Mine In The Middle

Middle kids. Always drawing the short straw, am I right? This one feels it the most. My middle is stuck between an older sister who has several different appointments throughout the year and more demanding developmental needs, and a younger one-year-old brother who constantly keeps us on our toes.

Her independence makes her easily overlooked; often leaving her to take the backseat to her siblings. It’s the unfortunate role that sometimes comes with birth order. As cliche as all the middle child stuff is, she is a textbook case. Never one to play independently and always wanting us to impress us with a new skill she’s learned. She has big feelings and vies the hardest for our attention. Sometimes I have remind myself that her meltdowns are simply her way of saying that she needs us. Because life and time don’t always allow for everyone’s needs to be met on cue, she’s learning to be a little more patient and I’m learning out how to pick up on her signals sooner.

We’ve found our happy place on Mondays this summer. Her big sister has respite and her younger brother goes to daycare. Leaving us with a few hours to ourselves. Once we run the errands and complete the household tasks and paperwork, we carve out special time for just her. Yesterday I promised an afternoon of pedicures. When the nail salon was closed–because, of course (thankfully I called first)–I had to improvise quick. I poured her a smoothie, turned on Pandora and set up a home spa; allowing her freedom to choose as many nail stickers and colors as she wished (including the glitter polishes that take three years to dry). She talked so comfortably with me, and we bonded over our love for Kacey Musgraves.

After her nails we’re done, we baked a giant batch of cookies together. I let her dip her fingers in the cookie dough more than once and scoop all of the cookies onto the pans. We grabbed two glasses of milk and a few cookies, then settled in for a treat. Her smile radiated throughout the afternoon. “This is the best day ever mommy. I liked this better than going somewhere,” she told me. “I just like being here with you.” 

I am not a perfect mom. Far from it. I yell more than I like and I mess up plenty as I go through the motions of motherhood. I’m always learning from our kids. I love how each of them specifically teach me something different. She shows me it’s not grand gestures and big things. It’s not expensive days out or long weekend trips.

While those things are still great and we still enjoy doing them, it’s that extra ten minutes of snuggling or one more book before tucking her in that matter so much to her. It’s playing catch outside or taking a quick walk down the driveway. It’s one more extra high push on the swing or a living room dance party. It’s sitting down to string beads into a bracelet and wearing it after she gifts it to me. It’s finding patience when she’s most upset. It’s giving her the space to be herself and making time for her. It’s simplicity in a world that constantly tells us we need to do more in order to have happy kids.

I am extra thankful for the opportunity to spend our Mondays together. From one middle child to another, I relate to her in ways she doesn’t yet understand; and I see her more than she realizes.

On This Day…

Five years ago today, we received a phone call. Earlier that morning I had taken Tessa to the hospital to get her labs drawn. She was on a wait and watch protocol for Myelodysplastic Syndrome, and we knew at some point she would likely transition to leukemia. Many months led up to that moment in our living room where my husband and I sat together while listening closely to the voice on the other end of the phone. She had only said my name and I knew. Before she could finish her sentence, hot tears streamed down my cheeks.

Even though we knew this was coming, we still clung to the little bit of hope that this was all a mistake. That her labs and biopsies were incorrect. That there was a chance she could avoid treatment. It was something we told ourselves on the surface to save face; all the while knowing that this was inevitable. Our daughter had cancer and lives shifted forever.

Her body was covered in petechiae. Her skin was as pale and mottled. She was weak and miserable, crying in our arms. Our baby was sick…really sick. On the phone, the doctor urged us to get her to the hospital immediately. She told us to pack bags for at least a week long stay in the hospital while they ran more tests to figure out the best course of treatment. In the midst of packing, I remembered our six month old baby at daycare and my heart shattered. What would happen to our family?

Before leaving town, I pulled up to our daycare to see our littlest babe while my husband and Tessa waited in the car. Unaware of our troubles, her face lit up with excitement when she realized her mommy was there. As I scooped her up in my arms, I wondered when I would get to see her again. I walked away from that house not knowing if that terrible disease would take her big sister from her. Fear won that day and several days to come.

The hours that followed are now muddled memories. People rushed in and out of our hospital room, throwing medical terms and phrases at our blank faces. They asked questions we didn’t have answers to and said things that didn’t make sense.

There were treatment road maps, complicated documents that required signatures, beeping machines and many unfamiliar faces. The food trays that the nurse had ordered for us were cold and untouched on the counter. I quietly rocked our girl to sleep as she received blood products for the very first time, desperately trying to wrap my head around how we were so swiftly caught in the undertow of our current situation.

This was our life.

A small, but significant chapter, in the big book of us.

Like a puzzle, our pieces remained scattered. Each piece just as meaningful and necessary as the next, despite how confusing and frustrating they were on their own. Sometimes coming back together, only to be broken apart again and again.

But even apart, we were whole; and when all of the pieces aligned just right, we created a beautiful scene.

Every year on this day I recall our heartache and desperation. How I spent the first night on that cold hospital bed, hopelessly bargaining with the man upstairs to let me take her place.

For parents like me, diagnosis day isn’t something we can escape. It may become less obvious in time, but the effects of that day linger. From how we plan and prepare to how we confront and overcome, and everything in between.

I do not relive painful anniversaries for the sake of sorrow, rather to remind me how far we have come. To remember the mountains we moved when climbing them wasn’t an option. To pay homage to moments that changed our course; acknowledging that we absolutely can handle hard things in life.