Love and Loss

Love and Loss

My Millie,

This post has been so difficult for me to write because my current reality is incomprehensible. When you are able to read this, time will have lessened my waves of sorrow however, right now, it’s all very raw and emotional. I’m going to try my best to write through my grief so you can see your mother’s honest vulnerability.

On September 22nd 2019, your aunt, my only sister, completed her battle with bi-polar depression. How can I begin to explain the person she was? Words cannot describe her contagious laugh. The mere stories I will tell over the years will never give justice to her vibrant life. No longer is the person who would sing to you in your car seat to make you smile. How can I possibly make you feel just how much she loved you?

Your aunt was the sun, our Shani-sunshine.

Bright– Shani was so incredibly smart and she was such a good student. I teach with women who taught your aunt in grade school and they all loved her personality and work ethic. They refer to her as one of their favorite, most memorable students of their career. Throughout her schooling, she had completed her masters degree in psychology and was working towards a Psy-D, Shani was always the “teachers pet” and proudly, the top of her class. I always thought, if Shani was in school, her mind was in the right place. I knew nothing about the mania that accompanies bi-polar disorder and what she felt necessary for the success in her prestigious, doctoral program. Her energy source was the same disorder that would lie to her and put her down.

Nurturing Our bodies need the sun’s vitamins and you could call Shani, my vitamin D. If I was having a bad day, or I was walking alone in a parking lot, if I needed someone to talk to, Shani was only ever a phone call away. She loved to FaceTime with you and we would, daily. During the last phone conversation we had together, she commented on how sweet your little voice sounded and how much she missed you. We were making plans for her to come visit for your second birthday and how she thought I was ridiculous for wanting to rent a kangaroo.

Shani and I would talk about our futures with one another; pool side, on the porch, sitting on her bed in the early hours of the morning. She always said she would carry children for me if I wouldn’t have been able to. She was so excited when I told her I was pregnant for you. She said that she would be the “cool aunt” that you could go and live with during your rambunctious, teenage years. She wanted you to be able to talk to her about your crushes and all the awkward things you wouldn’t want your mom knowing about. She threatened me by saying that she’d tell you all about my years in high school. She had plans to help pay for your college. She had plans to care for you and her future family.

Your aunt knew a song for every occasion and she had an incredible voice. When she auditioned for women’s chorus in high school, she sang, “Lean on Me”, which is incredibly fitting for the friend that she was. If we couldn’t spend Thanksgiving Day together, she’d call me up and we’d sing the turkey song over the phone. On the day you were born, she kept singing, “Edelweiss”. Small and white, clean and bright. You look happy to meet me. She listened to all genres of music; gospel, show tunes, rap, country, etc. She even dabbled in recording. Her range was great and she had an ear for harmony. I had amazing opportunities to hear Shani sing; beautifully at a wedding reception, in the church at Bridgewater, and my favorite memory of her voice – singing to you cradled in her arms.

Shani cared for everyone. It didn’t matter race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. When we were kids, she would find dead mice in our garage and make beds for them out of old shoeboxes and try to keep them as pets; completely disregarding Gams wishes to throw the dead rodent away. In high-school, she started an equality club for the LGBTQ community (sorry if I didn’t use the correct acronym, Shani – she would be quick to correct me if it’s wrong). She got a speeding ticket in college while taking her sick roommate to the hospital. Shani had no money to give but she gave freely to friends and causes, despite what I had to say about it. She had clients who clung to her every word and had her cellphone number incase of emergencies.

Shani would make sure everyone was well fed. She loved tomato sandwiches in the summertime. Shani was always the one to cut up the fresh pineapple. Your aunt worked at Johnny Rockets, a diner where she would dance and sing in between serving milkshakes and she had so many regulars because of her bubbly personality. She had so much fun baking my bachelorette party cakes; one black and one white, you’ll understand that when you’re older. Shani was always first to try my vegan recipes and was supportive of our family’s lifestyle. Last year, she urged everyone in the family to stop using plastic straws for the sake of the sea turtles.

She took you to the beach when you were six months old and bought you toys to play with in the sand. She always bought you things that would help grow your brain. The Veggietales DVDs and Noahs Arc toy were gifts from her for your dedication because she wanted you to grow in Christ. She wrote you a book and bought you so many books; she didn’t just read them to you, but she encouraged you to read them aloud. Shani cared about the students that I taught, too. My second year of teaching, Shani bought my entire classroom clipboards for my birthday. She helped run a fundraiser for my class to get ukuleles. On her spring break, instead of sleeping-in, Shani ran the music for my choir concert.

I desperately wish that she could have turned off the voices inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. To everyone else, she was vitamin D.

Dazzling – Her beauty was effortless. We are so fortunate to live during a time where pictures and videos can be retrieved in seconds because some of her radiance was captured in those quick moments and short clips. She exuded confidence. (Now, I question how much of that was a facade due to her disorder.) Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. She would talk about getting her ears pinned back, having an eyelid procedure, and needing a boob-lift; I vetoed the surgical nonsense every time she brought up because your aunt needed none of that. She had the most shiny hair, the quirkiest placed dimple under her eye, an hourglass figure, a pixie nose, and most petite hands and feet. The Friday before Shani took her life, I told her that I wished she could see herself the way that I saw her, but now I know that the darkness of the disorder would prevent her from feeling that way.

Consistent with the rising sun is unforgiving darkness and unfortunately, Aunt Shani experienced that, too.

Your aunt struggled to find men who were worth a damn. There were plenty of men interested in her and she would date them when she felt like it but she was notorious for falling for the guys who needed, “fixing”; the divorcee, military men with ptsd, her exes. I told her many times, you can’t force someone to change and that we only have control of ourselves – but the disorder kept her from having control of her feelings. Shani told me that she would never, “settle” in a relationship and that she believed in soul mates; I argued with her about this. I wanted her to find stability in a relationship. Now, I wish I could have done more to help her obtain stability within herself.

We shouldn’t stare directly at the sun. I would wait for the “right time” to tell my sister things, not knowing how she would react. If you would ask Shani a personal question about her love life, significant choices, or her mental state, she would quickly change the subject, get irritated and defensive, and remind you that she was, “fine”. My sunscreen was you. No matter how frustrated she’d be with me for asking too many questions or how upset she’d get when I wouldn’t agree with her on a political stance, I could change the subject to you and her entire attitude would change. She always agreed with my parenting choices and would never tire of the stories I’d tell her about you.

I don’t remember life before my sister was born because as far back as I can remember, shes been there. Shani has always been there just as the sun has been burning for 4 billion years. I never thought I’d have to live life without her. Life ceases to exist without the sun and I’m having an impossible time without mine. Learning to navigate this changed world is incredibly difficult; the finalization of death. There are nights when the tears won’t end. I no longer listen to the radio or watch television for the fear that something will remind me of her. I have to push myself to speak to my friends, do anything outside the house for myself, and celebrate the holidays. And I’m sorry for the times you see me crying in the kitchen – I just hate that you’ll never get the opportunity to be in your Aunts wedding or to hear her beautiful voice at Christmas time.

But you, my love, are a light and I need you to know that during this time of heavy darkness, you will forever be my saving spark, my energy source, and the illumination that keeps me going. I pray that God will carry us through this time of heartache and that Shani is resting in paradise with our Heavenly Father.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

I love you, Ashani Leigh Pompey and I’ll never stop. It sucks that we can’t make any new memories together but I know that one day, I’ll get to see you face to face and tell you all about this crazy, beautiful life. On the other side, my baby sis, my sunshine.

Big Sister

Big Sister

I only know myself as a big sister; I don’t remember being an only child for the first two years of my life. I am a big sister to, two awesome people who I will always see as, kids. I cherish the memories of helping my brother get ready for school in the morning and talking through the bunk beds with my sister at night. Running to the car we’d yell, “shotgun!” to see who was going to sit in the front seat. I remember sticking up for my siblings at school; I about pounded a kid for calling my sister fat and I wasn’t very nice to the bully taking my brothers lunch either. My sister would keep my secrets and my brother could always make me laugh. I am proud of my siblings and I am grateful to be their big sister.

I always knew that I wanted to have a basketball team amount of kids, if the Lord would allow. The preeclampsia that I experienced with Millie scared me of the birthing process but never out of wanting to expand our family. To allow my body time to recover, my OB asked for me to give myself two years before getting pregnant again but when Millie was 20 months old, we found out we were expecting. I was still breastfeeding Mill and continued until she was 22 months old, when I entered my second trimester of pregnancy. I was instructed to take a calcium supplement as my vegan diet didn’t allow much calcium to go around for myself, a breastfeeding toddler, and a growing fetus. That aside, we were excited that Millie was going to be a big sister come March!

The first person I told after seeing the positive pregnancy test was my little sister. We had been talking about how I felt fatigued and she encouraged me to take a test. She was at work when I called to tell her the news and she startled everyone in her office by screaming in excitement. From the very beginning of this pregnancy, things were different than my first. The pink result on the pee stick was much more prominent this time around. I was pleasantly surprised that this pregnancy didn’t come with the hyperemesis gravidarum that I experienced with Mill. Due to all the puking during my first pregnancy, I had to miss my sisters college graduation, hospitalized with dehydration. This time around, I was pregnant but also was able keep up with an energetic toddler. We had a gender reveal with our family where we cut into a cake that spilled out blue candy – no surprise that this pregnancy was different, we are having a baby boy.

Millie is a little mommy; she loves babies. At Zumbini, she would rather spend time putting her face in baby carriers of the siblings of her classmates than dance and play instruments. Millie will give her baby dolls stroller rides, she feeds them bottles, and she puts them to sleep by covering them up and kissing them on the head. Anything small is a baby to her. I love her caring nature. There was never a doubt in my mind – she would be an awesome big sister.

I do not think Millie understands that there will be a new baby in our house come March. She is aware that there is a baby in my stomach and that we are preparing our home for his arrival however, how can a two year old comprehend a new life? I still am in awe of the miracle that is a new baby. So here I am, enjoying my time as a one child mama for a little while longer. I will never forget Millies time as my only child however, she will. She’ll forever know herself, like me, as a big sister.

Millie Met Mickey

Millie Met Mickey

Fair warning, this is an elongated blogpost about an an affluent, American family taking a Disney vacation. I am definitely not a “Mouseketeer”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Disney movies and their musical scores. It’s just so commercialized; Disney is everywhere. Name a children’s movie that isn’t Disney. I don’t dress Millie in Disney clothes because I think its tacky when children wear characters on their clothing. As a child, I liked the princesses but I loved Max Goof (bizarre character to be fascinated with, I know) Max was actually with me through my labor (see previous blog post, “laboring love” for more details). I went on two family vacations to Disney World under the age of five and I don’t remember them, sorry mom. When I was in high school, I skipped on the opportunity to go to Disney World with my marching band. Recently, my in-laws mentioned wanting to take Millie on a vacation to Disney World with the full princess experience; the gown, makeover, sash, carriage ride, etc. ($$$) Call me selfish, but I wanted the first time that I would remember experiencing Disney to be with my little family; my husband, Millie, and me.

With the help of our travel agent and the advice of friends, I planned a spring break trip to Disney World. I surprised my husband with the trip on Christmas morning. Initially, he was not thrilled about the gift of the vacation because he assumed an astronomical price tag however, I informed him of the details and as the trip drew near, he became more excited. I created a Disney trip countdown as a visual aid for Millie comprised of construction paper links, to look like Mickey and Minnie. Each day we removed a link from the chain and March came quickly. (Time moves so much faster with a child).

6am flights are the absolute worst. We did not originally have such an early flight however, the plane we were scheduled for was grounded due to numerous deadly crashes using that same model aircraft (I’m grateful for the switch). We arrived at the airport at 4am, eager to leave the 38 degree, Ohio weather. On the plane, Millie could be a lap-rider because of her age. We had to show the airlines a copy of her birth certificate; we took her original birth certificate without knowing we could bring a copy. Apparently, the airlines would have even accepted a picture of her birth certificate on my phone. (Praise God nothing happened to her original.) Not buying Millie a plane ticket saved us over two-hundred dollars. I was able to book direct flights to Orlando, which was a two hour trip. I wish I would have known that I could have kept Millie in her Ergo-carrier throughout the security and boarding process because having both of my hands free would’ve made things a lot easier. The flight went well and Millie was great on the plane. She was so excited when we landed in Florida and saw pictures of Mickey Mouse everywhere.

Millie loves dogs so I decided the Dalmatian wing of Disney’s All Star Movie resort would be the perfect place for us to stay. The price of this resort was more reasonable than I expected and by staying at Disney, transportation was taken care of to and from the park, as well as back and forth from Disney Springs, and the airport. The shuttle transportation system allowed us to not have to lug Millie’s car seat around. We did however, bring her stroller from home along with us; it did not cost extra money for the stroller to be stowed during our flights and the park had ample stroller parking. I was later informed that the stroller policy at Disney World would be changing soon so if you’re planning a trip with little ones, check that out.

Our vacation commenced by eating Mickey waffles from the resort food court, which were equal parts adorable and delicious. Millie thought the waffles were funny and chose to not eat Mickey’s face. Before we were able to check into our room, we participated in our first family activity; the splash pad at the resort. It was almost 80 degrees in Orlando with little cloud coverage and the occasional breeze. Millie did not want to have to wait to have her sunscreen applied. Advice for parents of a toddler: put the spf on their little bodies before they see the water. Millie had so much fun splashing and dunking her head under. We had the splash pad all to ourselves and it was a blast. The trip was worth the money the moment we saw the joy exude from Millie, playing in the water.

Mill fell asleep on my lap as we soaked up some sun on the beach chairs. We were watching the palm trees sway when the Disney app notified us that our hotel room was available. As we walked by the many Dalmatian puppies in our wing of the resort, Millie would bark and wave. We were pleased to find our room was on the first floor. The room was comfortable; two full beds, a mini fridge, working air conditioning, and Disney decor. Unfortunately, the walls were extremely thin and we could hear every word that our neighbors said (although we couldn’t understand it because they spoke Spanish). I asked the Lord to grant me grace because their screaming baby almost woke my sleeping baby at 2am.

Our first evening in Orlando was spent at Disney Springs however, we found it underwhelming. It was comprised of highend, Disney boutiques and sit down restaurants. We ate delicious, coconut sorbet and returned to the resort.

The next morning, we excitedly boarded the shuttle to Magic Kingdom but on the way to the park, it started to down pour. We had not prepared for rain so we made the decision to ride the shuttle back to the resort and wait out the storm. We ate brunch at the resort and were pleased with the quality of the veggie burger. Once the rain had stopped, we boarded the shuttle to Magic Kingdom for the second time that morning. I was disappointed in the security process because I had to leave Millie in her stroller, unattended, to go through the detectors on my own, as instructed. I was never more than six steps away from her however, Disney is terribly crowded and for a first-time mama with anxiety, I wasn’t having it. Luckily, my husband stayed with her while I went through the metal detector and pushed her over to me once I was through and then he went through himself. What if I was a single mom and didn’t have anyone to stand with her while I went through the metal detector? I expressed my concerns to the security guard who was more concerned with the growing line than my frustrations.

Entering Magic Kingdom was like going through a time warp set back 120 years; the buildings were colonial style, women were dancing with white gloves and parasails, and a barber shop quartet, dressed in stripes of red and white, harmonized in front of a deliciously fragrant candy shop. Main Street had a quaint, small-town feel with shops adorning each side of the road. To our right, we noted a “Meet Mickey and Minnie” sign, which was where we needed to be to utilize a fast pass we scheduled for later. A man asked me to take a picture of his family and for the first time that day, I saw Cinderella’s magical castle. I took a picture of his family and he took a picture of ours.

Large, decorative floats with dancing and singing Disney characters paraded down Main Street. We followed behind a float carrying a dancing, Max Goof until we made it to the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statute. Millie was apprehensive about viewing the parade as she buried her head into my shoulder for most of it. My husband recorded the parade on his phone and even though Millie might not have enjoyed the parade then, she loves watching it now.

Similar in ride concept, I chose to fast pass the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. These rides did not have height requirements, they were categorized as, “slow moving”, we would be able to sit as a family, and they had great reviews for children under two. Millie sat on my lap on the inside seat of the ride car. My husband took control of the car’s height lever which would raise and lower us upon his discretion. Millie was hysterical because she kept a straight face the entire time we rode both rides. I couldn’t tell you if she loved them however, I don’t think she disliked them because she absolutely knows how to show discontent.

We stopped in our tracks upon hearing a screaming trumpet from the Main Street Philharmonic. This small ensemble sounded fantastic and played everything from old circus marches to modern pop. If you are planning a trip to Magic Kingdom, you need to make time in your schedule to listen to this group play good music for fifteen minutes. Another worthwhile venture is finding a stand that sells Mickey pretzels – delicious!

Millie had the opportunity to meet Mickey and Minnie in a small, poorly lit room. The characters were wearing “party” clothes to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th Anniversary. I held Millie on my hip during our wait but upon locking eyes with the large, plastic Mickey head, she wiggled up my body and hid her face in my neck. The characters tried their best to get Millie to smile; Mickey played peek-a-boo with her and danced when I sang the, “Hotdog” song. My husband took a video of this event and again, Millie treasures it even though she wasn’t quite ready to enjoy the actual moment.

Millie’s fear of costumed characters didn’t stop at Mickey Mouse; Daisy Duck had no luck making Millie smile nor did Pluto. They were set in a gypsy theme, which I found unsettling. After taking pictures of Millie looking absolutely horrified, Disney tried to pull a fast one by putting the exit through a souvenir shop. Naturally, Millie was intrigued and wanted everything she could get her hands on. Miraculously, we left the gift shop/exit empty handed. The princesses however, were not as scary to Millie. It could have been because even in costume, they look like actual people. She met Cinderella, who looked like a sloth, and Elena of Avalor, who? While Millie might not have been scared of them, she definitely had no interest in seeing them.

We spent an hours time on Tom Sawyer’s Island. A short raft ride takes you to the island, which was unnecessary. The bumps while docking the raft were abrupt and a walking bridge for the short distance would have been suffice. Once on the island, Millie really enjoyed being able to walk the trails. The terrain was not ideal for a sixteen-month old, so she reluctantly held our hands through most of it. I held Millie while crossing a bridge of barrels that bobbed up and down with each step. There was a small play ground that Millie played on that was overruled by older kids.

I was concerned how nap-time would work while adventuring in the park, but Millie was exhausted by lunch time and would fall asleep in the stroller. Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen was our favorite lunch spot; the air conditioning was on blast, the staff was great, and the food was delicious – I highly recommend the Shiriki Noodle Salad, yum. Eating vegan while at Magic Kingdom was a breeze with the help of amazing chefs.

The Swiss Family Treehouse was our next adventure. There was not a line for this activity and that was refreshing. I was unfamiliar with the story of the Swiss Family Robinson’s however, my husband filled me in as we ventured along. The treehouse had bridges, ramps, and stairs which were fun for Millie to navigate through. I held her hand through most of it because her balance was still wobbly.

I used the My Disney App, week’s before our vacation, to make food reservations at the park. On our first night at Magic Kingdom, we ate dinner at The Crystal Palace, which is a buffet-style restaurant with mingling characters from Winnie the Pooh. Millie hit Piglet in the face, twice, wanted nothing to do with Eeyore, and was scared to death of Tigger. The food was great but not worth the bill. The next morning we ate breakfast at Belle’s Be Our Guest Cafe, which is where I was told was the only place that you could see Belle and the Beast. Unfortunately, neither showed up during our breakfast. We had a terrible time in the line; a staff member told us to return closer to the end of our reservation time yet, while trying to talk us out of the line, four other families got in line before us. The computers were down and they weren’t accepting Magic bands as a form of payment. The food was subpar but that was to be expected from a French menu. The aesthetic of the dining hall was spectacular. It looked just like the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast.

Mickey’s Philharmagic was an interactive, 3D mini-film. I guess you could call this Millie’s first theatre experience and I was surprised when Millie kept her 3D glasses on the entire time. She laughed when Donald Duck came on the screen (she adores him) and when things would come flying at us, she would reach out to try to touch it. Her reactions to the film were the best part.

My travel agent, friends, and colleagues all advised me to not use a fastpass on, It’s a Small World because the line was never long. We chose not to fastpass that ride, but we totally should have because the line was forever long. Due to our terrible line experience at the Be Our Guest Cafe, the staff gave us an additional Fastpass to use that day in the park. After seeing the line for Its a Small World, we updated our magic bands and skipped the longest line that we had seen at the park. We rode in the first car that had plenty of leg room and a bar that Millie stood up and held. She was rocking the boat trying to get the ride to move faster. She loved the singing and the scenery; I thought the dolls were super creepy.

We rode the infamous Teacups – I felt sick as a dog. Mill sat in my lap. My husband spun with one hand and was recording Millie with the other. She proceeded to have the most serious look on her face as we spun around and around. When she realized that the wheel in the middle of the teacup was controlling the spin, she tried to turn it herself. I think if the ride would’ve been twice as long, she would’ve enjoyed it more but boy, I sure was ready to get off!

The shuttle ride back to the resort was amusing as we sat next to an animated, little girl with a blue, Stitch stuffed animal. Millie had acquired a Lilo doll from one of the gift shops outside of the princess meet and greet (she wouldn’t put it down). The two girls played with their dolls together, Lilo and Stitch.

I know I’m forgetting so many details like, Millie and her daddy howling before bed, Millie sitting on Walt’s lap our first evening in the park, the nursing mother’s room that was busting at the seams, the sound of Millie’s feet as she walked with such purpose through the automatic doors to get to the pool..our vacation was amazing. Millie won’t remember it, but with the pictures, videos, and this blogpost I hope she will know how much fun we had – fun that would not have existed without her.

Until next time, Disney.

Zumbini

Zumbini

Before I had a child, I knew I’d be the monitored screen time, oil using, breastfeeding, crunchy-kind of mama. When Millie was born, the television wasn’t turned on for weeks because I read in a parenting magazine that baby’s can sense when you’re multi-tasking, like folding laundry and watching Grey’s Anatomy. Multitasking can make a baby anxious so the tv remained off. My mom finally said, “You have to be able to put her down for a moment and the tv will help.” She found a channel called, Baby First and Millie was entranced!

The vibrant colors, the songs, the high-pitched voices, the close ups of baby faces; Millie loves it. There is a a flower in the corner of the screen and the petals change color based on the learning elements in that particular show. The best aspect of the channel, in my opinion, is Zumbini. I love to dance and Zumba is my favorite way to work out. Zumbini is a baby’s Zumba. It incorporates dancing, singing, instrument playing, ball rolling, etc. Millie loves to dance and sing to the short Zumbini episodes in our living room. She smiles and rocks her body – she is completely engaged! At the end of the show it instructs the viewer to, “Go online and register for a Zumbini class near you!” So, I did.

The class was being offered near my undergraduate campus so I felt comfortable with the location. The instructor was quick to answer all of my questions and she was just as helpful and kind when we met in class. I am a music teacher and a “retired”, collegiate Zumba instructor so one could assume that I would be judgmental towards another’s class however, I’m new at this parenting thing and I have nothing to gain from judging and everything to gain from creating experiences with Millie.

When registering for Zumbini, we received a book with the lyrics to all the songs in the class, music downloads, and a little doll (that has seriously won over Millie’s heart, she loves her, “TJ”). Zumbini promotes freedom for the children to do as they please as they listen the up-beat music. I dance with Millie on my hip, I dance in front of her while she sits on the floor, I play instruments while she puts hers directly into her mouth. At six months old, Millie was the youngest in the class however, everyone was willing to help her, they doted over her and her big, blue eyes, and it never felt like she didn’t belong.

The music from Zumbini, incorporates different languages, styles, tempo, and time. I like that Millie is exposed to such diversity. The class materials include rhythm sticks, scarves, miscellaneous percussion instruments, balls, and bongos. Mill has taken two, nine week sessions and we don’t plan on stopping. This girl is shaking what her momma gave her!

Millie Met Mo’ana

Millie Met Mo’ana

We are so fortunate to live close to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Because I teach and have summers off, Millie and I have been able to go on daily adventures – the zoo being one of her favorites. She loves looking at all the children and is captivated by the fish at the aquarium. During the week, especially on days with spotty weather, the zoo isn’t overly crowded and we have the opportunity to talk with the staff that works directly with the animals.

The Columbus Zoo works closely with Western Lowland Gorilla conservations and learning about their success in the gorilla population was encouraging. Stephanie, the gorilla expert, told us the names of all of the gorillas and their ages. She was knowledgeable about their relationships with one another and their personalities. She informed me that “Mac”, the silverback in the enclosure, the grandson of Colo who was the first gorilla to be born in captivity, knows he’s handsome, will pound on the glass whenever he feels like it, is a surrogate dad, and is busy raising his two year old, rambunctious son, J.J. J.J. acts like any other toddler; he prolongs nap time, copies everything his daddy does, and plays about the enclosure. The gorillas habitat was observed and approved by Diane Fossey, one of the greatest mountain gorilla conservationists of all time. Stephanie says that these gorillas have it made at the Columbus Zoo, like the animals in the movie, Madagascar.

I learned that the female gorillas take birth control pills once a day, the same way a female-human would. The female gorillas are tested each month to make sure that they haven’t gotten pregnant over the course of the month, by mistake. A “board” meets to determine which gorillas can breed according to their DNA compatibility. Because the gorillas at the zoo are promoting the conservation of their species, the board wants the bred outcome to be the best gorillas. What I found particularly interesting is that even with this board acting in the role of God, some gorillas don’t come out as they plan.

Kinyani, a beautiful female gorilla at the zoo, was bred and born in captivity, and she is deaf. She stays up high in the trees so that she can see the activities below and no one can sneak up on her (For his own enjoyment, Mac will sneak up behind her to smack her in the head.) Her deafness was not planned by the board however, Gods plan superseded.

Mo’ana, is a seventeen year old, female gorilla at the zoo. She was born and bred in captivity and she has a mental disability. Her body didn’t grow normally so she looks different and she has arthritis. She sits right at the glass of the gorilla enclosure and tries to feed the children hay, when they sit across the glass from her. Again, her disabilities were not planned, however her gentleness is a gift from God.

I have always loved gorillas and I felt especially close to them after learning that Colo, the beloved gorilla in Columbus – may she Rest In Peace, her parents were from Cameroon. I was not familiar with this country until earlier this year when I looked it up; 3% of my DNA is from Cameroon, according to Ancestry. I also learned that Colo’s mother’s name was Millie.

Twice, I have sat Millie by the glass to interact with Mo’ana. She seems timid as she looks at the gorilla and then turns her face into my chest. She doesn’t cry but she doesn’t smile at her either. I tell her all about the gorillas when we visit their enclosure. I hope that one day she will share the love that I have for these beautiful primates.

Getting to Know Millie

Getting to Know Millie

At four months, Millie is enjoying life differently than before; she can see further, manipulate her hands better, and vocalize her needs. The more she develops, the more human she becomes (she’s always been human) but she has flourished with independence and she’s growing her own personality. The first precious smile we received from Millie was a product of gurgling gas and now, she’s smiling at our smiles, different toys, and the sunshine. Her facial expressions, interest, and focus inform me of how she is feeling and it’s a joy learning along with her.

Millie was born premature, so during the first month of her life we weren’t concerned with playtime, we were in survival mode. Our days included making sure she had dirtied the appropriate amount of diapers, that she was feeding every three hours, and that her breathing wasn’t labored. She would last ten minutes in the stroller before crying. She had a difficult time getting her eyes to focus so she frequently went cross-eyed. Car rides were no fun; she hated them.

At two months, Millie began to take notice of dark and light contrast; we would show her different black and white patterns which kept her attention. She also was drawn to the color red and the lights on the Christmas tree. She enjoyed about thirty seconds of tummy-time; she would turn over onto her back if we kept her down for the full minute. Millie liked sitting in her bouncer seat but she did not enjoy the five-point harness in her swing. Car rides were still the worst.

At three months, Millie was enjoying walks more than she had before; on a nice, winter afternoon, we walked for almost two hours. She was fascinated by the woodland creature mobile hanging in her crib; the otter, the fox, and the owl move around to Brahm’s Lullaby above her head. When eating dinner at the table, we sat Millie up in her high chair. She would watch us eat and interject a coo or two into the conversation. Have I mentioned how much this baby hates being in the car?

My sweet love is now four months old and I know for certain that time is a thief. She is loving chomping down on anything that she can get her mouth on. She smiles anytime she catches her reflection in the mirror. She snuggles with her Cuddle + Kind dolls. Millie thinks my hair is a toy and pulls on it with all her might. With some assistance, she is enjoying sitting in her skiphop saucer. Millie loves pulling on her teething links and holding her Oball. The car seat is no longer her worst enemy. Everyday she learns something new; she amazes me. I keep thinking, if I could just freeze time, but then I’d miss out on her adorable five-month adventures.

Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave

As a full-time, public elementary school music teacher, I received six weeks of paid maternity leave by using my accumulated sick time. Preeclampsia caused me to deliver preterm and just six weeks later, I would not have been prepared to leave my premature angel for work. Any mother would agree that six weeks is a ridiculously limited amount of time to bond with a newborn. For those mothers who have to rely on outside childcare after six weeks, I am so sorry; I will pray for your continued bonding, physical and mental health, and safety. Fortunately, I was able to take additional time off using FMLA. This time off of work was unpaid however, my husband and I had monetarily saved. In total, I had fourteen weeks off of work for maternity leave and I still wished that I could have taken more time. Whether you have six weeks or six months, the time you’ll spend with your newborn is priceless. The fourth trimester is a blur but before I completely forget, due to juggling work and infancy, here’s some thoughts of my time on maternity leave.

After we were discharged from the hospital, my body was recovering from the trauma of birth; breastfeeding was a learning curve, my blood pressure was regulating after the high levels due to pre-e, and I was profusely sweating out all the excess fluid that my body was retaining. While all of this was occurring, I was also bonding with my fragile, four pound newborn. It’s difficult for me to look back on the first month because I feel guilty – there’s so much growing that she did that I just slept through; I’d nap on the couch with Netflix on. There were so many moments that I forget due to sheer exhaustion. My advice for any new mom is to tape your eyes open – of course I’m kidding! I encourage you to take so many pictures and journal as often as you can; you never get that precious time again and so much of it can become lost in the exhausted haze of motherhood.

I was so grateful to have an overwhelming outpour of help from my family and friends during this time. Having a meal-train was extremely helpful; we had prepared meals for a week! My mom stayed with us the first two weeks after Millie was born. Everything was new; I didn’t know that I was supposed to log every diaper change by time and contents, I didn’t know what cluster feeding was or how to handle it, and I had never given a newborn a bath before. Having an additional person to help clean pump parts, make dinner, take a nighttime shift, run a load of laundry, etc., was so helpful. My mom successfully raised three children and was there whenever I asked, “Is this normal?”. My husband was allotted no paternity leave; he had to use his vacation time for my hospital stay, so he was incredibly grateful for the support from my mom as well. Thanks, mom.

It was traumatic getting Millie’s blood tested when managing her jaundice level. As I held my daughter in my arms, she was pricked in the heel of her foot and then milked of her blood, which of course made Millie cry and her tears broke my heart in two. My mom was there with me so I didn’t have to experience that alone. Pumping was difficult for me in the beginning. I truly thought that I’d have more comfortably with the pump than breastfeeding however, it felt impersonal and I had a hard time doing it. My mom would stay up with me and care for Millie while I pumped to increase my milk supply. Those late night talks of motherhood and watching my mother bond with my little one; I hope to never forget those moments.

My mother returned home and my mother-in-law came to stay with us. For the first month of Millie’s life, I was never alone with her. Some people may read this and think, wow – this woman is crazy however, I was relieved having someone else there with me. It was more eyes on my preemie, someone to watch her while I showered or napped, and it was socialization when I couldn’t leave the house (I was terrified that I would bring home germs that would put Millie back in the hospital.)

I loved taking Millie for walks when the weather was fair. I loved holding her tight, rocking her, having skin-to-skin time, and resting my cheek upon her cheek. I think my heart skipped a beat every time my husband would speak to her. I didn’t completely despise changing her diapers like I thought I would. I enjoyed online shopping while breastfeeding – maybe a little too much. I watched her grow from a thin four to a chunky twelve pounds. Listening to her sigh, smelling her head, seeing her smile – there’s nothing else like it. I feel so incredibly blessed to be Millie’s mother. Even though my maternity leave is over, I am grateful for the time that I had and I cherish my moments with her now, even more.