Mom

A few weeks ago, Shawn and Grady went on a road trip, off the grid, totally unreachable and hours from home. A few hours after they left, Poppy woke up from her nap, miserable, and proceeded to vomit for 22 hours. It was about two-o-clock in the morning when I realized that every towel, sheet, and pair of pyjamas we owned was either in the washing machine or piled in a stinky, wet heap in front of the washing machine. I dug through my closet and found the box of old receiving blankets my heart isn’t ready to donate yet, wrapped her up like a newborn, and sat on my stripped bed and held her until the sun came up. 

It was terrible. It was heartbreaking to see her so sick. It was frustrating to have her push the bucket away only to vomit directly into my hands seconds later. I was so tired and so scared and so by myself, the only grownup, the holder of the bucket and the wiper of the fevered brow.  

In the wee hours of the morning, holding Poppy as she shivered with the chills even as heat radiated from her tiny body, I was reminded of having the stomach flu when I was a kid.  

My dad lived in Germany for a bit, when I was about ten. My siblings would have been 13, 6, and 4 or thereabouts. That winter we all came down with a nasty stomach bug and my mom piled us into the big bed so she could hold buckets and dispense Tylenol and comfort more efficiently. In between vomit sessions, my mom tried to catch some sleep on the floor beside us in a sleeping bag. 

In the middle of the night, as my mom crawled into the sleeping bag to try to catch a quick nap, she pulled on the zipper and the wire zipperpull went straight into her finger and got stuck. She couldn’t get the zipperpull out of her finger. She couldn’t get the zipperpull off the sleeping bag. She had four sick kids to take care of and a sleeping bag attached to her hand.

Anyone who has met my mom thinks she is: kind, pleasant, sweet, caring, maternal, etc. But what isn’t glaringly obvious to the casual observer is that my mom is a hardcore badass (which makes it even more badass, right? She’s stealth badass!) My mom is sensitive and empathetic and motherly but she has nerves of steel. She called our next door neighbours and one came over to look after us while the other stayed with their two young kids, and then she drove herself to the hospital with a sleeping bag attached to her hand. Hardcore. Badass. 

She walked into the emergency room holding the sleeping bag still attached to her hand and apparently caused quite a stir because people thought she was either holding a sick child or a bomb. The doctors and nurses took care of her, removed the zipperpull from her finger, and she was home before any of us were even aware something had gone awry. 

My wild night of one sick child and zero puncture wounds pales in comparison to my mom’s but it made me appreciate just how badass she was and continues to be. Happy birthday, Mom. I love you bunches.  

 

Seven

Dear Grady, 

Today you are seven. 

I’m not quite sure how that happened. One minute I was rocking you to sleep in your nursery and the next minute I was listening to you read Charlotte’s Web to Poppy.  

You love to draw. You spend hours drawing every day. You fill page after page with superheroes and knights and Ninja Turtles. One day I was admiring your artwork and I remarked that maybe you would be an artist when you grew up. “I’m already an artist,” you corrected me.  

You have a sweet, gentle heart. You care deeply about fairness and being kind. I’m always cringing as you pick up other people’s garbage in the park (“it’s my job to keep the earth tidy!”) and wishing you cared as deeply about the state of your bedroom floor as you do the playground.  

Your favourite band is still the Foo Fighters but you’ve branched out to other music too. When “No Roots” by Alice Merton comes on the radio when we’re driving you tell me to turn it up, “it’s our jam!” You’re king of the car dance, and somehow we always end up in a pile of giggles. Your enthusiasm and your belly laugh are infectious. Nothing makes me happier than hearing your laugh, Grady. Nothing in this world.  

You’re an amazing big brother to Poppy. You look out for her and worry about her and take pride in teaching her new things. I know as long as you two have each other, you’re going to be okay.  

Happy birthday, Grady. I love you bunches.  

 

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Two

Dear Poppy,

Today you are two. And oh, you are so two. The twoiest two who ever twoed. 

When your older brother was two, I would smugly tell people how much I loved age two. I didn't know what people were talking about when they referred to the Terrible Twos. Two was my favourite. 

The universe responded appropriately by sending me you.

You with your full-body tantrums, your high-pitched screaming, your floppy rag doll maneuver, your belly laugh, your feelings (which may well be the biggest feelings I've ever witnessed) and your deep, unwavering love. You are intense, baby girl. And I love it.

We were out walking last week and we ran into a neighbour we haven't seen in a while. He commented on how big you've grown and then he said, "she has one volume setting, hey?" This is not our next door neighbour, Pops. He lives a few houses down. But it's true. You have one volume setting: loud. You say things and you feel things on the highest level.

You love your big brother more than anything. When he's upset, you drop whatever you're doing to hug him and say, "hey bud, hey bud, you okay?" When he goes to school, you spend the day asking me when we can go pick him up, "jacket? Shoes? Let's GO GET GRADY!" Your biggest delight in life is when Grady lets you play with his Lego, even though your main goal is breaking all the things.

You love to eat food and try new things. It's impossible for anyone to eat unless you're also eating because you glom onto whoever has food and do a little eyebrow wiggle and say, "try it? try it? try it?" until they give you some. Your favourite foods are cheesy pasta, pizza, yogurt (goat!), apple sauce (appie shosh!), blueberries, and blackberries. Last weekend you were having a tough day and you kept asking for blackberries so we just kept handing them to you until you'd managed to inhale $6 worth of blackberries in one day. The diapers that followed were...not my favourite. You're still allergic to peanuts and eggs but your allergist is hopeful that you'll grow out of the egg allergy and he gives you about a 20% chance of growing out of the peanut allergy. You've managed to go a full year (*knocks on wood furiously*) without a serious allergic reaction. 

You are an amazing singer and dancer. You sing all day long and as soon as you hear music, your hips start to wiggle and soon the music is moving through your entire body. Your favourite songs to sing are The Wheels on the Bus and The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Your favourite music to dance to is Death from Above and anything by the Swedish metal band Avatar. I couldn't make that up, Poppy. I really couldn't. When your uncle played Hail to the Apocalypse for us, you danced so intensely and enthusiastically that he recorded you and showed the band. You're part of the Swedish metal scene, baby. Your father and I are so proud. 

After you were born, you and I had about an hour together before the nurse told your dad, in that calm but firm nurse voice that everyone knows to obey without question, to please pick you up off my chest. The next thing I remember, our quiet birthing room went from four people to what felt like 20 people. One person was putting another IV in my hand, someone else was holding a clipboard with consent forms in front of my other hand, there was a lot of shouting and a lot of blood. They wheeled me out of the room, away from you, and as I stared up at the flourescent lights, I felt terror like I've never felt before. Every cell in my body felt like ice. I was passing in and out of consciousness but every instinct in my body was telling me to get up off the stretcher and get back to you. It was the closest I've ever felt to being an animal. 

I woke up after surgery in the recovery room, howling for my baby. The nurses were so kind. One stood by my bed and held my hand until I was cleared to go back to my room. They wheeled me to the maternity ward and into our room and I was terrified at what I would find. Would you be hysterical, crying inconsolably because you'd been separated from your mom so soon after you were born? Would you be hysterical once I held you because you didn't know me? (Listen, typing this now I realize it doesn't sound reasonable but you have to remember, I had not slept in days and I was still woozy from the anesthetic.) They wheeled me into our room and you were curled up, sleeping peacefully on your dad's chest. You slept on his chest for three hours while I was in surgery, without a peep. As soon as I saw you I started to shake and cry. Your dad put you in my arms and a wave of relief washed over me. You were in my heart for so long, before I was even pregnant, and now you were in my arms and I knew everything would be okay.

That feeling has persisted. Through sleepless nights and temper tantrums and hospital visits. You are in my heart, and in my arms, and we're going to be okay. 

Happy second birthday, Penelope Bloom, Poppy Doodle Bug, Pops, The Biscuit, our little Honey Badger. We lub you a lot.  

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35

Today I turned 35 years old. I ate cake three times and got stuck in traffic and felt little heart hugs as I heard from friends all over the world and got bogged down by my work inbox and cuddled my babies as they sang me Happy Birthday and blindly reached into a plastic bag in Poppy's backpack and pulled out poop-stained pants. It was the perfect representation of the utter joy and teeth-gritting frustration that I feel lately. My life is beautiful and messy and noisy and chaotic and the best damn thing I could hope for. 

Today someone asked how old I turned and when I replied, they remarked the reason I'm so gleeful about birthdays is because I'm "on the right side of forty." And maybe that's true. Maybe 39-year-old Hillary will look back at 35-year-old Hillary and roll her eyes (I mean, it's inevitable). But I also feel like being diagnosed with cancer at 30 gave me perspective. Today I turned 35 years old. Not too shabby, if you ask me. 

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