Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lessons from the past three years

I've thought a lot about what I wanted to say today, feeling that I often repeat myself in my posts, even when that recycled emotion or thought feels brand new.  I went back to my posts from the first and second anniversary and watched the fire/rebuild video.  I don't know if I could express my feelings about this day any better than I did last year.  So instead I wanted to share some life lessons I've learned over the past three years, both in recovering from the loss and trauma of the fire and in dealing with an unexpected chronic illness.

1. Sometimes life sucks.

2. We live in a culture that expects us to always find the silver lining.  This has been interesting for me to observe, now that I'm not so irritated by uninformed responses (like "it's just stuff").  When bad things happen, it seems like the world around us expects us to stand up, dust ourselves off and talk about all the "blessings" that came out of said bad experience without giving us the space to grieve.  I believe this is unhealthy, and I encourage people to give others the space to explore their difficult emotions rather than just expressing some platitude that ultimately hurts more than helps.

3. Sometimes there is no silver lining, merely experience.  Sometimes life just sucks.  We don't have to find good in every situation.  That doesn't make us pessimistic, merely products of experience.

4. Good luck trying to convince others of that.

5. It's ok to NOT "get over" a traumatic experience.  It's a part of your story, and the idea that we can forget and move on is a false belief.  I carry the fire, the Bell's Palsy, the Lyme with me.  It informs so much of my life, day to day, for better or worse.  I don't expect to wake up one day and suddenly have that stuff not matter.  In some cases, the anxiety has eased up, which I find comforting.  But the reality is that I lost my home in a fire, and fearing that happening again is not irrational because I know that it *can* happen.  I try not to be consumed by it, but I don't believe I'll ever "get over it."

6. Respect your boundaries.

7. Or set them.  I didn't recognize boundaries all that much before the fire.  I wanted to be in control, and I thought I could do everything for everyone and make them better people.  But with the fire and being very sick I was unable to do for anyone, much less myself.  I realized though that respecting boundaries, setting boundaries, allowed everyone more freedom to be successful.  It has certainly upset a few relationships in the short-term, but it improves them in the long-run.

8. Own your thoughts and emotions.  And don't apologize for them.  Those who have not been through a similar experience have a hard time relating, and as I stated above, they think that encouraging you to look for the positive they are helping.  It's ok to say, "I'm sad, and that's ok."

9. Share your story, even if it makes others uncomfortable.  There are several people in my family who are uncomfortable with how open I've been about my experience.  Too bad.  This is my story, and by sharing it I have opened myself up to a community, given voice to those who are yet unable to share.  And that's important to me.

10. Believe that others are listening, even if it seems like you are surrounded in silence.  I didn't start this blog for anyone but myself and to keep my family and friends informed.  But in sharing my story, I've found that I am not alone.  And that shared experience helps carry me through, especially on days like today, when I remember what we lost and how much my life has changed in the last three years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The other side of tragedy

We learned yesterday that someone we know tragically (and violently) lost their young adult daughter.  I am truly heartbroken for this family, a family who helped me in my hour of need.  In fact, it is the brother of this young woman who is responsible for my happening on Kellen's name.  I did not know Katy personally, but I knew her brother, mother, and father, and they are all incredibly kind people, and I can only imagine that their daughter was just as beautiful and talented and generous.

It's true that bad stuff happens everyday.  Sadly, murders happen everyday.  But there's only been one other time in my life where it has affected someone I know.  I've spent the last 24 hours incredibly sad.  As a mother I cannot even imagine losing my child.  And as a self-proclaimed helper, I want desperately to be able to do something to undo this tragic event.  I can't.

I've been reflecting on being on this side of tragedy, being the person who knows the person but not knowing how to help.  I can send a card and an email, but that's most definitely not enough.  I could send flowers, but even that seems like so little given the scope of the tragedy.  I know rationally that nothing I can do can take away the pain, even though I wish so much that I could.

I know that our fire and this are absolutely different situations, but I do remember being asked what people could do to help and not knowing what to say.  That is where I am today, wanting to know what I can do.  And yet when you are in the midst of dealing with such a horrible situation, you have no idea how to tell people how to help.  All you want to do is cry in the midst of having to do all the things that have to be done that day.  But sitting here on my couch, I feel totally helpless, and I hate that.

What can I do to help this family, to reach out, to let them know today, six months from now, on the three year anniversary that I'm thinking of them?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The week that changed everything

That Monday was so full of promise.

Young children lined up at their classroom doors, anxious to meet their new teachers and classmates, eager to find out if what they had heard over the summer was true.  There was an energy in the school that is only outdone on the last day of the year when the kids are like an over-tired two year old who finds a burst of adrenaline at ten p.m.

I spent that Monday running around the school, lining up assessment tests, working on the parent newsletter, working on maternity plans for the first of October.  I spent so much time on my feet that I scheduled a prenatal massage that afternoon to relieve the pressure on my back.

Even with the excitement of it being the start of a new school year, it was still just a day, a day just like those preceding it.

And then everything changed.  The days that followed were no longer just days, they were a part of "after."

Today is the first day of school for Dan (public schools start Wednesday this year).  The three year anniversary of the fire is Thursday, but this Monday will always be a part of my memory.  The first day of school will always remind me of the day that seemed to contain so much energy and excitement and, that when it was over, had changed my life forever.

I could break down the next week in slow motion, hour by hour, remembering so many minute details, memories that wouldn't matter except for the fact they are tied forever to that day.  Memory is funny that way.

I can't believe it's been three years.  There are days when it seems like it could have been last month.  And there are other days when the fire feels like it was decades ago even though my emotions are often stuck in that moment.

It's amazing how much changed in that week, has continued to change in the last three years, change that only happened because at 7 p.m. on August 25, 2008, my home burned down.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Parallels of time

Next Thursday is the three year anniversary of the fire.  Three years, how is that even possible?

What's even more bizarre is that this month marks the point in time where we will have lived in our new house longer than our old one.  We moved into our home in March 2006 and lost it August 2008.  We moved back in February 2009.  It's now August 2011.  It doesn't feel at all like we've been home as long as we were in our new house.

My theory is that the other house will always be with us.  I call it the ghost house.  When I'm talking about it, I still point to exact locations as though whatever I'm talking about should still be in that same spot, and it is, in my mind.  We've lived on Sweetwater Drive for over five years, and it's impossible to separate the two homes, even as we become more comfortable in our new house.

In a way I feel like I am finally back to the place we were when the fire happened.  It was the third year for many of our plants, and this is the third year as well.  I'm irrationally excited about next summer to see what happens once we get beyond that three year threshold.

Three years also feels like the appropriate amount of time to finally feel settled.  You start to feel like you know a space, know its quirks, let go of some of the things you thought you'd fix but never got around to doing.

I am feeling at home in my house, if only the wildfires would stop for the summer.  It's been a really bad season in the lower elevations (from my perspective), and I am ready to stop seeing smoke every time I step out my front door.  Those are the moments I regret our decision to move back home.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The pink shirt

I bought the pink shirt sometime in the spring of 2008.  I remember one of my students commenting on how nice it was (and receiving a compliment in a classroom full of social/emotional/behavioral disorders was a far less frequent event than being cussed out and having a chair flung at you).  That student said it was the style now, which is actually even more amusing, partly because it was a maternity shirt.  None of my students knew I was expecting (for good reason).

The pink shirt at my baby shower before the fire
The v-neck shirt is a rich, bright pink that brightens my entire skin tone.  There is a wide band that sits right under the bust line, tying in the back like many of the older style maternity shirts.  It then flows out a bit at the bottom.  It was my favorite maternity shirt, which is probably why I was wearing it that first day of school, August 25.

I didn't know it would be the only shirt I owned that day that I would ever wear again.

That night, the pink shirt absorbed the smell of smoke, carrying it with me even after we escaped the imminent danger of the fire.  It was only because of some intense Arm and Hammer detergent and the diligence of my very good friend that the shirt was ever wearable again, honestly.  

And I did wear it again.

I wore it frequently in those weeks after the fire because it was the only shirt I actually owned.  Because I was due so soon after the fire, I mostly borrowed maternity clothes.  It seemed silly to buy a wardrobe that would last for a month.  Some clothes were donated, but they still didn't feel like mine.  The pink shirt was it.  

And shortly after Kellen's birth, it was packed away, folded neatly into a Rubbermaid container and stored in the garage, first at the rental and then more permanently at home.  

I've looked at it a few times in the last three years, usually when I was sorting through baby things to figure out what to donate.  It would not be given away, probably ever, even if a moth destroyed it.  The pink shirt was one of only a handful of things (STUFF) that tied me to me life before.  

When we found out we were expecting again, I pulled out the maternity clothes box and stared at the shirt.  Would I ever be able to put this shirt on again?  And even if I did, would I get through the day without the constant reminder of that night?

The answers?  I have worn the shirt.  I hesitated the first time I put it over my head.  But I wore it.  (And ironically enough had lunch with that same very good friend who told me she was surprised I kept the shirt.)  But even though I've become a little more desensitized to the immediate emotional toll the shirt takes on me, I still do think about that night every time I hold it in my hand, every time I hang it up in the closet, every time I pull it over my head.  It's as though the shirt asks, "What would life had been like if August 25 hadn't happened?"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

10 things you should know before BlogHer

1. I prioritize my day as follows: Sleep, food, friends, beauty.

2. As such, you should expect that I will always pick sleeping before staying out until 1 a.m. to socialize/network.

3. I wear ponytails a lot.  This is usually because I slept in and ate.  I have a lot of hair, and it takes time to straighten.  I look a lot better with my hair down (if it's straight, not if it's banshee hair), but if it's a choice between sleep and straight hair, I will always pick sleep.

4. I am pregnant.  I've gained 15 pounds in 3 weeks.  I look very puffy because of the water retention.  I'm not wearing a wedding ring.  This is no reason to suggest to Bob Harper that I need to audition for The Biggest Loser.

5. I don't look seven weeks pregnant.  I look 20 (at least).  I have no clothes.  I might wear jeans the entire conference; after parties be damned.

6. I don't wear shoes that hurt my feet.  But I do have a pretty damn cute pair of pink Born laceups.

7. I will likely balk at pictures taken of me.  Don't be offended.  I just feel like a giant marshmallow.

8. I might actually look like a giant marshmallow.

9. You will probably hear about the fire.  It's my main blog.  I'm sorry if you have to hear the story ten times.
10. I'm pretty sure I'm have absolutely no clue what the hell I'm doing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The family that lost their home in the fire

Yep, I'm that family.  I'm "the woman who lost her home in the fire.  The big fire."

I remember so clearly walking through stores in those first few weeks and watching as a few people whispered into their friends' ears, looking at us.  You might think this is an exaggeration.  It is not.  I remember buying a new comforter for my bed with a gift card at Macy's and the woman seeing my ID and whispering to us how sorry she was.  We were "that family."

It's been a while since I've been referred to that way.  The fire has been (mostly) forgotten.  We no longer walk along the aisles trying to restock our house, avoiding those who want us to tell our story to them.

And then I got pregnant.  I hope that I can convey over the next few months how much this pregnancy has brought me emotionally right back to the fire.  The things I didn't have to deal with because I was hurriedly trying to prepare for my son's birth are now sitting like a willful two year old right in the middle of my heart.

Many of the care providers who helped ensure my son's safe arrival haven't seen us in three years, haven't seen us since the trauma was still smoldering.  And we're still "that family."  They want to know how we are doing.  It's understandable, and it's cathartic to talk about the progress we've made.  But it's one more reminder of the hell that became our lives in that last month of pregnancy, a hell that I hope to god does not find us once again as we await the arrival of our second child.

Monday, August 1, 2011


One thing you should know at the start is that I'm really, really bad at keeping secrets.  I think it's why I'm so open and straightforward; it's too hard for me to be any other way.  I also don't like having secrets kept from me so somehow think that if I just share all then maybe the openness will be reciprocated.  It rarely is.

The longest secret I think I ever kept was my pregnancy with Kellen.  Other than my mom and dad and a couple of people at school because of my working conditions, I think we kept it a secret from everyone else until twelve weeks when we graduated from the fertility specialist.  I remember thinking then what a miracle it was that I had made it so long without talking.

I think Kellen is probably the longest secret I'll ever keep because this time I only made it seven weeks.

Yep, you got the subtext.  I am pregnant, with what Kellen has affectionately called the baby whale (though who can blame him; the ultrasound does look a lot like a whale, and quite frankly I feel a lot like one right now).  We saw the baby and the heartbeat today, and even though I know that miscarriages still can happen, the risk is low enough that I decided to start sharing (partly because I'm going to a conference with a bunch of bloggers this week and going to one conference without being able to talk about why you're hanging out with the toilet more than the other attendees is enough!).

If you've been reading this blog for a little while (or a long while I hope!), you know I kind of had baby fever a month ago.  Because of the Lyme, we didn't know if it was a good idea to carry a baby, and we were researching surrogacy options with the hope of figuring out our plan by the end of the year.  I joked with my Lyme doctor that this surprise was my way of not having to make a decision because, quite frankly, I didn't want to have to make that choice.

So here we are.  I have a lot of thoughts on the pregnancy and how it's forced me to relive a lot of the fire, but I will save those for a later post.  Today is just about being excited about adding to our family with Baby 2.0.