Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My Morning of Mourning The Loss Of Something I Never Had. Thank You #Supermoon.

Early morning on Dec. 3, 2017 my eyes pop open as I realize my stomach is doing that queasy thing. It is the third morning of recovering from the "Please God, Kill Me Now" stomach bug that had just ravaged our family. I roll over in bed and look at the time, 3:33 am.

Well, of course it is. I'm not surprised. I've been seeing repeating numbers all year. Usually it's 11:11 or 4:44, but sometimes its one of the other combos. At first it was kind of fun, but now it seems ridiculous. I doubt I'm actually seeing them more often than they ever occurred before, but for some reason my mind is super aware of them these days.

I toss and turn the rest of the morning trying to go back to sleep. However, at 7:00 am, I watch my phone alarm chime. I hate being awake for the alarm. For some reason the anticipation of watching the numbers turn to the time I set the alarm for and then bracing myself for the sound is much worse than waking up to the alarm from a dead sleep. Usually to prevent that from happening, I just grab my phone a couple minutes before and turn the alarm off.

If I'm going to have any chance of getting Austin and myself ready for church (husband is already up packing for the airport), I know I have to force myself to get out of bed immediately. I have learned that I can't permit myself to have a snooze option because I will resist and resent getting up the longer I lie there. Plus, I would have to anticipate that alarm again. No thank you. I put my feet on the floor.

Sitting in the dining room, I have zero energy and can't decide at this point if I am hungry or still nauseous. I slump forward onto the dining room table while trying to choke down a small bowl of soggy Cheerios.

With my head on my arm, I stare out the window past the wooden blinds at the terra-cotta colored wall 5 feet from the house, and I ponder the colors. That burnt orange color gets to me sometimes, but it seems to be the official color of the desert so everything has to be painted burnt orange to "look natural" and "blend in" with the dirt (I mean, desert). It does do a nice job of setting off the green tree leaves in front of it, though. So I'll take that. I watch the leaves wiggle in the breeze.

My attention moves to the collection of things stored in front of the window: a collapsible wagon that isn't collapsed but filled with random things, a special-needs stroller, two child sized cots, and my shooting gear in the corner -
one small, black duffle bag containing my shooting jacket, a fleece liner, an elbow pad, shooting glove, sling, eye protection, ear protection, and notebook; a scope stand; and Michael's toolbox I've been borrowing filled with small bore ammo, an ammo box, various hex wrenches, and scope among other things Michael had needed for shooting small bore and air rifle over the years.

And...wait for it...I start to cry. Surprise, surprise. And oh yes, I am grieving shooting gear.

For months, ever since Austin's brush with death last January, I've been wrestling a decision about whether or not to move on from learning to shoot small bore. And suddenly I knew the answer in that moment. I am giving it up. Sorrow washed over me for the loss of what could have been, but never was. How can I grieve the loss of something I never had? It is my super power, that's why.

I started learning to shoot from the coaches at my son Michael's practices over the last couple years. Over the weeks, they gradually loaned me an amazing gun followed by fantastic sights, some basic equipment, and with their encouragement, I imagined myself as being pretty good. It was even mentioned I might be a natural like Michael. And with that ego stroke, I thought, if I could find the desire and discipline to practice, practice, practice, I could probably be great! Plus, I really wanted to make these coaches proud of me and feel their time wasn't wasted getting me equipment and training me. I am a people pleaser, you know.

Oh, the stories I made up, too: "Overwhelmed, Anxiety-Ridden Special-Needs Mom Finds Stress Relieving Outlet By Shooting Small Bore In Her 40's. Becomes Famous." Because, we always become famous in our dreams and imaginations. Otherwise, why bother dreaming? #amIright?

But reality has finally set in. While I used to be motivated to shoot with Michael, he is off to college now and on to other pursuits. Which makes me happy. Small bore and air rifle served its purpose for him. However, without him, I don't have any desire or discipline on my own to get up early on a summer Saturday morning to drive an hour away to practice for 3 hours, get super sweaty, and then drive an hour home. Or get up VERY early on a winter Sunday morning to go freeze my fingers at a practice match all day.

So while in theory becoming a famous, female small bore shooter sounds very rainbows and butterflies (because, I'm not going to lie, once at the range, its really fun, and you think you want to come back all the time), and it sounds remotely possible (except for the hard work and lack of desire and discipline), the truth is, I want to be lazy and slow moving on the weekends, a feather in the wind, or a slug. I want to have all the options and not have to do any of them. So I cry.

And then I stop and realize I accept that that's who I am. And I feel light! Like this weight I've been carrying for months has lifted. I don't have to shoot anymore. I don't have to shoot anymore. While its fun, and the people are absolutely awesome, and I got to spend so much time with my oldest son doing something together and creating memories, I can walk away. I can walk away. I can go on to other pursuits that maybe include Austin and my husband and middle son, Jonathan. I can.

4-8-17 I was finally getting my groups tighter. Sights just
needed slight adjusting now.

4-8-17 Patrick and Michael travelled to
Colorado Springs so Michael could compete in the
2017 Air Rifle JO National Championship.

4-22-17 Last day I practiced. Last bull of the day shot with 5 rounds.
I had finally gotten everything aligned.


P.S. Where can I get a set of football pads and helmet...Jonathan? :-)

P.S.S. I got cool pictures of the #supermoon2017 rising at 5:55 pm on the evening of Dec 3. That's right, people. :-)

Supermoon 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

6 Ways I Deal With What I Call "Circumstantial Depression" or "The Funk"

Every now and then I wake up and feel a depressing funk or sadness wash over me (you can read a couple of my descriptions here and here), my very own dark little cloud. I don't think its clinical depression (although it runs in my family) because I eventually emerge from it whether after a day or so, or a week or so (or even a month or so). So looking back, I've found it can usually be chalked up to one of a few things.

  • It might be an unrealized expectation and subsequent disappointment. I'm a planner, and when things don't go according to plan, I feel it. I mean, I REALLY feel it. I would go so far as to say that I experience a short round of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) sometimes even over what should be a minor disappointment.
  • It might be cyclical grief. Although I've surrendered and accepted certain hard, life circumstances, the day to day of those circumstances can still trigger a short period of anger, sadness or longing for what could have or should have been, again and again. 
  • It might be project related. If I have an upcoming deadline or commitment that I know I need to set aside time for, my procrastination tendencies kick in, and I delay starting and/or finishing until I've made myself and everyone around me completely miserable about it. 
  • It might be hormone related. Every month that physical cycle we all know about involving the cleansing of the old and replacing with the new can potentially wreak havoc with my emotions. Mentally I resist change so maybe my body does too in its own debilitating manner. 
  • It might be health related. If I'm feeling sick or tired (or both), I also find I'm much more sensitive to the weight of the world (even if that "world" is just other family members). Sometimes overeating or eating too much of the "wrong" food seems to trigger the funk.

So over the last couple years, I have discovered a few ways of dealing with this depressing funk if I remember to take a moment and realize what is happening. But I also have to remember what the ways of dealing with it are, too. So I decided to make a list for myself that I'm also sharing here with anyone else who might need some ideas:

1. Give Yourself Permission and Grace 
Give yourself permission and grace. Try to discover what triggered the funk in the first place. Set aside time to nap/rest/think. Give your body and mind time to process. If you are feeling overwhelmed with work or a deadline (or life - period), and you have procrastinated, acknowledge and accept this about yourself and give yourself forgiveness. Be realistic about yourself, that this is who you are, or this is how you work. Don't let it surprise you. Accept it. Anticipate it. Plan for it.

2. Unload on Someone
Tell someone you trust about the funk and everything going on in your head, whether good or bad thoughts. Tell someone as soon as you notice the signs. If you don't have someone to tell, get a spiral notebook (or join a private Facebook group that allows venting, or start a blog) and write about it. Write however it feels helpful. (I found writing in third person helps me distance myself from some of the more difficult circumstances.)

3. Breathe Like This
Sometimes the depressing funk can feel like and/or cause anxiety or panic so remember to breathe. (There are many descriptions of how to breathe in order to alleviate anxiety on the web, so just I'll describe what I discovered by accident - and through observing my medically complex son - that works best for me.) Breathe in a big breath through your nose, down into your lungs, and hold it as long as possible. Let the held breath push on your lungs and back of your throat like you are about to let it out, but don't. Then when you can't hold it any longer, let it out in an uncontrolled exhale over the back of your throat and through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. You can allow a moan or a hum when you do this, but you don't have to force it. Don't push the breath it out, but don't hold it back either. Once you've exhaled that breath, give in naturally to the next few breaths as your body recovers and takes in oxygen. Don't force these breaths, just allow them to occur naturally. Then, after your body has recovered, do it again. (I usually do it several times until I reach a natural stopping point where my body feels calm, and I don't have to do it anymore at the moment.)

4. Let Out Noise and Silence Your Mind
Find a space where your can be alone (like in a car), where no one can hear you. Listen to whatever music or white noise will drown out your thoughts. (Usually for me it is something with an intense driving beat and lots of electronic and percussion instruments where you can't really discern a melody, voices or words - probably whatever music my parents would call noise.) Play it loud enough so you feel it in your chest, but don't hurt your ears. I call this volume "just below painful". Then sing, yell, or scream as loud as you can. It's possible this could be another form of the breath work mentioned above. But it also serves the purpose of drowning out the negative commentary in the mind that often accompanies the funk. It's after effect is like white noise for the brain so that it has time to forget and reset.

5. Make a Tiny Check List
Make a list of 2-3 small goals to accomplish the next day before you go to bed the night before. Set an alarm and don't allow it to snooze. As the day permits, work on those 2-3 small things. Once you accomplish them, reward yourself even if that means allowing yourself to take a nap or sit on the couch and watch a movie. Do this everyday until the funk passes.

6. Only Think About the Very Next Step
Take your eyes off the big picture for a moment. Determine and only focus on the very next step that needs to be done right now. Sometimes just putting a word on a page, drawing a line on the paper, or picking up one piece of dirty laundry and putting it in the hamper can get the ball rolling.

So that's it. A reminder list for me, and maybe an idea list for you. I would love to know if any of these methods work for you. I would also love for you to share your own methods with me.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Pelvic Floor, Duct Tape, and a Voice from Beyond {Choosing Life: Chapter 7}

September 10, 2010 - January 3, 2011

The next four months went by in a blur, and the rest of the pregnancy was, well, a pregnancy. Between the bouts of crying in the closet or at church and putting on a brave face laced with dark humor (sarcasm) in between, it wasn't much different than her other pregnancies except for the looming new expectation. Only three things happened that specifically stood out in her mind.

One of the things included the baby stretching or extending out in a way that would cause extreme pain. Instead of that lovely feeling when a baby rolls or stretches and a little foot or elbow draws an arc across her stomach or pushes out and a little lump appears for a second, it would instead feel like a foot being jammed down into the floor of her pelvis for several seconds at a time. She wonders now if that could have been some kind of seizure.

Facebook status, Sept. 11th, 2010: “Every morning I wake up and wait to see if I feel movement from our baby as every expectant mother probably does. With his death sentence already pronounced, I praise God that Austin is alive and kicking one more day :) I sure love this little guy, but then i have always been a sucker for the underdog.”

Facebook status, Sept. 28th, 2010:  “23 weeks tomorrow! Austin's still movin' and a groovin' :)”

Facebook status, Oct 13th, 2010: “25 weeks :)”

Facebook status, Oct 16th, 2010: “thank you to everyone still praying for us...had a bit of a reality melt down last night consisting of thoughts of "I can't do this..."...much better today though. especially when I don't really know what it is that "I can't do" yet. :)”

Facebook status, Nov 3rd, 2010: “28 weeks.”

Facebook status, Nov. 14th, 2010: “My back hurts! (you have to say this like Jim Gaffigan so it sounds like a joke and not like I'm complaining, although…)”

The other unusual thing she experienced was the most painful stretching of the skin across her stomach. She attempted to relieve the pain by using duct tape over a wash cloth to try to "pull" her skin back together thus reducing the burning and tearing sensations.

Facebook status, Nov. 25th, 2010: “can the skin on your stomach just completely split open? I don't thnk my stretch marks can stretch any further.”

Facebook status, Dec. 8th, 2010: “33 weeks. Jonathan was laying his head on my stomach last night talking to Austin...got kicked in the head three different times...the look on his face was so funny.”

Facebook status, Dec. 26th, 2010: “Lamentations 3:19-24”

Facebook status, Dec. 29th, 2010: “Went for ultrasound Monday and 36 week appt. today. I'm measuring at 40 weeks and Austin's weight is estimated to be 7.5 to 8 lbs. But nothing is going on down there. So I'm at full term uncomfortableness, waiting for something to start so they can induce. :)”

Looking back she wonders if the painful stretched skin which left wide shiny, silver stretch marks, the fact that she measured 40 weeks at 36 weeks, and the unbelievable amount of amniotic fluid that came out when they broke her water when being induced, meant she had polyhydramnios which apparently can accompany fetuses that have an impaired swallowing reflex.

Lastly, the day before going in to see about getting induced, she was sitting in her room on the edge of her bed. She was alone, feeling scared, crying, and for some reason, she was thinking about her grandmother on her dad's side. She and her grandmother had gotten close for a time before her grandmother passed away. Anyway, she wasn't just thinking about her, she was talking to her in her mind. She was considering how hard life must have been back in her grandmother's day and thinking how strong she must have been, so she was asking her grandmother how she was going to have the strength to get through this birth and the subsequent expected death.

A few seconds later, her husband nudged her and handed her the phone. She took the phone in a teary daze and said hello. Her grandmother's voice answered back!

At least it sounded like her. It took her a moment to realize is was actually her aunt, whom she rarely heard from, but who had a similar sweet, southern accent that at this moment when she was thinking about her grandmother and wishing to consult her, was her grandmother's voice. Her aunt asked how she was doing and proceeded to speak encouraging words to her.

How did her aunt know to call right then?

She hung up from the conversation prepared to face the next day.

Facebook status, Jan 3rd, 2010: “Thanks for everyone's notes in my messages, comments and on my wall. It means alot that ya'll are still praying for us. We might be getting close...going in tomorrow to see if we can induce before my stomach splits apart and i explode.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Where Do I Go From Here?

I sat next to Austin's wheelchair in the clinic waiting room intently focused on him and his needs. Or at least I was pretending to be. He was actually fine at the moment and didn't really need my attention, but "attending" to him has become my defense mechanism when we are in public.

Unfortunately, even though I write about being ok with the stares of strangers and being ok with questions about Austin, I still find myself avoiding those situations if at all possible. I avoid eye contact. I busy myself with "entertaining" Austin. I dig through the diaper bag. I adjust his harness. Or I just look at my phone, the ceiling, the floor. I do not make eye contact unless absolutely necessary.  And I don't know why because I really don't mind answering questions about his differences or letting children or adults try to interact with him. I want those things. I really do. 

However, deep down, I probably do know why. I'm still afraid of those instances when I catch someone staring or being curious, and I begin to smile or encourage an interaction, and they shy away instead. Somehow, when that happens I feel all the lovely rejection emotions for either myself or on behalf of Austin. Or I feel shame. I know. I mean there's nothing to be ashamed of. He's just a kid with a few medical challenges, none of them his fault. And of course, everyone says they aren't my fault either. So it can't be shame....

So there I was being all busy with Austin when a young mom bottle feeding her new baby plopped down on the bench next to me and started asking all the probing questions. I braced myself to be happy, enthusiastic, and positive. I mean this is who I want to be. Let's do this.

"How old is he...?"
"Does he have Downs or ....?"
"When did you find out about...?"
"Oh! That's when we found out too!..."


And that's when I came out of my little internal world of "all about me" and noticed for the first time the baby she was holding was a tiny newborn, probably a preemie, with Downs Syndrome. The young mom was in her teens.

I'd never seen a preemie up close before. I'd also never seen a newborn baby with Downs.

"...yeah, my mom is going to be here in a minute...she's helping me...my boyfriend won't even touch her yet..."

"Oh", I stammered. And as the gears in my brain slowly shifted away from me and my anxiety over being questioned about Austin, I realized this overly chatty young girl was looking for support from another mom who appeared to be surviving this special needs life. 

But I had no plan. My mind was spinning, searching for the right thing to say.

I asked if she was getting support services. She said yes. At some point, I warned her that she might experience a period of grief over unrealized expectations, and that it was ok and normal. She said she thought her boyfriend was experiencing grief. I assured her with the most confident smile I could muster that eventually all of this would feel very normal. That things wouldn't seem so daunting. I think I told her it took me 4-5 years to come to this point of acceptance. Not sure that was the best thing to mention.

Then her name was called at the front desk.

"Can you watch her for a minute?" she asked as she set the baby in a carseat and nudged her in front of me.

Caught off guard, I stuttered an "um...sure" and watched her go check in. She was so young, and yet already being handed a huge challenge in life, something I didn't experience until I was 40. She was just a baby herself, nervous, searching for hope...from me.

I stared at the baby in the carseat, so tiny, so innocent and beautiful, and beginning to fuss and cry just like any other typical baby. I spoke to her in my high, mommy voice trying to soothe and assure her she was going to be ok, that her mommy was coming back in a minute. I rocked her carseat with the toe of my shoe.

I thought about how young this mother was and how she was just at the beginning this journey. How much strength she would need to get through the next few months or next few years. How many tears she might shed. How scared she might be. How strong she was going to become as she advocated for her child's health, education, and acceptance.

This whole encounter was a wake up call I haven't been able to shake. While not always easy, caring for Austin has become my normal. So it makes me wonder what my role is in this special needs/medically complex world? After having been consumed with my own disappointment and grief for so long, and now that I'm finally coming out of that phase, do I have a bigger purpose? Do I even have time "to give back"? Do I want to?

I don't have these answers yet. I'm reluctant to jump into something just to be doing something. I guard my energy fiercely. I've even been thinking lately that I don't identify as much with other special needs moms. There was a time I lived and breathed every word other moms wrote about this life. But lately, I find myself impatient with the words they write. It was as if they were needed for a time, they served their purpose, and now will serve their purpose for someone else. But maybe not me anymore. I've actually been having sort of an identity crisis. 

So for now, I think I'll just try to be more aware of my surroundings especially in a clinic or hospital where I may be more likely to encounter someone looking for support. I'll try not to be afraid to make eye contact. And at minimum, whether in person or here on my blog, I can continue to share my story, and say with some degree of confidence, that I eventually perceived my situation as manageable.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Faith of a Child {Choosing Life: Chapter 6}

September 9, 2010

The following night she found herself curled up on the couch, crying into her husbands arms, second guessing all of her heroic thoughts from the night before. Fear of the unknown dominated her mind.

She remembers details like the overhead ceiling fan light being on and seeming too bright, the sage green of the carpet, the floral pattern on the couch cushions. She also remembers her oldest son descending down the stairs. With each step he was telling her that he had prayed and it was going to be alright. He was convinced it would be. And that the baby would live.

In the simplest way they could, they had told their kids about their unborn baby's deformities and brain malformation, preparing them for the worst possible outcome. So at the time, these words coming from her now eleven year old washed over her with assurance and comfort. She so wanted those words to be true. She wanted her son to experience positive results of a childlike faith even though she secretly feared her he would be let down and challenged in his faith at what she considered too young an age.

But she let him keep speaking, keep assuring, keep being positive. What else could she do, but grasp onto those words coming unprompted from a child and hope they were truly inspired by God? Even if they weren't, she thought often throughout the rest of the pregnancy about his willingness to lay it all on the line and declare his faith as a result of having no previous experience of doubt or disappointment to cause him to do otherwise. Oh to think and trust like a child again.

So whether they were inspired or not, she took those words from this child and held on tight. Whenever she doubted, she thought of him coming down those stairs full of intentions to comfort and care for her. She's not sure he ever knew or even knows now how much he confirmed her decision to continue the pregnancy, come what may.

Facebook status, Sept. 9th, 2010: “We are overwhelmed by the wisdom and faith God has given our kids right now. The things they are saying about their little brother and our circumstances can only come from one Spirit. We can certainly feel the prayers of the People right now. Thank you.”

Facebook status, Sept. 9th, 2010: “We let the kids pick their little brother's name today: His name is Austin Chase HagEstad! Michael chose Austin "b/c that's a cool name and cool people have the name Austin." Jonathan chose Chase after Chase Reynolds who plays for the Griz "b/c mom, when he is a big man, and if he plays NFL football he will need a football name!’ “.

Speaking of childlike faith, that second son soon to turn 9, brought a brief moment of innocent levity by wanting to give his baby brother a "football name" as if there was no doubt there could be a chance. She was later told about one of his prayer requests during classroom devotions at school, that his friends should pray for his little brother because his leg was on backwards! She was told he figured he could at least be some kind of cool kicker.

Austin's short leg and club foot ("leg on backwards")

{Choosing Life: Chapter 7}

Monday, June 19, 2017

I Am Not A Caregiver

She jolts awake to an ear piercing screech that sends shockwaves through her nervous system. Hoping its just a startle from a bad dream, she allows herself to start drifting back to sleep when another screech jars her system again. She lies there with her eyes wide open now waiting to see if it will continue.

It does. And now its becoming louder and more incessant, demanding. She huffs and sighs, flips back the covers, slowly rolls up to a sitting position on the edge of the bed and rests her feet on the floor. She reluctantly stands up and walks the 8-10 feet over to her son's bedside. He is six years old and still sleeps in their room because of his penchant for having seizures, choking on secretions, and his inability to reposition himself.

It's 2:00 am this time. Sometimes its 3:00 am or 4:00 am. But this time its 2:00 am, and on a night her husband is out of town. This is key to note because most of the time she will lie in bed and wait, knowing her husband, the true caregiver, will typically jump out of bed, multiple times in a night if necessary, to check on their son.

Her husband continues to get up until he figures out the problem whether their son just needs to be rolled over, suctioned, have a dry rag put under his face, a diaper change, or just comforted due to a seizure or bad dream. He does all this without complaining, and even though his sleep is interrupted and lost just like hers, he is able to lie back down and immediately start snoring. The next day he is business as usual even if tired.

She, on the other hand, once she has gotten up, especially if it takes several times to figure things out, will take 1-2 hours before she can eventually fall back to sleep. The next day she is often tired, resentful, and grumpy, often lashing out at family members for no reason. She might sleep all day leaving the care of her son to her husband, who has a home office, or the nurse if they have one scheduled.

Once she arrives at his beside, she proceeds to go through the motions, checking items off the list, trying to solve the problem as quickly as possible, knowing every minute counts if she hopes to accomplish anything the next day, even if it's just successfully getting out of bed and seeing to her son's basic needs.

But the screeching and crying doesn't stop. So as a last resort, they usually assume their son is in some kind of pain whether it be a headache from the hydrocephalus, soreness around his hips, some residual pain from having a seizure or choking, or from constipation. She trudges to the kitchen in a fit of angry tears to prepare a syringe of crushed ibuprofen and water.

Returning to her room, she pauses his food pump, administers the medication through his g-tube, and pushes "run" on the pump. She leaves the lamp on across the room in case she has to get up again, and slumps back into bed.

Everything within her wants to scream or throw something. Her mind fills with angry resentful thoughts regarding her life situation. She turns up the white noise app on her phone, puts a pillow over her head, and sobs.

"I am not a caregiver!" she laments.

She did not seek out this role. She does not have a special gifting or heart to care for the long term sick, the terminally ill, or those approaching death. She did not pursue a career as a nurse. She is not a trained therapist. She is not a doctor. At minimum she has a heart for the underdog, and that's about it.

This gig chose her, fell into her lap, and she hates it. And she hates that she hates it. She wants to feel "the calling" as some might refer to it. And on some days she thinks she feels it. But usually those are the good days, the easy days, the days she thinks she's got this. Those are the days she's met his needs successfully or came up with an out of the box solution to one of his challenges, or just left his care to her husband or nurse so that there was the appearance of ease.

Instead, most of the time, especially on the hard days, the beyond difficult days, she carries the heavy mantel of guilt full across her shoulders, the mantel of guilt for hating the caregiving role as opposed to the glorified superhero cape caregivers are normally attributed.

So unless being a caregiver has the minimal requirement of not running away...and she's at least met that (so far), she is NOT a caregiver and does not want to BE a caregiver.


P.S. You might be thinking, "If she isn't a caregiver, then maybe she shouldn't have taken on the roles of wife or mom either." And you would be right. She barely succeeds in those roles too.

Friday, May 26, 2017

To Michael: On Your Day Of Graduation From High School

I know today is not the end of our relationship, that you aren't being kicked out the door into adulthood, never to be welcomed back. But it's a day that represents the culmination of all the blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed for you since the day you made your debut into this world. You were born on your due date, with a relatively short labor until the very end when you made us wait 30 minutes while you took your own sweet time. But that thick dark hair, those long eyelashes, and that irresistible smile were worth the wait.

You have always been that way. Taking your time on things. Not conforming to how everyone else does it. Finding your own path that made sense to you. And not wanting to fail when you did finally try something. We would attempt to teach you new words, get you to repeat them after us. But you would sit there silently listening. We would wonder if you had even heard us. Then three days later you would use the word perfectly in a sentence. You also had excellent descriptions of the things around you, using words you knew to describe the object you didn't know. We knew exactly what you meant when you said "milk, cold door".

You were often a quiet child, reserved, with a big smile with moments of silliness. So sweet to everyone around you. When something did bother you, we often didn't know because you suffered quietly in a corner by yourself or in a heap on the floor. Your big hazel eyes and the previously noted eyelashes had teenage girls at the dude ranch where we vacationed fawning all over your three year old self. You could easily carry on a serious conversation with adults. You loved being the center of attention.

You loved people and new experiences. We found an innovative preschool that you attended three days a week. They encouraged unstructured play and led you on many excursions throughout the city. But it wasn't enough for you. You looked across the street at the kids playing at another preschool and asked if you could attend that school too. You didn't want to miss out on anyone or anything so you attended both preschools.

You were a bright kid. Academics came fairly easy to you, and we rarely had to help you with your homework. You still loved people and got along amazingly with most of your teachers and adults in general. You also loved the kids your age and yearned to be included in their groups, however, you were often challenged as to how to relate to them. You seemed to be the true definition of an old soul, and sometimes there seemed too much of a disconnect between their interests and yours. We could only hope that time would eventually shrink that gap as we watched you begin to build walls to protect your heart.

You had to learn to march to the beat of your own drum and be ok with that. You tried many sports and activities throughout elementary and middle school that kids your age were doing, and while you liked the activities, you didn't find anything that just clicked with you or that you excelled at until you went to a Christian summer camp that had a riflery segment each day. You discovered you had a natural ability at shooting targets, and although unconventional, you finally found a sport that you enjoyed and that would end up giving you the confidence that would propel you through your teen years.

In high school, academics still came fairly easy for you. You also sampled several clubs over the four years. You surprised us by dropping out of the rifle club your freshman year and eventually immersing yourself in clubs where you had to debate or give speeches in front of audiences as well as onstage activities like choir, school musicals, and plays. You had a chance to display more of that love of attention and (re?)discovered a love to entertain.

For what seemed like forever, you only claimed to have acquaintances and not friends. You kept your walls up with most and doled out your trust sparingly. You were careful who you called a friend, weighing their commitment and loyalty over time. It's been nice to see you let your walls down a little more during your senior year and let more people in. I hope they realize the gift they've been given.

You are independent, determined, and opinionated. You found a college that seems like a perfect fit for you almost 2000 miles away from me. You can't wait to spread your wings and prove yourself without me looking over your shoulder. And although perhaps unwittingly, you've been working hard at making me ready to let you go. Because while you make me laugh, you challenge me to think, and you are one of the lights of my life, you also make me want to pull my hair out, scream, cry and slam doors.

And that's a good thing I guess. I need some kind of reason to let you go. And I know down deep you will be fine without me. So maybe that's what I'm fighting against. YOU WILL BE FINE WITHOUT ME.

(I just don't know if I will be fine without you.)

Loving you no matter what,

Your not-always-able-to-keep-her-emotions-intact mom