Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Reflection on Time

I have recently jumped on the Timehop train. For those who may not know what Timehop is, it's an app that acts as a time capsule. The app searches past photos you've posted on social media, and gives you a historical screen shot of something you posted on a specified date in the past. Typically the time period is one year.

Here's my Timehop photo from one year ago.

I remember taking this selfie of me and Jeff on the last day of 2013. We were in the physical therapy room of Rancho Los Amigos, the rehab hospital Jeff spent five months in. He would stay in that hospital for the first six weeks of 2014, then he would - finally - come home so we could begin our new life early in the new year.

This whole Timehop thing has gotten me thinking about time. How so often we look back on our lives in one year increments and compare where we are now to where we were before.

During 2013, the year of Jeff's injury, that look back was always so hard. So painful. Because every time we looked back a year, we were reminded of the difficulties of our present situation. Christmas 2013 was, hands down, our worst Christmas to date. Not only did we have to spend it with Jeff in a hospital bed trapped inside a new body, but we also reflected on how just one short year prior, at Christmas 2012, we were so happy living our "normal" life. That Christmas I remember watching Jeff help Evie shoot her new bow and arrow across the living room. Christmas 2013 was bleak as we opened presents at our home without Jeff, and only later that day did we gather around his bed so he could watch, not help, his daughter open gifts in the uncomfortable surroundings of a semi-private hospital room.

But all of that changed this year. Because 2014 brought us something brand new - at least for the last half of the year. That's when we could look back a year, this time with the feeling that we were now in a better place than the prior year. Christmas 2014, while still very different from holidays past, was SO much better than Christmas 2013. This year Jeff got to watch Evie open ALL of her presents in the warm comfort of our home. Got to see, in person, the look of excitement and pure joy on his daughter's face. Christmas morning, Evie came out to the living room to find a new bike Santa had left for her. She promptly hopped on, peddled swiftly down the hall, smashed into the wall, then happily steered her new bike into our bedroom so she could show off her surprise to Daddy. His face lit up when she pulled the bike up to his bed.

So. Much. Better.

Just a few weeks after Jeff's injury, when everything was still so stinging like a fresh wound, a friend visited me and reminded me to not get caught up in comparing one day to the next. Not even one week to the next. Because there are too many ups and downs in short-time comparisons that make reflections both impossible and unbearable. I took this advice to heart, and still practice it today. It's funny how, day to day, time often has a way of making it seem like nothing has changed. But wait a while, let some time pass, then do your looking back. For only then will you see just how much change has taken place.

2014 allowed me to do this. To put an entire year, year and a half really, between the day our life changed and now. And it's made that one-year timehop easier to bear.

I'm sure I'll always look back on life before a spinal cord injury with a sadness and longing. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss our old life. I do. A lot. But I think a more accurate description is that I miss the conveniences of our old life. Jeff and I have chosen to not live in a state of longing for the past because that just diminishes our current, new life. And our new life is just as full of the good things as our old life was. The love of family. The companionship of friends. Watching our little girl grow into her own unique person. Despite a colossal shift in our life, we still have plenty of the good stuff.

And so time marches on. With one speed and one direction.

2015, here we come ...

Photo courtesy of Tereza Harper Photography

Monday, December 22, 2014

More Than Just a Voice

Evie has a three-story dollhouse in her room. She LOVES it.

We got it for her a few Christmases ago. Daddy Santa spent several hours putting it together on Christmas Eve. In looking back, we realize now that we probably gave it to her a little too early in her life. She honestly didn't even play with it much until last year. But now she's all over it.

There are several girl dolls that live in the house - about six big girls, two little girls, and one baby. Usually the scenario is that they are all sisters living in this ginormous mansion with no parental supervision. They do things like try on each other's clothes, bake all kinds of goodies, and have dance parties. They even have a pink unicorn that lives on the bottom floor.

And sometimes they have visitors. BOY visitors.

Enter Ken and Kirk:

I'm not exactly sure where we got Ken, but he's been around for a while. Only recently has he begun to interact with the girls though. It's probably because Kirk started coming around in the last few weeks, and now they're buddies. (Kirk is actually Captain Kirk - long story short, I'm a Star Trek fan, and my mom found my old Kirk doll in storage a few weeks ago)

When it's time to play dollies, like a high school drama teacher Evie hands out the dolls making sure you know the personality assigned to each one, and gives a rundown of the scenario we're about to enact. She is usually always the oldest sister who bosses everyone else around and determines what the group's next move is. Nana or I are typically assigned the role of the little sister who pretty much just whines all the time. And Daddy is ... you guessed it ... the boys. Both boys. Because each boy has a unique voice. Kirk's is deep and manly. Ken's is higher and rather effeminate.

When it's just Evie and Daddy playing, Evie does the hands-on work while Jeff does the voices. On the rare occasion that Jeff mixes up the voices, Evie the puppeteer gives him a scowl, and reminds him in a monotone growl, "This is Kirk, not Ken" to which Daddy abruptly changes to a deeper tone.

Their interaction is really quite precious. Sometimes I join in their play (where I am usually lucky enough to get to play one of the bigger girls, though I oftentimes have to endure Kirk's highly inappropriate advances). Sometimes I eavesdrop from the hall and just listen to them. Other times I enjoy their jibber jabber in the background while I do other things.

It makes my heart smile that Jeff can still play with Evie. That he's found ways to interact with her, and that she accepts those new ways without question.

But just behind my heart's smile is an ache. An ache that is only a shadow of the ache Jeff feels in his heart.

Last week, Jeff wheeled into the kitchen after a doll-play session with Evie, and I could immediately tell something was on his mind. I made him a tea to warm him up, and asked him what was wrong. He didn't answer right away. He sipped his tea while his thoughts churned. Then he looked up at me and said, "I wish I wasn't just a voice, you know?" I gave him a sad smile and a little nod. "I just want to grab her and tickle her."

We sat together in silence both feeling the terrible weight of this reality. We didn't break down in a sobbing mess of tears. We have before. But not this night. Sometimes the sadness of a situation simply washes over you quietly, leaving you feeling emotionally exhausted.

I tried to warm him with reassurances that the one-on-one time he now spends with Evie voicing her dolls is just as meaningful as the tickle sessions they used to have. That every day when Evie gets home from school, he is waiting for her with an I'm-so-happy-to-see-you smile, and she reciprocates with a big bear hug. That his presence in Evie's life has not been diminished by his injury. That he is a good dad.

But no matter how much I reassure him, how many scenarios I outline for him, I'll never be able to give him the thing he misses the most. No longer having the ability to physically touch your child has to be one of the cruelest consequences of this injury.

But I see first hand the way they interact. How they are so goofy with one another. How their laughter fills our home. How Jeff helps her with her homework. How Evie was so excited and proud to see him at her school's holiday performance. How Evie has to ask Jeff if she can be excused from the table, and waits for his determination on whether she can have dessert. How Jeff is still a commanding presence in our house, and how Evie respects him and sees him as her father first, a silly companion second.

I see the way he loves her, and the way she loves him back.

Being able to touch your children doesn't make you a good parent. Being able to connect with them does.

And Jeff and Evie have a most amazing father-daughter connection.

I can't wait to see how it grows over the years.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Holiday Surprise

Last weekend, our family got a pretty amazing holiday surprise. And we were reminded how blessed we truly are.

Last Sunday, one of Jeff's best friends, Chad, came over to hang out. I figured he was there to watch some football with Jeff. So when Chad arrived, we all chit chatted a bit, I made sure Jeff was in a good place, and then I headed back to the bedroom. You see, I had a plan. With Jeff occupied with Chad and football, and Evie with my Dad at the park, I planned to do something I'd wanted to do for over a week...

Paint my fingernails.

The simple act of applying lacquer to my nails is tricky for me in terms of timing. There's so much hands-on stuff I do for Jeff (and Evie!) that I have to be strategic when I do it.

So I figured I had at least a good hour. I sat down with a happy sigh and began to apply the paint.

I got two nails done when the doorbell rang.

"Ughhh" I sighed as I got up and started down the hall. Much to my surprise, Chad answered the door.  And in walked another friend, Dave. Chad and Dave pretended to be surprised to see one another and exchanged a knowing glance.

Something was up.

But still, I figured they were both here to hang out, drink beer, and watch football with Jeff. I gave Dave a hasty hug, and fled back to the bedroom eager to pick up with the manicure.

I got two more nails done when the doorbell rang ... AGAIN.

"Oh my god. I'm never going to get this done!" I said through gritted teeth. As I made my way down the hall, I could hear a new voice. Another friend had clearly joined the party, and this friend was Keith.

By the time I got out to the living room, Chad, Dave, and Keith were all standing around Jeff with little smirks on their faces.

Jeff and my words overlapped:
"What's going on?"
"You guys are up to something."

Lots of side glances were exchanged.

"We're here to put up some Christmas lights for you."

Jaws dropped. "Are you serious?"

My first thought was Oh Crap. We only have one string of lights in the garage that measures 24 feet. Not nearly enough to fit around the house. I know this because the weekend before, Jeff's parents had visited, and we got out said lights, took them outside, determined they weren't long enough, said Oh Well, and put them back in the bin in the garage. Plus, me getting on a ladder to take down Christmas lights after the holidays was out of the question.

Before I could even mention our measly light collection, we were reassured that our friends brought everything necessary to turn our house into Santa's village.

My second thought had to do with me on a ladder taking everything down. Again, I was reassured that they would be back to do cleanup as well.

My mom, Jeff, and I all stared at them - and each other - in awed silence. Jeff and I looked at one another with amazement. My mom and I hugged and cried over the holiday surprise that had just landed, literally, on our doorstep. The elves just giggled, happy they were able to pull off their ambush. And off they went.

They headed outside and immediately began discussing decor options. I was on hand to point out nearest electrical outlets, and Jeff was wheeling around the front yard, sure to put in his two cents' worth. There were buckets filled with strings of lights, extension cords, and extra bulbs. Ladders, staple guns, and zip ties were strewn about the lawn. Beers were opened all around. Apparently this was going to be a serious operation.

Keith brought his two kids, and when Evie returned from the park to see her friends in her front yard waiting for her, she was beyond thrilled.  They all three played amidst the chaos of Christmas paraphernalia.

Of course, I documented the whole thing.

Deep in discussion of Holiday Decor 101

The hanging has begun

Time out for a quick smooch

The kids loved playing and helping

That's some serious decorating

Time out for a beer

Keith, the orchestrator of this ambush, adds some finishing touches

The kids watching Frosty and listening to Christmas carols in Keith's car

Wow - we have some really great friends.


Lots of smiles.

The movies and Christmas music blasting from Keith's car ran down the battery! No fear - Keith was prepared and used this gizmo to start his car at the end of the day!

After a few hours of hard work mixed with some much needed social interaction with these friends of ours, the elves packed up and headed back home to their families. And our family headed inside to anxiously await sunset when we were told that, like magic, the lights would come to life.

And at 5 o'clock, as promised, our front yard illuminated. Evie announced in a booming voice, "THE LIGHTS ARE OOOOOOON! THEY'RE BEAUUUUUUUUTIFUL!"

We stepped out the front door and were met with the warm glow of holiday goodness. 

Evie danced like a sprite under the lights, and we all oohed and aahed at the transformation of our home. The holiday spirit was certainly felt by all.

Later that night, Evie went to bed early having been pooped out by the excitement of the day. And we got Jeff back to bed early as well. It was a tiring but fun day for everyone. In the late evening, I found myself with some rare alone time. So I decided to head back outside again, this time alone, to look at the lights. And in their reflections I saw the real meaning behind these lights.

They were a labor of true friendship. The three men who hung those lights were my husband's arms and legs that day providing our family with a message of love and support. They sacrificed time with their own families to help ours. And that left us feeling the comfort that surrounds you when you know you are loved.

I wish I could bottle that feeling. I wish I could adequately explain what that feels like. It's a form of love you only know when you've been through something that turns your world upside down. It's what grabs ahold of you and pulls you back. It's the thing that rights your world once more.

I went back inside, leaving the lights to shine on in the dark.

With my family all safe and sound and snug in their beds, I fell asleep with a happy heart ... and all 10 of my nails painted a lovely shade of pink.