Saturday, July 18, 2009

Our New Baby

We have a new baby in the house. He weighs in at a whopping four and a half pounds, has too big ears for his little head, is covered with black-spotted white fur and meows. His name is Oreo.

My kids have always been cat people. Ever since Alex was very little, a dog could pass him by and he wouldn't look twice. But see a cat and he was instantly enamoured. This could be due to the fact that our first baby was a rescued terrier that left a scar on my husband's side because he dared get back into bed one night. The kids were told since the day they could get around on their own, "Don't go near the dog. Don't touch the dog! No dog!!" We must have turned them against canines altogether.

Anyway, we had lost our rescued senior kitty after only having her for a couple of months (that is another story for another time) and were desperate to start again. Or at least, the kids and I were desperate. Glen, I am not so sure. We attended a grand opening event for a local shelter with the hopes of bringing home a brand new kitten to love and nurture (Again, these hopes were definitely held by the kids and I...Glen was attending with the intent of researching the option.) only to find most of the kittens had to go home in pairs (too expensive) and there was a waiting period. We left the shelter dismayed. Glen seemed fine with it. He kept saying things like, "This time we are going to take our time, not rush in and do it right." Because my adoption of geriatric cat #1 was rushed, impulsive, and just wrong I guess.

Glen and I drove around our dream, someday when we are older and rich neighborhood and as we were envisioning our future, I slipped this into the conversation, "Why don't we take a look at a pet store. Just to see." And surprisingly, he agreed. Everyone was starving but we all decided to visit the pet store, take a look and then get dinner. No big deal. We reached the store and before exiting the car, good old Daddy did his Daddy job, "Remember, no rush. We are NOT getting a cat. We are just LOOKING."

Upon entering the pet store we saw that right there in the window were three, frisky, adorable kittens. Upon exiting the pet store, there were two in said window and one in Glen's arms.
Since that day each one of us has fallen hard for this little furball. And he in turn has fallen for each of us. He craves affection, purrs the moment he reaches our laps, and has quickly become part of who we are as a family. He participates in all family activities; he eats when we eat, sleeps with us each night, plays, watches movies, and even joins us every night for story time. He even puts up with Emma who has assigned herself the role of momma cat. She spends her days carrying him around in her arms like an infant, his face looking up at hers. She lays him in his bed and says "Night, night, kitty." Places him at his dishes and commands him to eat and puts him in the litter box to "Go potty." She has even included him in her new favorite activity: tea parties. She sets him up alongside her stuffed kitties with pieces of birthday cake, pizza and "hoffee" (coffee). I thought for a while that he must despise her but one day when I got out of the shower and heard her crying when she had woken up from her nap, where did I find him? Right outside her door.
So, welcome to our crazy home, Oreo. It's been so much fun seeing the kids with you over the past couple of weeks. I look forward to watching all of you grow up together. Hopefully, someday, when you have reached the esteemed senior citizenship of life, you will be purring on my lap while we sit on the front porch of our Victorian, surrounded by our family and listening to the sound of the waves and smelling the ocean air of that neighborhood that Glen and I once dreamed of so long ago.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What a Difference a Blond Makes

After twenty eight hours of the most draining physical labor I had ever known, Alexander John Gracia was placed in my arms. I looked down at his perfectly round olive toned face, complete with two of the biggest, brownest baby eyes I had ever seen, ran my hand through his forest of damp, black hair and said, "I have never loved anything like I love him."

Three and a half years later and we are back for number two. Just a few hours of induced labor, eight minutes of pushing, and surprisingly not a whole lot of pain and Samuel Robert Gracia was brought into our lives. What a different experience that was I thought as they were wiping my second baby down. And the difference didn't stop there. Sam was given to me and my first words were not a proclamation of love. "He's blond?!?"

Glen and I expected our second would probably look similar to Alex---how different could our two babies look? We weren't prepared for the tricks that genetics can play. Apparently our Italian and Portuguese genes were out having drinks by the pool while my quiet Irish genes took control of this creation.

The surprises didn't end with Sam's hair and complexion. That first night in the hospital he ate, took his binky and fell asleep with no intervention needed. Glen and I looked at each other perplexed. Aren't we supposed to walk him, bounce him, dance him, drive him, sing him, talk him to sleep?? Our first night (oh wait--I mean our first YEAR) with Alex was filled with these techniques. "Must be a fluke," I said. "He'll probably be up again in a few minutes." But no, this was just Sam. Our little blondie was also quite a sleeper. He slept all of the time. In fact, at almost four years old now, he still takes at least a two hour nap everyday. Alex outgrew those dreaded naps by age two. If Sam wasn't sleeping, he was eating or smiling at us. He was just a happy, content little guy right from the start.

Since the day Alex was born, he has always been very lovey and a bit clingy. As a baby, he had to be literally on us to be happy. As a toddler, he butt-scooted, carrying his toy of choice into each room I moved to during the day. As a pre-schooler he and I performed the kissing hand everyday at drop off. And now, he still sneaks his way in between us in the middle of the night from time to time.

Sam, on the other hand has always been perfectly fine on his own. He even declines offers to have family sleep overs in our room. He is definitely lovey and cuddly but only when he wants to be. A perfect example of this occurred just a week or so ago. I had had a trying day with the troops--lots of arguing, whining, you know the drill. As I was cleaning dinner dishes at the sink and patting myself on the back for getting through this day, I heard Alex say, "Sam, come here for a minute." I turned around, ready to warn Alex that he better not tease his brother when I see him grab Sam's face, lean down and kiss him right on the forehead. I was filled with such love and pride for my children. What a great way to end this day--all was redeemed and right in my mothering world. I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye just as I heard Sam. "Alex, tome (come) here." He grabbed Alex by the shoulders. I braced myself for the overflowing love I was about to feel for my middle child. "Put your head down. Yeah. Here." And with that, he kneed his older brother in the nose. Ahh...there's the love.

Another moment that completely defined Sam as a very different Gracia was the funeral for our cat, Cookie. Alex was quietly emotional during the interment of our older adoptee. He gathered flowers, Cookie's old toys and wrote on her gravestone. He didn't want to say any words. Sam was full of words. "Why tan't (can't) I see her? How is she donna (gonna) det (get) out? I want to see what dead looks like." Then in a way only Sam could do it, he turned around to face us, put one hand on his hip, the other up in the air, pointing at something only he can see when he gets like this and said, "I have an idea! I am donna write Tookie a letter. You duys stay right there. Don't move." And he ran into the house. A few minutes later, he arrived, scribble in hand. I told him that I thought that was a very nice idea and that I am sure Cookie will love it. Then I asked him what he wrote. "Bye, Tookie. You're dead." How's that for a eulogy?

I watch my little blondie very closely each day and as much as he can fight with his older brother, his attempts to follow in his footsteps are very obvious. And although Alex is a good role model to look up to, I hope Sam finds solace in his own skin. I hope he nurtures his individuality and realizes early on that he is pretty amazing on his own--blue eyes, blond hair and all!

And Then We Were Five

The last time I saw those two pink lines on that little "Your Life is About to Change BIGtime" dipstick I cried. Not tears of joy, mind you...tears of complete and utter fear. Glen and I had just started to cruise when it came to our adult responsibilities after a bit of exhausting, uphill climbing. We had a little guy who was about to turn one (yes, only one!) in a couple of weeks and a four and a half year old as well. We were feeling cramped with the two of them in our little starter home and were just beginning to get ready to sell it. This most certainly was not the ideal time to add another little one to the mix.

From where I stand now, I feel badly about these tears. You see, Alex was our first. We weren't 100% sure it was a good idea, but we wanted him and when I saw those parallel lines for the first time, I was completely overjoyed. Sam, our second, we worked very hard to get. He was definitely a planned little person. So when we finally were blessed with his imminent arrival, Glen was literally announcing it to the world.
The third time around, those lines were completely unexpected. My friends have a great laugh at this. We had gotten together that morning for breakfast and were talking about pregnancies, since two women at the table were expecting. I shared that I was something like sixty five days late and they all just stopped mid-bite and looked at me. "Well of course, you're pregnant, Nicole!" "No, no, I don't think so," I had replied but as I looked at my pancakes, feeling nauseous, I wasn't so sure.
Fast forward to me sitting on the edge of our tub a few hours later, staring at this little surprise. Glen, just as scared as I, but always the one to put his feelings aside, burst into a huge smile, grabbed me, and said, "This one will be the girl! You'll see--it will all work out."
I wasn't so sure. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE babies--maybe a little too much. But I was just so overwhelmed with the thought of adding more stress to our life at this point. How would we make it work? What if we can't move out of this house? Can we afford another little person? How can I juggle all three of them with Sam being so little? Oh boy...

As I do, when I am worried, I talked about these fears a lot to a lot of people. The common theme on their sides of these conversations was, "You'll all comes together. It always works out." I didn't believe a word of it.

And now, here we are-two and a half years later and I couldn't be happier. Our little Emma has added so much to our family in just the small time she has been here. Her strength and stubbornness keeps us all on our toes. The smile that is constantly on her face melts our hearts each and every time we see it. Her all consuming love of animals has given us many experiences and stories that we wouldn't have had without her. Her nurturing nature has healed each one of us when we fall down, are sick, or sad. And her ability to entertain an audience of one or many has kept us in stitches since the day she realized this gift.
And it has only been two years, two months, and seventeen days since we were blessed with the result of our happy accident.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Risky Business

I am not a risk taker. I have never zipped around the curves of a roller coaster. Never bungee-jumped. Never had a one-night-stand. To be blunt, I am a wimp. Terrified of heights, I don't even feel comfortable on kiddie-airplane rides. I scream while my children laugh with glee on most carnival amusements appropriate for their minuscule heights. To my credit, I did climb Mt. Washington, in a car, under peer pressure. Definitely not something I am about to repeat.

However, seven years ago, I took the biggest risk of my life and then repeated this risk twice more. At the time, it didn't feel risky. It filled a void in my life and made me happier than I had ever known possible. It has brought a tremendous amount of joy and has made me a completely different person than I was before it. I had children.

As I grow with these three little people my husband and I created, I realize just how big a risk this was. Much larger than sky diving; much larger than any fear I have imagined. Most days, I go about the daily tasks, pleasures and stresses of life. I observe my children and am in awe at the miracles they are. We play. We read. We laugh, cry, yell. It is all very ordinary. But then some days, it hits me...what if? What if anything ever happened to them? This what if that sneaks into my head with it's sharp claws and very loud voice, paralyzes me. Just the thought of losing one of these precious lives I bear witness to each day and I can't go on with spreading the peanut butter and jelly. Good thing this what if usually creeps in late at night while I am trying to fall asleep. I can then accost my husband with my worries. Do you think Alex looked ok tonight? Emma seems cranky because she is teething, right? It isn't anything else? Sam didn't eat again tonight. Do you think he has something wrong with his stomach, or is he just trying to get out of dinner?

We all do this, I know. But every now and then, I find myself going that extra step and thinking, should I really have taken the biggest risk possible? Before I had Alex, I had no idea the depth of love I would feel. And as the years have gone on and we have had two more children, that love has grown exponentially. And then it hits me, what if I lost one? Why did I take the biggest risk of my life, not knowing just how risky it was?
Unfortunately, I am not a stranger to child loss. When I first met my husband in college, my one and a half year old nephew Michael was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. I witnessed my sister's nine month battle and her recovery from the greatest loss in her life. This was hard for all of us, but I will never even pretend to imagine what it was like for her. And yet, she has gone on. She is the strongest person I know and I marvel at the way she keeps Michael's memory alive and keeps giving to everyone she cares about. I don't know how she does it.

I have seen several peers lose older children in sudden circumstances. These fellow parents amaze me. They possess a strength I don't know that I have. I don't think that I could do it but I am sure they never thought they could either.

Don't get me wrong, if given the choice I would always choose to have them. They provide us with so much. They change us for the better. They are by far the best events that ever happened to us. But sometimes, the thought of the risks we have taken and must live with is hard to bear.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Goodnight My Angel

We had had one of those perfect, fabulous, family days. Got out early. Went to the zoo. Gloriously sunny day. Had lunch. Laughed...a lot. Came home and sat outside while the kids splashed each other at the water table. And then the Attitude arrived. I write Attitude with a capital A not because I am not paying attention to my typing but because this Attitude is by no means small and insignificant. This Attitude rears its big ugly head quite often in our home and takes possession of our sweet, angelic seven year old boy. It started with a "NO SAM!" followed by a "CUT IT OUT EMMA!" There were disciplinary interjections made but alas it ended with a shove to the two year old sister, a shout from the mom, and a banishment to his room.

After some time, I went up for a meeting with the boy and realized that the Attitude had not left the building yet. Later, on my second attempt at reconciliation, I was happy to see that my seven year old, while still sauncy, was back, sans Attitude. We talked about the implications of his mood and actions and made nice. However, slouching back against his brother's bed, he still looked sad. "Why does your face look that way still? What's bothering you?" I asked. His reply was a pointing finger towards a framed copy of the lyrics to Goodnight, My Angel by Billy Joel. I looked at him, perplexed and shrugged. In a wobbly voice he answered, "I read that like two or four times and it made me so happy," and burst into tears. Without a moment's hesitation, I jumped up and pulled him into my arms. He was genuinely sobbing and trying to talk at the same time. "Every...single...sentence...made"

Now if you are unfamiliar with the song here is the Cliff Notes version. It is a lullaby sung from parent to child that assures this child that the parent will always be around, if not physically then spiritually. I have loved the song since I first heard it in college. It has a beautifully haunting quality to it. And once I had children, it took on a whole new meaning.

Once Alex calmed, I asked him if he remembered our story behind the song and why it was hanging in his room. He didn't. So I told him. When he was an infant, he cried...A LOT. I would play all kinds of music for him all of the time in efforts to quiet him. One day, while waiting for someone at a parking lot in Pembroke, this song came on and he just stopped. It completely silenced him. When it ended, he started up again and I couldn't push the back button on the CD player quickly enough. At the first note, he stopped again. After that, this song was played in our home regularly. When he wasn't with us, the CD was left with the babysitter with a note: If he won't stop crying, put on #9 and keep repeating it. This always does the trick. This was common practice (we probably wore the CD out) until the toddler years were upon us and thank God, the crying stopped and Alex became a happy-go-lucky little guy. The song was hanging in his room, but playing it wasn't necessary anymore.
It seems I have entered a new phase with my son. Most times are wonderful: intellectual conversations about politics, history, and space, baseball games, lego creations that impress me every time, endearing proclamations of his love for us, proud moments when he shows us the true goodness that is such a part of him. But then there are the times when the seven year old Attitude starts bubbling to the surface. This is inevitable and unavoidable, I know. However, I feel better knowing now I have a defense against it. Upon its imminent arrival, I will simply scroll down the numerous songs on my IPod, locate Goodnight, My Angel and hit play.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Great Debate

As a parent, you bear witness to your child's journey through many stages. Some are tough and some are just plain hilarious. One I find hilarious is that of our three year old, Sam, discovering his voice in the family.

My two boys get along pretty well despite their difference in ages (Alex will be 7 in April). Sam, of course, has missed out on many of the typical toddler interests in trying to assimilate to his older brother's hobbies. I think he went from sleeping in a bassinet and drinking from a bottle to battling Star Wars figures and trying to figure out how to transform those pesky Transformer robots. There was no Barney time, Teletubbies, or Blue's Clues. We went from baby to big boy in a rather rapid fashion.

In a lot of ways, this is nice. Because of their common interests, they play together all of the time. But also because of these common interests, there are many arguments. You take two little boys, who are passionate about what they are playing, opinionated and stubborn about just about anything and you are bound to hear some hysterical discussions. There are times when I just want to tear my hair out as they argue about whether or not Commander Cody has actual gloves on (Sam) or that they are just part of his suit (Alex). Or the other one about whether there really is a Clone Trooper named Bill (Sam). Or then there is the constant battle about whether that picture in the magazine is Rex (Sam) or someone else whose name I can't recall at this point (Alex).

Anyway, I try to remind myself that even though these arguments seem pointless to me, they are as important to them as the arguments over whether or not the new economic stimulus bill is going to save us all or not. And now that I have learned to stay out of them, I have been privy to some of the funniest conversations I have ever heard.

For example, one night, as we are driving home, Alex and Sam begin arguing about whether superpowers are real or not. I am not quite sure how this started but it soon became clear that Sam felt very strongly that they were and Alex was arguing in the negative. This went on for some time until Alex said, "Well, you know, Sam, maybe when you get bigger, if you drink a special drink of DNA (Don't ask---I have NO idea where that came from either!) you will have superpowers."

There was a long pause from his three year old opponent. I think both Alex and I felt that Alex had done it. He had satisfied both sides with his theory. Until Sam piped up with, "I don't drink DNA, Alex. I drink apple juice." And that was that. Another victory for the three year old debator.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bubbilicious vacation week....Eleven days of just being mom. My only duties were to my children and husband and we could do all of the things that we never have time to do normally. No schedules, take out all of the messy arts and crafts things more often, visit museums, playdates.....That's what they used to consist of. However, these weeks, once sacred, are turning out to be more trying than balancing my family and professional lives.

The steady demise began last April. Our then 2 year old, Sam, came down with the stomach bug so badly that he couldn't even move off of the couch. He wouldn't talk, walk or even smile. For a worrying mommy this was just excruciating. I spent the week with my stomach in knots, not due to these invasive little germs but to my nerves. Luckily, no one else caught it and by the end of vacation, he was back to normal.

Fast forward eight months and we are at the glorious, magic-filled Christmas vacation. We thankfully celebrated our holidays in a healthy way but soon after, all three children and mom came down with fevers and colds. There went that week.

And now here we are at February. A wonderful span of days where there are no holiday to-dos and lots of fun to be had. Wouldn't you know that Friday night around 7:30, Sam wasn't looking so good. We were up until 2 am with the bucket. Fighting the germs off with bleach and hope that this wouldn't last long. It has now been seven days...the bucket is confidently put away but in the interim, our 19 month old, Emma, caught it, both parents fell very ill, and our oldest, Alex, has a fever and cold. Oh and who can forget the trip to the doctor's with the instigator (Sam) because he also has a raging ear infection.

However, my point to this piece is not to simply bemoan my ill fortune (pun INTENDED). You see, through all of this, my husband Glen wins the best man alive award. (He deserves this for many reasons but this is the most recent one.) Glen saved the day like the superhero he is.

Being stuck in the house when you are expecting to have this fun-filled week really wears on vacation spirit. Not that we had huge plans for the week but anything is better than being stuck in for an interminably long time because your family is sick. While picking up our meds and other get well supplies, Glen bought two items that made all of the sickness and vacation disappointment disappear (even if it was for a short time): new paints and brushes and a bubble machine.

On Wednesday when we were all medicated and feeling a little better, we had a grand old time playing Picasso. To clean off our creativity, all three children got in the tub where the fun they deserved finally began thanks to the clever invention of the bubble machine.

The vacation fun I was looking for had finally arrived, packaged in various sized opalescent orbs. As the soapy spheres spiraled their way down to the children's reach, their faces lit up with unadulterated joy. Happiness was found in bubbles stuck to arms, legs, heads, and hands. At one point, we had "bubble beehives" growing on the tub wall. We had thirty minutes of laughter, silliness, and good old vacation memories all thanks to the age old practice of bubble blowing.

So as Alex's friends arrive back at school sharing their vacation adventures of playdates, museum trips, and trips to far off places, he will be able to put a big smile on his face and tell them about his magical bubbles that cured us all!