Rhondie

Everything in my immediate vicinity was perfectly normal: sunshine, dogs barking, children squealing, Pearl digging to China in the sandbox.  But my voice felt foreign and clumsy as I spoke because a few hundred miles away, at the other end of the phone line, everything was not normal.

I followed the effortlessly positive lead of my aunt Rhonda, chatting about kale smoothies, the girls, and our upcoming trip to France.  She said softly, “I wish we had traveled more.” Over the course of many months and phone calls, this single statement shocked me the most. She moved on quickly, the moment gone before I could catch it. It was a brief glimpse into an otherwise persistent determination to beat liver cancer.

Common Life Regrets:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others had expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I would have had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I would have let myself be happier.

It’s easy to make mistakes each day and, over time, watch them snowball into immense regret. Cancer took my aunt from this world ahead of schedule, but I can say with confidence that this list held no place in her brilliant life.

She was so positively genuine she damn near sparkled. Although she always worked, her identity was never tied to a job. The 9-5 hustle enriched her life, it never defined it.  She had this graceful way of expressing herself so that you knew where she stood without harshness or offense.  A purposeful giver of love and kindness, she was always present for the ones she loved, celebrating life’s happy moments at every opportunity. Her beautiful heart was a gift to all who knew her, friends, family, and the random strangers who had the luck to encounter her.  If we could all tackle this list the way my aunt did then #5 seems to take care of itself. Happiness comes easily and shines with an undeniable radiance when you prioritize the way she did.

In the end, she had no common regrets, only a desire to live and experience more. I wish I’d had more time to ask more questions of this amazingly uncommon woman.

She was always there to celebrate the happy moments, even when they happened way out in Imperial, NE.

 

Prairie Susan Pribbeno

At 7:45AM on Wednesday, July 5th, the forms had been signed, the IV applied, and in less than one hour our second daughter was scheduled to arrive. While I sat wrapped in warm blankets, Logan read aloud from the journal of Mary Stenger, recounting tales of her own mother, Logan’s great-great-grandmother, Susan McCoy.

Harold was born in December. Had him at home (sod house) with a midwife. Afterbirth didn’t come and Grandpa rode a horse to Elsie (27 miles) to get a doctor…Susan was holding Harold and saw a rattlesnake in the rafters.

128 years later in the comfort of a sterilized delivery room in a newly renovated hospital with the assistance of two doctors, one anesthesiologist, and two nurses, Prairie Susan Pribbeno was born. Despite these conveniences, I was worried. We had learned I was pregnant just six months after radiation treatment for thyroid cancer. I agonized silently for nine months over the medications I was required to take and the effects my damaged body had on her growing one.

At 8:22AM, the only thing I could say was, “Is she ok?” Although we never really talked about it, Logan knew what I meant. We had both held fear close to our hearts so he just said, simply, “Yes, she’s strong.” 7.1 pounds and 20 inches of strength and beauty, to be specific.

She may not have been born in a sod house with rattlesnakes in the rafters but, so far, I believe she has more than lived up to the gritty determination of her namesake.

For my girls

I grew up with two, slightly rowdy, brothers. As a result of their example and my own predisposition for introversion, I spent a large portion of my youth attempting adolescent invisibility. I was a freckle-faced, red-haired, braces and glasses wearer in southern California, so it hardly ever worked out as I hoped.

1,284 miles away, Logan was crafting a very different teenage existence. They laugh about it now, but I’m certain that at the time, his parents were less than thrilled by his political column (Nouveau View) in the county newspaper and likely even less impressed with his band’s decision to perform sans clothing. When I asked him to clarify the boxers-only performance I’d heard so much about, he asked, “Well, which time?”

I watch Pearl on the playground now with an intense curiosity. Will she amble toward anonymity or sprint for the spotlight? Yesterday she scaled the rope ladder with astounding speed and grace and then raced full toddler force to the big slide. She skidded to a stop, waved to a neighbor kid, then pointed to the slide and said, “Be careful ok?” This combination of daring tenderness is alright with me.

Eventually, we won’t be pinpointing the inherited characteristics of our small daughters. Experience will mold them into women we hope and expect to be strong, intelligent, and kind.

But for now, for my girls’ sake, I hope they channel their father’s natural instinct to be wild. I hope they ask the uncomfortable questions and then really listen to the answers to discover their own conclusions. In what can feel like the endless catastrophe of youth, deciding to be different, especially in a town like ours, will be a monumental challenge but will serve them well in so many ways.

We’re just a week away from becoming a family of four, plus one deranged Chihuahua. And years from now, when our girls decide to read mom’s boring online journal, all I ask is that they please, please, ask their father when their band decides to play homecoming in just their skivvies. That’s all him.

 

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Pearl is almost two, fearless, a little reckless, and has a secret recipe for energy I’m attempting to decipher and trademark. Logan and I recently reached one of those cute parenting milestones where we believe we know exactly what to do, but in a much more real way, have no idea what we’re doing, ever, at all. Last Friday at midnight, this became incredibly apparent because we were sitting in the ER waiting room, trying to pretend it was not our daughter whose faint cries were drifting down the hallway.

Pearl and I had just discovered that we could use Alexa to enhance our kitchen dance parties. She was so excited she ran for the living room, singing all the way before tripping and slamming her face into the couch. Somewhere between the trip and the slam, she bit down on her tongue so hard and deep I couldn’t look at it without erupting in tears. Why didn’t we go to the ER then? I’ll probably ask myself that question until the day I die. I think all parents have their fair share of totally unnecessary ER visits. We are well acquainted with the patient, if slightly annoyed smiles of the nurses who gently tell you, your kid is fine, it’s time to go home now. Plus the internet, the internet is stupid. Never, ever listen to the internet, I beg of you.

After a couple days we decided it might be kind of nice to see the polite smiles of the nurses and doctors, let them evaporate our fears with a hefty bill and send us happily home. But they didn’t send us home, instead, they gave us a tiny hospital gown decorated with puppies and balloons and six dissolvable stitches in Pearl’s tongue. A few hours later, when all six stitches popped out several weeks ahead of schedule, I felt the tiny screws keeping my sanity in place burst forth and ricochet into space.

And that’s how our demented story returns to an emergency room two hours away, waiting for the doctor to complete Pearl’s second round of tongue stitches in less than 12 hours. At this point, we had spent nearly 72 hours riding a carousel of guilt and regret, spinning in slow, exhausting circles of disbelief. We’d visited the ER plenty of times when we shouldn’t have and then didn’t visit the ER when we definitely should have. No big deal though, two months is enough time to get this parenting thing all squared away before the second kid arrives, right?

 

The Perfect Myth

Over the last year and a half I’ve had a good, long laugh at my pre-kid self and all the things I said I would absolutely, never in a million years, ever, do. As an example, Logan and I have taken a certain amount of pride in being anti-TV for nearly a decade. Yet here we are today, reciting the lines from Masha and The Bear from memory because that’s what happens when you watch all 17 episodes 47 times each with your kid. Thanks, Netflix. No seriously, thank you so much Netflix, I love you. There’s a long list of unplanned for transgressions but there’s a really big one I need to address today.

Myth.

I call it The Perfect Myth and it lives on Facebook. Have you noticed? My hair looks awesome, I’m wearing actual eyeliner, and my clothes are astonishingly unstained. Pearl is beaming with dimples that will make your heart soar and somehow, my husband looks oddly pleased to be in a field or grassy expanse in the middle of a work day. This is not real life, this is The Perfect Myth.

Myth.

Before our daughter was born I had grand plans, I was going to be a real mom, honest and genuine about all of it. And that’s the beauty of real life, I get to be that real mom every day. Turns out real life is tough, messy and immune to my controlling tendencies. So Facebook is my perfectly manicured lawn, my award-winning rose garden, the calm, beautiful facade I maintain as a reward for the reality I tend each day. It contains those moments that happen either purely by accident or in that five-second window where preparation, prayer, and bribery pay off with the help of a professional photographer. I feel like I’ve earned this carefully crafted social existence. By now, we’re all in on the social media joke, aren’t we? We know that Facebook is whatever we want it to be and the punchline doesn’t actually matter which is why I’m not sorry about The Perfect Myth, not even a little bit.

 

Fact.

 

Fact.

Fact.

Dear Kara

Pearl spent more than a year under the watchful care of Emma, Megan, and Katie. Together, these women shaped my daughter’s life. I see their influence everyday. When Pearl offers a hug on instinct to a crying kid, there’s Emma. When she stands on our coffee table, creeps toward the edge, and yells “JUMP!” with pure mischief in her eyes, there’s Megan. Seconds later, when she smiles and climbs down carefully, there’s Katie. Sure, Logan and I played a role and the genetics are undeniable, but Monday-Friday from 8-5 plus countless Saturdays with Emma, that was probably the best thing we ever did for our kid.

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-1-02-17-pm

Pearl was a flower girl in Emma’s wedding and on the big day, mentally, she was kind of a wreck. She’d scream to be put down then immediately scream to be picked up. Toddler emotions are complex exhausting. Maybe she was dealing with her own brand of grief as she watched Emma get married and start a new life on her own. Unless she was in the arms of an Engbrecht, she was truly inconsolable. They’d spent a lot of time together, their bond was so second-nature your teeth about ached with the sweetness. Still, I was fairly convinced some type of magic was involved here.

emmajeffrey-film-91

So strong, reliable, and nurturing, I often forgot Emma was more than a decade my junior. Whether dealing with the 12th schedule change of the day, or Pearl’s first six months of endless spit up, or gently pointing out that my shirt still had a tag on it, she never let on that I was the raving lunatic I felt myself to be each day. She shared Pearl’s triumphs and sorrowed in her minor slip ups, so much so that I never felt like I was missing out on the months that were slipping by so quickly. Because Pearl was in safe hands, so were our hearts.

Moments before the ceremony began, the tattered remains of my patience were fading fast.  Shoulders slumped and toes pinched in ill-advised heels I asked Emma’s mother Kara what type of magic she used to subdue my daughter and could I get it on Amazon Prime? Without missing a beat she said, “Hey, if your kid is sweet to everyone except you, you’ve got to be doing something right.” Immediately I felt an odd lightness in my shoulders and realized, just like that, she’d worked her spell on me too.

So, thank you, Kara. Thank you for raising daughters that were not only sweet to me but were also 100% with their love and adoration for Pearl. Thank you for teaching them grace. Thank you for teaching them honesty and selfless love. Thank you for all the important lessons you taught me through your amazing daughters.

 

How to Dress a Tornado in 17 Easy Steps

For the past three weeks, I stood by and watched while family and friends held Pearl, cuddled her, hugged her, tickled her, and loved her in all the ways I couldn’t. This was easily the most difficult part of my cancer experience which means, actually, I’m pretty damn lucky.

Since being reunited with my daughter, we’ve had an extended moment of incredibly sweet, excessive devotion to each other. Every night in that small space between fighting the inevitable and dreams of nutella sandwiches (that’s what they dream about too right?) Pearl likes to make sure I’m still around. She jerks wide awake, takes one long concentrated look at my face,  gives me an enormous dimple-cheeked smile, and passes out on my shoulder.

Stop and smell the dandelions

In turn, I give in to her tiny demands regularly. I know there’s an entire industry devoted to avoiding this grave parental misstep but screw it. In her entire life these days, the ones where she’ll grab my hand and pull me around the house to squeal with delight at the existence of windows, will seem like a flash.

I feel good, really good, and it’s unlikely that I’ll need any more treatment. It turns out doctors don’t like to throw around words like “cured” with cancer patients no matter the clever verbal traps you set for them. So I’ll wait impatiently but in the meantime I have a long list of blessings to count.

And because it’s rude to advertise your parental brilliance on Instagram and then not deliver…

How to Dress a Tornado in 17 Easy Steps:

  1. Stop buying anything even remotely white, just stop it
  2. Sign my petition to end the total nightmare that is baby clothes with buttons, together we can stop the madness
  3. Remember this counts as a workout, good for you!
  4. Offer to let the tornado choose her own clothes
  5. Spend the next 30 minutes putting all the clothes back in the drawers
  6. Allow an additional five minutes to apologize to the tornado for not letting her eat the rhinestones off her tank top
  7. Time for a distraction, sing a totally made up song about monkey butts
  8. Chase the tornado as she runs across the living room with her eyes closed and only half her pants on
  9. Wonder if this will be the day you have to explain to the ER nurse how your tornado gave herself a concussion
  10. Oops, the tornado just crapped her pants, start over
  11. It becomes clear at this point that tornados prefer to be naked
  12. Distract the naked tornado, almost anything will do but I highly recommend a cell phone insurance plan
  13. Take a 5 minute break, let the tornado loose on the tupperware drawer, you deserve coffee
  14. Offer to let the tornado try to dress herself
  15. Remember this always results in a screaming match when you eventually try to help
  16. Bribery exists for a reason people, have you heard of these things called yogurt melts? What a world!
  17. Realize that a diaper is perfectly acceptable attire for a tornado on any occasion