Over the River and Through the Woods

To Grandmother’s house we went. And I’m pooped.

Our Thanksgiving trip to West Virginia began as a far-off idea, one that I’d eventually nail down for details and form into a concrete plan. As September and October rolled by, I realized that flying to Charleston wasn’t an option, nor was having a driving buddy to share the burden of a 2,400-mile roundtrip trek.  Come last Saturday morning, it was me and the boys and a very long road ahead.

The key to our successful trip was a multi-layered plan of attack. First, the boys needed to sit separately (we have an optional third row, yee-haw!) with their own box of travel-friendly toys (quiet and small). Then we needed snacks divied out in plastic baggies that could be passed back easily without stopping the car. Then I laid down the ground rules: We will alternate movies and music, two hours for you and two hours for me. Keep your mess to a minimum and I will try not to yell at you. I’m just as miserable as you are, so hang in there and I might get you a treat at Starbucks.

We were fortunate to find one great rest area after another with clean bathrooms and even playgrounds. Every time we stopped I made the boys run laps around the grassy areas or do jumping jacks on the sidewalk. If I was uncomfortable in my cushy bucket seat, then they had to be cramped in their boosters. I’m happy to say both boys are great travelers and it was only in the last two hours of our 42-HOUR, double-weekend drive that they lost their minds. And really, since we’re battling colds and exhaustion, I couldn’t blame them.

Sufficed to say I’m not doing that again for a very, very long time. Especially since we sometimes had to stop to use the restroom and could only find single-seaters. You just do the best you can, right?

Boys, don’t look. Mommy has to go potty.

We got home around 7:30 p.m. yesterday and Salem was waiting for me in the middle of the kitchen floor. He gave me a long lecture via intimidating cat stare about being gone for nine days but quickly forgave me and became my shadow for the rest of the night.

This week begins my attempt to make all of our Christmas decorations from scratch. The challenge isn’t necessarily being creative with what I make but rather how I make them. If I spend too much money on supplies, then I might as well have bought all new decorations, right? Instead, I need to see what I already have and figure out a way to repurpose old things into new decorations. I could go broke at Hobby Lobby buying glitter and glue sticks and balls of twine.

Hmm. That just gave me an idea.

How Much Did I Cost Anyway?

So the boys and I were sitting in Cracker Barrel tonight for dinner when Jeremy took the conversation in a different direction. (What else is new?)

It all started when the pair of them hounded me for toys from the Cracker Barrel store – specifically, two new Webkinz. (Because six isn’t enough!) I kept them at bay until we sat down to eat, and the pleading continued when Jeremy told me he already named the limited edition turkey he so desperately wanted. Please, Mom, please.

“Jeremy, we don’t have money to buy things like Webkinz and toys this week. We’re buying food and gas and that’s much more important,” I say matter-of-factly. No sympathy, no jolly “Christmas is coming soon so let’s wait and see what’s under the tree” speech. I continued to tear apart my baked potato blankly when he continued.

“Well I know something that’s more important than food and gas that you had to pay for,” he says with a smile. He nods his head in my direction trying to bait me.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say, not playing. This mama is tired.

“Something MORE important than food and gas,” he repeats. He glances at Jack and back at me. We don’t get it.

“Us!” he says, beaming. “You bought me and Jack and we’re more important than food and gas.”

I pause to imagine Chuck and me at the check-out line holding two babies.

“We didn’t purchase you, Jeremy,” I say. “I mean, there wasn’t a shopping cart or anything.”

“But you did buy us, right? From the nurses?”

“No, more like from the lawyers,” I say, giggling at my own little private joke. “Seriously, we payed legal fees to adopt you, but we didn’t buy you. It’s just like when other moms and dads have to pay the hospital for giving birth to their children.”

“Well how much did I cost anyway?” His big blue eyes had long since abandoned his hamburger and were fixated on me. He was looking for a number, something tangible he could apply as a reflection of his worth and importance.

“It doesn’t matter what we paid,” I answer. “You and Jackson are priceless.”

Satisfied, our conversation turned back to Webkinz and robots and all the little treats they wanted and I wouldn’t buy. Though we managed to escape the Old Country Store without toys, I did buy one thing, aside from our dinner: an Advent calendar. I’m not a total Scrooge, you know.


Made-from-Scratch Christmas

Decorations are going up all over the place, something that usually ignites my holiday flame and gets me in the mood for All Things Christmas. However, this has been a tough year (really tough), so the fact that all of our holiday decorations are in a storage unit in Chattanooga is pretty annoying. It would be comforting to lovingly unwrap my favorite ornaments, family heirloom decor and our patchwork stockings from Becky and hang everything around the house that won’t sell. My brain is tempted to dwell on Christmas Past when we’d make a day of it all – chopping down the Christmas tree, sipping hot cider in the lodge while it’s tethered to the car and singing carols on the way home to decorate it.  (That’s little one-year-old Jack and four-year-old Jeremy you see there.)

Remembering sweet holidays is one thing. Letting it depress me is another. And since finances (and logic) won’t let me purchase all new decorations this year, I’m doing the next best thing. The boys and I will make this Christmas from scratch. Since we don’t have a tree stand, we’ll forgo the real tree and get creative. We’ll cut snowflakes from white paper and string together popcorn with twine. We’ll make construction paper garland and hang a few strings of patio lights in the living room. We’ll make do, and we’ll make it fun. I may not see my favorite ornaments for another year, but that doesn’t mean this holiday season is a wash. It’s going to be different and that’s okay.

Sidebar: I did see some ornaments at Target today that are worth buying. I mean, just because I don’t have a tree this year on which to hang them doesn’t mean I won’t ever have a tree again. Let’s just say I saw a few owl ornaments hanging in the holiday department, and I’m not sure I can ignore something like that.

So anyway, the Made-from-Scratch Christmas begins next week. I’ll keep you posted on our progress, reader, because I know you’re dying to see how those popcorn strands are going to turn out.

The Tradition of Food

Whenever a family gathers, at least in my bunch, there is always food. Lots of food. Savory and sweet, meaty and starchy, breakfast and a big midday dinner with a few snacks in between. It is usually while we’re eating a meal that we’re already planning the next. Even as we scarfed down Aunt Gloria’s homemade spaghetti on Wednesday we started making plans for yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast.

As the family members talked recipes and cholesterol levels, my brain went back to the farm – the place I ran around as a child with my sister and cousin when we visited for summer break or Christmas, the place where my father spent the largest chunk of his childhood (and still calls home) and the one piece of property I wish we still owned as a family. (My grandparents eventually sold it, and not long after the farmhouse burned down.)

Dinner at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was always the same: the main-dish meat, buttered potatoes, self-canned corn or green beans from the cupboard, sliced white bread with butter and a glass of iced tea in a Strawberry Shortcake glass. (For the record, I’ve never liked tea, but I couldn’t not drink it, for it would’ve seemed ungrateful.) Sometimes it was barbecue deer and sometimes it was something a little harder to eat – like groundhog or rabbit – but the point remains: it was a comfort to sit around the table together and share a meal. I may not have realized it in the moment, and it might have even taken having a family of my own to realize it fully, but these are the occasions that create the sweetest memories.

Right now I’m sipping coffee at Aunt Gloria’s kitchen table while she fries bacon – for a proper breakfast, you know. There is hash brown casserole to be eaten and scrambled eggs to enjoy alongside. The food is good in my family. Really good. But the family is even better.

Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Mine has gone by too quickly.

A New Keepsake from Mamaw

There are things that trigger memories of childhood – the random wall hanging, the collection of knick-knacks in the China cabinet, the tin ladle Papaw used to keep by the sink when he wanted a quick drink of water… No matter the house in which these trinkets sit, all it takes is a quick glimpse and I’ve all but time traveled to the Treadway farm in Meadow Bridge, West Virginia.

Yesterday I eyeballed the owl ladle rest on Mamaw’s stovetop. Today she washed it and told me to take it home. What seems like a meaningless piece of porcelain is actually quite dear to me and it will be well-used in my kitchen.

Meth, Crack Cocaine or Just Regular Old Cigarettes?

I’m in the market for a new form of stress relief because binge-eating Halloween candy followed by torture runs on the treadmill isn’t working anymore.

I spent most of yesterday and this morning in a seemingly endless tailspin of anxiety. We’ve had a week of showings and second showings and “Yes, we love this house!” and all other kinds of wonderfully affirming events – but still no offer. Nothing on paper that gives me an end date. Something in my spirit tells me change is coming, like an arthritic sensing a rain storm on its way, but this pre-storm anxiety is wreaking havoc on my mind and body.

While we wait for that lovely rain to come, we’re going to continue with our regularly scheduled life and our holiday plans. The boys are already flipping through Sunday ads picking our their Christmas hopefuls and asking when we can put up the tree. (I haven’t the heart to tell them all of our decorations are in a storage unit in Chattanooga.) Thanksgiving is less than a week away and the biggest comfort I’ve had this week is knowing that I’ll get to hug my whole family in a few short days.

Edited to add: Never mind the crack cocaine. I found a new drug at the grocery store today.

I don’t know about you, but I need the laugh.

Best website to waste time and get a good laugh: Awkward Family Photos

Some are funny, some are weird, and some just make me smile. Enjoy.

Oh, Owls! Oh, Wallpaper!

I’m still wasting time on the internet looking for delightful wallpaper, because I am bound and determined to find a few prints to use in my next house (with flat, non-textured walls).

Oh if only I had the power to impress my little owl interest upon the boys. They’d rule this out immediately, no matter the argument that IT’S SO DARN CUTE.

This, however, they’d totally go for.

Jeremy, on his nana’s death

My concerns for Jeremy regarding Brenda’s death were entirely different from the ones I had for Jackson. I knew his behavior would be on par, that he could endure the travel schedule, the make-shift sleeping arrangements and all that was required of him throughout the week.

Jeremy is a thinker. He will ponder something at length until his brain is satisfied with an explanation, but until he’s satisfied, he has a seemingly endless list of questions on the topic. This is precisely why we’ve kept him mostly in the loop regarding Brenda’s health over the last two years. He appreciates the honesty, so with every major event we’d tell him a child-size version. He always had questions and we’d answer them until he was satisfied.

When I sat the boys down that Monday afternoon to tell them she’d passed away, I knew I’d be opening the floor for questions from Jeremy. The first thing he wanted to know was when she died –  at exactly what time and what was he doing when she left this earth (“It was around 3:30 in the afternoon and you were playing Lego Batman,” I said.) Then he wanted to know our travel plans and what he needed to pack. He was methodical, helpful and did not cry. I  knew he wasn’t void of emotion. Rather, he needed time to think.

We arrived at the Miller’s house in Chattanooga while the first visitation was already in progress, so we quick-changed and drove straight to the funeral home. As I monitored Jackson’s four-year-old unpredictable behavior, I equally watched Jeremy’s face for a change in emotion. I was waiting for tears, a look of fear, or perhaps an expression I’d not seen before on his young face. Instead, he looked perfectly fine. Jeremy hugged Hayli and Tami, then let Bill embrace him over Brenda’s body and explain that she was finally in heaven. I watched from afar and tried to listen, but I couldn’t make out everything that was said. I just held my breath.

Minutes later he ran back to me and I scanned his eyes. There was no change. I asked him if he was okay and he said casually, “Yeah.” Short and blank.

“Do you want to stay in here or go with Jackson and me to the playroom?” I asked, searching for something in his voice to give me an idea of what he was feeling.

“I’ll stay,” he says, and promptly returned to the front of the receiving line alongside the family.

Throughout the night he’d come back to the playroom to see us, but he never lingered. I couldn’t tell if he was bored, nervous or keeping his body busy while his brain chiseled away what he had seen. At bedtime, I realized it was the latter. Jeremy was whiny and tired but refused to go to sleep, so I finally asked, “Do you have questions?”

“Yes,” he said choking down tears. So Chuck and I sat down with him in the upstairs hallway and gave him the floor to speak.

None of the questions he asked pertained to spiritual matters, which means he either hasn’t thought about them or he’s content with the simple explanation that “Nana’s in heaven.” Instead, he wanted to know about her body, the process of burying her, and what purpose the casket served. True to his personality, he wanted to know the mechanics of death, and it was a great task to convert the truth into a version he could understand. Exhaustion eventually set in and we had to close the conversation for the night, but we both knew it wouldn’t be the end of it.

The same thing happened the following night in Maryville, as Jeremy split his time between standing next to the casket with family and sitting with Jackson and me in the playroom. When it was time for the funeral service, he sat perfectly still and emotionless, looking sharp and mature in his sport coat. Jeremy was friendly and cordial towards the extended family members and managed to keep the fidgeting to almost nill.

It was towards the end of the service that I started to notice a change in his face. His eyes looked glassy and his cheeks looked flush, so I motioned for him to move from sitting between Bill and Tami to sitting between Chuck and Jackson, closer to me so I could touch him, whisper, “Are you all right?” and get a closer look at those bright blue eyes. He was finally feeling it.

The service ended and it would be the last time we would see Brenda’s body. Everyone filed out, hugged goodbye and soon it was only the immediate family in the chapel. Chuck took Jackson out to the car and Bill slowly meandered down the hall. It was late and everyone was tired.

But Jeremy wouldn’t come with me.

“This is the last time I’ll see her?” he asked.

“Yes, they’ll close the casket for the burial tomorrow,” I explained. His eyes welled up with tears as he turned from me to her. We were at the back of the chapel, some thirty pews away, and he wouldn’t leave.

“Just go,” he told me. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Are you sure? You want just a few more minutes?” I asked.

He nodded and I stepped through the doorway into the hall leaving my seven year old alone in the chapel. Jeremy leaned against the last pew, his tiny hands gripping the wood, resting his chin along the rim. At the front of the room was Brenda’s body and he spent one solid minute staring at her for the last time. And then the tears came.

I could hear his sobs from the hallway, which made my own eyes well up with tears. He cried hard, as though he’d been waiting for a moment’s peace to take care of it alone, and after the sobbing ceased, I heard him say aloud, “Bye Nana.”

He walked swiftly to where I was sitting, next to the sign-in book by the chapel door, and buried his face on my shoulder. I squeezed him tight and said nothing. There was nothing really to say. Jeremy wiped his face and I helped him blow his nose, and then I asked if he’d like to sign the guest book on his own.

The rest of the night, and the rest of the week for that matter, was perfectly fine. He was back to his stoic self in public and his silly self around us. His face was solemn at the burial on Thursday but he didn’t have anymore questions. In fact, we haven’t talked about Brenda’s passing since we returned to Amarillo.

I have no doubt that Jeremy has thought about her funeral in the two weeks we’ve been home, but it’s not been enough to approach me about it. If my suspicions are true, he’ll strike up a conversation at the most random moment, in the most ordinary of situations, and I’ll need to have my words at the ready to explain whatever needs explaining. Until then, I’m exceedingly proud of him and the maturity Jeremy exhibited that week. Perhaps it was a sweet foreshadowing of the man he will become.

Fly, Fly Away

When Jackson gets excited, he flaps his arms. It’s one of those things on the Autism Checklist that landed him in the “gray area” in 2008 when we took him for a diagnosis (which ended up being a non-diagnosis). Anyway, as his speech and cognitive understanding have improved greatly in two years, one thing that has remained is his arm flapping. I consider it adorable, especially since he has no clue he does it.

I took the boys to a birthday party at the Discovery Museum yesterday and it was there that Jackson became enamored with a golf ball mechanism. As he followed each traveling ball through the maze of tunnels, buckets and loops, he flapped. When two balls fell together, he flapped harder. And when a line of balls traveled up to the top of the machine to be dropped through the maze, he flapped with rigid anticipation.

And then he took off and flew across the room.

In other news, my replacement was hired today and I’ll begin training her in two weeks. I’m still trying to determine how I feel about it.

On Ethnic Diversity

In the car this morning, Jeremy asks, “Mom, why isn’t Jackson white? He should be white since we’re brothers and I’m white.”

“You don’t think he’s white?” I ask, skirting the whole Caucasian explanation.

“No,” he answers, as I watch him give Jack a once-over in the rearview mirror, just to make sure, of course. “He’s tan. He’s not white like me.”

“I’m not tan,” Jackson says in his own defense. “I’m pink!”

“Well there ya go,” I say. Jeremy giggles and Jackson rests his case.

Jackson, on his nana’s death

This is long, so kick your shoes off and stay a while.

When it was time to tell the boys that Brenda had passed, I sat them both down in the living room and said we needed to talk. Jeremy chose to sit opposite me while Jackson chose not to sit at all. I didn’t skirt the issue but instead quite plainly said, “Nana passed away yesterday.”

Jeremy’s face went flush and Jackson looked at me blankly. I could tell he didn’t know what I meant, so I put it even more plainly, “Nana died.”

“Where’s Hank?” Jackson asked, obviously relating “died” to the only other living being he’s known to be associated with that word.

“Hank’s in heaven with Nana,” I told him. My four year old either didn’t process what I said or he simply filed the information away and went directly into turning somersaults on the living room rug, a new skill he learned in school. Instantly I was fret with fear that he’d turn somersaults down the funeral home chapel aisle and I’d be chasing him down with a lecture about appropriate funeral decorum.

Since the flight home was wonderfully uneventful (they love the Sky Mall magazine) -

- we can fast forward to the first visitation in Chattanooga Tuesday evening.

The boys were dressed smartly in jeans, polos and sports coats. On the way, we warned them that family members, friends and strangers would approach them, inquire about their life in Texas, and maybe even show physical affection (that last bit was an important warning for Jeremy – he’s too cool for that mushy stuff now). I admit I was nervous. Despite my own delusions about death and dying, I was concerned that the boys would be scared, uneasy, inappropriate, rude to others, and busy-bodies. How in the world could I control it all?

God bless the genius who decided to put playrooms in funeral homes.

No sooner did we enter the visitation room and see a long line of Brenda’s mourners did a funeral home usher come up to me and whisper, “There’s a playroom down the hall to your left.” Relief washed over my face as I thanked him, and after making a small entrance to wave hello to folks we knew, Jackson and I retreated to the playroom where he could be as loud and bold as he pleased. Both Karin and Amy, along with a handful of old friends from Oakwood, sat with me throughout the night.

The visitation in Maryville on Wednesday night was much the same. Jackson and I stayed in the funeral home’s playroom while extended family members popped in to say hello. We had successfully made it through two visitations, but the funeral service and burial were still to come. It was the funeral, by far, that worried me the most, as Jackson would need to sit quietly – and still – for nearly an hour.

I brought the iPod with a stored backlog of Backyardigans episodes and situated us on the far end of the front pew near an escape door. The moment Jack lost his mind, I’d be outta there. I had the entire exit planned.

But then something amazing and supernatural occurred. With only a Lightning McQueen matchbox car in his hand, Jackson sat through 45 minutes of speaking, singing and moments of silence without so much as a peep. He barely wiggled or jiggled, which prompted Chuck and I to exchange looks of shock throughout the service.

Towards the end of Pastor Ken’s short message was Jackson’s first sound – he was thirsty, so I whispered that he could get a drink when we were all done. I reminded him to be quiet and we’d be done soon.

As soon as the closing prayer was over and Paster Ken closed his Bible, Jackson announced in plain voice, “It’s done!

A giggle rippled through the chapel. My eyes went large as I shushed Jackson, but I knew the comic relief was okay. No one would scold me or him, for both boys’ behavior were perfect and appropriate.

The next afternoon was the burial, and we had already set ourselves up for a risky service from letting the boys stay up until midnight. (The funeral was at 8 p.m., so after eating and visiting with family, it wasn’t a situation to be helped.) It was chilly on the mountain in Townsend that day, so we kept the boys in the van with a movie at the cemetery until the last possible minute. When it was time to walk down the hillside to the burial site, both boys were whiny, tired, and hungry. I secretly prayed the minister’s graveside service would be shorter than longer.

We took our front row seats before the casket, which was the closest Jackson and I had been to it thus far. It was adorned with an arrangment of pink roses and white doves, and it was situated above the already-dug hole. It was this hole that kept Jackson in constant confusion. Though he was mostly quiet, several times throughout the short service, he’d boldly ask, “What’s in there? Can I see?”

I whispered in his ear, “That’s where Nana will be buried. Now be quiet please.”

A few minutes would pass and he’d say again, too loudly, “What’s in there?”

My answers were never sufficient. He wanted to look inside that mysterious hole and see for himself where the casket would go. Wiggling on my lap, I whispered again – Sit still. Please be quiet. We’re almost done.

At the closing prayer, I bowed my head with relief. We’d made it. We could end the week of services without embarrassment but rather with sweet and solemn memories. I peeked at Jackson during the prayer, and though he had his hands folded, he was still eye-balling that hole in the ground.

The pastor said, “Amen,” and, of course, so did Jack, loudly again so everyone could hear.

Then he promptly hopped off my lap and went straight to the casket to take a good look down that hole.

“What’s in there?” he asked again, pointing to the grave. This unnerved me because people were crying – sobbing – and it wasn’t the time or place to indulge this question.

Instead of answering, I took his hand and said, “Let’s go get a snack.” He agreed, and he hasn’t asked me again about it since.

While only snapshots of memories will linger in Jackson’s mind about the week of his nana’s death, Jeremy has an entire mini-series of events and curiosities that he has no doubt mulled over since last weekend.

But that’s another post.

A Smattering of Unrelated Things

- The boys and I went to the bookstore to pick up the second book in a trilogy I’m reading and ended up seeing Llama Llama Holiday Drama on display. After doing a happy dance in the middle of Barnes & Noble, I showed it to the boys and we all cheered. We’re big Llama Llama fans.

- I am in the midst of a battle to get Jeremy tested for dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder through the school system. Here’s what I’ve learned: When there are 52 people involved in the process, communication is key. I’ve also learned that no one will be your child’s advocate, so if you have to be firm, then be firm. Two months into this process, the diagnosticians don’t even know what Jeremy looks like, as he’s still just a name on a piece of paper. This is Mama Bear talking.

- On the way to work this morning I felt very sad about giving up my position at the magazine. Then, after school while running errands, I felt very excited about having more free time during the day when I no longer have a job. I suspect this version of schizophrenia will continue indefinitely.

- Salem is not fond of his new holiday sweater, but he just needs to get used to it. Pictures forthcoming.

- Thanks to two full bags of the boys’ Halloween candy, I have begun the annual process of storing my winter fat.

- For those of you not in my area, or at least for those who are unfamiliar with home trends, our walls are textured here and do not lend themselves well to wallpapering. Wouldn’t you know that in the last year I’ve inconveniently developed an obsession with finding adorable wallpaper? Ferm Living is a favorite browsing spot, specifically when I want to daydream about the Family Tree print in silver and Little Leaves in dark gray and bronze.

- I am still mad about the Project Runway finale. The incredible Laura Bennett sums up my feelings accurately in her latest blog post.

- The conversation Mom and I had today about quinoa took a strange left turn when she announced, “You know Dr. Oz says quinoa is a sex-enhancing food.” Ahem.

- Lastly, I picked up the first printed proof of the first two sections of the book I’m designing and editing. It’s ON PAPER. It took a little more than two hours to strike up the nerve to start flipping through the pages. As a results, my stomach has been in knots all afternoon.

The Lesson of the Big WALL-E

[Video at the end.]

Jackson has had a thing for WALL-E since last year, and it is at least every weekend he asks to watch the movie. A couple of months ago I found a small WALL-E toy at ToysRUs, which Jackson sleeps with and even took to flag football a couple of times, for the little yellow robot is highly treasured. Had the costume not cost forty bucks, he would’ve been WALL-E for Halloween.

Owning a small WALL-E has kept him mostly content, though every once in a while, Jackson would remark, “I want a big WALL-E.” My answer was always, “We’ll see.”

About two months ago at dinnertime, I attempted to get my sweet four year old to try a new food. All my efforts failed so I ceased negotiations and took my plate to the sink to begin clean-up and pout. That’s when I overheard Jeremy say, “Jackson, if you take a bite, I’ll get you a big WALL-E.”

Wouldn’t you know Jackson took a huge bite of whatever food was on his plate (the menu escapes me now) and in mid-bite announces, “I’M GETTING A BIG WALL-E!!”

Thus began a near-eight-week quest for Jeremy to raise his own money to buy his little brother the most treasured gift. And no, he wasn’t happy about it.

Continue reading

Day of Leisure

My first goal was to stay in bed this morning until the very last second possible – until a) Salem demanded I wake or b) I had to pee. I had already instructed both boys to maintain upmost silence come morning, because if they valued their lives, they would not wake up Mommy before she was ready.

With that, I blissfully rolled out of bed around 8 a.m., which was regrettably 7 a.m. thanks to Daylight Savings. Still, I went to bed by 10 p.m., which I suppose was more like 9 a.m., so you do the math. I slept well and hard in my very comfortable bed. Even Salem wasn’t ready to rise when I was, evident by his choice to sleep under the comforter for an extra half hour.

From 8:15 until 10 a.m., I read my book and drank coffee. Oh sure, the boys woke up and I fed them and all, but I stayed on the couch while they played in the bedroom. For them, being gone a week translated to a new fascination with their toys. They happily skipped down the hallway after breakfast and did not bother me for nearly two hours. TWO HOURS OF READING, I say. I even flipped on the fireplace.

The rest of the day wasn’t as leisurely spent, but it involved more reading, more of the boys playing on their own and more down time, which I dearly needed. Other than a grocery run and a trip to ToysRUs (blog post about that coming tomorrow), I was home in my jammies.

But now it’s time for Dexter and a much-needed date with the treadmill. To celebrate, here’s a little piece of art I found online honoring the vile show. This particular image commemorates Season 4, my most favorite. The rest can be found courtesy of genius Ty Mattson.

There and Back in a Blink

Thanks to some very generous people here in Amarillo, the boys and I were able to fly home quickly in time for Brenda’s first visitation in Chattanooga on Tuesday night, and thereby be a part of her second visitation and funeral service in Maryville on Wednesday and burial on Thursday in the family cemetery in Townsend. In between each event was time spent with the extended Miller family, all 800 of them, who each took a moment to love on the boys and tell me how sweet they are. (As if I wasn’t already stunned by their near-perfect behavior this week…) I have a separate post coming on each child and how he responded to Brenda’s passing.

Though this week was emotionally difficult, it wasn’t without times of laughter and shared memories with family and friends. We were even able to carve out time with Karin and the kids and the Valovcin family. Those were two boosts I personally needed.

Leaving today was a struggle. It didn’t help that we were running on empty after spending the week eating drive-thru fare and getting too little sleep. On top of the emotional drain, we barely made our flight, and if Chuck hadn’t been there to carry Jackson the second leg of the concourse, we wouldn’t have made it.  Choking back tears, we raced on the plane only to find a bunch of empty middle seats, nothing practical for a mother and two young children. Jeremy led the way to the back of the aircraft, where I proceeded to ask a group of total strangers, “So who wants a four year old between them?”

About 20 faces stared back at me blankly as I waited for someone to move. No one did, so the tears I’d been choking back all day, all week, and for the last four months, came flowing down my face.

“Will any of you let me sit with my boys, please?”

With that request, and probably out of fear, four people immediately stood up and offered to switch seats so I could be in the same row with the boys. Then another two men offered to get my bags and a flight attendant brought coloring books. We settled in as I wiped my eyes, feeling foolish with a flushed face. One more gentleman spun around and said, “Are you okay?”

An entire dialogue played in my head: I’m just so tired because I haven’t slept all week and I’m with the kids alone and my oldest is in a real trying phase right now and we almost didn’t make the flight and I hate flying and I’m tired of saying goodbye and there’s a whole lot of other stuff I’m worried about and I haven’t run in a long time so I’m extra tense and I’m leaving a job I love and I really miss Tennessee and my house won’t sell and I’m so sad that my boys won’t have more memories with their grandmother and…

But all I said was, “We’ve had a death in the family.”

With that, the two men on either side of the boys graciously engaged them in conversation so I could take a moment to breathe. From then on, it was mostly about fighting the urge to nap and keeping the boys in good spirits along the way home.

So we’re home and my sweet Salem hasn’t left my side since I walked through the door. And though I’ve spent the evening unpacking and pondering the week, I am most excited about Daylight Savings and that blissful extra hour of sleep.

Explaining Death

The conversations I’ve been having with Jeremy the last few days have very little to do with spiritual matters. He is content with the knowledge that Nana is in heaven. What he wants to understand pertains to the preparation of the body, the purpose and practicality of a casket, and what happens to these things as time goes on. Though I love the way his curious mind works, I’ve had difficulty finding the right child-appropriate words to end the conversation with him satisfied. If history is any indication, we’ll be having these discussions at random for a long time.

Jackson, in his four-year-old level of understanding, has been perfectly fine. He’ll say “Nana’s in heaven” in the same tone and manner as “I want to watch Toy Story.” His behavior has been off-the-charts charming and angelic, which has made this mama so happy. He’s never been required to sit still and quiet for so long, much less under these somber circumstances, so we couldn’t be more thankful.

There are several stories to be told in regards to the last few days, but I’m going to let them settle in my mind a little longer before I put them down here. For now, I’m enjoying every colorful autumn leaf, each bend in the curvy road and the amazing views of the Great Smokey Mountains.

Time for Goodbye

My mother-in-law lost her battle with cancer yesterday afternoon, news I kept from the boys while they ran around the neighborhood with friends trick-or-treating and enjoying a night of childhood oblivion. Brenda spent two long years fighting her illness and by her lengthy passing you can tell she’s a woman who doesn’t give up easily.

At seven and four, my boys are too young to be less one grandparent but old enough to have a small store of sweet memories of her. Brenda was a strong woman who loved her family with the deepest parts of her heart and spent her healthiest days tending to them with great care.  I adored her humor and her cooking and the way she unfailingly cherished my boys.

I will tell them today after school.