Friday, November 29, 2013

Scenes from our Thanksgiving

Before we all hurtle headlong into a month of wall-to-wall Christmas extravaganza, here are a few shots of our Thanksgiving celebrations. The torch has been passed, and this year Nick and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner in our home for the first time. Nick's parents, brother Cody and sister-in-law Becky joined us for a fairly low-key and highly enjoyable celebration. Although we brined a turkey for the first time (and were highly successful, I might add!) and seemed to just keep adding more and more sides, there is not a single photo of the meal, because we were all too busy eating it. Feeling happy, full and grateful for my little life and all the good people in it. 

Setting the scene.

All the ladies in the kitchen. 
Working up an appetite at the park with Daddy...

... and Grandpa. (I love this photo!)

Place setting.

Waiting for dinner - and adding his own flair to the table.
Time for the feast!
I hope your Thanksgiving was a happy one too!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A bit more about loss

Back in the day: Espen, my dad and my mum.

I said several months ago that I was going to write more about how I've been dealing with my dad dying, and although I have made several attempts, I've never completed anything sharable. There are a few reasons for this: 1) There's no way around it: death and how it makes you feel is depressing, and I've always wanted Project Project to be a positive little spot on the web. Most of the things I feel and want to say are pretty bleak, and I don't want to send you all running for the hills with my moroseness. Which brings me to point 2): I really need to write these things, and I really need someone to read them. Someone like you. But putting these things out there could make me look like I'm in kind of a dark place, and that makes people worried and uncomfortable, which makes me worried and uncomfortable. And so very vulnerable. It's a feeling they call "hudløs" in Norwegian, which means "without skin". And no one wants to show themselves to the world without skin.

However, I know from experience that writing down some of these things helps me, even if it's hard. Moreover, I feel like writing this post, or more to the point, not writing this post has been blocking me from all of the other things I want to write about and tell you. So let's just do this quick and dirty, ok? Let's do some bullet points:

  • This still really sucks. It continues to hurt. Knowing that my dad will be missing from the rest of my life and my children's lives is genuinely awful. It's not always so much that he isn't here right now, it's knowing everything that he won't be a part of in the future. Gwen won't remember him, and any children we might have in the future will never have known him at all. That hurts my heart. 
  • I feel like I have lost part of myself. An innocent, childlike part of me has been lost. Seeing someone you love so much go through that kind of suffering in the very last stages of life, and then dealing with the realities of their death changes you. I am changed forever. It's not necessarily a good or a bad change, it's just one that we inevitably all have to go through, and once we're there, I don't think there is a way back. I can't unsee or unfeel what happened. 
  • I feel like my heart got a little heavier when my dad passed away, and what I am doing right now is learning to live with that weight in my heart. I don't notice it all the time, but I will always carry it with me nonetheless. 
  • I love it so much when people talk about my dad! It makes him feel real and alive again. I've noticed that people (out of kindness and concern) try to avoid talking about him, but that makes me feel (unfairly, I think) that they've forgotten him and have moved on from his passing. I just want people to talk about my daddy like he was a real person, and like he still matters. 
  • I had a dream recently where he was alive and healthy and walking along the seafront with my mum and Espen. Even in my dream I knew that he was dead, but I found so much comfort in just seeing and remembering what he was like. 
  • When people say "I'm sorry for your loss" what they're really saying is "I'm sorry for the moment when you'll be standing in a store with the perfect Christmas present for your dad in your hand, only to realize that he won't be needing a gift". They're saying "I'm sorry for the day when you'll want to call your mum to talk, only to remember that she's out of town, and you then think "Oh, I'll just call and talk to my dad for a bit." And then you remember why you can't." These little moments happen every once in a while and they feel like, on a very small scale, like losing my dad all over again. 
  • Grieving takes such a long time. I was reading an interview with someone recently where they talked about losing their dad, and how it took three years for things to feel normal again. At first three years seemed like such a long time, but then I felt so relieved that I don't have to be done yet. It's OK for me to continue to feel this way, even if it must feel like such a long time for others. 
  • Finally, it gets better. It gets a little easier every day. I've all but stopped making a note of the 27th of each month as a marker for how many months have passed. Telling people that my dad passed away is becoming normal, and I don't break down and cry every time I talk about it anymore. I've found some ways to keep my dad part of our every day in ways that feel natural and good. I'm getting through some of the guilt I've felt at the "what ifs". Life goes on, and I have so much to enjoy and be grateful for. 
OK, that actually feels better. Thank you for reading. Thank you for caring. I'll be back with Gwen's birthday party before too long. Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A letter to Gwen on her first birthday

Birthday girl
Dear Gwenyth, 

Tucking a very content and tired little girl into bed tonight marked the end of your birthday weekend, and I think we can say that you have been well and truly celebrated! You decided to sleep in an hour later than usual on your birthday (smart girl!) and we woke you up by all sneaking into your room and singing "Happy Birthday" to you. You loved it! It made my heart sing to see you smile and clap your hands and squeal with delight at the sight of your whole family singing to you. You continued to be delighted by everything we offered to you to celebrate your day: from the pancakes for breakfast, opening your presents, riding a carousel with Daddy to your little birthday party the next day - you took it all in your tiny stride and found joy at every turn. I think that just highlights a few of the things that I love so very much about you: you always find so much joy in life, and you are happiest when you are surrounded by the people you love. 

Grandma kisses
In turn, we all love you so very much. We've been telling people for months now that your birth marked the start of the craziest, busiest, hardest year we have faced as a family, and that much is true. Your came a week before your scheduled (scheduled!) arrival, and we have been in a state of chaos ever since. But what I have come to understand is that having you join our family at such a tumultuous time in our lives was exactly what we needed. You, my beautiful little girl, were exactly what we needed. You have set so many wheels in motion. From our decision to buy a bigger house, to knowing we needed to bring you to Norway to meet your Grandad and making it there just in time before he passed away. With only hours left of his life, you took his big hand in your tiny one and gave him exactly the thing he was holding on for. And in the difficult months that followed, you and your brother were the sunshine and joy your mama needed. You could not have been a more perfect person for our family, and you could not have come at a more perfect time. 

Presents and pajamas
Ever since you were born, you have had a sweetness about you that is your very own. You are happy and loving and interested and attentive and so delighted to be part of whatever is going on. What I think makes you truly unique is the equal measure of feistiness you pair that with. If you do not want to do something, you have no qualms about letting us know. If there is somewhere you want to go, or something you want to do, you do not give up until you get it. And more than one person has been surprised to hear how our sweet little angel baby can roar like a lion when the mood strikes! 

It's hard to say who you love the most: me, your constant source of care, comfort and silly songs, your Daddy who gets the brightest smiles and squeals whenever he's around, or your big brother Espen who you cannot spend enough time around. It has taken a while, but I think you're both starting to see the potential in each other. Espen tells me that you are his friend, and with the belly laughs he gets out of you, I know you feel the same way about him. Sometimes the two of you will hole up inside the tent in the playroom, busy with some secret game or other, and I know it's just a little taste of what is to come. In cahoots, is what you two will be!

Gwenyth Josephine North, thank you for being my baby girl. As you hurtle towards toddlerhood at the entirely alarming pace you seem to have chosen, I thrill at the little signs of the girl and woman you are one day going to become. Thank you for letting me come along on your adventures through life. Thank you for being part of our family. Thank you for making me your mama. 

I love you, little girl. 

From your Mama. 

Gwen and her mama

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy birthday to Gwen!

Today is my little Gwen's first birthday. Can you even believe it?


Happy birthday, Miss Gweny!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Thankful Tree

Our Thankful Tree

It is perhaps just as well that no one told me that two children would be the point for me where just about every moment of every day would be filled with something that needs my attention, because here I am in the thick of things, not knowing quite how to put two minutes together. If it's not Espen who needs me, it's Gwen. If it's not either of the kids, it's the pile of laundry on the bed in the guest room that needs folding, or the floor that needs to be mopped or the dishwasher that needs to be loaded (or unloaded) or the next meal that needs to be prepared. I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't feel a bit mired sometimes. A bit like all of the days meld into one big giant sisyphean Groundhog Day where all I do is stumble sleepily from one task to the next, never quite getting anything right or the way I wanted. Of course I feel this way sometimes - don't we all? (Please say yes.)

But there is another feeling that overwhelms me too. Gratitude. Gratitude for this big, messy house and the people who eat food, make dirty laundry and leave their sticky handprints all over it. Gratitude for the little face that appears at my bedside early each morning, often requesting "I just want to snuggle with you, Mom" as he crawls under the covers beside me. Gratitude for my little girl who just wants to crawl, climb, dive, pull herself up on and eat everything in sight. And gratitude for the man who stays at my side through it all. Most of all, I'm grateful that I just get to be part of this wonderful life and family that is mine.

During our family night last week, we made a Thankful Tree in preparation for Thanksgiving later this month. It's a pretty simple affair with paper tags shaped like leaves. We all write the things we are thankful for on a leaf, and hang them on the tree whenever inspiration strikes. With Thanksgiving just over two weeks away, I'm hoping for a pretty leafy tree by the time we sit down to our holiday meal.

I find it a blessing in and of itself to take a few moments to think about the things I am grateful for, the blessings that I have. And it's a wonderful thing to see that process begin to develop in my little three year-old Espen too, to see him think about the things he's grateful for. The other night he got a leaf and a pen and asked for help to write something down. Usually he is grateful for his toys, or his play room or his imaginary friends, so I was surprised and had to blink back a few tears as he told me what to write. Espen's leaf read: "a mom." What more could I possibly ask for?

Espen is thankful for "everything". 
So whether or not Thanksgiving is a holiday that you celebrate, why not take a few moments and think about the things that you are grateful for? Tell me, what would you put on your Thankful Tree?