Leo’s Brave Heart

We left yesterday for Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Leo will have open heart surgery tomorrow morning and of course we’re feeling all the feelings about it.  All day Saturday I noted every big and small moment.  Like when Winter was helping me make waffles and she said, “It’s going to be hard without you.”  I told her it would be hard without her and she squeezed my neck tight.  We’ve been gearing up for this moment…like getting our game faces on…and now it’s here and the triggers and trauma are so real.  We know Everett and Leo are not the same, but we also know death is real.  The last time we left for Ann Arbor Everett didn’t come home with us.  I can’t even begin to explain how layered this is and how intense grief is for us and our kids.  It’s always something new and blindsiding…something you did not see coming and of course everyone is crazy nervous about sending Leo in for surgery.

Saturday we prepped like crazy…lunches for the whole week, breakfast items, laundry, packing, etc.  As I was packing some toiletry items I noticed Everett’s toothbrush still in our cup, still in it’s travel cap.  We never unpacked his backpack, but I had carried his toothbrush in my toiletry bag.  I remember unpacking and not wanting to throw it away so I dropped it in our jar along with our other toothbrushes and there it stayed.  We had most everything wrapped up before dinner so we could enjoy making homemade jiaozi together.  I watched as everyone stuffed dumplings and Harper taught Amon how to use her melon baller on a watermelon.  There was not one bite of food leftover…as it should be.

After dinner we went to Everett’s grave to hang new flags.  We talk about him all the time.  What I love is that Leo talks about him just as much.  I love that their brotherhood can exist even after death.  The bigs ran around the cemetery and Winter and Amon road their bikes.  Leo walked around watching Josh and I hang Everett’s new flags.  I love that our cemetery lets us outwardly express our love for him.  It means a lot to each of our hearts.  Every time we leave town we go by the cemetery.  We know he’s not there, but it feels good to stop by and especially with the week ahead we wanted to celebrate our brave and strong FuShuai.

Afterwards we hit up Tiger Market for icees.  I noticed the cashier watching us closely.  We hadn’t met him before as we’re usually there in the middle of the day.  When people are watching us closely I usually prepare for inappropriate questions or rude comments so my guard went up.  As we were checking out, he asked if we just had icees, I confirmed and then he said it was all taken care of and told us to have a great night.  I instantly teared up because come on, icees are one of my love languages and medical debt is real and more heart surgery bills are looming and we’ve been bleeding money and that $8.71 felt like a million dollars in the moment.

Sunday morning consisted of donnas and The Emperors New Groove and washing the last of our laundry and packing any final items.  Everyone was pretty chill about it all and then Winter broke down into tears at the Dairy Queen after we finished lunch.  She sat in that geometric patterned vinyl booth and cried loudly, “I don’t want Leo to have surgery.”  She wailed in the car, tears streaming down her little face.  I listened as Solomon leaned in close, “Winter, it’s what his body needs and he’ll have surgery and come back home to us and then it will be a long time before he needs another surgery.”  I feel so utterly unworthy for any of our brilliantly beautiful children.

 

The kids lingered in the driveway and got all the hugs and kisses from Leo…minus Amon, who was too hyped about going swimming at Ms. Marcie’s house.  He got his hug and buckled in the car asap.  The kids also all dodged being bit by Leo because we were late leaving and he was crazy tired.  It was hard and sweet and hilarious.  Tight hugs and dodging bites.  This is life with Leo.  I drove them all over to Marcie’s house.  As we pulled onto their street I reminded them they are the strongest kids I know.  Winter cried some more so I carried her giant little body into Marcie’s, but their pool was soon calling her name.  I gave hugs and headed out.

Josh Kelley, Leo and I drove all day and arrived in Ann Arbor way past Leo’s bedtime.  I did learn from the Taco Bell employee in Ohio how to still order the Meximelt even though they removed it from their menu. *Cheesy roll-up + beef + pico de Gallo*  This is life changing.  I was legitimately upset I could not get a meximelt anymore.

Josh listened to The Big Short audio book.  Leo was pretty restless at first, but then fell asleep and did great the rest of the way.  I jammed to Lizzo and Houses and Mumford and Sons while I wrote and scrolled trying to tap out from the reality of  where we were actually headed.  When we pulled up to the hospital I started to cry.  Here we were again.

Leading up to this day I’ve fought mind games constantly.  One day I was putting a few pickle jars on our kitchen shelf and thought, “I wonder if I’ll need these for Leo’s funeral.”  I dreaded packing Leo’s backpack because it made me think about his backpack joining Everett’s, still packed, on our closet floor.  I desperately want to take the travel cap off of Leo’s toothbrush.  This was continuously involuntary.  We are, what I like to call, jaded hope holders.  We will always always hold onto hope like our lives depend on it because they do and because we owe it to ourselves and one another, but we’ve also buried our 3-year-old son on what should have been his 4th birthday and then watched a large portion of our people scatter and have been working to piece our life back together again.  I’ve wiped a 1000 tears from our children’s eyes and I’ve sat dumbfounded with no good answers to their hard and legit questions.  So while we’ll always be hopeful, this is still very hard.  When I think about actually letting Leo’s team take him back for surgery it makes me want to absolutely vomit…so I try not to let my mind go that far yet.

Today we pre-opped all day and are soaking sweet Leo up.  This morning I whispered in his ear, “I’m so glad you are here.” like I have countless times before as I slipped into his bed to snuggle.  We we’re at the hospital most of the day gearing up for tomorrow morning and there we’re highs and lows.  There was joy and sadness…moments of laughing with Leo and his sweet, quirky self and moments when Josh and I flashed either a look with watery eyes and knew the other was thinking of Everett and remembering sacred moments.

 We wrapped things up at the hospital and headed out to get some noodles and dumplings for dinner.  He was hilarious and sweet eating and chatting and carrying his leftover noodles out in a bag over his shoulder.  It’s just all so surreal feeling and I still cannot let me mind get too far ahead of myself.  Trying to keep my thoughts reigned in close to just that very next moment.

We hit up Target after dinner and then headed back to our hotel.  And now we’re doing all the regular pre-surgery things and FaceTiming with our other kiddos and staring at Leo all heart-eyed and we keep asking one another how we’re doing and what the other one is thinking and getting all the Leo snuggles and hugs we can.  We are hopeful and simultaneously scared to death and would so appreciate all your thoughts and prayers and hope…whatever you’ve got…we’ll take it. 🙂

We are so grateful to be in such an amazing hospital and that Leo’s heart will be in such incredible hands.  We have all the emotions and feelings, but we know he’s ready…his little body is telling us it’s time.   So we hope. We white knuckle hope with every ounce of our being.  Just really need him to be okay. ❤️ So let’s go Leo boy. You are so brave and so strong. It’s your time love!

Feeling Wave Country Sentimental

This past week could possibly have been our last week of wave pooling this summer and I am feeling incredibly sappy and sentimental about it all.

Last Sunday I was floating out in the waves watching Josh Kelley and Leo be so absurdly cute floating together in their float while Winter swam around them.  I stared at them so googly-eyed I probably looked like a crazy, but I could not get over them and this place.  People from every walk of life trying to stay cool in Tennessee’s summer humidity and here we all are brought together by this giant watery fun.  It just feels so special.

Every one of our babies have swam in these waters.  We’ve made friends and met kind strangers.  Summer love at it’s finest.  We’ve eaten all their delicious cheaply priced concession stand food and we’ve got packing for the wave pool down to a science…we’re a well oiled wave pool machine…because this is what we do.  It’s the #1 thing my kids request to do in the summer and for good reason.

I’ve had more chats with our dear friend Ashley who works there sitting in those shallow waters.  I’ve laughed and cried in this place.  I’ve felt hopeful and hopeless in this place.  My kids have had more summer fun here than anywhere else and seeing Ms. Ashley is a summer norm.

I watched as Ashley carried Everett out to our car the week before we headed to Ann Arbor for his surgery and cried because she’s just one of those good ones.  After Everett died Ashley opened those blue gates early and surprised us with a celebration for Everett’s 5th birthday with friends and family.  When we walked in Friday morning Ashley’s daughter came running over and bear hugged my waste and her son hugged Leo.  It was this sweet little moment when I was feeling extra tender about it all.  Yes, this place and all of its people are so good.

I listened to Led Zeppelin play over the loud speaker and thought how lucky Nashville is to have this place and its people.  I watched as my big kids ran off with their friends and favorite lifeguard who was getting them all icees because she’s the kindest.  I watched Winter earn her water legs this summer here and now she’s a fish.  Our summers are marked by faded swim suits and how many bottles of sunscreen we emptied due to this place.

Josh and I  agreed we’d still come to the wave pool when all our kids are grown.  We’ll pack our chairs and a cooler and I’m definitely going to bring my own full lounger float.  Who knows, I might even wear a bikini.  We’ll eat a hot pretzel and still snag icees on the way home. Wave Country has us dreaming about our early 50s. 🙂

The world is crazy right now and Wave Country is our watery oasis.  I love not being able to spot my black kids right away because there are so many other black children there too.  I love hearing different languages spoken and seeing all the different swim suits and lunches people haul in.  I love that this summer fun place is racially, culturally, socioeconomically and abilities diverse.  I love that this place has been made available to all. 

Wave Country, you have our summer hearts forever.  This world is hard, but gorgeously beautiful.  If only we could all take a clue from your waters…we’re so much better all splashing around together.

Summer…It’s Complicated

Summer is one of our most favorite seasons.  School is out and staying up late and sleeping in are, well, in.  We throw our limited sugar rule out the window and eat all the popsicles and treats.  We watch movies and swim our hearts out and craft and things feel easier…then Everett died and our summer season instantly became complicated.  It went from carefree to full of hard, heavy emotions.  It’s no longer light and airy.  Summer is different now because we’re all different now.

I share a lot about how grief affects me.  I share about things that are hard and crappy and things I have learned.  I share because someone might never suspect that a season would morph forever due to loss and grief.  I share because it’s rare anyone asks how I’m doing in my grief these days and this is my space where I can write and share anything I’d like.  It feels good to write…like free therapy.  And I share because I want us to be better people to those around us grieving and suffering.  And while I know my experience is not universal and everyone handles grief differently, I do want to be apart of what helps…not what adds more hurt.  It seems unless you have actually walked in grief…in suffering…you might benefit from insight into someone’s personal experience.

This season of sunshine and loss reminders brings out a lot from our family as an entirety.  One thing I tread lightly on sharing is how our children are grieving.  I don’t go into crazy specifics because it’s a piece of their life story now and I want them to tell things when they are ready to tell.  When I hear or see someone dismiss the trauma they have all walked through it makes my blood boil.  Someone recently questioned me about one of our kids with a, “What trauma?” comment and I could have lost my mind.  In our experience, almost 2 years later, we are still unearthing trauma and grief just around Everett’s death alone…new things they had never shared until now and it’s honestly just hard and sad.  We have such an open door to their pain and sadness, but that doesn’t mean they were or are all ready to share right away.

Each child is so different and so we have to watch and try and read their emotions and feelings.  We have to recognize how hard the summer season is on their hearts and memories.  We have to have open hearts and open hands and open minds knowing they are all still walking through this loss of their little brother and processing what all that means to them as an individual.  They each had such a unique relationship with Everett so of course their grief is so unique to them as well.  I will never forget sitting in our parental grief group and listening to siblings speak about their own feelings of loss, feelings of being pushed aside and feeling like their sadness was second to their parents.  The parents’ loss is highlighted and tends to come on the forefront, but these brothers and sisters have lost something just as great too.  Remembering them in this is crucial.

So how do you love the season your son and brother died in?!?!  I have no idea.  I have zero good answers.  This season will always be multi-layered for us…the high of highs and the low of lows…the moments of precious life with Everett and the moments surrounding his death.  I still feel like we’re treading water trying to figure out life without him, but man are we giving this summer thing a go.  We want it to be full and fun. We want it to be deeply good.  We want our sadness and joy to mix up and maybe create some kind of laboratory summer koolaid.

We’re determined not to waste one hot humid moment of this summer.  We’re determined to enjoy one another.  We’re determined to soak our bravehearted lion boy up.  This moment is what we have and this moment we do not want to waste.  So here’s to remembering and crying when we want to and all the triggers that send us into a tailspin.  And here’s also to faded bathing suits and tearing through sunscreen and far to many summer treats.

Hey Hey Summer Hey

We are officially 20 days into summer break and well, I’m happy to report we are all still alive. 🙂

If you’ve been around this blog for even a smidgen of time it’s likely you know all about our love for Wave Country.  It’s our favorite summer hang and anyone I talk to about it I encourage to go as well.  It’s our absolute favorite.  Over the years we have shockingly never been to opening day, but this year we woke up and knew our crew needed some fun and sun.  Throughout the past 22 months I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve had to change plans, skip out on events and choose to make a different choice for our family because we knew how down it would make us all feel…how sad it would make our kids.  Sometimes showing up isn’t an option despite our best-laid plans.  Sometimes we just have to do what we can and on that day Wave Country was it.

As we sat around soaking wet, eating concession stand food it just felt good to be back.  This place is special.  All 7 of our babies have been in this place and splashed in this water and I really love that.  Oh how I wish Shuai was with us, but we carry him with us everywhere we go.

In preparation for summer pool time Aunt Jen bought Leo his very own Donna float…it’s true love…plus a plethora of other fun rainbow summer items.  Harper bought herself a giant floppy hat from Target to try and rival her Aunt Jen’s.  I mean, these little to semi-little people just slay me.  And my kind friend Leah saw some other rainbow summer love and knew I needed them.  We know some really good people.

We got two trips to the wave pool under our belt and then on our 6th day of summer Amon broke his arm playing basketball. Morale instantly went from crazy high to crazy low.  We asked about a waterproof cast, but no luck for a wonky break and a full arm cast.  When Amon finally got his permanent cast and they asked him what color he wanted he requested rainbow which made me cry in the casting room.  They couldn’t do rainbow, but let him pick 3 colors instead of the normal 2 option and his day was made.

While we waited on his permanent cast we made do.  Harper decided we’d all listen to a different musician/band every day of summer.  Names were collected and written on little slips of paper and almost every day she draws a new name, posts it in the kitchen and pulls up a Spotify playlist to match.  Beck, Maroon 5, Drake, Tupac, The Police, Post Malone, Tom Petty, DJ Khaled, Panic At The Disco and a few others have graced our ears so far.  We really like her…and yes, the crazy kid loves romaine lettuce leaves.

We also made a movie list of movies we’ve never seen, but wanted to and then checked them all out at the library.  Currently our library won’t let us check any additional movies out until we return more. 🙂  So far we’ve marked off 9 movies.  I think we will do this every summer now.  The kids love it.

We got to hang with Hannah and Hilliary.  They both knew and loved Everett and Leo before we ever could so they will forever have a special place in our family and hearts.

Bonus:  They are just the kindest and love our kiddos so well.  They are also totally cool with a sketchy pulled together lunch, ice-cream, sidewalk chalk, Winter obsessing over them and wanting to make a coat out of their skin 😉  Amon scaring them 72 times with his new Spiderman mask and Leo getting over stimulated.  Seriously, they’re gems.

Josh Kelley and the bigs went camping at Long Hunter State Park here in Tennessee.  It’s a 6 mile hike in and a 6 mile hike out and they lived to tell about it. 🙂  They ate all the Ramen and roasted marshmallows and summer sausage and Mambas their camping hearts desired.  They also didn’t sleep much and came home wiped.  Fun was had by all.

Ice-cream and popsicles are always on heavy rotations when the summer months hit.  We were given the best freeze pops ever from Kroger by some friends and now we cannot quit them.  Hudson even started a freeze pop business and rides his bike down to the park on our street and sells them for .50 cents each.  It’s pretty dang cute.  Solomon helped him make his first $1 by purchasing two himself. 🙂  They are such trip.  The Nestle Push-Pop variety pack has been a massive hit as well.

  And summer also has brought on more sleeping pictures…some of which we have deemed Weekend At Bernies-esque.  I’ll never quit taking these.

 We’ve finally figured out a way to keep Amon’s cast semi dry so he can still swim and we’re back into our summer groove.  We’re currently on bottle #2 of sun screen and new bathing suits are already fading a bit.  Summer is our complicated feeling jam.  We’ll make it.  We’ll survive.  And everyone will get a tan along the way. 🙂

10 Things

1. Easter…I know…was like 6 weeks ago, but nevertheless deserves some documenting.  Let me break it down…it was hard and sad and sucked the life from Josh Kelley and myself.  There you have it.  Gritty grief truth…it was pretty craptastic feeling, but we gave it our best go.  The kids had 4  Easter egg hunts.  We randomly dyed eggs with a cheap dye kit from Walgreens.  They got more candy than they did at Halloween.  I did not go to church.  I cried a lot.  I especially cried when I pulled Everett’s egg carton out with everyone else’s egg cartons.  I can’t bring myself to get rid of it, so I re-tucked it away again to cry over next year.  It was all hard.  I don’t even know what all to say about it because it feels like such a weird holiday to feel devastated on, but I was a wreck.  Oh and Amon ran out of room in his bag during one egg hunt so he grabbed a collection plate.  Alas.

In other news, Leo loved his first Easter.  He was hilariously sad hunting for eggs because A) He cannot move fast due to how winded he gets and he’s not good at running…hello heart defect and physical therapy.  And B) He had to open each egg immediately upon picking it up.  No gathering as many eggs as quickly as possible for Leo.  Nope.  He must know what is in that egg right away and if it’s edible it must be eaten that very moment as well.  Gah, I love him.

And I cannot remember the last time my kids had “Easter clothes”…pretty sure it was when Harper was one and then again in 2012 when a friend of my Mom’s bought Harper, Hudson, Solomon and Amon all Easter outfits.

But Winter did get fresh Easter hair…rainbow beads and all…so maybe that counts for something.

2. Cuties and weirdos.  I love them.

Please Leo, let’s stand closer to the TV so you can see with your glasses propped on your forehead. 🙂

3.  Leo has this new obsession with wrapping his blankie around him like a legit old lady.  It’s hilarious and a piece of me wants to get him a bunch of cats and hopes he will do this forever.  He loves his blanket, but it’s been amped up a notch lately and it’s pretty fantastically cute.  My favorite moment was when he was casually riding the elevator.

 

4.  Our nephew Cooper graduated and it was this whole emotional thing in my heart.  He’s this full on man child now and he’s kind of the best.  Coop made Josh Kelley and myself an uncle and aunt and he makes us better people.  He is funny and kind and brilliant and he makes this world so much brighter.  Crab kisses and sleepovers at our “compartment” and adventures and celebrating every small & big thing and rides home from middle school have now been replaced by food and game nights and confetti cannons and hanging with him & his friends and watching him love our kids. He’s giant and dreamy and forever our Pepe.  Love that guy so much.  Excited to watch him soar.

5.  Leo had the best IEP meeting to end his year.  I was so impressed by his team and all their goals for him.  I walked out feeling so good about this team of educators and specialists who love our boy something fierce.  It was so nice to sit among a team who ALL had his best interest at heart.  Having so many knowledgeable people in our corner…on our kids’ side…deeply wanting what’s best for him not just now, but in the long run too…and being kind & loving about it all…well, I cried and told them how encouraged I felt.  They know he’s joy and brilliance and magic and we all know how lucky we are to love him.  Afterwards Leo and I went straight to Five Daughters Bakery to celebrate.  A donna was definitely in order.

6. Anyone want to guess how many times I had this pairing during soccer season?  A lot.  That’s how many.  I’ve never been a soft pretzel kind of gal and then my friend Leah told me about Sonic’s new soft pretzel stick and it’s amazing.  So then I tried the ballpark’s soft pretzels and well, it’s a slippery soft pretzel slope and I fell straight down it.  I was legit sad at the last soccer game of the season and not because I wouldn’t watch my kids play organized sports for a brief period of time, but because I wouldn’t be able to get a pretzel.  Hard times.

7.  Come on.  Josh Kelley is such a great dad and Amon Kelley is the cutest human kitty cat on the planet.

8.  Everett & Winter were 7 months apart.  Last week Winter graduated from pre-school & Everett should have been right there beside her.  They were instant besties…minus the first two weeks where Winter made him cry a lot.  Hahaha.  We’ve felt our sadness really heavy lately.  When Winter walked into the gym with her class and saw the giant rainbow arch I saw her audibly gasp and then immediately search the room for my eyes.  We landed on each other…she pointed & smiled and tears instantly were mine.  I hate that he’s not here. I hate that she didn’t have him by her side, but the way she loves him even in death takes my breath away.  Forever grateful for their sweet bond.  Forever grateful for the way she carries him with her.  Sometimes grief is just so overwhelming and despite wanting and trying to focus on the joy of Winter finishing pre-K and starting kindergarten, as I watched her I just continued to cry because all I could see was Everett missing and another little heart that misses her big brother.

9. My friend Lindsey from Bottle of Tears sent me her new Terra Cotta Teardrop Seed Bead Earrings.  When Winter saw them she said, “Mom, they look like upside down rainbows.”  And that’s why Lindsey sent them and because she’s crazy kind.  They are my new favorites because they are gorgeous and so light weight I often forget I’m wearing them.  And there are so many other color combos and I’m already thinking about what a great gift these will make.

And 10.  The last day of school was a doozy.  There were a lot of feelings and a lot of tears from a lot of kids.  Next year is a big year for everyone with new schools and Hudson and Solomon starting middle school.  I know they are going to do awesome, but change is still hard and leaving friends is extra extra hard…even if they still live down the street. 🙂  Grateful for the hope of a new school year in new places with new people to meet and get to know.  Next year we’ll have a 7th grader, 2 5th graders, a 1st grader,  a kindergartener and 1 in pre-k…in 4 different schools…that all start and end at the same time.  Ask me if Josh Kelley and I are crazy…just ask me!  Big big year, but for now we’re welcoming in summer and catching our summer groove.

A lot of change this school year, but mainly just more hair. 😉

August 2018

May 2019

9 Things

1.  I like her.  She is getting so big and growing so tall.  She measures pretty frequently and last time Josh Kelley said I only had about 1 inch on her.  She will likely be taller than me by summer’s end.  Not too long ago she read The Hate U Give and I’m so glad she read it.  If you asked her, she would likely tell you it is her favorite book.  She’s quick to help with the littles…and sometimes quick to be annoyed by them as well. 😉  She’s witty and fun and asks good questions and she’s always up for a Target trip.  She’s had a babysitting job for several months now, music and art are keys to her heart and every morning when she gets up I’m sure she’s aged by at least 3.5 months.  There’s a reason she’s the leader of this Kelley kid pack and life wouldn’t be as bright without her.  Like I said, I like her.

2.  Soccer season has finished up and we were all sad to see it go.  The big kids are really coming into their own on the field and it’s really fun to watch.  Amon goes all out…all the time…and is 100% here for the snacks and the possibility of nachos from the concession stand.  Winter didn’t play this season because she’s 5 and she’s pretty cool with whatever right now, but she still jumped in on Amon’s warm-ups and insisted on wearing cleats a lot.  Leo ate a lot of snacks.  It’s really fun watching them play and we’re all excited about next season.

3.  Solo time with just Leo and I has come to an end with the start of summer and I’m fairly confident he loves it.  His siblings are his favorite.  Also, Josh gave him a haircut and everyone had very strong feelings about it.  I gasped when I saw him.  Like, GASPED.

4.  These 2!!!!  I just can’t.  So much to say.  So much to love.  So much close sitting for their entire lives.

5.  End of the school year brought on ALL THE THINGS!!!!  Teacher appreciation and ice-cream parties and field trips and class picnics and themed fun days and field day and and and.  All on the exact same day, all within 30 minutes of each other Hudson and Solomon had awards, Harper had awards and Winter had her pre-K program and class picnic.  Josh and I decided to divide and conquer.  It was a really long day and I pushed Leo to his absolute max and in turn he slapped a baby.  Literally, SLAPPED A BABY.  It was mortifying and now a hilarious story to tell.  Leo has sensory issues…does sensory therapy…wears compression shirts…plays with all the sensory toys…weighted blanket…THE WORKS…and he was smiling ear-to-ear when he slapped that baby…poor baby never saw it coming.  When he’s tired he can easily get over stimulated and, well, slap babies.  And I don’t even know how to wrap this story up because now I am just sitting here laughing at the hilariousness of it all.  The end.

  6.  We took Harper, Hudson and Solomon to see Kwame Alexander speak and it was AMAZING!!!!!  He is an incredible author…all the kids have read and loved lots of his books.  We made it a whole night with Taco Bell and ice-cream and Josh and I just can’t get over how much fun our big kids are.  And Kwame Alexendar was so so freakin’ good.  We laughed so much.  I cried.  He is such a good storyteller and we all loved it.  If you get a chance to hear him speak, make it happen!

(Hudson might have a mild obsession with Taco Bell.)

Also, I asked Solomon to take our picture and this is what we got.  I mean, he’s a natural.  Making it my profile pic ASAP.

7.  Winter had a wild few months figuring out some heart stuff.  She has a heart murmur which was discovered over a year ago and deemed “innocent”, but recently has been having some issues.  Our cardiologist discovered a small leak and the girl got to rock a heart rate monitor for over a month.  She’s still got 4 circle outlines on her chest and stomach to prove it. 🙂  In one month’s time we tore through 3 heart monitors…one of which was accidentally dropped into the toilet.  I mean surely this wasn’t the first time a heart rate monitor had fallen off a 5-year-old and into a toilet.  Surely.  We were happy to see the monitor finally go and to get a good report from our cardiologist.  I’ve had the honor of seeing 4 amazing little hearts on the same screen…each one absolutely incredible in its’ own way.

8.  I see rainbows and hearts a lot.  I don’t know if they’ve always been there and I just never noticed them before or if I’m just looking too hard now and therefore see them more often.  Either way, it’s nice to find them in random moments of our days.  Any little reminder of Everett is a good one.  Miss him so much.

And 9.  Sleeping kids…will this ever get old??!??!  I mean, I just really don’t think it will.  For as long as they are falling asleep all adorable and funny like, I will forever photograph them.  Long live sleeping kiddos.

 

Leo Is Four!

At the end of April Leo turned the big 4!!!!  I remember last year just hoping like crazy we’d get to him in time to celebrate his 3rd birthday together and there we were in China 15 days before Leo turned 3 squeezing his little body in our arms.  Once we got home and set to figuring out all of Leo’s medical needs a new goal came on the scene.  From the beginning his cardiology team wanted to get him to his 4th birthday before his next heart surgery.  For an entire year he’s been in and out of the hospital, been to countless doctor’s appointments and specialists.  He’s worked so hard and grown and gained some weight and as his birthday inched closer my heart jumped back and forth.

(^ Josh Kelley gave Leo a hair cut right before his birthday and Harper & I almost died. ^)

I went from, “We’re almost to his 4th birthday…OMG…we’re going to make it!!!” to “We’re almost to his 4th birthday…OMG…surgery is near!!! (Insert tears and vomit.)  So it was a complicated day, as I’m learning every special day is now…really complicated and muli-faceted.

Of course when celebrating Leo we knew donuts would be in order.  I’m not sure if I’ve shared here how Leo calls donuts “Donnas”.  For a while we had no idea who or what Donna was and when we all figured out he was talking about donuts we just cackled.  We’ve created a lot of stories about Leo and Donna and don’t foresee us stopping anytime soon.

He LOVES LOVES LOVES donuts so a donut birthday party was an easy party theme.  He said “Donna” approximately 1,976 times.  He was obsessed with all the donuts and wanted everyone to know.  He also added “poppy” to his vocabulary for party and it was the cutest.  It was the first time we’ve ever really seen him understand the anticipation of something.

Life has never been as full and busy as it is now with Leo and in the hustle & bustle of school and therapies and doctors visits I completely forgot about his party.  Yet again, Amazon saved the day.

We partied hard with family along with all of Leo’s most favorite foods…donuts, candy, noodles, pizza, chicken nuggets, rolls, blueberries, grapes and raw veggies.  I know, what a random spread, but the birthday boy was beyond thrilled.  I mean, you only turn 4 once.

He absolutely beamed the entire day and had so much fun.  When we all sang happy birthday to him I couldn’t even muster out the words because of tears.  He smiled the biggest smile and was just so proud.  Here we all were gathered around in our small dining room singing to this gorgeous boy with a beautifully broken heart.  I felt immense gratitude to not just have celebrated one birthday with Leo, but now two.  Scrambling to celebrate Everett’s birthday with him before he died gave birthdays a deeper sense of importance than ever before.  Celebrating birthdays with my kids will never be lost on me again.  And this year felt joy-filled and also like a heavy brick for what’s to come.  At the end of Leo’s party there was a rainbow and it just kind of took my breath.  Josh hugged me.  Later that night he said, “That rainbow was pretty nice wasn’t it?!?!”  And I agreed.  We miss Everett and no amount of words will ever accurately capture the depth of it.

(^ Blurry picture, but a keeper because of that donut in his cupholder. ^)

For all the love Leo receives, he gives it back 110%.  I’ve never met a more joyful kiddo.  He’s so complicated and a mystery still in so many ways and oh how I wish we knew what all he was thinking, but his joy is what really flattens us right out.  I often find myself just staring at him because he’s just so dreamy.

For Leo’s actual birthday we kept it pretty chill, but started his day off with more donuts and more confetti.  He went to speech therapy and then enjoyed some more noodles for lunch.  He napped. 🙂  And played with his new toys.  The boys had a soccer game that night so we ate a concession stand dinner and cheered on our guys.  And Leo was happy with it all.

In the end we all agreed…minus Leo…none of us wanted to eat another donut for a long time.

 Oh Leo Lion, what a year you have had.  You have worked so hard and you have learned to trust and love us and we are forever changed, yet again, by your love.  You have brought joy and hope.  You have brought laughter and hugs.  You my love are a straight up delight.  With surgery on the horizon, we promise to always choose hope and to never let it go.  You have made us forever hope holders.  We love you Leo Shuai Lin!!!!  Here’s to at least 96 more birthdays.

Mother’s Day: The Shakedown

The entire week leading up to Mother’s Day was pretty crappy.  We are seeing how this season will never be the same for our family again and how each one of us feel the heaviness and loss of Everett ever near.  I thought a lot about how sometimes we’re told to “choose joy” and how sometimes it’s just not that simple.  Heck, I’ve said those words to myself and written them on key fobs and art pieces, but the truth is sometimes it’s not an option to just “choose joy”.  I can still be grateful and look for those bright spots, but sometimes grief is so absolutely thick that there is no just opting out by choosing joy.  Sometimes choosing joy is BS.  Grief and suffering and sadness are real and heavy and they aren’t wrong.  They’re every much a piece of this life as love, joy and peace are.  We’re not broken or messed up or in need of fixing because we’re grieving or sad.  We often send a message to those in the valleys as if they are “wrong” or need to be “fixed” when grief, suffering and sadness are not sins, but threads in life and they deserve their own time and space.

Some days are defeat and some days are wins.  Lately there is no dodging grief and I’m realizing this will forever be apart of my life because Everett is forever apart of my life.  There is nothing natural about burying your child so why do we think people who are missing their babes have this allotted amount of time to fix themselves up and move on.  I will never move on because suggesting that I even can makes Everett this “idea” and not a real live amazing little human who changed all our hearts forever.  He is lasting.  We will carry him forever with us, always.

Due to how wonky and weird and sad our weeks were leading up to Sunday, I took a lot of steps to make sure I was as prepared as possible for the day.  I knew I didn’t want to ball up all my pain and keep it to myself so I tried turning some of it out into the world in the form of art and words and small gifts.  The #1 thing I learned from my Mom’s death was that even when you have no idea what to do for yourself, you can still do for others.  I’ve lost my mom and my son and our family holds a lot of trauma and loss within first families, so all holidays ring in different now, but Mother’s Day weighs extra heavy on our group.  I knew I had to be very pro-active this year so the whole day wouldn’t burn to the ground.

^ Crazy kind gift from my friend Meg ^

Every year we let our kiddos who are adopted pick out flowers to honor and remember their birth mamas.  Winter gives her flowers to her birth mom and we plant all the boys’ flowers in our yard.  I will never forget crying when we thought Everett’s flowers he had picked out had died in a frost shortly after he had died.  The next morning I woke up to find the potted flowers in our warm bathroom.  Josh Kelley was determined to keep them alive and that winter we had coleus flowering in our bathroom floor.

This year we made our flower shopping a mid-week pick me up for our family instead of waiting until Mother’s Day.  We needed something special to do so we roamed around Lowe’s reading about flowers and plants and making special selections for each of our invaluable birth moms.  We picked up another coleus for Everett’s birth mom too.  I think about them all, but often wonder if some how, some way, she know’s he’s gone, but finally whole and healed.

After snagging our flowers, we grabbed icees and dinner at home.  Then we headed to the cemetery with bikes and scooters and footballs and some fresh white flags for Everett’s tree.

THINGS YOU NEVER SEE COMING IN GRIEF:

We try and put up and change out special things in a tree around Everett’s grave pretty often.  It’s this visual therapeutic thing for Josh Kelley and myself and also our kids.  It’s a reminder for us and a way to visually display Everett.  A stranger can’t look at us and know we are different people…know that our son is dead and buried down the street…know that our other children smile differently in pictures now.  These are things we know…no one can just look at us and know there are really 9 of us, instead of 8 now.  We’re often looking for ways to tell the world of Everett and how there is more to our family.

So when it appeared to us Everett’s colorful lanterns we’d last hung in his tree had been cut down, I felt a tad bit of, ummmm, what shall we call it…RAGE!  Hahahahaha.  I wanted to break something.  While there are all sorts of perfectly good, understandable reasons for why they were all gone, my mind immediately went to anger and assumed our cemetery cut them down.  This is how it shook out in my head:

It was a beautiful sunny day with Everett’s colorful lanterns blowing in the perfect April wind.  Then, from the cemetery office the doors swing open with a cloud of smoke and there emerges an old, tall crotchety business man with dark black hair and top hat scowling with full on angry eyebrows.  The beautiful lanterns catch his eye and immediately consume him with rage.  How dare someone love their little boy and display pretty things in his memory.  He hops in his golf cart from hell and rides over as quick as he can…fire shooting from the tail pipe. (Do golf carts even have tail pipes?!?! 🙂 )  Upon reaching the tree, we does Keanu Reeves moves from the matrix to scale the tree and slices each colorful lantern from it’s limb with a sinister, devilish “Muhuhahahahahahahaha” laugh as each lantern falls to the ground…in slow motion…no less.  It’s official, he may not be a real guy, but he hates us.  And Everett.  And love.  And I want to slash his golf cart tires.

Seriously. ^ THAT IS ME NOW. ^  After we hung up the recent white flags I’ve been back every day to make sure they are still up.  I even get nervous as we are approaching the exact point where we can see Everett’s tree from the road and breathe a long sigh of relief each time I see the flags are still there.  I’ve even created a whole verbal assault…which I’ve practiced out loud…alone…in my car…I want to let loose on the mythical old, crotchety man who surely cut down all of Everett’s lanterns out of his pure hatred for life and drive to make billions in the cemetery industry.  Once I can escape my crazy-capades, I laugh, but the feelings are still legit and real.  This is just a piece of my grief.

In preparation for Mother’s Day I also went ahead and made a few requests to my crew.  I didn’t want to set anyone up to be my blame for why my day went terribly awry, if it did.  I laid it out:

*Breakfast: Fruit Loops and sausage & biscuits.

*In between breakfast and lunch we must watch Beonce’s Homecoming.

Sidenote:  IT WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!  Like, I can’t even form all my words for it yet, but I cried and laughed and we talked all about Beonce and Jay-Z and their kiddos and black culture and Destiny’s Child and drum lines and step teams and cool-ass shoes and and and.  THE BEST.  THE END.

*Lunch:  Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs with all the fixings and white cheddar Cheetos.

*Dessert:  Coke Floats.

*No Video Games, but I will gladly whip you all in a bunch of games of Gotcha basketball outside.

*Visit Everett’s grave.  You do not have to go.  I am totally fine with going alone.  (And that’s what I ended up doing.)

*Please don’t buy me flowers because I already purchased some flowers to share, but please give me all the sweet homemade cards and drawings.

Sidenote:  Big kids are killer.  I commented on how fun a big colorful round beach towel at Target was a few weeks ago and Harper, Hudson and Solomon all went in on it together for me as a Mother’s Day gift.  I was so surprised and really love they remembered I liked it.  Probably doesn’t hurt they have Wave Pool on the brain…especially Harper.

 Like I said, super clear.  I’m the only one who can read my mind, so I let them all know what was going down in it.  We also didn’t go to my Mom’s grave this year…first time since she died.  At first, I felt a little weird about it…almost guilty…but then I realized those were silly feelings to have.  I really wanted the day to be easy and chill and removing lots of moving pieces from it, made it just that.  Simple and chill.  And I still love my Mom. 🙂

We ended the day with leftovers and a few Shark Tank episodes and a new America’s Funniest Home Videos and me demanding everyone not make dumb faces in a photo with me.  Amon still made lots of dumb faces and I got mad at him.  #reallife  I salvaged 2 photos, but I suppose you only need one, so winning.

We remembered and talked of our amazing birth moms and celebrated each one in the ways we can.  I remembered my Mom and Everett and how motherhood looks different and means something different to each individual…even among our little tribe.  It ended up being a pretty decent day.  This morning Amon told me he had a Mother’s Day trick for me.  He had me stand in the kitchen with my eyes closed facing him and then he flung a big plastic snot rocket at my face knocking my glasses off.  I called him a jerk.  Josh leaned in for a kiss and said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”