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Friday, August 12, 2016

What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2016

We just got back from vacation.  It was a good one this year.  Less sad.  Last year...mere months after Leslie passed, I found myself more or less miserable, "trying to keep things the same" for the kids in a condo that was wayyyyyy too much the same as the one we'd spent our vacation in the previous summer with Leslie still alive (since it was exactly the same room and condo).  The price was right, and so we did it.  And I'm glad we did it.  But it sucked.  That probably doesn't make a lot of sense.  

We were pushing past firsts...or I was...wanting to get PAST the first vacation without Leslie, BEYOND our first Mother's Day and Anniversary and Christmas...get it to a place where people stopped asking how we were doing with our firsts.  Get to a place where I could compartmentalize better because the people who loved me weren't constantly reminding me to think about what we'd lost.

That's not to say I don't think about it.  But it's more manageable.

We went to Hatteras this year.  I think it's officially Waves, but the names of the communities down there blur together like the days do when you're there.  Rodanthe?  No...we were further south.  Chicomacomico?  no.  Waves?  is that even a place?  Hatteras Island?  Whatever.  It's about 30 minutes south of Nags Head...which is MY favorite vacation spot for the family.  And it was very similar to that experience.

I won't get bogged down in the minutia of our day to day, but one thing I did notice...have been Lily's issue with her swimsuit.  She hates it.  And I don't mean the suit itself.  The concept of Plato's Justice or Good or Right...the purest essence of the word/virtue.  Capital letter Swimsuit.  Any suit that fits that mold.  SHRIEKED no.  Bit.  Pawed.  Scratched.  Screamed.  And then it would be on...and she'd start to calm down, and have a good time.

My sister bought her a couple surf shirts in a flash of inspired brilliance, and she willingly put one on, not realizing that it too was a Swimsuit.  But as soon as the swim bottom came out...all bets were off.

Maybe it's that it's such an extreme transition.  I tried to be as quiet and calm...gentle and reassuring...slow and I could be.  Made no difference.  I tried timers (usually a great tool for Lily).  No good.

If I thought that the swimsuit hurt her, I wouldn't even have bothered.  But she could barely feel it.  The bottoms slide somewhat loosely over a swimmie that she wore without complaint.  I had bought two new suits before vacation just to make sure it wouldn't be too tight (wondering if, from previous experiences, that was the problem).  And I guess it wouldn't have been the end of the world to just let her swim in a swim diaper and a surf shirt.  She'd have been fine.  That's on me ultimately.  It was our pool.  It's not like I was worried about drawing stares.  I just felt she should have a suit on...

Anyway, I guess I feel like in her mind it's just a big giant scary transition.  When THIS goes on...I get wet.  I go in the pool.  I swim.  I feel a shock of cold before my body adjusts.  I don't know.  Still looking for easier/more agreeable ways to get her into her suit because...

She loved swimming in the pool, or standing in the ocean waves, letting the surf boil around her toes, feeling the swirling sand and the soft tickle of churning foam before the wave retreated.  And she was swimming.  It was great.  With a pool noodle under her arms, she bicycled around the pool wherever she liked.  It would take a half hour or so to get her in past her ankles...then her knees...then her hips...then up to her neck...but once she was in, she never got out.

Maybe it's just scary enough, just cold enough, just weightless enough, just wet enough...that she doesn't want to do it...until she's doing it.  Time will tell I suppose.  I'll keep trying.

Emma spent more time with her cousin than me, but that was okay, she liked having the independence.  They went to the beach or the local stores, or the ocean, and she hunted for pokemon or boogie boarded, or just played in the pool.

And we did get time together, playing in the pool, shopping for friends' presents, or walking the beach with her Aunt and me.

I wouldn't exactly call it a "relaxing" vacation, but it was a fun vacation.

Monday, July 25, 2016


I went grocery shopping with Lily on Saturday.  Lily likes grocery shopping.  She gets to pick out her racecar(t) in red or blue and she sits somewhat snuggly, her legs looking long and too sharply angled as she sits diagonally across the front seat, but contentedly as we 'vroom' around the grocery store, as I try to get her to find colors in the items on the shelves.

She started to wind down a bit toward the end.  As I was looking for facewash or hand cream or something for Emma, she reached over and knocked a packet of foaming bath soap into the cart.  I finagled the cart further away from the shelves and pulled the soap packet from the cart to place it back on the shelf.

It had a duck on the front.  I don't remember what exactly it was called, but it was lavender foaming bath soap.  I have made Lily's bubble baths with Johnson's Baby Bedtime Bath since she was born.  I love how she smells when she's done. doesn't foam up as much as I like.  So after placing it back on the shelf briefly, I snatched it back with an internal "what the hell" and tossed it into the cart.

I googled it.  Here's what I used.
Sunday when I was starting her bath, I remembered the packet was still on the kitchen island, and ran downstairs to grab it.  I ripped the corner and dumped some into the bath under the tap.  It bubbled..."foamed" might be an overstatement, but it was fine.

And then the smell hit me.  Lavender?  Was THIS what lavender was?   I knew that smell.  Didn't like that smell.  I was on the with it?  Dump it?  I went downstairs to check on Lily, then came back up to turn the water off before the bath got too full.  It seemed like the smell was stronger.  It was giving me stress.  I could actually feel my pulse increasing.  I laughed at the absurdity of it even as I reached into the tub and pulled the plug.  A friend texted me and asked me what I was up to.  I said I was draining a tub full of lavender scented water that was giving me PTSD.  She said, "but it's calming!  Lavender is calming!"  Irony.

I'm sure she was right though.  I'm sure lavender IS supposed to be calming.  It was the smell I always smelled when Leslie's sister Lauren would visit to sit with Leslie and reassure her, giving her foot massages with calming, lavender scented oils.  Lauren's visits were always just what Leslie needed.  They connected together in ways that Leslie and I couldn't or didn't.  More spiritually, I think, since I was always so skeptical of that sort of thing.  Lauren and I were sort of complimentary nurses when Leslie was bedridden at home.  Each of us lent her something that she needed, with perhaps a bit of juxtaposition, but neither of us could seem to duplicate precisdely what the other provided. 

Before I finally caved on hospice, she would take her turn sitting with Leslie so that I could sleep.  I never did, but that was the goal.  She would stroke Leslie's hair or rub her feet or hold her hand.  And always it was with that lavender oil that Leslie loved and I tolerated for her sake.  In the end everything Leslie wore smelled of lavender.

And now when I smell it all I can think of is her last month or so in our bedroom laboring for breath.  And I don't like it.

When the tub was empty I sprayed Tilex all around the rim and scrubbed it down, the strong chemical smell of the bleach overpowering the lavender.  I ran the shower and sprayed down the sides of the tub, then filled it again, this time with Johnson's Baby Bedtime Bath.  I turned on the fan and went back downstairs to check on Lily.

Maybe there really IS something to this "essential oils" biz.  Definitely affected my mood...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Three Short Tales

Emma and I watch Adventure Time.  I love that show.  There's so much that kids miss that adults can enjoy about it.  It can be a sweeping mythic epic, or just a couple friends having adventures, and it adapts to the viewer.

The reason I bring it up is because there is one type of episode that they do called "Graybles" that Emma (and myself to an extent) don't love.  They're little short episodes that are all linked together with a common theme.  One episode had four built-in stories where the theme was "tables", for example.

But I have about three blog posts to write, and none of them is particularly long, and it made me think of Graybles.  So I hope you don't hate Graybles.  I'll see if I can come up with a theme for you to guess at the end.  And no, it can't be the same theme that you always see..."Jim is a dumbass".  It'll be special for the stories.

1.  Teenagers.

A couple days ago I wrote a little about how Emma has become a full blown teenager over the past six months or so and the DAY after I wrote it she did something that was soooooo much better an example then what I had previously written.

We were sitting at the table eating.  Lily was watching TV.  Emma finished and was going upstairs to shower.  She kicked something as she passed and looked down at it.

"What was that?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she said, and bent to pick it up.  It was a folded receipt or something that must have fluttered off the table.  She held it up for my inspection.

I nodded and muttered, "Oh."

And she... put it back on the floor.

I stared at her.  I know I just complained about this a few days ago, but this was a whole new level.  "EM!"

She looked back at me.


She got this sheepish look on her face and we both laughed about it, but it is quite literally just her not feeling like throwing away/cleaning up/putting away/whatever unless she has received specific instructions from me.  Everything else is just a "dad job"

She threw it away, and went happily to her room to ignore some other chores, I'm sure.

2. Ironic Grief

I was in bed with Lily, about to read her the story of "The Napping House".  Lately she's been requesting it.  I'm not sure why exactly, but she gets into it.  I provide her some pregnant pauses at the end where I've inserted sound effects in the past and she dutifully fills in the blanks.

I hollered at Emma that Lily was going to bed and Emma joined us, crawling into bed with her and with me and we sat there getting ready for the story.  Dobby padded in and Emma hopped off the bed to gather him up into her arms.  She cradled him and carried him back to the bed with her, holding him as I was about to begin.

"Now the whole family is together!" she said happily.

At that moment...almost all at once, I thought several things.  I can't tell you which was first or second, they were all jumbled.  Perhaps the most memorable was that sinking feeling of dread or loss like vertigo.  This is our whole family now.  Leslie's not part of it.  And yes...of course she'll always be a part of it.  But that comment, made so casually, was a statement of fact.  And that hurts.

The other thoughts were more complicated.  Less visceral.  Yes...our whole family is together!  And it was a happy thought.  Here we are all together on the bed reading a story just like we always have.  Business as usual.  Life is going on, and it's not passing us by, we're living it.  We're forging a happy adapted new family unit out of the loss of their mother and my wife.  And it's not a gloomy one-day-at-a-time just keep swimming sort of life.  We're happy together.

And then finally the worry...or perhaps it's the hope, though I suppose they are two sides of the same coin...that Emma truly IS moving to a place of acceptance and happiness with our family a year and three months after her mother's passing.  I owe her another chat.  Sometimes when she's feeling conversational.  I can make that happen.  I need to make that happen.  Just to make sure she's doing well.

In one of the many ironies of grief, I want for her to be able to move forward and be happy while simultaneously wanting her never to forget the loss and how much it meant...and means.

But I think we're doing alright.  I think we're going to be okay.  :)

3.  Adventure Time

Lily and I continued adventuring this weekend.  This week we went to a place called Trillium Trail.  It's actually the place I tried to take her last week, but I didn't drive far enough, panicked, and ended up at Salamander Park.

So this week we actually HAD an adventure.  We started from the base.  There was a map. 
I saw "falls" marked on it and thought that sounded awesome.  So we started tramping along the trail and without moving more than perhaps a tenth of a mile, we ended up at a fallen log in the midst of some branches.  Lily climbed up it and over it, and we made it another 50 feet or so along a stream before deadfall blocked our path and we were forced to turn around.

It was a bummer, but really no big deal.  Lots more trail to explore.  We headed back and Lily stepped up over the log, but her foot slipped and she fell forward.  I had her hand, so she didn't fall, but her foot slid between the log and a bit of bark that sheared away from it.  At first I didn't notice, but her leg was between the two.  She was more or less caught. 

When I did notice a moment later, I reached down and pulled the bark away from her leg so that she could pull her foot free.

Thousands of tiny ants were boiling across the inside of the bark and were on her leg and I hurriedly pulled her leg out and started sweeping the ants from her as we crossed the log.

I thought I got all of them.  I still think so.  But as we started walking back to the trail head Lily would bend to scratch her leg.  I had walked through a nettle or something previously, and it itched, and I wondered if it was just that...or had the ants bitten her.

We retraced our footsteps to the trailhead and started up a new path.  It cut deeper into the hill and we climbed up rock steps from the other side of the creek, watching as it began to drop away below us, climbing next to a growing ravine.  We stopped when we reached the fence that said, "Private Property".  It was crowned with razor wire, which I thought was a bit extreme until I later learned that it was owned by the Heinz family.  Specifically Theresa Heinz Kerry.  Behind the fence I spotted a calm green lake and long slatted board walk dock.  Presumably this was the source of the falls, though we never saw them.

Back down the trail we went, stopping for benches and rocks to sit.  Lily loves the benches.  We took a couple pictures.
  Lily slipped and I caught her, but after she'd already braced herself with her hand.  Now she was scratching her arm and her leg.  (mostly her arm at this point)

I wanted to get to the stream and just wash her leg off, but I wasn't finding the right trail.  We made it back to the trail head and took one last branch.  This went through a clever little...deer gate?  animal gate?  It was open, but it had a little switch back built into it.  Lily started tell him that her arm hurt.

The new branch eventually split and looped around, sloping down to a broader creek, and Lily splashed into it up to her shins before backing out again and standing on dry land.  I bent to the water and splashed some up her leg, rubbing her off.  Then I wet her arm and washed that off too.  I noticed she had welts on her arm where she'd been scratching.  Poison ivy?  I washed my own leg off too.  We sat and took pictures and watched the water skimmers (or boatmen if you like) skating across the shallow pools of the creek before Lily began asking for McDonald's.

As we started back, I noticed my leg no longer itched.  Lily had stopped scratching her leg too, and the welts had faded from her arms.

"My arm feels better, daddy," she told me.  And the worry and tension I'd been holding in my chest drained away and we held hands and walked under the shade of the trees until we got back to the car.

Just before reaching the trail head I spotted a patch of sunlight blazing through the canopy of the leaves and I told Lily to stand in front of it.  I took her picture with that green glow behind her, her shadow spooling out in front of her, and then we got in the car and she got her nuggets.

Every good adventure should have a happy ending.


Guess the theme?