Blog a la Cart

IV

Hi, Mom.

This week’s episode of “The Longest Shortest Time” shared the story of a woman mothering without a mother. And, fuck, I stood frozen in the kitchen listening with my mouth agape (so much for cooking dinner while casually listening to my favorite podcasts). Moment after moment of this woman’s story found me nodding ardently with resonance and affirmation.

I’m not my biggest cheerleader, and I’m getting emotional because I think there is something about a mother that is your cheerleader. When my mom died, I felt so acutely like my personal cheerleader on the sidelines of my life is gone.

This thought runs through my head almost daily. I am forever without the person who loved me and championed me best in this life. And man, that never won’t suck.

143 Your Ashley

III

Hi, Mom.

Sunny has finally agreed, however begrudgingly, to wearing a swim cap during swim practice. Success! Finally! I know that you and I both pushed her on this last year during swim season – and she finally acquiesced now that she’s swimming on the team.

I have a much better understanding of how you must have felt during the peak of my competitive swimming years. Consumed and forever frustrated with the state of my chlorine-saturated hair. Sunny, like me, has unbelievably porous hair, so it turns that awful shade of green and gets all coarse and tinsley thanks to so much chlorine exposure. No amount of pre-swim rinse and conditioner followed by post-swim, anti-chlorine shampoo treatments has made much of a dent. When Sunny protests about the cumbersome, lengthy process to prep for swim practice, I’m reminded of my own annoyances with you when you’d insist that I step in a cold, fresh water shower before diving into the pool. It all comes full circle.

I caught a glimpse of her from across the pool at practice last week, standing in her racing suit, goggles on over her new blue cap, tall and lean, long-legged and lanky, and I reflected that you must have beheld a very comparable sight with me.  She shares my love of the life aquatic, and is such a strong, confident swimmer for her age. It’s clear that she is one of the strongest and fastest in her group. Her strokes are coming together beautifully, and holy shit, the girl can already nail an unbelievable racing dive. The team was practicing starts the other night, and when Sunny came off the block, both her coach and myself audibly gasped. Neither of us were expecting her to get such distance (and her coach actually thought she might land on the kid in front of her!). I wish you were around so I could brag about this to you, because who else but with my child’s grandmother can I be so over-the-top proud of a seven year old’s swim habits and not sound utterly ridiculous? I love watching her grow in this way, and, more importantly, I love seeing how much she has taken to this sport, how much she loves the water, the discipline, the practice. How happy it makes her to be in the pool. You and dad always called me your fish, and apparently it’s genetic.

143 Your Ashley

II

Hi, Mom.

Tonight, Courtland wailed for you. She wanted her Momar’s squishy hugs, and James and I were not sufficient. You were always her biggest champion, and even at the age of four, she could sense that. I hate knowing how much richer her life could be were you still with us.

While Courtland sobbed, Sunny mournfully whispered, “I wish Momar had taken care of herself as well as she took care of all of us.”

And in my angriest moments of grief, those very thoughts creep into my head. Why didn’t you love yourself as much as we all loved you? Why didn’t you care for your own health (physical, mental, emotional) in all the ways you supported and encouraged us to do? Why didn’t you want to take care of yourself enough to be around for all of us that need you so much?

I realize that even with the most vigilant self-care your body could have given out, suddenly, unexpectedly, in the way that it did. But I hate that I wonder. I hate that I resent that wonder, that possibility that this didn’t have to be. Had you just exercised more. Spent time with a therapist. Eaten less sweets and more leafy greens. Taken care of you, in mind, body, spirit.

It does me no good, but memories of standing in an ER in Albany, clutching your ashen hand, shaking with adrenaline and fear, pleading with you, race through my nightmares.

I need you to take care of yourself. I need you. I can’t have this happen again. We all need you.

That moment, less than three years before your death. That moment when death came so near, but I stopped it. I thought that would be the moment when you’d finally focus on you. Your health. Your happiness. And yet, I couldn’t stop death. I never could, I just never expected it to haunt us so soon after its first approach.

As a friend said in the aftermath of your death, “This wasn’t inevitable, but it wasn’t unforeseeable.” And that very fact shakes my core. Even your seven year old grandchild can sense it.

I’m angry that I couldn’t stop death. I’m angry that I have to exist in a world without you. Forever a world without you. And that these children of mine will never fully understand what a vibrant, rich world it was to have you in it. What it meant to be loved by their Momar.

I miss you so damn much.
143 Your Ashley

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I

Hi, Mom.

Your grandson is seven months old as of last Friday, and he is all sweetness. I wish you could see how much I absolutely adore this boy of mine. He is such light. Such joy. You’d be so enchanted with him. I can picture you crooning, “Oh you beguiling little thing,” as he’d gaze at you with those big blue eyes, downy chick blonde hair and opened mouthed grin.

Just yesterday, he learned to clap. He is one of the happiest, smiliest babes I’ve ever encountered, and his face positively exploded with joy when he figured out how to repeatedly slap palm to palm as his sisters sang round after round of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”

Boy did he know it!

He’s going through some serious sleep regression thanks to runny noses, and coughs, and teething, and a deep interest in being vertical. I know you’d stress and worry that he is showing absolutely zero interest in crawling. Tummy time elicits screams of protest from an otherwise carefree babe, whereas he will stand for what feels like hours with utter pride and delight on his feet. Stick a mirror in front of him, and he could entertain himself all day. The bouncer is a huge hit as a result. His daycare teachers say that he is giving their arms quite a workout, as he so prefers to be held standing upright than down on his tummy. I’m not too concerned about the lack of crawling, but I can picture you worrying this fact over and over with me on the phone. “It’s important they crawl first! It’s a critical developmental milestone!”

As I navigate life on only two-three hour blocks of sleep before interruption, I wish I could call you to commiserate. You were always so good about letting me bitch and moan and whine, and pepping me up to take on another day. I’ll never forget sitting in a pool of tears in my bathroom in LA, while Addison screamed in my arms, with you, on the other end of the line, gently reminding me, “It feels like forever, sweetie. But it’s not. This will only last a short while. You can do it. You’re a wonderful mother.”

When I find myself at my wits end at three o’clock in the morning with a fussy baby in my arms, I call those words to mind, the gentleness and wisdom of your voice, and it helps me find calm.

“This will only last a short while.”

How painfully true.

You would be so taken with this boy. And while writing to you will never be sufficient, I’ve realized it brings to mind what is most pressing, most true, most salient because what comes flooding out of me is what I so wish I could share with you. Moments like the splendor of learning to clap.

You’d have been so proud of him, too.

143 Your Ashley

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Kindergarten

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She awoke Tuesday morning with claims of a tummy ache. Our usual firecracker had lost her spark.

“My tummy just hurts. I think I have to stay in bed.”

“Do you think maybe you’re just nervous about your first day of Kindergarten?”

“NO! I’m sick! I have a tummy ache. I have to stay in bed. I’m not nervous, MOM.”

We informed her that she would be going to see her pediatrician if she chose not to attend her first day of school on account of the tummy woes. Frustrated with this predicament, she opted for school, though she was mopey and out of sorts until the bus arrived. Sunny took her by the hand, and encouragingly led her up the stairs of the bus. They sat side by side, and waved enthusiastically to me, James, and Sanderling as the bus pulled away.

She told me that she did not want me to meet her at the school to walk her from the bus to her classroom.

“My teacher will do that, Mama. I don’t need you to.”

Ah, and that pang of parenting pride and nostalgia struck so hard. To see your kid embrace her independence is both a beautiful and heart-wrenching thing. It’s hard not to hear, “I don’t need you,” when I know she simply means that she trusts me enough to have her back that she can take her own bold steps forward.

As we walked home from school that afternoon, she regaled me with expressive, excited tales of her first day. Her wild hand gestures reminding me so very much of her Momar.

“And we got a tour, and I got TWO recesses. I saw Sunny at lunch, and Ms. Dingman let me play in the block area, and she read us a funny story. This person was nervous about the first day of school and we thought it was a kid but then at the end of the book we found out it was a teacher. A grown up was nervous about the first day of school, Mama. Isn’t that silly? I guess I was nervous this morning and that’s why I had a tummy ache. Now I’m just excited. School is so so cool. The gardener is coming tomorrow and we get to pick carrots! FROM THE GROUND! And give them to the cafeteria to make our lunches!”

She has been all smiles and sunshine every morning since, and she expressed great dismay that today is Friday, which means she has to suffer through an entire weekend before her next day of Kindergarten. Momar was always her biggest fan and champion – she wouldn’t be surprised in the least to hear just how smoothly her second grandchild has made the transition, despite being one of the youngest in her grade. I am so proud of this passionate five year old of ours. She is ready to soar.

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“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week sometimes, in 2016.”

Sunny: A portrait of friendship. She’s had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends from preschool at her new elementary school. And making some new buddies along the way.
Kaki: Diving into Kindergarten like the bold, brave kid that she is.
Sander: Our final dip in the pool this past weekend with our waterbaby.

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

All my babies are off to school!

And like that, they’re all transitioned to their new schools. Now, it’s my turn. Next week, after a seven month leave, I return to work for the first time since my mother’s death. Whew. Lots of therapy, yoga, massage, and deep breathing in my near future.

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Second Grade

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And like that, she’s got her first week of 2nd grade under her belt. (My mom’s childhood bestie has been equipping our kids with the sweetest gifts in Momar’s absence. The bee backpack to match Sunny’s bee lunchpack is just one of many thoughtful gestures from Mich!)

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“A portrait of my children, once a week, every week sometimes, in 2016.”

Sunny: Our second grader. For James’ birthday, she took him camping on a beautiful hill overlooking the mountains near our new home. The two of them had such a wonderful evening together – James is just happy to have a female in his life who is willing to sleep in a tent (a camper I am not!). And despite some nerves on Monday night, she has had a wonderful start to her new school. So much change. I am endlessly proud of and inspired by this girl.
Kaki: On the brink of Kindergarten. She is so ready. The Kindergarteners start a week later than the rest of the school, so she’s been hanging with me this week. For someone who thrives on routine, we are all looking forward to the steadiness and calm that the beginning of the school year schedule will bring.
Sander: Sitting up on his own. Eating solid food. And thanks to group think and the whisperings of his infant room teachers, napping like a champ. 

More details about The 52 Project here. To view all the portraits in the series visit here.

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Kaki, Sander and I surprised James and Sunny with coffee and hot cocoa on James’ birthday morning atop Stone Hill.

Sanderling // Six Months

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Darling Boy,

Today is your half birthday, and you have fully transitioned from infant to baby. You are moving and grooving and eating and sitting and fighting sleep and grabbing and rolling and rocking like a kid that’s got six months of life under his belt.

You’ve started daycare, and, no surprise, social creature that you are, your transition has been smooth and delightful. You beam for your teachers and friends, and while you’re the youngest in your classroom by over three months, you’re by far the biggest (running theme for the Cart kids). Nothing brings you greater joy than sitting at the kid table eating food. SOLID FOOD! You freaking love food. It didn’t take long for you to get a handle on being spoon fed, and everything to which you’ve been introduced has been met with great enthusiasm. You literally quake with joy when you see the bag of frozen mango come out of the freezer. You kick and squirm and squawk and do this little head wiggle to show your delight that it’s meal time. While your sleep has been rocky ever since returning from Bermuda, I’m holding out hope that it’s a result of so much change (new house, start of daycare, solid food, sitting up on your own, etc.), and that as you fall into a nap routine at daycare, sleep at home will follow suit. And in the meantime, we’re… surviving. (Sleep deprivation sucks so hard, please remember how to sleep 10 consecutive hours again, soon. PLEASE!)

Your personality is revealing itself by the day, and I’m struck by your very notable “coo” that you do when nursing or when you’re just waking or winding down from the day. It reminds me of the noise the polar bears in “Balto” (the 1995 animated movie about a sled dog, ha! Throwback!) make when they talk to one another. No one but your Auntie Kimmy will understand that reference, but man, it is so unbelievably sweet and affectionate. You also love to grab the back of my neck or hair with both fists and violently tug your your mouth to my face and “nurse” lovingly on my chin. While it is a wee bit aggressive and hicky-inducing (you are far stronger and capable of causing discomfort than you realize), it is your way of greeting me when we’ve been apart or when you’re feeling particularly needy. Your teachers call it your kiss – which is a very kind way of characterizing the behavior. But I find it endearing nonetheless, because it seems to be a behavior predominately reserved for me.

Over our anniversary dinner last night, your daddy and I were reflecting on just how truly enamored of you we are. We realize that we are experiencing your babyhood with a more mature lens, and it’s clear that we’re able to appreciate and enjoy and relish all of your developments, milestones, and everyday moments more deeply because the girls are a living demonstration of just how quickly the stages fly by. (Worth noting, your sisters are still positively obsessed with you and constantly overwhelm you with love and attention – but most of the time, you don’t seem to mind in the least! In fact, they still elicit the most righteous giggles from you).

I love you, sweet boy. And I am endlessly grateful that you are my son, and that I get the privilege of being your mom. Our family wouldn’t be complete without you. Happy Half Birthday!

143 Mama