Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 2014 Newsletter: Five years old

Dear Morgan,

Well, kiddo, you turned five years old this month. Which means that I haven't written for an entire year! Remember when I used to write every month? Where in the world did I find the time to do that? Without a doubt this past year has been the most chaotic and life-altering for you so far. Years from now when you're reading these letters, you'll have a much better understanding of the things that have taken place over the past several months, and it is my fervent hope that your memories of this time will be of the good things rather than the difficult ones. Because Morgan, despite all the challenges and changes we've been through lately, we've had an incredible amount of fun.

Just the other day I was curled up on the couch while you sat on the living room floor, drawing (which is one of your very favorite things to do). As I watched your little hands working and admired the look of concentration on your face, I also began noticing other things. Your long, thin arms and legs. The way you brushed your hair behind your ear in a way that just seemed so adult-like. I listened to the big words that spilled out of your mouth as you recalled a conversation you'd had with your cousins earlier that day. I thought about how, not so long ago, your vocabulary consisted largely of babbling and high-pitched squeals, and I remembered how you used to fit so perfectly into the crook of my arm. And in that moment you suddenly seemed so old, so impossibly grown up.

Occasionally when I have these moments of realization, I panic a little. I feel like maybe I didn't pay close enough attention, didn't really take the time to savor all the moments we've shared. And that scares me a little. But all I have to do is reach back into my memory -- the hours, days, weeks, months and years I've spent being your mother -- and there you are. I remember the moment you were carefully placed into my arms and our eyes met for the very first time. I remember watching Greys Anatomy marathons when you were just a year old, and the way you'd start clapping and dancing the moment you recognized the theme song. I can almost still hear the way you called yourself "Mo-nee" before you could pronounce your name properly. I remember watching your blonde pigtails bounce wildly as you ran down a hospital hallway once when you were about three, and when you reached a chair at the end of the hallway, you threw your body into it so violently that you puked all over the seat... and then laughed hysterically. My mind is filled with thousands of memories of you, beginning on the day you were born - a day that altered my life so drastically that I sometimes feel like I'm still trying to catch my breath.

Morgan, you are such a unique child. You frequently use large words in the right context. You love to color, draw, sing, dance and do anything outdoors. You are very smart and have an ability to think logically and creatively that surprises a lot of people. You have a vivid and lively imagination and you entertain me with wild stories on a daily basis. You are stubborn and strong-willed, yet also amazingly sweet and kind. You feel your emotions in the rawest of states, and you are just as raw in your expression of them. You don't try to mask them or keep them hidden away, you just let them fly. Whether you are enthusiastically joyful or incredibly upset, you are definitely committed to and passionate about whatever you're feeling. This is something I love about you, but it also worries me a bit. I can assure you it is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply, and because you take after me in this way, I know you're going to experience a good deal of heartache in life. My advice to you is to stay soft, hold onto that passion, and don't let the world make you bitter. Because even though it hurts sometimes, life is full of more beauty and love than you can possibly imagine. Let yourself experience that.

You and I both started school last week. Kindergarten for you, college for me (I went for a semester before your dad and I were married and now, for many reasons, I've decided to go back). It's been a pretty big adjustment for us and you've spent a good portion of the last week feeling tired and cranky. Although, if I'm being totally honest, I have to admit that I've been a little tired and cranky too.  It's been exciting and scary and fun and exhausting all at the same time, but as we're becoming used to this new schedule, things are getting better. My favorite part of most days has become that quiet time in the evening when we're sitting in the living room together, each of us working on our own homework assignments.

Sometimes when I'm sitting in class, I find myself thinking of you and trying to imagine what you might be doing at that very moment. Are you sitting cross-legged on the floor while your teacher reads a book to the class? Are you outside on the playground? Are you sitting at your desk, working on your handwriting? It's an interesting thing, the way an entire portion of my brain is constantly dedicated to the thought of where you are and what you're doing at any given moment. And I don't think I'll ever stop feeling this way, won't ever be able to escape the nagging hope that you're somewhere safe, feeling happy and fulfilled. I suppose that's what being a parent is all about. You are a part of me, after all. A living, breathing piece of my heart that walks around outside my body. And as terrifying as that can be sometimes, as vulnerable and exposed as it makes me feel, I could never thank you enough for the dimension and purpose it has added to my life.

I love you so much, baby girl, and I can't wait to see what adventures your fifth year of life has in store for us.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Not just any piece of jewelry

Tonight I took my wedding ring off. Permanently.

I probably could have stopped wearing it when we separated. As far as I know, Adam hasn't been wearing his since I moved out. But I chose to continue wearing my ring because, well... I'm still technically married. Also, to me, taking off that ring is about more than just acknowledging and accepting the fact that my marriage is ending. It's about being able to say goodbye to what a wedding ring symbolizes -- the love, commitment and bond between two people. It's about being ready to go out into the world without having visual evidence that you're taken; ready to face any questions that may arise if someone happens to notice your bare finger. It's about making a change, parting ways with the comfortable and taking another step toward the future.

And (on a less emotional note) being the kind of girl who is never without her ring, except maybe during an occasional painting project with the kiddo or while quickly rubbing some lotion in, I knew that taking it off would leave me feeling a little naked.

But tonight something inside my head kept saying, "You should take this off. You're going to at some point anyway. This ring symbolizes something real... something that no longer exists."

And so, after showering and lotioning up, instead of slipping the little silver band back onto my finger like I've done for the past (almost) seven years, I took the ring into my bedroom and placed it gently in my jewelry box. I still love and respect all the things that a wedding ring is meant to symbolize, and for a long time my ring did represent all those things. It just... doesn't anymore. I'll always keep it as a token of what Adam and I shared, the love that he and I were unable to hold onto but will live forever in our daughter. And who knows, maybe one day Morgan will want the ring for herself. Part of me kind of hopes she will.

As I turned off the light and walked out of my bedroom, I paused for a moment to let the reality of what I'd just done sink in. And in that moment I realized how peaceful I feel about this decision. It's a big step for me. Huge, really. It feels more significant to me than moving out of the house was, or even sitting in my attorney's office and telling him I'd like to file for divorce. But I'm ready to take this step. Ready to face whatever comes next.

Even if my left hand is going to look a little bare from now on...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's just the worst...

"Look, Mom. I did Nora's hair!"
I think I briefly mentioned before that Morgan and I moved. (See what I did there? Just breezed right past the depth and gravity of a certain recent post. The situation has been acknowledged and now we can move on. Which seems to be a theme these days... moving on.) Anyway, we moved into a little apartment seven miles north of the tiny town I've been living in since my family came to Utah 20 years ago. 

Rant: Isn't moving the worst? All the boxes and packing and dust and deciding who gets what and what goes where and OH MY GOSH, HOW DID I AQUIRE THIS MUCH JUNK?!? Ugh.

So, seven miles away. You might not think that seven miles would make that much difference, but guys... this is just crazy. I mean, we've got a Walmart and a stoplight and everything! (Do you hear that sarcasm?) I joke, but it's actually a nice place to be. My brother and his family live just a few blocks away, and we're still close enough that Morgan and Adam can see each other whenever they'd like. Morgan thinks that living in a new town is pretty awesome, although she keeps asking why we didn't move to Salt Lake City or "somewhere fun" like that. Me? I'm just happy that when I run out of Starburst jelly beans, the grocery store is now close enough that I can justify going back out with the sole purpose of getting another bag. When I lived farther away I never would have made an extra 25 minute round trip for jelly beans. Except for that one time...

Don't judge. Sometimes a girl just needs jelly beans. 

We've been living here for a little over a month now and as much as I'd love to say that we're all settled in and loving it here, the truth is that we're still living in bit of a disaster area. (I need to correct myself; I said that moving is the worst but actually, unpacking is the worst!) There are unpacked boxes lining the wall of my bedroom, occasionally spilling into the kitchen and living room when I attempt to locate something that is still packed away. It's gotten to the point that I'm considering throwing blankets over the piles of crap and telling people that they're one of a kind pieces from a new line of furniture I created. "I know it feels like you're sitting on a stack of cardboard boxes, but it's actually this awesome new kind of couch. Trust me, they're all the rage."

One of the most difficult things to keep up on during this whole moving process has been laundry. I feel like I can't unpack everything until all the laundry is folded and put away, but then I have a hard time putting the laundry away because there are boxes and all kinds of other random things cluttering up my space. I no longer have a laundry room, or even my own washer and dryer. I'm now using coin operated machines in a community laundry room. For this reason (and because, let's face it, doing laundry sucks) I try to wait and do all our laundry on certain days of the week. I don't think people without children will understand this, but having a kid doesn't just double the amount of laundry in the house, it increases it exponentially. Children have this need (at least my child does) to change their clothes several times a day. And not only are they using three pairs of clothing throughout the day, but when they shed them into the hamper something magical happens and the dirty clothes actually breed and multiply until before you know it, there are 18 dirty shirts and several so-dirty-they're-hard-to-identify articles of clothing that have miraculously appeared within a 72 hour period of time. Laundry? It's the worst, for sure.

There have been times that the unpacking has been almost done, only a couple boxes left. But it seems like every time I go to the house for any reason, I end up bringing another entire load of stuff back to the apartment and the process starts all over again. More boxes, more de-junking to do, more things to organize and put away. But that stuff ends up getting pushed off by more pressing things like taking Morgan to school, going for walks and making trips to the park, appointments with doctors and attorneys and, ya know, super important things like catching up on The Bachelor.

Speaking of The Bachelor, can we all just agree that Juan Pablo is actually the worst? Worse than laundry even. The worst of the worst!

I'm proud to say that a good portion of the past couple days was spent cleaning and putting more things away, and I feel like I made a considerable dent in the mess. While going through one of the boxes before dinner last night, I came across Morgan's zebra pillow pet - a gift she got two Christmases ago when she consistently answered the same way each time she was asked what she wanted Santa to bring her. "Hulk hands and a zebra pillow pet."

"Morgan," I called out as I pulled it from the box. "Look what I found."

"My zebra pillow pet! Thanks, Mom! I've been looking for this for like, fifteen years!" She's not dramatic at all.

And as I was getting her tucked into bed last night I noticed that her zebra and two stuffed bears were also wearing pajamas. So maybe she isn't entirely to blame for the laundry problem. It's been those darn bears all along!

Something I've had a lot of time to do this past month is think. To reflect on the past and begin making plans for the future. Looking at our surroundings, realizing that this will be the scenery of the memories we create for the next several months of our life, it's all a little bittersweet. This apartment wouldn't have been my first choice but for many reasons, this is where we ended up. The neighbors are a little... well, that's a subject worthy of a post in and of itself. I have a tiny kitchen and an even smaller bathroom. We don't have a yard anymore - something that we're having an incredibly hard time adjusting to. But despite all the little annoyances and inconveniences (did I mention the roosters in the vacant field behind my apartment complex that start crowing at 6:45 each morning?) this place is starting to feel like home. It's ours, and more and more I'm becoming confident that the memories we make here are going to be pretty darn awesome.

And that feeling? It's certainly not the worst thing ever.

Meeting sweet Baby Charlie (my friend Holly's daughter) for the first
time when they came to see the apartment. We had quite a good chat, she and I. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Swimming To Shore (Vague, yes. But also? Honest. For the first time in a long time.)

Morgan is asleep. Her arms sprawled wildly above her head, an unruly mess of blonde hair surrounding her face. A face that is once again peaceful. After she awoke in tears, I told her it'd be okay for her to go ahead and sleep in my bed. "Will you snuggle me?" she asked. Twenty minutes later, she's sound asleep but I find myself still lying there next to her.

I need to get out of this bed, I tell myself. I have things I need to do tonight. But it's nice being this close to her. Feeling each and every relaxed breath she takes. Running my fingers across her ears and face, gently tracing her delicate features. Relishing the way her tiny body fits so perfectly against mine. There's a lot I need to get accomplished before I fall asleep for the night, but I'm not ready for this moment to end just yet. So I pull her a little closer to me. So close in fact that I can feel her little heartbeat against mine, and for just a moment it feels as if my body might actually absorb hers.

And I think back to earlier in the evening...

"Mommy, why don't we live with Daddy and Dixie anymore?"

I immediately froze, surprised. I expected questions like this eventually; I know she's been confused about things. But I wasn't entirely prepared to have this conversation tonight. I hadn't rehearsed an answer just yet. I stood there for a couple seconds, set down the whisk I was using to stir the gravy, took a deep breath and turned to face her with a forced smile.

"Sometimes mommies and daddies decide that they need to be away from each other," I explained. "You know how sometimes when you're playing with your cousins and you get really tired, you just want to be alone for a while?"

"Like when I told Kyle to give me some space?"

"Yes, honey, like that. Your dad and I need some space right now. But do you know what? Your Daddy and I both love you soooo much. And nothing can ever, ever, ever change that!"

She sat quietly for a moment then simply said "okay," and went back to coloring.

I waited until I returned to the stove, my back toward her, to wipe away the tears that had formed in the corners of my eyes. Her tears wouldn't come until later, when she'd wake from a restless sleep and ask to be snuggled.

All of my emotions currently reside at the bottom of my chest, ready to bubble up and spill out at any moment. It isn't that I'm not allowing myself to feel them, it's just that I'm trying so hard not to let her see too much of them. In the quiet moments after she's asleep, or if I find myself alone in the car for a few minutes, I let myself cry. I let myself feel the hurt and the anger. But I always regain my composure in time to greet her with a smile. More than anything else in this world, she gives me reason to be strong.

I was never going to be this person. The day I got married, I certainly didn't imagine myself living in a one bedroom apartment with my daughter, discussing things like child support, joint custody and alimony with my husband. But trust me, this is not a decision we are taking lightly.

There's a saying that goes something like "day to day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different." How true that is! There's not just one or two things that led to this decision.  It's not as if one day we woke up and said, "I think I'd like to end this marriage." There isn't a single day that sticks out in my mind as the day that I realized our marriage wasn't working anymore. It happened little by little. There are a multitude of issues that were neglected over the years that have just become too big to ignore any longer.

I was recently telling a friend of mine, "it's like I was walking on the beach one day, and there were so many awesome things to see and enjoy that I didn't even realize the tide was coming in. And before I knew it, the water had risen to my knees, past my waist, and eventually up to my neck. Then there I was, suddenly struggling to keep my head above water, wondering what the hell had happened and how I'd drifted so far from shore."

This wasn't supposed to happen. How do things go so terribly wrong? How do we end up so incredibly far from where we planned? I don't know the answers to these questions, or any of the other thousands that fill my head.

The girls are handling things quite well actually. As well as can be expected, I suppose. Adam and I are working together to keep things as easy and normal as possible. We are surrounded by people that love us and have made this process much easier. Morgan is my primary focus and number one priority, and since I have vivid memories of my six year old self going through the same thing she's facing right now, I'm trying to be very aware of what she is feeling. When she asks questions, I'll answer them to the best of my ability and when she cries, I'll let her feel those emotions without interference. I need to honor her feelings and let her know that it's okay to have them, whatever they may be.

Because Adam is the father of my child, and out of respect for what we've shared, I won't be discussing the details of our separation. But I hope that as I navigate these strange waters I'll be able to come here (a place where I've found so much support and solace in the past) to share some of my thoughts again... even if I'm not quite ready to share everything.

And if I occasionally slip underwater, I hope you'll allow me to stay there for a little while. Because I know it's not going to be easy, but I need to allow myself to feel all of this. To learn from it and let it make me stronger.

I can see the shore from here and I promise I'll make it back eventually.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 2013 Newsletter: Happy birthday, Morgan!

Dear Morgan, 

Tomorrow you turn four years old, which I'm hoping means you'll finally be done asking "When is it my birthday, Mom? How many days until my birthday, Mom? How many hours till my birthday, Mom? Can it please be my birthday now?" This is the first year you've understood what a birthday is, and it's suddenly the most exciting thing in the whole world to you. In fact, just as I was tucking you into bed you said, "I can't wait to be four tomorrow. Four is my very favorite!"

Lately I've spent a lot of time wondering which of the day to day moments that we share will stick with you and become your memories. What will become your rituals, your stories, the things you remember and can't wait to tell your own children about? I have very clear memories from about four years old on, and a handful of slightly hazier ones from when I was just two or three. I worry sometimes that your first memories will be of me losing my patience or yelling about something that was most likely totally trivial, but for one reason or another I just couldn't let go of at the time. 

Instead, I hope your first memories are of good things like lazy days spent at the lake, eating snow cones under a shade tree at the park, racing down the water slide at the pool, lying next to each other in the bed of a truck and watching fireworks light up the sky, or running from waves on the beach and catching crabs from tide pools in California. Since I'm not working anymore (this is the first real summer break I've had in ten years) we were able to get out and enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer. And you, my little adventurer, have loved every minute of it! If I had to describe your personality using only a few words, I'd simply say that you are up for just about anything. Whatever we're doing, wherever we happen to be going... you're always excited to go along for the ride. And you hope with all your little heart that it'll be a fast, bumpy ride with twists and turns and at least one loopty-loo along the way.  

A couple weeks ago we were lucky enough to take a trip to San Diego with Grandma and Grandpa Carmody (or, as you like to call them, Grandma Candy and Grandpa Crazy) and one morning while we were there I came into the kitchen to find you talking with my aunt. You didn't see or hear me, so for a minute or two I quietly stood there just watching you being your charming, brilliant, hilarious little self. It's a rare thing for me to see you interact with other people independently. Usually I'm right beside you being the mom -- the one telling you no, insisting that you use your inside voice, trying to teach you manners, doing my best to make sure you behave at least slightly better than a feral animal -- so the side of you I get to see most often is a little more feisty, stubborn, headstrong. But there you were, politely asking if you could please have more cereal and recounting events from the previous day in such a sweet and comical way. And in that moment my heart swelled with so much love and pride that I almost couldn't breathe. You're absolutely amazing, stunning in every way. And I created you! I'm responsible for sharing you and all your awesomeness with the world and no matter what else I do in life, nothing will ever top that. 

One of your favorite things we did while on vacation was go to the zoo. I've heard people talk about how cool the San Diego Zoo is, and I remember going there when I was young, but it wasn't until going back as an adult that I realized it truly is an amazing place. Much bigger and far more impressive than the zoo we usually go to in Salt Lake City. You loved everything about it! One of those very clear memories from my early childhood is of riding the sky ride at the San Diego Zoo. I'm guessing I was maybe four or five at the time. My sisters and I were riding the Skyfari, looking down at all the trees and people and zoo attractions and I remember thinking "this is what it must feel like to fly." And suddenly, the ride stopped. There we were, suspended from a tiny cable in the sky, unable to do anything but wait for the cars to start moving again, and I started to panic a little. I suddenly began imagining all the terrible things that could happen to us. Our car might fall off that cable and we'd drop to our deaths, or maybe the ride wouldn't ever start back up and we'd be stuck there forever. What would we eat? Where would we go to the bathroom? Needless to say, whatever the issue was, it was resolved quickly and we were safely back on the ground just a few minutes later, but I'm certain that my ridiculous fear of heights can be traced directly back to that incident. 

Well of course you saw the sky ride almost immediately upon entering the zoo and eagerly said, "Whoa! Can we go on that, Mama?" As we stood in line waiting for our turn to board, I started feeling a little sick to my stomach. But I didn't want you to know how scared I was because I didn't want to make you worry or let my fear ruin the experience for you. To say you enjoyed the ride would definitely be an understatement. You loved it! Your eyes were wide with amazement as you looked down at the people and scenery so far below us. You smiled as the wind blew through your hair and caressed your face, and then you looked at me and cheerily said, "You can look down, Mom." 

You couldn't see the way my knuckles were turning white from holding onto my seat so tightly, and I don't think you noticed that the smile on my face was forced as I told you, "I'm actually choosing not to look down, but thanks anyway, love. Guess what? I have a secret, but I'm not going to tell you until we're done riding, okay?" When the ride was over and we had reached the other side of the park, I said, "Wanna know my secret? I'm super duper afraid of heights!" 

"Did you hear that?" my uncle Joe (who had ridden with us) asked. "You helped your Mom be brave!" You were so proud that you were able to help me, and for the next week you would randomly walk up to me, grab my hand and say, "Remember when you were scared to go in the sky and I helped you be brave?" 

Morgan, I know I've said it before but sometimes I can't help but look at you and wish you'd stay this way forever. You are the child that people envision when they think of what it might be like to have a family. The way you throw your head back and laugh with your whole body, the way your eyes have a constant expression of wonderment and joy in them. The way you squeal and clap when something excites you, the way you believe in magic and goodness and fairy tales. I wish you could stay this small, this uncorrupted and innocent forever. I wish that we could just stay here, here where you're completely naive to the harsher realities of life, here where a hug from you is enough to save me from the sometimes overwhelming circumstances of adulthood. 

But I know that I can't stop time. I know that before long you'll stumble headfirst into this thing called life, and I know you're going to love it because it's just  the kind of crazy trip you hope for. So I'm doing my best to brace myself for the bumpy ride I know is ahead of us. Just promise me you'll do one thing, kiddo. Help me be brave. 

Happy birthday, little love. I hope four is all you've been waiting for.