Sunday, November 27, 2011

Food For Thought

So what could make this past week any harder than it already is??
How about adding a monster of a stomach flu.

Booooo, stomach flu.

Poor Grace. She had a miserable week. I suppose we all did, but she was especially miserable, my poor baby. Hungry, miserable, sick, bored, and puking. For six whole days. She even managed to puke on the dog, which was messy, hilarious, and totally gross, all at the same time. Carpet stains have already been shampooed though, thanks to Jeremy who did the honors yesterday, and the dog is much cleaner now too.
 It was a long week on top of a looooong week for us. I still don't want to eat much out of fear and my hands are peeling from washing them so frequently, but she is better now, still a little tired, but much better, and H-U-N-G-R-Y.

My girl likes food. A lot. The first thing out of her mouth when she gets off the bus is: "What's for dinner?"
She loves to watch the food network. I've caught her more than twice cuddled on the couch thumbing through a Martha Stewart Food magazine. She told me recently she wants to be on TV.
"Doing what?" I ask, envisioning Miley Cyrus, or i Carly.
"On one of the cooking shows." she answers.
" You want to have your own cooking show?" I ask.
"No. I want to be a judge on the cooking shows."
"Really?  Why?" I ask.
" Because I want to eat. I want to eat what they are cooking."

Smart girl. She thinks about food a lot, she tells me, and loves to look at food in her picture books. She's always been a fantastic eater, and can make a mean Tomatillo salsa, and already has plans to own a restaurant where I will be employed someday, she has told me. I suppose it all comes down to genetics. You see, my parents are the best cooks I know, hands down. Yep, the very best. I grew up in a Mexican American household and have learned the tricks of the trade throughout my years at home, and have grown up on food made from scratch nearly every night.  The importance of that has been passed down on to me, and now it is up to me to pass it on to my daughter.
She watches me in the kitchen, and I can already tell the smells, sounds, and  tastes are pouring into her memories, just as mine did, when I was little. I can still remember the sound of the range fan, and the smell of a simmering pot of pinto beans hitting me as I opened the door coming home from a long day at school. I remember shredding poached chicken, burning my fingertips because the carcass was still hot, but the faster I did it, the faster those mouthwatering enchiladas would be in my stomach. I remember being in the back yard, and seeing the steam gather in a thick blanket on the kitchen window, then watching the slow drip of condensation slide down the glass so you couldn't see inside. I remember music, because my mom liked to cook to music, and now, I love to too.  These are memories I hope to pass on to Grace, and will work hard to do so, because I love to make her happy, and home cooked food does the trick.
Grace was better by Friday, just in time for "Thanksgiving" at my parents house. Sadly, I missed seeing my in-laws on Thursday because I had to stay home with Grace, but they sent a plate home with Jeremy with the very best sweet potato dish I've ever had. Thank you, and I missed you guys, lots.
My parents did what they usually do and bring "Thanksgiving" to a new level. No turkey. No stuffing. No cranberry sauce.  Instead, homemade Tamales, and the best chicken enchiladas ever with Mexican cheese, beans, and Spanish rice on the side. They cooked for two days straight, they did. And we devoured it in ten minutes flat. We got to visit, and I took some pictures, and we ate, and ate, and ate some more.

My dad, the sous chef.  When I see him in his cooking apron, it means business.

Mom's woodland centerpiece. Nothing fancy, but this thoughtful bouquet screams home to me.

Mom in "The Next Iron Chef" attire. You'd  better watch out, Bobby Flay. Srsly.

This would be my plate.

The kids table.  Dinner and the movie "Hook"

Jazzy walking tall with my brother.

I finally got to take a picture of my cutie niece outside, before the sun went down.

The Tello family announced they will be adding girl #7 to the family. Welcome, little one.

 It was very nice visiting with family, but I am glad this week is over. December can't come soon enough. I am not feeling very deep tonight, and still am climbing out of November's trenches, so this post may feel a little "eh". To cure the "eh's" over here, we have began and have almost finished decorating for Christmas:

Decorating in Jammies.

Adding a new stocking to the stairs.  A custom made one for Daisy Doo

One of my favorite ornaments. My Russian snowman I bought in Leavenworth.

Here's to pulling out yards of tangled Christmas lights, tree's that lean and will not stand straight, animals that drink the Christmas tree water dry, seasonal music that you know every word, itchy scarves that you wear because they are "cute", tummies full of mandarin oranges, feverish  late night wrapping that makes your back scream and your legs go numb, questionable cookies that have been given to you by a questionable person, Santa's list that has no words, only dollar signs, slushy almost snow that is really just lumpy rain, terrible Thriftway parking on the weekends, and mugs of hot chocolate that leave you with a mustache and a mono brow.
Cheers to all of this and more.
Okay, December.
Bring it on.
I welcome you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vanessa Rose

Here is a picture of a picture of my sweet Vanessa Rose. I don't have any digital pictures of her, just film negatives and prints off of those that hang throughout the house, and this grainy picture doesn't do much justice for this beautiful girl. This was the first true smile I got at the end of October 2002, about three weeks after her first heart surgery. It was just after bathtime and that sparkle in her eye that had been so dim suddenly lit as she gave me this smile. I will love that crooked smile forever. Thank you all so much for the sweet prayers, wishes, and thoughts. I sure do feel them today, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mad at the Moon

It's weird.
 I thought I would follow up the last post with writing about the rest of our trip to nowhere that Thanksgiving, but somehow my brain quieted and went blank, storing the details of that trip away and irretrievable. "Lost File" blinks in my brain when I try to think back on it. Oh,well. I guess it will come back at some inopportune moment, like so many other memories that play hide and seek with my emotions. Instead there is a hush inside, a quiet before the storm I suppose, as I gather and prepare for the lonely week ahead.
There is a recent memory jackhammering it's way through my head, one that stays put in my brain, because there is a constant reminder of it blowing a hole through the sky every night.
 A couple of years ago we were driving home in the dark, and we were just cresting Tramp Harbor, and Jeremy exclaimed, "Wow! Look at that moon!"
I had a feeling it was doing its usual gorgeous dance upon the black tips of the water, but I refused to look.
"Mmm hmm." I nodded, not glancing sideways to view the impressive ball of light that was begging for my attention.
"You didn't look at it."
"Mmm Hmm." I said, nodding, fibbing, my eyes trained forward.
"No, you didn't. You didn't look. Why not? You love the moon."
"I don't want to."
I just don't.
Long sigh.
"Because I don't."
"Because I'm mad at it! That's why!
"Mad at it? What do you mean, mad at it?"
" I'm just...mad at it, OK?

And so I went into this story, and explained to him why I am mad at the moon.

Throughout the stays in the hospital, we were lucky if we scored a small cot to sleep on at night. All in all, we spent thirty-three nights with Vanessa at the hospital, most of them in the PICU. We slept in chairs, sometimes I would curl up into her crib with her and let Jeremy have the cot if there was a nurse on duty that would let me, but most nights were very uncomfortable, and leaving her was not an option for us, and we didn't. Not for one night.

Vanessa's health was rapidly deteriorating the last two days we were in the hospital with her. We had spent hundreds and hundreds of anxiety filled hours with her there during her sickness, and we were down to dire straits those last two days, and they were filled with massive emotion, praying, pleading, specialists, internists, cardiologists, neurologists, anesthesiologists, anger, sorrow, and confusion. Her body was shutting down, bit by bit, one organ system at a time, all while they worked feverishly to save her life, all in front of Jeremy and I. There is nothing more helpless than seeing your child suffer, when there is nothing you can do about it. It is enough to kill your soul right there. Despair and desperation are the only two words that come to mind, but they pale to the real emotions that were coursing through our bodies.
I wasn't talking much, and when I did, I didn't make much sense. I wasn't praying either, because my head was lost, and couldn't find the words to even pray. Terrified into silence. All I did was shake my head no. No. This cannot be. Not her. No.

The night of her second open heart surgery when she came back to her room, she was unstable, pale, looking like a porcelain doll, and so incredibly fragile. We were barely breathing, and things were not going as planned, but we felt a little better that her cardiologist was in her room with us. Suddenly, a loud flat tone buzzed from outside the room and people went running past the room to the elevators, and I caught sight of a crash cart being wheeled down the hall at a furious pace.
I looked at the cardiologist. She had become close to Jeremy and I, and cared deeply for Vanessa. A nurse hung out near our door, wavering, with a tight look on her face.
"It's Jane (I won't use her real name out of respect). She's coding."
A surprised and concerned look crossed the cardiologists face.
I almost didn't ask but did." Are you going to go? Do you need to?.." My words fell away because I really, really didn't want her to go.
She hesitated and looked at the screen at Vanessa's numbers. The floor was clear of doctors and every once and awhile we would see someone run by, en route to Jane.
"Is she a patient of yours?" I ask.
"yes." She is still looking at Vanessa.
"oh." I say quietly. I don't want to say it but I do. "You can go if you need to."
She looks at the door and pauses.
"No." she says, I need to stay with her. Right here is where I need to be at the moment."
I could tell she was choosing her words carefully, before she said to us, "She is just as...sick right now as Jane, and I need to stay with her. She is very...soft, right now."
"Oh my god." I thought to myself as I sat back down on the cot before my legs gave way. The words hung in the air, all around me. She was saying Vanessa was close to dying. She was the busiest person I knew and she was here, hanging out, which I hated and loved at the same time, but it meant my daughter was sick. Very sick.
Later that evening, Jane, along with an entourage of nurses and specialists, was wheeled into the PICU, just a couple doors down from us. It turns out she was almost ready to be discharged from pediatrics, then her heart went into an arrhythmia that caused her to code. No one knew why, it was just one of those things. I was glad to see that she was here, and breathed a sigh of relief for her parents. That was the night of November 19th.
Two nights later I am sleeping in the cot, and awaken. Jeremy is on two chairs pushed together on the other side of the room sleeping. It is loud. It is the middle of the night. I see people running again, and alarms going off. My cot is underneath the big broad window that lets in the dark, but there is this disruption in the night, this moon, this big, bright, wide full moon that is just sitting there watching all of this unfold. It must have been very windy that night because clouds pushed past it, in a mad rush, just like those running nurses, as the moon illuminated the outlines of them in a dark and creepy way. In my bleariness I realize there is a nurse in our room holding a resuscitation bag and looking tense. The alarm. It's Vanessa's.
The nurse is quieting the alarms, and assures me that everything is OK." It wasn't for a second, she tells me, but everything is OK now."
I sit up and shakily make my way to her bed. She looks the same. Fragile, and so sick. She is on dialysis. She is on life support. There are IV poles and tubes everywhere, and in the midst of it is my baby.
I don't say anything and point towards the other room.
"It's Jane. She is coding again."
I make my way back to my bed and speak to that moon, as if it can help.
"Help. Just, please. Help"
The moon glares back with it's one eye and it blinks every now and again when a thick cloud rushes past.
I awake the next morning and the first thing I do after I see that my baby is still alive, is ask the nurse about Jane. In the night they could not get her heart to return to a rhythm that could sustain, and she passed away. They worked and worked on her, but couldn't save her.
She was only two.
The moon always reminds me of that desperate night, when two lives were almost taken, but one was spared, if only for two more days on this earth.
 The moon has lost it's romantic and mystical draw and instead seems harsh, and full of hurt. We have a complicated relationship, me and the moon. I hope someday I can gaze upon it and realize it had nothing to do with that nightmare, but it is hard because it reminds me so much of that night, especially when it's windy. Someday we may be able to make amends, but for now, I pretend it is not there.

Vanessa passed away in our arms nine years ago on November the 23rd.
I don't ask for pity, or even sadness for me, but of remembrance of her spirit and giving it the glory of loving those around you with all your heart. She was love, and light, and the epitome of everything that is good in this world wrapped up in sweet angelic flesh. Honor her by being present in the moment and being grateful to sit next to and eat a meal with your families, and relish the fact that you are all together on this day.  Hug tighter. Laugh harder. Forgive easier. Hold closer. These are my struggles this week but if I send out the memo, maybe it will ease my soul to know that friends and loved ones around me are happy.
I will leave you with pictures from the last two weeks, of the second ball of light that plays with my emotions. My sunshine. The light that chases away my darkness. The glow in my soul that makes it impossible not to smile, the light that makes me believe in love again.

My Grace.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Me vs. Thanksgiving

I try not to hate Thanksgiving, but I do.
Say the word, and I sneer and cringe. Being the sensitive person that I am, I almost take the word "Thanksgiving" as a personal attack, and might give you a small glare, and it's not meant for you, but at the day.
Those around me are tired of my attitude too, because when I mumble, " I hate thanksgiving," I usually get an annoyed sigh and an "I know," maybe even an eye roll.
Many of you know Vanessa passed just days before Thanksgiving of 2002. Her funeral was on the day before Thanksgiving, so I deeply equate that holiday with the pain and loss of that week that surrounded her death. Some years the 23rd actually lands on Thanksgiving day, and this year, it lands on the day before, so I would ask forgiveness for being a big black Eeyore cloud that week, but instead I ask for understanding. To understand that I hate that week with every part of my being, and hate turkey, and hate stuffing, and hate gravy and all the fixins that go with it. The smell still makes me want to vomit even nine years later. It's not that I want the food changed  on that day either, changing it would make me feel worse. I don't want to suck every one down into my blackness with me, I just want that week to be done and over with so I can catch my breath and put that additional year without her behind me.
The day after her funeral in 2002 was Thanksgiving day itself. A week before that she was alive, and then she wasn't. I cannot put into words the depth of sorrow we were feeling, and we both were at such a loss that we decided on that day we were going to get in the car and drive. Just go and drive. Not anywhere in particular, but maybe, just maybe to the end of the Earth so we could drive off the edge and put an end to the fire that was burning a hole through our souls.
It was bright and sunny that Thanksgiving day in 2002. Cold, clear and blue, but I felt nothing. We didn't know how long we were going to be gone. Had no idea where we were going to end up. I just couldn't be inside the house with her gone, and the memory of her all over the place. Her laundry was still in the dryer. Homemade baby food was stacked in the freezer. Toys were everywhere. Her Christmas presents were under the bed. Her crib was next to my side of the bed. It was too much and I didn't know how to be, or where to be. All I wanted to do was slither out of my skin and be gone. With her, preferably. But for now, I just wanted to run away.
Our families didn't want us to go, but also made sure we had some money and a tuned up car to go on our trip to nowhere. We said our goodbyes to our reluctant families, and drove South but didn't get too far before getting stuck for hours on I-5 in the thick Thanksgiving traffic." Oh ya, it was Thanksgiving today." I had almost completely forgotten, or didn't care. One or the other.
We drove in silence as the traffic thinned around Chehalis and picked up speed as the dark set in. In the dusk I held my makeup mirror to my face and had my eyeliner in my other hand, deciding I should maybe try to look presentable. It was the first time in a week I had looked at myself in the mirror, but saw a different person staring back. My hand dropped and no make up was put on. No amount of makeup was ever going to make this person feel pretty again. There was too much dark inside. And it hasn't since.
By late evening we had gone about as South as we were going to get that day. It was time to find a hotel somewhere, and fall into bed and try to sleep off this nightmare. We weren't hungry, but knew we needed to eat. Most everything was closed, and we found a little nameless town and looked for anyplace with lights on. We almost gave up after ten minutes of driving, but saw a place lit up and cars in the parking lot. All I remember was a big wagon wheel by the entrance, but can't remember the name. So much of the six months after her death is just gone from my brain. All I remember are fragments of that time. I suppose as a hope of preservation, my brain has withheld the memory in hopes to let the space that was my heart, begin to regenerate. Bit by bit, all these years later, I think it is just starting to.
I told Jeremy that I couldn't go in. He said, "please, don't make me go in there alone." It didn't look busy, but it didn't look empty either. I ambled out of the car with him but told him I couldn't talk. Not to anyone. And I didn't, the whole seven day trip.
Jeremy opened the door for me and a sign screamed the specials at us, and a "Happy Thanksgiving!!"
I wanted to kick it over. A waiter led us to the dining area where a couple of big families laughed and ate food that smelled of the holiday. I held my breath and Jeremy pointed to a booth far away from them, and the waiter raised an eyebrow, but obliged.
We stared blankly at the menu for quite some time. Thanksgiving food was definitely out of the question. Nothing sounded good. Every now and then a hearty roar came from one of the busy tables. It made my heart hurt that we had left our parents and I imagined their dim lonely holiday and held back tears. The waiter came twice to get our order. We still weren't ready. By the third time, we decided on a quesadilla. As un-Thanksgiving as it gets. He brought our order and we nibbled, but didn't eat much. Food was ashes in our mouth, and nothing tasted like it was supposed to. Everything tasted like salt. I was crying so much, I think the salt just hung around indefinitely.
Jeremy paid our bill and we returned to the black pavement and the random headlights that dotted the night. A road sign let us know we were in Roseburg, OR, and we spied a sign that pointed us to a Best Western  just off the next exit. We pulled in and I stayed in the car while Jeremy checked us in. That trip we stayed in some very dank places, and this one was the better of the dank, but still dank. All I remember of that night was staring blankly at Faith Hill as she sang a holiday special on the TV, feeling cold underneath the floral brown comforter that felt grimy to me, listening to the constant low sound of the freeway that felt as if it were right outside our door, and missing my baby so much I felt as if my body was splitting in two. I remember praying for a semi to loose control and crash right into our hotel room and be done with us so this pain would go away. This deep, dark pain. As you can see, the prayer was unanswered, or answered differently, if you look at it that way.
 I will write more about that trip sometime, but it would be a very long post if I continued.
So as you see, Thanksgiving is my nemesis. I can't help it and maybe I don't want to help it. It is my time for pain, and since that's all I have left of her, I will be selfish with the pain and rage against the holiday next week. Internally, of course. I have kept my loathing from Grace, because it is unfair to share our burden with her, and I don't expect her to carry it.
I will rage on by myself.
And hate it because I can.
So there.

Mean 'ol Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Girls of November

What a week.

And, this is what I feel like:

Halloween on a Monday seemed backwards, and I was looking for a weekend to swing in right behind it to lay out lazy mornings and slow days to shake off the candy-hangover. I think I speak for many people, because by Wednesday we got an email plea from Gracie's teacher sent to all parents in her class saying: Homework tonight is: Please. Put your kids to bed early tonight. Srsly.
I can imagine having a post Halloween week of six year olds on a sugar laden binge has not been easy for teachers. By Thursday, Gracie had talked us into sending her a Dum Dum for snack time which is, ahem, 10:30 in the morning, and I held out as long as I could, but reluctantly gave in. In her words, she had been the ONLY kid at her table without one this week, so I let the girl have a lollipop. Just this one time. And, she was a happy girl.
 So sorry, teacher. I promise I will return to sending dried apricots, Quinoa crackers, and cheddar cheese next week. I Promise. : )
  As usual, Halloween on Vashon strutted her glory. There is this wild, creative energy around the Island that explodes on the 31st with handmade costumes, and adults that let their inner child shine through with no apologies. We have some VERY creative people here, let me tell ya.
 Here is just a sampling:

Tiger girl. Pretty darn creative, eh?

Pumpkin head dude. Had trouble seeing, but looked cool as he was running into people.

Ohhhh, Laura Ingalls. Could anything BE any cuter?? You and your pony win" best in show." You take the cake, girl.

Brains on a plate!  Anyone??...Anyone???.....Ya, didn't think so.

Very inventive. Had to move slow through the crowd, just like pumpkin head dude, but looked cool doing it too. Very awesome costume.

How does one eat candy, when one has no neck to swallow?  I bet she found a way.

Mr. Pan bounced through the town. yes, jumped and bounced all through the streets. I didn't even see him fall once. Waited for it, but not once.  Kudos.

Family also came to do our annual trick or treating. We missed my sister this year, but my brother and his family came over and we did our tradition of getting our Halloween portraits done by the fabulous Rebecca Douglas Photography. We have had done this every year since the girls were 6 months old, and it has been so great to have a portrait done of them on Halloween night. Can't wait to see them.

Grace and Savannah, aka, Peacock Princess and Vampiress.

Wait up!, Oh, and don't forget me! Jazzy, aka, the cutest bunny ever!

Can you hear me now, Santa?  Elf on a cell phone. Love it.

Yes. Cart O' Candy. That's how we do it on Vashon.

It had been raining buckets over the weekend, and the sky coughed and spurted, but was done by Monday, letting the sun shine for the very first dry, mild, sunny Halloween in recent memory. Gracie didn't even ask for my gloves till around six o' clock, and I got to wear my cute jacket instead of my Michelin man one.

Sunshine! On Halloween!

Betty, the girls adore you.  Even with green skin, they all adore you.

Munching on popcorn from the theater.

These two were on a mission. C-a-n-d-y- mission. Hand in hand.

The night grew colder as the sun went down, which made the bunnies tired, although not tired enough to give up the knuckle full of candy.

One more stop to where the girls had been talking about all afternoon. The haunted house at Pandora's Box.

And one more picture of these scary girls, and Halloween night 2011 becomes a fleeting blur of candy, costumes, and this moon:

Goodnight, Halloween.

The bins of Halloween decorations are now stacked at the bottom of the stairs, ready to make the lonely march up to the attic.
 November is here, and we are almost a week in. My body know it too, and the stress dreams have started, which is a precursor to the darkness that plunges through me, as daylight escapes the day. In these dreams I am usually running or hiding from something, or someone that wants to kill me, and is hunting me down. I wake up tired, and helpless, because I always wake up, right as it has found me. I believe these different characters are November, carrying a knife.
There are three women I know, me included, that have joined the November club. It is a club you never, ever want to join. This week marks two souls that are loved and missed terribly. My heart aches for these two mothers and I wish to God, they didn't share this misery with me. One of these missed angels is my very own niece. It hurts that my arms never held her, and that we never got to watch her blow out her birthday candles. It hurts that I never got to look her in the eyes, and tell her I love her. It hurts that my brother and his wife had to have a funeral for their baby that they only got to hold for not long enough. Never long enough.  It hurts, and I'm angry, and it hurts, and I'm furious. The anger and hurt, they entangle, and make a whole different identity into something more destructive.
I pray it will not take these women down. I pray they can find a way to fight the monster that is grief, and I pray that I too, can keep this soul eating monster at bay.
Please, for these women, light two candles this week. One tonight, and one on the ninth.
May it light a thought, a prayer, a love for these children, who are so loved and missed, and may it send a light out into the dark to bring their mothers back from a dark day.

We miss these girls with all of our hearts, and love them deeply.
These Girls of November.