Memorable Monday 3

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting in the cancer ward waiting to hear my name called. I have been experiencing some pain in my right breast and felt some places that didn’t seem right to me. So I went to the hospital to see my OBGYN. I waited and waited and was finally seen. The midwife first examined me and I told her of my family history. Since my mother died of breast cancer at the age of 44, she felt that the Dr. should also come in. I explained that I was still breastfeeding and wasn’t sure if it was related to that or not.

The Dr. was very thorough and checked both of my breasts. But then said that he would like to send me over to the oncologist for a better examination. They asked if I had ever had a mammogram and I said that I hadn’t, so they called over to the oncology ward and gave an introduction for me.

I felt pretty confident that it wasn’t cancer but still, having your doctor tell you to go to the cancer ward is a bit disconcerting. I walked down the hall and registered with the oncology department with the help of a very kind nurse. She had no idea whether I had cancer or not but she saw me as a mother with a young child and treated me with the utmost kindness.

I felt my heart beating a little faster than usual and I worried as Violet heard the doctors talking about where I was going. She understands more Japanese than I do. And she heard them telling me that i was going to be checked by a different doctor, she wanted to know exactly where we were going. She knows about cancer because of all the family members we have lost to this disease. I didn’t want to lie to her but also didn’t want to cause her undo worry. So I just told her we were going to get my milky looked at by another doctor who would look at a picture of the inside of it. She was satisfied with that.

We sat there waiting and I couldn’t help but notice how the lights were darker in this ward than in the OBGYN ward. It was quiet and most of the patients that we saw waiting there were hunched over and seemed to be in a certain amount of pain. Some were young and some were obviously in there late 70’s or 80’s. The ones who made eye contact with me gave me sympathetic smiles and I could tell they were wondering how I was and what I was there for. Violet’s smiles and energy definitely seemed to lift their spirits too.

I figured that I was going to get a mammogram but was hoping they would let me have an ultrasound instead as I was concerned about radiating my breast milk. Just in case though. I told Violet that she might not be able to drink milkies after my exam for a bit. She looked worried and said she would like to drink some before we went in. A woman in her mid 70’s walked up and said “おいしそう“, which means, looks delicious. She went on to say how rare it was to see a girl her age drinking breastmilk and how wonderful it was. I felt encouraged and continued to smile down and my sweet girl.

Sitting there, waiting with her in the cancer wing filled me with so many memories. My mother was everything to me. She was my first friend, she was my confidant she was my hero. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wasn’t there. I was away at college and had to hear about it over the phone. How I wish I could’ve been sitting there holding her hand instead.

I was able to sit with her through some of her treatments and drove her to some of her appointments during spring and summer vacations. We would sit there holding hands and trying to make each other smile or laugh. I was scared and she was scared. She was brave, she was selfless and showed me how to endure the impossible. Losing her was the hardest thing I have ever experienced and I pray that Violet is spared from watching me die from a disease that ravishes the body.

We sat and waited, Violet holding me and smiling at everyone around her. Finally my name was called and I had my first exam by an oncologist. I told him I was breastfeeding and he immediately offered to do an ultrasound instead of a mammogram. I didn’t even have to ask. He checked both of my breasts and and looked as thoroughly as possible. I felt very well taken care of and was thrilled to hear him say that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Violet understood the results at the same time as I did and immediately came over and rubbed my chest and said, “Milkies! You are ok!!!” And then she patted my hand and said, “I knew you would be ok, mama! I love you!”

Today, I am thankful for the excellent health care I have experienced here in Japan. Today, I am thankful for my healthy breasts. Today, I am thankful for today!

This PSA is so powerful and never fails to make me cry. I ask you all to remember to “touch yourself”. For your self, for your husband, for your children, for your friends. Set a date and check yourself every month. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s painless.

 

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The Grieving Child

I’ve been very behind in writing on my blogs lately. We had an extended summer vacation in the States due to the death of my beloved grandfather, “Papo”. Then only three weeks after returning to Japan, we had to make another emergency trip home due to the death of my dear, sweet grandmother, “Mamo”. They died exactly 2 months apart on the same date. July 14th and September 14th. They were married for 62 years and raised 8 children together. After my grandfather’s passing it was not really a surprise that she soon left us to be with him. In life they never liked being apart from each other, so we knew she was eager to join him.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents. I grew up visiting them every Sunday after church and spent every Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and Easter with them (until I moved to Japan). They were an incredible influence on my life and I cherish the lessons that I learned from them. Losing them both in such a short time has been hard. And explaining death and the afterlife to our daughter has been both challenging and comforting.

In July, we were able to fly to Texas early to spend some time with my grandfather before he passed away. We were able to talk to him and he was able to respond in grunts and simple motions. Violet told him that she loved him and blew him a kiss and even though he was very weak he managed to raise his hand to his mouth to blow one back to her. It is a precious memory that will forever warm my heart. We spent hours singing and praying with him and telling him he was free to go. He had been suffering from illness for a very long time and it was time for him to rest.

When he finally did pass away we were at his house. Violet was in another room and I went to get her. She ran to my arms and said “Mommy where is Papo?” I told her he had passed away. She immediately held my face directly in front of her own and she smiled so big and said, “Mommy, he’s not in pain anymore now. He’s in heaven now right? He is with Grandma Pam. Can I be happy? We can be happy right?” After that I found it difficult to cry. She reminded me to be joyful.

I told her of course she could be happy and after that I had a hard time not feeling a form of happiness too. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced in his home-going. It was amazing. She wanted to go over and see his body. She was confused why his body was still there. She thought it would disappear. But she touched him and felt him and I told her his earthly body is here but his spirit, what we knew him like was gone.

The days following she often stated that she missed him, in fact she still talks about him and how she misses him. She told me that Papo wants her to come to be with him in heaven. That she saw his body turn into a pony when he died and he is a pony now. She asks about if he will come back as someone or something else. She is really interested in this lately and she often talks to me about what she was before and what she will be. We tell her that none of us really knows what happens after we die but what we believe is that we don’t have to have any pain anymore and we can be everywhere with all the people we love even if they can’t see us.

When we had the Rosary, Papo’s casket was open. Violet wanted to go up and see him and touch him over and over. She wanted to give him stickers and put them on his hands. I let her do it as often as I could because she was really expressing a desire to see him. I had to really try hard to keep her in her seat during the service because she kept wanting to get up.

Throughout the service she kept asking me questions about death and heaven and life after death. Questions that I couldn’t answer because I don’t know the answers. I could only answer with my feeble human mind.

Then when she saw me crying she said, “Mama when will my tears come?” I said, “Your tears will come when you are ready. We cry when we are sad or happy or scared or for any other feeling.” Then she pressed her self against my body and looked up at me and said “Mommy, maybe if we press our cheeks together and you touch your eyes to my eyes I can share your tears. Your tears will become my tears.” I was so taken aback by this expression of true empathy out of my child’s mouth and heart. I immediately said, “yes, you can share my tears baby. I will share my tears with you and you can always share your tears with me.” I pressed my cheek to hers and our closed eyes touched. My mascara stained tears rolled down her cheeks and she smiled up at me and said, “See mama, now I have your tears.” All I could do was hug her because I had no words to express the gratitude I felt in my heart for that moment.

My brothers and I sang Amazing Grace at the Rosary and Violet really wanted to sing with us. She really wanted to sing for Papo. She saw me expressing my love for my grandparents through singing to them for the last week and I think she really wanted to do the same. So I let her come up to the microphone with me. She didn’t know the words but she sang her heart out. I struggled to keep it together while listening to her sweet voice in my ear.

At the funeral, Papo’s casket was open in the beginning before the service started so that people who couldn’t make it to the Rosary could see him. Again, Violet wanted to go up to see him again and again. I let her take a couple of turns to say goodbye again. She gave him a few more stickers too. Then when they came to close the casket she became upset. She wanted to see him still. I tried to comfort her and tell her that it was just his body, he wasn’t there anymore. She continued to ask me questions about what happens to a person after they die and where he was. I tried to explain in as best a way I could that he was no longer in pain. He was with Grandma Pam and he would always be with us and around us watching over us.

We continued on to the burial and we stayed until he was lowered into the ground. It was a small group of us at that point. We all threw in some dirt and then Violet wanted to throw some flowers in for him. So we let her.

Since Papo’s passing Violet has continued to talk about him and voice what she thinks he is doing. She is always certain that he is with Grandma Pam and that they are having fun together. One day she told me “Mommy I think Papo is playing with Grandma Pam now.” I asked her “What are they playing?” She looked up and said “I think they are playing golf.” I don’t know how she knew that he loved playing golf. Maybe she overheard someone talking about it. I answered, “yes, I am sure they are.” Another time she told me that Papo was dancing in heaven. He was dancing for joy with Grandma Pam. I love when she shares these thoughts with me because I really do believe that children have a more open mind to the spiritual world. And I love to picture my beloved mother and grandfather doing the things she says they are doing.

Before we left, we had several opportunities to go and visit with my Mamo. Violet seemed to know she was sad and she knew why, without me telling her. Two days before we left we were over visiting with her and Violet asked me if Mamo lived in Japan. And then said she didn’t want to be away from Mamo. She began to cry and said she wanted to be with Mamo. Then she decided she would make a picture for Mamo to remember her by.

She went and drew Mamo a picture and when she brought it to her she told her it was magical.Then she gave Mamo her plastic wand (a toy she had recently become very attached to) and said the picture was “remoted”. She said, “When you touch the wand to the picture a voice comes out.” “Who’s voice?” Mamo said. “Gods voice.” replied Violet. “What does he say?” asked Mamo. “That you are never alone and Papo is always with you.When you feel sad and miss Papo you can use it.” Violet said.

Just before all of this Violet had asked Mamo “who do you sleep with?” Mamo said I sleep alone now. I sleep with angels.” So, Violet made this picture and came up with that whole idea on her own.

She then told her “You have to use it right when you wake up because I know you always miss Papo when you wake up.” Then Mamo said, “Can I use it at bedtime too?” Violet said, “Yes! You can use it anytime when you feel sad and are missing Papo or anyone who is not here anymore. Anyone who is not with you. God will always help you when you feel sad!”

Mamo was so touched. We all were. I could hardly hold back my tears through the whole conversation. It was so precious and so heartfelt.

I am so thankful that we had that time with my dear Mamo before she left this world. My aunt told me that my grandmother had slept with the wand by her bedside and often asked for it when she was in another room.

When she passed away, we were not physically there. It was terribly painful to not be able to say goodbye to her. I felt so much more emotional at her services because of that. Seeing her in the casket, although she looked beautiful, was very difficult for me to bear. Violet really wanted to go up and kiss her and touch her though. So we did.

Violet sat more patiently through these services because it wasn’t new to her anymore. I feel sad that she has had to attend so many funerals in her short life already. But thankful that she seems to really have an understanding of empathy and love.

She often talks about Mamo and cries that she misses her. She asks if we can send her letters or if she could go and see her again. She says things about death that sometimes might disturb others who don’t know why she is so in tune to it right now.

She told me and and my father on her birthday that she wanted to go to heaven and be with Mamo. She told me she wanted to wear her favorite purple party dress when she was in her “box” and that she wanted to be buried with Mamo. She has asked me many times when she is going to die and then will she come back to life as someone else. I always tell her the same thing, that she doesn’t have to worry or be afraid of dying. That no one knows when their time will come. I tell her that Mamo and Papo and Grandma Pam want her to live a long and happy life and then when the time comes they will be there waiting to hold her. This usually seems to satisfy her.

Her heart, her big and beautiful heart is full of so much love and compassion. I am so thankful that she is in my world. She truly gave me so much comfort during this time of loss. Young children can be so resilient and usually can find the positive in things faster than we adults and for that I am thankful.

Have you had to explain death to your children?

What ways have you found to comfort their grieving hearts?
We found these books very helpful during our grieving process. We had actually been reading them for about 4-5 months before Papo passed away because she had been asking so many questions about my mother. I was so thankful that she already had somewhat of an understanding about it before we had to go to the services.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
The Next Place by Warren Hanson
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This is what came of 2 people in love. 8 children and their spouses, 31 grandchildren and 27 great grandchilren so far. Everyone lives in the same state (except me)

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My beautiful grandmother. She called Violet her precious! And Violet adored that.

My dear Papo. I am so thankful that Violet got to know him.

My dear Papo. I am so thankful that Violet got to know him.

Fourteen Years Without You

Today marks 14 years since my mother went home to the Lord. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and wish she was still here with me. No one will ever be able to love me the way that she did. I wish so badly that she was here with me today but I know that she is always around me and surrounding me with her love.

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Violet reminds me of her love in so many ways. When she envelops me with an embrace that can only come from an adoring child, I feel the love that my mother must have felt for me. When I look on and admire something that she is doing, I understand how proud my mother must have been of me at times. When Violet does something that hurts me, like when she tells me “I don’t like you.” I feel the heartbreak my mother must have felt when I uttered those exact words to her.

My mother was my best friend and I am fairly certain that I am Violet’s. Both are relationships that I will cherish my whole life long.

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Violet reminds me that Grandma Pam is with us always and that her love is always with us. I am sure that it is.

Here is a poem that I wrote 5 years ago and lost in the tsunami. I rewrote it back in July from my memory and with some new additions. It is my hope to one day put it to music. I share it today in honor of my beloved mother, Pamela Sue Sweet Elizondo, January 15, 1955- August 18, 1999.

Ruby Slippers

I’ve been down this road before

The yellow one paved with bricks

Trying to go back in time

To the time before you were sick.

But I have no Ruby Slippers

And the Wizard’s just a man

And there is no magic in this world

To bring you back again.

I’m trying to get home
But I just can’t seem to get there.

Wishing I could run up the drive

And see you standing there

With your arms open wide

Oh the tears I have cried.

I click and click my heels

Wanting just to feel

Your warm embrace

Your hand on my face.

But I have no Ruby Slippers

And the Wizard’s just a man

And there is no magic in this world

To bring you back again.

Oh there’s no place like home.

No there is no place like home.

There’s no place like home.

But it’s the one place I can’t go.

Even if I made it

to the home I loved so dear

It wouldn’t be the same, no, no

To me that much is clear.

Cause I have no Ruby Slippers

And the Wizard’s just a man

And there is no magic in this world

To bring you back again.

There is no place like home.

There is no place like home.

There is no place like home.

Missing You

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Poohmom at 30 with 3 kids 

Death is a difficult thing to explain, especially to a child. Unfortunately, it is something that we all have to deal with at some point.

Our sweet daughter is very inquisitive and her questions are becoming more and more challenging for me to answer. I want to tell her the truth always but I also want to find a balance between the whole truth and partial explanation. I don’t want to over explain things and make her feel worried or cause her to have anxiety about death and illness.

A few weeks  ago in the car we were listening to Isreal Kamiwamiwo’ole and she was looking at the album cover. She loves his voice and loves the cover photo of him swimming in a pool that looks like the earth. She asked “Mommy is he still alive?” I answered that he wasn’t. She asked “Did he swim too much and then he died?” I told her he died from heart problems. Then she said “Maybe his pants were up too high and then he died.” Her questions went on and on and I tried to explain to her that some people get sick and get better and some people get a very serious sickness and their bodies can’t recover so they die. She seemed concerned but she was able to move on without dwelling on it for too long.

So far, no one that Violet has known very closely has passed away. We lost friends in the tsunami 2 years ago but she wasn’t quite old enough to know what that meant . She knew that life was different for a while and we had to move to a new house with new books and new toys and new clothes but the loss of life was not something she could comprehend at the time.

When my friends sister passed away a year ago, she saw that I was sad and cried a lot. She was so young and left 2 young children behind and a loving husband, sister and parents and countless friends. I tried to explain my sudden bouts of sadness to her and tell her that mommy was sad because her friend had gotten sick and couldn’t get better. She would pat my back and tell me it was o.k. to cry. Her death reminded me of my own loss. The loss of my dear, sweet mother. I was 21 years old when my mother was taken from me. Her children were only 4 and 6. I grieved for them and each time I looked at my daughter I saw her daughter searching for her mother, crying out for her and not understanding why she didn’t come. At 21 years old I felt that same pain but my mind was more capable of comprehending her absence. My heart felt like it was breaking all over again and I felt all those feelings over again. Anger, sadness, frustration, fear and pain.

About a month later I was blessed with an experience I had never had before. As I was nursing Violet to sleep I was overcome with the feeling that my Mom was surrounding me with her presence. I saw her face so clearly in my mind. Usually when I picture her I see her as she looked before she had cancer. With her beautiful brown hair. That night she had her post chemo hair (a beautiful purplish grey). She was smiling so wide and she was glowing. I felt so warm and full of light. My eyes filled up with tears and I whispered “Please don’t go Mama. Stay here with us a little longer.” When I started to feel her slipping away, I whispered it again. I felt her there with me for the entire time I was nursing Violet to sleep. I felt like she was holding us both and looking at her beautiful granddaughter. I don’t know how to explain the feeling I had except to say it was close to perfect happiness. I couldn’t stop crying and my tears were dropping onto Violet’s tummy. She didn’t seem to notice that I was crying, thankfully, and fell peacefully to sleep.

There are more times than I can count that I wish I could call out to my mom and seek her reassurance, her love, her understanding, her praise. Since becoming a mother myself, I feel it even more frequently than I did before. Since she left this world there has been a constant hole in my heart. Every occasion and celebration is missing her presence. I know how much she would have loved to be a grandmother. She never got to be “Mimi” (that is what she wanted to be called by her grandchildren). She never got to hold her grand-babies and shower them with her unmatchable love. Her sweet grandchildren will never know how her hugs could calm any fear, how her smile could brighten even the darkest room. They will never get to laugh at her corny jokes or be comforted by her heartwarming words. They will never know how much she loves them.

At the same time, I feel so much closer to her now than I did in the immediate years following her death. I can understand in a way I never did before how much my mom loved me. I remember her telling me “when you’re a mom one day, you’ll understand…” There was no way I could understand that until my own daughter was placed in my arms and I knew that I would walk through fire for her. I now know how deeply it hurt her to see me hurting and how overwhelming the love in her heart was for me and my brothers.mom 35 with teenagers

A mother’s love is like no other love. No one will ever love me like my mother loves me. I was perfect in her eyes,though she knew I could and did do wrong, she knew I was not a bad person.  When I broke my mother’s heart with poor choices in my teen years, I couldn’t understand how she could forgive me and keep loving me. Now I know why. When you carry life inside your own body, although they enter the outside world at some point, they are always a part of you and the love you feel for them can never be taken away.

My mother’s love surrounds me now. No matter where I am or what I am doing, she is there. When I lie awake watching my daughter suffer through an illness, she is there worrying with me. When I hold my daughter close to my breast and nourish her with life giving milk, she is there holding me. When my heart fills with the purest joy at seeing Violet accomplish something new, she is there celebrating with me. She is there. She is there. She is there.

mom on her last trip to Colorado, 1 month before she passed

Though Violet never got to meet her Grandma Pam, Grandma Pam is there. She is always in my heart and so I know her love is pouring out to Violet through my love. Violet has been very vocal about her and asks questions all the time about her life and why she had to die. She misses her. She has even cried for her before, crying out that she misses Grandma Pam. As she grows older and asks more questions I can see her grieving for the loss of the grandmother she never knew. I wish that I could protect her from ever having to experience the pain of loss and heartbreak. But I cannot.

My dear friend put it so eloquently in a post on her blog saying, “Daily, I wish I could protect my children’s innocence. I wish I could shield them from the harshness of this world. I wish I could always protect their hearts, their minds, their souls. I wish they knew nothing of the sin, brokenness, and ugliness of this world. I wish I didn’t have to tell them that they can’t trust everyone, and that there are people in this world who are not good. I wish they knew no sadness, experienced no loss, and lived carefree and happy all of the time. That is Heaven though, and not Earth. As long as they live on this Earth, they will experience all that we experience – they will break hearts and their hearts will be broken”

I fear losing Violet or her losing me or her daddy. I try not to worry about it but I know that one day one of us will be gone from the other. I cling to the hope though that we will be reunited. Just as I cling to that hope that one day I will embrace my mother again. I am trying to help her find ways to understand pain and to deal with it in a healthy way. Teaching her that it is ok to cry and it is ok to miss someone. These are natural feelings. We are also trying to teach her to look for love and joy and peace and beauty to bring her out of sadness and darkness.

Talking about death with her has allowed me to realize that there are not always answers to every question and I don’t have to pretend to have the answer to it all. I am praying that as she grows older she will come to understand in her own heart what happens after we die and that even though we don’t know for sure, we don’t have to be afraid of it. Love will live on, Love will always live on.

How do you talk to your children about death?

Has your child asked you questions that you don’t know how to answer?

Thanks for stopping by today,

Violet’s Mama

So fast

What is it about life that makes time seem to fly by so fast?

A common phrase among us all is, “Time flies when you’re having fun!” And when seasoned parents speak to new parents they often say “They grow up in the blink of an eye!”

I have been curious why things seem to be going faster the older I get.

When I was a child, I remember it seemed like years before the end of the school year or waiting for Christmas to come again. From birthday to birthday felt like ages and some years I just couldn’t wait to “be bigger”. Why is it that now, as my 35 birthday approaches, that I feel like I blinked and my teens and twenties were gone?

I decided to do some reading on the subject and found some very interesting articles. One in particular stated that it all has to do with anticipation and retrospection. This resonated true with me. When we are waiting for something monumental to finally happen the anticipation can make it feel like time is moving in slow motion. Where as after it has happened and we look back on it, it seems as if time was moving at the speed of light. As we continue to age we pass more and more milestones. The more milestones we pass the faster they seem to have gone by.

As we grow up and get older we are constantly waiting for the next milestone. The next birthday, the new school year, getting our driver’s license, voting for the first time, graduating from high school, college, turning 21, getting married and having our first child. This is just to name a few along this journey called life.

I have definitely had a lot of fun in the past 35 years of my life and so I could believe that because of all that fun time has flown by. But I have also had a lot of sadness too. The most difficult to bear being the loss of my mother. As the anniversary of her passing approaches each August, I reflect on the last month of her life. The last 2 weeks in the hospital with her as she slowly faded away and her body succumbed to the terrible cancer ravishing her organs. Those two weeks in the hospital felt like an eternity. All of the waiting and wondering if she would make it through. Not knowing if each touch of her hand would be the last. The day she passed felt like the longest day of my life. Learning to go to sleep without her physical presence in my life anymore felt like an unbearable task. Singing at her funeral and greeting each guest that arrived to honor her felt like a mountain I would never finish climbing.

Now as I look back on it almost 14 years later, it seems like it was only yesterday. The fun and the sadness in our lives all seem to pass by quickly in retrospection but in the moments of anticipating the next stage they seem to drag on.

Since becoming a mom the milestones that I am anticipating are those of my daughter. It seemed like an eternity until her birth when I was pregnant. Then she was here and as I looked back on my pregnancy I couldn’t believe it was already over.

summer palace ChinaHer first smile, first words, first tooth and first steps all seemed to come so fast. Why are her milestones slipping by faster than my own? Or are they both going by just as fast but I am more focused on hers? I don’t really know. I suppose the latter is true.

How did I go from this little girl on the beach with my mom and siblings to being the mommy?kid to mommy beach

Violet has seemingly grown up over night. When we first moved into our temporary house (housing provided by the government to those who lost their homes in the tsunami) she was only 19 months old. She couldn’t reach handles and needed help opening doors. Now almost 2 years later, she is closing the door opening the fridge and showing herself to the bathroom without any assistance needed. I blinked and she became a little girl rather than my baby girl. She will always be my baby, of course, but she so big now.

moving into temporary housing

Witnessing the changes in her life both physically and emotionally is such a gift. Last month every day that I dropped her off at school was heart wrenching. She cried and begged to stay with me. It tore my heart in two each morning and each night as she would ask me if there was school tomorrow and I had to answer yes. The school year starts in April here and she started a new class (preschool class) on April 4th. The first day of school was so different than the days before that. She woke up excited to go to school. She told me she loved me best but loved her friends too. My heart soared that she had found a way to find happiness at school.

Now, she tells me in the mornings sometimes “Mommy, I am not going to say ‘No school today?’ anymore because I am a grown up.” I tell her that she can if she wants to but it’s o.k. if she doesn’t. She has told me she is not going to cry when we get to school either because she’s a big girl now. I again tell her that she can if she wants to and it’s also o.k. if she doesn’t.

When we take her to school she wants to walk in sometimes vs. being carried in. And this morning when we were saying goodbye after several kisses and spoken goodbyes she stood at the door to her class and said “mama, I’m not going to say goodbye anymore. I love you.” and then she walked into her class. She did pop her head back out though and wave and say I love you in her kitty voice until we could no longer see each other.

First day of school with mommy

It is so precious to see her growing up. I sometimes can’t even believe how fast this has all gone. I imagined it feeling fast but not this fast. Some days I just want to stop the clock and stay in these moments forever. I want to hold her so tight and wrap her up in my arms and never let her go. But I know that I can’t do that. I want her to have a full life, exploring every opportunity that she chooses to explore. I am excited about reaching future milestones with her while at the same time wanting to hold on to these days as long as I can. I am always trying to learn how to hold on without holding her back.

The fun times and the sad times will continue to pass through our lives and I will probably look back on today a few years from now and think it was only yesterday that she was going to preschool. I know that time will continue to go by faster and faster the older I get and the older she gets.

As parents the days are sometimes long and the years are often too quick. Days of nursing, changing and late nights will seem so close yet so far away and one day she will be graduating from college and I will without a doubt be whispering in my heart “How did my baby become a young woman so fast.”

One day I will be writing about her weaning and I will again be hit with the heart wrenching awareness of how fast she has grown up. Today I will cherish the moments of the day. Tomorrow I will look back with fondness and awe at how quickly it all went by.

sweet smile carseat 1st day of school

Fear

Fear-a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
H. P. Lovecraft

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Marcus Aurelius

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Before I became a mother I would not have thought of myself as a fearful person. I enjoyed all manners of thrilling things from haunted houses, scary movies to roller coasters. After becoming a mother I find myself being fearful of many many things. Being responsible for someone’s health and well being is a stressful albeit enjoyable, job! When Violet was a newborn, I felt nervous that she would stop breathing or be smothered by blankets. I worried if she was getting enough milk. I worried if she was too hot or too cold. After the first few weeks that all subsided and I felt comfortable with being responsible for her. Then when she started eating solids I started having fears again. I worried she would choke, even if it was just pureed food. I only gave her a teething biscuit one time because it broke off in her mouth and she started to choke on it. She was able to cough it up by herself. One of my uncles told me that when I feed her I should pray for peace. I started doing that and found a lot of comfort in it. I still get worried when she is eating though. She is 3 now and it is not uncommon to hear me say “That’s too big of a bite sweet heart. Spit it out please.” I don’t know why I have such a big fear of her choking. I have never known anyone in my family to choke to death or anything like that. I suppose it is fear of not being prepared for how to handle the situation.

When we experienced the 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 I experienced a fear like I had never known before It was real it was raw it was barely manageable. When the ground was violently shaking below our feet and it was almost impossible to stand upright, I feared that the earth would tear in two beneath me. The thought actually crossed my mind that it was the end of the world. That may sound crazy, but it was such severe shaking. When the tsunami came, it was as if my nightmares were coming true. I suffered from anxiety for months and my hair started to fall out. Amazingly, my breasts never once ceased to produce enough milk for my then 17 month old daughter. The fear and anxiety seemed to fade as time went by and the aftershocks came less frequently. Then out of nowhere last week on Dec. 7th we had a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the ground for about 1 minute. A minute seems short but when the ground is shaking it feels like an eternity. Thankfully, I was at home with my husband and Violet when it happened. After a few seconds of shaking I started to think that it was all happening again. I asked my daughter to roll into a ball on the floor between my legs and then I covered her with my body in a duck and cover position. My husband then covered over my body. Violet was very obedient and calm through the whole thing. They have frequent earthquake drills at her school and so she is used to the routine. My husband and I assumed there would be a tsunami warning due to the length and amount of shaking that occurred. It wasn’t long before the all too familiar sirens started to wail striking fear and panic in many residents. Fortunately, there was no severe damage done with this earthquake and the tsunami that did come was small and didn’t cause any damage either. I felt shaky all night. The tsunami warning was lifted after a couple of hours and life went back to “normal”. People who were on low ground evacuated and stayed at their assigned evacuation centers until around 8pm. We were lucky to have been at our home which is on top of a mountain. We turned on a movie and had family movie night. The sound of the movie blocked out the warning sirens. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest all night. We all went to bed together at the same time that night. It felt safe that way. My nightmares returned that night. Running, screaming, separated from each other, kind of dreams. I woke myself up screaming and crying in my sleep several times that night.

Saturday and Sunday we stayed together and went about our normal routines. Monday, we had to return to work. When I woke up that morning I felt the panic rising in my chest. My heart felt like it was beating extremely fast and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I worry about making Violet feel afraid when she sees me feeling afraid. She still mirrors my emotions. I don’t want her to think that repressing our feelings for the sake of others is a good thing. But I also don’t want to cause her undue worry and stress. Children are so much more resilient than we adults are. In the car as we drove to her school I started having a panic attack. I couldn’t hold back my tears and I was breathing very deeply and slowly. I always sit next to her in the back seat so she was very aware of what I was doing. She looked up at me and said “mommy are you crying?” I thought for a moment about what to answer. Finally I replied “I’m just feeling a little anxious today.” She reached out and grabbed my hand and patted it with the other. She said “Don’t worry mama, it will be ok.” Her gentle spirit helped me to focus. I decided to be honest about my feelings with her and I feel like it helped us both. Every day since then I have struggled with anxiety and fear. I feel like I had let myself believe that another massive earthquake and tsunami could not happen again. After Friday’s 7.3, I realized that that was a false assumption. The fact is, none of us can say whether or not another big one will happen in our lifetime. I am trying to realize that my fears are valid but am also trying to not live in fear. I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of dying and leaving my loves behind. I fear losing my child or my husband and being left here to survive without them. I am trying each day to let go of my fears a little more. Deep breathing and focusing on love has helped me a great deal. Parenting is a joyful experience but it definitely leaves your heart more exposed than you ever imagined it could be.

Have you experienced anxiety in your life?

What are some of your fears that you carry around as a parent?

What do you do to manage those fears?

Thanks for reading!

It all started wth a memory

Yesterday was one of those days when sadness crept up on me and caught me by surprise. I am sure we all experience them from time to time. I felt overwhelmed by grief yesterday and it stayed with me till I picked up Violet from nursery school.

It all started with a memory.

I was thinking about our sweet Violet at about 10 months old. Violet had this cute little bonnet with birds on it. It was a handmade bonnet made my Urban Baby Bonnets.Image She loved her hat. In fact her first word after mama and daddy was hat.

Every day Violet and I went out for a morning and afternoon walk. She always pointed and said hat before we walked out the door. I can see her smile and the twinkle in her eyes as I placed the bonnet on her head and snapped the snaps beneath her chin. I would then snuggle her into the sling and out the door we would go. I can hear the click clickety clack of our sliding door and feel the warmth of the sun on my face as the door opened to our front yard, just like it was yesterday.

We first stopped at our cherry blossom tree that Daddy planted when I was pregnant and we found out that we were going to be having a girl. It was Violet’s tree. We counted the leaves and talked about the colors we could see. The color of the branches, the leaves, the flowers in the spring.We looked up to the sky and sang “Blue Skies”. We would walk around our block and talked to our neighbors and kitty friends.

One day Violet realized how to unsnap her bonnet. Just as she did so a gust of wind blew and her bonnet flew off her head and through my fingers as I tried my best to catch it. But I failed and the hat flew straight into a covered ditch.

Violet and I looked at each other and she started to tear up. I knew she loved that hat so I ran down the street and found an opening. I carefully stepped in because the water was low and not rushing too fast. We waited and waited but her little hat never came.

When Gabe came home that afternoon I told him what had happened. Being the super daddy that he is, he told us not to worry.

We all walked down to the last place we saw the hat. He got in the ditch and started to look around. It was there, in a spot directly under a heavy concrete slab. He found a branch nearby and then lifted the concrete as much as he could and carefully fished out Violet’s favorite hat.

It was covered in mud and gunk from the ditch. But Violet knew it was HER hat and she smiled so wide. We took it home and washed it over and over and finally it was ready for her to wear again. It was a little stained but still very wearable. She loved that hat. I imagined that I would keep it in a box for her to see when she got older and that perhaps she would put it on her daughter’s sweet head one day.

But that will never happen. It was washed away once again but this time forever.

The tsunami took many things from us. And I know it is silly to mourn material possessions. I know that things are just things. But the memory of that little hat reminded me of all that was lost and that is when I began to feel that feeling…that feeling when you can’t catch your breath. When you feel that lump in your throat will take over and air won’t be able to pass through it. It was then that I felt the warm wet tears begin to fall down my cold cheeks.

I was walking from work to the nursery school. I knew that people were driving past me and thinking what could be wrong with that woman. But I couldn’t stop it. It had already begun.

We have all tried so hard to just move forward since the devastating events of March 11th. I think that in a way I have tried to push it away as much as possible. But some days it is just too much. The images of my friends faces who were taken away flashed through my mind and I saw their smiles and felt their warm embrace. I thought of friends who survived but seem lost in their survival. Those of us that survived may feel guilty for surviving and maybe we feel guilty for missing our old lives.

I miss our life before. I miss our walks, our neighborhood, our flowers and trees. I miss our warm bed and the memories that we made there. The pictures and videos that we were so careful to take that were lost forever.

I miss the faces of the mothers and children that we played with on a weekly basis. And the volunteers that worked at the center. Three times a week we went to the play group on the mountain. In fact on that day we were there in the morning. We played and laughed and communicated with out words. These women and children were part of our life and although we didn’t talk much because my Japanese is so poor, we shared our motherhood. We were all learning together. It was a happy time, a time I will remember for the rest of my life.

Two weeks ago I asked Violet if she remembered her old house. She said yes. So I said “what color was your bed Violet?” She smiled and said “Red. That’s where mommy and Violet had milkies.” Gabe and I looked at each other with amazement. She really does remember. Violet always slept with Gabe and I in our bed and we had red sheets.

Yesterday, for some reason, I finally began to grieve the loss of that life. It seems like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then. Gabe and I always say to each other, “He took away everything we had and left us with everything we needed.”

After walking and crying for 40 minutes from my office I finally arrived at Violet’s nursery school. I wiped my face and did my best to put on my smiley face for our daughter, although the sadness still seemed to be taking over my heart.

When I got to Violet’s room I saw her running to the door. She was crying for me. She said, “I was looking for you but I couldn’t find you mama.” I wanted to break down right there. But I didn’t. I swept her up in my arms and wrapped her up in my love. She stopped crying very quickly and gave me that sweet smile of hers. The one that shines through her eyes.

Her teacher came to the door and said “Today Violet did something that she has never done before.” I started thinking “oh no I really hope she didn’t hit someone” (something she has not done before). Her teacher continued, “She hugged 4 of her friends today at different times during the day.” I remembered the devotion we read the night before in Violet’s book, The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers. It said,

“Do your friends ever get mad? Maybe you could give a hug to an angry friend. Or you might say something kind to that person. Hugs and gentle, quiet words can help an angry person to calm down. Sometimes people who are mad just need to know that someone loves them.” “A gentle answer will calm a persons anger.” Proverbs 15:1 “Dear God, if someone is mad today, please help me to know what words to say. “

After we read that devotional I talked with Violet about her friends at school. Recently she has been getting hit and bitten. It breaks my heart to see this happening. I told her after the devotional that if her friends seemed angry or if they seemed sad maybe she could give them a hug. I told her that sometimes when people are sad they get angry too. She looked up at me and said “A gentle answers calms anger.” “Yes” I said. I was surprised that she remembered the verse. So we practiced the verse a few times and then we hugged, of course.

I told Violet’s teacher that we had talked about hugging our friends the night before and we were both amazed and happy that she had put that thought into her mind and remembered to put it into action. As is our ritual, on our way home I asked Violet what her favorite part of the day was. She usually answers ‘finding mommy”. Yesterday, however, she answered, “Hugging my friends!”

It was at that moment that my sadness and grief melted away. Our daughter teaches us everyday. I was reminded of how powerful a hug really can be. So many of us are hurting, many of us are angry or lonely. Imagine what a great change you can create in someones day just by showing them love, by giving them a hug. Thank you Violet for hugging me and Daddy and your friends. You show us what love is everyday.