At Home in Sparta

The apartment is quiet.  The only lights on are those on the Christmas tree.  Annelise is on her little cot in the living room.  She wanted to spend one night this year sleeping by the tree.  So I relinquished the living room to her this evening and am trying to be as quiet as possible so that she can sleep.  Last night was my last night of work until after Christmas.  I spent today shopping and wrapping presents while she was with my parents, so all we have to do before Christmas is bake cookies and enjoy the time we have together.  Over all life is good right now.

It’s the time of year when I reflect on the past year, and look forward to the new one.  Last year when I packed the Christmas decorations I had no idea where we would unpack them this year.  I knew we probably wouldn’t be at my parents any longer, but I hadn’t quite decided where we’d go.  We ended up in Sparta.  And as I had suspected, nothing went as planned.

My schooling plan got off track a bit in the Spring, and then a bit more in the Fall.  At first I just decided to postpone applying to the BSN program at GVSU.  If I had stuck to my original plan I knew I’d be facing a heavy work load and a large financial responsibility this year.  I just wasn’t ready for that.  Annelise was a year away from Kindergarten and I wanted as much free time with her as possible.  Going to school full time seemed like too much.  And with moving out of my parents’ house I was suddenly facing additional financial burdens.  I vowed not to take out any Student Loans until I’m actually in a Nursing program.  I already have a degree so I’m ineligible for any grants.  The burden of tuition has all been on me.  So a delay of a year seemed like a good idea.  I decided to use that year off to fulfill the prerequisites for the MCC ADN program  That way I’d have a back up plan if I didn’t get into GVSU.

We ended up in Sparta, because it was cheaper than living in Grand Rapids.  It also put me part way between Muskegon and Grand Rapids, which seemed like a good compromise since I wasn’t one hundred percent sure where I would be going to school.

Moving to Sparta felt like a bad move from the beginning.  I kept trying to reassure myself it was the best decision, but it didn’t feel like it.  We’re in an apartment building that I wouldn’t quite call rundown, but it’s definitely seen better days.  Our apartment looks like all the other ones in the building, very beige and blah.  I remember the day I got my keys and went in to look around.  I felt this wave a depression sweep over me as I moved from room to room.  I don’t like apartments as a general rule and had vowed to never live in one with Annelise, but here we were.

I signed the lease in June, but we didn’t start living here until September.  Over the summer I would stay here on days I worked, and very slowly I moved the things from our storage unit and my parents house so that it could be ready for us when Annelise started school in the fall.  As I was unpacking and putting things away I found myself chanting this mantra, “You will be happy here.”  I knew I could let the situation overwhelm me or I could choose to be happy in this space.  I decided we would be happy here.

I began to feel better as the space filled with our things.  Things that had been sitting in storage for the past year.  At first it felt awkward.  These were the things from our Roanoke house.  Almost all of them had been bought to fit our little house on Maiden Lane, and now they felt out of place in this apartment.  It felt kind of silly to put up the bookcase and unpack all the boxes of books.  I was only planning to be here a year and I would never read them in that time.  But as I put them on the shelves it felt like I was becoming reacquainted with old friends, so I’m glad they’re sitting there even if they won’t get read and I’ll just be boxing them up again in the Spring.  I hung pictures on the walls and very gradually this space became ours.

We hit a rough spot financially in August and September.  Since I wasn’t working full time, I was only paid when I worked, no paid time off.  I had scheduled some time off in August, but on top of that I was called off about half my shifts.  With less money coming in and the added expense of the apartment we went under very fast.   I have found that financial insecurity will send me hurtling toward anxiety and depression fasting than anything else.  By mid September I was in a very bad place.  I made the difficult decision to prioritize work over school and accepted a full time position so that I could at least stabilize my income.  Things have gotten better since then.  It means taking longer to finish school and I probably will have to go the ADN to RN to BSN route rather than getting my BSN right away which wasn’t what I wanted.   But without financial stability it’s unlikely I would have been able to keep going anyways.

There are some bad days.  And the bad days tend to be really bad.  But over all life has been good in Sparta.  We don’t know anyone, so we keep to ourselves a lot.  Annelise loves her school and has friends there.  I’m busy with work and school.  And on the days when were home it’s just her and I.  The year we lived with my parents caused a little bit of a disconnect between us.  This time alone has fixed that and then some.  I feel like we have grown even closer.  We spend our weekends riding bikes and going to the park.  And we have a lot of game and puzzle nights.

There have been many times the past few months when I’ve thought about dropping out of school and just living.  Not because school is so bad, but because just living is so good.  I love being a mom and doing the mom things.  I think that if it weren’t for the fact that we live in an apartment, I’d be very happy with our life now.  But then I think about the big picture and how if I want to eventually be in a place where I can focus on being “mom” I need to get out of Sleep and off third shift.  I need to have more earning potential to give us a better future.  So we trudge onward.

I had started to put together a plan to move back to Virginia, because if were going to “just live” that’s were I want to do it.  But the reality is that that is not going to happen.  We made a quick trip to Roanoke over the weekend and I began to realize that Roanoke is very much like an ex boyfriend.  It didn’t work for us there.  I had to make a change and I did.  But now that we’re a ways out from that, I question the decision.  Was it really that bad?  Could we have made it work?  And I keep going back for these hook ups, and entertaining the idea that we can somehow still make it work.  I realized last weekend that at least for now we can’t go back.  I don’t have work there.  School is twice as expensive there. And no matter how much I want to be in Roanoke, I have to think about our future and that means finishing school.  The easiest way for me to do that is here.  So barring some major change of fortune we’re staying in Michigan.

I was determined to be happy in Sparta, and I think that we are.  I hate the apartment, other than that we are happy.  We are outdoors people.  I want Annelise to be outdoors.  She’s at an age when I should be able to just send her outside to play, but being in a third floor apartment has made that difficult.  I try to get us both out as much as possible, but I still feel like we spend too much time inside.  I want us to be in a house, with a yard and maybe a garden.  Annelise wants a “fetch” dog.  Tonight she said, “I think next Christmas we’ll be in a house.”  I hope so baby.  But where?  We’re here until June, and then I’m not sure where we’ll go.  I hate moving.  I hate moving her.  She’s had three different homes and three different schools in as many years.  Next year she starts Kindergarten.  If it’s going to take me two to three more years to finish up school, I want to plant us somewhere that can be home, but I haven’t figured out where that is yet.

Right now things are peaceful.  The bills are paid.  There are presents under the tree.  And we’re looking forward to some fun events this winter.  I’m trying hard not to stress about what comes next.  But most likely when next Christmas rolls around we’ll be unpacking the decorations in yet another home and I’ll have another plan for our future.  Hopefully we’ll still be moving forward, getting closer to the end goal and where ever we are we’ll be happy.

xmas2016

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Our Summer Bucket List

I guess it’s time to wrap up the summer post now that it’s almost Christmas.  I spent the first part of the summer in class.  It was a summer class so it was on a shortened semester which meant I went four days a week.  On top of that I was picking up an extra shift every week to help cover some of the added expenses due to moving, paying a higher tuition and so that I could take more time off in August.  My summer vacation basically boiled down to that one month, and Annelise and I tried to make the most of it.

Starting in the Spring she started collecting brochures of different activities that she wanted to do.  We saved them and I promised her that once I was done with my class we would attempt to do as many as possible along with some of the other tradition summer events.

Asparagus Festival

The Asparagus Festival is in June. And it’s sort of the kick off of Summer.  It’s usually the first week that school has been out and summer is just getting under way.  We usually attend the parade and the craft fair on Saturday and then on Sunday go out to the airport for the Fly-in Breakfast.  This year Annelise was particularly interested in the watching the airplanes take off and land.

Fourth of July

Over the Fourth of July weekend we usually attend the open house at Country Dairy.  Annelise likes to go through the cow barns and watch how they milk the cows.  She’s not a fan of ice cream, but every year she tries a little bit and then I get to eat the rest.

And then of course there is the fireworks.  This year we rode our bikes to John Gurney Park and watched them from across the lake.

Canoeing

The first thing we got checked off our summer bucket list was canoeing.  She wanted to go canoeing.  We were able to do this one while we were in Virginia in July.  Our friends had a canoe and morning John and I took the kids out for an Urban canoe trip.  Beth said she had some shopping to do but I think she was really dodging the heat.  It was a very hot triple digit day.  We launched on Tinker Creek and then went onto the Roanoke River.  We’d packed a lunch which we ate under one of the overpasses.  We weren’t out too long because it was very hot.  I had hoped that we’d get more opportunities to go canoeing later in the summer but our schedule got too busy so this was the only canoe trip of the summer.

White Pine Village

The week we returned from Virginia (literally the next day) we went to White Pine Village.  I had visited White Pine Village several times as a kid and was excited that it was still around and that Annelise was interested in going.  Unfortunately, it was one of those things that looked interesting on the brochure, but really wasn’t for her.  She wasn’t into looking at old things, and she doesn’t like interacting with strangers so the period actors bothered her.  The one room school house briefly held her attention because she had heard stories from my mom about attending one, but that was about it.  When we toured the farm house I explained that it didn’t have a bathroom and that people had to use an outhouse.  When I asked if she wanted to go see the outhouse, she looked at me and said, “Why?”  We only went in a couple of buildings before I called it quits.  Thankfully, there was a Blue Grass Festival happening so we got hot dogs, chips and soda and sat and listened to some bands.  It made the trip not feel like a complete waste.  While we were sitting listening to the music, I caught bits and pieces of the conversation behind me.  It didn’t feel weird to hear “Floyd” and “Pulaski” and “Floyd Country Store” until I remembered that I was in Ludington Michigan.  I apologized for eavesdropping, and commented that I had just come back from Floyd Fest.  Turns out one of the couples was from Pulaski and was up visiting.  The women commented that she had been watching Annelise drink from a Carilion water bottle and how it had seemed normal but off because she was in Michigan.  We chatted a little bit and it was nice to talk to Virginia people again.  When we got home my dad asked Annelise if she liked White Pine Village.  She said, “Yeah, we looked at old things, but it wasn’t very much fun.”  Oh well, maybe when she’s older we can try again.  It was such a dissappointment that I hadn’t taken any pictures.  So this one from their website will have to do.

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S. S. Badger and Milwaukee Zoo

Next was our other trip of the summer.   We took the S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan from Ludington, Michigan to Manitawoc, Wisconsin and then drove down to Milwaukee to visit the Milwaukee Zoo.  This was basically recreating a trip I took with my parents 41 years earlier.  Although when I went as a child the ferry went directly from Ludington to Milwaukee.

We were both very excited for this trip and had been planning it for a couple of months.  We took the morning ferry across from Ludington.  I decided to take my van over because it wasn’t that expensive and would make getting around in Wisconsin easier.  After parking our car who went on board and checked out the ship.  There were two levels, with food and places to sit on each level.  On the lower level there was a small movie theater, a gift shop and a children’s play area.  After watching them load our van, we found a spot on the deck to wave good-bye to my parents who were on the pier.  We spent most of our trip over exploring the ship, playing in the kids area or having snacks and coloring in the enclosed deck.  Occasionally would walk around the outside deck to see if we saw any land.  It was a four hour trip across and we arrived in Wisconsin around lunch time.  We did lose an hour due to the time difference but since Annelise can’t tell time that hour really didn’t make that much difference.  We drove to Sheboygan, which was about half way to Milwaukee, had lunch and then checked into our hotel.  We spent the afternoon swimming in the pool.  I had originally planned to attend a museum that day, but she was having fun just swimming so that’s what we did.  We ordered pizza for supper and then swam some more before relaxing in our room, watching the Olympics and playing board games.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel before driving into Milwaukee and to the zoo.  I hadn’t originally planned to use a stroller, after all she was four years old and very capable of walking, but since they were only $7 for the entire day I decided to rent one.  Turned out to be an excellent decision.  The day would have been miserable if she had been walking.  I’m sure I saved myself from the whining.  I quickly learned I had to let go of any agenda I had and just go with whatever she wanted.  And so we spent the entire day meandering the zoo without any sort of direction or plan.  She had a map and when she decided she wanted to see something, we’d go find it, never mind that it was on the other side of the zoo.  We zig-zagged our way around, and I think we hit everything.  We stopped for lunch and a trip to the gift shop to add to her menagerie.  The only time I got to dictate what we did was when I insisted that we have our afternoon snack of popcorn and lemonade next to the elephants.  I love elephants.  I have mixed emotions about zoos, and about elephants being kept in captivity, but I knew this might be the only opportunity she’ll have to see a live elephant so we were there sipping our lemonade, munching on popcorn and marveling at those great creatures.  Her favorite animals were the giraffes, the polar bear, and the snow leopard.

After leaving the zoo we drove back to Manitawoc.  She slept most of the way which was a good thing because it was going to be a late night.  I had booked us on the night crossing so that we could get a state room and she could sleep on the ship, but it didn’t leave until 1 am so we had some time to kill.  After getting supper I took her to see a movie.  This would be her first movie in a theater.  We saw the Secret Life of Pets.  I was a little nervous, because I heard that it had some cartoon violence that might be too much for her.  But she was easily distracted, and didn’t seem to notice some of the comments that might be a little much for someone so young.  She was really enjoyed the experience.  She wore her ear muffs because it was so loud.  Thankfully there were only a couple of other people in the theater because she didn’t quite understand theater etiquette and with the muffs on she couldn’t tell how loud she was talking and laughing.

We got onto the ship around midnight.  After getting our stuff settled in our room we found a nice spot on the front deck where we could lay and watch the stars.  I got a cocktail and she got popcorn and we laid out there watching the stars.  There were several people who planned to sleep on the deck, and if I hadn’t had Annelise with me I would have loved to stay out there all night but she was eager to get to our cabin.  The rooms seemed much smaller than I remembered.  She fell asleep quickly.  I laid awake for quite awhile keeping on eye on her, but I did manage to get some sleep before we docked.

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This was the trip that she and I needed.   We’ve always been close, but for the year we were at my parents we drifted apart some.  I was busy with school and work and my mom was doing a lot of the daily stuff for Annelise.  There were times when I felt like we were just living in the same house and my mom was doing all the parenting.  I really felt the disconnect while we were in Virginia.  I also felt it at the start of this trip, but after a day of wandering around the zoo together we were back on track.

Pentwater Homecoming

Right after we got back from Wisconsin it was time for Pentwater Homecoming.  We kind of made it a Pentwater Weekend.  There was the parade, the Fireworks and then we come back to have a beach day, since building a sand castle was on our list of things to do this summer.

County Fair

The Oceana County Fair is always a highlight of Annelise’s summer and I like the nostalgia of it.  We went with cousins again this year.  Annelise and Lincoln rode the rides together, we visited the livestock barns, and ate all the varies fair foods.  This year when it was time to ride the Ferris Wheel cousin Abigail wasn’t around so Mama had to do it.  I thought I could be brave and overcome my fear of heights for the sake of my kid, but wow was it hard.

Camping

Over Labor Day weekend we went camping in Silver Lake.  My sister’s family was also camping and our trips overlapped by several days so Annelise had cousin Lincoln to play with.  When we put camping on our list of things to do this summer I was hoping for something a little more rustic than an RV park, but this turned out to be perfect.  We were in our tent in an RV spot so that was a little awkward, but other than that it was a great time.  We camped for three nights.  The first two the camp ground was full and Annelise had fun playing with her cousin and swimming.  Most of the camp ground emptied out on Labor Day, but we stayed an extra day.  That night we practically had the place to ourselves and in the morning we got one more swim in before packing up.

Mac Woods Dune Ride

While on our camping trip we went into Silver Lake and went up on the Dunes.  In all my years of living in Oceana County I had never been on a Mac Woods Dune ride, so I was long over due.  It was a little windy but otherwise a beautiful day for a ride on the dunes and a stop at Lake Michigan.

Lewis Farm Market

Once again we got season passes to Lewis’.  I don’t think we went as often as we did last summer, but we still went often enough to make the passes worth it.  I love having the passes because we don’t feel like we need to cram everything into one trip, and if we only have an hour or two to go, that’s fine.  It was fun to watch the baby deer and goats grow over the summer.  We ended the summer with the fall activities and pig races which were a hit although Annelise was slightly disappointed because she thought she would get to ride a pig in the pig race.

Sandcastles Children’s Museum

I also got us a pass to the children’s museum in Ludington.  We would typically go on Fridays and make a day of it, first going to the museum then to lunch at the House of Flavors followed by a stop at the lakeside park.

Dirt Dawgs

The other big summer thing was Dirt Dawgs.  She rode on the Dirt Dawgs bike team again.  It was always a great time.  They mastered the Strider Loops and the last couple of weeks ventured off onto the “real” trails.  In addition to riding with Dirt Dawgs we did a lot of riding together this summer.  She started using her pedal bike more so we took a couple of trips into Mears and Shelby via the rail trail.  She also started riding a little on the trails with it.  This was her last summer on the Strider.  Next summer it will be pedals all the time.  I’m looking forward to it because it means more riding for me.

 

The only thing on our list that we didn’t get to was horseback riding.  Annelise had wanted to go horseback riding and while I had planned to do it and looked into several places, we didn’t make it happen.  One place would require her to be on her own horse and the other place would have required she rode with me.  I wasn’t sure which situation I was more comfortable with and she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to ride alone or not.    I didn’t intentionally put it off, but it happened and then school started and we got busy and she stopped asking so maybe next summer when she’s a little older will be better.  She did get to ride on Sandy though, does that count?

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We’re putting together a winter bucket list.  It includes things like skiing and skating and sledding along with a couple overnight trips.  We’ll get started on those right after the first of the year.

Contemplating our Mortality

Last week the SMC blogging community experienced the loss of one of our members.  Oberon at “B” is for baby” died suddenly leaving behind her five year old daughter.  The news was both shocking and scary.  As parents our worst fear is losing our children.  But closely following that is fear of leaving our children alone.  I think this fear resonates strongly with Choice Moms.  There isn’t another parent to be there if something happens to us.  For our kids we are it.

I never met Bethany (Oberon) in person, but we’ve been apart of the same blogging community for almost six years.  Like with so many other bloggers in our community it’s easy to forget we only know each other online.  We’ve gone through fertility treatments, pregnancies, births and parenting together.  We’ve been watching each other’s children grow up and because most of us don’t have a large network of other SMC to connect with in person, we use each other as resources for navigating our unique parenting choice.  When the rumor of her death was confirmed I found myself wanting to turn to her blog for answers for what happened and what happens next. But her voice is silent now.

There were many parallels between her and I.  We were the same age, our daughters are less than a year apart and we were both “one and done.”  As with others in our community, her death has me considering my own mortality.  Because it could happen to any of us.

When Annelise was potty training I had an epiphany; my job as her mother was essentially to prepare her to live without me.  She was on her little potty and I was in the other room talking her through it.  In order to be considered potty trained for school she had to be completely independent and she didn’t want to be.  Every time she’d call me in to help, I’d say “What would you do if mama wasn’t here?” and then talk her through the next step.  I remember thinking, “This is basically what being a parent is about, teaching her how to do things for herself so that someday she won’t need me.”

Like many families we have a plan to follow in the event of a fire.  We started practicing our fire plan when she was two.  But we also have plans for what to do if you find yourself alone in the house, what to do if mommy’s not at the bus stop and what to do if you can’t wake mommy up.  While all families should have emergency plans for us it’s imperative.  Every morning when I put her on the bus and then get in my car to drive to class or run errands I worry about what would happen if I were in an accident.  What happens if I’m not there at the end of the day to meet the bus?  She knows she’s not suppose to get off the bus unless I’m there but what if she gets caught up with the other kids and doesn’t look until she’s off the bus.  We’ve talked about where she can go to ask for help.  But still everyday on my way home from class I imagine myself getting in an accident and my daughter being alone outside our apartment building.  There’s also been several nights when I’ve called or texted family members and friends asking them to call or text me in the morning and to make sure I answer.  While am sure the tightness in my chest is anxiety and not a heart attack and the throbbing in my head is a headache and not a stroke, if something were to happen to me during the night who knows how long before anyone would notice and come to check on us.  For the first time in over a decade I have a home phone line, specifically so I can teach Annelise to call 911.  Bethany’s death made me realize I may not be crazy for worrying about these things and making plans for Annelise to deal with them.

Her death was also a reminder of why I blogged.  As the news of her death was shared online someone mentioned her blog and if her family knew about it.  It’s a record in her own words and with pictures of her journey to have her daughter and their life together.  Some day that will be priceless to her daughter.

When I started blogging at It’s Definitely Possible, I did it as a way to connect with women experiencing the same thing I was.  Then during my pregnancy and the early years with Annelise it became a record of our story.  I know I could have  just as easily written it in a private notebook, but for me it was important to send those memories out into the Universe. The first memories I have are at age three and there are only a handful of those.  Without another significant person in our lives I knew that I was going to be the person who held all of Annelise’s early memories.  I wanted to make sure they survived me.  So I gave those memories to anyone who was willing to read them and trusted that if Annelise should ever need them they’d find their way back to her.  The posts from It’s Definitely Possible, have been taken offline but they still exist and should anything happen to me Annelise will have access to them.  My blogging here is less confessional (and less frequent) but I still try to keep a record of our life together.

I’ve been reflective this past week.  Thinking about the legacy I’d leave Annelise and what memories she will have of me.  I know at this age, if I were to die she would have very few concrete memories of our life together.  What she’ll know about me she’ll learn from the people who knew me or the words I left behind.  More than anything I hope she’ll remember feeling safe and being loved.

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Annelise’s rendition of our family.  Her teachers tell me whenever she draws her family she draws me and then a smaller identical person as herself.