Friday, July 29, 2011

Warning: This is NOT A Funny Post.

I am a strong believer in the Holy Spirit; specifically, the strong ability the Holy Spirit has to arrange one's life so a message is given in a way that you would have to be deaf, blind or really, really in denial to NOT get the message. I have gotten many, many messages from God over the years, some quietly, some banged over my head, some big, some small, and I recently got a message that was so carefully constructed, so methodically put together, that I just couldn't miss it.

It's a message about the human spirit and surviving after loss, and though I try not to preach or be too heavy here in my little corner of the Internet, I feel like it is a message worth sharing.

It all started about five or six weeks ago, when I had the worst of all trifectas: three people I knew died in one week- two in one day- all by different journeys. One was sick for years with cancer, a mom of children my age, a woman I had known since I was a teenager, who had celebrated every milestone of my life with me and my family. Her loss was crushing in itself, but there was time to say goodbye and provide comfort, time to plan and talk and grieve the loss that was facing all of us who knew and loved her. She was so ill that there was a sense of relief for her, because her faith was so strong, and she had blessed release from her human body's frailties.

One was killed in a motorcycle accident, senselessly, when a car turned right in front of the motorcycle rider, cutting him off. He died from his injuries soon after. The guy on the motorcycle was the father of a classmate of Michaela's, an only child, from all reports a great guy and devoted father.

One was killed suddenly in a self-inflicted manner. He was married, a father of almost-grown boys, and was the spouse of a person I worked with and loved dearly in a former life.

I came face to face with the surviving families in that one week, some holding it together better than others, all in shock, all devastated with pain and grief and loss. And what can you say except I am so, so sorry? How I wish I could have changed the path they were on, to somehow have the power to heal the broken bodies and broken hearts of these people who died and those who were left behind! Because I felt it so strongly in each of these families: a sense of loss and pain so great that it permeated the hugs I gave them and the tears we all wiped away. It was...staggering. I fumbled through, sent all the cards, said the prayers, attended the wakes, did all the things our society does to form a loving circle around those in mourning.

And then I thought of the next week. And the next week. And the week after that, when the pain and grief are still there, but the other people have started moving on with their lives.

And I went on with my life, but the Holy Spirit wasn't done with me yet.

Then I came across an article written about the absolutely horrific car accident on the Taconic Parkway a year ago, when all three daughters of one family, riding with their aunt in the car, were killed in a head-on crash. The driver- the aunt- was drunk and high. The girls were similar ages to my three kids and all I could think of for weeks afterwards was the loss of being a mom- not just losing one child, or two, but all three and not being a mom anymore, and how quiet that house must be now. I had a hard time for a while letting my kids go anywhere without me, thinking I had some sort of control over things like this occurring.

The article I read was written by the mom of these girls and explains how she has managed to cope for this year, and how she has managed to get out of bed- not every day, but some days- and just breathe every day. It was about survival.

Then, a book was given to me in a chance encounter at the library, a book called Every Last One by Anna Quinlan, in which a busy mom of three teenagers suddenly becomes a widow and the mom of only one child after an intruder comes into their home and kills the husband and two of the children. The third was away on a ski trip which saved his life. The mom was attacked and left for dead. The book really affected me, particularly the chapters after the tragedy, because it gave the same sense of wandering, sense of being lost, that the article had described.

As one grows up and grows older, and experiences more examples of losing loved ones, losing friends, losing acquaintances, I think two things happen: you better understand that these kind of things happen to everyone, and it hurts just as much every time, and you come to understand that the human spirit to survive and go on is stronger than you think. Even when the unthinkable happens, you still go grocery shopping and brush your teeth and pay some bills and talk to a few friends. You watch television. You write an email. You eat. You see a movie.

And while there are bad days, terrible days when all you can do is cry and feel anguish and wail about the unfairness of it all, trying to answer the question of WHY this happened, and feel anger and disappointment and pain and grief and emptiness and rage, there are other days when those feelings are softer, and less sharp.

Many times, in the middle of the night, when I am at my most irrational, I play a mind game- what would I do if Dan suddenly stopped breathing beside me? What if one of my children didn't wake up one morning? What would that be like? And I think it's a self-protecting game, one that I play because I feel like if I think about it, it somehow protects me from having something like this really happen and it protects me from it being such a shock. Which is clearly ridiculous.

And at the same time, I feel an incredible sense of frailty that this family we have made and nurtured, this life I have made for myself is built on this terrible shaky ground, where only by the grace of God does it stay together and safe and whole and healthy. The sovereignty of God, who can decide in an instant to take it all away. But that threat of loss doesn't keep me from loving and caring and emotionally investing fully and completely in my spouse and children. These are the gifts I have been given, and I will revel in them.

The bottom line, for me at least, is this: the Holy Spirit has sent me a message and it tells me that we are stronger than we realize and can take pain and loss. We are made in God's image, after all. We can go on.

And God is with us, to provide the strength and power when we are rendered powerless.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Few Jenna Stories to Keep You Entertained.

First: The kids and I were riding in the car the other day and to pass the time, Michaela read a story from the Highlights Magazine to us. (Ohhhh, Highlights: how I love you, with your Hidden Pictures and Thinking questions and bite-sized stories. I love every page. Even the weird Timber people. And Goofus and Gallant! They were moral barometers for my whole childhood! Gallant always so genteel and people-pleasing and uptight, with his smoothed down side-parted hair, and Goofus was the rebel with the mussed hair who didn't care what the hell anyone else thought, he did what HE WANTED TO DO and all others be damned. SO exhilarating to read about someone so callous to the rules. Years after Brian and I outgrew Highlights magazine, our family made up horrifyingly extreme Goofus and Gallant comparisons and always laughed at the obviousness of them- Goofus smokes crack with homeless people, while Gallant serves them a hot lunch. Of course, don't you think his parents set him up a bit by naming him Goofus? Did they discipline him? Say, "Goofus, what are we going to DO with you?" They always looked so shocked in the vignettes at his bad behavior. Did they see the pattern? Even I at six years old knew that Goofus was bad news, he was always going to screw something up, but his parents, who certainly saw him more than my once-a-month encounters, didn't seem to supervise him very well. But I digress. When I was a kid and my mom went through the Highlights magazine with me, besides the wonderful cozy feeling of being together, my favorite memory of the experience is my mom very proudly telling me, with great confidence, that I was a way better artist than all the kids who had submitted work. And if there was a particularly good piece of artwork published, she scoffed at the idea that the artist was the age they stated. "No 8-year-old could draw THAT!" she would huff. "Besides, you could draw ten times better than that." My mom is by far my greatest cheerleader.)

So the story was about two brothers going on a long car trip, and the younger brother had broken a toy of the older brother's earlier in the week. The older brother didn't want any other of his things ruined, so he placed a long strip of blue tape down the middle of the backseat of the car, separating the boys and their toys. Of course, after a while, the boys get bored in the car and realize that sharing their toys not only is fun, it makes the car ride go so much faster. It was really cute.

So we're all about the story and Jenna, without missing a beat, very helpfully says, "You know, Mimi, WE should put a line of tape down the middle of our backseat like the boys did!" And Michaela and I crack up and gently explain that the whole point of the story is to show that playing together and sharing really works best.

"Ohhhhhhh!" Jenna smiles and giggles.

Second: Jenna has been waking up for the last week or so and sneezing an insane amount. Like fifteen or twenty times. And it starts this elaborate routine of coming into our room, wiping her nose, stepping on the pedal garbage can, sneezing again, getting more tissues, wiping her nose, stepping on the garbage can, and sneezing again. It's quite painful to listen to. She refuses to blow her nose ("Because I don't know HOW!" Really?) and just waits for huge candlesticks of snot to shoot from her nose, drip down her nightgown and then she starts to panic. And sneeze some more. It takes a good twenty minutes to go through the whole process.

She insists that she is getting a cold, which she is not, and I finally told her that I think it is allergies of some kind because it is only for a few minutes in the morning and just started happening. "Something is bothering your nose in the morning," I told her. "It could be anything: grass or dust or a certain flower that is blooming."

"I think I know what it is," she told me. "I think I am allergic to turning the TV on and then walking away from it and not watching it. That makes me sneeze."

"Well, I don't think that's quite it," I say gently. "It's usually something in nature or outside that irritates you."

Jenna thinks about this for awhile and then has one more guess:

"Well, I also think I'm allergic to talking to people for a long time."

And I laugh and laugh, because talking to people for a long time has clearly irritated her since birth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scenes of summer.

Pictures taken at Lake Taconic, our Town Park's Splash Islands (where Alec started by touching the fountains with one finger and by the end of the afternoon was thoroughly soaked), a friend's house, and Gammie and PopPop's pool. The sunset was a breathtaking display outside our front door on the day we came home from Lake Taconic.

We're having a great summer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bits of July.

Well, summer is in full swing here at the Libutti house... which means I've got three little tanned people meandering around my house 24/7 looking for "something to do." And eating snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. And drinks. All I do is load, run, and unload the dishwasher.

Other happenings around here...

- Jenna was quite impressed with the displays people put up of bunting for the 4th of July and seemed to really like just saying the word "bunting". And conjugated it like this: "Look, Mommy! Those people bunted!"

- We've had quite a rash of after-bedtime ailments popping up, including suddenly-appearing sunburn ("It really BURNS!"), multiple bugbite inspections ("It really ITCHES!"), growing pains in the legs ("It's really SORE!"), and my personal favorite, a stinging and itchy eyelid ("It really HURTS!"). Thankfully, I learned in Mommy School that cool, wet paper towels applied to all of these ailments does the trick. Some of the stories told to me are so preposterous that I turn to Michaela or Jenna and calmly say, What exactly do you want me to do at 9pm about that?

- Alec has been taking naps in his crib- instead of me sitting on the couch holding him- for about a month now. IT IS REVOLUTIONARY. First of all, I feel like I get a nice break during the day; secondly, I can get something accomplished; thirdly, my brain is no longer rotting from watching several hours of tv every afternoon; fourthly, he sleeps an insane amount of time. Like, four hours. Sometimes I have to wake him up. Seriously. He also has started going to bed awake and stops whimpering before I even leave the room. When I think of how many hundreds of hours I held my babies until they've fallen asleep... but then again, I love holding sleeping babies. That's how this all started.

- On a related note, I had a dream last night that I went to an OB appointment and found out I was preggers, but left without asking when my due date would be. I guess by the fourth baby, you're really laid back about that sort of thing. But I am NOT pregnant.

- I have come to the conclusion that the most under appreciated job I have is of family press secretary/ head of communications. I spend an insane amount of time emailing, facebooking, calling, and talking with my family, friends, and playmates of my kids, cultivating and maintaining relationships with the people in our life that we love. If women didn't take on this role, families would have no friends to socialize with and would not be as close to their family members. Once I became conscious of it, I started mentally keeping track, and I am amazed at how much time it takes and how little it is noticed or how it is passed off as Mommy Time. No, not really- remembering important dates, events, and asking how something went is not just for my benefit- it's for the whole family. Moms, especially, are so immersed in social contacts, and I wish there was a more formalized way to thank them for the efforts they put into fostering close relationships that the whole family benefits from.

- Michaela has Girl Scout camp this week, and goes from 8am til 5pm. I am frankly shocked at how much I miss her today.

- We went to Lake Taconic yesterday and met Dan's whole family there, which was great. We had a wonderful day but got a semi-flat tire on the way home (a skinny strip of the tread pulled away from the car and started slapping the road and the underside of the car). We pulled over on the side of the Taconic Parkway, a big, grassy area in the shade and proceeded to change the very first tire of my life. Dan of course had done it before- they learn that in Man School, apparently- but I kept giggling and thinking of the famous tire changing scene with Ralphie and the dad from A Christmas Story. I'm pretty sure that at one point, when I had to hand Dan the lug nuts to secure the spare onto the car, I said, Ohhhhhhh..... fuuuuuuudge.... but Dan, who was sweating and dirty and nervous that the car was going to fall off the jack and kill us, didn't appreciate my humorous reference. And just like the Dad in the movie, we timed ourselves and from start to finish, we gauge it took us about 20 minutes. Not bad. And the Queen Mother of all swear words was not even close to being uttered.

- I am very close to forming my own Daisy Girl Scout troop for Jenna. I am really excited about it. Just have to confirm my assistant Troop leader and I am good to go.

- Michaela and I started a project to make a scrapbook album that is all about school. We will put her school pictures and class picture in it, along with some candid shots from times that they have a little performance or some kind of party or event. On Friday afternoon I sat down and went through years of digital pictures of Michaela's first days of school, Christmas programs, moving up celebrations, and the like. It was a great trip down memory lane for me... and the shock of seeing Michaela at Jenna's age, knowing that Alec will be that age before too long, made me all misty-eyed. Because it seems like that little girl with the pudgy cheeks and curly hair is gone from me now, replaced by this angular, straight haired girl, who is the same but different. I remember that when Michaela turned about 2, I started forgetting when and where each picture was taken, like my brain is a memory disc that got filled up and had to start rewriting itself.
You can look at these pictures, and know it is your child, but it is your child of that moment, not the child of now, and that child in the picture is gone and can't return.
It's a little mourning, looking at these pictures, even though you have the luxury of still hugging and kissing and loving your kids. On the other hand, there is such a richness to living all these years more with your children, seeing them older and more mature, with more developed personalities and interacting with you, a more mature and developed parent. You have more history, and both parent and child have grown together.

- Alec has started shaking and nodding his head, and I am always a little surprised when he answers me, because I am used to my questions merely being rhetorical to him.

- All three of the kids love love watching Bubble Guppies in the morning, but Michaela has pointed out that Mr. Grouper, their teacher, doesn't seem to be very prepared to teach them. "When one of the Bubble Guppies comes in to the classroom and suggests a topic, Mr. Grouper always goes along with it. He never says, No, I was planning on learning about _____ today. He never has, like, a lesson plan." Astute observation, Mimi.

- Current popular foods at the Libutti house: Hershey bars, strawberries, cheese sticks, tacos, Ritz Crackerfuls, fruity Cheerios, and of course, watermelon. Newly rejected: pizza, meatballs, steak, and mozzarella bites. (It's like they don't even know they're Italian...)

- I just finished a book called Caleb's Crossing, and it was utterly magnificent. It was about the first Wampanaug Indian from Martha's Vineyard who went to Harvard back in the 1660's. And as you well know, I was a Pilgrim in my former life so much of the book was very familiar to me. It was written by Geraldine Brooks, who wrote Year of Wonders and People of the Book, both excellent, thoughtful reads.

- There is nothing like getting 5 yards of mulch delivered to your house to truly appreciate the "joy of home ownership". Spreading it almost killed both of us. But it looks great all freshened up.

- We went over to my parent's house on Saturday to go swimming. We went without calling first, which we almost never do, and found their house empty when we got there. Using all my detective skills honed from watching an episode of Dateline NBC the evening before. we deduced that they were probably out to dinner with some friends. After they came home, we filled them in on our detective work and my mom somehow said something about (I can barely type this) how it was good that we didn't catch them in an intimate moment.

"Frankly, it would be less horrifying to come over here unannounced and find you DEAD than interrupting you two DOING IT," I told her.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fantastic Fourth, Part II.

Some more pictures from the weekend...

Fantastic Fourth.

Looking back through the pictures from this weekend, they have an uber-Americana quality to them: all reds, whites, and blues; pictures of family and happy kids and parades and swimming pools and fireworks.

And any party or picture that has a cake that looks like this marks a GOOD weekend in my book. My cousin Tammie made it and it was delicious.

This is a piece of evidence marking how utterly lax in rules my parents are with their grandchildren. Really? Eating ice cream IN THE POOL? What about the one hour rule? What about eating over a plate? What about NO EATING IN THE POOL?

I love how the chocolate makes a goatee on Alec's face.

The day started off with a parade in our neighborhood, complete with fire truck and decorated bicycles. The parade ends in the cul de sac down the street from my parents' house that is blocked off and a huge picnic ensues. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, snowcones- REAL snow cones, loud music, tents, tables and chairs, rock climbing walls, multiple bouncy bounces, facepainting and coolers full of drinks and beer (as my dad said,"Whoo-hoo! Now you're talkin'!") and over a hundred people milling around made for a very, very nice and fun event. Which I didn't get to really enjoy because Alec had a potent (but thankfully rare) meltdown about 15 minutes after we arrived, so we walked to my parents' house and watched SpongeBob. And SpongeBob soothes everything.

My parents hosted a great family picnic at their house in the afternoon, where everyone ate and was merry and Michaela jumped in and out of the pool about a billion times.

We left from there to go to friends of ours' house about 25 minutes away- they live waaaaay up on top of a huge hill and can see the fireworks from their front yard. Actually, they are so far up they can see multiple displays of fireworks from their front yard. When things got cooking at about 9:20pm, we were watching three if not four different displays, flashes of light shooting up from trees at various angles.

I took lots of pictures of the view and the yard and since it was getting dark, lots of the images of the kids running around are blurry; they had different glowstick configurations- headbands, necklaces, bracelets- and they would move past me as I was taking the picture with the glowing things leaving a trail behind them. As a result, all my pictures have a kind of otherworldly vibe to them, smeary and dusky and beautiful. The sunset was so gorgeous there, and the views so wide open... it was breathtaking.

(Note to my brother Brian: This is on Powell Hill, across from the Roberts' old house looking towards Albany on the right horizon.)

The day was capped with a visit from the Tooth Fairy as Jenna got bonked in the mouth by her brother earlier in the day and by dinner time decided she would just yank the tooth out herself. Seriously... I would not mess with this girl. The next morning, she came jubilantly into our bedroom, showing me the two dollars and she says to me, "Guess what?? The Tooth Fairy even SIGNED MY DOLLAR!" and shows me Timothy F. Geithner's signature in the lower right hand corner of the dollar. "Look-- it says TINY FAIRY!" she shows me triumphantly.

God Bless America, indeed.