Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 68

Sunday October 24, 2010

Our last morning at the Four Seasons

Today was an excellent day. The sun was shinning brilliant in Beverly Hills and Nina was more comfortable in her new surroundings. We started off the morning by going to the farmer's market, which Nina LOVED! In fact, she had been asking to go to a market from the moment we arrived. She chose some apples, oranges, carrots, and a couple of peaches. Then Linda introduced to the kettle corn and Nina was in heaven!

We had a relaxing lunch at the Marbans. Nina especially loved Linda's dance routine! She was in stitches and I was so happy that the Marbans could spend such a wonderful day with our girl, hearing her recount stories of her childhood (her favorite thing to do these days) and hear her infectious laugh. Unfortunately, they had never met Nina prior to her diagnosis. When we were first at Cedars, Nina was a fraction of who she was. Since radiation she had grown in strength and most of her personality has returned. That is a huge blessing! No I stand corrected, that is a MIRACLE and we are soooo very thankful!

After lunch, Linda, I and the girls were off to the American Girl Store. Eduardo had surprised us all and made a reservation for us to go have tea there. How precious! As we drove to the store, Nina and Cristina began to sing along to the Miley Cyrus song on the radio. I looked back and saw the biggest smiles on both of the girls. Immediately, the lump that I hate so much returned in a flash. I quickly looked away, staring at the passing cars, willing my tears back in! Linda just grabbed my hand and held it tightly! Words were not necessary! She knew what was going through my mind because it was going through hers!

Upon arriving, each of the girls got to chose a doll. If you are a girlie girl and you have never been to this store, you need to go! Linda and I enjoyed it just as much as the girls! The store is covered in beautiful dolls, and there is one just like you! However, the icing on the cake is the myriad of outfits, pets, and accessories you can chose for you doll. Holy smoke....Linda and I could have spent the entire afternoon picking out the perfect outfit for our own baby-dolls :)

Once the girls chose their dolls, we went upstairs and had a light lunch. The dolls sat with us of course, which the girls found to be hysterical! We ate, laughed, and had a great time in an amazing pink-drenched restaurant! It is not uncommon for Nina to fuss at food these days if it doesn't meet her exact expectations. This is what she did when the cheese pizza arrived. "I don't like this pizza!" she howled at me!  However, I've learned that if I don't make a big deal and just wait her out, eventually she will succumb to the enticing smells of the surrounding grub and dig in. Within 2 minutes, she was munching on her cheese pizza and her chocolate milkshake. She just likes to keep her mama constantly on her toes!

Our American Girl excursion left us all tired so we spent the rest of the evening hanging out the Marbans. We were now officially staying in their guest house, which Nina sweetly referred to as the "new hotel" :) Nina and Cristina played with their new dolls and we joined them for a round of Pretty Pretty Princess. As we sat by the fireplace, the girls laughing and having a good time, that damn lump began to return. Linda saw it. She knew what I was thinking. She was lamenting it herself. Our girls could have been wonderful friends! God willing...they will be life-long friends.

Once the girls were asleep, Linda joined me in the living room. It was dark and the evening had turned windy. I sat on the large couch with my friend and wept. The trip had been incredible so far but I couldn't contain it any longer. Each happy memory I had made was still covered by a sense of sadness. Linda did what she does best...she held me like a loving sister would and reminded me she loved me! My soul ached but it helped to have love poured into me!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 67

Saturday October 23, 2010

Nina and I both slept in! We slept and slept and slept and by the time we woke up it was 10am!! It felt great! We soaked in the ginormous bathtub (Nina was very impressed!) and then our friend Jimmy joined us for breakfast. Soon after, Linda came over and we all worked on a Sponge Bob puzzle. Puzzles have become one of Nina's favorite pass-times. They are stimulating but don't require a ton of physical activity :(

Room service for Mademoiselle Nina

Almost done with Sponge Bob with Linda & Jimmy

In general, Nina has become very weary and nervous around less familiar people. To her, someone that she doesn't see on a regular basis is more than likely someone who is going to poke her with something sharp, draw blood, or make her swallow something nasty. My poor sweet girl! Consequently, all of our friends have learned to be extremely soft spoken and gentle with Nina. This is different for everyone because Nina was our easy-going, friendly, and social-butterfly child. Our friends could be animated with her and she would love it! When we'd go to Christmas Day with my Portuguese family, Todd and Teddy would inevitably end up finding a quiet corner to hang out in while Nina immersed herself in the crowd of kids within seconds of arriving. What is noteworthy about this is that Nina would see this extended family (and cousins) once a year! She had no problem leaving us and being independently social :) Oh, how things have changed. Now, she is super scared and easily made anxious. Most of all, she wants me by her side at all times. It is hard to see her so scared because no matter how hard I reassure her, someone in a set of scrubs is going to show up and scare her all over again!

After finishing our puzzle, we said goodbye to Jimmy and went home with Linda. As we waited in the lobby of the Four Sessions, Nina pointed out the chandelier. She loved it. She's always had an eye for interesting things, always been super observant; I love that this hasn't changed, even though so many other things have.

"Look Mama, the lights look like jelly fish!"
We then joined Eduardo and Cristina for delicious ice-cream. Nina chose one scoop of bubblegum and one of vanilla. Sometimes as adults we plan these huge events and activities thinking that they will delight our children when the simplest of things (i.e., getting ice cream with a friend) is far more meaningful! 

Although Nina did great at the new ice cream shop, by the time we arrived at the Marbans she was overwhelmed again. I explained that is was a frequent experience now and that the best thing was to just give her space, so that is exactly what we did. While the Marbans went inside, Nina and I waited in the car. I told her there was no pressure. That we could go in as soon as she was ready. She in turn explained that she was scared but couldn't elaborate why. My heart broke for her. I knew why...."new" in of itself meant more than likely "bad" or at least "painful". I was happy we had an opportunity this weekend to show her that "new" didn't always mean scary. About 10 minutes later, Eduardo came out with their doggie Paco. Nina loves dogs so after petting Paco and watching him run back into the house, she unbuckled and followed him in; motivation baby!!! We all need it!

The rest of the afternoon was delightful. We went and watched Secretariat. Great movie but not really fast enough for kids; about 1/2 way through Nina proclaimed she was done so Linda and Cristina joined us at Borders while Eduardo finished the movie. After the movie, we did what all ladies love doing....shopping! We went to Nordies and Nina picked out a pair of Ugg boots. Her feet have been really sensitive lately and none of her shoes are comfortable. In fact, she walks around in socks most of the time. Linda had suggested Uggs and to my delight Nina had agreed that they made her feet feel good. 

Picking movie snacks with Cristina

With our new Uggs on, we followed Cristina to the pet store where I was shocked to find out that they had puppies in display for adoption. I haven't seen a pet store like this since my adolescence. The fact that one exists in LA baffles me....how has PETA not shut this down??? Not that I'm suggesting that the store should be shut down, it was lovely. Just couldn't believe that in LA of all places you'd see such a store. I could see one of these existing in the Central Valley, say Bakersfield, but snooty/progressive LA. It made me laugh and Nina loved tapping the windows of all the cute puppies :)

How much is that doggie in the window? Ruff-ruff!

We had a lovely Cuban dinner back at the Marbans; Eduardo's version of chicken and rice. Fabulous!!! To top it all off, Eduardo made the most amazing mojitos! I love mojitos but I can sincerely say that Eduardo's is the best I have EVER had! I guess it takes a Cuban to make a killer Cuban drink :) 
Not only are the Marbans brilliant researchers and physicians....but boy, oh boy....can they throw a party :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 66

Friday October 22, 2010

The first thing Nina said this morning when she woke up was, "Mama...are we going on the plane
now?" The excitement in her voice and the enthusiasm in her eyes were scrumptious! I was so glad the idea of flying into LAX had popped into my head. For the longest time Nina has been looking forward to a Mommy-and-Me plane trip. In fact, we originally had one planned for Boston this coming January during the Martin Luther King holiday. This trip would be just the correct length of time and the Marbans had planned an extraordinary weekend for us! How blessed we are to have them in our lives!!

I explained to Nina that we had a few things to do before our trip and that we would leave after dinner. She moaned with disappointment. I love how kids want things to happen right then and there! The reality is that we all operate that way...we've just learned that it's not socially appropriate to moan when we don't get our way immediately (at least some of us have learned this adaptive skill). Before long, Larisa arrived to hang out with Nina. When Nina saw Larisa she said, "Awww...can't Mario babysit?" Larisa and I burst into laughter. I guess our theory was true! Nina Fredeen!!! Larisa is such a good friend, the most precious of friends. She sat down next to Nina and stroked her hair while saying, "I can't blame you....we'd all prefer Mario to babysit." Nina's cheeks actually flushed pink! It was the sweetest thing ever!!

Larisa and Nina proceeded to play Wii. Nina is an incredible Wii player; totally competitive but equally skilled. I went to my meetings. All in all, despite being incredibly worried, all my meetings went well. For the majority of my adult life I have made most of my decisions out of fear. Fear has pretty much dominated my life in one capacity or another. My Fear Warden is not one about being afraid to try things, work hard, take on responsibilities. My Fear Warden is about disappointing people. I have a terrible fear about disappointing others and I am now realizing that for the most part these fears are completely inappropriate and misplaced. I have spent the majority of my life trying to work harder, do more, be smarter, be more patient, all in the hope that I could earn love and appreciation. However, this nightmare with Nina has forced me to wake up and realize that it does not matter how hard I work, how much I take on, how long I am patient for, if people don't love and appreciate me, there is nothing I can do to earn that! It is not me....it is them!! Sometimes, you need to be knocked down completely before you realize what has been holding you captive and what is truly a blessing in life.

When I returned, I found Larisa and Nina still playing Wii. Larisa laughed as she explained how ruthless Nina was and how she'd practically won every game. Nina smugly smiled! Ohh, how I love that girl! While Larisa played one last game with Nina, I secretly put together Nina's snack container for the plane trip. Above all else, what Nina was looking most forward to about the plane ride was pulling down her tray and getting a platter of snacks to eat :) Unfortunately, the flight from SB to LAX did not offer snacks but I knew I could convince the stewardess to help me out. Who wouldn't want to bring a smile out our honey-girl? So...I packed up a cute pink box with a juice container, crackers, cheetos, string-cheese, etc. I knew she'd get a kick out of this and I couldn't wait to see her smile.

We hugged Larisa good bye and thanked her for all her help. We finished packing and then enjoyed dinner with Teddy and Dada. Nina was so excited she could barely concentrate on eating, which rarely ever happens. Then it was time to leave. I grabbed our suitcases and went to help Nina put her socks on but she was no longer in the living room...she had actually already climbed into the car! The entire car ride to the airport (all 10 minutes) Nina beamed. Teddy told her all about the cool things about going on a plane, and explained in his best "big brother" voice, how important it was to tighten the lap belt (only our Teddy would do this!). We pulled up to the terminal and Todd unloaded our suitcases. We hugged the boys goodbye and were off on our adventure!

As we walked to the terminal, I noticed Nina lingering behind. I looked back and saw that she was crying. I knelt beside her and asked what was wrong. She wiped her precious tears and told me she was scared to go on the plane and that she was going to miss Dada and Teddy. We sat on the bench beside us and I just rubbed her sweet back, explaining what would happen on the plane ride. We talked about how of course we would miss Dada and Teddy but that we would see them soon and would talk to them on the phone whenever she wanted to. Before long, she was ready to go in.

Who knew that going thru the terminal security was exciting, but with Nina it was! New adventures and experiences with our kids was always exciting. Each of their new experiences was a joy to go through with them; seeing the expression on their sweet faces, getting to relive things, such a pleasure, such a gift! Once we were thru security, we didn't have long to wait. We sat down and then......I realized we had forgotten the stroller!!! Yikes!! I called Todd and asked him to bring it to us. Luckily we don't live very far so he was able to get it to me in a jiff, just as the flight attendant announced that it was time board!

We boarded the plane and buckled in. To say that Nina was excited, happy, elated, thrilled...simply does not do it justice! She was in stitches. She couldn't stop smiling. She looked out the plane, attentively listen to the flight attendant, looked around, everything was perfect for her. As Nina was distracted with watching the crew outside load the luggage, I sneakily asked the flight attendant if she could lend me a helping hand and pretend she was passing out snacks to everyone and give Nina her special pink snack container. The flight attendant, a bubbly blond from Clovis with beautiful blue eyes named Brittany, smiled and agreed! Yahoo!!!

As the plane started to move forward, I held Nina's hand. She was so happy, so excited! When we actually took off and were in the air, her little mouth dropped! She asked me how it was possible for us to be in the sky...dang it...kids always ask complicated questions :) I explained that it was magic....no...I didn't! I gave her the simplest of explanations but she lost interest and instead looked out the window and pointed out the ocean and the hills :) That's my girl!

After the captain announced we could walk around in the cabin, I told Nina she could pull down her tray. I might as well have told her that Santa Claus was going to live with us forever....she was wildly happy!! She proudly pulled down her tray just as the flight attendant came by with her snack container.
Brittany played her part perfectly and Nina happily accepted the snacks. When she opened the container, it was as if she'd been given the greatest treasure on earth...as if she had never seen crackers, cheetos, apple juice, or string cheese. I couldn't help but beam myself!! I was helping my honey-girl's dreams come true and there was no other greater feeling!

Our 20 minute flight was perfect...of course, 5 minutes before the captain announced to be sure to be buckled for landing, Nina turned to me and asked, "When are we going to get there?"

We arrived and were greeted by the most darling limo driver. The Marbans had arranged for us to have a chauffeur drive us to the Four Seasons. What a treat! They just spoil us! As we drove through classic LA traffic, Eduardo texted me saying: I'll be here waiting at 4S. See you soon! I texted back asking if 4S was our room number to which Eduardo replied No silly...it's the Four Seasons. I'll wait for you at the front entrance. I could just hear his laugh!

In the limo!

When we pulled up at the Four Seasons (4S), both Nina and I were speechless. We hugged Eduardo hello, were greeted by the hotel manager (fancy-fancy...we are VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE...hee-hee!) and then went up to our suite! Holy Smoke!! Our suite was spectacular. Nina was blown-away! She even called me into the bathroom twice to show me the shower and the tv! The living room was covered in treats: fruit, crackers, and a cookie decorating tray from our friends Mendy and Damien. Eduardo helped us prepare for room service then was off to their back-to-school party. Nina and I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the absolute coolest hotel ever! We had room service and watched Nanny McPhee 2 in bed!! Nina's favorite part of the movie was when the piggies danced; I was fond of the annoying city-cousin and would periodically turn to Nina and speak like him (in an awful English accent) making her crack up. No better sound in the world!

Nina has ALWAYS loved hotels and this hotel was the poshest, coolest, most amazing treat ever!! Thank you Marbans for making our Nina's dream come true!!! What an incredible start to the best ever Mommy-and-Daughter weekend get-away!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 65

Thursday October 21, 2010

This morning started off rocky!!! Teddy did not want to go to school. I knew he was tired but he needed to return. He had missed a week and when we went to Disneyland he was going to miss more. Consequently, he needed to go.

Nina and I spent the morning unpacking and then repacking for our upcoming adventure. Friday afternoon, she and I were leaving for Beverly Hills for our much anticipated "Plane-Mommy-and-Me" trip. Nina was beyond excited. She insisted on packing her own bags and making sure she had all the right socks (go figure!).

We picked up Teddy from school at 1:55 since it was early dismissal and then went to get a smoothie at Blenders in the Grass. The kids love smoothies from there and it allows me to sneakily put in stool softener into a drink Nina is willing to take.

The beach house trip had been a dream come true, especially for Nina. However, for one I was glad to be home even if it was just for a mere 24 hours. Somehow, although all of the trips we had planned were exciting they were also all tainted by grief....because we were doing them to build memories. At least doing things like going to Blenders was normal and not just occurring for the sake of memory building. However....as I stood there in line, watching Teddy and Nina talk to each other as they sat on the store bench, I realized that even here we were building memories. In our normal, every day activities we were building memories!

We went home where my friend Mario was waiting to hang out with the kids while I ran a few errands. Nina was delighted to see Mario. My friends and I had started to joke that she had a massive crush on him, which made Mario bashful :) Teddy was ecstatic to play Xbox with Mario, however, I reminded Mario that Nina hadn't really climbed up the stairs since we had returned from Cedars. I suggested that they play Wii downstairs and Mario gave me the Remember I work with kids...I can handle yours :) look so I said good-bye and left.

When I returned, I heard a commotion coming from upstairs. I looked around downstairs and did not see Nina. As I walked upstairs, I heard her laughter erupting. She has the most contagious laughter....it literally could light up an entire town! I then heard Teddy scream his I'm a maniac scream. As I rounded the corner, the kids and Mario were head down the hall. Teddy was a ball of sweat. Apparently he and Mario had not only played Xbox but wrestled like nuts! Mario was super pleased with himself and Nina just laughed as she walked down the stairs. I asked Mario how he had convinced Nina to go upstairs. The punk just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I didn't have to convince her. Teddy wanted to go upstairs so I invited her. She initially said no but then when she saw me go upstairs she got up and came with me." Motivation...pure and simple :) I asked Nina if she had a good time and she smiled. She seemed super proud of herself. I didn't blame her; I was proud of her! Sometimes the best memories are those that you don't plan for!

Day 64

Wednesday October 20, 2010

We were so lucky....the weather was a bit chilly but otherwise perfect. We spent the walking on the beach with Papa and Nana. Teddy found one carcass after another...first a sting-ray then several sea lions. I have a younger brother and work with tons of boys but I have never quite understood the fascination that boys have with poking dead stuff!! It's just weird.

Nina was very tired today. In fact, I had noticed a growing fatigue over the fast several days and bit of drooling today. This morning, Todd and I both noticed her mouthing things (e.g., putting her hair and clothing into her mouth). We didn't say a word to her...just looked at each other with growing sadness...symptoms were coming back!

After lunch, Todd finished loading the car. We played a few games. Teddy invented a ball-toss game where Nina sat at the top of the stairs and threw balls down to him, trying to get the balls into a myriad of hats he had accumulated. He was so sweet to her...it choked me up!!!

Finally, it was time to go. We hugged Papa and Nana goodbye and loaded up into the car. As soon as she buckled, Nina asked that I turn the dvd player on. I did as she asked. She did not say a word about leaving the beach house. She simply put on her headphones and watched the previews on the video. We drove down the long path to the front exit. I looked back and saw Teddy crying. He looked at me but turned his face away when I tried to reach for his hand. I asked him what he was thinking about but he ignored me, instead putting his head phones on and turning his attention to the dvd screen. I then looked at Todd, who was also crying. I reached for his hand but unlike Teddy he didn't take it away. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it but he declined. We stopped at the front gate and waited for the door to open. It was dark and windy. Ominous. I rubbed Todd's back. He put both hands on the steering wheel and we drove to the gas station. Once there, I climbed into the back seat with the kids. I sat between them and tickled their arms the way they love it. Once back on the road, Beauty and Beast came on. It was my favorite movie as an adolescent and I still had all of the lyrics memorized. I started to sing along with Belle, however, Nina turned to me and said, "Mama...please don't sing." I laughed!

We had left late a night because we had hoped the kids would fall asleep. Did they???? NOPE!!! Not for a single second. We arrived in Santa Babara at 11pm. We all climbed into bed, grateful for a wonderful trip but equally grateful for being back home! Then...we passed out!!! Nothing like sleeping in your own bed!!!

Day 63

Tuesday October 19, 2010

Last walk before leaving

Today was all about clean up! The only draw back to staying at a house versus a hotel for vacations is that you have to clean up the mess you make before you leave. Fortunately, over the years we have become more creative and efficient so that the last day isn't as overwhelming (I guess I should check with Gordy before I make that declaration...hee-hee!) For example, we do laundry on a daily basis instead of waiting to do it all on the last day.

For the most part, Joe and Todd supervised the kids while Gordy, Sharon and I ran to and fro, sometimes with a plan, most of the time not :) Although no one said a word, a growing amount of tension had accumulated. The adults (and Sosie and Addie) were keenly aware that this "might" be the last beach house vacation we take as a complete family. I did everything I could to avoid thinking about that....instantly I would have tears accumulate if I allowed myself to. How could we ever be complete?? It is not possible!! Pure and simple....if Nina is not healed we will never be complete....ever again!!!

As Joe finished loading up his car, Sosie and Adelae got into a terrible fight. The fact was that the girls had been on excellent behavior the entire trip and really had gotten along. Now, the fatigue from the week-long adventures, the anxiety about returning to school, and the tension all around created the perfect petri-dish for a sisterly argument......about....oh no....who could use the hair brush!!! How stereotypically girlie and sisterly can you get!! I tried to redirect but they would not listen...so what did I do....I started to cry...not hysterically...quietly. I knelt next to them and told them I needed them to listen to me carefully. I proceeded to thank them for being so great during the entire vacation and especially for loving Nina so tenderly. I told them their devotion to her was one of the greatest gifts of my life. I then thanked them for being so brave, that many adults in their shoes would have avoided being so close to Nina because of how much it hurts. I took each of their hands and asked them to look at me...then I reminded them that unfortunately they carried a heavy burden, one that I wished no kid ever had to carry, the prospect of losing someone so dear, their sweet cousin, to cancer. Then I changed my tone to a bit more serious and explained that with this burden came a serious responsibility and that was to savour life and have a grateful heart for all the blessings that we have in our lives, including each other! Both the girls looked slightly piqued. I squeezed their hands and told them that they were so blessed to have each other as sisters and should fiercely guard that blessing with all of their strength and that fighting over who could use the hair brush was bull-shit....pure and nasty bull-shit and that I expected better from them. I hugged them and told them I loved them! Then I walked out. I found Gordy in the other room and he thanked me for having that conversation with them. I smiled and agreed. The girls got along beautifully the rest of the morning.

Teddy preparing for his cousins' departure. Saying goodbye totally warrants camo!

After lunch, Joe and the kids finished loading the car. We all hugged goodbye! After hugging Adelae for a third time, Nina walked back into the house. She didn't stay to wave goodbye to their car. I didn't blame her! It was too hard. Once Joe and the kids were gone, Teddy joined Nina to play some Xbox before we left. I packed a few final bags and brought them downstairs where Todd loaded them in the car. I stood in front of the house, staring at the looming dark clouds...rain was coming our way. I stood there, watching Todd load the final bags into our car. Secretly, I had hoped all day that he would suggest us staying for another day or two. As he walked fast me, I stopped him and asked what he thought about staying overnight and leaving the following day after dinner. To my relief, he thought it was a great idea. We told the kids and my in-laws and everyone was delighted!!!

Nina wearing Nana's glasses :)
For dinner, Gordy went to Phil's Fish market and brought back some incredible food. I had the shrimp scampi....do die for!! Real scampi, fresh and authentic! Gordy had a shrimp po'boy which was super tasty and Sharon had a fish salad. Todd and the kids had burgers :) After dinner, we all cuddled up on the couch and watched the Karate Kid. All in all, what had started off as a touch-and-go day, ended peacefully!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

Today was Thanksgiving and Todd's family (parents, brother, kids and ex-sister-in-law) came over to my parent's home along with my brother and Michelle for a feast! Each year we alternate Thanksgiving between the Fredeen's and the Matos' so that we can always be together. This year was incredibly bitter-sweet. We were all more thankful than ever before, but it was all sprinkled by a tiny bit of sadness.

Everything about today was lovely. Everyone behaved, the food was incredible (my mom and dad are amazing chefs!!), the pies were delicious (Todd and Sharon always bake the best home-made pies!!) and the conversations were happy and marked by a refreshed sense of gratitude.

Nina had a hard time sleeping last night and was up this morning from 2-5am. As I lay beside her, tickling her back, I began to think about all the things I am thankful for. There are so many things... the list could go on forever, but I've decided to narrow it down to my top 10.

10. The amazing love and support of family and friends. Without this, we would have not survived all the trials we have been through and may have to go through even more.

9. The kindness and generosity of acquaintances and strangers. We expect love and support from our friends and family but sometimes what we get is more like cruelty and betrayal. What is more astounding is when mere acquaintances and even strangers step in and show a level of compassion that one would have expected from the closest of friends. I am so thankful for all our new friends and for all of our deepened relationships!

8. The miracles that are named Teddy & Nina. They are my life, and every struggle I have had with them is worth it!!

7. The love that Todd has for our children. Todd was made to be a father and our children are beyond blessed to have him as their dada!! I am beyond blessed that he is their dada!!

6. My children's disruptive behavior. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be thankful for their tantrums but I am!!!  I am thankful for all the "stink-eyes" I have gotten and each and every tantrum, fussy, and melt-down. I know this sounds strange and trust me...when I am living through one, gratitude is NOT what is flowing through my mind! But once it is over and we have come to a resolution I have found myself lately thanking God for these opportunities to shape my children's lives and for the "normalcy" that disruptive behavior is. Fatigue, silence, unresponsiveness is not normal for a 5 year old....talking back, crying, pouting, and the all encompassing "stink-eye" is and I am thankful!

5. Adelae, Silas, Teague & Sosie. No one brings more joy and happiness into Teddy and Nina's lives than their cousins and I praise God for the love they pour into each other! It is awe-inspiring and breathtaking! Tonight, when it was bed time, Addie lay next to Nina and tickled her little cousin's back, arms, and face for over 10 minutes until Nina was sound asleep. That is love!! Pure and simple!!

4. Laughter!!! Nothing is more precious than the laughter of my children. I have always appreciated their laughter but now it has a magnificence about it that is indescribable. When I hear their laughter, happiness pulsates through my veins. When I hear their laughter, I swear I can feel Heaven's blessings pouring over me. When I hear their laughter, everything is right in the world...even if it is only for a millisecond!

3. A most precious friend's reminder that everything else in my life can stay in limbo for now...that the only thing that matters is being with my family and memorizing every breath, smell, touch, freckle, laughterr, stink-eye, smile, movement, word that is my honey-girl! My life is completely falling apart all around me....every aspect is being decimated! However, I felt the most amazing peace and liberation when I was told this because it is true. Every time Teddy hugs me or kisses me I find myself memorizing the sweetness of his face. Every time Nina reaches for me in the middle of the night and nuzzles her chubby face tightly up against mine, I find myself memorizing the cadence of her beating heart and the rhythm of her breathing. Each of these little things are miracles and I am so, so very thankful!!

2. Forgiveness! I am incredibly thankful for "Forgiveness"!! I struggle with doing the right thing on a daily basis, hourly basis, sometimes second by second basis and I would have to say that perhaps one of my biggest struggles and sins in life has been arrogance. This journey with Nina has taught me many things, however, one of the greatest lessons I have learned so far is the astounding and humbling experience of forgiveness. Today, as I hugged my former sister-in-law Shannon goodbye when she left Thanksgiving lunch, I was overcome by the amazingness of forgiveness!!! I fall short every day of my life but God is always ready to forgive me and love me, just the way that I am, faults and all!!! If God is willing to do this for me, why shouldn't I be willing to do this for others??? Consequently, this year I am beyond thankful for the gift of forgiveness!!

1. Unwavering love!! Most of all....I am thankful for unwavering love!!

Day 62

Monday October 18, 2010

Yesterday there was rain. Today there was sunshine and no one loved it more than our kids! Children love the sunshine. It beckons them, nourishes them, inspires them. When you're a child, everything seems possible in sunshine. I remember being a little girl, Teddy's age, and running through the beach with my cousin Elsa, thinking that life couldn't get better than being with your best friend, having fun, and being in the sunshine!

Teddy was the last one to get up. He has the hardest time falling asleep but he can also sleep in, like none of the other kids. In fact, all of the other kids, with the exception of Nina, Teddy and Inga :), got up at 6am and went on a sunrise hike with Dan and Joe! Dan is the embodiment of energy! I thought I had a lot of energy but that man surpasses all of my capacity and then some :)

Helping Dan change Inga

When Teddy came out of the bedroom in the morning, he crawled up onto the couch next to Silas who was playing on the iPad. He lifted the blanket that was covering Silas and draped it over his scrawny legs :) I watched as Silas looked at him and smiled. Those two love each other so sincerely! They are such little puppies...totally savage and wild one second and then soft and precious the next. Silas is built for bigness. Everything about him is stereotypically masculine, his strong shoulders, loud voice, athletic ability. But his heart is that of a soft poet, tender and loving, a contradiction to his rough and tumble exterior. He is such a blessing for Teddy and you can see in Teddy's eyes that Silas is one of his heroes! I pray that they will always bless each other, like my cousin Elsa and I have for all our lives, no matter how far we are from each other or how long it has been between seeing one another, we bless each other's lives!

The boys played on the iPad and waited for a grown up to be ready to go out to the beach while the girls played with Inga. That little Inga has brought such joy to our family. I love babies! I always have! I am just like my mom; she loves babies! Nina is just like me and my mom! So funny to see those personality traits in different generations. The three of us (my mom, me, and Nina) all get the same smile when we see a baby...we get the "Awww....baby love" smile.

Some people are nervous about the baby phase or get stressed around babies. Not me and my mom. We love, love, love babies. My favorite phase with my kids (okay each phase is my favorite...so precious...but this one is especially a favorite) was the first couple months of life. Many of my friends couldn't wait until their babies got bigger, more solid, more interactive, but me....I loved how preciously pure and angelic they were during those first couple of months. I can still hear their little sounds and even feel their tender fingers on the small of my back as I nursed them in the middle of the night. I clearly remember feeling like I was in a sacred moment...something no one else on earth had the privilege of experiencing! Now....I totally know those moments were sacred....every moment is sacred...we just get wrapped up in nonsense and fail to recognize the miracles right before us!!

Teddy working away on the latest fort

Nina and Adelae helping Inga take tiny steps!

Mid morning my friend Kristin came for a visit and helped us take photos as we played on the beach. Nina was in her element! She laughed, ran, played, dug in sand, screeched in delight. To the passer-by, nothing was wrong. We were just a large family having a perfect day on the beach! I watched Nina walk with her dada. Todd seemed happy, almost like the weight of his sadness and grief was removed for a bit. He was present in the moment, and I thanked God for it!

Teddy and the boys had dug a fabulous fort. The had spent hours on this vacation digging, searching for shells, poking stuff, just enjoying being together and being boys. As we all searched for the perfect shell, Nina bent down and explained that she had found something. Adelae and I turned to look at what she had found and to our amusement, she said, "It's an egg." Sure enough...it was a chicken egg. No idea how it got buried in the sand but Nina was super proud that she had found it.

Silas, Teddy & Henry....so determined!

After finding the egg, Nina and Inga put their little toes in the water. The water here is freezing...but it has never stopped any of our kids from getting in. I remember being a child and being impervious to the freezing temperature of the water. Now, you couldn't pay me enough to get in :)  As Nina and Inga played in the water, I noticed how we were all watching Nina. We had all been doing that the entire weekend. We all knew how blessed we were to be together, to have this time to laugh and play, however, there was a constant unspoken dark cloud, looming just over the horizon. No one wanted to say a word about it, we all tried to just be present in each moment. If we were moved by sadness, no one was angry or bothered, we just went with it. But we were also super cognizant about the happiness that we were being given and I think that for every adult present this weekend we can genuinely say it was probably the first time in all of our lives that we literally did not take one second for granted! This in of itself was miraculous too!

Wow the water is cold!

Dada is my Sunshine!
How did you like the cold water Inga-pie?

The beach was a blast but soon it was time for lunch. The kids filed in and we dished up some more yummy grub. Gordy and Sharon are our clean-up crew and we so appreciate their fastidious neatness....the Spycher's would probably never let us return if it weren't for our "tidy" Gordy's clean-up routine is :) As Gordy and Sharon tried to restore the kitchen from the A-bomb that had exploded during the lunch brigade, Brandi, Inga, Nina, Adelae, Sosie and I went on a walk. By now, the weather had turned again and it was cold. We bundled the girls up and went for a nice walk/stroller ride. Nothing brightens Nina up like that little Inga!!

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing Majong on the iPad, playing Xbox, corralling the boys to the beach right in front of the house so we wouldn't have to spend hours walking back and forth from their many distant forts :), and just hanging out. Todd's cousin Shelly and her family joined us for dinner. It was so much fun to see the Jerners. Per, their oldest son, had been a huge part of our lives for the past several years while he lived in Santa Barbara and went to City College. In fact, aside from Kyle, he had been our primary babysitter and Nina adored him. I was relieved that Per came out to visit. Nina used to call him her "Bear" because she couldn't quite get "Per" out. I knew that Per had been avoiding seeing us, that the pain was daunting for him, but I was so thankful that he had come. He is so young and full of life and it overcame me to see the deep sadness in his eyes.

Nina & Per in April 2010

The reality is that none of us can avoid the awful tragedies of life. They are all around us but we often blind ourselves to them because they do not intensely impact us. Nina...she is impacting everyone she has ever touched and she is impacting thousands of others whom have never met her. My hope is that through this nightmare, everyone who is walking it with us, praying for us, supporting us, learns that life boils down to two simple things:

Being grateful for the blessings in our lives and,

Figuring out how we can bless those around us!

Playing Xbox with Teague

I'm winning!

The kids and Dan had spent all day collecting fire wood so we had a wondrous campfire. Of course...we were missing ingredients for smores so off to the store I went again (my 20th trip for the day~). The smores and fire were awesome...Teddy and Silas must have repeated that about 50 times. We said goodbye to the Jerners and then goodbye to the Fliflets. Our vacation was coming to an end. It had been tremendous and had allowed us to create incredible memories! On this vacation, life was good and we were thankful!


Playing with brother