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.