Three Point Five Years

In three(ish) years, a lot has changed. I went from being a typical college student to…well, whatever I am now. A mother. An almost-nurse. Tired, but happy. A hopeful soon to be home owner. The owner of a seriously awesome new camera.

In three short years…

I had a baby:

Jaundiced Alex, two days old, with mom

One undergraduate degree from Smith College was completed.

I celebrated the first and second birthday with said (no longer a) baby:

Wall-E Cake!  and Alex eating him

Eating birthday cake

I graduated from Pitt with a second bachelor’s degree, this time in Nursing.

And then, to top it all off, I had the most amazing congratulatory dinner celebration last night. A surprise, full of wonderful food, family, and amazing gifts.

As Zach, his parents, my mother, grandmother and long-time friend showered me with love and affection, I came close to tears. As I watched everyone take turns entertaining Alex throughout our long evening, just as they all had numerous times throughout the past year, I came close to tears. When Zach offered me an assortment of my favorite beverages, and as my favorite cake in the world was brought out after dinner, I came close to tears. Every gift I opened? Brought me close to tears.

Again and again I thought about how unbelievably lucky I am. Looking around the room as most of the people I care about gathered to celebrate me and my accomplishments, I felt, mostly, grateful. And also undeserving.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of myself. I am perfectly able to toot my own horn and say that I accomplished a lot over the past few years. This past year (or three, really) has been hard. Really, really, hard. I had to finish up my first degree while staying home with a new baby. I spent the next year taking two classes each term as I prepared to start yet another degree, still staying home with Alex. None of that could prepare me for the challenge of returning to school not just full time, but F.U.L.L. time. Taking more than a full course load each semester and then adding in an average of 24 hours of clinical, all while attempting to still be a mom, a partner, a daughter, a friend…it was almost impossible.

At times, I thought my god, what did I get myself into? I am never going to be able to do this. But then, somehow, it was over.

Only it wasn’t just somehow.

I could never in a million years have gotten through the past three years on my own.

And I can never in a million years thank the people in my life enough.

To Zach, my mother, my grandparents, Zach’s parents, and the friends and family who have supported me:

Thank you. I could not have accomplished any of this, or anything, without you.

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Can I, Please, Have This Child Back?

Alex and I spent a week in Florida, visiting my wonderful grandparents (his great grandparents).

He was perfect.

Seriously.

I kept wondering if I had accidentally grabbed the wrong kid on my way down, because this child? Is far too well behaved to be my child.

He was immensely polite, saying “please” and “thank you” every time it was appropriate. He even looked at me after saying a very quiet thank you to “gramma” (what he calls his great grandmother) and said, “Gwamma didn’t say you welcome…” When he got her attention again, he quietly told her that she didn’t say it and when she apologized and said it, he responded with a smile and a “tankoo” (to which she immediately had to say “you’re welcome” again or risk the polite police coming down on her again).

More amazing than his courteousness was his independence. Alex played by himself for the majority of every day we were there. He ran around the pool (“I bein’ caweful!”), splashed his toys in the water (“Look, Mommy! Dey’we gettin’ wet! Dey swimming!”), piled rocks, and did a lot of pretend play with his toys (“He’s making you a sanwich. Hewe. You want a big sanwich?”).

When we were around other adults, he was interactive with them. He wanted to play with everyone, but when they weren’t interested in playing with him he said, “otay” and found something else to do.

He was a perfect child. He didn’t cry once, and only fussed a bit when it was time to sleep or he was ready to get out of his highchair, which, by the way, was a miracle in and of itself. Alex has not sat in a highchair at home for months without a giant fuss.

Seriously, whose child did I take? And how do I get him back? Because the minute we stepped back in our home he was a whining, fussing, bossy and rude little person. “No, not like dat! NO! I want fwuit snacks! NOOOO! Give dat to me! Dat’s mine! NO! Don’t touch me. Don’t talk to me! NO! I don’t want to build a castle…YOU build a castle. NO! Not like dat! NO! It needs a bottom! NO!”

It’s a darn good thing he’s cute even when he’s obnoxious.

Florida!

Thanks

This year, more than ever before, I am thankful for my and my family’s overall health. While there have been a number of scary moments throughout the past year, including my own surgery, Alex’s struggling to breath, Zach’s father spending a week in the hospital, and my great aunt being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, I am thankful that we were all helped. We have health insurance, and for that I am thankful. We have the ability to pay for what isn’t covered, and for that I am thankful. We have each other, a support system, and for that I am very thankful.

I have only been in nursing school for three months, but I have spent over 300 hours working with patients in the hospital. Some are relatively healthy, most are not. Some have family, a lot do not. Some have health insurance, others will be bankrupt after they leave the hospital and receive the bill. Some got better, a few did not.

This year, I am thankful for what I can do. It may not be much as a student nurse, but I have witnessed firsthand what a difference the little I can do makes to a patient. From helping with a bath and changing sheets, to actually listening to what they have to say and going out of my way to get them food that they will consume, to giving them pain medication when their nurse is struggling to keep up with her patient load.

I am grateful that I live the way I do: with Zach and Alex, in a good neighborhood, near my mother and soon near Zach’s parents. We may struggle, but at the end of the day we have food in our bellies, clothes on our back, and a really, amazingly, wonderful life.

Today, I am thankful for a lot.

Today, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. And I am thankful that my mother came over early to help me prepare.

Today, Alex said “tankooo” about 50 times. And for that? I am thankful. Those simple words tell me that he is happy, healthy, and becoming a wonderful little man.

Two years ago, we celebrated Alex’s first Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving 2007

This year we had a friend of the family over with her son. And for the first time, I witnessed Alex truly interacting with another child. They spent almost the entire afternoon and evening playing together, and for that? I am thankful.

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I am thankful regardless of the fact that a large chunk of that “interacting” was…active, let’s say.

Wrestling

And for the record, I’m also thankful for sweater vests and the simple pleasure that a paper napkin can bring to a toddler.

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All You Need Is Love

I love my family.

It’s not a “normal” family, though.

My family is my mom, but not my dad. He may have provided me with half of my genes, but that’s all he ever provided me with. Oh, and 50 dollars to help me get on my feet when I started college.

My family is my grandmother. My beautiful, kind, unbelievably compassionate and generous grandmother. And her husband, my “Oompa.” He may not be related by blood, but he is my grandfather.

Zach. Zach is my family. We aren’t married, and as of now have no plans on getting married. We are a family, though.

Zach’s parents are my family. Sure, they aren’t my in-laws technically, but why does it matter?

Sarah, my best friend in the world, is my family. We may have only known each other for 5 years, but she is like a sister to me. A sister that I never had, and a sister that I couldn’t live without.

When I think about my family, I couldn’t be happier. Who says I need a mother and a father? Who says I have to be married in order for Zach to be my family?

Normal is so overrated. Normal? Is outdated.

Living the American Dream is nice and all, but it is not what makes people happy. Having a big house with a nice lawn, surrounded by a white picket fence, is not what brings one to smile. Two kids, a boy and a girl, a dog, and an apple pie sitting on the windowsill? Well, sure, that would be nice. And, yes, I want that. I can’t lie: I want to own a house, paint the walls beautiful colors, bake cookies for Alex as a special snack after a long day at school. But all of that does not guarantee happiness.

What does guarantee happiness? I have no clue.

But my family? Guarantees my happiness.

The Best Time

Did you know that the absolute best time to go to the zoo is when they are closing?

With Zach’s parents in town for a long weekend, we decided that Sunday would be a perfect zoo day. Even though it was my third time in about a month, I was still super excited. I absolutely love taking pictures of the animals, and feel that every time I go I get some amazing shots.

We arrived an hour and a half before closing, which is only thirty minutes before they stop letting people in. As we entered, there were hoards of people exiting. While everyone was leaving, there were only a very small number of people entering, so we ended up having the zoo practically to ourselves.

Spending as much time as you want in front of every animal without having to worry about blocking a 4 foot tall person’s sight? Is awesome. When you get to wait around just watching animals, you don’t miss all of the cool stuff that they do:

Showing off

We were also lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch the trainers with the elephants. They were marched around in circles and told to do various things, all while the baby elephant was just running around getting in the way.

Tail Grapping

Baby elphant running!

Of course, we also saw a lot of “meows,” which may actually be graduating to a “rawr!” title.

Meow Meow Meow

Meow Meow

Meow

The only downside to entering so late is that we weren’t able to go into the aquarium, and all of the people that were still in the zoo twenty minutes after close were told to leave, twice, over the loudspeakers.

While I was happy to get some great shots of the animals, the best shot of the day, naturally, was an Alex picture.

Having fun at the zoo

California, Here We Come!

Alex and I leave for a ten day vacation in California on Monday. We wont be arriving at our destination until after 1 in the morning. This means it will be after 4 in the morning, Pittsburgh time, and I will have not slept a wink because Alex will have been in my arms the whole time. (Stupid me not splurging on buying Alex his very own seat!)

I’m really excited, though. My Uncle Mike and Aunt Jill, who I will be staying with (along with my Mother who has been house sitting for them on and off all summer while they vacationed and visited their daughter in the Peace Corps), are some of the most amazing people I have ever known. They are funny, intelligent, and completely nonjudgemental. Mike is sweet, a great story teller, and always has beer on demand. Jill is genuinely caring, beautiful, and possibly the best cook I have ever encountered. She prepares exquisite meals every. single. night. Seriously, how could I not love being with them?

The last time I was there was at Thanksgiving, when Alex was just turning 3 months old. He was smiling, occasionally giggling, and learning how to grab and shake things. His sleep habits were awful, but he was still very charming.

When we first arrived, I managed to take this “classic Uncle Mike” shot:

Alex Crying With Mike

Alex Crying With Mike

It’s classic because for some reason babies always cry the first time he holds them. There are numerous photos of Mike holding me as a baby while I wail in his arms. Alex ended up loving him (as did I!), but it took a few hours.

Jill is one of those women who has “the touch” with children. She could make Alex fall asleep in less than a minute, make him smile any time she felt like it, and entertain him for hours. Alex adored her, and I know he will love her even more now that he’s older!

Alex on Thanksgiving Day, 2007

Alex on Thanksgiving Day, 2007

It will have been over eight months since Mike and Jill last saw Alex. He has grown tremendously, crossed so many developmental milestones, and has become such a wonderful little person.

I can’t wait for them to meet him again! And, of course, I can’t wait to see them, either!

SO Happy!