Sunday, April 17, 2011

How Simon had a Happy Birthday

We celebrated Simon's Birthday for about four days. In my opinion, he is completely entitled to a week-long festival, but four days was more manageable since it hasn't yet been declared a federal holiday.

Simon's Aunts, Unlces, and both sets of Grandparents joined us for "SimonFest" and he was more than adequately spoiled with presents and attention. To mark the occasion, he added a new phrase to his vocabulary; "CHECK IT OUT!!!" exclaimed whenever he was given something new and cool as a gift (or when he discovered something he liked on his own, which was then promptly purchased for him -- refer to the presence of two sets of grandparents).

Simon was treated to restaurants multiple times (one of his all-time favorite things to do -- though sadly, he did not manage to get a blond waitress, those are his favorite. Especially if they have sparkly earrings and swinging ponytails. He is such a flirt, especially when there is a pretty girl bringing him food!).

We visited some of Simon's favorite places. It rained a lot, but with every break in the clouds he was outdoors, either in our own backyard playground or at our neighborhood play space. We visited the Science Center, his favorite area attraction, and I followed him around the while he spent as much time as he wanted with the "alternate instruments;" a laser harp and percussive ball maze; the water play area, and the kids' boat and submarine stations. Simon was a blur of activity and frequently used both his arms and hands to assist with tasks -- almost without thinking. It was great to see (I even emailed a photo to his therapist to brag!).

I had been a little sad that I didn't know what toys he'd specifically want for his birthday -- so I had (what I think) was a pretty brilliant idea. I simply took him to the toy store and let him show me what he liked. It ruined the element of surprise, but that didn't matter -- he loved it. We heard exclamations of CHECK IT OUT!!!! many, many times. He tried out every single toy with buttons and/or wheels. He even test drove a mini Mini Cooper (I was tempted to get this for him, but we really don't have the space). In the end, we came home with a new train set that I added to his current train table (the reconfiguration took two adults about four hours to figure out); and a pretty groovy pirate ship water play table that I put out on our deck. Simon loves them both.

Finally, we had a little family party. I gratuitously over-decorated the dining room in a pirate theme (with eye patches instead of party hats), completed by the Grandparents' absolutely enormous bunch of balloons (including an giant pirate head). We had pizza, cake, ice cream and presents.

For me, the finale was watching Simon, for the very first time, blow out his own candles. He blew them out one at a time, to wild applause. With each of the five candles, I made a wish. For health...For continued progress: physical... cognitive... For happiness. And (most of all), for Simon to always be as loved as he is right now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Birthday Blues

I have a confession to make -- a deep, dark, mommy-secret. Every year, a few weeks before Simon's birthday, I go through a bout of mild depression. It is a slow moving, creeping kind of sadness. For years, I'd feel badly for days, without even identifying the cause. Last year was the worst, and it was the first time I made the connection. This year, I knew it when I felt it come on, and I tried to be ready for it.

It all starts innocently enough, with cheerful thoughts about what to do to mark the birthday.

Party? Guests? Theme? Gifts? 

As I try to decide what Simon would like, I inevitably find myself wishing I could ask him. I try to tell him about his birthday. I describe party ideas. I provide options for cake and ice cream flavors. I ask him what he would like to get as a gift.

I don't get any answers.

Then, like inebriated, unwanted party crashers, the "bad" thoughts tumble gracelessly into my consciousness. As Simon turns another year older, though I try never to compare him to "typical" children (if I can help it), I find my thoughts permeated by such comparisons.

"Most five-year-old-to-be's would've had this information hashed out in detail as soon as their last birthday was over... They'd want a big party (the kind Simon can't handle...we tried once..should we try again? What a disaster...); They'd list their favorite playmates to invite.. (Simon has none). They'd choose their own cake (at least I know what Simon likes to eat), They'd have a long list of presents they were dreaming about (Simon can't think that abstractly)."

These are black thoughts. They fill me with sadness, and make me feel sorry for myself, and my son. I mourn what I have lost. I remember the day he was born, and the fear and anxiety take hold of me again.

I become angry with myself. "What kind of a mother are you?," I ask. Focus on the positive! Be grateful for what we have, and how far we have come.

Then I am both sad, and angry. I try to bottle it up and push it away. I try to ignore my depression; and so it oozes out from my pores in the forms of lethargy, irritability, and volatile mood swings for the rest of the long and rainy month.

But this year, I found I was ready for it. Though I felt the fear and sadness and anger all over again, it didn't last as long. I tried to recognize that grieving is natural and okay. I tried to acknowledge that it doesn't make me a bad mother to wish for a better life for my son.

I let myself feel it. I let myself cry. I went to bed early. I ate a little extra chocolate. I told myself that I am okay, and so is Simon.

And I felt better. I was able to focus once again on all the good stuff, and there is so much good stuff. Simon's Birthday is in a couple of days, and I am ready to celebrate all the new accomplishments; the physical and the cognitive: our new language gains (whoohooo!), the increased use of the left side (yipeeee!), I am even grateful for our new understanding of Simon's challenges. Most of all, I'm profoundly grateful that we are simply able to celebrate Simon turning another year older after our terrifyingly close call this past November.

This year, when I remember the day Simon was born, I will remember what the labor and delivery nurse said to me as she wheeled my gurney out of the operating room. She was five months pregnant herself, but she'd stayed with me past the end of her shift -- through the induction, my long labor, and the emergency cesarean. She had cried with me, when we heard Simon cry for the first time; because the NICU doctor had said he wouldn't be able to.
After everything was over, and she showed me how to deliver my own pain meds (ah, Morphine button!), she told me she had decided what to name her baby girl. I remember giving her the best smile I could, and told her that I thought she was brave to have a baby after all she witnessed as a labor and delivery nurse. She laughed (a little wryly), and said she had decided to name her baby Laura, because I was the bravest mom she'd ever met.

Every single day, and especially on Simon's birthday, I try to live up to that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Questioning Angels

I think I heard the angles sing today... Actually, what I heard was better. Simon asked me a question!

I put on my jacket to go to the store, and (like it was no big deal at all), Simon looked at me, tilted his head slightly to the side, and asked; "Where are you going?"

Practically struck dumb with surprise, it took me a minute to answer (while blinking rapidly and thinking I should pinch myself, my dreams have been pretty vivid lately).

I replied, slowly (as though I were the one speaking in a foreign language); "To the store. Do you want to come?"

Simon gave me an apraising look before answering with a simple, "No."

I desperately wanted to keep it going, so I turned to his favorite subject -- food. "Do you want me to bring you some lunch?"

A smile. "Okay. Pizza!"

I imagine this is a conversation Mom's have with their preschoolers every single day. And, if you didn't know us, this exchange would likely seem mundane (at best). Question...answer... basic communication... a couple sentences. Hardly worth trumpeting.

But -- !!!!

Questions! Answers! Reciprocal communication! Complete Sentences!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why did I never learn to play the trumpet? Surely a long, loud, triumphant peel of resonant brass sound would relieve this pressure -- I'm so full of hope, I could burst.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


This morning, as I drove Olivia to Sunday school, she remarked that it had been a long time since we'd had our last "Mommy Day." I agreed with her. It has been over a month, longer than we usually go without spending dedicated special time together. She and I tried to plan when our next one would be; and, to our mutual disappointment, we discovered that it would be at least 4 weeks away.

"Oh," said Olivia in a quiet voice, "that's not good."

"No, it isn't" I agreed.

When we pulled up to the church, I found that, due to the adjacent college's open house, there was no parking to be found. I double parked with my flashers on and walked her to the door of the rectory.. which was locked. Everyone was waiting for the person with the key to show up (not an unusual circumstance).

As we waited, I noted the blue of the sky. It was so clear today, it seemed to hold endless possibilities. And yet, there I was locked out of the classroom but still locked into the usual routine, despite the downcast eyes and palpable sadness of my too big little girl.

Suddenly, I saw the signs and refused to lose another minute.

"C'mon, Livy -- let's go!"

And so we did. I grabbed her hand and together we ran back to the car, revved the engine, and streaked out into the world together.

Moments later, seated at Olivia's favorite place to have breakfast in the entire world, she was positively glowing over her hot cocoa and chocolate chip pancakes. I'm sure I was too, as I basked in the warmth of her big brown eyes, and talked with her about her favorite books, her new art class, the silly things her friends have said, and her desire to redecorate her bedroom ("I'm a big girl now, Mommy.")

I've always lived by "the rules." My "wild" youth was embarrassingly tame, and as I'm growing older and looking back, though I am proud of all I have accomplished; I sometimes regret the chances I didn't take.. simply because I wasn't "supposed to."

Olivia and I both knew what we were "supposed to" do today. But we also knew that there was something else that needed attention. I want to teach my daughter responsibility and commitment, so that one day she too can look back at her accomplishments with pride, knowing she has done "right." But I also want her to know that, despite all the supposed-to-have-dones, there is nothing more important than living in love and in the present, and to miss that would leave the deepest regret.

I don't want Olivia to only remember that her mother always did what she was supposed to do -- I want her to know that her mother loved her wildly. That responsibilities and commitments may justly run our lives, but it is love that rules them.

I promise I will take her to Sunday school as scheduled next week. But, I don't regret our truancy a bit. And, somehow, I think God understands, as only a fellow loving parent can.