Friday, July 26, 2013

We Were Four

There has never been a time when she wasn't my friend.  

I met her in the nursery at church. We were four. I remember us telling each other that day that we were both four and giggling together about it. Meeting her is one of my first childhood memories.  We were circling the legs of our parents as they talked and introduced us, and from then on we were friends.

We started out our friendship stacking blocks and playing with baby dolls.  We were in the same kindergarten class together and got into trouble a few times for talking during nap-time.  

We had lots of sleepovers and play dates.  

We used to daydream about what we would be when we grew up and who we would marry.  We always played school at her house and played dress-up at mine.  She had the biggest collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  Her room smelled very fruity.   

She was my first best friend.  

Fast forward a few years to the boy-crazy era.  Oh we drove our parents crazy.  Being from a small town, you had the same girls chasing after the same boys (and vice-versa). There was always drama among us girls, but she was always my friend.  Dance recitals, church camps and trips, school functions, and everything else - she was absolutely a constant in my life.  

High school flew by - and through the happy and tough times, she was always my friend. 

Since we both moved away from home to go to college, and then careers and marriage, our actual moments together have been few and far between.  We were bridesmaids in each other's weddings and have stayed in touch through the years.  We both had CRAZY bachelorette parties and I am so thankful this was before the digital era...

We have shared in the joys of motherhood and reached out to each other in tough times.  

And now my friend, my oldest friend, has breast cancer.  

Geography is not my friend and I am so far away and can do so little to help her or be there for her or even hug her.  And in times like this, I really want to DO something.

When we were little, I was always pretty sensitive and would go hide when I got upset.  Silly, huh?  She would always find me.  She always knew where to find me.  And she would hold my hand and hug me and assure me that everything was OK.  I just want to do the same for her.  

As I have matured (yeah, right)... I have quickly realized in life that friendships come and go.  Some friendships are only there for a specific time and some are simply timeless.  I am so thankful to have a handful of friendships that are truly timeless.  Hers is one of them.  We have continued on our own paths of life - literally in two different directions.  I live just about as north as you can live and still be in America  and am blanketed in snow half of the year and she is close to the Gulf and the beach and the sun.  

And yet we can pick up the phone and we're right back where we left off.  

Last month, she had heard that I was having some health issues and I had learned that she was awaiting test results from a biopsy and we just picked up the phone and caught up.  

And while she has been mapping out the plan of attack on her very aggressive cancer and figuring out a course of treatment, she has been checking in on me.  

I'm OK... but she just had a double mastectomy and is facing chemo.   

That is just like her.  Worrying about me when she is facing a giant.  

And I dearly love her.   

When we were little, she always found me and lifted me up when I was lost and sad.  Now I want to be able to do the same for her.  

Please say a little prayer for my friend.  She has breast cancer.  She is only 37.  She has two beautiful children and a husband that has stood by her side through some pretty tough times.  Her family is standing with her and loving her and supporting her. 

I am so blessed to be able to pray for her from where I am... and I covet your prayers from wherever you are, too.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Back Away from the iPhone!

It took about 5 days for me to break a habit.

Actually, I still think I am in the "weaning" process.

I've slowly realized that I have a real problem.

I am addicted to my iPhone.

Background Story:

We moved away from our "home" just over 4 years ago.  Leaving behind our friends, family, and everything familiar - I felt that I owed it to our loved ones to remain connected.  I was feeling lonely for friends and family and guilty at the same time.

I felt that it was my "duty" to have some type of connection to everyone and I have done that through the many social channels that are available right at my fingertips.

I felt that it was my "duty" as a mother to help our friends and family "see" our children grow up in some way so that we still had a connection with what was familiar to us.

This has been great in some ways - but the effect on my kids is starting to show.  The effect on me has been a bit more subtle.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

When people have so much access to your life, they don't call "just to talk" because they feel caught up already. I am guilty of this.  Many of my conversations with friends since we have moved away were about things that they already knew about because it was posted on Facebook.

It is lonely being so very "Social".

When a grandmother hears about some milestone of her grandchildren from 1,500 miles away for the first time on Facebook, feelings get hurt.  I've tried to keep that from happening, but inadvertently it happens.  And sometimes it is a cruel reminder of things missed or moments slipping away.  That goes both ways too.  Seeing holiday celebrations with family when you can't be there or even just something simple like a family cookout - the distance stings when you can see it unfold through the social channels.

When one of the kids does something really amazing or cute and I go scrambling for my phone to capture the moment instead of going in for a hug or giving them my full attention and praise, there is a void left in the life of my children.

This week I finally did the opposite.  I put the phone down.  I played with my kids.  And the results still have me smiling.  And wishing I had done it sooner. 

It was hard at first.  Not just for me, but for my kids, too.

We played on the slip-n-slide and they were so happy that I did it with them instead of sitting on the sidelines snapping pictures or "tweeting" about it.  We sat at the end of the slide and made up a story about a mermaid and a merman who got into some trouble and the Incredible Hulk came in and saved the day.  I didn't "tweet" or post a status update about that, either.  But when my husband got home, they couldn't stop talking about how mommy had played in the water with them.

The next day, we left for a family camping trip.  We finally "scheduled" time to go camping and were able to use the brand new tent that had been sitting on our back porch for nearly a year.  If our friends hadn't invited us to join them and booked the site for us, I am not sure that my husband and I would have ever put a trip like this together.  I am so thankful that they did.

The camp site was on a lake in the North Maine Woods.  We had our own little rocky beach where we could swim.  We were able to canoe and kayak and fish and play.

There was no phone signal.  

I knew this already.  My first thoughts were, oh no - what if something happens to my parents and nobody can reach me?  What if our house burns down while we are gone and we don't find out until we drive home?  What if....???

Next I am thinking about all of the memories that I knew we would be making with our children.  And how I feel so compelled to share every. little. detail. with the world.

And then I felt relieved that I didn't need to.  And that I couldn't even if I tried.   AHHHH what a relief.
Mt. Katahdin is in the middle.
This is the only picture I took on my phone during our trip. 

We swam.  We played.  We had a shadow theater in our tent where an alligator attacked a pirate and the Incredible Hulk saved the day (can you tell my son is obsessed with the Hulk?).

And then there was this.  Our view for the week:

My little girl learned how to float in the water on her back. I was the one that taught her how to breathe and relax.

My son squealed with glee when he fed the ducks out of his hands.  I'm telling you, that little boy has a laugh that is infectious.

We found "special rocks" together and listened to nature sounds at night.

My knees were sunburned from so many trips out on the kayak.

I almost even took a nap in my beach chair listening to the sounds of the lake and loons and giggles.

I watched my husband paddle away in a canoe with our children giggling and pointing and chattering away - and on that adventure our little guy caught a couple of fish and they explored an island.

There were sparklers and toasted marshmallows every night.

My daughter was recapping her "firsts" on the drive home with an excitement that I will cherish and forever hold close to my heart.

Because we were there for them.

Completely there.  

Our children had our complete attention with no distractions.  Except for the *%$# deer flies and mosquitoes.

And on the drive home, the phone signal returned.  

As soon as I had 4 bars on my phone I was scrambling for what I had missed while we were away.  The kids were in the back seat sleeping away, but still - I had to stop myself.

Is being anti-social right for everyone?  Hey, it is a personal choice.  I'm certainly not going to judge any parent for posting pictures and updates and tweets about their kids.   We all have our own reasons.

I'm sure I will go through stages of posting the play-by-play of our lives because I have a habit of it.

I am hoping that I remain mindful of what I may be missing if I do.

I will say that, for me, it was very painful when I realized that my kids weren't used to me playing "with" them but rather documenting their lives.  To them, I was an observer. That is going to change.   They are growing up entirely too fast and my time with them is already all too brief as it is.

I'm already looking forward to our next adventure.  I'm still going to bring my camera, but the phone can stay in my purse.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Letting Go Slowly While Holding On Tight

When they were born, they were held.


They slept best when held close to my chest.

Their tiny little fists, griping my fingers, twirling my hair.  Calming them with music and humming and a mother's touch.

At the time it seemed as though they would never be able to sleep alone or without extra snuggles or a song.  Or even through the night.

I was wrong.

Both still require coaxing and routine at bedtime.  Our daughter with her need for conversation at the end of the day and our son with his need for tickles and back scratches and cuddles.

Both are social little beings, never shy around strangers and are never at a loss for words. Friendly, charming, fun.  

Both smile with their entire face, eyes gleaming and noses crinkled up.

Both are slowly letting go and stepping away and growing and changing into amazing little people.

Somewhere deep in my soul, I knew that the moment our oldest began walking that it was the most amazing and sad thing all at the same time. 

For the first time in her life she was doing something for herself.  She was moving herself along.  Growing stronger with each and every step.  Becoming more secure and more confident each time she tried.  She waited to walk until she knew that she could do it perfectly.   

My son didn't exactly wait until he started walking to show us that he was ready to move.  He was crawling out of his crib months before he took his first steps.  He has been on the go ever since.  Moving and climbing and flipping and now running.  Running everywhere.  

With both children it has happened all to fast and I am powerless to slow it down.  

I still have moments where my youngest clings to my legs as I leave and occasionally my daughter still reaches for my hand when we are walking together.  

She claims that she will never be too old to hold my hand, but I know different.  It is sweet of her to say it anyway.  

And my son is still small enough to carry, although he is a bit squirmy at times.  He still likes to nuzzle his face into my neck and twirl my hair with his fingers. 

But both of my dears are slowly letting go.  

As their mother, I am holding them with my palms open.  I am available for them and I am doing all I can to remain strong and relevant for them.  I am trying to give them room to learn while at the same time assuring them that I'll be there when they need me. 

They are amazing. 

They are two precious gifts that I am blessed to be able to call my own.  But they aren't mine, per say

They are held by God's strong hand... much stronger and far more capable than my own.  Knowing that, I am able to let go. 

And I know that one day it will be me reaching out for their steady hands.  

I just pray that I've held them tightly enough and long enough for them to be within my reach when that time comes.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Feeding the Ducks

Each day I drive to work through a pretty busy part of town - the area around the interstate.

About a block from where I work there is an intersection with a truck stop, hotel, gas stations, and Wal-Mart.  In the area  next to the stoplight, there is a small, weedy looking little pond and in the warmer months dozens and dozens of ducks make this their home.  We, along with many, many others - like to stop by from time to time and feed the ducks and ducklings from the parking lot beside it.  When these ducks see a car stop, they swarm and wait for their handout of stale bread and crackers.

Now let's do a Google Earth view of the area that we live in.  Zooming away from this weedy little pond you will see that we are surround by the most beautiful and picturesque lakes and streams.  Miles and miles of pristine forest.  I can't even count the number of lakes and ponds and beautiful nature spaces around this town - some within a 10 minute drive of this little pond next to a busy intersection.  Even closer "as a duck flies".    

We live in a beautiful place.  

And even the ducks are missing out on it because they are coming back, year after year, generation after generation, to a tiny, weedy retention pond surrounded by concrete.  

Isn't life like that?  

I know from personal experience that it is easier to go for convenience and comfort.

It is easier to do the drive-thru some nights or pop in the frozen dinner than to involve my over-tired children in preparing a meal.

It is much less complicated to turn on the cartoons for the kids so that I can get a little housework done than it would be to set them up with an art project or even take the extra time to do my chore by including them and showing them how it is done.

I know many others that come back to the same places because they are receiving something without having to expel any effort.  They are being given something that they haven't even attempted to work for. Like the ducks swarming for stale bread and crackers - yes, their bellies are full but oh how they are missing out.

I know it may seem simple and a bit child-like - but I want more out of life than easy and convenient.

I want to give my children a better experience than the fast food life that is so accessible.  I can't wait until our garden begins producing the veggies that we will eat for dinner.  I look forward to helping them pick the peas and beans and tomatoes in our back yard and enjoying them together.  We have been going fishing lately and I can't wait until we finally catch a "keeper" so that we can enjoy our first real fish fry.

I can't wait to climb that big mountain later this month with my husband.

My two cents for you (and me) today: don't settle for easy and convenient and free.

You may be missing out on unspeakable beauty and settling for stale bread and exhaust fumes.  

The ducks probably won't learn this lesson... and sadly - neither will their cute little ducklings.

Monday, July 1, 2013

To the Mothers

Urgent scream from my three-year-old.  Every single time he wakes up.

Eye-roll and extra long "o" sound from disgruntled seven-year-old.

I wuv you, Mama.
As my three-year-old places a hand on each side of my face and a sloppy wet kiss on my lips.

I love you the whole much, Mama.
Extra long hug from the seven-year-old at bedtime or anytime she wants me to linger just a little bit longer. 

I love being a Mother. But sometimes I do wish I could change my name and hide.  And maybe take a nap.  Oh and potty alone.

Lately I've been thinking about  the various moms in my life.  Yes, there are many.  Aside from the relationship I have with my own wonderful Mother - I am surrounded by mothers!  I am inspired and driven by you.  Encouraged by the way you live and love your children.  I am not going to name any names here but I wanted to tell these ladies in an indirect way how they have inspired and amazed me.

To my Mother:  

My mother loves to garden and has always
encouraged me to "bloom where I'm planted". 
Thank you.  Thank you for the beautiful person that you are, inside and out.  Thank you that you have always spoken your mind to me and shared your views of life with me - even when you didn't realize you were doing it.  Thank you for inspiring me.  Thank you for inspiring others to see and use their natural gifts and talents.  Thank you for pursuing your dreams while we were growing up and teaching us the important lessons of perseverance and education and having goals in life.  Thank you for putting up with me when I was a selfish brat growing up.  Thank you for being involved in my children's lives - no matter the distance.  Thank you for laughing with me and crying with me.  Thank you for loving me and my brother just as we are - and just as we individually need for you to.  I am sorry it took me so long to realize that we both had different needs at different times and needed correction and instruction and love in different forms.  Now that I am a mother, I see that all too clearly.

To the Mothers of my parents: 

These women are both amazing in their own right.  I have written about one of my grandmothers here and have been working on a little bio/essay for my other grandmother that will hopefully be published at a different date.  These women are so unique and different in how they loved me... but both taught me the value of being true to myself and God and the importance of serving others.  And both of my grandmothers were/are VERY good in the kitchen...

To the Mother of my husband:

What an amazing woman.  I miss her so much.  She is one mother that I learned a great deal from and never really had the chance to fully appreciate until it was too late.  She was an amazing mother to her children.  She served others and she prayed for others.  She did this quietly and privately.  She was very smart.  She taught others and never stopped educating herself.  She raised  four children and all are wonderful people in their own way - but I am pretty partial to her youngest son.  She did good.  My husband is thoughtful, sentimental, caring, helpful, and I know that she had a hand in making him the wonderful man that he is.  I know that she was proud of her children and I am certain that she would be proud of all of her grandchildren.  She loved being a grandmother and she is missed each and every day.

To my "other mothers": 

There are a handful of women that I still admire and think of as my "other mothers".  These women were either friends of my mother or mothers of friends (and sometimes both).

I think it is important for children to be raised by loving and wonderful parents certainly, but I think it is equally important for children to know other adults in their life that reinforce what they are learning in their home.  I was blessed as a child in that when I went to stay with a friend, it was in a home in which my parents felt comfortable sending me and they knew that I would have fun and be well cared for.  When I was a teenager, this became even more important as we were usually up to something and would literally crowd around our mothers and sing in chorus, "Have we got a deal for you..."

As I have become a mother, I think fondly on these "other mothers" in my life.  The Sunday School teachers, the grandmothers of friends that I would sit with in church because both of my parents were either singing in the choir or playing an instrument and I needed someone to "keep me in line", the carpoolers and picker-uppers.  The camp counselors and teachers.  As I grew up and moved away from home, I began to appreciate these wise and wonderful women even more.  Now that I am far from home, more of these "other mothers" have been placed into my life for a hug right when I've needed one. You're never too old for a hug from a "mama".

As a mother myself, I am hoping that I am not only providing my children with similar relationships with mothers other than their own, but that I am doing what I can to be a good "other mother" to the friends of my children.

To the moms that never had children of their own:

I was really blessed with a special group of women in my life that were a huge part of raising me.  My great aunts.  My grandmother had three sisters.  Two of these special ladies were never able to have children of their own.  That didn't seem to bother them because their other two sisters shared the love with them.  It was like having 5 grandmothers!  These women, in addition to my grandmothers, taught me so much about caring for others.

Each summer, these brave women would keep my brother and I for a week so that my parents could have a little time away.  Usually during that week we would attend Vacation Bible School at their church.  We would always go swimming at the community pool and we would eat veggies fresh out of their gardens. One summer they took us to an amusement park and one of these great aunts rode with me on my first roller coaster ride.  While we stayed with them, we saw them take food to the sick, bake birthday cakes for friends, place flowers on graves, teach Sunday School at their church, and take vegetables to friends from their gardens.

Thank you!

Thank you to the women that I've mentioned here and to the countless women that have "mothered" me at some point in my life.  I truly believe that people are placed in our life at just the right time and place to help us become more than we ever knew we could be.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thank you, Pauline!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

Good intentions.
Great ideas.
One day I'll....

I am the queen of good intentions.  I am an "ideas" person.  I can come up with some pretty darn good ideas.  Those ideas don't always gain traction - both at home and at work - but man, I can come up with some great ideas.

My children don't always understand that my ideas are sometimes just that.  Ideas.  Things we could be doing.  In their eyes, my ideas have become a promise that I have made to them that I don't always follow through with.  To them I am a walking Pinterest site - full of great ideas and plans.  Some of them are accomplished and create great memories.  Sadly, much of the time my ideas quickly turn into the disappointment my children feel when there just isn't enough time to do it all.

This is not something new to me.  I was made this way.  It is a blessing and a curse.  Fortunately I have been able to turn this characteristic into a job skill.  It has been an integral part of every position I have held.  My creativity has been able to put groceries in the cabinet, gas in the car, and helped keep the lights on at the house.

But last weekend my daughter and young son said something that stopped me in my tracks.  We were going to do a craft project.  Both of them had responsibilities that they needed to complete before we could do it.  I had things that really needed to get done, too.

My husband and I are pretty strict about delaying the things we want to do when there are things that we need to get done.  This is an important lesson that we really want our children to understand.

But before I got to the "if we get that done" portion of getting them excited about the project, both of them said in their own way, "If we have time.  We know Mommy.  If we have time."

I've been chewing on that for a few days. "If we have time."

Time.  My whole life I've heard little quips and clich├ęs bout time. How you never get it back.  You can't stop it.  How it marches on.  I've learned that the mundane seems to drag along and the moments you want to treasure and cherish go screaming by.

Sometimes you don't even recognize a cherished moment until it is long, long gone.  

The past few weeks I've had a chance to ponder some pretty scary thoughts regarding my health and this has changed my perspective on how much time I have been spending making plans and having ideas that never come to fruition.

I've made a decision to start doing more with my ideas.  I've decided to follow through with them to the end.  I've decided to re-ignite the hope and joy and creativity that is burning bright in my children but had been dimmed a little because time and certain responsibilities were getting in the way.

The dishes and clothes that need to be put away can wait.  I would much rather use the two days each week  and short hours each night that I get to spend completely with my children doing more with them and not quite as much around them.

I am going to do more of the things that I have intended on doing sometime in the future "when the time is right".

I'm not going to wait any longer to tackle tough things that have been ideas floating around in my head.

I am going to serve the Lord more boldly.  I am going to volunteer more. I am going to get my hands dirty and help others more. I am going to write more.  I am going to climb a mountain with my husband.  I am going to play with my children more.  I am going to run in as many races as my little legs will let me.  I am going to take my kids to Disney.

I am going to live a full life.  

This week, my husband and I finally put life and responsibilities on hold and took our children fishing.  After work.  When we were tired.  We left dishes in the sink and unfolded clothes on the couch.  And had the time of our lives.

We have no guarantees on exactly how much time we have in this life.  It doesn't have to take a health prognosis to make you re-prioritize your life.  It could just be that you look at your children one day and realize how quickly they are growing up.  It might just take a glance in the mirror.  It might come to you at that quiet moment just before you fall asleep after a long, hard day at work.  But grab that moment of clarity and go with it.

My thought for the week:

Be deliberate with your time.  It is the only thing in life that you can't get back.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Important Thing

I was not feeling it this morning.  

At 3:30am I was awakened by the loud shriek of a cat in my yard.  Then another one.  The two of them were quite vocal.  This went on for quite awhile.  If you have never been blessed enough to hear cats socializing during the night, it is a blood curdling sound that just seemed to be amplified by the fact that all of our bedroom windows were open and the streets below were silent.  


I've started torturing myself with exercise early in the morning.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am up at 4:30am for an exercise class.  So much for that extra hour of sleep.  I should be used to sleep deprivation... I think I can count on two hands the number of times my three year old has slept all the way through the night.  But that last hour of sleep would have been so nice.  

I zip through spin class and expect to come home to a quiet house.  6:00am and I am usually still the only one awake at this point.  Unless aforementioned toddler has crawled in bed with my husband.  My dear daughter isn't exactly a "morning person", so typically I am giving her a nudge at about 6:30.  She is seldom as happy to see me as I am to see her sweet, sleepy face.   

Today was very, very different.    

Today my sweet, bright-eyed little angel was already up.  She greeted me as I came in, smiling with her mess of curly red hair because she is happy.  So very happy.  She announces to me that she has been up for a little while, she has already fixed her snack and picked out her clothes, and she has her toothbrush in her hand - ready for action.  Then she remembers breakfast and follows me down to the kitchen.  As we are waiting on our bagels to finish toasting she tells me why she is so happy.  

"Mommy, I prayed this morning when I woke up.  I guess I wanted to pray because I dreamed all night about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  They were all there... in my dream."  
I had to peek around the corner to respond to her.  Because an announcement like that deserved eye contact.  I said, "That's great sweetheart.  I'm so excited that you woke up and started your day talking to God."
"Wanna know what I learned in my dream?" she asked.  
"Of course I do," was my reply.  
"I dreamed that God just wanted me to know that He was the most important thing in life.  That's all.  So I woke up and prayed.  I thought it was weird that He wanted me to know that because I've been knowing that for years, like since I was 5 or 6.  Do we have cream cheese?" 

We had our bagels and chatted along through our normal morning routine but I haven't been able to shake her words.  Wow.  

I've been rocked pretty hard lately with what's important.  Perceived priorities.  But in one simple revelation that was just so obvious to my seven year old daughter, I gained true perspective.  

God is the most important thing in life. Period.  

Everything else comes after that.  Health, finances, career, family... everything.  Yeah, it is something I have always "thought", but is it really playing out in my priorities?  My actions? How I manage my life? 

Am I living like He is most important?  

I am pretty sure that it wasn't a huge revelation to my daughter. She has a keen understanding of God that is beyond my comprehension.  She has no idea the impact that her simple and direct faith has on me each day.  I didn't clue her in today that her words from God may not have just been for her but for her to share with others. As a parent I have really steered away from directing my children's relationships with God but rather fostered opportunities for their own personal relationships with God to take root.  But her message was so clear and I felt led to share it with others.  

God is the most important thing in life.  

Pretty simple words, actually.  Even my seven year old has been "knowing it for years".  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Children and Pets: Learning about Loving and Letting Go

This was a really tough week for our little family.  We lost a special member of our family, our pet kitty - Woody.  He had been sick for nearly a month and his little body just couldn't rebound from his sickness.  We did what we could to try and help him get better, but sometimes things are just out of our hands.

These are the things I keep telling myself.  And others.  And it is all true.  But there is so much more to our story.  And Woody's short story needs to be told.

Woody's Story

We adopted Woody from the local Humane Society last July.  I was still recovering from a miscarriage and was perpetually sad.  When I saw his sweet little face in a post on Facebook, I fell for him.  A friend of mine went out with me to the shelter for a visit and his sweet cuddles and curiosity and LOUD purr drew me in.  I now had to sell the idea to my husband.  I didn't dare tell the kids until I had his blessing.  That weekend we went out to the shelter as a family and Woody came home with us.  He was 8 weeks old.

Woody was exactly what our family needed.  

Woody was instantly a part of our family.  He was cute and very social.  He loved to be wherever we were.  He played with the kids and tolerated their need to hold him and "love on" him.  He loved water.  He even liked to try and get in the tub with the kids at bath time and ALWAYS got into the tub after anyone had taken a bath or shower.  Woody loved to chase the reflection of light on the wall or his red laser pointer.  He had a little blue catnip mouse that he carried everywhere and usually left it in from of my door at night as though he had caught it for me.

Woody was loved deeply by our family.  

And then Woody got sick.  It came on quite subtly.  He was always eating weird things and we had to not only maintain a childproof house for our son, but a kitty-proof house for Woody.  He liked to chew the tips off of q-tips.  He loved toys that were made of foam.  All we can figure from what happened with him is that he ingested some foam beads that our kids play with.  He regurgitated them quickly (aka. nasty mess), but he was never the same after that.  He didn't have a blockage from them, but for whatever reason after that he stopped eating.  We took Woody to the vet and he stayed there for four days before they would let us bring him home.  They did x-rays and gave him fluids.  They sent him home and taught us how to force feed him and give him an antibiotic.  We took him to the vet daily for nearly two weeks for a check of his vitals.  He perked up and started eating a little bit.  We thought he was getting better.  And then he wasn't.  His last day with us he hardly moved all day and could barely walk.  I knew he was still very, very sick.  I took him to the vet the next morning and his liver had failed and he was severely jaundiced.  I made the hard decision that I knew needed to be made.  He was given a tranquilizer to keep him still and calm for "the" shot, but he slipped away in my arms not long after he was given the sedative.  I had made the right decision for him but it was heart-wrenching.

Now, as a family, we are working through the grief of losing our pet who was simply gone too soon.  We only had him in our lives for 10 months.  He was so young.

This is where my lesson comes in for families with pets:

  • Pets are a wonderful way to teach children about responsibility.  The child reaps the rewards of affection from the pet that they care for.  Woody knew the sound of our daughter's voice and when she called him to feed him.  He was always right with her as soon as he heard the rattle of his food in the bowl.  She loved taking care of him.  
  • Children should not be the only ones that are responsible for the pet.  There should be a system of communication about how the pet is being cared for.  It irritated our daughter every day when we asked if Woody had been fed or given fresh water because she was very good about doing it, but it kept a line of communication open so that we all knew he was being cared for.  
  • When a pet's behavior changes, take them to the vet.  It may seem silly.  It may save their life.  I don't think it would have changed the outcome if we had caught Woody's problem sooner, but I will always wonder. 
  • When a pet succumbs to sickness and your child has been an integral part of their care, be prepared for the grief that your child will feel.  They will not only be grieving the loss of their pet, but they may have guilt associated with thinking it was their fault.
  • Your child will ask why their pet had to die.  It's ok to not have an answer for them.  Don't make up something just to make them (or you) feel better. It is better to hold them and cry with them and let them know that you are sad too.  It is OK to say you don't understand why.  It is OK to be sad with them.  I don't have a problem with some of the stories and books that help parents talk about where pets go when they die, but I also don't want to confuse my daughter who is learning about so many hard and important things all at once.
  • Very young children need to know that their pet is gone.  They just don't need the same details.  Our daughter is 7 and very smart and she needed an entirely different explanation about Woody's death than our 3 year old son did.  He heard me say something about Woody getting a shot (when I was on the phone) and he thought that someone had shot him.  He just needed to know that Woody wasn't coming home again and that he had died.  And that he didn't get shot. I purposefully didn't tell him that he "went to sleep" because to a child that takes things literally like my son does, it could have been very confusing.  I also avoided saying that he "wasn't sick anymore" because then he would think that he had gotten better.  It is a tough balancing act, but necessary with two children that loved Woody so much... and so uniquely.  
I will probably think of a million things that I should have done differently through this entire process.  I will always wish that I had noticed something was "off" with Woody sooner than I did.  I will always question how I handled this with our children.  But I do know that in the end, we did all we could do to help Woody and we did the best we could in teaching our children about loving their pet and caring for him.  We showed them that we would go the distance for Woody to try and help him feel better.  We also helped our daughter learn (as we were learning) when it is time to say goodbye.

I am so thankful that we had a couple of more weeks with Woody after we found out how sick he was.  I am thankful he is not suffering any longer but am still sad about losing him.  I will never forget him purring for me as he went to sleep in my arms for the last time, his paw draped over my hand.  I will never forget that the veterinarian and nurses who had tried so hard for weeks to help him, cried right along with me as he slipped away.