there with friends who don't know what you've been through. Some of the new friendships will stick and grow, while he will remember others just as a warm light in this dark season of grief.

Both are okay.

I've learned so much from the people who rushed toward me, rather than away from me in 2011, and I'm still learning today.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer 2017

Summer is winding down. 

School starts for Margaret on Monday, and Andrew will go to Mother's Day Out (yay!) in mid-September. For those who aren't following An Inch of Gray on Facebook, and who may feel a little neglected in the Miracle Baby Photo Department, here are a few to catch you up. We didn't have a very active summer. I'm really not sure what we did except chase Andrew around, eat a lot of ice cream, and watch Netflix, but we did make it to Connecticut for a week to see cousins and grandparents, and to WV for our annual camping weekend. Another highlight was Margaret's getting her braces off just in time for back to school.

Family time in CT. Andrew was in the front yard when a BEAR lumbered by!


This year we included Jack in the group cousin picture. I wonder how tall he would be.


 After a loooong break, the grandparents had to buy baby equipment again.
 Happy 4th!


Camping trip. Too young to tube on the river, so he tubed on the grass!
 My big brother made sure I had ample fried food, as usual. Andrew slept well in a tent for the second year in a row. Bonus: Our new tent took about 2 minutes to set up!
 Big hike up the mountain! Tim carried Andrew on his back. Whew! I stayed back and read a book.




 My dear aunt and siblings
Braces off! 
Back-to-school and off-to-college pictures are filling my social media feeds right now. Thank you for praying for me and for others who are missing someone special in the photos this year.

Love and Hugs, Anna

Monday, August 21, 2017

2000

2000.

That's how many words I've written then deleted about the disgusting rally in Charlottesville, about the state of our country, about the level of division I see that feels almost cosmic in nature.

Cosmic, because how else could people see the same things so very differently? How could people tack the words "BUT" onto verifiable first-hand accounts of white supremacists with flaming torches shouting disgusting, hurtful words about African Americans and Jews? Honest to God NAZIS on US soil? How can we say, “We will never forget?” yet dismiss the significance of this kind of behavior? 

I know I have friends, family members and readers who believed they were making a moral stand by voting the current administration into office. I loved you. I love you now.

Some of you voted on one issue and felt that the ends would justify the means. Maybe you didn't feel like you had a choice to make. Maybe you believed one person couldn't do that much damage.

Maybe today feels like a time to dig in, again, especially when that is the example we see from the highest levels: name-call, accept no blame, call righteous anger "Hate" and dissension "Fake News!”

Or maybe it feels like time to reflect and reverse course. 

 What’s going on in our country feels evil and cosmic, while on the other hand earth-bound and base. 

Even though my words seem small, and they have been slow to come, the day of another cosmic event, the eclipse, seemed an appropriate time to pledge that I will not let myself get lulled into thinking any of this is okay: racism, sexual assault, hate speech, exclusion, and lying. I will speak out against it when I see it being condoned and encouraged by our leaders, and when I see it in my own sphere of influence. I will stay engaged and alert, even when it feels like my head is spinning. I will look to my own role in any of this, even if what I find is painful or ugly. I will listen to the stories and experiences of those who are hurt and in danger, rather than trying to come up with something to say myself, in order to make myself look or feel better. 

That’s all I’ve got today. 

With LOVE to each of you,
Micah 6:8


  

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Junk Drawer

When I designed our new kitchen, I included 2 junk drawers. The contractor pointed out that an extra drawer would encourage extra junk. I agreed, but that's what I wanted.

Junk drawers are a jumble of scissors, small tissue packs, bobby pins, matches, and sticks of gum. Batteries, a measuring tape, ear buds,  phone chargers, and random keys. Patches for river rafts and air mattresses, a tiny screwdriver for eyeglass repairs. Andrew's pacifier clip, and multiple lipsticks.

They are also the landing spot for things that serve no practical purpose, but have no other place to go.

In our home, those include a small plastic eagle we bought on a coal train ride in West Virginia. A  key chain with Margaret's and my photo on it. A tiny Magic 8 ball. Jack's kindergarten ID. A Darth Vader pen. Assorted novelty erasers. A headless Lego guy. Tim's first Blackberry that Margaret used to play to with, pretending she was a spy.

I straighten the junk drawer every now and then when it gets out of control. This gives me a chance to sift, sort, and remember. If these little things were packed away in a box, I'd likely never see them again, and I appreciate being able to touch them and move them about.

I know they will always be there because it is proven that no one ever cleans a junk drawer except for Mom. Sure, Tim will sigh and claim there are NO MORE NAIL CLIPPERS when he is looking right at them; he'll shuffle some stuff around, but he's not going to toss anything.

I like order as much as the next person, but I also love the little family museum I root through every day.

Now were did those scissors go?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Novagratz Tufted Sofa Verdict

My Novagratz Tufted Sofa from Walmart came and I've been meaning to give you an update. Here's what it looks like in the ad:

I'd seen this sofa around the internet, especially in the emerald green, and I was intrigued. It looked so pretty and feminine. I needed a new sofa like a hole in the head, but I justified this purchase because this sofa is also a futon, and we don't have a guest room. I thought it would be nice to turn my office into a guest room when the need arose, especially because I'm not getting a lot of work done in there anyway. 

Delivery was free and fast (2 days)!

It came in a flat box, with the components (legs, arms) tucked in a zippered compartment underneath the upholstered seat.  It was Ikea-level assembly that involved minimal cursing on Tim's and my part.

I selected the dark gray:


I like that the tufts do not have buttons, because in my experience, those pop off.

The reviews said the couch itself is firm rather than cushy, and I agree. It is not a "sink into" couch by any means. The fabric is very pretty but does NOT look as durable as what I'm used to. For instance, our microfiber living room couch is third-hand, given to me by a friend, who got it from a friend, and it has had numerous spills on it, plus many napping dogs. My basement couch (yes, I have a couch problem) has a nice tweedy/chenille-type fabric that has lasted us 17 yrs without issue. The fabric on the Walmart couch, however, is a non-stretchy velour that resembles velvet. It feels pretty thin and looks like it will not be very forgiving for spills, snags, or dog toenails.

Reviews also pointed out its small scale. It definitely as a lower profile than my other couches. Think futon.

Here's what it looks like in my office:




Pardon the lack of a rug.

My sister spent the night last night and tested out the futon. She is our most frequent house guest, so is the best person to judge the new set-up. She got up extra early with Andrew today (is she a saint, or what?) and gave me her verdict when I dragged myself downstairs. She says it was indeed firm, but that she slept well. There is a bit of a gully where the two pieces come together, but she was not bothered by it. She emphasizes it is a futon for ONE person only, not two. Twin sheets fit on it.

Here it is opened flat, a simple process that took a few seconds:

And made up with twin-sized Laura Ashley sheets, circa 1985:


Does it really solve my guest room problem? No, not if we have more than one guest at a time.

Did I need it? Not really.

Other complications: It didn't look good with my existing rug, so now I'm on the market for a new one.

Am I glad I bought it? Yes!


Grade for Novagratz couch/futon:

B or B+

Would I recommend: Yes.

p.s. This is not a sponsored post.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Weekend plus A Giveaway!

What a wonderful weekend at the national gathering of the Bereaved Parents of the USA. I was honored to be asked to speak twice: 1 keynote, 1 workshop. I was stressed going into Friday because I wanted to honor each parent's experience, and be a light if I could. But with Andrew having a scary accident in the driveway last week (he's fine but oh my!) and Tim being out of town, I was afraid that my talks wouldn't come together. Fortunately, prayer helped, and by the time I got up in front of the amazing parents of BPUSA, it flowed.

It was awesome spending time with online friends I know from support groups, and Tim even made it back in town to join me Saturday night for a long-overdue date night. If you had told me a few years ago that our date night would be at a convention for bereaved parents, or that I'd be asking my 40-something girlfriends for overnight childcare for a TODDLER, I would have thought you were NUTS!

One of the highlights was meeting and talking to Pam Vredevelt, author of the well-known book, Empty Arms. She has helped so many grieving parents over the years after baby loss. We know a bunch of the same people in the Christian publishing world, and it felt like I'd known her forever.

I was able to take look at her latest project, Empty Arms Journal: 21 Days of Good Grief Exercises for Healing After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or the Loss of a Baby and was so impressed. Pam also offers an Empty Arms Online Course.





I'd love to mail a copy of the Empty Arms Journal to a reader for herself or a friend who is experiencing baby loss.

If you would like to enter this giveaway, please do so below. There are no requirements other than leaving a comment on anything you wish.

Love and Hugs,

Anna

a Rafflecopter giveaway



#affiliate link included

Friday, July 28, 2017

Today

On soaking, rainy days like today, when phones beep with flash flood warnings, my family is on many hearts. But to me, they seem like any other day.

Why, I wonder?

I think it's because when I think of Jack, I think of his laugh, his understanding, his compassion, his great love for me. His hair, his speedy talk, his interests, his sleeping figure, his vise grip on my hand in the dark. Some memories are growing hazy, and I wonder what I've already forgotten, but I can't forget his essence, his soul, his love, his space in my heart. They are with me right now.

Even though I am less than a mile from the creek where he died and must drive over it many times a day, he is not the boy in the creek to me, and for that I am grateful.

I think that's why today can just be another day.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Oh Crap!

Today was a long day.

I was up before 6 with Andrew, and faced blazing hot temps outside that only a toddler would love. We had too much tv time, as I tried to keep him cool, and I didn't get one non-baby-related thing done.

I also felt pretty lonely, yearning for adult conversation, but also for alone time and the opportunity to write and create. Mid-morning, I took Andrew to the fancy-pants gym to go swimming, but it was at least 45 minutes of prep and wrangling for 20 minutes of fun. I saw moms and their kids socializing in the gym cafe and wondered if/when I'd ever feel up to that again instead of trying to do this mom thing solo. Perhaps I'm doing us both a disservice by not reaching out for activities and playdates. I know that being busier and more plugged in would make our days go faster, but it just seems like such an effort.

Margaret stayed holed up in her room most of the day.

At 5:30 p.m., as Andrew and I played, Tim sent the dreaded "I have to work late" text. I'd been hoping he would walk in the door any moment.

When Margaret came down and smelled the prepared dinner I'd picked up at the grocery store to save time, she rejected it outright and claimed the odor might make her vomit. I'm not saying it smelled good-- it really didn't-- but when I didn't care for my mom's dinners, I'm pretty sure I kept my mouth shut and made myself a Lean Cuisine. At least I hope I did.

Anyway, after a "disgusting" dinner that Andrew loved, during which I taught him how to put black olives on his fingers, I took him upstairs to change his stinky diaper. Too late-- I could feel dampness seep through my dress as I carried him on my hip. Oh well, we were cruising toward bath time anyway. He wailed and flailed as I cleaned up his bottom, so I decided to let him have some naked time while I started the water. I didn't feel like wrestling with him any longer, and what was 5 minutes diaper-less? His wails turned to smiles as he got busy pushing Tim's new roller suitcase around our bedroom, his chunky tush getting a nice airing out.

When I'd readied the bath, I stepped into the bedroom to grab him and noticed moisture on the floor. A little pre-bath pee is not unusual, and easy enough to clean up. But something else caught my eye. Pile after pile of frothy baby poop-- that he was running over with the suitcase while making car noises.

Some days I'm kicking geriatric motherhood's rear.

Other days there's not enough ice cream in the world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A-Camping We Will Go!

So remember last year when I took a 3 month old tent camping? With no running water? And my breast pump broke and I had to milk myself like a cow? Yeah. Well, a lot of you said this year would be even tougher because Andrew would be mobile.

Indeed he is.

In short, I'm a wee bit nervous. And, having been sick all week, my energy is WAY DOWN.

We leave in 2 days and I can barely fathom what this is going to be like. Well, I guess I can: It's going to be hot. Dirty. There is still no running water. But there are fire ants, ticks, bees, a river, boiling oil, a fire, and possibly bears.

There will also be mountains, family, and friends. And we bought a larger tent to accommodate a Pack and Play, so it could feel like a palace.

Will you say a little prayer for us? Specifically for Andrew's safety and my sanity? I'll be ready to report back early next week. In the meantime, tales of some of our earlier trips:

2013

2010

2009

2008

Friday, June 30, 2017

Learning about Marriage from a 14 Month Old

Margaret will be away from Andrew for almost a week. "I'm going to miss him sooooo much!" she said as we hugged goodbye. At 2 days in, he's already wandering around the house looking for her.

I'm glad this day has come, because it took a while for them to connect.

First, he was just so fragile and scream-y. Then he got cuter, but she was busy with school and sports. Their interactions were limited and brief. As I like to say, she reminded me of a Downton Abbey parent, content to have the baby paraded in once a day for a quick pat on the head and that was it. If you are guessing that she's Lady Mary and I'm the hard-working nanny in this scenario, you are correct.

Once she decided to pay more attention to him, however, it didn't go so well. She would swoop in after a long day at school and go in for a hug, to which he would fuss and give a straight-armed push right back. That would frustrate her, make her think he didn't like her, and she'd keep her distance.

Tim and I were talking about it one day, and this is what he said:

"She needs to let him interact with her on his terms. She can't just come in out of nowhere and expect him to react the way she wants to with a hug. They need to spend time together first. She needs to figure out what he likes and what interests him. If she'd get down on the floor and play with him more, he'd want to spend time with her and accept her affection."

I raised an eyebrow and said, "Does that sound at all familiar?"

The angels sang, and it all clicked for Tim.

If Tim shows up out of nowhere wanting to get frisky, when days or possibly weeks have gone by with little interaction between us, he might be greeted with a straight-arm, too. If he has shown no interest in what's going on in my life, or forgotten little niceties such as "How was your day?", a hand brushing against mine on the couch, or saying good night, going for the gusto seems jarring and discordant.

Like Margaret did, he may see physical affection as a way to connect, which it is, but if it isn't backed up with a relationship, it feels wrong. Likewise, when Margaret (or Tim) feels rebuffed, it makes them want to withdraw, and the cycle continues.

 Life is so fun!

The good news is that Margaret "got it" and started doing things Andrew likes, such as playing outside, looking for butterflies, reading books, and chasing him around the kitchen. She started spending time one-on-one with him, so he wasn't always running to Mommy or Daddy, and their relationship grew. Now, he's her biggest fan and vice versa.

As for Tim and me, we are still learning. I mean, it has only been 25 years, so why rush things?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Stitch Fix for Him? Stitch Fix for TIM!

You know how much I've enjoyed Stitch Fix for myself, but I've been meaning to tell you about Tim's B-day Present:

Stitch Fix for Him! Ha ha! Now doesn't that look just like Tim?



Tim has been stuck in 10 year old clothes that are WAY too baggy for him. His pants are on the wide and short side, and his shirts look rumpled.

He does not like to shop, and although I don't mind throwing some socks or undies in the cart for him at Target, I long ago gave up on being his personal shopper. While I had success at getting him to cull out some of his no-longer-in-style clothes, I wasn't sure how to build his wardrobe up again.

Stich Fix for Men seemed like a great solution.

Margaret had fun helping him fill out a Stitch Fix profile, emphasizing trim and current clothes for a casual work environment, and before we knew it his first box came in the mail.

Our super-professional "unboxing" video was too large to post on this site, so a few photos will have to do! Looking Good!



They sent him this navy button down dress shirt for work, a henley-type heathered gray shirt, a short-sleeved button down by Woolrich, slim-fitting indigo jeans, and slim fitting khaki jeans.

Guess what? 5 out of 5, baby!

He LOVED 4 of the items, and liked one. He decided to keep all 5 to get the 25% discount, and ended up with a totally refreshed wardrobe.

Plus his new clothes even motivated him to get on Amazon and order 2 new pairs of shoes that were outside his comfort zone!

His next fix is scheduled to arrive in time for fall, and mine comes next week. While I love how Stitch Fix has worked for me, I think it's even handier for him. I know he keeps clothes for A LONG TIME, so the prices are completely reasonable, even low, when I consider how much wear they will get. And while I'm fairly likely to pop into Marshalls or TJMaxx for myself every now and then, I know Tim won't.

The convenience of having stylish clothes come to our door is HUGE.

If the man in your life wants to try Stitch Fix, I say GO FOR IT! I hope he has as much fun as Tim did!

#affiliate links included!


Friday, June 16, 2017

To Jack's Friends on Graduation


 I was trying write a speech for all graduates this spring, but I kept getting stuck. 

I wondered if it was because I was just too heartbroken to write about graduation, when Jack wouldn't be walking across a stage, collecting awards, and smiling for pictures.

There would be no party.

Then I realized that addressing all graduates, and trying to come up with words of wisdom was too much. How wise am I anyway? I really just wanted to address Jack's friends, the ones who knew him in the flesh. These are the kids who for a while would glance over their shoulders thinking he'd be there. They are the ones who likely can still half-close their eyes at a group gathering and picture Jack as part of the scene amidst the laughter.

To them, Jack is not an idea, a concept, or a cautionary tale.

He's just Jack.


To Jack's Friends on Graduation: 

Congratulations on your big day! We are so very proud of you and all you have accomplished! I'm not saying I couldn't have pictured all of this when you were goofy little kids, but I will say you've come a long way. You are smart, poised, generous and kind. 

You will always have a special place in our hearts, in honor of the place you had in Jack's life, and the big love he felt for you. As we've watched you grow and change, we've pictured Jack alongside you, and although that hurts, it is also healing.

I am so sorry that our family's struggle represented such a shift in your childhoods. You didn't ask for heartache and the harsh reality of death to crash into your lives at such a tender age. It was shocking and scary. It left you feeling vulnerable. I wish we could have spared you.

I am relieved those horrible days and months are far behind us all, but I believe there are fruits that have come from this hardship, things most people don't discover until they are much older, if at all. 

You learned so much.

You learned how to grieve and how to memorialize a loved one. You learned how to support each other and a hurting family in times of crisis. You learned that saying someone's name might feel awkward, but that it is a loving act. You know how to reach out, how to give a hug when all words fail, and how to persevere when life seems scary. I know the people you encounter will be blessed by this. 

You learned how important each person, each life, is to this world, so much so that when he or she is absent, the world feels a little different. Your life is important. You matter. Your presence is valued, valuable, and needed. There will be times when you feel insignificant, hopeless, or alone. You will wonder if you are heading in the right direction, or if anything you do holds meaning. Remember that you don't get your value from what you do, but from who you are, and whose you are. 

You learned to lean on your faith and to see things from an eternal perspective. Yes, you had heard your parents talk about heaven for many years, but now one of your own was there, and it became even more important to live a life that focuses on what's real and what's true, not on the petty concerns of the world. You know that this is NOT the end.

You learned to persevere and to thrive. To trust even though things felt scary. To let yourself laugh and be kids. You saw us persevere as well, and this helped illustrate to you Luke 1:37-- "For Nothing is Impossible with God." Not even a new little baby-- eek!

I know we haven't seen each very often over the years. We were too new at grief to know how to navigate it and how to keep you integrated into our family life. I especially missed you as older brother and sister figures to Margaret, as I know you be if Jack were alive. I didn't know how to articulate what we needed, if I could have even figured it out. Yet you showed up again and again for special events and milestones. You snuck out in the wee hours and hung blue ribbons near our house for Jack's birthdays and crapiversaries. You culled your memories for any stories of Jack you could share with us. 

It would have been far easier to pretend we didn't exist, but you and your families didn't give up on us. You held a space in your life for our joys and our sorrow. We never once doubted that you still love Jack and you love us. THANK YOU!

I've mentioned some things we all learned from Jack's death, but what about from his life? Remember when Jack's Auntie came up with these at his funeral?  They are the way Jack lived, and I believe they are applicable to you today as you head off to college and to new adventures:

Be Kind.
Pay Attention.
Think.
Play.
Never Give Up.
Share Others' Joy.


Friend, we share in your joy today. 

And I know Jack does too. Remember in the Bible where it talks of a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on? Well, please know that wherever you go, you always have someone cheering you on. He's no longer the 12 year old boy you knew, or even the young adults you are now, but a soul with more knowledge, wisdom, joy and perspective than we will be able to get until we are with God. 

He wants the best for you, and so do we!

You have so much to offer the world, and we will watch with pride and anticipation to see how God uses you and your gifts. 

Love, The Donaldsons

Micah 6:8
Joshua 1:9


Thanks to my friend Carolyn, also a bereaved mom, for modeling this letter writing for me. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Grad Week

Just checking in to you to let you know this would be Jack's graduation week.

So far, we are doing well, even though it hurts. Andrew is keeping me active chasing after him in this intense heat, Margaret is wrapping up sophomore year, and Tim is busy at work. Tomorrow I am hanging out with another bereaved mom whose son should be graduating as well. We feel a strong kinship as we both lost our sons in freak accidents. We have no agenda. Just support and conversation
during Andrew's babysitter time.

photo credit: doriehowell.com

On Sunday, Father's Day, Tim will board a plane for San Diego for work. It will be his first trip there since his trip with Jack to Legoland.



So, we are doing well. But, as always, we appreciate your prayers and support!

Thanks, Loves.

p.s. When Tim gets back, I'm heading to a blog convention in Orlando. If you will be at BlogHer, be sure to say hi! I'm usually the one holding up the wall or looking awkward.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Before and After

On Friday, I was looking for an easy meal to make, so I pulled this recipe for Tortellini Soup out of my recipe binder. It's basically just a list of ingredients to dump together in a pot and bring to a boil.

My kind of cooking.



When I looked at the date, I was taken aback. My sister-in-law sent this to me one day before Jack's accident. At that point, I was gearing up for the new school year, planning quick meals I could make on busy weeknights of baseball, soccer, and scouts. I was wondering what it would be like to have a middle schooler in the house. On the bottom of the page, I'd scribbled a note about an upcoming field trip for Margaret's class. Nothing too exciting.

September 7-- mundane.

September 8-- shattered.

Oh how often there is a clear before and after in our lives! I remember looking through my mom's check register after she died. There she was paying bills and doing the routine tasks of life, until she wasn't.

Sometimes before and afters are positive. They can denote a marriage, a decision to take care of your health, a career change.

Other times, they represent the day the world came crashing down.

If there is a clear before and after in your life, due to death, illness, or a time someone harmed your body or your heart, I'm sending you love today.

After is different. After is often hard.

But after doesn't mean over.

Hugs.


Monday, May 22, 2017

God Wink: Doves

I went down to the basement with Andrew early Sunday morning. Toys were everywhere from his playtime with Daddy the night before. I picked up dozens of Hot Wheels cars, tossing them back into their bin. I knew that cleaning up didn't make a whole lot of sense because the day was VERY young, and the toys would be used again and again in the next 13 hours.

Is it terrible to already be thinking of bedtime before you've had your first cup of tea?

The plastic train bin was dumped as well.

I'd debated pulling out all of Jack's trains for Andrew. I remember what a HUGE deal it was to anticipate and plan for each one. Each new train represented a holiday or milestone in his young life. If Andrew started out with a complete set of Thomas trains, all jumbled in a bin, they would never be as special as they were to Jack, who slept with the train catalog under his pillow. When things come too easily for us, it's hard to appreciate them.

I remember how Jack would quiz me on each train's name and number, and after all these years, I still know them. The funniest memory was when he convinced us there was a train named Scarbuffle, Number 17. Scarbuffle was one of the gang and was included in all of our Jack's quizzes and train stories, but he existed only in Jack's mind. It was fun to realize that such a structured, orderly kid had an imagination too.

I decided to give Andrew all of Jack's trains, because I know something else will take hold of his passion-- whether it's trucks, superheroes, or something else entirely. To him, the trains can be just regular toys.

Sunday, after I tossed all of the trains back into their plastic bin, I felt something sharp under my bare feet. I wasn't surprised to see that there had been debris in the bottom of the bin. We haven't been in baby mode for many years, so I've had to be vigilant about sniffing out tiny vehicle tires, screws, and legos from our old toys before Andrew can put them in his mouth.

I bent down to scoop up the tiny sharp objects, before they attracted his attention. They were small and white, shaped like hearts or birds, but what WERE they? Puppy teeth? Mouse bones?


Immediately it clicked.

They were the white DOVES that come out of sand dollars when they are cracked open. Technically, they're the sand dollar's teeth, but according to the legend of the sand dollar, they represent doves that  stand for peace or goodwill.

Jack's trains had been closed up in a bin for a very long time, perhaps a decade or more. I assume the doves are from when I must have shared the legend of the sand dollar with the kids at some point. I'll have to ask Margaret. She remembers everything.

How interesting and fun to discover these little doves when Andrew dumped the trains.

Years later.

A different house.

Same love.


Birds. Peace. Trains. Jack.

Thanks for the God-wink!










Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Graduation

Prom and graduation are approaching fast.

It's weird and hard being in the throes of toddler parenting when I thought I would be planning a graduation party and have a house full of teenagers soaking up as much time together as possible before scattering for college.

Tim and I are ragged out and on edge. Interrupted sleep isn't helping. Thank you to An Inch of Gray readers on Facebook for the gentle advice on helping Andrew sleep past 5:12 a.m. We've had a bit of progress this week, but we're still so darn tired. "Andrew liked the, um, bread. You know, the brown kind," Tim says. "Wheat." I reply. We talk about, "that thing" and "that other thing" and do a lot of pointing because our brains are mushy.

But guess what?

Jack and Margaret's high school asked me to be a graduation speaker!

I was overwhelmed with gratitude because that means that Jack is remembered, even 5 1/2 years later. Through Jack's death, the students have learned important lessons about grief and being supportive, and I believe those lessons and their kind hearts will have positive consequences in the world. They didn't think in terms of "Dead kid, how depressing! Let's not drag down our big day by listening to his mother speak." Instead, perhaps they remembered what it was like in 7th grade to have their moms and dads stop, hug them extra tight, and give them a naked glimpse into the fierce love of a parent that goes way beyond grades, achievement, or even likability-- a sacred glimpse brought on by death of a boy just their age somewhere across town.

I thought about the offer for a few days and then declined. Yes, it would have been difficult, but I often surprise myself by doing the next hard thing that comes my way. Speaking is one of my favorite things. However, when I pictured what it would be like to go to the beautiful venue and be surrounded by happy parents and kids I've known forever, but then have to drive away alone, I decided to cut myself some slack and decline.

Sigh.

Would you do me a favor these next few weeks? Would you remember Jack this prom and graduation season? I know it's hard to picture him as an 18 year old, but let's try to do it anyway.

And while he doesn't get to graduate from high school and I don't graduate from missing him, there's still a place for him in the festivities, in our town, our world, and in our lives.

Love never dies.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Heirlooms

Grandma's Blue Willow platter and a painting of our family sent by a blog reader

I have a brand new article up at Aleteia about how to manage heirlooms and keepsakes from loved ones.

My motto has always been, "The Most Important Things in Life Aren't Things," but so many objects do hold special meaning, especially when they belonged to a cherished loved one. Having them in our homes can bring us joy and comfort. Please check out the article and leave any strategies you may have for enjoying things passed down to you.

Special thanks to Denise Fleissner from Soulfuly Simple for her expert advice.

Grandma's saucer used as soap dish in powder room

Our gallery wall includes a baluster from my family's early 1900's house in WV