5-year-old grief

2014-11543-58One thing I remember in my foggy, drugged-like grief state after Charlie died, is that the social workers told us that Hailee’s grief would be delayed. Because Hailee was only two and a half when Charlie died, she didn’t understand what happened. The social workers told us that as Hailee would get older and begin to develop a concept of death, she would go through her own grief process over losing Charlie. They mentioned that this usually happens about age six.

As Hailee just recently turned 5, it hasn’t been on my radar to vigilantly look for her emerging grief processes. But we are picking up evidence that Hailee is beginning to go there.

For example, earlier this summer, while Hailee was on a play date with her bestie, Grace, Grace’s mom, Ruki sent me this photo:

20140625_130738In this photo, Ruki explained that Grace was consoling a crying Hailee who was reportedly crying over missing Charlie. When Hailee came home she explained she got upset because Grace said she was going to marry her little brother ,Truman, and so Hailee got sad because her own little brother, Charlie, died, so she couldn’t marry him! Obviously one day we’ll need to talk about the dangers of inbreeding…but besides the point, this was one example of Hailee’s grief emerging.

Then, this morning, Chad called me after he dropped Hailee off at school. He said while driving Hailee to school he looked back and saw that Hailee had tears in her eyes. He asked her what was wrong and she said she was missing Charlie. Sometimes Hailee will “cry” over Charlie as a way to get attention or a way to get out of a consequence for doing something naughty. But this example felt genuine as her tears were silent, and had Chad not looked in the rear-view mirror, he might not have even noticed.

Also, yesterday, after work, my nanny sent Chad and me this text:

“I wanted to tell you, I thought it was so sweet and cute so I hope it makes you happy and not sad! But today when Hailee and Cami were holding hands in the car, Hailee says,’You know, I really miss Charlie. I, like, never get to see him anymore. He used to make me laugh ALL the time.’ Then she goes, ‘He’s just so busy all day. He has to help Jesus listen to prayers and watch over people during the whole day and night! He has a big job!'”

Doesn’t that melt your heart?! Agh I just wanted to wrap my Hailee up in my arms when I read that text. What is striking to me about what Hailee told our nanny is that we did not tell Hailee any of those things she detailed in Charlie’s job description! The only thing I can think she picked up from us is when we say family prayers, we ask that Charlie watch over us. Her sweet little brain is working hard to conceptualize what happened, where Charlie is now, and her relationship with him.

These are just some examples of many that show Hailee’s own grief process is emerging. It’s interesting to watch these processes occur, because as Hailee was so little when Charlie died, and probably remembers very little (if anything) about him and memories with him, I believed she wouldn’t really grieve him. I believed Charlie would be more of a vague idea than anything. I am finding that I am wrong. Even though she was young, Hailee seems to have some real grief reactions emerging to the loss of her baby brother!

IMG_1291I need to be more mindful of Hailee’s experience. I want to seek for opportunities to talk with her more about her thoughts and feelings regarding Charlie and his death. Maybe I should do some things with her that have been helpful for me: like show her photos of Charlie (especially of her and Charlie together), and visit his grave, or say goodnight to him each night when I see the sunset, for examples.  I feel sad when Hailee is sad. But I hope I can validate her emotions and help her sort them out as best as her little 5-year-old brain can, instead of trying to soothe her or help her just “get over it.”  I want to encourage her to feel a more active relationship with her brother; that he is nearby, caring for her. Because I believe that’s true and I want her to feel that. I want her to know she can cry with me, anytime she needs!

Even though sometimes Hailee is difficult (as most 5-year-olds can be), I am SO IN LOVE with this girl!

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Oh Canada!

Last month, Chad and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. I think, as parents, it’s a natural inclination to prioritize children above a marital relationship. Tossing in a heavy dose of trauma, grief and anxiety, and a marriage can become even more neglected. Suffice it to say, losing a baby is hard on a marriage. I honestly don’t think a couple could be asked to go through much harder together. I think Chad and I have weathered this storm as best we could. We’ve also navigated the complicated, anxious path of having another baby as best as we could. We haven’t done it perfectly and our marriage has often times been neglected as we’ve prioritized our kids, our grief, and our anxiety. But throughout the last two and a half years there has been love, commitment, patience, understanding, and forgiveness.

Now that Cami is older and our anxiety has decreased substantially, and we’ve come a long way on our grief journey, we are putting more time and effort into our marriage again. We have regular weekly date nights now, which make a huge difference! But also significantly, last month we went on our first trip, sans kids, in four years!

We spent 6 days exploring the amazing Canadian Rockies with two of our really good friends, Dianne and Bryce.

IMG_5548We felt really nervous to leave our girls but it was so worth it! Our souls and our marriage desperately needed this adventure!

IMG_5145We hiked every day and got up close and personal with impressive glaciers and listened to powerful music of cracking ice.

IMG_5582We ate at a tea house high up on a mountain next to a huge, ancient, glacier.

IMG_5129We saw waterfalls plunging into aquamarine pools.

IMG_5099We heard and saw tons of cute little Pika (the smallest bunny rabbit species) bounding across the boulder fields underneath the glaciers. We witnessed our friend Bryce pet fat fuzzy bumble bees busy loving on all the beautiful mountain flowers.

IMG_5127We hiked through mossy forests to heights that rewarded us with amazing views!

IMG_5126We saw glacier lakes whose colors were so blue it seemed almost surreal. We rented canoes and went paddling on one such lake: Lake Morraine.

IMG_5146We went mountain biking to a gorgeous river.

IMG_5169We bathed with many other locals and dusty travelers in some hot springs (and showered really well later).

IMG_5158We stayed one night in a castle (that I pretended was Hogwarts) where we pampered ourselves at the spa and ate cheese and chocolate fondue to celebrate our 12-year anniversary!

IMG_5170 IMG_5171And we took many many photos of all the amazing views!

IMG_5172The Canadian Rockies is honestly the most beautiful place I have ever seen! I already ache to go back again! I am so glad Chad and I braved this adventure together. Though there have been beautiful moments in the last two years since losing Charlie (e.g. the birth of Cami), our marriage has suffered a drought of positive experiences and memories. This trip was like finding respite at an amazing oasis after a long, grueling trek through a barren dessert. It feels like further evidence that we are moving beyond survival and into LIFE again. And Life TOGETHER.

But whatever the landscape we face, we face it together and I am grateful to have this man by my side!

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Kindergarten!…and Pre-K?

Remember my big dilemma when Hailee graduated preschool? The dilemma to put her in Kindergarten or hold her back another year because of her summer birthday? Well, one thing I’m not super awesome at is making decisions. Just ask Chad. So, in true Anna fashion, I didn’t really make a decision about Hailee and school this year. Or rather, I decided BOTH! That is, let’s put Hailee in a pre-kindergarten class at Challenger in the mornings and a kindergarten class at her public school in the afternoon. I KNOW this sounds psycho and Chad thought so too at the beginning. I just get so ANGSTY when trying to decide what to do for Hailee academically. And I figure the best way to make a decision is to feel BOTH options out! After meeting with both sets of teachers, touring the schools, and talking this through, Chad got on board with this decision. We rationalize we can always pull Hailee out of one school whenever we want, if we see that she is overwhelmed with the amount of school, or it becomes obvious that one option is a better fit.

IMG_5223 IMG_5228We are now in week two of this experiment and Hailee is doing great! She loves both her schools, her teachers, and her friends. It’s a smidge stressful getting Hailee from Challenger at 11:30, feeding her lunch, changing out of her uniform and into normal clothes, cleaning out her backpack, and then whisking her to kindergarten by 12:35. But so far it is working. And on the second day of Kindergarten, Hailee insisted on taking the school bus home! I tried to talk her out of it because I didn’t feel ready for my LITTLE GIRL to ride the bus! But she said, “Don’t worry about me mom. Worry about yourself.” Lol. So Hailee now rides the bus home from school in the afternoons and feels super cool about it!

IMG_5239And although she doesn’t say so, I’m sure Cami appreciates one less episode of being strapped in a carseat each day.

My only concern with this experiment is that I don’t know if I’ll be able to come to a good conclusion. The reality is, it seems Hailee is learning more in Pre-K than she is in Kindergarten. This makes sense since Challenger prides itself on its academic prowess. And she should be learning more if we are dishing out a lot of $ for the experience! But it won’t help us decide which grade is a better fit. I think the reality would be that if we chose Challenger, we’d have to keep Hailee in Challenger through all of elementary school because Hailee would be BORED at public school Kindergarten next year. So it seems the choice won’t be to hold her back or not, but rather, do we pursue private schooling vs public schooling? If Hailee had her choice, she’d probably choose public school, for the school bus factor alone! Obviously, not sound reasoning upon which to base academic decisions. 🙂

I think the way we are leaning right now is to keep Hailee in both schools as long as it works logistically for us and emotionally, psychologically, developmentally, and academically, for Hailee. As we get to know our public school better as the year progresses and we feel confident Hailee would get a good public school education, we will probably enroll her in public school first grade next year. If we go that route, I don’t think we’ll regret paying a year of private school tuition for Pre-K because I feel it would provide Hailee with a firm academic foundation and catch her up (and perhaps surpass) the older kids who have 8+ months of experience in learning and aptitude by virtue of their older ages. But we are also open to falling in love with Challenger and being convinced that private schooling is the best option. A BIG + in Challenger’s favor is the student-to-teacher ratio with two teachers in a class of 20 or so. Whereas public school is one teacher in a class of 30! Also, I love the safety standards of Challenger, where teachers directly hand the kids to parents or authorized pick-up-people. The first day of public school kindergarten, Hailee’s teacher tried to put Hailee on the bus (gasp!) before I got there to pick her up. My friend Ruki saw Hailee and knew I was coming to get her. So she grabbed Hailee out of the bus line and the teacher didn’t even NOTICE that someone took Hailee. I’m a BIT paranoid about that sort of thing! So those are two things in Challenger’s favor. But at the same time, I, myself, am a product of public education and I did fine and I think there are some life lessons you learn through public education that you miss if you have a private school experience…So I don’t know. In conclusion, we will not make a conclusion yet!

It’s crazy to have Hailee gone all day though! I suddenly feel like Chad and I have become grown ups! We have a kid in SCHOOL! It feels OLD. It’s weird to adopt a routine of taking her to school 5 days a week! I miss her! I can tell Cami misses her too! My little girl is growing up! (whine). This is what parents talk about when they say they want to freeze time! Whenever Hailee gets home, I tell her my “fingers itch” for a Hailee hug and she jumps into my arms. I’m so grateful for my loving, cuddly, happy, spunky, feisty, adventurous, social, enthusiastic five-year-old!

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My girls

2014-11543-7I know I’m biased but aren’t they beautiful!?! I got photos taken for Hailee’s fifth and Cami’s first birthdays, respectively. This is one of those photos and it’s my favorite. I love how Hailee and Cami are true little buddies who just LOVE each other so much. It’s fun to raise sisters, as I never had one. Cami is truly a mini Hailee, wanting to do everything Hailee does. And Hailee doesn’t mind the little shadow and is always so sweet and inclusive with Cami. I love the light that just radiates from my little girls and fills my whole soul when I look at them!

2014-11543-35 2014-11543-27There is something so magical about childhood! I’m glad I get to witness that magic everyday and love on two very special little people.