The Wait is Over

After nine months of hopping from house to hotel to house to hotel, we are finally back in our own home! It seems surreal to even say that. I actually don’t even believe that it can be true because we have been out of this home for so long.

We left our house on June 30, 2020 for a small family trip to Chicago so that my husband’s Abuelita could meet her great-grandson (even if that meant we stood at the front door threshold, fully masked). COVID-19 had robbed her of so much joy. She loved being with her family and her great grandchildren brought her so much happiness, but this awful pandemic stripped those visits away from her and we knew she was physically, emotionally, and mentally feeling the toll.

Our plan was to drive straight through to Chicago—18 hours—and not stop except for the bathroom so as to limit any exposure to others. Nico is an all-star road-tripper, but my Maxo…not so much. I knew I wouldn’t get lucky twice. Let’s just say the last 4 hours were what I imagine entering the gateway to Hell to feel like. I always find it so incredibly fascinating when I worry more about Nico (out of habit) and it is my neurotypical son who has me pulling my hair out and praying to St. Jude. They really need to create travel size St. Jude candles, in my opinion. That sucker would’ve been lit the whole way.

Any who, we made it safely and were only planning on staying a short time since it was in the midst of COVID and there could be no grand family reunions or gatherings. Just a modest visit so Abuelita could lock eyes on her newest family treasure. Thankfully, she had her moment with Max (and Nico, of course, who she missed terribly and was overjoyed to reunite with as well) and cherished every minute of it. I knew how crucial it was for her to meet Max. I felt it was worth taking the extra precautions and wading through the risks and I will forever be thankful we made that tough call because she passed away two months later. Just one of the many extreme let downs of 2020. Thank God for photos and photographic memories. We will always remember our visit with our sweet Abuelita.

This quick visit to Chicago; however, actually turned into a two month staycation and signified the start of our insanely difficult journey towards getting back into our home. We never came back to our home after returning from Chicago and I haven’t slept in my own bed until last night. Almost 9 months later.

I was beyond petrified that this displacement was going to throw Nico for the biggest loop of his life considering he had already dealt with a completely dysfunctional last half of the school year, had to say goodbye to his cousins in Chicago, who he had lived with for basically the whole summer and are his best friends, and was now going to have to resume virtual schooling again after a two and a half month hiatus because we chose not to send him back to his elementary school for in-person learning.

But, I think my sweet boy should’ve been more worried about his mama since I was the one having the mental meltdowns on the daily while he seemed to be, for the most part, taking each day in stride. He had moments of struggle, but nothing like what I had anticipated which tells me that this kid of mine is making monumental gains on his quest to make sense of how to live with Autism.

I laid in bed last night and literally thought back to the many months that we were displaced from our home and how taxing it was. Yet, I could not help but think about all the amazing moments that were created from this insane series of unfortunate events. It’s like what they say about childbirth…no matter how difficult it may have been, when they put your baby in your arms all of the pain and exhaustion seem to just disappear. That’s how I was feeling in that moment laying in my bed.

All I thought about were the milestones that my sons made individually and together over these 9 challenging months:

-Nico sang karaoke to his favorite songs using the microphone Santa brought him. Initiated it with us and everything. He knew every single word.

-Max took his first steps and has not stopped moving ever since. He walked a month after his first birthday so not too shy of when his big bro took his first steps which were on his actual first birthday. Stairs are Max’s favorite part of any house…lucky us.

-Now that Max is mobile, Nico finds him so much more fun and they have become best buds. Max lights up whenever Nico gives him any attention and Nico flies off the couch whenever he hears Max wake up from his nap. He even says to us, “Let’s go get Bro-Bro!”

-And speaking of Nico talking more, his verbal communication is exploding. I know it’s because of Max which just melts my heart. He talks the most to him but that’s also because Max tends to invade Nico’s personal space a lot so Nico is having to set some ground rules: “No, Max.” “Don’t touch that, Max.” “No biting, Max.” Calm down, Max.” And my favorite… “It’s time for nigh nigh, Max.” Ha!

-Max is talking too and he can use sign language to communicate when he wants more of something. He tells us when he is all done, when he wants to be picked up, he knows how to say “Dada” (insert eye roll), and is trying to recite the alphabet with his Bro-Bro. He may not be saying “Mama” yet, but he shoots me this smile that I know is reserved just for me.

-Max drinks out of a sippy cup and will eat basically anything we eat. Thank you, Jesus! No more packing a separate bag of food for another kid. This one can order right off a menu!

-Nico has learned to share so well and is so patient. Max can be a handful and constantly wants all of Nico’s things, but my sweet boy willingly shares with his brother and does not respond in kind when Max bites, hits, kicks, or pulls his hair in protest after being asked to give Nico back his toys or books. There may be an occasional knock down or a swift grab and go, but for the most part Nico just gives me a look like, “Ummm…are you going to handle this?” when Max gets unruly.

Nico is the most social he has ever been and constantly wants to go outside to play. My Neeks has never really asked to go out and play. He has always been content to just sit in the house with his books and his iPad, but ever since Max has come into his life Nico wants to play outside with his little brother.

So, although these last 9 months were agonizing in so many ways, from sleepless nights and thinning hair to the testing of my patience and my marriage, I came home to my renovated first floor with my heart full and an endless amount of hope for Nico’s communication growth. Plus, Max gets to enjoy his home from a brand new perspective since he was 8 months old when we left it and now he’s a year and a half and capable of enjoying so much more of it…and with his big brother!

So Much Love

Valentine’s Day takes on various meanings depending on who you talk to, I’ve learned. For me, when I was dating my husband, it meant so much and if he wouldn’t have recognized the day in some way there would’ve been a few tears shed and some unanswered calls. Good thing for him, I could always be swooned by a sweet card. But now, with two kids in tow, V-Day is just another day for my husband and me to recognize how much love we have for each other, for our boys, for our family, and for all we have celebrated in our lives together. And because this Valentine’s Day 2021 is coinciding with a historic deep freeze that has taken the whole state of Texas hostage, I have had lots of time to reflect on everything I love and want to love forever. So, this is my shoutout to all things-LOVE:

1. I love that much of my life involves my husband in one way, shape, or form and we have such a great, storybook-like history and romance. And, we celebrate a day even grander in February than V-Day and that is our wedding anniversary.

2. I love that Nico just had the BEST haircut experience, to date, this weekend and not only does he look so handsome, but we have video to prove how much progress he has made these last five years.

3. I love that my Max eats Valentine’s Day treats so at least one of my kids will enjoy cookies and sweets when family and friends drop them off. Nico isn’t quite there yet, but slap a heart sticker on a box of Goldfish crackers and he’ll be swooning too.

4. I love that my dad still finds joy in buying Valentine’s Day cards and now he can buy them for his grandsons and fill them with little goodies for their piggy banks.

5. I love that I no longer feel the pressure to get dressed up and wait for hours for a dinner reservation when my husband is just as excited to have a home-cooked meal and a great bottle of wine at home.

6. I love being able to dress the boys up in red; they look so good in it with their dark hair and brown eyes. I know…I’m biased.

7. I love that I’ve always bought my Nico books for V-Day and he would memorize them cover to cover after I would read to him, but now when he gets a book he can actually read it to me…all by himself!

8. I love waking up on Valentine’s Day knowing that my husband is going to be a bit more charming, just to be on the safe side, since it is the day of all days to show the mother of his children (who endured countless hours of labor with one and a painful C-section with the other) lots of love and affection, especially since he is obsessed with his boys and did I mention he got his BOYS? #itsrainingmen #boysmom

9. I love all the social media posts from my friends and family showcasing love for their significant others. It’s nice to be witness to all that genuine love.

10. I love that my Mom loved to bake because Valentine’s Day always give me the best reason to bake up a storm. This year I went for a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.

11. I love the friendship that Nico and Max are building and how it seems to be growing Nico’s language in miraculous ways. It still blows my mind every time I hear Nico say, “Max is up…let’s go get Max” or any other full sentence he says all on his own without any prompting.

12. I love the way both my boys’ eyes light up each time they smile and how I can see my Mom shining through in these briefs moments. They may look like their daddy, with eyes I can get lost in, but those smiles are reserved just for me and are a sign that she’s always with me.

13. I love that my boys are surrounded by such tremendous love. They see it and feel it and know exactly what it is. My boys know who love them because those people are the ones who always show up for them no matter what.

14. I love that my boys know how to show love. They express it and accept it unconditionally. I was worried when Nico was diagnosed with Autism that he wouldn’t like affection or know how to express love, but that couldn’t be further from our reality. Nico shows love everyday and because he does it so well so does Max. Max adores his big brother and their bond has certainly grown in these quarantined times.

Valentine’s Day 2021 will be one of love, lounging, lasagna, and libations. Cheers to love! ❤️

For All the Firsts

I have been very antsy as of late. Christmas is less than a week away and although I have been done with my shopping for awhile now, I am still unsettled. Normally, in the past, it was because I knew that Christmas Day wouldn’t be as magical for Nico as it was for other children, or even for my husband and me for that matter. Nico never truly understood that Santa brought these amazing gifts for him and laid them under the tree, pristinely wrapped with such care, and so waking up on this day lost a bit of its luster once Nico began his journey through the world of Autism.

He didn’t pay attention to the presents under the tree just waiting for him, nor would he rush to open all of his other gifts when everyone was doling them out at our family gatherings. He was content to just play in a corner somewhere with his little knickknacks in his own world. Meanwhile, his father and I were holding back tears and silently envying every other family whose children were ever present in these special Christmas moments with each other. It was these early Christmases after Nico’s diagnosis that made me miss my mom so deeply….all over again. I clung to this idea for so long that if maybe she was still here with us that she would have the magic touch and could transform Nico’s interest for Christmas into something magical like she always was able to do for her own children.

But, fast forward to today and Nico has grown tremendously. He understands who Santa is and that he is a special man that helps bring joy during Christmas. He also has begun to understand that the gifts under the tree have something to do with him. In these last two years, Nico has been more present with us during Christmas. He has opened gifts with eager anticipation and cheered when he or anyone around him has received a gift that was really wanted. Choosing the right gifts for Nico is a totally different story, but when it happens it’s like your life has been made because his eyes just explode with excitement and he tends to use so much appropriate language in those moments.

So, I know that the gifts he will receive this year from Santa will surely evoke the same giddy exhilaration, but I am now dealing with all new feelings of angst and discontent. And, I have been wracking my brain to determine why I can’t shake these feelings other than for the obvious reason…this awful pandemic has stripped so much of the typical joy and festivity from the holiday season. I have come to terms with the fact that there will be no large family gatherings and we won’t be opening gifts together with our family. I won’t be making a lavish Christmas dinner in my own home since we are still residing in a rental while ours is on the mend. I have reconciled with all of this, but I think what is truly affecting me this year are overwhelming feelings of sympathy, empathy and heartache.

This year has put my family through the ringer and has definitely had me longing for my mother in a way I haven’t felt in awhile, that’s for sure. But, it has also opened my eyes and heart to the thousands upon thousands of others who will be having their first Christmases without loved ones. Loved ones stolen away by this merciless virus. My newsfeed is taken over by countless stories of unimaginable loss everyday and it isn’t letting up. The deep heartache these poor, grieving families must be feeling coupled with knowing that they may not even be able to gather with their other family members for fear of compounding this loss with even more senseless loss.

The first Christmas, the first New Year’s Day, the first everything. I know these feelings of loss and longing all too well so I am here to let you know that if you are experiencing the first of many “firsts” without a parent, grandparent, child, spouse, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, or significant other…your loss is not in vain.

Your loss is reverberating across this country through every doctor and nurse who couldn’t save their patients or allow for family to say their goodbyes face-to-face.

Your loss is being felt every time someone turns on the television and is faced with the growing number of cases and increasing mortality rate.

Your loss is being felt every time someone with pure ignorance in their heart decides to walk around carelessly without a mask.

Your loss is being felt by anyone and everyone who has lost loved ones this year or in years past and longs for their presence, touch, or voice just one more time, especially around the holidays.

Everything about 2020 has brought about so much angst, frustration, anger, disappointment, and heartache, but if there is one thing I would ask you to cling to it’s this: You are NOT alone.

You truly are not alone in what you are experiencing and I don’t think there have been more than a few times in our history where, as a nation…hell, as a world, we could say just that and really mean it. So, if you can find it in yourself to pull any kind of silver lining out of your grief this Christmas let it be this universal sense of sympathy and empathy that is absolutely rippling across the world right now.

My mom has been gone for 23 years and, although I miss her everyday, time does help with mending broken hearts and finding a sense of normalcy again. It doesn’t come without a lot of tears, a need for constant embrace, an ear to listen, and words of encouragement though.

And, since this year has been so unconventional and is causing me to think of how much I wish my mother was here, I have even thought about doing something radical like jumping in my car with my boys, big and little, and just traveling to a place where we can forget all about the sorrows and struggles we’ve faced this year. We can enjoy a complete change of scenery—since nothing about this Christmas fits the norm anyway—and just recharge our mental and emotional batteries, make new, fun memories, and ring in the new year on a high note.

I encourage you to consider doing the same thing! Be bold, be brave, and create a journey of healing for yourself that will allow you to grieve, but also allow you to reflect, remember, and make new memories that can be used to help these “firsts” sting a little less.

Remember…grief has no expiration date. Feel all your feelings, but don’t feel afraid or guilty to laugh or smile or seek a bit of merriment right now. Don’t let this pandemic steal everything from you.

So, please accept this post as a call to action, a shoulder to cry on, a warm embrace, a listening ear, or the encouraging words you may need right now to get you through the next minute, hour, day, week, or month as you grieve these “firsts.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and have a very Happy New Year as we kick 2020 the hell out of here and ring in 2021 with renewed hope! And, may your loved ones Rest In Peace.