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All About Annabelle

“Now mom, don’t cry,” Annabelle says as she comes in my bedroom holding a bright yellow book to her chest. I save the story I’ve been writing and close my laptop, motioning for her to get up on the bed with me. I know she’s been up to something because she’s been silent downstairs for over hour and that never happens. She climbs up on the bed and holds out the book for me to take. The “About Me” book that she got for Christmas. A beginning journal for children filled with prompts that elicit funny, age-appropriate responses we will laugh about some day when she’s older. The one I did as a child still sits in the bookshelf at my parents’ house.

 

I am initially impressed that she even found the book in the mess of a closet downstairs. I remember burying it underneath a stack of games around Christmastime. But somehow she managed to dig it out.

 

“Oh,” I say excitedly, “The About Me Book! Now why would I cry? Go get a pencil, I’ll show you how to do this.”

 

“No mom, I already finished it!” she says victoriously.

 

And I wince; knowing that whatever she has done has surely ruined the book. I open up to the first page. It reads, “This Book Is About:” and then below that Annabelle has neatly printed her name in black pen. I’m impressed. “Good!” I say, sure that things are about to go downhill. I turn to the second page.  She has filled in each question about herself. The box in front of “girl” is checked, she’s drawn straight brown hair and brown eyes on the diagram of a face and circled “no glasses.” I mentally scold myself for doubting her abilities.

 

Over the next few minutes, we page through the book, which is completed nearly perfectly. Sure she tallied the number of windows in our house completely incorrectly and on the page where it asks if she hits when she gets mad she’s checked, NO. I smile and nod approvingly when I read that she wants to be a waitress when she grows up. She’s recorded her life as a seven year old as accurately as she could have.

 

“This is the part where I don’t want you to cry,” she says as I flip to the final page.

 

“I Like To Write Stories,” the page reads. “Here is one I wrote.”

 

That page and the next are completely full. She has actually written a story. I read it aloud (spelling has been corrected!):

 

“My Dad. My dad’s name is Chris. He is 37. He has straight hair. My Mom. My mom’s name is Prinna. She is 38. She has straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Eve. She is 4. She has curly hair. It is blond. My Brother. My brother’s name is Alec. He is cute.  He has straight hair and then curly at the bottom. Me. My name is Annabelle. I like gymnastics. I have straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Sophia. She is 6 and has curly hair I think but she died and she never had a birthday. I don’t know why.

 

She slams the book closed and looks to me for a reaction. My chest tightens. I hold my breath and close my eyes, as if that could somehow put the feelings I’m feeling on pause. After a few seconds, I exhale and open my eyes.

 

“I’m so glad you included Sophia in our family,” I say to her cheerfully. “And it’s ok that we don’t know why she died.” She smiles, takes the book from me and skips out of the room.

 

I sit motionless on the bed, wishing she were still there so I could talk to her more about her story. But her therapist told us that she’d come to us when she needs something. And when she’s gotten it, she’ll go off and be fine until she needs something more. Apparently, she got whatever she needed.

 

I’ve read about how children grief. Their grief is linear, circular, and developmental. They bounce around from disorganization to transition, reorganization and then back around. But I like to think about the process of grief less clinically. That it’s more like one of my favorite authors, Ann Hood, described it. “Grief is like the ocean; it engulfs you. And when you think the tide has finally gone out, it returns even stronger.”

 

For some reason, when I write about Sophia, the tide goes out, if only for an hour.

 

Maybe it does for Annabelle, too.

Why Did I Weight?

NOTE: Someone recently wrote that she  was moved by my openness and honesty and my ability to acknowledge that being human is not always showing the most flattering sides of ourselves. I was hesitant to post this but it’s a perfect example of this statement. Enjoy!

 

“I’ve hit a new low,” the email started. “For breakfast this morning I had Jiffy blueberry muffin batter and a Pepsi.”

I ran my fingers slowly across my laptop’s keyboard, giving serious consideration to whether or not I should send the message. Did I really want to admit to this type of behavior? Was email the appropriate way to “out” my issues? Was I really ready to deal with the consequences of doing this?

I took a deep breath and sent it. I sent this confession and plea to all the women in my family with a note asking them to tell me how they thought my weight had negatively affected my life. I asked them to tell me how they would support me in my journey to a healthier lifestyle.

And then I sat back in my chair, relieved to have finally, albeit electronically, made my cry for help.

The responses from my sisters and sisters-in-law came almost immediately, like they had been waiting for this opportunity. Their responses were motivational. They offered recipes and workout suggestions. They explained about sugar addiction and the importance of routine and discipline. My older sister told me I wear too many elastic-waisted pants.

But it was the email from my mom that stuck with me the most. She wrote:

“Prinna, when I look at you now, I have many mixed emotions. I see a strong determined talented woman. Made stronger by awful tragedies in your life over the past few years. You are a survivor. You are my hero. I am so unbelievably proud of you. But there is one thing that makes me sad – your weight. Your weight gain represents Sophia’s death to me– a physical sign that your life has been so horrific that you are out of control. You are Prinna on the inside. But you are not Prinna on the outside.  If you could lose weight, I could find peace in knowing that you are starting to heal–that perhaps you are not in constant pain. That although you will never forget Sophia, you can move ahead with the rest of your family. Your “need for input” email is a positive sign…it means you care and want to change. I think losing weight will have huge impact on your self-esteem and will spread into other areas of your life. I will do whatever I can, but I don’t know what that is. I think it has to come from inside you. Sorry, but you asked…. :)

********

Four Months Later

I sit patiently in the waiting room, even though the doctor is more than an hour late. I flip through an old People magazine.

“Prince Harry Excited to be an Uncle.” “Kyra Sedgwick Gushes About Her Husband, Kevin Bacon.” “Johnny Depp Lands a New Role.”

Finally, the doctor emerges from his office and calls my name. I set the People magazine down, take one last slug of my coffee and walk down the long hallway towards the doctor. He stretches out one arm to invite me in.

As I sit down, I suddenly feel uncomfortable wearing my winter coat.

“It’s ok,” I reassure myself, “this will only take a few minutes.”

The doctor sits across the desk from me and immediately starts typing on his computer. “So,” he says, “How are things going?”

My instinct is to say “fine” but then I will myself to answer the question truthfully. He is, after all, a psychiatrist. He’ll probably know I’m lying anyway.

“Noooot too well,” I say slowly.

He looks up from his computer; peers at me over his reading glasses.

“Oh?”

“Well, I am feeling kind of…low energy.” I say.

“Tell me more,” he says.

“Well, all of these wonderful things are happening all around me and I can’t seem to get out of bed to enjoy them.”

“And,” I hesitate. “I can’t seem to stop gaining weight.”

“How much weight have you gained since you were in the ward?” he asks, turning to type some more on his computer.

“60 pounds,” I reply.

There. I said it. For the first time in three years, I’ve acknowledged just how much weight I’ve gained. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, covering my body with my coat to avoid possible scrutiny.

“Well,” he says, looking back at his computer. “That’s Abilify weight.”

I narrow my eyes.

“Abilify weight,” he repeats matter-of-factly.

The phrase is foreign to me.

“And what, exactly, is that?” I ask.

He goes on to say that a side effect of my Abilify medication (anti-depressant) can be significant weight gain.

“5-10 pounds is no big deal,” he says. “But 60…well, that’s metabolic syndrome. You should have come in sooner…there’s actually something better on the market; something without that side effect.” He reaches for a prescription pad and starts scribbling.

And I feel the tears well up in my eyes. I’m not sure if they are for relief or anger.

Maybe a little of each.

The Best Gift

It has to be more than coincidence that Annabelle and I got to spend much of today alone together. We so rarely do. But this afternoon she came dress shopping with me and then to a coffee shop where she gulped down a big hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate swirled on top. And then we drove home.

“Mom,” she said as I merged onto Hwy 7. “Can we listen to Raffi?”

My heart nearly stopped.

“I want song #8,” she continued.

Song #8: Bumpin’ Up And Down In My Little Red Wagon

It was as if she knew.

It was as if she knew that I have been thinking non-stop about her baby days – those early weeks when I’d walk her around and around the living room in the middle of the night trying to calm her. Many times I’d walk and bounce her to song #8 – Bumpin’ Up And Down In My Little Red Wagon. She was soothed by the dips and swells of the music and I always felt it was her favorite song.

 

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Won’t you be my darling

 

I’ve been thinking about those days so much this past week because I’m headed back to a full-time job tomorrow morning. And the last time I worked full-time was when I was pregnant with Annabelle eight years ago.

I feel like it’s the end of an era tomorrow. I relinquish my title as “stay-at-home mom.” And in many ways this makes me sad. My kids will start going to daycare. Chris will have to do more than he already does around the house. I won’t be around to give them lunch or do crafts with them or have dance parties in the kitchen. I won’t be there when Alec wants to “nuggle.” And I’ve cried many a tear over the loss of these moments.

But I know that this is what my family needs right now. A change of pace. An opportunity to grow. To overcome fears and obstacles. And succeed at new endeavors.

We’ll all be doing this together as a family – the way we do everything else.

But I’ll always think of these past eight years as the best gift a mom could ever get.