Lentiest Lent EVER

Well hasn’t this been the Lentiest Lent EVER????  I mean Lent is a time of reflecting on those 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, all the while Satan tempted and tested Jesus.  Lent is a time to reflect on that sacrifice… often times by fasting, giving up something special to you and abstaining from meat on Fridays.  I think that about sums it up…

Looking back, I really wish I had partaken in a crazy and loud and crowded Mardi Gras celebration on Fat Tuesday… preferably somewhere warm.  Let’s be honest, I freakin’ wish I had spent that time up to Ash Wednesday with some of my favorite people, drinking and dancing, collecting beads and stories… watching a parade full of grown ups in masks (I hate grown ups in masks…).  I wish I was twirling on Bourbon Street… then entering Lent, what I now know is the Lentiest Lent EVER, exhausted from all that fun.  Even thinking about that wish makes me excited for the time coming after this isolating time…

On Ash Wednesday I worked late and the girls were with Matthew, since I work in Albany, I googled Masses in Albany and headed to the Cathedral downtown.  I got there just in time and ran in, laughing at a funny meme someone sent about how ‘if you are a Single Catholic girl today is the day God marks all the Catholic guys’ and I definitely looked around that Cathedral to see if God ‘marked’ anyone for me.  I walked up the aisle and took my seat, the church was lit in a golden light, a bit coming in through the beautiful stained glass.  The whole church was wrapped in incense, it smelled like masses at Sacred Heart when I was younger.  I love mass in a big, very old church… especially when there is a full choir singing.  It was a lovely mass, probably the most warm and homelike in a longtime (little did I know mass would become an at-home-activity…. In only moments…).  Anyway, Ash Wednesday was the perfect mass, and I am so glad that I have that for the now… though I still wish I ROCKED out on Fat Tuesday… I was still so busy driving my kids to dance and basketball back then on Tuesdays I am sure New Orleans would not have worked anyway, right????

Then life moved and shifted and was pretty full in the ways that it is and blink – it was March… the best month in the whole year… my Birthday Month.  I celebrate for the whole month because… it is also St. Patrick’s Day and Spring and my day tops it off on the 30th.  It is the best way to come out of the hardest month for me… and I knew this year March was going to be amazing.  I told myself that all winter… while I spent Thanksgiving with my sister and Benson, then we brought Christmas to Rochester for time with my family and our Benson… then New Year’s, a bit of lice, lots of cold and dark… but hey March is coming!!!  Then our world shattered when Benson left us for heaven and Madeline… more dark and hard February times… but good gosh March is coming.  We can get to the light… to the sunshine… to the celebration and spring and reminder that He suffered so Madeline and Benson could be enveloped by the Big Guy.  Alas… March has been the least Marchiest March EVER!

We had the smallest St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and the same tiny party for my Birthday… and now we are repeating a tiny party of the same 2 kiddos as I have eaten with a millionish times this spring.  The Marchiest March ever.

The funny, I guess we could call it funny, part of this Lent is that I chose NOT to give anything up this year.  I decided to take on something, something that is hard for me, not to give up something.  I chose to hold my rosary and say a decade of the rosary every morning, and beforehand talk to God and setting my intentions for that time.  All things that have been hard for me these past years… staying still, setting intentions, and keeping my mind focused in one place.  That was my Lenten sacrifice, a few minutes of time getting ready or working out to focus and pray.  Then the world went and took away like a million things I love!  I did not agree to give up hugs or friends or trips home or working at my cool standing desk with my awesome team… I did not give up going to Target and Hannaford and Michael’s and everywhere else I love to go… I did not give up my kids school day or Earth Day celebration.  I did not give up my big freaking Birthday Bash that I would have gotten to twirl and dance with my friends until the Uber takes us home… I did not give up Easter celebrations with my girls grandparents on BOTH sides.  The world changed this Lent, and it became the Lentiest Lent EVER!

The world changed… and it will, I hope, it will ultimately change for the better.  I hope that people take this time of sacrifice and different and hard and let it do the work… the big work.  I hope we become better humans through this, caring for others, maintaining our families and homes and dinner tables.  I hope we fill our lives with less… less distractions, less filler.  I hope we fill our lives with more… more connecting, more innovation, more creativity, more family.  I hope that we rejoice at the end of this Lentiest Lent and we have a resurrection of sorts, like a 2nd Easter.  I think I am game for a 2nd Easter in July… a time to gather and rejoice life and the amazing human spirit.

We have lost a lot in this… some more than others.  I try to do my part to make the smallest footprint for Covid to connect to, I try to support others in this.  It is a hard time, a time of sacrifice and pain, loneliness and loss for many, it is a time of reflection and missing… it has also been a time of Spring and weird little celebrations, togetherness and bits of poking and fighting, enjoying things we have and losing things we love… it is, as life always is, a mix of beautiful and painful- brutiful as Glennon says.  This Lentiest Lent has made me dive into a lot of emotions and missing… to hold them, look at them, smile or cry and figure out where to put them… a far cry from the avoidance and numb state I have lived for a time.

Tomorrow we rejoice… tomorrow ends, well technically, the Lentiest Lent Ever.  Tomorrow we rejoice the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus endured for us.  We will get dressed up, ‘watch’ mass, take a walk at June Farms, visit Madeline and enjoy a dinner that I ordered (and do not need to cook, yay me!!!).  The Easter Bunny will bring treats and hide eggs and inevitably spill his milk and leave a carrot mess on the table (he is kind of a jerk)… and we will celebrate.  It will be different but parts will be the same…

Officially Lent is over and we move on to Ordinary Time, but I think we could look at the rest of these Covid Times like it’s own ‘Lent’ and endure sacrifice and suffering… and rejoice at the ‘Easter’ beyond.  Enduring these Lentiest Lent times… to remember what is important in our lives, what we need in our lives and reflecting on the hard parts of this.  I imagine… the feeling of hugs and laughs and bonfires… I look to those times… joy, togetherness, connection, all of it.

Happy Easter tomorrow, may you feel the joy in this day even at an unfilled table with a makeshift meal… may you feel ‘home’ and connection in these hard times, may you feel a bit of rejoice!

Covid

Different kind of Normal, Different kind of Togetherness.

Today is Sunday… a day that has a distinct feeling for me normally.  It’s a day of Mass and dinner with the girls, maybe meal prep and getting my mind ready for the week.  Shop and make hard boiled eggs, roast some veggies and remind Amelia to see if her homework is done… bathes and wrapping Lucy’s wet hair in her turbine thing and snuggling on the couch until bedtime, normally.

Today is Sunday… only it could be a Monday or Friday or Saturday, there are no real scheduled separators to make this feel like a Sunday.  The sun is out, it is chilly.  It could be any day really, but it is Sunday.

I got excited last night when I saw that St. Madeleine Sophie would be livestreaming mass at 9 am, a bit of normalish.  While I was laying in bed, waiting to get up, I was chatting with my aunt and told her about mass, so her clan decided they were joining mass too.  I got up, shared quickly on FB and grabbed a nice hot cup of coffee, gathered the girls and dog and set up shop in the living room.  I was feeling excited- I even told God make sure this is a good homily, not the kind that I leave mass feeling that I didn’t gain much from that, sometimes thinking I could have done it better, but that is cocky!  I sat down and started watching…

I have never watched mass.  I have never sipped coffee while watching mass.  I have never looked out into my living room while sipping coffee and watching mass.  I have never sat on a couch while my kids sprawled out in the sunshine and looked around my living room while sipping coffee and watching mass.  I have never included my dog on the couch while my kiddos sprawled in the sunshine in my lovely little living room while sipping coffee and watching mass.  A lot of ‘never have I ever’s’ today, and everyday lately.  What will it be like when everyday isn’t full of piles of strange reminders of this different becoming normal.

It felt good to be watching mass and participating with 200 other households, I may have celebrated mass with 500 people who knows!  A reminder to my brain and heart, that we are in this together.  We are finding ways to not let this hardship win but instead let it change us, build us better and appreciate togetherness more than we ever have.

The Gospel was a powerful one, it made sense right now, today.  Father’s Homily was perfect for last week, now and these coming weeks.  Father spoke of truth… truth that we want to own and know and truth that we don’t want to.  Acknowledging and forgiving, healing… trusting that He is with us in all of that.  Inconvenient truth- He asked God to give us more of this, more inconvenient truth.  That hit me… especially in this world we find ourselves in, with time to handle inconvenient truths inside of ourselves and prepare for the future of inconvenient truth that will come and plop itself in life when it is not easy or good timing.  This world slow down time feels like it is the best time to acknowledge and forgive and heal and hope… and get to know our truth better.  It resonated in me…

Father asked us to all cooperate with grace.  I find myself often putting grace on a backburner for life, or appointments or work or busy- ness.  Avoiding the graces gifted… trying to point my life in my own direction.  Cooperate with grace.  Father said“When we cooperate with the grace that is given it enables us to find joy where there is pain, to find hope when it feels hopeless- to find regeneration of life where there was none.”  Regeneration of life… along with the pain and hard we are regenerating life.  We get to rebuild, to cooperate with grace.

Grace is here… right next to pain and lonely and hard and sad.  Grace is sunshine to walk at Madeline’s Spot.  Grace is watching mass in my lovely little living room while sipping coffee and looking at pictures of my favorite people God gifted me.  Grace is finding my laugh, my deep gut laugh, while rocking out to Cher ‘Turn back Time’ while delivering bendaroo rainbows to some of our herd.  Grace is ordering Chicken Parm and having a fancy Italian dinner with my girls, surrounded with rainbows, Madeline’s real favorite color.  Grace is watching my girls Facetime with their grandparents and cousins… because TECHNOLOGY rocks!!!  Grace is sharing stories about the Ice Storms I lived through, and how happy I was to squish my family into my grandma’s house and stay warm while eating corn dogs with cousins.  Grace is doing paint and sip’s with my daughters, me sipping wine and them sipping Gatorade.  Grace is having groceries, wine and Gatorade… and TP.  Grace is having a job that allows me to work from home, while still doing really important work.  Grace is a smile, a little chat and a well wish from a stranger 6 feet away who just happened to be running at Madeline’s Spot.  Grace is having gas and wheels to get to go find rainbows, deliver food to friends and to go on adventures.  Grace is having a really hard moment, crying it out, feeling it… and knowing that we will get through this, we will rejoice soon.  There is a celebration, an Easter to come.  Grace is all those amazing little things, and big things that we have and don’t at all deserve.  Cooperate with grace…

After mass I picked up my mug and looked on FB and saw that I had watched mass with other friends and family.  We did a together thing, from apart.  A different kind of together, a different kind of normal.  Today is Sunday, and it feels like a Sunday.  A little Amazing Grace… and togetherness from apart… a bit of Jesus and grace in this crazy different kind of normal time.

Sonshine and Starlight

Benson

The day is gray, chilly and grey.  There is no ‘Sonshine’ today… just grey.  I imagine, though, that the night got a bit brighter.  Yesterday was Benson’s day with a broken heart, a mended broken heart.  He peacefully left this place to go on to the next, I know he was greeted by the most welcoming light.  I imagine Benson is loving the lack of tubes and people telling him which way to lay… I am sure he missed the constant touch and love from his parents and care from his hospital family- but in a blink they will join him.

I was told once by a medium that Madeline’s job in heaven is welcoming the littles, being there right then.  The perfect job for her.  I have felt comfort and grace knowing that every little soul I have said goodbye to she has welcomed.  Yesterday was no different, she is no longer in heaven watching down on her cousins growing- she is doing what she loved best and playing with her cousin.  So while we are stuck here missing them, they are playing and staying young… no worrying about safety or predators or evil- no more worry.  They will giggle and chat, or maybe just sign… who knows.

I have struggled with the why.  I have struggled with the lack of fairness.  I have hated the heavy burdens placed on my family and myself.  I have begged for easy… but reminded constantly that in the messy and terrible and awful there has always been an abundance of love.  Love comes from suffering.

Watching Benson and his parents, seeing the enormous love they have for him, the hope they had.  I have no doubt Cortney and Damon were chosen to be Benson’s parents… to provide him all of the love he needed and more.  I want to share this story, the story of love and suffering… and a child who chose it.  I believe that Madeline got in line for the life she had, a short life and she knew it.  I believe Benson’s journey is similar and the love his life brought is abundant.  I know I will carry it forever…

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“The Brave Little Soul”

by John Alessi

Not too long ago in Heaven there was a little soul who took wonder in observing the world. He especially enjoyed the love he saw there and often expressed this joy with God. One day however, the little soul was sad, for on this day he saw suffering in the world. He approached God and sadly asked, “Why do bad things happen, why is there suffering in the world?”

God paused for a moment and replied, “Little soul, do not be sad, for the suffering you see, unlocks the love in people’s hearts”. The little soul was confused. “What do you mean?”, he asked. God replied, “Have you not noticed the goodness and love that is the offspring of that suffering? Look at how people come together, drop their differences, and show their love and compassion for those who suffer. All their other motivations disappear, and they become motivated by love alone.

The little soul began to understand and listened attentively as God continued “The suffering soul unlocks the love in people’s hearts- much like the sun and rain unlock the flower within the seed. I created everyone with endless love in their heart, but unfortunately most people keep it locked up and hardly share it with anyone. They are afraid to let their love shine freely, because they are afraid of being hurt- but a suffering soul unlocks that love. I tell you this- it is the greatest miracle of all. Many souls have bravely chosen to go into the world and suffer, to unlock this love and to create this miracle-for the good of all humanity.

Just then the little soul got a wonderful idea and could hardly contain himself. His wings were fluttering, bouncing up and down- the little soul excitedly replied, “I am brave; let me go! I would like to go into this world and suffer so that I can unlock the goodness and love in people’s hearts! I want to create that miracle!”

God smiled and said, “You are a brave soul I know, and thus I will grant your request. But even though you are very brave you will not be able to do this alone. I have known since the beginning of time that you would ask for this and so I have carefully selected many souls to care for you on your journey. Those souls will help you create your miracle; however, they will also share in your suffering. Two of these souls are most special and will care for you, help you and suffer along with you, far beyond the others. They have already chosen a name for you.”

God and the brave little soul shared a smile, and then embraced. In parting, God said, “Do not forget little soul that I will be with you always. Although you have agreed to bear the pain, you will do so through my strength.  If the time should come when you feel that you have suffered enough, just say the word, think the thought, and you will be healed.

At that moment the brave little soul was born into the world, and through his suffering and God’s strength he unlocked the goodness and love in people’s hearts. Many people dropped their differences and came together to show their love. Priorities became properly aligned. People gave from their hearts. Those that were always too busy found time. Many began new spiritual journeys-some regained lost faith-many came back to God. Parents hugged their children tighter. Friends and family grew closer. Old friends got together and new friendships were made. Distant family reunited, and every family spent more time together. Everyone prayed. Peace and love reigned. Lives were changed forever. It was good. The world was a better place. The miracle had happened. God was pleased.”

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Benson’s spirit and strength far exceed that of most adults I have met.  He trudged through so much and created love in the darkest spots.  He leaves a wound, a deep wound in some very broken hearts- it will heal from the outside in.  Carry him with you…

His short life and his parents constant care and love are testaments to the power of that love.  If you have been changed and reflect on life differently, if you have built your faith stronger, if you have reconnected to your family, if you have let go on bullcrap, if you have forgiven those that hurt you- keep it up.  In 2022 and 2028 and 2045 and beyond- carry that love forward to bring the ‘Sonshine’ along in your light days and the starlight he brings into your dark nights…

The Year of the Broken Heart

2019 is on its way out, a new year and decade are upon us. Like so many others I welcome tonight’s changeover from 2019 to 2020… I welcome it with an open heart, wide arms and a brain that is ready for a refresh. 2019 has been a very hard year, but with it came lessons and gifts and experiences and a ton of changes and transitions. I had a lot of work and healing to do this year, and that will likely spill into 2020.

This year, like every year, I hosted an ornament exchange. It was very unplanned, almost on purpose, being that anything that could possibly have gone wrong this year that was planned did. Enter defense mechanism ‘don’t plan anything!’… very healthy way to handle these types of things. I had this plan of creating an ornament that signified my new role and all I have learned about the Red Cross. I sat for a couple of hours and manipulated the clay and nothing really worked, telling me that this idea for an ornament was not the best symbol for 2019.

broken heart.jpgI thought about this year and all of the trials and struggles, the creativity and stress, the love and loss, the transitions… the healing. My brain visualized a slightly imperfect clay broken heart, a broken heart that was mended and healing. The break is visible, but it is stitched and healing. That was 2019… the year of the broken heart.

I have shared about my littlest nephew and his broken heart… a tiny heart that has been stitched and recreated by the hands of a surgeon. His tiny broken heart has been through so much, and still has much healing to do. He is one determined little man, in all of his pain and struggles he perseveres and pushes the limits- teaching us to push on, reminding us to let go of expectations and circumstances we cannot change and honestly to continue to be here, right here in the present. His broken heart has mended relationships and strengthened faith for many. He is the beloved little man on the PCCC floor at Strong Hospital, the nurses love him and my sister and brother-in-law. He is here showing us all how to push through the hard stuff even with a broken mended heart.

Several weeks ago, I was driving to Utica with a new friend, we are just getting into our backstories and personal stuff (she had no idea what to do with ‘coffeed’ up Erin on a long car ride). I talked about the end of my marriage and Madeline, the last few years of life and relationships… I ended the conversation with my normal- “I am a hot mess and have some serious commitment issues.” She touched on some of her issues and told me she has trust issues, and it is hard for her to trust. I thought about it and acknowledged that I am still pretty quick to trust, maybe to a flaw. She looked at me and said “It should be backwards with our stories; you should have trust issues and I should have commitment issues.” We finished the day and conversations, and I am sure that statement never replayed in her brain. That statement, however, sat in my brain for weeks, warranting much thought as to why do I trust so easily and fear commitment…

I had always attributed my commitment issues to the dissolving of my marriage and the events around it… that doesn’t really make sense though. My commitment issues really lie in fear of planning into the future, fear of committing to connections for the future… more specific fear of the future, even looking days ahead. My commitment issues stem from my broken heart, my very broken heart. My heart broke on February 8, 2012, and it has healed and broken and healed and broken and healed and broken over and over since. In only 5 days I lost every single plan and hope and dream that I possessed, and I still haven’t processed all of the layers of missing her. My commitment issues stem from the trauma and grief of losing Madeline. I can trust people, probably far too quickly… but I can not commit to stay connected or build dreams and hopes and a future. You know what they say the first step is to healing- acknowledge the need to heal and change. Acknowledging my own broken heart, with all of its emptiness and the need to heal that and not fill it with fear of the future and planning. Slowly mending that heart with little stitches and lots of hard work. The year of looking at my own broken heart…

It was a doozy of a year… a year of broken hearts. Leaving behind familiar and safe, creatively problem solving far too many problems, trying to just laugh when nothing goes as planned and praying directly for health and comfort and support. Our broken hearts are healing, slowly mending… I know that they will break again, they will heal and need extra TLC- time and stitches, always a bit broken and scarred. Grateful for those broken hearts…

In the words of my steadfast and strong sister, Benson’s mama- May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows… may 2020 bring health and protection and simplicity.

Welcoming 2020 with some laughing at an Improv show with some awesome gifts… I love laughing. 2020 will have more laughter and more planning, hold me to it. Toasting the past year and letting it go, and celebrating a new year, growth, healing, mending… honoring ‘The Year of the Broken Heart’.

Choose a ‘perfect just as it is’ Christmas

It’s Christmas time…but it really feels like short days, cold nights and bustling around. It’s Christmas time… there are piles and piles of memories and photos and traditions that remind me of the past, of a much lighter past. It’s Christmas time… the world looks so different than it did last Christmas, and the Christmas before… and the one before.

Growing up Holidays were not only fun and full, but they were reliable and safe. I loved that best. I always knew that the same Advent song would be sung at mass, that Nana would always deliver the soft and personalized towels, that for days before the holidays there would always be potatoes to mash and stale bread to break up at Grandma Connor’s and there would always be a kids table and a grown ups table… there were always multiple relish trays full of pickles. There were so many other ‘always’ in those days. I wished to create a sturdy and safe set of ‘always’ for my girls… but as I have learned nothing has quite gone as planned in this life.

It seems though that this life isn’t so full of ‘always’… not for the lack of trying. Who knows… maybe my girls ‘always’, their reliable and safe, is a series of different and changing holidays and traditions?

These years of missing Madeline, divorce, transitions… mixed with the normal growing up and taking on more responsibility have been really hard. 2019 has been a heavy year, for me, for my girls and for my family. Madeline died in 2012 and I reminded myself and others to enjoy days and celebrate time, because one tragedy, one crisis doesn’t promise that there will be no more in our lifetime. 2019 has been a year of little joy, reminders of what is missing and hurdle after hurdle after hurdle to jump… hurdling with a bum hip and broken spirit are particularly hard. We are here though… right in a cold, dark New York winter. It has only been winter for winter for mere moments, yet feels like ages.

This year is the first year ever that I will experience what so many I have known and supported have felt- Christmas with one of your special family members in the hospital. I am sure at some point in my life an Aunt or Uncle, or grandparent has been in the hospital… but that doesn’t feel the same. First Christmas’ are so special… squeezing your kiddos together for that picture (that no one is smiling in and one child is not looking at the camera while dressed in plaid or polka dots) is a right of passage. All through pregnancy moms look forward to those parts… and it almost makes up for the varicose veins and stretch marks. My sister and brother-in-law found out they were expecting last Christmas week, a blessing after pain. They continued life along with pregnancy, a challenge with two little dinosaurs, I mean kiddos, to chase, feed and raise… and then Benson came early. Soon after his birth he was diagnosed with HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome… and has undergone surgeries and procedures to create a heart that will work better until the next two surgeries and beyond. He is a fighter. He is here. Benson’s First Christmas will be spent with some amazing nurses and doctors on the PCCC at Upstate Strong Hospital. He will get little visits from his grownups, he will watch his little mobile, he will get mad when the nurses change his leads and bathe him along with mom or dad. My sisters, our kids and my parents will be minutes away chiseling away at Christmas 2019… swimming in a hotel pool, playing dinosaurs with Benson’s brothers and eating some sort of Chinese Food. Benson should be there too… but he is connected to the hospital, he is safest there. I will miss him while chasing his brothers… I will miss putting the fancy Christmas bib on him, watching my dad sneak him whipped cream and watching all his cousins get excited when he opens a baby toy. I wish he got to enter into a steady state of traditions… but alas that isn’t the plan.

I am working hard to create a script for my brain… about building up where ever I am, where ever we are, not focusing on where we should be. I remember Christmas being easy… but I imagine when I truly think about it, that the very first Christmas was full of pain, dirt and hay, creative things to swaddle a fresh baby Jesus in and great fear of the unknown and known. I imagine the first Christmas was chock full of hard stuff mixed with good stuff. I think the act of doing chaos and hard together and creating something a little dirty but ultimately ‘perfect just as it is’ is a good way to direct my brain and this Christmas. I am not one for plans… they never work out anyway, but I am one to make the best out of what is there. I will refocus my brain on the baby in the manger along with the baby in the hospital bed… because I know that the baby in the manger is caring for Sonnie, and us. I will refocus my brain on the positives, even if I have to really dig… I imagine Mary looking around the stable and thinking this is not the way it should be… but He is here, we are here- it is ‘perfect just as it is’ in all the messiness and chao and fear and knowledge. He is here…

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Welcome Messy Little Rainbow Boy

Welcome to the world little one. In this big crazy world full of chaos and loud noise, welcome. I know where you have been is full of noise, but it is the noise of beeps and nurses bustling around, the sound mom’s crying as they watch their tiny baby’s breathe, the sound of dad’s telling their bitty baby’s to ‘get growing, there are big brothers waiting for you’. The sounds of a NICU…

Welcome to the world Little Benson Wilson Kirkby, the tiniest of the Wilson babies. Your cousin Lucy was reluctant to hand over the title of tiniest, but when she saw that first picture she softened and gave in. You joined our family August 10, 2019 and you have been breaking all the rules since… you will fit in just right with your brothers when you join the clan- in a bit of time.

We waited for you… in all the storms we knew a rainbow was coming. You are our little rainbow, though I quite think you are a little bit of a messy rainbow or maybe you are a Madeline Rainbow, the flip-flopped kind she used to draw. That’s it Benson! You are Madeline’s Rainbow, you have all your colors you just don’t follow the plan. We were down here hoping for our rainbow, expecting and anticipating, sometimes fearing the plan would change… that there would be a storm to get through. Here you are though… our Madeline Rainbow.

rainbow

Well buddy, while you have been over in Syracuse getting bigger and stronger, hearing those sounds of the NICU… we have been showing you off, checking in on your momma and daddy, laughing at your brothers’ crazy antics, praying and trying to stay patient. Self-talk buddy, lots of self-talk, over here… busy patiently-ish waiting to hold you. You don’t know this yet, maybe you do, maybe Mads gave you the run down already… so you would be ready for the chaos and noise to come. We are NOT a quiet bunch… so start preparing your reflexes for the ones who have waited for you. I’ll give you a rundown…

So… while you are busy getting bigger and getting some extra attention here’s what you need to know… the brothers are awesome little dinosaurs – watch your toes, they might bite. The grandparents are pretty cool- they are way too soft for my taste. Uncle Travis is big and quiet, but he is a baby hog… and he has a cool van load of people who come along too. Jo-Jo is the best with kids, pancakes and cookies, gifts and super hugs are staples for her – if she bugs you just give a quick bite, she’ll leave you alone. She has the coolest mini adults that can’t wait to meet you. Aunt Molly is quiet, she likes order and hates when you cry in a restaurant, if you want to impress her behave really well in public, she is special and thoughtful and loves to help. Then there is me, Aunt Erin, I don’t know how to prep you for me, but Madeline was mine and I am sure you were already hers- down here though- in the chaos and noise is a set of chicks who love babies and can’t wait to see if you have ANY eye lashes and touch those toes. They are used to hospitals and visiting friends there, so they know the sounds too. Their favorite rainbows are the messy Madeline kind…

The rest of your family I will leave for your momma to share, it gets louder and crazier the further out we go. When you grow up and you are taller than me- don’t say I didn’t warn you, also don’t tell me you are taller than me. Odds are years of not enough calcium and too much wine will warrant me shorter and stocker than you, neither of which matter, I am still the boss-ish.

Soooo… while you have been hangin’ in the NICU and growing and listening to the beeps and nurses and crying- lots of doctors have looked at you and your insides. They have decided that in order to grow big and tall and of course smart and strong and maybe rich you need to have a little bit’a work done on your heart to make it work smarter. You see buddy, sometimes, our heart is doing too much work and not making the rest of the body do the work too… and your little heart is taking on more than its fair share of work. These Doctors are gonna work it out so that your heart is doing work more efficiently, so that the rest of your body gets to working its fair share. This next adventure is important buddy, remember your rainbow angel. Rest and heal and grow, that’s your only job buddy. We will keep being out here in the loud chaos of the world waiting patiently-ish for you to join us. You will join the ranks of your clan, as littlest dinosaur, and all will be back to normal chaos. For now… we all send prayers up to The Big Guy and our Messy Rainbow Maker…

Welcome to the world Benson, you little rule breaker. You already fit right in to this big crazy messy world… welcome to The Boy who does not follow the rules, our messy little rainbow boy.

Mark’s Mark…

This week the world lost a very special 2nd grader at Bradt School. His smile was the gateway to his kind and compassionate soul, a really thoughtful little boy. His teachers loved him and he was a role model for character and workmanship in class. Reading about his love of baseball and his sportsmanship, testimonials of his smile and way of always being positive feel, to me, so much like Madeline.

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Mark’s 2nd grade Teacher, Mrs. Maguire, is a wonderful teacher who values experiences and adventures that go along with learning- more specifically service in the community. She and her students chose a charity each month to work to support either raising money, awareness, participating in walks, making lunches for Habitat for Humanity and helping Maddie’s Mark with Thanksgiving bags for families at Albany Med. It is amazing the amount of time and energy they put in, all the while learning important lessons about life and the need for service. Just a couple weeks ago Mark’s whole class worked in the hot sun to paint and freshen up a garden at our school to honor Deb Roman, an amazing ENL teacher who died in a tragic situation. I watched as his class spent the day outside painting and working to restore beauty to that memorial. Every Thursday you could find Mrs. Maguire’s kids in the hall outside the nurse’s office, waiting to be handed the heavy bags for our backpack food program. They would then head out to deliver the food between all of the regular work they had that day. You could count on seeing Mark happily delivering, painting, writing, creating, making lunches… whatever was asked, he was a happy one.

I have many memories of Mark, with that smile, most of them just seeing him walk down the hall or doing writing work in his class. In November when I was asked to talk about Maddie’s Mark and the service we do, I got to see Mark’s penmanship skills. Mark labeled and prepped all of the cards and gift cards to be delivered to families, and his penmanship skills topped many of the adults I know. I will forever see Mark smiling down the halls of Bradt, just as see Deb Roman with her soft smile and Madeline walking in front of me to the Lime room. His spirit will never leave Bradt school…

On June 25, 2019 I prepared my walls, I checked myself, I wrote my piece and I got myself an iced coffee and prepped to do what I had to do to get to bed time and honor Madeline. The morning was a different one than normal, moving furniture and noticing extra guidance and administration coming… but my brain didn’t put all of those things together. Just before send off the rain started… and it was RAINING. Teachers were noticing the presence of extra people and a few people had tears… I could tell something was coming. I stood in the hall and tried to figure out what the best thing for me to do, jet out and find out later or stay and hear. I decided to stay, but first send off the kids. We all went outside, but it was pouring… I decided to just get wet and laugh and squirt the buses as they go and wave out of excitement and missing. When all of the teachers got back into the halls we were called to the library, when we were all there our Principal shared the news that a little while ago Mark Lombardi’s dad called and let her know that our little 2nd grader, Mark, had died. What a surreal feeling to be in a moment that others had to stand and hear that your daughter died. I decided quickly to go home and celebrate Madeline, she had Mark now.

The morning of June 25th I wrote about Madeline’s birthday and a bit of a soft rant about spending your time wisely. Around lunchtime on June 25th was reminded of the importance of this. On June 26th an amazing recently retired Speech Teacher spoke at the send off breakfast, she had many funny points and profound points, but through her tears she talked about getting older and how our parents and families get older, and how you need to choose the important stuff… time and health are not ours forever…

Three messages in 24 hours, take that for what it is. Time and health are gifts, not promised to us. Don’t put off life, don’t waste your time being busy. I see it, all the time. I have lived in a world that surrounded us when it was hard, allowed their faith to be strengthened, took time for their family… and I see those same people fill their time far away from that now. I feel it all the time. Work harder… on Monday afternoon Mark was swimming and smiling. On Monday morning Mark was enjoying a half day with his 2nd grade friends. Today is Thursday…

Talk about Mark. Share stories, share laughs. Make his favorite foods and think of him. Remind your son or daughter to play baseball like Mark- happy to be in the game. Take time to write neatly, think of Mark and all of the Albany Med families who received those cards. Smile all.the.freakin.time. Be a role model in a room full of jerks, be the one that others can look at and want to be more like. Love your family all the parts of it. Love your sister, or brother… I promise when they are gone you don’t want to wish you did it better. Enjoy simple Best Day Evers, simple. Spend your time wisely… it is a gift not a promise.

Mark. You have made a Mark in my soul, and I will do anything I can to help leave your Mark. I will stick around and tell your story. I will see you in the hallways and I will smile while I remember your smile. I will forever honor your spirit and soft gentle soul…

 

 

I am including Mark’s GoFundMe page and obituary. His family could use fund and prayers, and knowledge that Mark’s short life will serve as a model for you to live yours…

Mark Lombardi Obituary

Mark Lombardi GoFundMe

Thirteen.

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Thirteen. A magical age when one enters the first level of adulthood, in the minds of anyone under the age of thirteen. I remember looking forward to turning 13, like things would really change. In my mind, like the snap of fingers it would all make sense and these next few years would be simple. I was on the brink of something big, something really profound. I was 13 and in love with Garth Brooks, oversized tee shirts and FHA… and let me tell you nothing got easier, especially fitting in. Life is like that… imagine one thing and learn that nothing we imagine happens how we imagine it.

Fast forward through many awkward years, college, Matthew, marriage and Albany… to June 25, 2006. We welcomed the most perfect 9-pound 6-ounce baby girl- Madeline Elizabeth Musto to this crazy brutiful world. We welcomed her with a blissful ignorance of time, the notion that she would be here until long after we left. That is the way we welcome fresh humans, with the blind love and knowledge that we will spend the rest of our lives loving and living in a world with them. What is the alternative, though? The alternative is so very sad, so not blissful and unaware. I quite miss that blissful ignorance, that gift that comes with fresh humans, that and the smell of a fresh baby’s head as you rest them on your chest and sway and bop…

I should be kissing my 13-year old’s forehead as I head out to work, maybe she would come with me and help in her old teacher’s classroom. I should be arranging a party or experience for teens, something that involved a bit of independence and a pile of trust… maybe even a treat of Starbucks and pedicures. I imagine she would be tall and have the best smile, accented with her big dimple. I imagine her teeth would fill her grin and that would be backed up with that infectious giggle- a little deep and rumbly, with a squeak here and there. I should be guiding her to new adventures, through friendship issues and difficult choices. I should be planning a trip to the lake, and setting up to remake the sunset picture with the 3 girls…

The alternative is so very sad. I should be… but the alternative is so very sad. The alternative is messaging many friends and family a birthday plan for June 25, 2019. The alternative is deciding to do it a little different this year, this year of disorder, to go to the beach and then gather a pile of important people in my back yard and celebrate the sacred space around my table- with pizza and cake. I thought about a party at her spot, but decided to do what Madeline loved… sunshine, sand, friends, pizza, backyard fun and best nights ever- the simple kind. What I wouldn’t give to throw a 13-year old’s birthday… to buy silly expensive Starbucks, fancy pedicures and maybe Hibachi with friends… what I wouldn’t give to have the alternative.

I miss her.

I wish I got to hug her today, to brush her hair off her face and tell her not to be a butthead. I wish I got to turn on Pandora and get her to dance with me in our little kitchen. I wish I got enjoy my 13-year-old on her birthday, celebrating the blissful and unaware state I got to live in way back when…

Today- go out there and do something kind. Every little kind thing counts. Assess your time, your family. Life is crazy, don’t waste it being busy. Say no to something today, with no guilt or fear, just say no and enjoy your time. This is a tough one… imagine what you want your child to be when they grow up… and know that some don’t get to grow up. Everyone loves sports and commitments, but are those sports and commitments building your family or stealing joy from your family. Do not put off time with your family, and be more aware of how you spend it. That is what I ask of you all today. Do a kind thing and remind yourself to raise your perfectly exceptionally mediocre kids and teens to be really good human beings that is all that matters… Madeline was the most special, simple and compassionate human being, bring her along today.

 

Happy Birthday lovely… enjoy the cake up there in heaven.  Miss you like crazy, but I know you are right here riding along with us Musto Chicks reminding me of the speed limit, telling Meme to be quiet and snuggling Lucy…

Gather.

bread-and-wine-quoteI have talked about this before, the sacredness of gathering. I know it, I believe it, I see the amazing things that come from gathering. I feel connected and refreshed when I gather with others. I love the energy I feel for days after the gathering. I love when my cheeks hurt because we laugh so hard. I love when we cry together, it is therapy for my whole self. I love waking up in the morning and going back over all the many conversations…

I know this, yet I rarely gather up my people and enter that sacred space.

I have been reading more lately- a new book and parts of my personal bibles. Glennon’s Carry on Warrior, Anne Lamott Travelling Mercies, Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love… the oldies that got me to a healthier whole self. The messages in those women’s words reassure me that with faith, humor, honesty and good friends we can get through this life and even when it sucks life is good. In all of this reading I am doing I started reading Shauna Niequist Bread and Wine… which I thought was the perfect title to really bring in readers… well not all readers healthy eating readers most likely skip right past this one. When you want to appeal to a reader that loves food and faith and friendship and family and joining all of those things together- one must name a book Bread and Wine. As expected, I am hooked. I read it the same as I read the others- one chapter in a sitting, if I read more it is a chapter from another book. I like to let the letters simmer in my brain, let the words work their way through me. I love how she writes; it is like I am sitting with her and she is telling me the stories and making the recipes. The book is a compilation of stories around ‘the table’, stories of gathering in the heaviest seasons and the easiest. Stories of food and gathering, healing and connecting, each story around a recipe that is included at the end of the chapter. I am not only feeling brave and wanting to make a chicken curry and maybe even include the mangoes- I am reminded of the deep need for me to connect and gather. I am reminded that it is as important to my healthy self as working out and brushing my teeth. I need to set a goal, just as I do for working out and stretching, to honor the sacred, sometimes messy and prepared space that is my table.

I am in a lonely season in my life. I am working hard to stay in the quiet and let myself sort in those moments. I am working hard to set boundaries and take time for me, even remove some important things from my plate. I am trying to find a balance in the quiet and loud, and find fillers for my sacred space. This is a hard season… one I am not used to. I am ready for some interruptions in this quiet place.

Last night I made a really great dinner and my table was full. Amelia’s friend got off the bus and Lucy’s friend came to swim and play. The girls asked if their friends could stay for dinner, I told them yes as long as they eat fish. I had told myself earlier I wasn’t going to make mac and cheese tonight, it was going to be a full cooked meal. Both friends stayed and looked forward to the dinner of fish and whatever else I made. Lucy’s little friend told us he had never eaten fish but would try it, which is exactly the right thing to do. I got right to work lightly breading haddock in breadcrumbs with fresh basil leaves in the mixture, sautéing little shrimps in butter, boiling egg noodles and sautéing really great green beans in olive oil, garlic and fresh basil. Amelia’s door wasn’t closed and shut off as she hung out with her friend, Lucy kept running through the kitchen with her friend telling me how good it smelled. Finally, it was dinner… around my table. We pulled up another chair, moved the computer and said grace, a full table…. Just what I have been craving. It didn’t look like I imagined, with my friends and family, wine and funny stories… but it was a full table. It was an answer, one of those answers that looks different that we requested but just as fulfilling. I am grateful for that full table, and some very full bellies. I went to the stove and counter to pack up left overs for lunch… and every morsel was gone… all that was left was my veggies. I guess no fish for lunch, just beans and yogurt (my coworkers will be pleased with the missing meat in the microwave).

Gather. Around my table. Around your table. Gather with kids or fun adults. Gather and laugh so hard it hurts or cry out some of the pain. Gather and tell the stories that connect… that remind us that ‘the table’ is a sacred space for love and pain, faith and fear, laughs and cries, gratitude and brokenness, quiet and loud, wine and water, gourmet or Kraft dinner… a safe and sacred space.

I hope you dance…

On Saturday we got to attend Amelia’s Dance Recital, a day she had been preparing for since September. I was excited all week, reading and rereading the list and times for the event, making sure my brain wouldn’t mix up times or forget to have her pack extra bobby pins. It was really exciting because my parents got to come watch her dance, a treat since they live hours away. It was a good day… we got some pictures in front of our tree, loaded into the Jeep and headed off to Voorheesville.

In January I remember sitting and watching Amelia dance through the window into her studio, and hearing the song over and over. She would start to get tighter while I watched so I tried not to make her nervous often. The song they chose for her lyrical class was a powerful song, one that has become a bit of an anthem for me these past years. The song not only evoked powerful emotion while I watched, it reminded me that He wants me to more than hear those words. He sent the most beautiful reminder… my dancer telling the story of these years, reminding me in the most beautiful way that He’s got this, He is right there and that maybe our hardest parts of life are mercies. Imagine your lovely, in a soft gold flowy gown, gracefully dancing across a stage to Laura Story “Blessings”…

“When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win, we know, the pain reminds this heart that this is not, this is not our home…” This is not our home. Reminding us that this place is temporary, this pain is temporary, the joy is temporary… to gracefully dance through it is a gift. I felt such joy watching her dance… what an honor to be her mom, to get to raise her and build her. She is one of my biggest blessings- and in all the rain and storms I am grateful, in all of the turmoil and hard moments parenting I am grateful… in moments watching her do what she loves and share her gift I am grateful, I am joyful. Joy is one I don’t feel so often, so when I do, I store it and love it and keep it and reflect on it and embrace it.

I really loved her dance program this year, The King’s Dancers, a Christian based dance program. I loved the music and costumes and the inclusive nature of the program. The recital opened up with “You Say” a beautiful and powerful song that has mainstreamed. They mixed 2 versions- the soft version with ballerinas, and the edgier version the hip hop dancers took the stage. It was an awesome way to start the show and set your brain to enjoy. There were dancers of many different abilities and needs who got to share their gifts with the audience. As I watched a lovely woman named Grace dance, I wondered if her parents knew God made her to dance when they named her. Grace has down syndrome and is a dancer, you could see it is in her soul to dance, and to share her gift. Watching her dance in a ballet piece and flow across the stage, hip hopping later to a fast song, and tapping with the biggest personality. I had the crying emotion that comes when you are smiling really big, I imagine it looks pretty funny to see that face… the one that is crying from the connection and emotion, and smiling because it is so beautiful and cute and happy. Emotions are funny like that…

I got to my seat and realized when I was watching the show, that in all of my planning all of my packing… I had water bottles, almonds and cheese sticks, extra lipstick… I forgot to bring tissues. I would sit through all of those practice classes and watch Amelia through the window and have a little tear, and Lucy would laugh at me and remind me that I cry soooo much. I should have been prepared for that, but instead I tried to discreetly wipe them and move along. I remember a time when I barely cried… I used to cry at weddings, at the moment when you just felt so happy and excited for the couple getting married… a little bit of tear would fall, but it was excited and happy tears, usually I was standing next to my now ex-husband. I don’t cry at weddings anymore… I am sure those emotions are all mixed up and messy- and I am usually thinking I hope they work really hard and know that that marriage gig is hard. Instead of crying I send little thoughts of hope that they just keep working.

I think crying is different for me now, it is a mix of emotions. I usually don’t just get super sad and cry, occasionally. I cry when I watch my girls do what they love and what God made them to do- and those tears are happy/sad tears. Those tears contain excitement and joy- laced with pain and missing. Every bit of growing they do is without her… my forever 5-year-old. God is good though… He sends little reminders and moments that remind me “What is your blessings come through raindrops, what is your healing comes through tears, what if a 1000 sleepless nights are what it takes to know your near… what is trials of this life are your mercies in disguise…”

 

Amelia- always dance. I am so proud of you and the person you are becoming. You are beautiful. You are kind. You are strong. Choose to dance gracefully on stage and in your life… it’s hard lovely but there is love in the hard. You are my love in the hard… you are my grace, my mercy… you are all I have never deserved. I hope you dance…