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).

Vet Visit

We took JJ and Pepper for their rabies vaccine and annual check, with Everett and Imogen in tow. Everett entertained (and confused) the vet by announcing that we had two cats and two dogs. He then clarified that the two dogs were him (Bolt) and Pepper (actually a cat), and the two cats were Imogen (Mittens) and JJ (the only correctly identified animal).

Attentive at the vet - October 19, 2019

JJ has lost some weight in the past year, so we are watching to see if he continues to lose weight and if he starts "begging for food." We haven't noticed changes in behavior except that they both continue to get more chill in their old age. They are 13 now (bengal lifespan is 14-16 years). Our minds already drift to the harsh reality that, in all likelihood, Evie and Immy will lose their pets within the next few years. Not a fun set of moments to look forward to, but we aren't afraid of it either.

Imogen with JJ, her "favorite cat" and first word - photo from April, 2019

Elizabeth had a whirlwind trip to Ann Arbor to dance at the Michigan-Iowa game on October 5. As always, it was sweet to see old dance team mates, meet new people, visit old haunts, and get up close and personal with the college football experience.

If only Michigan had made it close to the endzone that quarter - October 5, 2019 - umichbandphotos

It is odd and yet completely expected how much it feels like home for her to be standing on the sideline in the Big House. No nerves, just a level sense of belonging. It wasn't a super-exciting game, but watching the other alumni hearken back to their college days was endearing and sweet. Drum majors twirling with impossible energy, band members marching and blaring away, cheerleaders attempting stunts that thrill and frighten, and everyone just grateful for the experience.

Homecoming halftime - Michigan vs. Iowa - October 5, 2019

After her dance team duties were over, she watched the end of the game from the Fiorani family seats (for decades) with her dad, bro, and oldest nephew. It was a picture-perfect Ann Arbor day up until the flat tire in the parking garage. She still made her flight though, and got back home 25 hours after she left. The bitter part, of course, is missing the beasties. One day away is doable, but there's that pull against leaving every time.

The Big House - October 5, 2019

Unplanned Medical Events
Not getting into details, but we've had a few surprises this month. It just feels exhausting to pile on not feeling well, extra trips to the doctor, meds, and forced resting. We're busy, dude! Don't have time to feel like this. Hopefully, we are on the mend and we can be clear from this kind of hassle for a while.

Work Travel

Elizabeth was the only one with a work trip this month and it was only a couple days. The first day, her team participated in a charity event supporting Amanda Hope Rainbow Angels. It is an inspiring organization that brings dignity and comfort to children faced with pediatric cancer. We heard from Amanda's mother about her battle with cancer and how it led to ideas to help other kids going through it. Elizabeth could tell how this story would end, so her face was soaked with tears in the presence of many coworkers. Hitting a LOT too close to home during a sensitive time.

The second day Elizabeth was away was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15), so we were apart for the first time on that day since Obie died. That meant we learned the TSA rules around traveling with lighters.

We did our candle lighting at 7pm over video chat (luckily, same time zone). It hit a lot harder than we expected. Maybe it was Elizabeth being alone, maybe it was being apart, probably it was both.

Lighting a candle for Obie in the hotel - October 15, 2019

There were a number of friends and family who also lit candles for Oberon, and we are so grateful for their presence in our lives.

It may not be the big day yet, but we've already been enjoying the festivities! Starting with our first family visit to a legit Pumpkin Patch. We chose Spina Farms here in San Jose, and were happy to have some visitors from San Fran join us. Pumpkins (of course), a tractor drawn hay ride, corn to run through, thousands of sunflowers attracting Obie's bees, and pumpkin ice cream sandwiches were clear highlights. Everett and Imogen were starry-eyed and in love with everything. These are SUCH fun ages, even taking into account the tantrums and persistence.

Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch - October 19, 2019

We also carved pumpkins for the first time - eek! Everett and Imogen provided art direction while the grown-ups (including both sets of grandparents!) did most of the labor. Imogen wanted to be more involved, and ended up making her creation pretty creepy by poking and dragging a plastic tool all around its face.

Pumpkins! - Carved October 27, 2019

Everett took another approach, and decided he wanted to carve a turnip instead of a pumpkin. This little factoid was in a new book we were reading, so we convinced him we could make a white pumpkin pretend to be a turnip. It turned out pretty well!

The big, orange pumpkins were more traditional, with Evie wanting a Bolt pumpkin and Immy wanting a cat. It was still fun to do and we're glad we did this activity as a family.

Costume-wise, our family has two directions - Chris and Immy as Wreck-It-Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz; Elizabeth and Everett as Penny and Bolt. Originally we had hoped for one more group family costume, but Everett was set on Bolt. Elizabeth tried to make him interested in being Fix-It-Felix Jr., but it was not to be. Once he sweetly asked Elizabeth, "will you please be my Penny?," it was all over. 

Bolt and Penny - October 20, 2019

Everett's costume was the most hands-on, with Elizabeth making and affixing ears, a tail, and a bolt to a white hoodie. She also fashioned his dog tag from a wooden disk. The only crafting required for Imogen's costume was cutting the briefs out of a newborn photo-prop tutu. The rest of it for Immy and Elizabeth was assembling typical clothing items. Chris went the easy route and ordered a traditional costume.

Wreck-It-Ralph & Vanellope Von Schweetz - October 20, 2019

While making the costumes IS a lot of work, Elizabeth enjoys it. We only get a handful of Halloweens like this, and making the costumes feels more connected and special. She wants Evie and Immy to be proud of the creative, fun costumes we create as a family. Plus, having a costume they can use as typical clothes in the future is a huge bonus - for the pocketbook and sustainability.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Immy!
How are we just now getting to this? The happiest and sweetest day of the month? Yesterday was her actual birthday - where we celebrated with a reasonably low-key Tuesday of going to Happy Hollow, eating bundtinis (mini bundt cakes), and opening presents. We take the kids' birthdays off to enjoy family time together without the weekend busyness. It is an awesome tradition and each birthday that passes it gets more entrenched. It is just. So. Worth it.

Little Miss Two in Fire Engine Number Two - October 29, 2019

This reasonably chill birthday was preceded by visits from four grandparents, one uncle, two aunts, and two cousins. Plus a Wreck-it-Ralph themed party at the house with 50 attendees.

Some party guests waiting for the Diet Coke & Mentos eruption - October 26, 2019

It seems crazy, but again it was so worth it. Seeing the glee on Immy and Evie's face as they played with dozens (!) of other kids in their home, catching up with friends and seeing their kids grow, and justifying a bounce house - with a slide - would each make it worth it on their own. Roll it together, and this is why we throw ridiculous birthday parties for our toddlers.

 Happy 2nd Birthday, Imogen! - October 26, 2019

Imogen makes us (somehow!) love her more and more every day. She speaks in complex sentences already (like her brother), loves dancing and singing (like her mommy), would cuddle all day and night (like her daddy), and is thrilled to role play anything from Mittens the cat to Forky from Toy Story (all her).

It's hard to imagine what life was like before she was born, but it did happen. We can recall facts and moments, but the emotions are harder. How did it feel before we loved her so much?

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month 

That brings us to the last big October thing. Awareness month. Because while it's difficult to remember the subtle differences between life with Everett and life with Everett AND Imogen, it is burned into us what it feels like to live without Obie. We remember better, probably because of the trauma and intensity, the time between. Between living children and only a dead son. We don't want to use euphemisms all the time to make it sound better or more poetic. A dead son. Our dead son.

For the fifth year, Elizabeth participated in the Capture Your Grief photo-sharing event. It's a useful activity to process grief emotions and to let others be a little more aware of what bereaved parents go through. And it brings up difficult feelings with no easy answers, including frustration with prompts like "gratitude" and "gifts in grief." Here is what she posted on "gratitude" day:

10/6/19: Gratitude 💔 I hate this prompt every year. There is this constant push in our culture to “find the silver lining.” To that, I say no. Oberon’s death is not something to put a positive spin on, to find gifts in, or a reason to be more grateful. Grief and gratitude are entirely separate things to me. To borrow and amend a quote from The Doctor - every life is a pile of grief and gratitude. The gratitude doesn’t soften the grief, but vice versa the grief doesn’t spoil the gratitude or make it unimportant. ❤️ Yes, of course I am grateful for many things. My living children, my husband, my comfortable first-world life. But this gratitude is independent from my grief for Oberon. I do wish people would stop trying to conflate them. 

That picture was taken at this year's Service of Remembrance, hosted by Helping After Neonatal Death (HAND). HAND is the organization that hosts peer support groups that we attended after Obie died and where we met fellow grieving parents who continue to be a supportive presence in our lives. It's a powerful event, and always very emotional. Chasing Everett and Imogen around softens it some - as we are distracted by the need to chaperone them - but it still a hard and heavy day. 

And what do we get after making it through another October? A month with media running story after story on pregnancy and infant loss and life afterwards? The awareness is important, but it is also a burden the suffering carry in hopes of someday lessening it for others. Of course, the grief and loss remains, but avoiding the additional hurt that can be brought on by lack of compassion is a worthwhile goal.

What do we get? November. Obie's month. Here comes another tornado of mixed emotions we never planned for when we decided six years ago the time was right to have kids.

Officially Two - October 29, 2019

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