Being his mom..

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In February of 2009 on Valentine’s day, I called Tim at work and told him that I was pregnant. Five months of doctors telling me I’d have to have a special surgery if I ever wanted to have kids and I was pregnant. On September 26, 2009 at 1:05am, one year and five days after we lost Gracie, my son was born. Braiden Dane Mitchel Jackson. When we’d found out I was pregnant we laid in bed one night with the big window open and we looked up at the sky from our little apartment to talk about baby names. I have two cousins that I grew up with. They were always like my big brothers and when we were kids we were super close. So I said Brandon Michael.. then I realized that I’d married into the Jackson family and refused to name my son Michael Jackson in a time when everything in the news was so horrible about the man. If I couldn’t have Michael, I couldn’t play favorites and have Brandon. “Well Braiden is nice… and we could go with Mitchel.” And just to make my child’s life complicated we gave him two middle names because my Husband and his father have the same middle name. So in a creative way, I still claim that he’s named after my cousins. ;)

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When I held Braiden for the first time I knew I was a mom. I saw his face (as ugly as it was that first moment) and I knew that there was nothing in this world that I wouldn’t do for that child. I remember that first morning after everyone left and Tim went to get us some food, I had time alone with my son. I held him, rocking him in the rocking chair and I knew that everything happens for a reason. God never shuts one door without opening another. Maybe Tim and I weren’t ready to be Gracie’s parents. If we’d had her we would’ve never had Braiden, and I couldn’t imagine not having Braiden.

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This past July we were given his Autism diagnosis and I saw my husband cry for the sixth time since I’ve known him. From Atlanta to Macon Tim blamed himself but then we got home and laid in bed with our son. That’s still our son. That’s the same kid we refused to name Michael Jackson. That’s still the same kid who’s first real word was “HEY!”. That’s still the same kid that said the word “Six” for a whole year. That is still the same kid who makes my heart melt when he says “I love you more” when he goes to bed at night. Yes, he has to have speech and occupational therapy. No, I don’t always understand what he’s saying to me. Yes, it is frustrating when the whole world is watching me calm my child down from a meltdown and thinks that I need to just spank him to teach him a lesson. No, its not easy knowing what he needs or what is making him panic. All of that is motherhood. I am a mom. I’m blessed to be a mom. I’m even more blessed to be his mom.

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So today isn’t just “Happy Birthday, Braiden!” In my eyes. Today is “Congratulations on your five year anniversary of becoming parents.” Every day I’m reminded of how hard it is to be a mother. The things that women give up for their children, the friends you find out were never friends because they disappear when you have kids, the high fever nights, the missed dinner dates, the financial troubles, every single little thing that we do to be there for our kids. Right now at the age of five I’m the center of my child’s universe. He’s happy to see me when I pick him up from school, he wants to cuddle with me when he’s sick, he wants me to sing to him before bed, he wants me to color and do crafts with him. I know that in a few blinks of an eye he’ll be too big for my lap, too cool for my hugs, and his night light will be a distant memory, but I’ll still be his mom. I get to be the proud woman who cheers him on in everything he does. A lot of people don’t really understand my excitement over little things, but I’m learning that every improvement is a step in a good direction. So if saying “Hello” to someone without being told to do so happens, I’m ready to throw a party. And ever since Tim and I decided that he is going to be our only one, its made every little improvement that much more to celebrate.

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Braiden,

You are amazing. “You are kind. You are smart. You are important.” I know to you the world is bright, loud, odorous, and sometimes painful. I know that I ask you to slow down a lot, I know I ask you to repeat yourself a lot and I know that you hate it when I try not to help you do something as simple as putting your socks on to see if you can do it yourself. I want you to know that I’m not perfect. I honestly don’t know how I’ve gotten you this far in five years. In truth it took me over four years to find out why I had so much trouble to begin with, for that I’m sorry. I do think you’re daddy and I are doing better though. We don’t have to discipline you as much because we’ve learned how to understand you and how to make you understand. You’re speech has improved so much and you are learning that even a few words are better than whining.

Its hard. Its so hard sometimes, but I want you to know that you are worth it. One hundred bad days are worth surviving for one hundred good minutes. I promise you that I will continue to stand up for you, fight for you, and be there for you even if you don’t want me to be. I will keep reading, studying, trying to understand what makes life better for you. For almost five years I’ve stumbled in the dark thinking that I was a horrible mother because I couldn’t make you talk, eat the right food, put on your socks, or teach you to ride a bike. I’m slowly learning that there are somethings that you just have to take your time learning some things. I focus on the things you’re amazing at doing like making things from play dough, putting together puzzles likes its nobody’s business, and figuring levels on games I’ve been trying to beat for months. You are strong, you are handsome, you are my son. I love you so much, I will never be able to explain what you mean to me. Just know that I’m here and I’m so proud of you and so proud to be your mother.

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My Little Puzzle Piece

In December of 2012, Dr. Vernon suggested that I take Braiden to see a childhood psychologist in Warner Robins. Braiden had just turned three that September and he still wasn’t really talking. My son was three years old and if he said ‘Mommy’ I would take a moment to thank God that I got to hear him call me that.

My baby sister went with me and they sat us in this little room alone for a few minutes before Dr. Baasin came in and talked to my sister and I about Braiden. She gave him a few cursory glances and somehow assessed that he was not autistic. Of course, Braiden was cowering in fear because doctors on are on his list of things that are bad in his eyes. She told me that he was young and probably only had a speech impediment.

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In January of 2013, Braiden started speech therapy with Miss Kayde Campbell at Developing Minds of Macon. He fell in love with her and loved going for the first few months, then he became aggressive and would scream and fight going. He would do fine during therapy and then when it was time to leave he would throw a fit again. Kayde is the sweetest person in the world, and she loves my son. I get a text about his progress, she sends me videos of their therapy sessions and she praises him like nothing in the world when he has a great day. I have never once seen this woman discourage him during a bad moment.

That trust in Miss Kayde was built and after eighteen months of speech therapy she told me that he had made some amazing improvements, which is very true. In eighteen months Braiden has gone from saying ‘Mommy’ and pointing and whining about what he needs to actually asking for things. While all the words don’t come out clearly and there are still moments of hand gestures, grunts and groans, he understands that I need words to know what he wants. Miss Kayde referred us to Dr. Rubin in Atlanta, a pediatric psychologist who specializes in autism.

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Miss Kayde and Braiden after a great Speech day.

I went home and I cried. I told my husband and he blamed me and my family for Braiden’s behavior. He absolutely refused to believe that our son was or could be autistic. That night pressed hard on our marriage and after hours of fighting and crying I thought I was going to give up. “He’s just spoiled, there’s nothing wrong with him.” “Its because your family gives him whatever he wants.” “Its because you think I spank him too much.” These are the phrases that were thrown at me the night I told my husband that we were being referred to an autism specialist.

I prayed. I cried. I vented to friends. I did a few rounds on the punching bag. I slept in my son’s room with him that night. We stayed up late watching movies, reading books, and singing songs. After I had gotten some sleep, I decided I wasn’t going anywhere until this doctor looked my husband in the eye and told him that our son was on the spectrum. Knowing that it was such a strong possibility, I changed the way I approached Braiden. If he freaked out, I tried not to get frustrated. If he wanted something I would kneel down on the floor and force him to slow down while guiding him through how to ask for what he wanted. When Tim saw that Braiden was acting better with that approach rather than us forcing him to eat things he didn’t want to eat, or him freaking out because he got the smallest little hurt, he started doing the same things.

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Because this doctor is the only doctor in our state that has this sort of speciality, we were on a waiting list to be seen in May of 2015. Luckily they had a cancellation and were able to see us July 31, 2014. When we pulled up to the building, Braiden immediately got scared because it was a hospital. He freaked out while they checked his vitals and freaked out when they put us in a room. After giving Braiden a moment to get comfortable,

The testing process for those who don’t know…

Dr. Rubin came in to meet him and Little Man freaked out. “There are no owies my hospital. We don’t do that horrible stuff here, Braiden. Here let me show you.” Then he walked out and got a small tub of play dough to show Braiden he could play. Once Braiden was comfortable, Dr. Rubin sent in a pediatrician to take Little man’s medical history as much as I could remember. We talked about milestones, first words, hospitalizations, surgeries, all down to the way he eats meals. She then did a quick neural exam, checking reflexes (Braiden couldn’t stop laughing at how she made his legs jump), watching the way he would walk and run, and made him follow her finger with his eyes.

Dr. Rubin came back in and introduced us to their speech pathologist at the center and played with Braiden for a few more moments. He watched what little man would make with his play dough, got high fives and actually got a few words out of him before he left us with the speech specialist. She talked to Braiden and did a speech exercise with him. She spoke to us about his speaking habits and the gestures he uses. After she wrote down some notes, she sent Dr. Rubin back in and he brought an occupational therapist in with him. Once again Dr. Rubin spent some time with little man and then left us in the hands of his team member.

OT just watched Braiden play with his play dough. She noted that he kept making the same things over and over again. I watched her doodle down some notes and she watched him very closely while she spoke to us about things he did at home that were repetitive in nature. It forced me to open my eyes to behaviors that had been right in front of me and the first psychologist had told me he was fine. That a diagnosis of ‘fine’ was something I clung to and in the moment I was reciting the things Braiden did like walk in circles, recite his alphabet over and over and over, or ask the same question twelve times or when he was stuck on saying the word ‘six’ for almost a year.

Three hours after checking into the office, Dr. Rubin came in and sat down with a smile on his face. “I’m going to tell you a little bit about your son.” I found this  little humorous considering that he’d known my son all of three hours, but I let the man speak. After he talked for twenty minutes and knew Braiden’s behavior better than I ever thought I could, I looked at Tim and his jaw was sitting on his chest.

“Your son is what we consider high functioning on the spectrum. He’s verbal, he’s not good at it, but he can communicate to an extent. He’s mobile, he’s got great energy, he’s happy, he’s healthy, but all the signs are there. He’s sensory impaired, meaning that he can slam his head against concrete (people that remember that??) and feel nothing, but then he can get a paper cut and you would think he got hit by a car. He smells stronger so strong stenches make him gag (its the reason he can’t go to the animal shelter to see the dogs), He hears things louder (he covers his ears when Tim plays the drums, the TV is too loud or public toilets flush). Things taste different to him so he is incredibly picky about what he eats. The starving him until he’s hungry enough to eat what you cook will not work on him, because what you cook doesn’t taste right to him so he can’t eat it. He probably eats bland things like chicken nuggets, fries, cheese pizza, mac n chess, plain pasta, bread. He’s probably really good at puzzles and has a memory like you wouldn’t believe. That’s why when you go to a doctor he thinks he will get a shot. He can recited movies and songs like its nobody’s business, but he can’t tell you what he wants to say all of the time. That frustration at not finding words or being able to explain his emotions is why he has tantrums and meltdowns. That anxiety builds up and he doesn’t know how to tell you what’s happening inside of him so it results in his form of a panic attack.”

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We are going back in February to go over his progress with Occupational and speech therapy, also to see how he does for the first half of the school year, being in a mainstream classroom rather than special education. I loved that doctor and his team. They spent time with us, they got to know my son, and they made sure through the whole process that he was comfortable and had minimal freak outs. The best part? They didn’t put my son on medications or suggest I put him on medications. His diagnosis is PDD-NOS. Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, because he shows aspects of both Asperger’s and PDD so he falls on that middle scale.

We got in the car to drive home and my husband apologized to me. He apologized for all the horrible things he said when I told him we were going to see this specialist, he cried and told me I did everything right when I was pregnant. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I gave up caffeine, I ate more veggies than he could remember, I barely ate red meat, I didn’t eat seafood. I exercised, I rested, I did it all by the book. He hugged me and told me that I didn’t do anything wrong from carrying our son to raising him and he apologized for ever thinking that I did. Tim has easier approaches to our son now. He still gives him the ‘You’re a man’ tone because we’re not going to treat him SO different, just understanding that Braiden needs things explained differently helps get the point across better.

Still with me? Still reading? Excellent. I know its long, it was even longer while time was standing still and I realized that my child’s life is going to be different than I had planned when I first got pregnant.

Now I’m able to understand why we have such bad days sometimes. Now I’m able to understand that when I’m making meatloaf for Tim and I, I’m not a bad mother for making chicken nuggets, or grilled cheese, or pasta on the side for Braiden. I’m not spoiling him, I’m feeding my child what he will and can eat. When I don’t spank him for doing wrong the first time, but talk to him and explain what he did wrong, I’m not spoiling him, I’m giving him a chance to grasp what he is doing and to fix it before I punish him for something he didn’t understand in the first place. When he had a meltdown in public and I hug him close to talk really quietly in his ear, I’m not coddling him. I’m telling him that its okay, I understand that there are a lot of people, it’s a lot of noise, and it’ll all be okay. When I want my son to look at me, people think I’m crazy because I touch my nose with the tip of my finger, but he looks at what I’m doing and then he looks at my eyes. He hears me better when he’s looking at me. If he’s not, he’s hearing absolutely everything around him and I’m caught up in the mix.

So to the people still making the comments like “You know I think he’s just doing that for attention.” “He doesn’t look autistic.” “You know you should just spank him and he’d get the point.” “He’s such a mama’s boy.” “What’s wrong with him?” My son is different. There is nothing wrong with him. The world is more clear, louder, tastes funny, and feels harsher than it does to you and to me. He’s not trying to get attention, he has my attention and he knows he has my attention. He doesn’t understand social cues like conversation between adults. We’re working on it. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or metaphors, he takes what you say literally. When you say “Hold your horses” he wants to go looking for his cowboy hat. Spanking him? I’m pretty sure that’s my business and I will do so when it is called for and not a moment before. Mama’s boy? Because I’m the one who knows him and he knows that I will fight my hardest to understand what he is trying to tell me in that moment and every other moment. I don’t know about you, but I have no problem whatsoever being that beacon of light for my child. “He doesn’t look autistic.” When you can tell me what an autistic child looks like, then that argument will be considered.

Its been a few weeks now and we’re getting into a routine where Braiden’s clothes are laid out in the morning for school, his pop tart is on the table and his juice is in the fridge. He wakes up and dresses himself (Shoes on the right feet included), eats his pop tart, drinks his juice and turns on netflix until Daddy is ready to take him to school. We get home from school and he strips down to his underwear because he doesn’t like wearing clothes (part of the sensory overload) and he’s at home. I don’t see a problem with my son running around in his skivvies at home where he’s comfortable. He has a snack, we do therapy puzzles, games, coloring, homework, singing, or he helps me sort out his toys, and he helps me cook dinner or he plays a video game while I cook (great for the motor skills). When Tim gets home, we watch a movie or have an all out wrestling match that involves tickling and a lot of S-T-O-P!! Being screamed by my son when he’s had enough. Bath time (which is horrible since he hates having his hair washed) and bedtime where I sing three songs every night to him and his dog.

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That is our routine, when people come to visit and that routine is interrupted, Braiden has to adjust. It isn’t always an easy adjustment, but we aren’t avoiding having company because life keeps happening and he has to learn how to cope with things outside of his routine. But, that being said, don’t mock my son because he has trouble adjusting. He has a certain way of doing things and you’ve disturbed that balance, instead of laughing, or mocking him, you should jump in and show him how you can go with the flow too and be a part of his life. Make that adjustment work for you both. When we go to other people’s houses, I understand that my autistic child wasn’t part of their plan for the day. I deal with his meltdowns as they come. I don’t give him his way to appease him, I explain to him that things work different at other places than they do at home. I don’t expect special treatment, I just want him to be respected because he’s still the same human being that he was on July 30, 2014 before we knew his diagnosis.

That little boy is my world. I will move hell, heaven, earth, sky, moon and stars for him. The only difference between July 30 and July 31 is my attitude about the whole situation. I’m a better mother for knowing my son’s diagnosis, not less of one. My son is amazing through and through and he has a wonderful support system. Family members and friends alike are asking me questions to better understand his diagnosis and it makes me smile when people put in that kind of effort because he means that much to him.

Please visit this site, by clicking the big red button every day you help fund Autism Research, therapy and tools for children and adults on the spectrum. http://www.theautismsite.com

Dear Mom,

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One day a year truly isn’t enough to celebrate the woman that you are. You take the title of mom/mama/mother/madre/ma all to an unattainable level. I’m broke as a joke and there really isn’t a gift on this world even the Donald Trump’s money could buy that would truly show how much I’m blessed to have you as my mother. So this will have to do.

You have spent the last twenty-six plus years of your life redefining what it is to be a mom. You’ve broken your back to make sure that my favorite cereal was in the cabinet, I had at least five brand new outfits to start school with every year, I had the birthday cake I wanted, I had dinner on the table, a roof over my head, and arms to hug me tight when I needed it the most. When I was little that’s what was expected of mothers. The protecter, the provider, the rock, you were all of those things.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t see all of that. We had our fights, our screaming matches, and our silent treatments, but through all of that you were still the best friend that will ever have. When I had my wisdom teeth cut out, you teased me for the things I said while I was waking up from the surgery and you made sure you did everything in your power to make me get better faster. When I needed a car so I could get  job, you found a way to get me one. When I wanted to start acting in school, you picked me up from late night rehearsals, cast parties, and came to every show to sit in the front row. When I got my first leading role, I dug through my pocket and book bag to find enough quarters to call you from the pay phone at school to tell you. You screamed you were so excited for me. When I went to prom, you spent hours in the store fighting about dresses with me. On my first date, you took pictures until I couldn’t see passed the spots in my eyes. When I went through my first break up, you bought ice cream and spent the night telling me it wasn’t the end of the world. When my friends needed someone to talk to, you were just as much of a mother to them as you are to me. From rest stop vacations to 2am trips to steak n’ shake, you were always focused on making your kids happy.

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Throughout my life you have taught me how to be an amazing mom. I know that I’ve got a long way to go before I have any chance of filling those shoes, but I learned from the very best. I know that one day I’ll be that amazing. Even now that I’m an adult you’re still my mother. You’re going to doctor’s appointments with me, buying me lunch when my pay check just didn’t stretch far enough, making sure I have groceries, tires on my car, clothes. You are going above and beyond the title of mom. You even take Gammy to a new level with how amazing you are for Braiden. Food, clothes, spoil grandbaby days, and just spending time with him. You taught me how to be a big sister, how to be a good mother, and how to be a good person in general. Everything in life that I’ve needed, you’ve taught me (Unless you failed the subject).

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You’re always there when it matters the most and you’re always there when it matters the least. You aren’t just there for the big moments. You were there to adjust my veil at my wedding, you were there to scream my name at my high school and college graduations, you were there to hold my hand when my son was born, you were there to take care of me when we thought I was going to have him too early. You took me to OB assessment when we got scared about every little thing. You have gone to my appointments for this thing on my head and called me every day to make sure I’m okay. If you go more than a day without hearing from me, you come to my house and knock on the door. If you’re passing my neighborhood, you call to see if I’m home. If its been too long since we’ve all been together you call all of us and plan a day for dinner at your house. You never once let us forget that we’re a family and that we stick together. You make us the family that we are. You are the reason people are jealous of the relationship I have with my sisters, because we learned it from you. Braiden is such a happy child because he isn’t just raised by me, he’s raised by all of us. You taught me that. It takes a village to raise a child and you built the best village for him to have.

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You are strong, beautiful, determined, loyal and so many other things. Webster’s doesn’t have enough words. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders and still you take the time to call your girls and ask them if you need to bear any of their weight with what you already carry. Your children know that you would give your life for them, you would sell everything own just so that we could have what we needed, and that you would move heaven and earth just to make us happy. Those are all the things that I hope I am and will always be for Braiden. What Megan will be for Emma and what Katie will be when she has children of her own. You taught us all those lessons and its why Katie is the god mother of her niece and nephew. Because we all know that we will all always look out for one another because we were all made and taught by the same amazing woman.

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So to the woman who makes us laugh, holds us when we cry, stands through the storm of life by our side, who kissed boo-boos, who made biscuits, who drove to softball practice, who gave advice, who told us we’re beautiful every day, who made sure that we knew no matter what we were loved, who we love bunches, and who is the best mom that God could’ve ever given us..

Happy Mother’s Day.

Not knowing…

Silence. Its thick. It breathes heavily. It lingers around you in those moments after an anvil has been dropped from the sky and fallen on top of you. You can’t hear your heart beat because the silence is so deafening and then those words, the words that caused the silence. “There’s a mass…”

A mass. We’re not calling it that horrible word yet because we have to wait for all those lovely tests. The blood work, MRI and.. the biopsy. These are the things you should be preparing yourself to face. Time off work for lab work. Who is going to watch the baby for the days after the biopsy while you recover? Who do you call to tell them news you don’t even know yet? Do you call them at all until you know something for sure or do you just keep it in and wait until you know good news or bad news?

So I call my husband and he’s busy at work so he can’t answer his phone, so I’m left to my panic alone. My best friend calls to ask to go out for milkshakes and I explain things to her. She’s calm and collected for my sake, but after 13 years of friendship I can hear it in her voice when she’s trying to be strong. My husband calls me back and I ask him if he’s sitting down and not working or driving. When I gave him the news and the explanation he was calm, strong. “Alright.. It’ll be okay. We don’t know anything yet. Right now its just tests and we’ll be ok. You’re gonna be fine. You know I’ll be there.” An hour later he calls me back crying telling me he’s coming home from work.

I haven’t broken down yet. It hasn’t fully processed in my mind. I’m praying for peace, strength, grace, hope and endurance. Even with just the testing and not knowing, I know I have a long road ahead. “Worry about nothing, Pray about everything.” I’m pretty much clinging to that right now. Worrying won’t make the mass go away, and it definitely isn’t going to help my pain at all.

Three weeks ago I woke up with a knot on the side of my head. Now I’ve had this happen before but I always thought that I pulled a muscle in my neck from sleeping funny. After a few days it would go away and I wouldn’t worry about it anymore. This time around it was so swollen that I spent an entire day with an ice pack on my head and it never went down. My doctor put me on a powerful antibiotic because I had an inflamed lymph-node, and  she told me to come back in two weeks.

Friday she was feeling where the swollen lymph-node had been and she said that it felt bigger than when the node was swollen. An irregular shaped mass that she felt needed to be MRI’d and biopsied. Now its a waiting game to find out what this lump is and why it wants to give me so much pain.

I’m struggling with how much work I’m going to miss with testing and child care while I’m undergoing all of this. I don’t get paid for time off, even for something as legitimate as this. I won’t lose my job, but I won’t get paid for the time I miss either. I don’t like my health being a reason for my family to struggle. My family is always there for me, but they struggle to and the last thing I want is to be a burden on everyone I love. So I’m praying for financial blessings of some kind while we try to plan ahead and set things aside for emergencies, but we are behind now as it is. Its just been one thing after the other and now this.

I know this is just a trial in my life that I have to get through, and I thank God I have such great friends and family to help me through it. I don’t know what the coming weeks are going to bring, but I know I can face anything.

My Forever

The week before Christmas is always a slow time for the type of work I do. After getting my work done this morning I had a bit of free time. Here lately I’ve been using that time to work on writing my books, but today I read one instead. A cheesy, heart warming, and romantic love story. Its the 9th book in a series I have been reading and it was about love at first sight and all that stuff people says only exists in novels like that. Upon finishing that novel on my lunch break I wiped the girly tears from my eyes and texted my husband to remind him of how many times I’ve fallen in love with him.

 

I was fifteen years old, and some friend and I had just finished up with praise team practice before Wednesday night service. I had seen the handsome 18 year old drummer running around, friendly as all get out and he even cut up with my friends and I from time to time. He drove an old, beat up 88 Thunderbird with no interior but he took pride in his cheap sound system. I didn’t even know that he actually knew I existed until one night after a martial arts demo for the youth, he grabbed the sai from my workout bag and started spinning them around like Raphael from the Ninja Turtles. I remember laughing when he knocked his funny bone on the chrome of the say because they were longer than he had originally thought. 

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First picture together after we started dating.

That Wednesday night service was about to get started and that teenage boy sat behind the drums just warming up and enjoying himself. Service started and we sang and when we all got seated we started talking about purpose. The youth leader pointed at that clone drummer and asked him what his purpose was and in a voice of conviction he answered, “I’m gonna be a married math teacher.” It was adorable, funny and at the time he was dead serious. I had actually talked to him for the first time that night about why he thought that was his purpose. He said he was good at math and it was easy to talk to people, it just fit for him. We started to chit chat a lot more often after that and he’d watched as my first love and first heart break occurred. 

I was invited to a prom party, along with the rest of the youth group, to an after prom party at the pastor’s house a few weeks after my first real breakup. My ex would be there with his new girlfriend, who at the time had been my best friend, and I didn’t want to go. A few friends had encouraged me to go and had fun and that drummer that I’d developed such a crush on had shown up. I talked to him for a little while about what was going on, and luckily my ex never showed up. A couple of friends, me and my new crush all sat outside on the swing and he made his goal that night to make me laugh. 

My husband asks me all the time when I fell in love with him, and if you were to ask me that question now, I would tell you it was that night. We weren’t close friends, we weren’t dating, but he still made his purpose that night to put a smile back on my face. And I spent the next few hours laughing and smiling at him being a complete dork just because he was determined to keep meeting that goal. 

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                              That special smile.

A week or so later was another warm up for another Wednesday night service. I was with a group of friends and I saw that boy on the drums again even though practice was over. I remember pointing to show my friends who I was looking at and smiled. That same conviction that had laced his voice when he spoke of teaching math was matched in my tone when I told my friends, “I’m gonna marry that boy one day.” And a week later, he left for college in another state. 

Three years later I had moved into a dorm room and on another Wednesday night my sister called me. “You won’t believe who is playing drums at church tonight.” Just like that night at the prom party, he was making me smile and he didn’t even know it. “Give him my number and tell him to call me. I’ve missed him.” Two days later I got a phone call. 

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Sometime after midnight on September 10, 2006 my cell phone rang. “You remember me telling you about Rob, the guy who lives across the street from me?” This was an odd way for him to start a conversation since over the last two months every time he called me it was for dating advice. We were like best friends talking at odd hours of the night about some girl he wanted to take out to dinner and how he loved having a girls opinion on the matter. Of course I was still crushing…no I was in love with him at that point already. It hurt so bad listen about how he planned to take a girl out on a date, and I was a horrible person who rejoiced silently on the other end of the phone when he called to tell me he’d gotten stood up, or the girl wasn’t what he thought she was. “I was sitting with Rob and he was telling me how you look so hard for something and most of the time its sitting right in front of you…I want to take you out to dinner tomorrow night.” And just like he gave me my smile back again. 

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One year and some months later on another Wednesday afternoon, he came and picked me up from campus to take me to a late lunch since I’d been in classes all day. He took me to my favorite restaurant and when dessert came out, a beautifully simplistic diamond ring sat on top of my favorite dessert….

 On yet another Wednesday night on September 10, 2008, I walked down the aisle with a sister on each arm towards that blonde haired, blue eyed drummer with the beat up 88 Thunderbird and a mouth that talked way too much. 

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That night when we walked into our small one bedroom apartment, my husband turned around and tapped his finger against the tip of my nose and said “Welcome home, Mrs. Jackson.” And there that smile was again.

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The last year has been hard for the two of us. Everyone says that the seventh year that a couple is together is the hardest, but if you can just get over that bump you’ll be fine. My husband infuriates me, drives me crazy, aggravates me to no end and there are times when I doubt that things will work out. The words “Marriage is hard work” are no lie, but that is hard work I would rather do with no one else than that blue eyed lunatic who drives me up the wall. Even with the rough times we’ve had over this last year, I know that they are rough times I wouldn’t have made it through with anyone else.

Don’t Blink.

In a little more than a week, I’ll be celebrating my son’s fourth birthday. Another moment of writing struck me and I just couldn’t go on with my day until I’d writing this one out.  

Valentine’s Day 2009, after months of trying to prove doctors wrong and starting a family with my husband, I saw that magical positive sign on a drug store pregnancy test. I remember laying my hand on my stomach and telling my child ‘I already love you.’ I remember sitting on the floor and crying tears of complete happiness and thanking God for finally answering that specific prayer. I remember calling Tim at work and making him almost faint. I remember calling my mom & sisters and thinking I’d have to replace the speaker in my phone because they screamed so loud with excitement. What I remember more than anything is how I immediately began talking to my baby. As soon as I knew he was in there, the most important thing in my life became letting him know how much he was loved. 

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In April of 2009, I started to feel those little flutters of movement. My baby was growing and moving. I read him books, I sang him songs (which I still apologize for subjecting him to such torture), I told him about his daddy and Gracie, and I told him how loved he was already. In mid-April we went for our 3D ultrasound. We got there and realized we’d forgotten to stop and get cash to pay for it and the woman didn’t take debit cards. Tim had to run across the street to the gas station before they would start our ultrasound. He was so frustrated, he told the woman, “It better be a boy after all that.” We all laughed and she started the ultrasound. My husband has three sisters, I have two sisters, and no one expected me to be pregnant with a little boy. Tim and one little old lady from the church he grew up in were praying for our child to be a boy. I’ll never forget the moment the tech let Tim know he was getting a son. 

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Tech: “Well daddy, I think you got your wish.”

Tim: “What?” *grabs the nearest sturdy piece of furniture to keep from falling*

Tech: “Yep, that’s a boy.”

Tim: “What…? Its-a…its a boy? I-its a boy. Oh my god its a boy…baby its a b–I need to sit down.”

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I had always said when I had kids, I wanted my first to be a boy so that any other children I had would have sometime I never did…a big brother. I called my mother as soon as we left the office and told her we were having a boy. “I don’t believe it. I need proof.” So we went to her house to show her the DVD and up until Braiden was born she told Tim that there was a chance it could still be a girl. So every time we got an ultrasound after that Tim would ask the doctor if we were still having a boy. 

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We laid in bed that night talking about names. I had two boys in my life growing up. My two cousins who were the closest thing to brothers I ever had. I wanted to name my son after both of them. I suggested ‘Brandon Michael’ and Tim and I both loved it, but I soon remembered our last name and refused to name my child ‘Michael Jackson’. In the name of fairness if I couldn’t use both names I wouldn’t use one over the other. “Well, what about Braiden Mitchel instead?” The name just clicked. It felt right and then Tim made the argument that it was our first son and his dad’s middle name was Dane and so was his. Then our crazy two middle name idea was born. Braiden Dane Mitchel Jackson. Yes I know Mitchel is usually spelled with two l’s but we wanted our son to be different.

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In July of 2009 I went into preterm labor. I was at my job at GEICO speaking to a rather unpleasant policy holder. The call was so stressful, I was hormonal, and the next thing I knew I was having contractions. I transferred the call to my supervisor and told him I had to go. I drove myself to ER and had Tim meet me there. I was so scared that I was going to have my baby too early. He wasn’t due for another three months and I knew he wasn’t ready. I spent a week in the hospital with the doctors making sure that I didn’t go into labor and if I did they made sure that Braiden’s lungs were inflated. Thankfully, my son decided to wait. Though he did try several times after that with false labor, and constantly using my ribs as leverage to try and escape.

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When we got home from that little scare, daddy started getting things ready, pronto.

 

September 26, 2009 at 1:05am my 5lbs, 10.2oz little angel made that first amazing little squeal. His eyes wide open and his nostrils flaring like mine do when I get mad. All I could do was cry and say “Hey Baby.” over and over again. My mother was the first to hold my son. Tim refused to hold the baby before I did because he said I had wanted it for so long he wanted me to hold him first. The doctor wouldn’t let me hold my baby while the went through the medical attention I needed after the birth, so my mother stood there with my wide eyed little boy looking all around wrapped in her arms. 

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I’ll never forget the moment that I got to finally hold him. He was so ugly, my little ET baby, but he was also the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I had waited so long to see him and finally he was in my arms. I could hear Papa’s voice in my head, “Make sure you count those fingers and toes, if he’s missing any we’ll have to return him.” I traced my fingertip over the bridge of his tiny nose, those soft cheeks, his eye brows and over that tiny little mouth. I pulled the swaddle blanket open and counted his fingers and toes, and I laid my hand over his chest to feel his heartbeat. That heart beat that I’d only seen as a blip on a TV monitor or heard over a sonogram. Now I felt it under my palm and I had my son in my arms. 

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I’m a very blessed individual, as is my son. When they say ‘its takes a village’ they aren’t kidding. I know that single moms raise amazing kids and do a fantastic job of it all the time. God bless those moms. My son has two parents who love him more than anything in this world, but he also has a godmother/aunt that would give up anything just to spend a few hours with him. He has an aunt who brings home bubble wrap from work and covers her entire living room with the stuff and then asks Braiden to come help her pop all of it. He has a Gammy who will kidnap him just because she can. He has a Nana who likes to take him to Golden Coral just to see him eat a drum stick and get mac n cheese all over the place. He’s got a grandma and grandpa who let him play with goats and chase the poor cat until she’d sick of him. I never have to ask for help with my son because there’s always someone who WANTS to kidnap him. And he’s the happiest kid in the world because he’s got so many people that love him and show it. 

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Four years. Four short years have already gone by. My son is near four feet tall, sandy blond hair just like his daddy and I both had at that age, and my blue eyes. Yes MY eyes. *Sigh* I wanted my children to have those Jackson eyes, but my son is the only Jackson NOT to get them. Through that first week in the hospital, speech problems, potty training madness, bumped heads, skinned knees, bug bites, sunburns, day care drama, and countless tears, my son is an unstoppable force. Smarter than I ever could have hoped, and a smile that brings joy to me even in my most stressful moments. There are times when I believe that when God said, “Alright, its time to give her a child.” My Papa overheard and walked up to God, (yes I think my papa would be so brave as to make a suggestion to God himself) and said ‘Please Lord, give her that one.” and pointed at Braiden’s spirit. 

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I know the next time I blink, I’ll find myself at the the end of the driveway watching him ride away to his senior prom. Its amazing how fast the time goes, and while I want to freeze every moment and keep him little, I can’t wait for each new moment that he makes as he grows. That little boy is my heart, and being his mother is the greatest honor God could have ever given me. 

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Happy Birthday Monkey Man, and thank you for always giving me something to smile about.

Reflective Moments on Our Marriage

On September 10 I will be celebrating five years of marriage with my husband. People often see us together, laughing at and with one another. They see the mushy ‘I love you’s”, they hear him bragging about how much he loves me, see me bragging about how amazing he is to me. Everyone thinks that we just have this perfect relationship and I have been asked how we do it. In all honesty we are far from perfect.

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I remember when we first got married how we had been together for two years and had only had one real argument. We even thought we were the perfect couple because we were always open and honest with one another. We never hid things from each other, and we always told each other how the other felt about something. I remember thinking our honeymoon phase would last forever, and we’d never fight and always be madly in love and living the fairy tale.

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Life doesn’t work that way. While Tim and I have an amazing relationship, its unnatural for a man and a woman to live in the same house for so long and remain this happily ever after picture perfect facade. I learned quickly the differences between the two of us in that first month of marriage. We both came from completely different worlds where the house got cleaned differently, the TV schedule was different, even the way we sat down to have a meal was different. Tim and I quickly found out that while we were dating and engaged and all that time we spent together, we had never found any common ground except for how crazy we were about each other. To this day the only things Tim and I have in common are we both listen to Linkin Park, our son, our dogs, and we are still crazy about each other. That’s it. Everything else we ever do is a compromise. I love to make home cooked meals, Tim would rather have microwave dinners. (Yes I can cook, he just doesn’t like home cooked meals.) I love to dance, Tim would rather just listen to music. I love the experience, Tim love the materials. I hate horror movies, Tim will only watch a movie if its scary or gory. I love to read and write, Tim would rather pick on me for being a nerd. I love to travel (when its not for work purposes.) Tim would rather sit at home. I like to cuddle, Tim likes his space. I like to save money, Tim likes to spend it. We have nothing in common.

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In spite of all that, I can’t sleep at night unless he’s next to me. I will sit through an idiotic movie with him just to spend time with him, and then I’ll force him to watch a movie that I like to get back at him. We lay in bed at night and watch Fail Army videos on youtube just to have time at the end of the day to laugh together. We even have a quiet time at some point during the week where we do a devotional of some kind. We have our moments where we find that common ground where we both remember why it is we chose each other. I think without those moments we would fall apart.

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Five years ago I remember thinking we would never fight, we would be that happy perfect couple forever. We were planning on adopting a little girl and were already in love with the idea of being parents to a baby that needed to be saved. A few weeks after we got married, we found out about Grace’s mother aborting her and I was broken. What I had seen as being this perfect happily ever after got shattered after only the first few weeks of newlywed bliss. You can ask anyone, the day that I got that phone call, “Are you ready to be a mom?” I was jumping up and down the street in front of my mother’s house in tears, balling like a baby because not only was that baby safe from a horrible fate, but in a few short months I was going to be rocking her to sleep and telling her that I was her mommy. And then a few weeks later I read a blog from the mother on myspace about the details of what she went through during her abortion. She didn’t’ call me, didn’t warn me, in fact I was blocked from reading the blog a family member had seen it and knew that I was still preparing to bring that little one home, she sent me a copy of it so that I knew. That was the first time during our marriage that Tim and I suffered a loss together. When we were first dating he helped me through the loss of my Papa, but this was the first time we’d lost someone together, because even though Tim was terrified of becoming a parent, he was heart broken when we read that blog and found out our little one was taken away in such a horrible way.

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I got promoted at work a few months after that and my job became a lot more stressful. I’d come home in snappy moods. His work schedule had changed so he was sleeping while I was working and he was working while I was sleeping. We had lunch together every day, but that was about as much as we saw of each other. That November I was told that I couldn’t have children, and I thought we had lost our chance at being parents after Grace, which led me into another breakdown. I had grown up the big sister of two younger sisters. I had always seen myself as a mother and to find out that I not only would I not be able to have my own children, I’d already lost the child I was going to adopt. It was just a painful experience. That was when Tim said he didn’t care what the doctor’s said, we were still going to try and get pregnant. He had told me time and time again that he didn’t want to have a kid yet, that losing Grace had been God’s way of telling us to wait. But when he saw how bad I wanted to be a mother and then to see it taken away from me, he swallowed that fear. We prayed and prayed and every time the pregnancy test said negative I would have an hour to myself where I just prayed and cried while he was at work so that he wouldn’t see.

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On valentine’s day I had gone to the tag office to renew my car tag and there were a lot of issues that came up.  Things that would normally just annoy me to the point of giving up and trying again later, but I ended up crying and calling my mother. She heard how emotional I was over something so simple and told me to take a pregnancy test. I didn’t want to see that negative sign again, on such a rough day the last thing I needed was something else to cry about, but I drove to walmart anyway. In the parking lot I fixed my tear stained face and I prayed. In that moment God gave me these softly whispered words, “You have to prepare your field if you’re going to pray for rain.” I’d heard it before in a movie, but those words laid on my heart as I walked through the store. I grabbed a pregnancy test and then went over to the baby isle. That day I bought a pack of newborn diapers, a package of white onezies, a cheap diaper bag, and a teddy bear along with my pregnancy test. That day I got a positive sign and I cried more than I did any of the times that I saw a negative sign put together.

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The next nine months were a struggle. I had a very complicated pregnancy, my job stressed me out so much that I was put on bed rest for the last three months of my pregnancy, and Tim’s income was all we had. Financial burdens are one of the most stressful strains put on a marriage in my opinion. The only time Tim and I ever fought during those days it was always about money. Something that matters so little and so much all at the same time nearly broke us.

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When Braiden was born, we fought because neither of us were getting enough sleep. As he got older we fought about how to raise him; if we’d spank, if he’d believe in santa claus, would we do day care or would I stay at home, how would I go to school. All things we should’ve thought about before we’d got pregnant I know, but we’re different. We brought those problems on ourselves by not planning ahead, but we made it through every single one. We still fight but its never in front of Braiden. Even when we’re fuming and ready to scream and holler at one another, we always take it outside, to our room or wait until Braiden is asleep if we know there’s no way either of us are going to be calm. We don’t fight in front other people, we don’t even talk to other people about our problems. We agreed a long time ago that if we had an issue that it was our issue and no one else’s. Yes we each have someone that we can vent to when we don’t want to vent to each other, but we trust those people not to judge us or butt in, they’re just there for us like we’re there for them. That’s where that happy, perfect, just right for one another picture comes from, because I don’t like people to witness my failings or our failings as a couple.

When Tim’s grandparents passes away about a year apart from each other, I saw my husband broken for the first time. When we lost Gracie he’s been upset, and to this day he still has nights where he lets a few tears fall for the daughter we never knew. But when his grandpa passed away Tim barely spoke to me for a week. The day of Grandpa’s funeral I felt how Tim had felt when my Papa died. There was nothing in the world I could do to make it better for him. I knew that. I remember Tim holding me while I cried at Papa’s grave a month after he’d passed away. A few weeks after Grandpa passed Tim called me in tears because he couldn’t find Grandpa’s grave. He’d been walking through the cemetery for hours and hadn’t found Billy and he was devastated. I drove out there with Braiden and helped Tim find the gravesite where I watched my husband crumble in emotion, something I had only seen twice and that was that day and the day Braiden was born. The day Pat died Tim disappeared. He wouldn’t answer his phone. I was at home with Braiden and Tim had just left after we’d gotten the phone call. I heard the truck crank up and then he was gone. After a couple of hours I got even more worried and Braiden and I went riding around. We went to Pat’s house, Tim wasn’t there. Drove all over town and couldn’t find him or get him to answer his phone. He came home later that night, and the raw emotion on my husband’s face broke me. He said he’d gone out to Grandpa’s grave and then went for a walk along the river to clear his head. As stupid as it sounds we fought that day, because I felt so hurt that he would disappear like that and leave me at home to worry about if he were coming home or not. It was a petty reason to fight and I felt awful for it, but we did and for another week we knew nothing but silence and the ‘I love you’ before we went to sleep.

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In the last seven years I’ve learned that I’m in love with one of the most aggravating men on the planet. A man who will make a joke about absolutely anything. A man who would rather me buy him a video game than give him a hug. A man who will teach my son to love frogs and bring them to mommy because she will run out of the house screaming like a lunatic. A man who will buy my son nerf guns and teach him to practice shoot foam darts at mommy because its fun. A man who will pick on my about the way I breathe just to get on my nerves because he likes the way my nose flares when I get mad. A man who won’t even read this blog that’s completely about him because its too long and he doesn’t like to read even when I’ve poured my heart into it. A man who won’t read the sweet things I post on Facebook about him because he hates Facebook. A man who calls me beautiful when I’m in boxers and a tank top with my hair pulled up in some weird looking bun and my glasses on my face. A man who will say ‘hey gorgeous’ and time he answers the phone for me. A man who will stand toe to toe with my mother (Who is the scariest person I know). A man who will go get my name, our wedding date, our wedding vows, and our ‘forever and a day’ phrase tattooed on his body just because he couldn’t think of anything he wanted with him more permanently than me.

So, five years of being married to someone who makes me shake my head more than I could ever imagine…its not perfect. Its not a fairy tale. Its not always fun or easy. There are tears. There is screaming. There is anger. There is sadness. There are bad days. So many imperfections, and yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I love my husband and all our many screw ups because while love and trust are the foundation of our relationship, those flaws and arguments….they are the cracks in the walls, the stains on the carpets, the broken shutters on the windows that give our story charm and appeal. Who wants perfection? Perfection is boring. Happily ever after is unexciting. Normal is stupid. What we have is so much better than the fairy tales, because its real and its going to last forever.