Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hiking, A Healthier Me, and Vegas, Baby!

Okay, so I know a lot of you have been wondering what I've been up to, since I obviously haven't been writing, and I'm still not ready to go back to work. To be perfectly honest (for a change, ha ha), the last post really took a lot out of me. With the exception of a few notes here and there for things I would like to write about, I really haven't written anything since. The post about Sarah's death was emotionally exhausting to write, and I have heard from many of you that it was equally as emotional for you to read. It literally took everything in me to be able to write down with any sort of accuracy the beauty and the excruciating pain of those final moments with my daughter, and I'm not entirely sure I did them justice. I just didn't have anything left after that. I spent the better part of my days in bed. On occasion, when invited, I would venture out into the world with my friends and participate as best as I can. I am unaccustomed to being a single adult in the world. I was 21 when I met my soon-to-be ex, and I immediately jumped into a ready made family with three children. I haven't focused on only myself, well, ever. So I don't really know how to be a single adult. but I am working on it.

The mornings are the most difficult for me. Sarah would leave her bed at 7 am every morning and crawl into bed with me. It has only been two months since she died, so my body is still accustomed to this pattern. True to form, every morning, no matter what time I went to bed, I wake up at 7 am, expecting my daughter to climb into my bed, all elbows and knees, with Castles and 14 of his closest friends, to nestle in next to me and afford me an hour or two more of sleep, providing of course that the little monkey is ready to go back to sleep. So, every morning at 7 am, in that dream state somewhere between asleep and awake, I still wait for her. And she doesn't come. And then I remember why. Every morning I am awakened by sadness. I roll over, try to go back to sleep, and sometimes, I succeed. I mope until I get sick of myself, and then I find myself something to do, invent errands to run, create projects for myself, anything to keep myself distracted and busy.

Lately, my favorite activity, believe it or not, has been my daily hikes/walks. Those of you who have known me for a long time can close your mouths now. I know, no one ever would use the word "outdoorsy" to describe me, but it has been my salvation, I think. It started out with a simple invitation from a friend who was doing it with a group of other friends. I have made it a personal mission to say yes to every invitation, whether I feel like it or not, because a) it keeps me distracted, and I do manage to have fun once I'm there. and b) I don't want people to stop inviting me. I won't be despondent forever, at least, I hope not! Being a Gemini, I am versatile and always up for an adventure, I'll try anything once. Except things that will get you killed, like skydiving. So, when I was invited to go hiking, I figured, why not. It will get me out of the house, I will be amongst friends, and the endorphins can't hurt. Plus, if I lose a couple of pounds in the process, then bully for me.

I think I was the most surprised at how much I really benefit from these hikes. While I am not crazy about the bugs, the sunburn, or the trail dust that lingers on your skin in a layer of grit, these trails are often beautiful, idyllic even, peaceful. The quiet is soothing, tranquil. For a moment, my mind can be still, which is a luxury I am not afforded anywhere else. I actually find myself looking forward to these hikes every week. I have been thrust into this world that I didn't ask for and I didn't want, and I am completely unrecognizable to myself. I don't know who I am anymore, but this is a good place to find out. I never in a million years thought that I would enjoy it this much, but I really do. I'm a hiker...who knew?

Look at that...how could you not find peace in such an idyllic setting? It's amazing...

The endorphins don't suck, either. I feel so much better about life when I'm active. I started planning a 3 mile walk around my neighborhood, just me and my iPod, and I have to say, I've lost ten pounds so far, and I feel great! I feel just a little less like the world has left me behind. I have come to the conclusion that if life leaves you behind, it's because you chose to stay behind. I refuse to stay behind. If this never-ending nightmare is to be my new reality, I may as well kick off my shoes and make myself comfortable. The upside to having your slate wiped clean is that you can be anything you want. The ways I used to define myself no longer apply: Teacher, mother, Cancer mom, wife. Time to figure out who I am now, on my own, when I am no longer defined by other people. Maybe that's what I'm meant to learn. Maybe I'm just reaching for a reason to continue to exist, but it's as good a reason as any.

In the spirit of reinvention and self-discovery, my good friends decided to plan a Vegas trip for my birthday, since I have never been to Vegas in my adult life. Yes, really. My parents used to trade us off there in the summer for vacations and what not when we were little, since I spent my formative years in Utah (yes, really!), but gambling, drinking, fun Vegas? Never. It was SO MUCH FUN!!!!

 My favorite picture of us in Vegas...From the left, Alex R.(whom I call Lex for differentiation purposes), Adam, Alex G., Jaime (Lex's brother, not sure what he's doing there...), Adrienne (Alex G.'s wife), Nick, Kathie, and yours truly at the Venetian!

 Sunset Station in Henderson, Nevada, where Kathie, Nick and I stayed...gorgeous!

 The Tournament of Desserts at a buffet on Fremont Street. Again, not sure what Jaime was doing there...I think he's hiding from the law. Tournament of Desserts works like this: You get every dessert the buffet offers, and you take turns sampling some of each. The one that is gone by the time everyone has had a taste (or two) is the winner. The lemon poppy seed pound cake won this round, with the banana cream pie coming in second.

I got to hang out with my friends by the pool, gamble, dance, drink, of course. I also got a tattoo, my first and only, since I never thought in a million years I would ever get one, and someone literally had to die for me to get this one! It didn't hurt as much as I thought, but it did hurt plenty, akin to early labor pains; painful, but bearable. My friend. Nichole, whom I went to school with, owns a shop with her husband in Vegas, StedFast Tattoo Parlor, and she hooked me up. They did SUCH an amazing job! My shoulder stings a little, but I am so pleased with the results. The only tears I shed were emotional, thinking about the day Sarah was born (the labor pain thing), the day she died, and how many 3/4 inch port needles they had to poke my baby with cold turkey because she was allergic to the numbing cream they use on everyone else. Come to think of it, if I were smart, I would have put some LMX on my shoulder before I went! :) But every time the pain got to be too great, I thought of her, so tiny and so brave, taking on those needles without even flinching most days, and those needles are no joke.
See that THICK ASS pointy thing on the end of the white thing on the top? That's the needle. Yes, it's that thick, sometimes longer than what's shown here. And she took it like a champ, so every time the needle pierced my skin, and I had the urge to cry, or curse, I thought of my baby. Now my skin is tender, and stings a little, like having a scrape or a sunburn, but I have a really awesome tattoo in memory of my daughter.

My awesome tattoo artist, Chris Gasca, working on my tattoo!
My righteously awesome tattoo, which I designed myself, thankyouverymuch, with the help of my very patient friends at StedFast Tattoo Parlor in Vegas! 

 For those of you who are new, and have been living under a rock for the past five years, the heart is a patchwork heart that is one of the symbols used by Lalaloopsy. Each doll has a heart on their bottom, with a a date inside that corresponds to the day of the year that the last stitch was sewn, basically made-up national holidays that correspond to the theme of the doll. For example, Ember Flicker Flame, the firefighter, was sewn on May 4, International Firefighters Day. So when I was debating what to put inside the heart, I thought of putting the date of her death, which is sort of a rebirth for her into this new life beyond the physical world. It turned out so perfectly, and I know I will love it even more once the discomfort of the healing process is over.

So ended my wonderful adventure in Vegas. I had a blast! I want to go back, like, now.

So, then comes the question of work, which is the question I get most often. Before Sarah got sick, I was a credentialed teacher who was forced to continue subbing because of the hiring freezes in most districts. My favorite school kept me plenty busy, though, and with two or three maternity leaves a year, it was okay. I loved my job. Then Sarah got sick, and it wasn't even a question in my mind. Of course, I would quit and take care of her. With the exception of a few insensitive people (most of them related to me), most people understood this decision. but now that Sarah is gone, people are wondering when I'm rejoining the work force. So here's the thing: I loved my job, I really did, and sometimes, I do miss it. Still, after everything I've been through, I just don't know if I could go back to it. I'm a different person now. I have a whole new perspective on life because I have seen some real shit happen. I have held my child as she drew her last breath. I don't know if I could go back to kids complaining about homework and how boring school is when all my child wanted in life was to be able to go to school and do what normal kids get to do. Spoiled, entitled children and their spoiled, entitled parents complaining about shit that doesn't matter, or that's their own fault to begin with, I just can't deal with it anymore. Not to mention all the bureaucratic bullshit that goes along with teaching, I just can't. I don't have the head for it anymore. Plus, during the course of Sarah's treatment, my credential expired (you have to clear it through the district that hires you, and since I couldn't find a full time position before she got sick, and I stopped trying while she was in treatment, my time ran out) and they took me off the sub list because I wasn't working. So, I could fight to get my job back, see what I could do about my credential and such, but I would be fighting for a job I'm not even sure I want anymore. More and more as I consider the possibilities, I find myself gravitating more towards child life.

Child Life is an entire field that is dedicated to keeping kids happy and entertained while they are in the hospital, as well as helping patients and their families cope with what is happening to them. The Child Life Department was INVALUABLE with a child as willful and playful as Sarah, who got easily bored, but was entertained by the slightest thing. As an elementary school teacher, I saw a lot of kids come and go, but these kids who have to fight for their lives, they are special. I know, all kids are special, but these kids are extraordinary. They are always happy, always smiling, and their parents go through so much, I really feel this is where I need to be. I know how to help these kids, because I helped Sarah through it. I know how to help the families, because I've been there myself. My unique perspective could help a lot, I think. So, I am looking into that, sooner rather than later. Being that I already have a background in education, I think it would only be a few extra classes and a test to become certified, and one of the child life specialists at the hospital suggested that I start off volunteering at the hospital so that I get a feel for it, and that's something I can get started on right away.

I know, starting a career from scratch is scary, and challenging, and not exactly bringing in anything right now and might not for awhile. But my wonderful, supportive mother has reassured me that she isn't worried about it, as long as I keep writing and I have a plan, with an emphasis on the writing. She really thinks this blog could be something. All I know is, it has kept me sane throughout this process. Cancer is a lonely business. No matter how much support you have, ultimately, only you are in your head. Only you know exactly what you feel, and not everyone understands. The very subject makes people uncomfortable and they avoid it like the plague, which is isolating in and of itself. I am in the unique position of having a life that reads like a bad country song right now. I've literally lost everything. Perhaps people are afraid of upsetting me, or perhaps they feel it's contagious, or perhaps they just don't know what to say. But I feel guiltier pretending like she never existed. I have no guilt or even sadness when I talk about her. I always talked about her before, and now that she's gone, no one does. It's not presence that hurts, it's absence. The silence in the house, the silence of my loved ones, the silence of a life at a complete standstill after such chaos. It's time to shake things up a bit, make some noise of my own. I refuse to get left behind.

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