We did something scary.

Today, I want to use the reality of a new baby in a friend group to talk about something a little deeper.

I want to talk about how to make, foster and grow these friendships so that things like this even get to happen.

So often, the biggest struggle as a mom is the feeling of isolation, loneliness and the sheer act of being alone with non-adults all day, every day.

When I got pregnant with Joey, I had a group of insanely close and loyal friends. None, and I mean none, of which had babies or were planning on having them anytime soon. Adam and I were the first ones.

What followed this was as heart wrenching as it was a blessing – those friends faded, and fast.

Not because we didn’t love each other. Not because we didn’t still want to spend time together.

Simply because life as a mom completely negates the life you had before, in all the best ways.

You come home with a baby and you are new. Your life is new, and the old ways of doing things not only don’t work, but you have forgotten how they worked to begin with.

And so, those friendships change, at first. And then they start to feel distant and not as intimate. And not long after that, you haven’t done anything with them in months and they’ve only met your son once, and he’s now 2.5. 

We are put in this terribly scary place of not only getting to know this little 7 pound bundle of non-sleeping joy, but you’re alone while you do it. And no one else around you is going through the exact same thing. And you so badly want someone to know what this feels like, but all they can do is nod their head and offer you more water, or coffee, or to hold the baby you actually don’t want them to hold. 

Getting up and changing this place I was in was the hardest thing in the whole freaking world. 

I remember the day I did it. I remember packing up Joey, alone, and doing my freaking best to make it to the gym for our 9 am workout. I had been to this exact same class pregnant, just a few weeks before this day. I was entering to familiar faces, but none were “friends.”

It was so hard. I didn’t know how to put Joey in the carrier very well. He didn’t even really like it. He spit up the entire time. My whole body hurt. I squatted and thought my innards were going to hit the floor. He cried. I cried. I sweat through my shirt and through his shirt and sweat stung my eyes and dripped down on top of his head.

I could only lift a small sandbag. Nothing like before. Where had my muscles gone?

I bled. I remember thanking myself for wearing a pad, even though I didn’t think I would need one.

And when it was over, and I felt defeated and still alone and wondering why I left the house FOR THIS, she walked over.

“You’re Nicole of Nicole and Co, right?”

Me, trying to put Joey back into his carseat, fumbling with the straps and praying he stays asleep in the process. “Ya, I am.”

“I follow you, and I hope this isn’t creepy, but you’re amazing.”

You guys, she said these words. She made the first move. 

She was the most intimidating person I have ever known. I had watched her, for months and months and months before, in the advanced class, far from my beginner/intermediate class I stuck to. She did pull-ups unassisted and lapped me when we ran. She had the most gorgeous tattoos, and eyelashes that basically hit the sky.

And now she was 8 months pregnant, in the Moms class at the gym, no longer able to do an unassisted pull-up and getting ready to pop out a child soon. Just like I had done weeks earlier.

All this to say, 2 and a half years later, I watched, encouraged, and photographed her birth her second baby. 

Her love language is touch. She purple shampoos her hair once a week. Her daughter, Madi, wakes up every night between 1 and 2 and comes to her bed. James calls me a dork, and it means I’m in his tribe, now. Zoe is her favorite dog and Ashland once knocked over Madi and almost broke her nose. She has a mole in a place she won’t talk about and her elephant tattoo on her foot is named Fiona.

Tasha was the first friend from my mom tribe, and now, I have these things to say about Kasey and Amy, too. Because we all did the exact same thing:

Did something really scary.

I went to the gym that day. Tasha introduced herself. Kasey invited us on a hike (which I flaked on… I bet she understands now). And Amy gave us advice on how to navigate the newborn days. We all sat there, on the gym floor, with brand new babies, and just started talking. 

Kasey was leaving her job to stay home. Tasha was missing her husband who was gone fishing. Amy was trying to get pregnant again. I was trying to figure out how to work in the studio with a newborn.

We had different, very different, struggles. But we were no longer alone in them.

We have not been apart since this day, and it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me (and them, I assume).

And then, after the third one of us had her second baby (I’m next, and the last one, apparently), we all gathered around and cheered her on, in the room, together, with her husband.

Because if we are honest with each other, the bond the four of us share is that close – husband kind of close – and it’s the most intimate relationships we have.

We share bodies, sometimes. In the gym, during labor, getting our eyebrows waxed and holding hands at the pumpkin patch. We know each others’ love languages and DO THEM. 

Watching Tasha give birth was the most intimate experience of my life. Even more than my own birth. The vulnerability that comes from birth now matches the vulnerability we all have together, as friends. We were, and are, raw, exposed and vulnerable, and were, and are, there for each other in every single moment of it.

This is something that, as it seems, cannot exist without having children together. At least for us. Our children, the seven of them, is what ties us. Growing them, birthing them, and raising them – together.

Tasha’s birth story is for her to tell, but she blessed me beyond words with the privilege to document the process, and share it with you. 

Scroll through the whole gallery for the sweetest little glimpse into Sawyer’s first moments earthside.

Traveling with a family

Let’s be super honest - traveling with family is a feat. Traveling with family AND small children is a bigger feat.

I’ve been brainstorming for a while about how to write a blog post featuring all the travel tips I have for families, particularly with infants, but then I had this revolutionary idea.

I should not only feature someone who knows it better than me, but we should also probably give away a family vacation.

Oh, you think I’m joking?

NOPE

I’ve partnered with a bunch of badasses this month to not only give you the need-to-know deets on how to travel with a family (internationally, mind you!), but to also give you (yes, could be you!) all the things you need to have a family vacation of a lifetime.

As we work to plan for next year, and hopefully aren’t getting toooooo caught up in the bustle of holiday season yet, something we are making a priority as a family for next year is travel.

And then I realized, I am no travel expert. Not even kind of. In fact, Joey has never been on a plane, but he rocks road trips. And I’ve only been overseas once.

So, I needed to learn. And quickly, so I can plan accordingly! Cue, my badass friend Rachel, who is not only a super seasoned traveler, but a fellow mompreneur and expert in how-to blogs, if I do say so myself.

Not long ago, her and her husband, along with her parents, and Knox (10 months old) on a excursion to Italy and it was pure EPIC. And of course, in true Rachel style, she wrote an amazing blog about it with so many tips and tricks, that I found myself taking notes faster than I could even read. She’s that good.

You can read her whole post RIGHT HERE, but here are the need-to-knows for those skimmers out there:

airplane and airport tips:

  • Depending on the age of your babe, bring lots of snacks and toys.

  • Fly an airline that helps families (KLM was amazing).

  • Make friends with the people around you.

  • Chill out and let them roam as much as they can in the airport and plane before take off.

  • Wear comfy clothes.

  • Have lots and lots of wipes.

  • If you are bringing a stroller, make sure it’s easy to fold down so it can go through security.

  • Make sure your carry ons are organized and you know where everything is.

  • Be prepared to not sleep.

tips for busy sight-seeing days

  • Be willing to take breaks

  • Wear lots of sunscreen

  • Buy Gelato

  • Have a stroller and a carrier

  • Have a blanket or something to use for diaper changes

  • Snacks, snacks, snacks

  • Bring lots of wipes

  • Have a plan for your route

general tips

  • Know that things will not go as planned, so be flexible.

  • Our child was very active, but not yet walking when we were gone, so I had to let him crawl in public places. Gross? Yes. But, I had to let him move and crawl at some point.

  • Always have snacks, diapers, and wipes. Always.

  • Have a good baby carrier that can be used for front and back carry.

  • Bring a small, compact stroller.

  • Make everything you need for the baby easily accessible and organized.

  • Ditch the schedule of naps and bedtime and just enjoy your time.

  • Stay at hotels vs. airbnbs because you are more likely to be able to get a crib and also have a bigger bed.

  • Naps: all of his naps were either in the car seat or Ergo.

  • If you’re going to Italy: Italians love babies, use it to your advantage :)

  • We packed all the diapers and wipes we needed, so we didn’t have to be stressed about buying them there.

  • We packed everything in a very organized way to make sure we both always knew where everything was.

  • If you don’t have access to laundry, make sure you bring enough clothes. We went through 2-3 outfits a day.

  • Use sunscreen!

But without further ado, I know you want to win a family vacation so you can put all this to use!

I’m excited to announce that I’ve partnered with these amazing brands to give you so many tools, gift cards, CASH and style must haves for travel. And of course, a JoJo because as we all know, you definitely need one of those for travel (more on that next week!)

Here’s what you can win:

01. $300 hotel voucher from Triphop
02. JoJo Infant and Toddler Lounger (perfect for travel) from Nicole&Co. ($119 value)
03. 3-month subscription to SCOUTbox ($114 value)
04. $250 Amazon gift card from Project Mom
05. $300 shopping credit to DiscountGlasses.com
06. Five pairs of Fuzzy Babba slippers! ($90 value)
07. A watch and bracelet set from Mon Amie ($125 value)

Giveaway closes November 17th, just in time for holiday gift giving, too!

Hustle Season - OUT

 
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Hustle season – OUT.

Thank goodness. It was long. And hard. And so wonderful. But I’ve been tired…

As Adam and I were driving home the other night from dinner, the moment I realized my hustle season had officially ended, he asked me if I could list off all the things that we did during Hustle.

And as I did, I realized that I really needed to write them down, solely so I could look back on this one day and know, “Yes you can, Nicole. Yes you can.”

I kept talking, like normal, to Adam, and when he pulled into the driveway, he looked at me and literally dropped his jaw.

“That’s so much. Even I had no idea you did that much.”

No wonder I’ve been so freakin’ tired.

But as I transition into this season of Rest, I’m feeling so excited and relieved and rested already.

Earlier, during Hustle, I reached a tipping point and almost had a burn out, but made it through. I was so disappointed when that moment hit me, and I realized I wasn’t done with what I wanted to do during my season. I felt angry, disappointed in myself, and tired. I didn’t want this to be over. 

So I kept going, and friend, it was so worth it. Because this time, when I realized I was ending Hustle, I felt HAPPY.

I felt proud and accomplished and relieved. Much better emotions than before.

I am so looking forward to this season of Rest. I have some projects, soul projects, for this season that I’m excited about. Like painting the kitchen cabinets and cooking and reading and moving my office home.

But as I wrap my own brain around all of this, I realize that there is so much I haven’t really shared with all of you, my amazing tribe! 

And while this little list doesn’t contain the entire hustle, it’s the big ones, and I’m so excited to officially share most of them.

We launched The Mompreneur LLC!

 

And though this is basically just a name for legal purposes, The Mompreneur LLC is going to be doing some pretty amazing stuff. Such as:

The JoJo infant and toddler lounger and cosleeper.

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Adam and I have designed a brand new, and pretty perfect, baby sleeper! Designed right here in our living room and inspired by Joey, of course, the JoJo is the baby sleeping secret. Similar in purpose to the renowned DockATot or SnuggleMe, the JoJo is meant to provide a safe and secure, and most importantly effective, place for baby to sleep. More details to drop soon, but this is what you need to know right now:

The JoJo will be launching next month, and will be available on our own site as well as Amazon! 

We will be giving a way a whoooooole bunch of them right off the bat in exchange for some verified reviews on Amazon, so if you want one for free, you should jump on the bandwagon HERE.

The JoJo is a safe and perfect sleeping space for newborns up to over 2 years old. We have had babies on day 1 fall asleep and stay asleep wonderfully, all the way to toddlers (Joey still sleeps in his, and our friend’s 3 year old sleeps in hers too!)

Mompreneur : The Course!

 

This is my favorite, you guys. Mompreneur : The Course is now available, and I swear, it’s the best course out there. Here’s why:

I made this course myself, from scratch, and from experience. 

I’m working with the first group of mommas now to create the rest of the course to fit exactly what every mompreneurs needs are. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will be left out.

It’s a do-at-your-own-pace, but an entire YEAR’S worth of content, of course, broken down by mompreneur seasons – Hustle, Rest, Growth and Pruning.

I am moving out of the studio in Chico and working from home full time.

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I’ve never done this working from home thing, but I’m feeling so at peace about this decision and timing. We are working on making a little office in the house and getting it all together as a serene place for me to do my thing. 

The Mompreneur Podcast

If you have been living under a rock, you may not know this. But nonetheless, it's true! Sweet Rachel and I have a podcast and it's awesome. You should listen every Monday. We're pretty funny if I do say so myself.

So, friends, that is the gist of it. And there’s A LOT of little things within all those things, but these are def the top badass things we’ve been able to do in the last 3 months.

I’m so excited to take you all on this journey with me and my little family! What a total honor.


And in case you’re a skimmer, and looking for quick links, here ya go friend ;)

Influencers

Boss Moms

Friends

St. Christopher | Jan.4th Series, Part 5

 
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There’s no such thing as moving on.

All these things, they are carried with us.

We step forward. We move toward something else.

But we don’t move on.

What we have had, it’s carried with us to the next thing.

Like baggage we can’t lose.

Like the piece of gum in the bottom of your purse, that you leave there each time it comes up to the surface.

Like the potatoes in the cupboard or the mineral tubs in the barn or the collar from your first dog, still hanging on your review mirror.

We never move on. We just move forward.

The sock doesn’t get thrown away after it’s lost its mate. It stays, in the drawer, with all the other socks, waiting until its day when it will yet again be worn, with another mismatch. 

What I would give, some days, to lose that baggage. To get off the plane and leave the airport, with no obligation to pick up the bags stored underneath.

Let them go round and round and round, until a stranger picks them up and looks for a belonging name.

What I would give, to have not written my name on those bags.

But we do. We do write our name, whether we mean to or not. We make alliances and share blood and tears and sweat and wine. And suddenly, our name is written on their luggage tag, never to be removed.

You can store the blood stained shirt in the drawer. You can wear the locket. You can put it all in a box and put it under the bed.

But someday, somewhere, it will haunt you.

It was a Saturday, and I took it off, and lay it on my nightstand. And I will wonder if something bad will happen that day. 

But my black dress’s neckline does not work with this necklace. And it’s been five years. My neck is stained from the chain, the clasp has been fixed three times, and I waited in the store while they welded it all back together each time. I cannot, would not leave it there.

And later, the dress was off and my face washed and the darkness of yet another night, safe in my home, washed over me, I did not put it back on. 

But I did not move on. It’s baggage now, that I can’t wear. Can’t touch. Can’t fathom throwing away. So it sits. On the dresser. Collecting dust and taking my attention each time I dress.

I pray over it. I pray that St. Christopher will keep me safe in my travels. That what happened to him won’t happen to me. Won’t happen to Adam. Won’t happen to Joey.

And I realize. I will never move on. It’s baggage I carry, though no longer around my neck. But the 14 karat gold pendant, I will forever bare its weight. 

Eleven

 
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“Should we be talking about organ donation?”

He stated that it was probably a little premature, but that he appreciated that I had the courage to bring it up.

Megan, our nurse that day, who had walked us back to this room to meet the doctor, had left already. I watched her as she gracefully helped my mom pull out a chair and sit down, she touched the doctor’s shoulder, glanced at my dad at slid through the barely open door.

As if from out of thin air, she reappeared, now half sitting on the table against the wall, with an entire pack of tissues in her left hand.

Ugh, the tissues. It still makes no sense to me how a hospital can carry such terrible tissues. The boxes are extra small, and the tissues, though thick, are the texture of sandpaper.

But she had no tears. Not yet, anyway.

The doctor was casual, just as he was 6 days prior in the emergency room. One ankle crossed over the other leg’s knee, worn out running shoes and a strong 5 o’clock shadow on his chin and cheeks.

His hair, wild long and gray, was being combed through his fingers, his expensive watch glistened in the fluorescent light, making my involuntarily follow the glimmer on the wall beside me.

“But what if something goes wrong?” My mom’s voice was shaky, of course, but her face was stern. Lips pursed and fingers intertwined over her crossed knees.

This was why we were even having this conversation. It was implied that something would go wrong.

The ventilator had been working hard for him for the last 6 days, and a week with a tube down your trachea is the longest a human can stand before it begins to cause a problem.

Whatever that problem was, I envisioned, seemed so incredibly minor compared to the other things we were classifying as “problems.” I stumbled with the idea of us spending more time on a decision about his throat than decisions about his brain.

Nonetheless, here we were. In this room. My dad, still silent, my mom, stern, and me. I stood, my gaze going from the doctor and back to Megan, who finally caught my stare and never let go.

“What would you do if it were your child, doctor?”

I imagine that doctors hate this question.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, I asked him. If he remembered my dad asking this question.

His eyes fell to the floor, then to the wall beside us. Blank and yellow, the same walls we walked that day back five years ago to this very room. “I do, actually. And I had an answer, but it wasn’t the one you wanted to hear.

“Your dad is one of the most real people I have ever had to work with. I was not afraid to tell him the truth, because not only was he demanding it, but you all needed to hear it.”

The truth was this: that he may not make it through the simple surgery of performing a tracheotomy. The simple act of laying him flat could be catastrophic, nevermind the transportation of him to the OR from his quiet, dark ICU room.

He had been responding heavily to noise. We kept the door closed tightly, and the room dark. We whispered when bedside, wore slippers and socks and turned off all the beeping machines. Silence, for him, was the best medicine.

This conversation was “the conversation.” The one you talk about with your family when you are working on writing your will, or after a glass or two of wine and someone asks you where you’d like to spend eternity.

It’s the conversation you have with yourself at 16 when deciding whether to put the little pink organ donation sticker on your driver’s license or not.

You probably, in your entire life, spend less time thinking about this conversation than the 5 minutes we spent actually having it.

How much longer did we want to wait? How much longer could we wait? How much longer were we WILLING to wait?

You cannot answer these questions in a hypothetical situation. You can chat about it with your lawyer all you want, making sure the right person will be appointed to make this decision for you. But it won’t be the right answer. It never is.

There’s a magic number in there somewhere, between WANT and CAN and WILL.

Our magic number was 11. Eleven days.

Come to think of it, wasn't that his motocross number?

Itty Bitty Moments

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You know those days, when you drive for hours and hours, only to spend a mere 15 minutes at your destination, and then you head back?

Growing up, and now as an adult, I tend to do a lot of this. Time in the car doesn't scare me. In fact, I really enjoy car time. Alone, with Joey, or as a whole family, car rides contain some of my fondest memories, and I always look forward to the trip.

What's even more meaningful than the car ride, though, is what happens in the moments you step out of the car for a stretch, or a snack, or a quick photo op. 

Not long ago, before we were married and really truly adults, Adam and used to take itty bitty road trips for the day, mostly to the snow. We'd just drive, and take photos, and marvel at the sites, and eat jerky and M&Ms in the car together. 

So last week, we both had an afternoon with little on our plates, so we loaded up Joey and all the snacks and headed for a drive to the snow. We had no intention of some major snow play,  no sleds or snow gear or mittens or firewood. We had muck boots and each other, and we drove until we literally could not go any further.

We literally oohed and aahed at the views. It's been so long since we've seen as much snow as there was that day, and we were giddy with anticipation of all this snow melting and heading towards our beloved river. 

Then we stopped, and it was during this itty bitty moment that these photos were captured. However, the entire day was simply magical. 

Side note – Joey isn't a huge deep snow fan, as he sunk to his chest and was blinded by the bright white that now encompassed him. But, snowballs seemed to make that much better and so we continued to tromp through and hit Daddy with a good amount of very wet mounds of white fluff.

Itty bitty moments, in the freezing cold and middle of nowhere, for a mere 15 minute snow fight. Magic. Pure magic.

Also, you guys... these itty bitty moments are ones I really really want to keep. So we've been having things printed through Artifact Uprising and LOVING IT. These little Insta books are so awesome – Joey loves to flip through them and see photos of himself. Anyway, here are some of our faves and we hope you start printing your itty bitty memories, too.

Get to know Artifact Uprising: this Denver-based custom photo goods company thoughtfully sources materials to create photo books, wall art, and other gift items. 

 

Instagram Friendly Books

Ideal for moving photos off your device and into your life, these soft cover books tout 100% recycled interior pages and a textured, matte cover.

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Wood Block Photo Prints

This rotating art display features 12 of your favorite photos set in a wood block, comprised of reclaimed pine from the Colorado forests. Perfect as a gift or to enjoy year-round, it's the ideal addition to a well-dressed desk.

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Baby Book 

The Story of You is an interactive photo journal that encourages parents to document their child's days in a meaningful way. Knowing timelines and little ones don't always mix, they've placed a focus on the everyday moments that matter most. Each book purchase includes a pen, photo adhesive, and code to create a complimentary set of Everyday Books to get you started.

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The Green Cardigan

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For some reason it’s easy for me to remember what I wore in these moments.

On this particular day, I was wearing these yoga pants from Target. They went up high on my waist and squeezed me tight. I remember because it was the umpteenth day in a row I had worn them. I was too tired to do laundry, and the sitting around in the ICU waiting room brought lots of sugary treats from the church congregation and certainly no days at the gym.

I was also wearing my green knitted cardigan. Adam calls it my grandma sweater. It’s my favorite.

I still own both these pieces of clothing.

And don’t tell Adam this, but I haven’t washed the green cardigan yet. To this day, it sits, folded on the top shelf of my closet, worn only on the days that comfort and tears are at the forefront of my emotional threshold.

Sometimes I can hear the diesel truck engine. A Ford. I can feel myself sliding out of my own seat-warmed driver’s side of my car. I can imagine painting my own home white with navy trim one day. But then I remember. And realize that I will never paint my house white with navy trim, because then I’d be back, in that parking spot in a cute neighborhood adjacent to the hospital, standing in the middle of the street. Crying. In front of the cute white house with navy trim. In my green cardigan.

Nobody could go to work. Everyone that tried, at some point or another, ended up back in those extremely stiff, faux leather seats with wooden arm rests in that ICU waiting room. What would start as an everyday morning would end late, walking from the elevator that smelled of marijuana to your car, parked somewhere blocks away, in the rain. Always in the dark.

From where we sat, there were no windows. Windows and sunlight were reserved for patients. Though, it really doesn’t seem to make sense. If the patient is asleep, and will be for weeks, maybe their families would like the window seat. They were going to sleep through the daylight anyway.

What started as a normal day for many was now a new normal for us.

It had been five days. No major news. Not out of the woods. And now, we knew, day five would be the hardest. But most could not sit for another day or more. Life was waiting beyond those tiled floors and sterile glass doors.

It was my birthday.

Not that it mattered. Not to me, anyway.

Pat and Tommy and Peter and David and Randy had all gone back to work. To their families. To their lives. All out of town. Where their lives were led and grown and nurtured and fostered and built.

These were my people. My parents when I didn’t have my own. My dad’s best friends, my other sets of families that took care of me my entire life.

Of course, they called. So often. More often than I could answer the phone. And because I was the sister, the daughter, it was my duty to keep the public informed. The extended family. The community.

It was my phone that rang and beeped and dinged all day. And I did my best to oblige.

It was my birthday. I woke up to an empty house. The first day in five days it had been empty in the morning. The street had been lined with grandparents’ trailers and RVs, now driven back to their own driveways. My couches and air mattresses and Tony’s bed had been occupied, and my kitchen full of cereal pouring and coffee sipping when I would awaken. All of us to quickly caravan the three blocks to the Neuro ICU before shift change at 7:30 am.

But not that morning. I had slept. Longer than I wanted. And when I woke, it was panic.

Hence, the yoga pants and cardigan, yet again.

I parked. I hesitated to get out of my car. It was sunny, and I recall the street as it glimmered. Like it was still cold and wet, and the sun was so far away that it could not even warm the most warmable parts of the town. The black asphalt. The bare parking space I neglected to see. The white house’s lawn that shimmered with dew.

My feet moved slowly. And it felt like I was trying to ice skate on dirt. The shoes meant for gliding but the surface just sucking me down instead.

It was my birthday. And he might die today. I hated that it was my birthday.

If you are from the country, like dirt road country, you know that each diesel engine makes a very distinct diesel sound. Adam drove Dodges. Always and forever. I could always pick his truck out of a stream of vehicles on the highway, hear it from three miles away. Even Henry the dog would jump at the sound, before I could even register that it was in fact him. Dodges are a deep, roaring, muffled sound. Like a dragon trying to growl while muffled with a sock. Fords, however, whistle. And if you’re keen and in tune with the boys that drove these trucks, you could differentiate in a split second.

This was a Ford. My heart melted just a little. A little more than it should have. A Dodge would have meant it was Adam. Coming to bring me a birthday coffee or sweep me off my feet for breakfast in another town where nobody knew who I was. But it wasn’t a Dodge. And it wasn’t him.

No, it was a whistle that could have woke neighbors. A whistle that shifted. Down. Down as in slowing down.

And then it stopped.

I was standing center stage. Middle of the street. I had frozen, somewhere between my car and the other side. Listening to the diesel engine. Focusing on the shift from third to second, and then to neutral.

I looked up to see their faces staring at me. The chrome of the bumper in line with my hips. Me facing the passenger side door, window higher than my line of site, but the faces stung my vision.

The passenger door opened with a vengeance. The whistle of the truck continued as arms larger than my own but smaller than my father’s embraced me.

Tommy’s five-day old scruff rubbed my hair, pulling my blonde unwashed strands from their ponytail, his scent of cigarettes and powdered donuts washed over me like a wave would if I had walked into the ocean with no intention of turning around.

Pat drove his truck away faster than a normal circumstance would have required, surely to find a parking spot with room for 6 tires and as close as possible. And Tommy stood there, holding me. In the middle of the street in the Chico avenues.

I don’t know if they came for me. Or for him. Or for my dad. Or for themselves. But it didn’t matter. They were there. And so was I. Disconnected by 200 miles in the everyday. Communication via text or the occasional deep thoughts in the duck blind.

But today. On the day it mattered, neither of them could go to work. So instead they drove. And found me. In the middle of the road. Trying to ice skate on dirt.

You see, I can’t wash that cardigan. That would mean that the smell of Tommy’s cigarettes and the sound of Pat’s truck would be washed out of it. That could never happen. It was the only moment that was mine for months and months, maybe years. The only moment that I can hold in my hands, hold to my face and breath in.

He didn’t die that day.

Eggplant Parmesan

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dinner

for two

His right hand shook. All the time.

His face was long and narrow. It had lost all its chunk. Looking back at his baby photos now makes me wonder how we can come out of the womb so full of rosy fat cheeks, and then it’s up to us to keep the color in our face.

Even drinking water was hard. Drops of water would spill from the sides of his mouth and onto his heather gray tee, now hanging on him like a husband’s shirt a wife would sleep in. The water left dark spots, elongated rain drops, cascading down his abdomen. We tried to combat the mess by offering him a straw instead, but that failed, leaving shallow white scratches on his lip line and chin from the consistency of missing the straw with mouth.

I began parking in the reserved spaces. His room was on the second floor, but to get there from the normal parking spots, it required us to walk a block down the highway-like side road and cross at the too-shortly timed crosswalk, then across a parking lot and through the empty waiting room. But if you parked in the reserved spaces, you could walk in the back doors, climb sterile stairs and enter the second floor through a window lined and new-ish waiting room, always with a friendly nurse at the desk.

Besides, a parking ticket was worth the money at this point.

I hadn’t been to work in almost two months. Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t have a “real” job. I would of course have been fired. And gladly so. Any company that wanted to keep me away from where I really needed to be would have been on my literal shit list.

On the flip side, it wasn’t much better being self-employed. I had no form of income if I didn’t work. I left work that night of January 4th and left piles of undone work strewn about my desk, photos were left uploading from an unnamed import from an unremembered photoshoot. Emails were left not only unread but unnoticed, believing that they would be moved up the list on the morning of January 5th. And unless you knew me personally, and maybe not even then, you wouldn’t know these things. That the desk and inbox and camera would stay exactly as they were for months to come. Collecting dust and memories of “before,” never to be put back the same way again.

I wonder what the unforgiving and unempathetic clients I had then think now. The ones that sent the emails asking why I had dropped off the face of the earth with no warning, using harsh words and a stern tone of voice. Those emails and calls going unanswered, them asking for their deposit back since I failed on my end of the deal.

But I couldn’t give them their deposit back. I had spent it. Living. Spending it on hospital cafeteria food and gas to drive to Santa Clara and so much coffee that motherhood coffee intake even now seems insignificant in comparison.

In a way, I guess I was fired. I was just lucky to have done the work I had done on January 4th, I suppose.

I crawled in his bed with him, and we watched the gag reel from the Big Bang Theory. He laughed, but it wasn’t his laugh. It was hollow and too high pitched.

After dark, the air inside the hospital was stale. The windows never opened, and for some reason, in the daylight it seemed clearer. Like the sunshine could seep through the windows’ weather coating, but after dark, they sealed tighter and that air inside started to roll over onto itself and stopped moving.

The food there was rancid. To get to the cafeteria from his room, you had to walk down a grey hallway, too wide and with bars on the windows that looked down into the bare courtyard on one side and the parking garage on the other. Each time it felt as if we were walking, or wheeling, down the fictional hallway from Shutter Island. Families pushing their loved ones in wheel chairs, blank stares and half-nods of solidarity as you passed. Once in the cafeteria, your choices were slim. The tables something you’d see in a 1970’s schoolhouse cafeteria. Wood veneer, wobbly and lined up like a summer camp.

It was late, and the uneaten dinner on his table in the room next to his bed was now stale and cold. His answer when I asked if he was hungry was just a look. I didn’t need him to speak to understand what he needed.

Days were focused on incremental tasks, such as lifting his foot up to his knee in order to tie his shoe. But the actual tying wasn’t applicable yet. Just get your foot there, bud. Things like learning how to hold a fork, but getting the fork to the mouth wasn’t possible yet. We watched like a hawk as he ate, confirming each bite was the size a toddler might take, ensuring he wouldn’t choke on the too-soft wheat bread and whipped peanut butter.

I had a mere six minutes until the cafeteria closed. Pulling myself out of his bed next to him like a band-aid being pulled off a wound which was not yet healed. Putting the laptop on the bed next to his boney hips, and pushing the bedside button, lifting his head just a few inches higher than his chest.

“I will be back, ok?”

The dinner was eggplant parmesan. Doused in red sauce and cheese that was not quite melted on top. I made two plates in Styrofoam containers, added cold garlic bread and two small cartons of milk, one plain and one chocolate.

I hid the extra container in my purse. The nurses would surely scold me for feeding him something such as eggplant parmesan. After tracking each bite of food and each sip of water and each ice chip sucked on, a real dinner with mediocre marinara sauce would of course throw off their data.

He looked at the dinner like it was Mount Everest. Eyes wide but unwavering. Until this point, we made a point to not eat our own food in his room, as to not upset him. More so not to upset him so much that he would want to say something, and then realize he didn’t know how, and then be more upset.

His left hand reached over his body to grab the fork from my hand. I held the white crunchy container over his chest, close to his chin, and he slowly scooped a forkful of red sauce, making it to his own mouth. He chewed slowly. His eyes closed, his head tilted back, and then he swallowed twice.

His eyes opened and he stared at me. There was red sauce smeared on his right cheek and his left index finger.

His smile was unsymmetrical, lazy on his right side. His teeth were caked in unswallowed marinara sauce. He put down the fork, spilling eggplant parmesan on his brown blanket. His eyes did not leave mine for what felt like eternity. His smile plastered on his face, like that of a school child who was just told they could have more candy.

I slowly helped him eat the rest, plus some of mine.

I threw the containers in the trash can in the hallway four rooms down. If someone was going to get in trouble, let it be someone else.

My shoes, grey Toms that had been worn to unwearable measure, slipped off my feet and onto the floor. I took my hair out of its four-day worn ponytail, and lifted up the brown eggplant parmesan stained blanket and crawled under with him.

We watched the gag reel again, until I heard his breathing slow and his eyes were twitching but closed tight.

It was the only night I spent in the hospital. Breathing stale air and waiting for his 7 am wakeup call to try and walk on his own again.

But he knew. And I knew. He would never have to walk alone.

January 4th

JAN4.jpg

Carey was working on making a wedding dress out of butcher paper.

She had a mannequin. One of the vintage ones with the gorgeous wooden stand and linen body. The ruffles had begun to form around the bust and she was working to start the bodice, each pearl tipped pin strategically placed and each fold creating a stunning silhouette.

Our broadway office as dimly lit by the chandelier and the leaves had fallen outside the open second story windows, letting in the fresh air that smelled of rain and tempura from the fast food place below our building. It was dark, and the heater in our building was always on high, making even the coldest of nights feel like an old man’s scotch and cigar by the fire kind of night in our brick lined second story abode.

I left before Carey was done with her night, snapping a photo outside our door, looking in. It’s black and white now, the original color lost to social media filters and cell phone purchases.

Adam called as I drove home, telling him that I was on the Esplanade, headed his direction. We talked about what to eat for dinner, how long he’d been at the house and if the dogs had been fed yet.

He talked normal, like all was right in the world.

It was the very cold and windy night of January 4th, 2013.

I had bangs then, and I was wearing a baby blue cardigan, extra soft and long, pockets in the front. My hair was in a bun low on my neck, and my leggings and pink studded flats were not adequately warm for the night we were having.

I pulled into our driveway, marveling at our Christmas lights that Adam had so graciously put up for me. Our Christmas tree still shone through my front window. Per tradition, the tree doesn’t come down until my birthday, 5 days later. Little did I know then that it would be much, much later than that this year.

Adam didn’t live there yet. It was just me at the time. Tony was on Christmas break from college, helping Mom and Dad at home with cows, and Adam was living in a rundown and quite cold house across town with some other friends.

Adam met me in the driveway, face serious. He was wearing a red shirt and a black fleece vest.

The drive to the hospital, a mere 5 blocks away, is lost to me. I don’t remember if I drove, or if Adam drove. What vehicle did we take? Did I go in the house before we left to get there? Where was my purse or my phone or my house key?

Auntie Shelly was already there, Adam said. She was not on shift that night but had scrubbed up and went in, simply so she could be in the ER when he arrived.

He was being air flighted in, and the trauma team was ready and waiting, she said. She met us at the door.

It was under construction, making the ER waiting room also the main entrance to the hospital. The door to the actual emergency department was a teeny beige heavy door with a simple silver doorknob at the end of a wide but very dark hallway.

Shelly said something about a social worker.

What the hell is a social worker and why do I need one?

She also told me that I would be able to hear the helicopter arrive, and that there would be a call for the trauma team over the intercom every two minutes as they got closer.

The voice on the intercom was a woman. Her words pierced the air around me, seemingly overly loud and unnecessarily harsh.

We sat in that hallway, on the floor. I sat with both my legs to my right side. My mind does not paint any sort of picture for me now, what the rest of the world looked like in there. If there was an empty chair or a waiting room or a person trying to help me find somewhere to go. I didn’t cry. I focused on a piece of lint on the brown tile floor in front of me.

They had not arrived yet. No helicopter sounds. No one I knew other than Adam and Shelly in my space. Shelly would disappear and then reappear often, back and forth through the heavy beige door. She would just look at me, and then turn around again.

“How bad?” were the only words I could articulate.

The answer, I already knew.

This blonde woman was kneeling in front of me. Her name was something that reminded me of a cartoon character and she spoke so slowly I wanted to slap her and tell her to just spit it out. Her words blurred together, and she looked at me with a stare like I had just been told news that I couldn’t handle. But there was no news. He wasn’t here yet. No one was here yet.

Why were they not here yet?

The intercom rang and two people dressed in all blue sprinted in front of me and went through the heavy door.

Did you know the helicopter shakes the whole hospital? Its wings moving enough air to make me feel like I was going to lift out of this life, right here on the first floor of a concrete and steel building.

It had been hours, I’m told. I had been sitting there for hours.

I finally did a scan. Our pastor was sitting in the waiting room. He didn’t approach me.

At some point, Mom and Dad and Scott got there. To be honest, the first memory I have of my parents is three days later. 

Shock must have set in, since how I got from the floor and through the heavy beige door is non-existent to me now.

The slow talking blonde woman was still there. Her words meaning nothing to me.

There was another man now. His hair wild and grey and his glasses thick. He was dressed in street clothes but they called him Doctor. His Nike tennis shoes were worn well and he spoke coldly.

I was last in line. All these other people entered the room before me. Who were they? Why are they here?

He laid there, on a gurney. There were machines everywhere and all I could see was the recessed hole where your chest meets your neck, the sunken space where your collar bone meets its mate. It was empty.

“Where is his Saint Christopher? Why is it not here? Who took it off him? Put it back on him!” I screamed at nobody. I was suddenly in a time warp. The white and green room was spinning around me, and I was screaming but no one could hear me. Why can't they year me? Is my voice real? Is this real? Am I real?

I chased a woman out of the room, begging her to tell me where his necklace was. She turned around and spoke to some other person dressed in gray. All gray. They responded with some sort of nod and continued to briskly walk away.

“He didn’t have one on, honey. I’m sorry, we don’t have it.”

The next moments are so much of a blur. This street clothed “doctor” had a meeting with us in this box of an office. I don’t know who “us” was or what he said. Words like “brain swelling” and “Glasgow scale” and “waiting.”

I walked out of the door by myself. Adam must have followed me. I stared at him, and fell to my knees. I sobbed and punched Adam’s shoulder and couldn’t get my feet to work.

He picked me up and carried me like a child, slung between his arms as I retreated back into myself, only to come up for air three days later, when a man named Chris spoke the only word I needed to hear in order to breathe again.

Hope.