Times they are a changin'....

Well, it’s time. Time to move.

Hubbs retired from military in November, and we’ve been in our military housing in Pacific Beach since 2015. We love this little home. We have LOVED our street. We love living close to the beach, to our friends, to our gym, yoga studios, favorite restaurants, close to Bravery’s amazing school, (and were only 15min from the hospital during Amelie’s cancer journey), we have truly loved it.

I wish I could say that I’m so excited. I’m so ready! I’m all hopeful and positive and hip hip hooray! Time to decorate! (I love interior design). But I’m not. I am ready to leave this area (the homeless people, the college party-goers, the weekend beach traffic, the Uber drivers flying down my street, sailing and crunching over speedbumps thinking our cul-de-sac is a shortcut. newsflash: it’s not.) But I don’t really want to leave this house.

Amelie died in this house. In her room. In my arms. In her bed. Her darling little room that she loved so very much. I don’t want to pack her things, store them in a sad little box, never to see them again. I don’t want to take all the fairies down from her walls, or pack up her dollhouses, or all her blankets, trinkets, stuffed animals, toys, books. I don’t want to fuckin do that for one second. I am, however, heading in the direction of being “ok” to pack up her clothes—mainly b/c my nieces will inherit them and I’ll get to see her clothes living and breathing once more. And that’s just it—right now, even with her gone from my sight, her room is ALIVE. the kids play in there all the time. Audrey, our fantastic 5 (going on 25) year old neighbor plays with her toys all the time. It’s “Amelie’s Playroom.” I sleep in her bed often, I mourn in there. I pray, I lay on the floor, I talk to her in there. Every morning I walk by her room and say, “Morning Amelita” or “NightNight Lulu” just because it feels right.

We leave a light on the room all the time. A pink salt rock lamp that never turns off and, in several years, has not once needed a new light bulb. NOT ONCE.

I don’t want to pack all that up, just to then move our life into some shitty tiny house in a not so nice neighborhood because that’s all $650,000 gets you in San Diego (yep, you read that right). That’s a LOT of money. but in this town, it doesn’t get you far. I feel so sad for people who will never be able to buy here. We can buy—it won’t be nice or upscale, it won’t be fancy or gated, but we can buy SOMETHING, thank GOD—and yet so many can’t. I’m so grateful and so sad, all wrapped up into one.

I keep repeating the words, “God will provide. Have faith. Have faith.” like a crazy person. When I drive around and see the run-down houses, the fear, sadness creep up and tighten my throat, I think, “Have faith. God will provide.” (and then I get mad at people, like, take care of where you LIVE! what’s wrong with you?!? You’re 15min from the beach and it looks like a trailer park! Imagine owning a $800,000 home, and your neighbor has a pitbull chained to the fence. Come on man.)

But then I think, “well get a friggin job and you’ll get the house you want.” I really love being a stay at home mom. I really love being with my son all of the time, cooking every night, picking him up from school every day, having the house to myself in the morning for quiet prayer, reflection, restoration. When Amelie and Brave were toddlers all I wanted was a break. Now I get one with school, and I just truly love being the CEO of the house. It calms me, invigorates me, and I work TWICE as hard being a stay at home as I EVER DID working full time. (some days, 3x as hard.) and I haven’t quite let go of the dream of having another—yes, even at 40 yrs old—so there’s that.

The strength it takes to begin packing her room sometimes comes effortlessly. I was in there the other day, I noticed some medical stuff, her IEP binders, and her bedside drawer filled with all things she needed as a quadriplegic. I immediately got ANGRY. I tossed ALL of it in the trash that instant. Then I pulled out all her blankets—she has like 15—and laid on them on the floor, thinking “who’s daughters I can pass them down to?” It was relieving and renewing to do all that, so I started her stuffed animals, then had a breakdown. Then I stopped, promptly put them back in the closet, and ate an entire pint of ice cream.

Her bed has to go. It’s an expensive Leggett & Platt platform moveable base I bought with donation money, so we could lift her up and down, massage her, and keep her upright when she was vomiting. It weighs a ton and I need to sell it. but the thought of haggling some cheap jerk on Offer Up or LetGo over this insanely nice, extremely emotional item, does not appeal to me. Yet it has to be done.

In fact, I think I’ll sleep on it right now, where I’ll quietly whisper to myself until I fall asleep, “God will provide. Night Night Lulu

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Bravery, Amelie Doll, and Ayzia on Amelie’s bed for night time reading and cookies. Ayzia in Amelie’s pajamas.

Bravery, Amelie Doll, and Ayzia on Amelie’s bed for night time reading and cookies. Ayzia in Amelie’s pajamas.

Jog-A-Thon'in

Bravery had his first Jog-A-Thon at school today. It was one of those epic milestones in this house where Boss and I shamelessly over-exaggerated the importance of it.  His school is a magical, special neighborhood school, the kind of which that frankly do not exist in big cities like San Diego. Most of the kids who attend actually LIVE in the area (San Diego is famous for kids shuffling all over the city for their school of choice, resulting in a wide array of diversity, which is great, but also lack of commonality and disjointedness). It’s small, quaint, happy. the teachers WANT to be there. the parents are PRESENT. there is a dad on campus every day, which feels like a comforting paternal presence (I know, a shocking statement from this feminist). We have to move out of military housing soon, and home prices in this area or astronomical, completely out of our price range. I’m praying a unicorn will appear and make something magical happen, b/c we do not want to leave this school (nor commute to it at 7am every day). but more on that later….

So to raise money for a school like this is important. dutiful. an honor.

JOG-A-THON cont’d: I couldn’t believe how many laps he ran! I, and several other parents watching, were astounded. He ran 42 LAPS. He was so tired, his cheeks cherry red, his back sweaty, and at one point he said to me, “I can’t believe it. I have a cramp but I’m still running, mama!” I said many times, “do you want to stop?” his reply (spelled out), “N-O.” and off he went.

I felt happy and proud, trying to be so dedicatedly mindful, not let one ounce of distraction steal me away from this moment. Then it came. I thought about Amelie. Would I push her in her wheelchair for this? Would she be aware or awake of it? What about when she could walk, would her frail, awkward legs and feet (badly affected with neuropathy from the chemo drugs) handle this? the kids were wild with excitement and determination, pushing each other over often, colliding accidentally, tripping and tumbling nimbly. How would her port, her shunt, her fragile skull, her broken little body handle all that?

As soon as those thoughts came, I instantly saw a little girl that reminded me exactly of LULU. She had a round, portly body (that wasn’t from overeatting), thining, whispy hair that appeared as though it were regrowing. She looked like a cancer survivor. She was huffing and puffing, struggling to keep up. But she had this fierce determination that shocked me. Every time it seemed as though she were going to collapse, she’d kick up her step and jump into a run. She’d run as long as she could, working so much freakin’ harder than any kid there, pumping her arms, head down in strained effort, a look of total seriousness on her face, her gait clumsy. My heart jerked in pain. Her sheer will and enthusiasm for this simple little jog-a-thon was so inspiring I wanted to pick her up like a crazy person and hug her and bawl my eyes out.

Don’t worry, I didn’t do that. I resisted. But I couldn’t help myself completely—I approached her and her mother, boldly and over-excitedly expressing my admiration and doling out praise to her as if she just won a gold medal at the Olympics. Her name is Stella. She has an autoimmune disease and she is “quite the character, who will hug anyone” her mom told me. I thought, well that certainly sounds like me hahaha….and it certainly sounds like Lulu.

“Just like my daughter!” The mom smiled. A pause as we observed Stella chugging down water. I said softly, “You daughter is so special. I don’t know her, but she has just broken and uplifted my heart in the same moment.” The mom laughed, “she really is.”

Just then Stella came up to me, “I did 12 laps.” “YOU ARE AMAZING!” I loudly replied and hugged her tightly—not too tightly, I’m not a total crazy person—and cheered her on.

Funny how just a simple thing like a school jog-a-thon can unearth such emotional upheaval. Like, I can’t ever escape it. It breathes truth into the phrase, “wherever you go, there you are.” Grief follows you around like a Peter Pan shadow…attached and dependent on you, but has a mind of it’s own. It’s like a foreigner has invaded your body and no matter how many times you go to war with it, it stays put.  Misery loves company, but grief LOVESSSSSS triggers. A little tiff with a friend? BOOM. I’m on the floor. someone cutting me off on the freeway? SNAP! I’m pissed. My husband being an asshole? Voiala! I’m in the dumps. Grief is often like a loud knock at the door, right at the exact moment when you’re just out the shower and happen to be standing in your living room stark naked. An unwanted visitor. If you answer the door, you’re humiliated and vulnerable and its terrifying. If you don’t, you know it will come back later and stay for even longer, whether you’re dressed or not. (is anyone following this analogy? or does this shit only happen to me? Fine, so you’re never in your house naked, good for you.)

I know, it’s year two. “Years 2 and 3 are the worst of it, prepare yourself for that and just let it happen,” I’ve been told. So here I am, sobbing like a wierdo at my son’s school because a sweet little girl (who’s face doesn’t really look anything like Amelita) happens to be running near me, just letting it “happen.” But then my child runs over to me, proud & tired, he ran for 1 hour 10 mins without stopping once!, wraps his arms around me and I realize the over-exaggerated attention we put on this little jog-a-thon was totally worth it.

 

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Valentine’s Day.

 Today Brave had a party at school for Valentine’s Day. Simple, sweet, chaotic. Kindergartners running around overly excited, talking way too loud, the anticipation of a sugar high firing them up.

I don’t know why, but those parties hurt my heart. Today a storm rolled through town (literally and figuratively).  The torrential down pour of rain and dark skies echoing the pain in my belly. It’s these little moments that make me acutely aware I no longer have a daughter. She loved parties. She loved treats and giving gifts and special little trinkets and all things sweet. She would have loved school Valentine’s Day with her friends. She would have loved picking out treats and cards and wearing red hearts and pink cupcakes. Skipping over all the girly valentine’s was tough. Longing to pick out ones I knew (or think I know. What would she love at this age? What would her interests be?) Amelie would want. 

Brave loves it too. 

He put on this giant paper heart and called out to me, “mama come here! Look at me mama!” When I read it, it hurt my heart so much my eyes welled up and my mouth crinkled and contorted, like l had just bit my cheek.  

His heart read: 

“I’m giving you a valentine. Don’t put it on a shelf. It’s one that you can hold and love. I am giving you myself. Love, Bravery”

I embraced him, whispering Amelie’s name just quietly enough to be audible only to my own ears.

Then we ran into the rainstorm, laughing, holding hands, tearing into the candy valentine’s, grateful for each other. Brave giddy, happily sucking on a giant red lollipop, never once sensing for a moment his mommy’s anguish and longing. 

While daddy is away, Brave is my Valentine tonight. I won’t put my heart on a shelf. I am giving you myself. 

 

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I love me some snap chat.

Amelie loved snap chat, and this picture is hysterical!....I know it says Marilyn Monroe, but doesn’t she look much more like Marie Antoinette’s daughter?! This picture makes me laugh!

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Esp considering this is what she looked like at that moment, her face distorted and hairless, not herself, but a version of someone else it seemed, but still ADORABLE.

(Sorry, Peg, I know yoy’re going to hate this pic haha)

(Sorry, Peg, I know yoy’re going to hate this pic haha)

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

That’s what I’m tryin’ to do, Shakey, that’s what I’m tryin to do. Give words to this grief, this story, and, hopefully, one day, this triumph.

Amelie's Birthday Tea Party

January 21st, today is Amelie’s Birthday.

This weekend, we honored her birthday with the most fabulous, indescribably gorgeous tea party. Simply put, I was overjoyed. My dream is to have a tea party every year on her birthday, as fancy as can possibly be.

Yet, despite my desire to begin an annual tradition, I honestly didn’t have the bandwidth to plan anything this year. The loss of Amelie hit me hard in January—a month I haven’t been fond of anyway b/c its after the holidays, cold and, until I had Amelita, nothing exciting ever happened in January except the stark reminder that I was yet another year older and really hadn’t accomplished much, and is now a month I particularly dread even more—so I spent the majority of the month in a slow downward spiral towards a bottomless pit of grief. Last week I struggled to get out of bed, barely worked out, had no energy, could barely stop crying, some days almost uncontrollably, then cry at the drop of a hat, drank every night, bailed on drs appointments and on volunteering in Brave’s school, and even got him to school late one day, only to then come home and fall right back into bed with my clothes on. It was one of those weeks. Hubbs was out of town and I had the space to grieve, and boy did I…

Fast forward to Sunday. I woke up….excited. I felt the tingly anticipation of a pre-party buzz, and was once again reminded of how lucky I am that there are people in my life who, without mincing words, give a shit. They truly do.

I had asked my friend Melissa—a fellow Team wife and darling woman with a gentle spirit—to host this party for me. I knew two things: 1. it HAD to happen, and 2. I knew I could NOT do it. Had I not mustered the courage to ask Melissa, I would have gone through Amelie’s birthday a self-loathing mess. Thankfully, she happily accepted. Melissa and our friend Dominique (another equally lovely woman who is reminds me of the American version of Duchess Kate) hosted the party at their country club, an oasis tucked among the hills of Del Mar, where the noises of cars and the roaring freeway are nonexistent, and the only ‘chatter’ are the sounds of birds, water fountains and rustling trees. It’s a slice of heaven that I never tire of and transcended me out of my misery.

The party was so appropriately delicately GIRLY—all things Amelie would have LOVED. I adored every second of it and, frankly, had to be forced to leave.

The food, the tea, the hot chocolate (a little champagne for mommies), the flowers, it was all so beautifully put together. We sat congregated around one large Mad-Hatter-esque table, exactly the way a tea party should be. (I may, or may not, have eaten two scones with cream, I shall not confess.) Even the big man came sporting a tie and a smile at times (he barely spoke all morning, except to grumble and snap, feeling the weight of Amelie’s birthday on his heart), but here he was, at this lovely little tea party in pink, knowing it was his duty to attend. Naturally, Brave wore his best suit (yeah, it’s his only suit).

I really can’t describe my gratitude for it. Words often fall short when describing grief and gratitude, our English language (or at least, my limited use of it) fails to fully capture the two of the most powerful things humans can experience….and this day was no exception. This day it was Melissa and Dominique, and all the attendees my incredible TRIBE, who saved me. [After the tea party we went to Starbucks! We were simply not ready to retire our fine attire or let the festivities end.]

When I initially walked into the room my breath left me and I struggled to keep the tears at bay. It was magical. [The planning of this party, keep in mind, I had absolutely nothing to do with. I know, I’m lame. They never even asked a single question and I did literally nothing except invite a few friends, so I had no idea what it would be like and I didn’t care, as long as some event was taking place, I would be content. So I basically asked: ‘hey throw a fancy party for my daughter whom you barely knew and I’ll do nothing except show up with all my friends and their kids.’ That’s the kind of friends I have and, frankly, do not deserve. See what I mean now about having a hard time adequately describing my gratitude?]

Amelie’s Birthday tea party was the PERFECT way to truly HONOR her memory, something I realized I don’t really now how to do most days.

Yet that day, upon seeing this tea party room so soft and perfect in it’s effeminate splendor, I felt a warmth enter my chest and said to myself, “Finally. This is her. This is Lulu.”

Happy Birthday Amelie!

8 years old today, my precious child is 8 today. Someone once told me that we age in heaven, I honestly don’t know how that is, and I think it’s a way for our limited human brains to conceptualize a place that is inconceptual (I literally just made that word up, good luck saying it out loud).

After the fantastic tea party, we had an epic play date of 5 kids (who somehow ended up in the hot tub with their tea party dresses on) and a wild sleepover.

I awoke this morning to the feeling of my husband’s cold hands stroking my hair, softly easing me back to consciousness and, knowing the reality that awaited me today, awoke me to the realization that Amelie’s birthday has arrived. The kids were singing, dancing, jumping, ecsatic just to be together. “I’m not cooking today, not. one. single. meal!” I boldly declared. (We’ve been trying to save money since retirement by not eating out so much, and man it’s hard work to cook every meal. I didn’t want any work today). So we grabbed takeout of pancakes and crispy bacon, always an Amelie favorite, and had a lovely little picnic at Paradise Point Hotel, on the deck on the water and fed the ducks. It was a blisteringly windy day, sunny and bright, the massively tall and thick palm trees that surrounded the pond were wild and noisey, dropping palm branches all around us, and an army of ducks (and three annoying seagulls) joined us. The kids ran and laughed and squealed. Surprisingly, I was not as sad as I expected to be, mainly because it’s pretty hard to be morose when those children so effortlessly talk of Amelie, almost as if she were to arrive at any moment to join the fun, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Then it was off to violin lesson, then dinner with Auntie Schimel, a celebratory ice cream, then magically more dessert (one can never have enough dessert on a special occasion, I always say, I may have had even more later)….

When cuddling in bed tonight, Bravery said, “the peak of my day was feeding the ducks, because I remember going with Amelie and I was happy.” Boss and I held each other in tears, and, when finished, did not speak of it any more. The evening came to a close on the couch, lightly laughing at a movie, ignoring, just for this brief respite, the ache in our hearts.

It truly was one fine day.

Happy Birthday, Amelie Fira.

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