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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Baby is Growing Up

My very first post on this blog, almost six years ago, announced the arrival of my third child - Lily Baker George.

Tomorrow, that baby goes to kindergarten.

Lily Baker came into this world looking, as my friend once told me, "like her daddy spit her out."

She was the most laid back baby, probably out of necessity since Ann Catherine was only 17-months-old when she was born.

She grew into a very funny child, a child who often uses humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations - or to try and get out of trouble. She constantly makes us laugh.

She is also incredibly independent for her age. She is full of confidence. I have often said about her, "I could drop Lily Baker into any situation and she would swim - not sink."

I have always loved that quality in her.

It may prove to be my undoing tomorrow.

She is just so ready for kindergarten. She walked into orientation Friday with her backpack on her back and her nap mat in her hand, and she refused to let me help. She walked into her room, said hello to her teacher, found her name and her seat and began unpacking her backpack like she had been doing this for years. She didn't need - or want - my help.

I thought I would cry right then and there.

It was hard enough when she graduated preschool in May. She just looked like such a big kid on that stage.

Now, we're heading off to big kid school.

To make matters worse, she proclaimed this week that she didn't need to sleep with Bunny anymore.

Those of you who know her well know what a big deal that is. For those of you who don't, let me clue you in.

Chris' parents gave Bunny to Lily Baker when she was a baby. Every night since, for 5 and a half years, she has slept with Bunny. Every. single. night. Bunny has gone everywhere with us - hockey games, church, preschool, even a Wiggles concert.

And that's not all. Bunny was LB's security. If LB got scared, she wanted Bunny. If LB got sleepy, she wanted Bunny. At first, Gammy and Gramps gave Lily Baker two Bunnies, so we always had a backup. We lost one a year ago and, since then, I've lived in panic that we might lose our only one. Bunny was Lily Baker's best friend.

In fact, I've always joked that Lily Baker would walk down the aisle at her wedding with Bunny stuffed underneath her bouquet.

So to tell me this week that she no longer needed Bunny?

Well, that was more than this mommy could take.

Here's the deal. We all want our children to progress and move to the next stage. That's the point, right?

But when it's the baby, it's just

It's the true ending of a chapter. It means you are moving from a phase of life and you can never go back.

I remember Ann Catherine's first day of kindergarten. I cried, but not for the same reasons that most moms cried. Yes, I was sad about my little girl growing up, but I was also filled with grief that Melissa wasn't there to start kindergarten with her. Each milestone of Ann Catherine's life is filled with a little bit of sadness for us because it's a reminder that Melissa isn't here.

I remember when I left school that day, I couldn't get to my parents' house quick enough to get Lily Baker. I scooped her up and hugged her as soon as I walked in the house. She was my saving grace that day. Ann Catherine had moved on to kindergarten, but I was okay because Lily Baker was still at home with me.

Tomorrow, I'll leave them both at school.
But, as He always does, God speaks truth into my life during these moments. At church this morning, we sang, "Mighty to Save" which is one of the songs that has always spoken to me since Melissa died. And I began to think of her as we sang.

And I realized what a gift it is to have a child starting kindergarten. I mean, she's growing up. And as hard as that is, do you know what a gift that is?

Do you know how many parents would give anything for that gift?

I do, because I'm one of them. I would give everything I own to walk two little girls into a second grade classroom tomorrow, instead of just one. I would give everything to be stressed that my twin girls are starting second grade tomorrow.

Growing up is a treasure.

That doesn't mean it isn't hard for mommies and daddies. It doesn't mean I won't cry tomorrow when I leave Lily Baker in her kindergarten classroom, because I will. And I will probably cry the whole way home.

At the same time, I will thank God for this precious gift of time. I will thank Him for allowing me to raise these beautiful girls on this earth. I will thank him for this milestone of watching them move to kindergarten and second grade. I will thank Him that they are growing up. There are so many moms who would give anything to have those gifts.

And I'll try and put it in perspective. It could be worse. Instead of starting kindergarten, my baby could be leaving for college tomorrow. 

Because when that happens, I really will need a therapist.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

She Really is Swimming FOR Melissa

(This is a picture Lily Baker drew of her, Ann Catherine and their two cousins Ally and Will while we were at the beach last week. Melissa is the angel above them. And there's a rainbow connecting them all together. Sums it all up, doesn't it?)

Last week, I took my girls to the beach for a very last minute trip. I looked at the calendar, realized school and Swim for Melissa were only weeks away and called and told my mom we were coming to see them.

Our first morning there, I was on the balcony overlooking the beach having breakfast with my parents as the girls and their cousins ate inside. As we finished, my dad said, "Amy, Ann Catherine told me this morning she had a dream about Melissa last night. She dreamed that she came to swim at Swim for Melissa."

My mom and I both agreed that wasn't out of the ordinary. After all, our summer revolves around preparations for Swim for Melissa. It's a constant source of conversation at our home and our girls are right in the middle of it. It really didn't seem strange to me that she would be thinking of Melissa.

I thought about it more as the morning went on. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to talk to her about it. I felt I had missed an opportunity to explain something to her. I called her into my bedroom and as she entered she looked at me and said, "Am I in trouble?"

I love that children always assume that when you want to talk to them.

I laughed and said, "No, but sit down. I want to talk to you about something."

She stared at me with a look that said I still think I'm in trouble. I patted the bed and said, "Come sit down with me."

She did as she was told. Then I said, "Poppy told me you had a dream about Melissa last night."

I might as well have said, "Poppy told me you like chocolate." She looked at me as if to say, "Of course I did."

"Can you tell me about it?" I asked.

"Sure!" she said excitedly. "I dreamed that we were at Swim for Melissa and Melissa came down to swim with me. And Jesus was there, too."

I smiled at the thought. "Well, you know what?" I asked. "Part of that is true."

She looked at me as if she didn't understand.

"Melissa won't physically be there," I continued. "As much as we wish she could be, we know that isn't possible. But, she will be swimming that day because she's in your heart. Every lap you take, she will take with you. You won't see her and you won't be able to touch her, but she will be there. I promise you that."

She smiled and gave me a big hug. Then she said the words that hurt every single time.

"Mommy, I wish Melissa could live here with us."

I took a deep breath.

"So do I baby," I answered, fighting back tears. And then I went back to what I know. "But you know what? We will see Melissa again one day."

She perked back up. "That's right, mommy! We'll see her in Heaven!"

Then she thought for a moment and said, "You know what I think, mommy? I think Melissa will be doing Swim for Heaven in Heaven while I'm doing Swim for Melissa. Isn't that cool?!"

I agreed that it was and, with that, she hopped up and ran out of the room to play with her cousins.

I've thought about that conversation so many times this week. Oh, how we miss that little girl. Oh, how we ache and grieve that she can't grow up as part of our family on this earth.

But, I refuse to live in sadness. I know, without a doubt, that Melissa wouldn't want that. She fought way too hard to live for me to stop living here on earth.

So this Saturday, I will clap and cheer as children jump into the pool to swim laps for premature babies. I'll tear up as little ones who don't know what a NICU is tell me they are swimming to "help tiny babies." I'll feel my heart swell with gratitude at the parents who spent this Saturday teaching their kids about something bigger than them, when they could have been laying around at home.

I'll cry when my own children plunge into the pool. I'll feel so incredibly blessed that after so much sadness, God put these two amazing children in our lives. I'll grieve that Melissa isn't here, but I'll thank God that her short life was the catalyst for all of this. I'll feel sad that she isn't physically here to celebrate this day with us. I'll feel gratitude that God chose us to be her parents. I'll feel her presence and spirit surround everything we do.

And as I watch Ann Catherine swim with her team, I'll think of what she told me last week. I'll imagine Melissa swimming her own laps in Heaven. I'll imagine her doing something that she never would have been able to do here on earth.

I'll know in my heart that she'll be swimming every lap alongside her twin sister.

And I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Ann Catherine is swimming for her. With every breath, and every kick, and every lap, she'll be swimming for Melissa.

Because that's what twins do - they stick together. And my girls are no exception.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Message from my Girl

Handmade gifts are just the best.

Don't get me wrong. I love the lantern from Pier One and the Terrame gift card that Chris and the girls gave me for Mother's Day.

But I love, love, love the gifts my girls made with their own, little hands. (God bless you teachers who do this every year, making sure mommies get these sweet homemade gifts!)

This year, Ann Catherine made me this box and asked me to put my rings in it. Lily Baker promptly put her "Hershley" kisses in it.

Lily Baker gave me a bookmark with her precious little handprint on it.

And Ann Catherine made me this.

I teared up as I read it. I love reading what my children think of me. At least at this age, while it's all still good. :)

Later this morning, Ann Catherine came in as I was getting ready for church.

"Mommy?" she said. "Do you know why I wrote this sentence?" She pointed at the one that read "My mom will always be with me forever."

"No," I answered.

"Well," she said. "It's the same way I feel about Melissa. You know, how she's always with us and always in our hearts? That's how I feel about you."

I was speechless. I just hugged her and she danced off into the next room, oblivious to the mark she had just left on my heart.

I can't count the times that God has used Ann Catherine to speak truth into my heart concerning Melissa. There have been so many times that she has said the right thing at the right time to me. I don't believe that's a coincidence.

I had grieved Melissa deeply yesterday. As I showered, the loss I felt in my heart hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I felt a heaviness that I couldn't shake. Mother's Day does that to me sometimes.

I grieved her at church this morning as we worshipped. As I have so many times, I held on tightly to Chris' hand with tears streaming down my face. I'm telling you, that man is my rock. I am so grateful that he is in my life. I can't count the times I've leaned on him - physically and emotionally - in the last seven years.

This morning, when Chris and the girls gave me my gifts I thought my heart would burst from happiness. At the same time, there was a sadness in my heart. It's hard to explain how those emotions feel when they battle it out.

It's not that I'm miserable on Mother's Day. I am so grateful for Ann Catherine and Lily Baker and for the chance God gave me to be their mommy. At the same time, I miss Melissa deeply. So deeply it hurts.

That's why Ann Catherine's timing could not have been more perfect. I needed to be reminded that even though Melissa isn't physically here, she is here. She's alive in our family. She's alive in our memories. She's alive in our hearts.

She will "be with us forever." As long as we are separate from her on this earth, she'll live in our hearts. Her spirit will permeate everything we do. And one day, we truly will be with her forever.

I love how God uses my children to remind me of these beautiful and precious truths. I love how they remind me that I can have hope in the midst of sadness.

It was such a simple sentence that she wrote. It's something we have said to her countless times.

How amazing that she used it to teach something to me on Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Moving On

You know that feeling you got in college when your professor gave you months to work on a project? At the time it was assigned, it seemed like you had plenty of time to get it done. But, as the deadline drew near, you began to panic. Did I do it right? Did I do my best? Did I leave anything out?

That's how I feel right now.

Lily Baker graduates from preschool on Friday. As happy as I am for her, I am also sad. Partly because I love this stage of having her with me and not in school full-time. And partly because she's the baby.

Once Ann Catherine started school, I realized how life changes. No more impromptu trips. No more staying home just because she's tired, or because we can. No more random visits during the day for ice cream or to feed the ducks at the park. No more snuggling at home on a rainy day watching her favorite movie.

It's not as if Lily Baker is with me all day anyway. She goes to preschool four mornings a week. During that time, I do my freelance work or whatever else needs to be done. But once I pick her up, we have two hours before we pick up Ann Catherine. I love those two hours. I love having that time alone with her before the day gets crazy.

And Fridays belong to us. She's home with me and we do whatever we want. I wouldn't trade those Fridays for anything in the world.

Thursday of this week, she had "K for a Day" at the school she'll attend in the fall. If ever there was a realization that your child is growing up, it's that. She loved it. Lily Baker has benefited from going to the school for various things over the last two years that Ann Catherine has been there, so it isn't this new, foreign place like it was for AC.

Plus, she's just ready.

Besides being the quintessential second child, LB is my child that I could drop into any situation and she'll swim, not sink. She is going to be fine.

I am another story.

I count it as one of my greatest joys in life that I was able to stop working full-time just before she turned two. I have loved this time with her. I cherish it.

But, as my mother has reminded me time and time again, this next chapter will be just as beautiful. Different, but beautiful.

And I must embrace it.

The other day, we checked Ann Catherine out of school early for a dentist appointment and went to Chick-fil-A for lunch. Since it was late in the day, we were the only ones outside on the playground. Halfway through lunch, a mom and her teenage daughter came outside to eat. As they watched my girls play, I heard the mom say to her daughter, "Oh, honey. I remember when you were that age playing on this playground." Just hearing those words made me want to cry. It only affirmed how quickly time slips away.

Then as my children played, I watched this mom and her teenage daughter. They talked, they laughed - it was evident they loved being together. They had the same relationship I had with my mom, the same relationship I hope to have with my daughters when they are older. It just looked so fun.

I realized that my mom is right. Each stage is beautiful. I have been so tightly holding onto this stage in life because it's all I know. I have been afraid for my girls to grow up. And while I'm still not ready for it, I must embrace it. Each stage is unique in it's own right, with it's own positives and it's own challenges.

I mean, let's face it. I can romanticize this stage of my daughters' lives all I want, but it's not always great. I certainly have moments where I think I'll pull my hair out. Just yesterday, after hearing "Mommy!" for the umpteenth time, I told them I was changing my name. There are days I wish they were more independent. I mean, it never fails they need more milk once I finally sit down to eat my lunch. There are days I wish Lily Baker wasn't so grumpy or demanding.

Then she crawls in my lap and snuggles up to me. And I forget all of that.

I guess that's life, isn't it? It's the good, the bad and the ugly. But when each stage is over, the bad seems to fade away and you only remember the good.

That's how I'll look back on this time with LB. I'll probably forget the meltdowns and the whining. Instead, I'll remember dressing up as princesses, taking trips to the playground and singing Muppet songs in the backyard at the top of our lungs.

And I'll thank God for every minute of it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Message from Melissa

I had to make a quick trip to Publix tonight after dinner to grab extra Easter eggs and candy. As I was checking out, I heard a young man say something about a rainbow. Naturally, I had to ask.

"Excuse me," I said. "Did you say there's a rainbow outside?"

"Yes, ma'am," he answered. "Just go outside and look towards the front of the store. It's amazing!"

I walked out, expecting to see a small rainbow but what I saw took my breath away.

It was a double rainbow, arching from one end of the store to the other. I was overwhelmed. I snapped a picture with my phone, then jumped in the car to head home. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, and I prayed that God would allow it to stay in the sky until I got home.

Those of you who know us know how we feel about rainbows. We call Lily Baker our rainbow, the beautiful rainbow that God sent to us after Melissa's death. After that horrible storm, he sent us his promise that he would never leave us or abandon us. He did "exceedingly more than we could ask or imagine" when he sent us Lily Baker to heal our broken hearts.

So each time I see a rainbow, I feel like Melissa is sending me a message from Heaven. I can't put into words how it makes me feel.

As I drove home, I cried when I realized how God had gotten my attention this time.

It's Holy Week, but I have been so overwhelmed with other things - things that truly just don't matter - that I haven't focused on what this week truly means.

Easter took on a whole new meaning for us when Melissa died. I believe in the resurrection of Christ. I believe it gives me a hope that I could never have had otherwise. I have the promise that He will never leave me in this lifetime. And better than that, I have the promise that this life isn't it.

Let me tell you something: when you have lost someone you love, that promise means everything.

Because of the resurrection of Christ, I will see Melissa again one day. I will love her. I will hold her. I will be complete. While I celebrate that promise every day, it takes on a whole new meaning each Easter.

As I pulled into the driveway, Chris and the girls were taking it all in. My sweet friend, Ashley, had called to tell them about the rainbow. She knows what it means to our family.

"Mommy, look at the rainbow!!" Lily Baker cried, pointing at the sky. Ann Catherine ran into the rain and said, "It just makes me want to dance in the rain, Momma!"

And she did.

I watched her with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. Thank you, God, for Easter.

I am so grateful for a loving God that sends me gentle reminders. Tonight's double rainbow had a double message for me from my sweet daughter. I could hear her saying during this holiest of weeks,

Mommy, I'm okay.


Mommy, I will see you again.

And the rainbow is my proof.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Trip from You-Know-Where with Me at the Wheel

The girls and I returned this weekend from a nice spring break getaway.

We went to my parents' place at the beach. Unfortunately, Chris had to work and couldn't go so my mom rode down with us and my dad met us later.

We had a great time. My kids love going to the beach and this time was even more special because we got to celebrate my niece's 13th birthday while we were there.

We came back on Saturday, just the three of us. My mom stayed so she could ride home with my dad the next day. She repeatedly asked if I wanted her to ride with us, but I turned her down. I'm a big girl, after all. I can handle this.

We set out late that morning and it was smooth sailing. The girls, armed with snacks and a back seat movie, were great.

Then we got to Prattville.

About fifteen cars ahead of me, there had been a bad wreck. We arrived before the state troopers. Suddenly, we came to a halt. A stand still. Within minutes, three state troopers buzzed by on the median followed by three fire trucks.

We weren't going anywhere for a while.

I called both Chris and my mom to let them know we were going to be tied up. People in cars in front of us were getting out and walking around. Interstate-65 North was a parking lot.

My plan had been to stop fifteen minutes down the road so the girls could use the bathroom, so I braced myself for that inevitable cry: "Mommy, I've got to potty!!" Luckily, God was looking out for their bladders and no one had to go.

After about twenty minutes of just sitting there, the cars ahead of me began to move. 'Yipee! It's over!' I thought.

Then I realized that troopers were actually leading all of us through the median so we could turn around and get back on I-65 South. They had shut down both sides of the interstates and vehicles were lined up for miles.

"I don't want to go south!" I thought. "I just came from there!"

Apparently, I verbalized this because Ann Catherine started to cry. I began reassuring her that it was okay, all the while having no clue where I was going. And I began wishing that Chris was with us.

I called him and told him they had turned us around on the interstate. He jumped on the internet to check out routes for me. Just then, I saw the exit sign for Highway 31 and I knew this would get me back to I-65 North somehow. I turned and our little backroads journey began.

Ann Catherine was still crying, scared that I had no idea where I was going. She was partly right. Lily Baker? She was in the backseat wearing headphones and watching "Mr. Popper's Penguins." She was completely clueless.

We drove for about 20 miles and came to a sign leading us to I-65. It led us through the blink-and-you-miss it town of Verbena. Even this caught LB's attention and she yelled over her headphones, "Where are we?!"

We eventually got back on 65, relieved to see civilazation again. We were just glad to be out of harm's way and the girls and I said a prayer for those involved.

Then we pulled into Durbin Farms in Clanton for ice cream. Because that's how we celebrate.

We soon hopped back on the interstate and my text to Chris said, "Huntsville or bust!" I mean, what else could go wrong, right?

As we drove through Birmingham, Chris called to tell me I was going to drive through some thunderstorms between there and Huntsville. No problem. I can handle that.

What I didn't expect was to get caught in the middle of a hailstorm.

Around the Warrior exit, the rain began. Then it turned into giant golf-ball size hail. I kid you not. Have you ever driven through a true hailstorm? I honestly thought a giant chunk was going to come crashing through my windshield. It sounded like someone was dropping giant bowling balls on top of my car. It was completely unnerving.

The sky turned black and we were being pelted unmercifully. All of the cars ahead of me began to pull over, and I followed suit. Ann Catherine started to cry again, but somehow "The Muppets" drowned out the sound for LB. Seriously, give that kid headphones and a movie and she'll miss anything.

We waited out the storm, while I promised Ann Catherine we were going to be okay. We prayed again. At this point I'm thinking, 'You have got to be kidding me!' Of course this would happen while I am traveling alone with my children.

Eventually the storm ended and we got on our merry way. Once we saw the Saturn V rocket on I-565, we all squealed with delight. We were almost home! And I had never been so ready to get there.

I pulled into the driveway, relieved to be home but another emotion ran through my body as well - satisfaction. 'I did it,' I thought. Through an interstate shutdown and detour to a thunderous hailstorm, I handled it. I got my children home safely, with a major dose of help from God.

Isn't that motherhood?

I remember the first day I was alone with my children after we brought Lily Baker home from the hospital. She was just a week old, and Ann Catherine was just 17 months old. Chris had gone back to work and my mom was gone, too. LB began to cry, which made AC cry. I couldn't get either one of them to stop, so I plopped myself in the chair with both of them in my arms and I cried too. I laugh everytime I think about it now. I'm quite sure I looked like an unshowered, hot mess as we all had our pity party together. The three of us just sitting in that chair, wailing at the top of our lungs.

I called Chris at work, just because I needed to cry to someone else. Of course, there was nothing he could do, but it made me feel better. Then guess what? Eventually someone stopped crying.

And we made it through the day.

I remember when Chris went on a business trip when LB was only four weeks old, and he left the three of us alone for the first time overnight. AC had been a trooper until then, but of course the first night he was gone, she decided to cry all night. After hours of trying everything, I eventually laid down on the floor next to her crib and silently cried too. I guess she took pity on me because she finally went to sleep, and I picked myself up off the ground and stumbled to my bed. As soon as I laid down, Lily Baker began to cry in her bassinet as she woke up ready to eat. I am pretty sure I called Chris every name in the book for leaving me alone for the week with two babies. Eventually everyone went to sleep.

And we made it through the night.

I remember the first time the girls and I left the house together. Alone. Not for an extended trip, just for a quick ride to the mall. I was armed with a double stroller, diaper bags, juice cups, snacks and a giant box of wipes and a change of clothes because you just know someone is going to have a blowout before you get there. I was slap-out exhausted before I ever put my key in the ignition. But we got there.

And we made it through the day.

And those are the days where, as a mom, you pat yourself on the back when you lay down in your bed at night and you say to yourself, "I did it."

And it is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

I had that feeling as we finally arrived home Saturday night. No, I'm not crazy enough to think I did it on my own. I have no doubt that as we turned around on I-65 South and I had no idea where I was going, that God was in the front seat with his GPS. But I couldn't help being proud of myself that I had navigated my children through such a mess.

And even though I was so proud of myself for doing it without Chris' help, I had never been so happy to see him.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Treasures in My Own Backyard

I settled into the tub this morning - for the first time in months - armed with a Mimosa and the latest issue of Southern Living.

That is my own personal Heaven.

I am southern, through and through. Chris could move me to Scandinavia and I would still order grits with my breakfast. I had to "lose" my accent when I worked in television, so Chris always loved when I called my mom on the phone and my proper speech morphed into, "Muh-ther! You are nawt goin' to believe this!"

And yes, I really do call her "mother." I am southern, after all.

Anyway, back to the reason for my time in the tub. My mom and I are about to embark on a little trip to the beach with my girls. Notice I didn't use the word "vacation." In fact, I think another word should be created to describe a trip with children. While it's fun and glorious in it's own right, it's not "relaxing." Thus, I decided to make a trip to the tub to gear up for my trip to the beach.

Make sense?

Chris had given the girls strict orders of "Don't disturb your mother!" His voice was serious - more serious than the "Ann Catherine, sit down!" voice he uses after she gets up from the dinner table for the 18th time to do a little twirl, but less serious than his "If you don't clean up your playroom, I'm going to get a garbage bag and throw all your toys away!" voice. Of course, he never has to grab said garbage bag because the threat alone instills the fear of God in them and they take off running to their playroom to clean. Mission accomplished.

So as I soaked - ALONE! - I began to read my cherished Southern Living. As I dreamed of jaunts to Savannah to Charleston, I came across a piece about the Arts community in Alabama. And there it was - Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment.

Wow! That's in MY town! I was beaming with pride. Then, as I read more about it, I became embarrassed.

I've never been there.

It's right here in my town. I hear about it all the time, but I've never been.

Chris and I love to travel. Since we didn't have kids right away, we did our fair share of traveling. It's how we fell in love with the deserts of Arizona. It's how Napa, California became our favorite place on the map and why a painting of the bed and breakfast we stayed in on our honeymoon AND our tenth anniversary hangs in our home.

We used to love to hop in the car and just GO! So why did it take us ten years of living in the Rocket City to actually visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center?

Oh, I had been there a gazillion times as a television reporter. And the giant Saturn V on I-565 is my girls' signal that "we're home!" when returning from vacation. But it never occurred to Chris and I to visit until living here for almost a decade.

I returned home unable to eat the rest of the day thanks to the G-force ride we took, but I also returned home with such a proud appreciation of my town and the role the people in this town played in sending man to the moon. (Editors note: if you haven't been yet, what are you waiting for?!)

Just last week, I visited Merrimack Hall for the first time to see "Motherhood: the Musical" with some girlfriends. I couldn't get over this little gem tucked away in this revitalized neighborhood in Huntsville. I also couldn't believe yet that I was just meeting it for the first time. (Another Editor's note: ladies, go see this musical!!)

Chris and I both moved to Huntsville as "just another town on the journey." We didn't want to stay, and talked many nights of where life would take us next. But somewhere along the way, we realized what we had here.

It's a beautiful southern city, but full of diversity. That's something you don't get in many southern towns. Our neighborhoods are a mix of third generation Huntsvillians who say "yes ma'am and no ma'am" and rockets scientists and Ph.D's transplanted from northern cities.

We are just as close to the mountains and Asheville, North Carolina - as Chris and I discovered a few years ago - as we are to the beach. That's a pretty perfect combination.

We have professional sports teams, a gorgeous Museum of Art, a pristine Big Spring Park in the middle of downtown, and various musicals and plays almost every weekend. Mixed in with all of this, we have a small town charm that I love.

We moved here because of our jobs. We stayed because we wanted to raise our children here.

So here's my goal - to learn more about this place that I call home. Because if it's good enough for Southern Living, it's certainly good enough for me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How I Broke my Toe Playing Pinkilicious

Otherwise titled, "Seriously? You don't have a better story than that?"

It all started happily enough. The girls were out of school for President's Day today and wanted to play Lily Baker's Pinkilicious board game. The game has cards that you pull and you have to do what the card says to get your points.

Ann Catherine pulled a card that told her to pretend she's driving a car, and we all had to follow her lead.

Rather quickly, her sedan turned into a Corvette and off she went. LB and I followed along.

Oh, you know where this is heading, don't you?

Off she went into the kitchen. LB was hot on her heels and I was bringing up the rear. As I turned the corner into the kitchen, I slipped in my socks and the only thing I remember is one leg flying up in the air and then landing, rather unceremoniously, sprawled out on the kitchen floor. There was nothing graceful about it. I banged my knee on the hardwood floor and one of my toes on my left foot hurt like all-get-out.

This is where it gets good.

At first, the girls were oblivious. Then I guess they heard me groaning because, to her credit, Ann Catherine poked her head back into the kitchen to make sure I was breathing. Once she realized I was still alive, off she went. Lily Baker, however, never looked back. I could have been a twisted, mangled, mess and she wouldn't have known it. She was on a mission to win the Pinkilicious game. Sorry, mom.

Think we're a little competitive in this family?

I finally got up and limped back to the game. We began to play, then I couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Girls," I said. "Thanks for the help back there. When you are hurt, who drops everything to pick you up and make sure you're okay? That would be me. Instead, you guys were leaping over me like I was roadkill!"

Guilting them into asking me how I was began to backfire. Instead, they started giggling.

"At least Ann Catherine checked to make sure I was alive," I continued. "Lily Baker, you just left me in a heap on the floor with tire tracks across my back."

That's when Lily Baker got up, mock sympathy oozing through her from head to toe, and said, "Oh, mommy, I'm so sorry. Let me see your knee," and she inspected it as if she was on staff at Johns Hopkins.

Ann Catherine, at this point, was in full-blown laughter.

LB gave me a hug and a quick smooch on the lips and mumbled something like, "Can we start playing the game again?"

That, my friends, is gratitude.

I'm wondering if I should have the following conversation with girls: "Hey girls, you know how I showed you to use 911 if there's an emergency? Well, if mommy ever becomes unconscious during Wii 'Just Dance' or a fierce game of Princess Yahtzee, could someone please pause the game for about five seconds and make sure I'm still breathing? I get that you all want to win, but seriously, is that too much to ask??"

It only got worse once Chris got home. You see, sympathy is hard to come by in this household. Chris doesn't feel bad for anyone. He once played a hockey game he doesn't remember. He went back in after taking a puck off the face that knocked him out and left him with a concussion. (on a personal note: kids, I am not condoning this. Your dad clearly has scrambled eggs.) At the end of said game, he had titanium plates put in behind his eye where he was gashed during the game. Then, he played the next night. It's why baseball players who go on the DL because of hangnails make him crazy.

He loves me with all his heart, but believe me, I get no sympathy from him.

So he gets home, and I tell him I think I broke my toe.

"So, how'd you do it?" he asked. I just looked down.

He starts smiling. "How'd you do it?" he kept asking.

Oh, he knew it was going to be a good one. Finally, I confessed.

He laughed the entire time I told the story. Then he looked down at my purple, swollen toe and said, "Yep, looks like you jammed it pretty good," and walked away.

Then as he got to the bedroom, he threw out, "Maybe you should just stick to Wii dancing."

My poor, aching toe. And battered pride.

Tonight as we were tucking the girls in and doing our nightly "I'm thankful for" ritual, Chris said, "I'm thankful no one was seriously injured today while playing the Pinkilicious game."

And the girls started cackling.

Seriously, the outpouring of love is overwhelming in this household. Living here is not for the faint of heart.

I had a migraine yesterday that put me in bed all afternoon and evening. Today, I wiped out during a children's board game and knocked my toe out of whack.

Can I get a do-over? I'm thinking it's not going to be my week.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wait for the Rainbow

I have a picture that hangs on my mirror in my bathroom.

It's a picture Ann Catherine drew when she was younger. It's a picture of me (you know, the awesome stick figure kind, without hair :) with a halo over my head. I put it there as a reminder of how my daughter sees me, even though it's so far from who I really am. It's a reminder that she is watching everything I do - and learning from it.

Sobering thought for moms, huh?

I added another picture the other night. But before I tell you about it, I must explain what happened that night.

Ann Catherine had one of her grief attacks. I have no better way to describe it. Out of the blue, she'll start thinking about Melissa and she'll just begin to uncontrollably cry. And this goes on for a while.

Have you ever watched as your child truly grieved someone?

It is absolutely heartbreaking.

I went into her room as she and Lily Baker lay in bed. I held her and she sobbed and sobbed. She kept telling me how much she missed Melissa and "I just wished that I could have seen her before she died." I bet she repeated that sentence eight or nine times.

I held her in my arms and told her that I missed her, too. I kept telling her that we would be with Melissa again one day. And each time I said it, she replied, "I just want to see her now!"

I began to cry, too. Tears rolled down my face as I tried to reassure her.

Ann Catherine grieves just as I do. When it finally hits her, she can't hold it back any longer. I grieve the same way. Once I give in to crying, I will cry hard for a good five to ten minutes. So, I didn't rush her. I just held her and let her cry on my shoulder.

The song "Our God" popped into my head. As she sobbed, I rocked her and began to sing, "Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other. Our God is healer, awesome in power, our God. Our God."

Then Lily Baker, who loves this song, joined in. And the two of us sang the chorus over and over and over as Ann Catherine cried.

It was one of the most gut-wrenching and beautiful moments I have ever shared with my daughters.

And then, when I couldn't sing through the tears any longer, I stopped. And Lily Baker just kept going. And she sang that as I rocked Ann Catherine back and forth in my arms.

About twenty minutes later, she stopped crying and I put them both to bed. Then I came into the den, collapsed into the sofa and began to bawl. Chris came over and put his arms around me as I cried.

"I just don't know what to say to her sometimes," I told him. "I know we will see Melissa again one day, but I know that doesn't soothe Ann Catherine's pain right now."

And that's the problem.

We, as parents, are "fixers." We can't stand to see our children sad. So, we try to fix the problem.

This is one problem I cannot fix. I can't bring Melissa back. I can promise Ann Catherine that we will see her again, but that doesn't take away her pain right now.

Please pray for our family as we navigate this journey. Please pray that God will give us the answers we need to these tough questions.

I want to be real with my children concerning Melissa's death. I want them to see me cry. I want them to see me grieve. I want them to know that I miss her too, with all of my heart.

At the same time, I want them to see my faith. When they are older, I want them to look back on their years with me and I want them to say, "I know that my mom loved Melissa and missed her with all of her heart. But, I also know that she trusted God's plan for our lives and she knew that He was in control. She wasn't bitter or angry. She believed that God could bring something beautiful out of so much pain."

So back to my picture. As you all know, we call Lily Baker our rainbow. She is the promise that God sent to our family after that horrible, tragic storm of losing Melissa. The rainbow is a powerful symbol to our family of God's love for us. It is a powerful symbol that life could go on after the storm.

This week at preschool, Lily Baker drew the most beautiful picture of a rainbow. I asked her if I could keep it. I taped it to my bathroom mirror, just above Ann Catherine's picture.

When Lily Baker walked in my room the next morning, she said, "You put my rainbow on your mirror!" She was beaming with pride.

When she walked out, I thought about what we experienced with Ann Catherine the night before. I realized that the rainbow goes so far beyond Lily Baker's birth.

She is the rainbow we celebrate on earth. But one day, we will see the ultimate rainbow.

When the four of us are reunited with Melissa, that will be the final part of God's promise to us. That yes, it may be hard for now, but the rainbow will appear one day. It will shine over our family - our family of five - as we are finally together the way God meant for us to be. When I hold Melissa in my arms, all of the crying, all of the hurt, all of the sadness, all of the grief, will be gone - forever. Not just in my heart, but in Chris' heart, Ann Catherine's heart and Lily Baker's heart.

That rainbow is going to be so spectacular.

Thank you, God, for the rainbow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Outgrowing our Children's Toys

There’s a scene in Toy Story 2 that always makes me sad.

It’s when Jessie recounts the story of how her friend and playmate outgrew her. One minute the little girl is spending every waking moment with Jessie, the next minute the doll is under her bed as she giggles and plays with her friends. She is older now, and she has moved on.

I know its fiction, but it always gets me.              

I already see it in Ann Catherine. She deems herself too grown up for some things, as she walks through the house with her earphones on listening to her favorite music.
But, Lily Baker? Oh Lord, thank you for Lily Baker.

At any given moment of any given day, I can find Lily Baker in her room with her gazillion miniature princesses and princes sprawled across the room. She talks to them, plays with them, loves them.
Her favorite is Belle.

I don’t know when Lily Baker first came to love Belle. It just seems it’s always been that way. Yellow is her favorite color, because that’s the color of Belle’s party dress. She loves the Beast, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip – all of them. She’s seen Beauty and the Beast so many times she could recite it by heart. And as far as heroines go, Belle’s not bad. She’s smart, loves to read, isn’t a damsel in distress and teaches the beast how to love. Not too shabby. My child’s role models could be worse, you know.

We took the girls to Walt Disney World in April. They were the perfect age. They believe in the magic. By golly, Cinderella actually lives in that giant castle on Main Street. Each night as we walked past, we wondered aloud which bedroom was hers.
But the best part? Watching Lily Baker meet Belle for the first time.

It was at dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. I snapped this picture as Lily Baker saw her from afar for the first time and watched her walk towards our table.

I couldn’t even look at Belle for looking at Lily Baker. Her reaction was priceless. It was worth every single penny we had paid to go there.
It just so happened that Beauty and the Beast was the featured show at Hollywood Studios so Lily Baker got to see it on stage. I don't think she blinked the entire show.

This past weekend we had another first with Belle: Beauty and the Beast in 3D. She had never seen it on the big screen and she was beyond excited.. She insisted on wearing her Belle dress to the theater. Each time her favorite songs came on, I found myself watching her instead of watching the movie. I was overflowing with happiness. It was completely worth the inflated ticket prices and ridiculously priced popcorn.

That’s when I realized something: these memories are as much for me, as they are for her. When I am old and gray and Lily Baker has children of her own, I will see a Belle doll and immediately think of Lily Baker and her love for this princess. I will hear "Be Our Guest" and hear Lily Baker's voice singing it. I will immediately be transported to a time long ago – a time when Lily Baker called her sister “Ann Caf-rine,” a time when she begged to wear dress-up clothes each time we went to the grocery store, a time where it made complete sense to her that Belle could talk to household objects, like a candlestick and clock. A time that now seems so crazy and rushed, but I have a feeling when I reflect back, I’ll long for that craziness.

Maybe our children’s childhood toys – those they absolutely cherish – are more for us than them. Maybe God is giving us memories as well, a reminder when they are older of how wonderful life was when they actually believed in princesses and fairytales.
One day, Belle may find her way under Lily Baker’s bed as she giggles with her friends, painting their nails.

When it does, I’ll still remember her.
I think Lily Baker will, too.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hockey with Heart!

I'll never forget when the Huntsville Havoc approached us five years ago about doing a fundraiser for Melissa's Fund.

The players were going to wear pink jerseys. PINK!! I just couldn't imagine those tough guys wearing pink jerseys.

They did. And they were such good sports about it. Before the game, Chris took Ann Catherine into the locker room and told them all about her and Melissa. He told them about their brave fight in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children. He told them how Melissa's fight ended way too early. He told them how Ann Catherine beat the odds to finally come home to us 68 days later. He told them how the auction of those pink jerseys would allow us to give other parents - parents just like us - hope.

When he finished, those players understood why they were wearing those pink jerseys. They played their hearts out, won in front of a packed crowd and we raised $65,000 in one night as we auctioned off those stinky, smelly - and in some cases, bloody - jerseys.

I'll never forget that night as long as I live.

Lily Baker was only two-months-old. The pain of losing Melissa was still so fresh. But on that night, we realized the impact Melissa's Fund could have on those precious babies and their families.

We learned that this town's hockey community didn't just love hockey. They love giving back. And Chris and I are beyond humbled at the way they have embraced the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund.

We are so grateful to the Huntsville Havoc front office who put their heart and soul into this event. We are grateful that they have chosen to partner with us for the last five years to help premature babies and their families.

(Ann Catherine and her daddy dropping the puck at last year's game)

If you've come to this special night before, we hope you'll come again this year. If you haven't been before, clear your calendar for this Saturday night and join us. I promise you won't regret it!

The first 1,000 fans to bring an item for the NICU will receive a Havoc/Melissa George Fund water bottle. What to bring? Premature clothing, booties, hats or disposable cameras. Why disposable cameras? We leave them at the baby's bedside so nurses can take pictures of them when the parents aren't around. In fact, Ann Catherine received her very first bath at night. I wasn't there. But thanks to our nurse, and our disposable camera, I have a picture of it. That, my friends, is priceless.

Your support of Melissa's Fund means more than you'll ever know. For the past five years, hundreds of families have been on the receiving end of your kindness. You may never meet them, but please know that you have made an impact on their life.

Thank you from one very grateful family. We'll see you Saturday night!