Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

On the cusp of a New Year, I'm at a turning point in my life. Act two, so to speak. The past twelve months have brought more joy in my life than I thought my heart could hold. The love of a child and husband that I never dreamt could be possible. And yet, it has also brought me the most trying challenge I have ever faced. I had cancer - breast cancer. And the operative word is had. On December 17 I had a mastectomy, on December 23 my CT scans and bone scans came back negative. Now though, I face a long road ahead of treatment to make sure it doesn't come back - starting with chemotherapy. Today I find out my schedule. And I'll be honest, it terrifies me. More than surgery did - I just wanted that over with; wanted the tumor gone. But chemo, and all it's side effects is a scary prospect.

When I was younger I thought that being brave was about being fearless. As I grew older and wiser, I've come to understand that it's the exact opposite. It is exactly about being fearful. Bravery is about going forward, despite being afraid. I think of this often as I face chemo and what will happen in the months ahead. And I think to myself, what's a few months of discomfort compared to a lifetime of happiness with Alyssa and Dennis? I have a feeling that will be my mantra for 2011.

The New Year is our chance - for each one of us - at a rebirth. A chance to start anew; clean slate. Like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life we get another chance to start fresh. In my case, I'm certain that I've gotten another chance. Going forward is my act two. And I won't waste a single moment of it. My resolutions are this: I will not waste a single moment by stressing, or dwelling on the negative. I will be constructive and positive in how I approach bumps in the road. I will laugh at every opportunity to do so; and I will cry if my heart tells me it needs to. I will love until my heart overflows and I will accept love from anyone who offers it. I will dance and sing and sigh, and revel at how beautiful it is to be alive. I will look around me and always think, indeed, it's a wonderful life!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Courage and Thanksgiving

As I write I am sitting in a waiting room in an oversized medical gown waiting to have a needle biopsy on a lump I found last week in my right breast. Yes, I'm scared; yes, I've gone down the path of thinking the worst. And I've bounced back. I have no choice. I am in Alyssa-Land and I promised my little girl when she invited me here that I was going to stay for as long as she needed me.

No pain, no gain. That's the life lesson my Dad left me. He always used to say that as I was growing up. And at times it annoyed me to no end. But he was right. Every beautiful and worthwhile milestone in my life has not come without some struggle, some pain. But the gain has always been worth it. Maybe even more so, because of the pain.

There are other women in the room with me. I don't know their stories, but I can imagine their fears. I can only pray for them and hope that they will come out on the other end of this waiting game, stronger and triumphant. It's not easy to be brave. Courage, I believe, is being petrified and yet moving forward. Claiming the fear, trusting, keeping faith that all will be well in the end.

For Alyssa, there is nothing I wouldn't do. There isn't anything I wouldn't attempt to overcome. There is so much in my life to be thankful for, starting first and foremost with this beautiful angel who guides every step of my life.

Mommy will be ok, my Alyssa-bee, my baby bee. I love you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Alyssa-Land Express

Leaf wonder at Ryerson Woods
So I had this conversation yesterday at lunch with co-workers about age. As is common, some feel older than they are, some feel younger, and some don't really think about it at all. Which got me thinking. I just turned 36 last week and I'm one of those people who feel younger than they are. Especially now that I have Alyssa.

Now don't get me wrong, I certainly feel physically older - I mean pregnancy takes a toll on a woman's body - but that being said, I feel younger simply because I now get to view everyday through Alyssa's eyes.

Welcome aboard the Alyssa-Land Express! Every day is a new adventure; every new object, new experience, is amazing and wondrous. Alyssa never passes up the opportunity to stop and inspect the most mundane items that come across her path. Every moment is a party; every achievement is a celebration. Life is amazing already, but life through Alyssa's eyes, in Alyssa's world is phenomenal. It's a journey of discovery and she brings me along on each adventure.

We gain so much as we age. We process the world around us differently. We become more critical, more aware, and yet, because of all the cares and worries of being adult we've lost (or maybe forgotten) the ability to be wowed. So as I've struggled for the past 36 years to grow up, grow old, grow wise, I've found that I've also grown, well, predictable. I've grown to like certain things a certain way, and dismiss (or ignore) things that fall outside my narrow comfort zone. The trade-off to this comfort is that I'm only aware of what's in front of me, but not of what's around me.

Thankfully here comes Alyssa on her adventure ride; not even asking me to come along, but just dragging me with her along the way. And just like that it's as if a veil has been lifted. I look around me now and see in the mundane what could be a new discovery for Alyssa. What new and fabulous exploration can we go on today? Is bubble wrap a possible magic carpet ride? Are falling leaves a shower of gold and magic? Is the blowing wind a thousand kisses from unseen fairies? Who knows? But it's all awesome; it's all new; and it's all taking place in Alyssa-Land! Thank you, baby for sharing the ride.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Father Time, Slow Down!

It's been a year since my maternity leave was up and Alyssa started daycare. And it's been the fastest year of my life! I truly cannot believe, or even really fully grasp how the past twelve months have just gone by. A year ago, Alyssa was this fragile little baby who couldn't sit up on her own and wasn't even eating solid food yet. Today she's walking, speaking about 10 words, pointing at everything, has 8-10 teeth and is a voracious eater, sleeps with a pillow and a blanket, and knows how to manipulate Mommy and Daddy at will. When did this happen?!

When I think about it, I actually panic at the thought that it's gone by so fast... so Father Time, I beg of you - please slow down!

Why can't she stay a baby longer? Everyday she exerts some new form of independence; some new feat with a footnote that reads, "Mommy not necessary." Pause here for a long, deep sigh from Mommy. But then that's what being a Mommy is all about, isn't it? Come to think of it, I really only had nine months when she was mine, all mine. The moment she said "hello world" she was already making strides toward independence: breathing on her own; telling me that she was hungry, or sleepy or poopy; sitting up on her own; crawling; walking; climbing; eating; thinking... next thing I know she'll be asking for the car keys. I get that being a parent is about nurturing them, supporting them, loving them, and all along the way learning to let them go a little bit at a time.

But it really is the hardest job in the world. With every achievement my heart is so full of pride and joy; and at the same time it breaks a little to see her grow away from me just a teeny bit more. And that feeling right there, that is what being a Mommy is about.

So to my Mom: I get it now. You were right. I'm sorry. Thank you. And I love you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daddy's Little Princess

Princess Alyssa... and Lamby
I have always said that Dennis is my rock. And he is. He is calm, while I can be argumentative. He is cool, while I frequently blow hot. He is mellow, while I am loathe to sit still. He is strong, while I frequently feel vulnerable. So every time I see him with Alyssa I feel so lucky and relieved that he is her rock now too.

It's so important to have good role models as you grow up. And it's so important that the first, and ideally, best ones to have are your parents. I recognize that this is our job. It's my job to be the best Mom I can be. And it's Dennis' job to be the best Dad he can be. And I know he is trying... and trying successfully.

I still remember the first night in the hospital. I was exhausted (for lack of a better word), and Dennis was bleary-eyed and tired too... emotionally and physically, I know. And we were alone. My Mom couldn't stay with us and had to go home; and all the friends were gone too. And it was unnerving. The first time Dennis had to change Alyssa's diaper was his first time to change any diaper! And I couldn't help; all I could do was describe what he needed to do. It was a rough night, but here we are 15 months later...

Alyssa usually goes to bed around 8 or 8:30pm. Sometimes, like tonight, we hear a little whimper from her room and one of us will go to her and rock her back to sleep. So Dennis went to check on her and a few minutes later I peeked in the room ever so quietly. There he was holding Alyssa who was fast asleep with her thumb in her mouth. She's so big now that all you see is the swaying of her pink nightgown and arms and legs spilling out of her Daddy's arms. He looked at me through the crack in the door, shook his head silently to shoo me away, all the while still rocking her back and forth - not missing a beat. I just love that.

When he looks at her, I can see his eyes soften. And when she runs to him giggling, my heart melts. In the mornings after she gets ready for daycare, she runs out of her room straight to Daddy to show him her outfit (or shoes, after all she is obsessed with shoes). She is his little princess; Daddy's little princess. In my life, I've never seen anything more wonderful... Dennis and Alyssa: my rock and my light.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Do This for You...

At about 2:30pm today my temples started to throb; I started to feel nauseous; and I had a slight tightness in my lungs. I'm not ill, nor am I pregnant (yes, I'm sure). I'm nervous. Tomorrow is a big day for me professionally - it is the Alliance for the Great Lakes' annual September Adopt-a-BeachTM Event, part of the International Coastal Cleanup. I spend the better part of the summer, and really of a whole year working towards this day. Last year I didn't organize the event (in Illinois and Indiana) because I was on maternity leave. This year, however, I'm back; I have fabulous assistance; and I have an inspiration - a reason to do my work well, a reason to be even more passionate about my work; I have Alyssa.

I am a volunteer coordinator at a non-profit and I love my job. My job doesn't rake in tons of money, but it rakes in tons of good will and professional satisfaction. More importantly, I work towards the goal of safeguarding the Great Lakes; of protecting my drinking water - Alyssa's drinking water.

Ok, so as I typed the paragraph above I thought it sounded kind of scripted. It's honest and true, but it's kind of a speech I give. A speech that sounds great, but there is more truth behind it that I've wanted to say out loud for some time now. And that is I work in order to be an inspiration for my daughter. I love my career. It's hard work. It's challenging. And it can be frustrating at times. It's just really exhausting to balance work and home life. It's draining - physically and emotionally. But I've realized that I want to keep doing it so that Alyssa will grow up to hopefully be inspired by me. Much as my mother is an inspiration to me in the choices in life she made, I want to be an inspiration to my daughter someday.

So Alyssa, tomorrow is for you. For your drinking water, for your future. I do this for you... and I do this for me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lost in the Woods

There is nothing scarier to me than a sick Alyssa. The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. The loss of control, the desire to give in to panic during an inconsolable crying session - it's like being lost in the woods... by myself... at night. You get the picture.

Ok, so I guess I should also say at this point - for all you family and friends starting to worry - that Alyssa just has a cold. It's nothing major. She has the sniffles: a runny nose, teary eyes, somewhat of a loss of appetite (I say somewhat because she IS a toddler now and starting to get picky about food), and a little cranky at the end of the day when all is said and done. Otherwise, she's still running around, babbling away, and laughing up a storm.

That said, every time she cries in her sleep I jump up and run to her. Every time she rubs her eyes and a tear squeezes out my heart breaks. Every time she sucks in her breath through her mouth or she struggles to breathe through her nose I die a little inside. Yes, yes - very melodramatic sounding, I know. But seriously, this is my reaction - and it's only a cold! Oh, of course I know I'm nuts! That's why I'm sitting here at 12:01 a.m. writing this entry. I know I'm crazy; I know my response is crazy; and I know that if I don't figure out a better way to respond to Alyssa when she's sick I will one day become crazy.

So what do I do? I need to find my way through the woods. I could come up with a long list of responsibilities I have as Mommy to Alyssa that could help me get out of this "panic mode" I've slipped into: wipe her nose, take her temp, make her soup, hold her for as long as she wants (or as long as I need), etc. But then it just occurred to me that really, I only have one job: I need to be a strong and nurturing Mommy to Alyssa - sick or healthy. I need to be there for her. This is about her. This is not about me, it's about her. Essentially, I need to suck it up.

And that is how I just became "un-lost."

Friday, September 10, 2010


Alyssa centering herself
A state of equilibrium. It's not easy to achieve balance. In fact, I think it's one of the hardest things to do. Personally, it's my overarching goal -on a daily basis. I try to balance my thoughts (all the tasks and to-do's for the day between work and home); I try to balance my body (making healthy choices against pushing myself too hard); I try to balance my attention (towards family, friends, the dog, and myself); and I try to balance my soul (reminding myself often that my daily struggles pale in comparison to what else is going on in the world, or even just in my life as a whole).

It's not easy to achieve balance. In fact, I often fail. Much like Alyssa these days who's great on her feet, but she'll still trip; she'll stumble and fall; but she gets back up right away, dusts herself off and keeps going. That's the only way to achieve balance, I think. You've got to work at it, and you've got to keep going.

My biggest struggle is balancing work and home life. I love my career, no question about it. It also helps pay the bills, no question about that either. But if I could have my way, in a heartbeat I would choose to stay home with Alyssa more. As it is now, Thursday nights are my favorite time of the week: because it's technically the start of three whole days in Alyssa-Land. I love working from home on Fridays. Most of my work gets done in the morning before Dennis leaves, and during Alyssa's two nap times. Lunch is a treat -especially now that Alyssa eats the same thing I do. The act of sharing a meal is centering. That is my mid-day achievement of balance. Alyssa balances me. She pulls me away from the challenges of work and brings me back to reality. She lifts my spirits when they're down and battered from a long day's work and pulls me back up. She makes me laugh when the frustrations of the day make me want to cry. And she makes me sigh in contentment when I'm seeing things half empty, instead of half full. I love Fridays.

Alyssa has a great way of achieving her own equilibrium - when she gets too excited, too tired, or too upset, she comforts herself quickly by sucking her thumb. She's learned very early on how to cope and soothe herself on her own. I should learn from my daughter. My own version of the thumb suck is thinking of Alyssa. She is my comfort, she is my safe place, she is my equilibrium. Alyssa balances me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bellybuttons & Squigglies

Need I say more?
So my daughter loves to walk around with a finger in her bellybutton and a thumb in her mouth. I think it's absolutely adorable. And it means something more to me... That bellybutton is a cute and constant reminder of the physical connection that Alyssa and I shared for almost nine months. That little dimple in her belly that she is so fond of playing with linked us in the most physical way any two human beings can ever bond. There it is - a cute dimple that Alyssa likes to show off to anyone who will look. I love burying my face in her belly and tickling her. I love that I sometimes spy her bellybutton peeking out of a tiny shirt Alyssa is wearing around the house. And I love that she loves her bellybutton right now. In my heart of hearts I hope that she understands, somehow, someday, why this bellybutton is so loved by Mommy. I hope she doesn't let go of this adorable habit yet.

Now what on earth are squigglies? Well if you must know, a squiggle is a squirmy wiggle. Or, as I like to apply it to Alyssa, a squirmy wiggler! And today, as I was carrying Alyssa up the stairs after picking her up from daycare, she kept squiggling and trying valiantly to leave my arms. It occurred to me that almost from the moment she was born, Alyssa has been doing just that... squiggling away from me. That thought made me sigh deeply. Because really, that's what children do, right? Their job is to squiggle away. Meanwhile, mommies must watch, support, and cheer on our precious babies no matter how hard it is to let them go.

So precious Alyssa, as you set out to conquer the world
, know this: Mommy will always hold dear the thought of two very silly sounding things - bellybuttons and squigglies - and I hope someday you'll realize how much both of them mean to me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mommy Instinct

It's 11:46pm and I'm sitting here stewing. We have no water! There is a water main break somewhere near our neighborhood and the city is working to fix it. This is the first time this has ever happened to me in Chicago since I moved here in 2004. As soon as Dennis determined that it wasn't just us, I called the city's hotline immediately and filed a complaint and demanded a case number. Not more than 10 minutes later I demanded that Dennis call them back and follow up. I have also emailed everyone in my condo building to do the same. I have searched my alderman's website to figure out how to get in touch with him after hours, to no avail of course, and have seethed that I couldn't. I have, of course,  in my mind, strangled every city official that is remotely connected to our lack of water.

I have quite literally, flown into a panic about not having water - my first thought being 'no water for Alyssa.' Not that she really needs it more than any of us do in the house. First of all, my in-laws are in town and I have a stack of dishes in the sink from a long, leisurely dinner earlier tonight. Surely those two reasons require water first, or at the very least, before my quietly sleeping 14 month old who has a gallon of milk and tons of filtered water that's sitting in the fridge. Nonetheless, I am upset [sic] because... well, because my Mommy instinct has kicked in.

I just realized that. It just occurred to me that my Mommy instinct is alive and well! I guess I should be rejoicing. Certainly, one of my fears while pregnant with Alyssa was that I wouldn't have that Mommy instinct once she arrived. How does a new Mom go about getting it anyway? Is it something that just magically turns on after you've put in the requisite number of contractions and pushed enough times to move a small mountain? Or is it something that slowly descends on you like a magical gift the first few hours after you hold your little bundle of joy in your arms? I don't really know what the answer is - which one of my guesses is correct, or if the actual answer is not one I came up with here. Bottom line, however I came about getting it - the Mommy instinct - I'm glad it's here. And I suspect it's been here all along. But it's just really nice to find out I've got "it." Now where's that damn water?!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Think My Baby is So Smart

I just love "Moo Ba Lalala!"
I think my baby is so smart. There, I said it. Do I knock on wood now? Should I feel a little guilty for being so forward? Honestly, I just can't get over it! So I'll let you be the judge...

She is obsessed with books. She flips through pages and "talks" as she goes. Albeit most of the time the books are upside down, but yeah- she's "reading aloud!"

She is following commands. I'm shocked that she understands full sentences when I or Dennis ask her to do something. Tonight, we were Skyping with Nana Lita and I asked her to go into her room and bring out the green toy (that her Aunt Mary Eileen gave her) to show her Nana. She stood up and looked at me, uttered something and pointed to her room. I said, "yes, the green toy." And she promptly walked in, picked up the green caterpillar (and mind you she has A LOT of toys in her room, and a lot of green ones too) and brought it out to me! Also, when it's time to put her shoes on, I've taught her to sit in my lap. I used to have to ask her to sit in Mommy's lap, now she just picks up her shoes, sets them down in front of me, sits in my lap, looks up, as if to ask, "What are you waiting for Mommy?"

She is headstrong. Yes- I know, that's a euphemism for stubborn. And she is. I can admit that too. There are two things at home she is obsessed with but not allowed to touch - the dog bowls, and our open shelves in the dining room (yes, yes, we're planning on buying a cabinet with doors). No matter what I or Dennis tell her, no matter how many "no-s," "don't go there-s," or "Alyssa (stern voice)," she always manages to pretend she's deaf. And when we reprimand her, she cries and then buries her face in her hands because she knows she wasn't supposed to do that.

She understands computers. Remember how earlier I said we were Skyping with her Nana Lita? Well, she understands that it's her grandma in the Philippines, and she knows the difference between Skyping with her Grandpa Anatoly and Grandma Bella in Springfield. Amazing.

She plays pretend. One of her favorite games is to drag her changing pad that now lives underneath her crib out to the dining room. She then pretends that it's time for bed. She lies down on the pad, sucks her thumb, and then she laughs and gets up. Round 1. This can go on for a while... Another favorite game of hers when I need to corral her and put her in the play yard, is the game of "pick-up-tiny-things-and-give-them-to-Mommy." It's exactly how it sounds. She bends down in her play yard, picks up teeny-tiny things with her forefinger and thumb, stands up and hands them to Mommy very gently, one at a time. I have no idea what the teeny-tiny things. Go figure.

I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. She knows how to choose her own clothes now. She knows how to complain when Marley is lying on her changing pad - by pointing to him, screaming while looking at us. She throws a ball back and forth with Marley because Daddy taught her how. So now, you tell me- is it ok that I said it? Is it ok that I said, my baby is so smart? :)

Welcome to Alyssa-Land!

Sucking her thumb, hugging Brownie
So a couple of years ago Dennis and I decided that we were emotionally ready to start a family. By then we understood that fretting about whether we were financially-ready was not a good way to gauge our "readiness." It was the emotional part that was important. If we were going to wait until we were financially ready it would be a long time before we could start trying! So one day we just decided - we were ready to try.

Two years later, here we are. Alyssa is 14 months old, walking, babbling, understanding what we say to her, what we ask her, and she's got a mind and personality of her own. I can hardly believe it sometimes. How quickly did we go from that morning when I looked at a stick in the bathroom that said PREGNANT, to today? I'm turning 36 this year and I've never experienced a year that went by so fast as this past year has. And I've got to say, I'm kind of dizzy.

Of all the adventures I've had in my life, this one takes the cake. This one is the most fun, the most emotional, the most overwhelming, the most scary adventure ever. I have never laughed so hard, cried so much, loved with all my heart as I have in the past year. What's amazing about it all... it's just the beginning. She's really only a year old after all!

What new adventures await? How much more will I laugh? How many more tears will I cry? And is it possible for my heart to burst with so much love?

I started this blog so that I could begin to write more lengthily about my reflections on Mommy-hood and my travels in Alyssa-Land. Why Alyssa-Land? Because it's a whole new world I could never have dreamed up on my own. It's a world I get to see through her eyes. I can't tell you how excited I am to explore! I hope you come along for the ride.