Riley

Writing, for me, is a journey. It’s a way of learning – my own personal way of processing this world and the things I encounter and experience. This makes writing hard at times. At other times, it makes writing impossible. There are subjects I cannot touch, or ones merely skirt the edges of. I write about these things when I’m ready. I suppose that we all tackle our challenges one at a time. As much as I love writing and it’s a part of who I am, it’s also a place where I face my own demons.

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been unable to write about my niece Riley. She isn’t biologically my niece. She’s the daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Holly. Riley is my goddaughter. I saw her be born and I thought, “Oh. It’s you.” I still can’t tell you why I thought that but I knew it the same way I know that the sun comes up. As I’ve always known her.

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I waited for Riley. I saw the love between my girls and their Auntie Holly and I knew how much we’d love her little ones when they arrived. I sewed her quilts and stuffed animals and towels before she was even born. I watched her while her parents went to Vegas. I made guacamole and cinnamon bread with her since she was a toddler. I’ve probably kissed her a million times. She calls me Auntie Michelle and puts her little hand in mine and this simple act never ceases to make my heart soar. Riley is a sweet, gentle little soul and she is my family. Her whole family is to us.

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When we get together, Brice runs to Riley and her 4-year-old sister Addison and grabs them both in his arms so he can hug them at the same time. He calls them “his girls.” They all pick up playing and talking wherever they left off when they get together, as if no time as passed.

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Addison, Riley and Brice. 

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Brice and “his girls.”

On May 1st, we found out that Riley had a malignant brain tumor that was pressing on her brain stem. The tumor was miraculously completely removed but Riley has a long road of her with radiation and chemo.

She started radiation today. It’s heartbreaking, all of it. And it’s caused me to wonder what kind of sense can be made in a world where a 7-year-old that I love so very much can get brain cancer. The whole thing has left me wondering what I could write or say about anything. There is no real answer to be found here.

Here’s what I have learned that I can finally say after 6 weeks:

When I see Riley, I see the little girl that I love and I almost forget that she’s sick. Not really, but I don’t think of her as sick. I think of her as Riley.

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Her mother has shown me the strength we are given as mothers. She gets up and faces the direst of circumstances every single day. Her life is the stuff of nightmares right now but she gets up every day and keeps moving. This simple fact inspires and awes me, as I wonder how she can even be standing upright. It seems we are all stronger than we think, even in the darkest times.

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The outpouring of prayers and messages and contributions and #RileyStrong photos on Facebook have been amazing. Riley has came out of the surgery so much better than anyone could have hoped for and we believe it’s all of the wonderful souls out there praying and sending healing thoughts her way. And I know that this gives her parents faith, that in the hardest of times, people come forward and help.

Thank you all for listening on this rainy afternoon. And for caring so much about Riley.

Go Fund Me site to donate to Riley.

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Happy 1st Birthday to Lincoln!

My Lincoln.

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One year old today.

It’s surreal, this fact.

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This is us, one year ago this morning.

7 pounds 6 ounces, my biggest baby by over a pound.

My longest labor by over a mile.

Lincoln felt like a baby horse inside of me rather than a baby human, so I wasn’t surprised to see how strong he was right after birth, lifting his head off my chest while we laid there skin to skin. Eyes open, taking it all in, not even crying. So much like he is today. My mellow fourth baby who got the memo that he is not the center of the universe, just an equal part like the rest of us.

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Lincoln is all smiles. He cuddles with pillows and pets and people. He is a charmer, a sweet, daring little soul who cruises the staircases in this house like a pro. He crawls from room to room, chasing cats and the puppy and dragging trucks along with him, calling for Brice. He thinks I’m the funniest person in the house, which is nice. All my other babies thought someone else was funnier.

I noticed a family of four out on a bike ride in front of our house this week while I was working in the yard. I counted their kids and thought, “Four kids. That’s nuts!” And then I remembered that I, in fact, have four kids and I felt kind of ashamed for judging, not to mention silly for not remembering. My life is just my life and I think that I get caught up in the living of it that I forget to keep track of details. Like how many children I have, apparently.

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I remember when I was leaving Georgia to go to the hospital and deliver Holly, I was just convinced that I could not love this new baby as much as I loved Georgia. How could I? It didn’t seem possible, because we learn a whole new kind of love when we become mothers, don’t we? But when Holly was born, I realized- our love multiplies in direct proportion to how many kids we have, like magic. There is always more than enough. Even with four, there always seems to be at least enough. I may forget how many kids I have, but there is lots of love.

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And though it feels that I am lacking sufficient time for it all, I try to remember that my life is supposed to be full of needs right now. Lincoln will only be a baby so long, and babies fill your days with moments. Messy moments, needy moments, tender moments. A baby fills your life and your arms. There is room for little else. As they grow, they play and explore more on their own. They reach out to the next room and then the yard, to friends’ houses and school and sports and activities, and pretty soon they have moved right out of your house and life. They create a life of their own. It happens in the blink of an eye. I know this.

So I play with the baby and tend to his needs and this fills my life. And I write a paragraph or few pages here and there. The book I’m writing waits more patiently than a hungry kid. Some moments this is easier to take than others. Writing is part of who I am. I miss it when I can’t get there.

But before I know it, the time will be there for me to write without interruption. I have done this whole baby thing enough times to know that the fog and storms of life with small children do eventually lift.

So for now, the computer sits open to Word, waiting for me to finish something. Lots of things. And it will wait. I nurse my baby. I celebrate the gift of his presence in my life. This little everyday miracle that I lug around on my hip. My fourth. Dare I say, my last? Watching him leave babyhood right before my eyes feels nearly bearable, even though it truly feels like it’s time to be done. The tradeoff of no longer having a baby in your arms all the time is that you no longer have a baby in your arms all the time.

Happy first birthday, Lincoln Thomas. I love you with my entire being and you fill my heart with joy.

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