Tuesday, December 31, 2019

For Auld Lang Syne

The end of another calendar year. A time to reflect, but truth be told we don't feel much like reflecting on this one.

Instead, we'll focus on today. New Year's Eve. The day that is our small little family's traditional celebration day. So instead of getting all emotional - because we're exhausted - we'll give you the play-by-play so far, and the plans for the rest of the day.

Santa kindly left a letter for the kiddos on Christmas morning letting them know that since we were traveling, he would make a special New Year's Eve trip to our house in California. To prepare for his visit, we left our cookies for Santa and vegetables for his reindeer by our chimney last night.

New Year's Eve Eve - treats for Santa and the reindeer - December 30, 2019

We slept in a bit (oops), then woke up to find the stockings filled by the big guy. We opened them right away... well, the kids did. Chris and I still haven't found the time, but it'll happen.

Stockings! - December 31, 2019

Then, we made bug pancakes with strawberries, blueberries, cookies, and sprinkles. Imogen helped a lot, Everett only helped smash cookies.

Helping prep bug pancakes, filled with goodies - December 31, 2019 

Meanwhile, the furnace guy was here for the fifth time to try to diagnose why our furnace turns off all the time (annoying, but not terrible in a California winter). Everett told him (Mr. Tony), that he thought the problem was a part that was broke. He's obviously right, but also not going to be making a living fixing furnaces any time soon. Then, it was off to Happy Hollow for NOON Year's Eve celebrations. Imogen picked the carousel, Everett picked the playground, then we made some NYE crafts, watched some magic tricks, and counted down a disco ball drop to ring in the new year. Happy New Years were exchanged and kisses were freely given.

Noon Year's Eve at Happy Hollow - December 31, 2019

Kids are exhausted and napping, and when they wake we still have: present exchange amongst our little unit, London ball drop and countdown (with sparkling juice!), maybe homemade apple pie (we might save that for New Year's Day), and sushi dinner. It's a full day, but it's also such an intimate day. Just the four of us and remembering Obie throughout (Obie bear, bug pancake pan, lots of yellow...).

Happy New Year.  On to 2020.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Obie's Fifth Bee Day

Social media is at it again with the "decade challenge" or whatever it's called. The one where you are supposed to put a picture of yourself in 2009 next to one from 2019. Look how old we look now! Look how young we were then!

We haven't done it. We haven't cataloged the things that have changed between then and now.

In 2009 it was five years before we would become parents. In 2019 it's five years since we became bereaved parents. Recency bias being what it is, the five years from 2014 to 2019 loom large in our memories. It started with trauma and tragedy, followed by joyful births, growing toddlers, and persistent grief.

Less and less we talk about the worst moments. They might never be spoken aloud again, but the emotion from them still wells up on occasion. We have stronger coping mechanisms now and we are more practiced at pulling back when the grief threatens to suck us into a downward spiral. Most of the time.

Oberon would be five. FIVE.

Instead, he has been dead that long, and we live on in the absence. During and after his birthday this year, we focused more on our first baby.

Obie's O, Obie's Bench, Obie's Siblings, Nov 23, 2019

On November 23, we hiked at Uvas Canyon. We haven't prioritized hiking as much, so it was anyone's guess how well Everett and Imogen would do. They did great. Both of them hiked up to Obie's bench at Manzanita Point on their own (3/4 of a mile up trail that is quite steep in places), and Everett made it almost all the way back down as well. There was some drama about hiking poles and getting too close to the end of the trail, but generally speaking they were good listeners. Everett and Imogen tend to spontaneously break song these days, sometimes with a made up tune. We were treated to Evie's Hiking Song: "We're hiking, we're hiking, we're very very hiking. We're going up a steep hill, so let's keep going!" (to the tune of "It's Raining, It's Pouring). Everett also hollered at passers by that it was "Obie's Bench," which made us smile. We do wonder if any of them read the plaque on their way back down.

Obie's Bench, Manzanita Point, Uvas Canyon County Park, Nov 23, 2019

Evie's Hiking Song, Nov 23, 2019

Family Selfie on Obie's Bench, Nov 23, 2019 

Hiking at Uvas Canyon Country Park, Nov 23, 2019

Hiking at Uvas Canyon Country Park, Nov 23, 2019

Hiking at Uvas Canyon Country Park, Nov 23, 2019

On November 24, Obie's Bee Day, we were somewhat mellow. We did the typical double gym and swim rigmarole in the morning, where Everett tried to tell his gym teacher that it was Obie's birthday. She replied, "Oh yeah? Who is Obie?" Then she got distracted by another child or parent, not hearing Everett's response... "The first baby Mommy and Daddy had." The wording was familiar, repeated from a photo book we have that discusses Oberon.

Later in the day we made birthday cake and Elizabeth got in some scrapbooking time. Five years later, there are still photos in the bin waiting to be grouped together and decorated. Some piles are shorter than others, and many of the remaining pictures are grainy and out of focus.

 Making Obie's Birthday Cake, Nov 24, 2019

Making Obie's Birthday Cake, Nov 24, 2019

Making Obie's Birthday Cake, Nov 24, 2019

Everett has said a few times now how sad he is that he doesn't get to see Obie alive. Elizabeth showed him a video of Oberon on her phone, and he wanted to watch it over and over. Is it simply the novelty of getting screen time? Is he really curious about the brother that came before? We think probably both.

Oberon, Dec 9. 2014

A new book we've been reading is A Perfectly Imperfect Family. While the baby who died in the story is a girl, many of the other details line up with our family story. She was the first born, she lived for 33 days, and her little siblings participate in traditions keeping her memory present.

With more data points now, it seems that every November might be this way. Astonishment at how much time has passed, longing for the boy who didn't live, expressing the love that still does. Both looking forward to and dreading the holiday season.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Imogen Is Two! (And So Much More)

We feel a bit like a broken record. Yet another all-over-the-place kind of month. Maybe it's time to admit this is "normal" for us and will be for the foreseeable future. It reads more doom and gloom than it feels, but we'd be lying if we didn't admit we are a bit extra run down.

It's October. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month complete with events and projects. Imogen's birthday complete with parties, cake, singing, presents, and lots of visitors. Halloween complete with costume projects, pumpkin patch, pumpkin carving, more parties, and so much sugar. Work travel complete with unexpected emotional moments. Unplanned medical events complete with cramming in doctors appointments, prescriptions, and inconvenient time away from work. Homecoming (just Elizabeth) complete with physical travel, quasi-spiritual time-travel, and family time. Annual vet visit complete with a potential thyroid problem for JJ (we are in the watchful waiting phase).

A lot.

Officially Two - October 29, 2019

Even with all the volatility, we've been in a pretty good place emotionally and mentally (most of the time).

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Vacation Mode

In the past month, we've taken two week-long vacations. It has been... luxurious.

Hole-in-the-rock Trail, Papago Park - Phoenix, Arizona - September 16, 2019

First, at the end of August, we went to Southern California. We met up with parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. We were with extended family every day. It was amazing to get this quality time with people we love. Watching Everett and Imogen interact with their cousins is heartwarming in a way that is difficult to describe.

Cousin silliness - August 30, 2019

Two of the days we spent at Disneyland - and we got the most out of our park admission. Got there when the gates opened, stayed until the night shows. About 13-hours inside the parks each day. It was the first time we did that, and the kids did pretty well.

Cars Land with the Fiorani Fam - August 26, 2019

Reasons this trip to Disney was awesome:
  • The parks were EMPTY - school had just started for most of SoCal
  • Our kids have been a few times, so it wasn't a huge deal if we missed an attraction or two (for example, we didn't seek out characters in the park, since it wasn't of interest to our nephews)
  • Extra adults and big kids meant we got to ride a few more of the "big rides" - Elizabeth rode Radiator Springs Racers, Splash Mountain, and Indiana Jones for the first time since the kids were born
  • Everett was tall enough for Smuggler's Run (aka the Millennium Falcon ride) - He was super overwhelmed, but still enjoyed himself; he is still talking about the great job he did rescuing the "spaceship" from the TIE fighter a month later
  • We finally saw the Frozen musical, and both the kids had stars in their eyes (when they weren't asleep)
  • Letting the kids pick out Bolt stuffed animals after being Bolt-obsessed for months was totally worth it
  • We lucked into a nearly private visit with Mickey and Minnie at the end of the day. It was dark, our pictures are blurry, but the kids were delirious and so in love with the mice
  • Our lodging was literally across the street from the park entrances - AMAZING for getting to the parks at opening (thanks Mom & Dad!)
  • We took a "rest day" between the park days to sleep in (to a leisurely 7am), use the hotel pool, amble around Downtown Disney, and best of all - character dining at one of the hotels.  Watching Evie teach Minnie and Donald how to be a pup (like Bolt) was adorable. 
Donald's Breakfast at the PCH Grill - HIGHLY recommend - August 27, 2019

Ways it could get even better:
  • It was sometimes tough to manage people going on "big rides" that Evie and Immy are too small for - we got creative, but it was a struggle at times
  • We should've opted for the fireworks instead of Fantasmic. As much as we personally love Fantasmic, it was harder to see and the kids didn't recognize all the characters. The fireworks and accompanying displays on Main Street (it SNOWED during Let It Go!) seemed more magical
  • When the kids top 40" and 42" - the ride opportunities really open up
  • It was very hot and sweaty - there's a reason we typically avoid the summer!
After all of that, we even checked out a new park - Knott's Berry Farm. Chris had never been, and Elizabeth hadn't been since she was eight. Knott's Berry is owned by the same company as Cedar Point and other amusement parks, and has a similar feel. We spent a lot of time at Camp Snoopy, with lots of rides for the littles and the opportunity to meet Peanuts characters. Then there is a wild west type area and loads of giant roller coasters / spinny things. While too short for most of the non-Camp-Snoopy rides, we had mostly a blast with a few major meltdowns. We got robbed on a train and Everett rode his first log ride (surprise - he loved it). 

The day was shorter (only 8 hours of park open!) and getting to try a boysenberry frappuccino while the kids (finally) napped were highlights. Worth the trip, but a noticeable difference from Disney in the style of it. There's a significant price difference, and it's true that you get what you pay for in the ambiance and experience of the day.

Pig Pen's Mud Buggies with Grandma F! - August 29, 2019

That sounds like enough, right? But even after all that fun time (and saying goodbye to one side of the family), we spent the weekend with another set of cousins. Much lower-key from a planning aspect, but put four kids under eight together and "low-key" is not really an apt description. We swam, we played rescue-kidnappers, we dressed up, we read books, we screamed, we wrestled, we buried kids and adults under stuff animal mountains, and we made s'mores. It was awesome.

S'moresin' - August 31, 2019

Two weeks after that, we took an entirely different vacation. We packed up our little family and took a short flight to Phoenix, Arizona. Where we know no one. Where we had zero obligations. It was the most relaxing trip we've had in ages - six years, to be exact. 

Hole-in-the-rock trail, Papago Park - Phoenix, Arizona - September 16, 2019

We spent our days visiting the multiple hotel pools and splash pads, seeing what Phoenix had to offer toddlers, and participating in some of the resort activities (more s'mores!). We only had a scheduled early wake-up one day - and that was to hike before it got too hot outside. The kids got to play ukuleles, harps, percussion, and nickelodeons at the Musical Instrument Museum. They ran around like maniacs at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. They sweated it out one morning at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. And they saw their first in-theater movie: Toy Story 4...

Elizabeth: Evie, what did you think of that?
Everett: That...was...AWESOME!

Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix, Arizona - September 17, 2019

Everett said it all when he started crying that he didn't want to leave vacation and didn't want to leave Arizona (he told us he has already planned our return trip for our next vacation). We get it, buddy. And we need to keep prioritizing family time like this. It's so easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day chores and obligations. Even days off at home get swallowed up by to-do lists and anxieties. Getting away, just our little unit, was what we really needed.

Pretending to be cacti - September 16, 2019

More pictures...

Tall enough! Galaxy's Edge - August 28, 2019

Woodstock's Airmail - Knott's Berry Farm - August 29, 2019

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park - September 15, 2019 (I got a LOT of "Go Blue!")

The "Lizard Lagoon" - no deeper than 1.5 feet and all awesome - September 17, 2019

Friday, August 23, 2019

Back To School?

It's that time of year - endless "first day of" photos and bemoaning the end of summer. A year ago we felt the pre-school pressures at this time of year, and here it comes again.

It's so easy to get pulled into the hype around finding THE BEST pre-school and giving our kids THE BEST opportunities and advantages for the next stage.

After a few frantic evenings, we're realizing that we don't have to join the craziness just yet. Everett has two more years before he'll start kindergarten, and he doesn't need two full years of pre-school.  Instead, we're planning to keep him at day care with his sister for at least a few more months.

Playing thanks to Messy Play Kits - 8/11/19

He's often the oldest kind at daycare, but he still loves it there and is still learning a lot while he plays. Do we sometimes feel we are taking the easy way out and not given in the absolute best start? Of course! Those momentary doubts aren't changing our minds though. The positives Everett continues to get at day care - including spending all day with his sister - are enough for us for now. The fact that it gives us some more time before multiple drop-offs and constant searches for "after care" is just a bonus.

Sometimes they get along - homemade ice cream prep - 8/16/19

So what if our kids aren't prepped in the most perfect way for kindergarten? They'll be fine. There's no way to avoid every rough transition they will go through, and we will be there for them throughout their lives.

But we aren't going to obsess over them. That doesn't work for our family.

Practicing those driving skills - 8/3/19

(Truth - occasionally we obsess because we are parents after all... but we won't let it get the best of us.)

Really though, they're fine. Imogen, not yet two, says things like, "Mommy, can I have that back?" or "I really, really, really want the phone." She spontaneously breaks into song (Bingo and Five Little (insert random stuffed animal name)s are favorites). Both of them love playing pretend - whether it's Paw Patrol, Bolt, or Dino Trucks. They love (LOVE) reading, and Everett is starting to sound out letters when he talks (c-c-cat starts with a c!). He's almost always right, but those soft c's like cinnamon still get him. He also makes up stories about his favorite characters and has started showing an interest in tracing letters (why no, he did not get Sharpie on his neck today). Oh, and the other day Everett pushed us to explain what our bodies are made of, and when Elizabeth found a book that talked about it, they both listened - completely enamored. Also heard in our house, "Mommy - did you know planets are made of dust and rocks and gas?"

They're fine.

Maybe our kids will lottery into a science-forward school, maybe they won't. Maybe they'll get interested in a really awesome extra curricular activity, maybe they'll bounce around trying to see what fits. Any which way, they'll be just fine. And we'll be here to help them navigate, doing our best not to rush them.

Our family - 8/8/2019

Nails did - 8/11/19

Picking tomatoes at the neighbor's garden - 8/11/19

Oh yeah, we turned 35

Monday, July 29, 2019

Getting Older, Getting Smarter

Everett (as he will tell you) is now officially three and a half. His interaction with other kids, his independence, and his capability all continues to amaze us. Watching him interact with our friends' kids is especially heartwarming. Going to Michigan gives us the opportunity to do that.

Swinging - July 4, 2019

While Imogen is only one and a half, she's also much more social than the last time we were in the state. Her verbalization is CRAZY. Full sentences, pretend play, and wanting to sing by herself (I don't want Mommy to sing it) are just a few of the ways she amazes us these days. She played with and was entertained by her cousins, and sometimes - sometimes! - Chris and Elizabeth could sit back and enjoy the show.

Having a blast at MiSci - Detroit, Michigan - July 5, 2019

This July, that show also included Everett endlessly climbing and sliding down a 20-foot waterslide in Elizabeth's cousin's back yard. The kid is growing up - it's obvious.

One of probably a thousand slides - July 6, 2019

It isn't just the "typical" growth and maturity though. Everett, in his increasing understanding and insight, has been talking about death more and more. We've been trying to navigate how much to bring it up to try to make sure he has a safe environment to talk about it with overdoing it. We try to answer in age-appropriate ways, but it's difficult on the spot to respond to things like, "I won't be able to talk when I'm dead and that makes me sad" or "I don't want my body to come apart when I die."

On the way to day care last week, Everett spontaneously transitioned from, "I never want to give my toys away" to "I will have to give my toys away when I die and that makes me sad" to "when I die, it's ok if you give my toys away."

(Yes, we've been reading the Toy Story books lately, hence all the obsession with toys and giving them away - or not.)

What do you say?

We said things like, "Everett, you're not going to die for a long time," "you don't have to give any of your toys away if you don't want to," and "maybe someday you'll want to give your toys away, like when you to go to college like Andy, but Mommy and Daddy will not make you do it - it will be up to you."

Trying to parse out what is normal toddler fears (losing toys) with what is more serious (worrying he will die and what happens when people die) is tricky. Both topics are safe for him to discuss with us, but we don't want to turn everything into its most serious version. He knows death is sad. He tells us he is sad that Obie died, and he starts crying whenever he thinks about it, but it feels more like he is linking sad things together without really understanding fully. We do our best to answer the questions he asks directly, and trying to redirect him to ways to deal with the sadness. We share how we remember the joy Obie brought into our lives, and how we love to spend time with the people who love him. We share how finding yellow and bees in the world helps us remember and share Obie's life.

This will not necessarily get easier, and it shouldn't really. Oberon's absence doesn't change - it persists. Life goes on, but death goes on too. 

At Obie's memorial hives installed by Bees In The D - Detroit, Michigan - July 5, 2019

With Grandpa Fiorani - July 5, 2019