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Sunday, November 24, 2013


Graduation started out with everything good the night before.  We all checked into a hotel in Portland and Sandi's parents stayed in with the girls so we could go out for a night on the town.  We went to our favorite restaurant, the Green Elephant vegetarian bistro.  As we sat across from each other swirling our glasses of wine we realized that we were sitting at the exact table in the exact restaurant that we sat out 27 months ago when the two of us went to Portland for Sandi's program orientation.   

Talk about coming full circle.  

The lightness of heart to be on the celebratory end was indescribable.  Then as we were sitting there she got notification that she could register for her boards.  Everything was falling completely into place.

After dinner we walked around relishing the buzz of Portland's night life and headed to Gritty's pub to meet up with a few of Sandi's classmates.  It was fun to hang out with them and hear a bit about their journeys and realize just how much each of them had sacrificed to get to this end.  One married couple (without kids) only saw each other twice in a 2 1/2 month period because the clinical site was 5 hours from her home.  Others had picked up and moved multiple times across state lines to report to rotation sites. It made me so grateful that we had been able to stay in our house, in our community and Sandi was within driving distance of all of her clinical obligations.

I began to wonder what it would look like if we compiled a list of all that these anesthesia students (and their families) had missed or sacrificed to complete this grueling program.  I think it would be a shocking catalog and would probably only serve to depress.

The next morning we hung out in the hotel for the kids' highlights- the in-house breakfast and the pool.  Then it was time to gown up and head to the big event.

While Sandi was doing her graduate thing, we all got seats and I took Maya outside to keep her body and mind busy so she could do the requisite waiting during the ceremony.  We toured the campus and Maya had me take her picture next to anything remotely interesting.

 This was her favorite: a tiny, white dog scratching barking ferociously at her through a car window.
 When we went back inside Maya grabbed a program to check the photo of graduates on the back to make sure Mommy was on there.

Ella, Maya and Makenna checking out the view from the balcony.
A last minute trip to the bathroom found Sandi getting ready to line up.  Oh, so sweet this moment.  Except while she is kissing Maya's cheek she is also telling Maya she best behave during the ceremony.

 Then graduation was underway!  My mom and sister were able to come as well which was especially a treat because Sandi had to obtain more tickets than her alloted 10 to make that happen.

Not everyone was hanging on every word from the podium. 
 When it was Sandi's turn to be hooded, Maya and I went up to the stage to take pictures and Maya was waving frantically at her so, naturally, Sandi had to wave back.

When she came off the stage Maya could hardly contain her excitement.
And she ran to her with arms outstretched.

There was a collective "Awwwww..." from the audience.

Maya examining Sandi's "diploma" which was really a piece of paper saying "congratulations- you will be getting your diploma at a later date."  I think Maya was like, "Hey, all that and you DON'T HAVE YOUR DIPLOMA?!"
 Then it was time for the party! And no one knows how to party like Maya.

 Patti and Dwight were beyond awesome.  They took us down to Portland, helped with the kids, drove us all over and made everything so easy and fun.

We were so happy we could have done cartwheels! Some of us did.
 The after party was dinner at a beautiful place in Freeport where we had our own back room to enjoy.  (A special thanks to Tuscan Bistro for being awesome.)
 And the little girls were able to stand on chairs and watch the man through the window throw pizza dough in the air before it went into the brick oven.  It was the best entertainment to keep them happy!

Thank you to our wonderful families for helping us celebrate this momentous occasion! 
 We got home late, all of us happy and exhausted.  The girls were SO good all day long- there was not a bit of fighting or complaining and Ella begrudgingly stood for pictures without much noise.  Maya was an absolute saint during the graduation itself.

It felt like we had done so much and gone so far in just over 24 hours.  Coming home everything felt amazingly different as though we actually had moved through a rite of passage.

Today has found us all profoundly tired.  But not too tired to have a family tea party in the living room and give out some much deserved graduation gifts!

 Long pajama pants (requested) and a Go Pro camera (a total surprise).
It is not possible to explain how all of this feels.  It is a feeling that has its own weight and form yet it has an indescribable lightness.  It is all shades of emotion blended into one.  

I remember the snowy night in the deep winter of 2011 when Sandi came home after her interview at UNE for this program.  She had driven down and back in a blinding snowstorm and I couldn't help but wonder if it was an omen.  We sat on the couch that night and her eyes were alight with the excitement and possibility this road offered.  I remember her telling me that they tried to scare her as well, telling her that anesthesia school has a very high infidelity and divorce rate among couples, that being a mom and completing this program would be nearly impossible and than many people in her circumstance drop out. 

I thought it sounded awful but I didn't want to stand in her way.  I didn't want to hang on so tightly to what was stable if the future down this road could be so fulfilling for her and, ultimately for our family.  But I was scared.  I was overwhelmed.  I remember about 2 months into the program having a conversation in which I said I truly wasn't sure I could do it all.  Could I change my mind and say no? Turning back seemed unthinkable as did forging ahead.  

We forged.  Sandi had vision and motivation along with her brave heart and brilliant mind.  I drew on my fierce and determined stubbornness and, with the unyielding support of our families, my sister, and my dear friends Ange and Emilie (all of whom without I am certain I would not have survived) I pulled my weight.  

Sandi dealt with endless hours of studying, prolonged hours on her feet in cold operating rooms, strings of nights away from home and her family sleeping in strange beds and eating crap food, profound and unending exhaustion, loneliness, isolation and feeling like she was missing our joyful lives while she secluded herself as she devoted her mind to anesthesia.  Our girls dealt with chronic missing, longing and resentment.  I dealt with the burden of carrying a household and family alone, missing my partner who had almost nothing left at the end of the day and feeling very overwhelmed and lonely as month after month went by hoping against hope that it would in fact all be worth it.

It was. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The second biggest thank you ever.

In thinking about the 27 month journey of anesthesia school (and I'm truly sorry if you are all done hearing about it...I am not quite done talking about it yet), I was thinking back to how it felt when it began.  I remembered this post I wrote with such a heavy heart as we geared up for what we knew would be a long road.  It feels amazing to be on the other side.

While I cannot agree with what so many people have said about how "that went by pretty fast!", I can say that at times it felt like it would never end but it is shocking that we have already arrived on the other side.  For sure, there were parts of it that were harder than I imagined and other ways in which we proved ourselves stronger than I knew.  We came out a little bruised, a little exhausted but in general I'm incredibly proud of how we did.

That being said, it was time for the girls to get their graduation gift.  Because, out of anyone, I believe this has been hardest on them.

Sandi told them, in an unprecedented parental act, that she would get them "whatever they wanted" as a gift when it was over. I had nightmares of entire villages of American Doll paraphernalia that cost more than a car.  But, no, as usual, I could take my finger off the panic button.

The girls wanted mini iPads of their very own.

So after much planning and strategizing, it looked to be an Apple graduation after all.

Sandi hit the technology and building while I jumped all over design.  They didn't just get iPads, we created an entire desk/work station for them.  We set it all up in the upstairs landing while they were at school and they had no idea it was coming.

 We used a square wooden table we had and Sandi built a divider and then painted it with chalk board paint.  I got all the stuff any girl would want for her office, including a pink trash can.

 It was a HUGE surprise!
 They didn't see the iPads for a bit and they were just so excited about the desk set-up.  But when they realized what was sitting on the desk, Ella's face nearly broke her smile was so big.
 You know how kids are- they were SO pleased to see new, untouched notebooks to write in.

Ella was thrilled to have her own "book box"  (on the floor next to the trays of paper) and Maya loved having her own paper clips.  I even gave them each a roll of scotch tape which is coveted in our house.
Way to go girls!  You deserve it!  You are awesome and we are so proud of how you have held up!  Okay, now Portland bound!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

on having what you have

As the countdown to graduation continues, something has happened to me.

It's called The House Purge of 2013.

I have been wanting to really clean the house for a few years. Okay, if I'm honest probably since Maya was a baby which is about the time when the ratio of stuff to space became officially lopsided.  My maintenance cleaning has consisted of finding corners and closets for the stuff and getting rid of it as soon as it wouldn't make anyone cry (and, if I'm going to be really honest, a few times when it did make people cry.)

I think I really needed to wait for the kids to both be in school before I could take on such a massive house purge - in part because it is intensely time consuming but also because I don't want any input or the undoing of my hard work.

You know how sometimes you have a daunting project like cleaning the basement or the attic or the garage and you kind of have to be in the place where you can't stand it one more damn second and you HAVE to clean it out because you can't find that thing you need that you KNOW is in there?  That is where I am.

It's hard to find reason to spend my time doing anything else aside from throwing things away.  I am getting rid of anything that is remotely burdensome to our household and/or isn't nailed down.  I am producing trash bag after trash bag of unwanted things, things to be donated or recycled, or things to be returned to their owners.  (If you think we have anything of yours this would be the time to let me know.)

And the sad thing is it isn't as though you would walk into my house and exclaim, "Oh, I see you've been cleaning!"  But that is sort of the point.  It is all the behind the scenes junk and clutter, the stuff that burdens my brain and makes it hard for me to relax in my own house, the stuff that makes it hard to find the stuff I want...THAT is the stuff I want out of here.

You know where this is going right? You've heard this story before?

In all this cleaning, I am coming to really understand how less is more, how oppressive too much stuff is, and how crucial it is for me to truly relish, appreciate and celebrate the abundance of what I have rather than seeking new, different, better when I'm trolling around Target.  It is so easy to get caught up in "Wouldn't it be nice to have this or that" and "I can't wait to get new dishes when Sandi finishes school.  And a new TV!  And a new vacuum! And new shoes!  And maybe a matching set of towels! And finally an upgrade to my iPhone which is so outdated!"

Not that a new iPhone wouldn't be nice but I have to be careful about riding the balance of wanting and having.

I heard this idea recently about learning to really have what you have instead of constantly striving for more and that this is a key to general peace, contentment, presence and also about knowing what is enough.  And that striving has a way of becoming the default way of being for so many of us that when we get the "thing" or we arrive at the "moment" we've been waiting for, we don't even enjoy it because we are looking to the next thing or moment that we can't wait for.

I have lived my life like this.  I couldn't wait to finish remodeling our house so we could live somewhere that felt good.  Then I couldn't wait to build an addition because we needed more room to expand our family and certainly more closets.  Lately I find myself awaiting the day we can afford a different house with a better layout because this one doesn't suit us.  And that is just about a house!

I've spent a lifetime like this in my body too.  If I could just lose 20 pounds I would like my body.  Then 20 pounds later, I would be happy if I could just go 5 more and then I will be satisfied.  Striving and punishing for the extra 5 makes me gain 10 and then the cycle of wanting something other than what is remains in play.  Truth be told, until recently, I think I had only experienced a total of about 22, nonconsecutive minutes when I enjoyed my body exactly as it is.

Any moments spent unhappy with what I have and looking to what could be feels like a tragic waste of precious life to me now.

In the past few months I have stopped waiting for the future event to allow myself to feel content and at peace.  That means I am seeking peace even in a long line at the pharmacy instead of waiting until I can get home to do what I really want which is to go for a run which I was often spending counting the minutes until it is over.  I am working hard to stop this crazy making of wishing to be on to the next thing or somewhere other than where I am.

I am looking up at the sky and taking in deep gulps of air and being fed by all these tiny moments that make up my life: the sound of my kids laughing (and, yes, fighting), the blue jay that lands on our fence, the simple joy that comes from sitting by a warm fire even if the laundry isn't folded and the kitchen isn't clean.

Because it is true what they say: life is what is happening right now, always now,  never what is in the future.  Because when you get to that future moment it will always be the present.

Part of what else is happening to me as I clean is that I am finding long ago stored boxes with old pictures of myself.  If you have ever had the humbling opportunity to dig through your photographic past than perhaps you can relate to my overall cringing feeling as I do so.  I am not someone who looks back and sees the "good 'ol days" but rather a heavy body with bad hair and regrettable clothes. It makes me not want to waste one second feeling anything other than fabulous at the mature age of 37, complete with crows feet and a lined face because everything about me, from the inside out, is 100 times better than it was 12-15 years ago.  It isn't as though I had a rose-colored view of my past but pouring through these photographs was like a crash course in gratitude and perspective.

I would not trade one second of this life for any of what is behind me. Even the sucky moments, even the painful ones.  I am so grateful to be me, to have this life and this body.  I am immensely grateful for what I've learned, what I never have to learn again, for what I know to be unshakably true.  In my most uncertain moments, my most insecure depths, I never feel the deep thread of fear and self-isolation I felt for most of my childhood and young adulthood.    My worst days of today are better than many of my best days of yesterday.

Here are some other things I'm grateful for.

Sister hugs.

Homemade bagels:

My family, happily working and creating in the kitchen.
 Spontaneous shoulder snuggles during breakfast.
 The elastic loom bracelet craze that has taken over our house.

 And then there's the fact that we've gone from this:

to this:

Yes, we leave for Portland tomorrow to stay in a hotel (perhaps more exciting for the girls that graduation itself).  We have made it.  This major life undertaking has shaped and formed each of us in different ways.  We are not the same people as when it began and I think we have been changed for the better.

The feelings of relief have started flooding in.  That is in between the coursing adrenaline only a massive house cleaning can give you.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

9 years old...oh my

Since Ella doesn't really like to have things shared about her, this post will be brief in words and abundant in pictures.  It is my hope that my pouring over the unending files of digital photo files, I have chosen some that convey the journey of our first love. 

Ella was the easiest baby in the world.  I remember Sandi's dad saying, "You will never have another child as easy as this."  I said, "Now, you never know... we might."  And then we had Maya.

Ella was a quiet and discerning child who liked to sleep, snuggle and be read to.  She didn't particularly like anyone beyond Sandi and I and would cry when we left her.  It took her a few years to really attach herself to anyone outside of us.  We could go anywhere with her.  We didn't have to worry about emotional upset until she was about three at which time she learned to put on showstopping tantrums that she took her time perfecting. 

Ella was our first baby.  I cut my teeth on her, so to speak, and the learning curve of motherhood was as sheer as a rock face for me.  She cracked my heart open, showed me I knew little of love until I experienced my love for her.  Becoming her's, and then Maya's, mother rocketed me on a journey of self exploration that has been unparalleled in my life.  Since she came to be my daughter, I've strived (and often failed) to be and do better for her.  It is a gross understatement but I have no other words with which to say it: I have been transformed by being a mother.

I have also fallen more infinitely in love with Sandi watching her mother our children.  She is the perfect balance for me in almost every regard and parenting is where we shine.  I think that together we make a stellar team.  She is yielding where I am not, is more generous with opportunities for our kids to prove themselves and grow independent and is always full of creative ideas to make life more fun.  I simply love and admire her and parenting alongside her has been one of the biggest blessing of my life.  There is absolutely no one else I would have wanted to take this journey with. 

From serious, contented baby to more outgoing, self-confident girl it has been a joy to watch Ella grow into herself.  She has learned to be more flexible, find the joy in the small things and is slowly learning how to value love and time more than stuff.  She has taught herself gymnastics and just got invited to the more advanced gymnastics class, the dynamites.  She loves to read and can eat up a book in a handful of hours in the chair by the fire.  Ella still loves for us to be by her side when she is doing nearly anything but more and more lately she is stepping out into safe parts of the world on her own two feet.  

I adore who she is becoming and it is a privilege to witness. 

Ella has always and forever liked to make "nests."  She still sleeps under a pile of blankets.


(Photo by Amanda Burse - La Bella Vita Photography)

Happy Birthday to our beautiful first girl.  Thanks for being so patient with us as your moms and for teaching us so much.

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