Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rice Rice Baby...

Every year the Kindergarten teachers at my school do rice babies. They fill up a sock with rice to weigh as much as the child did at birth. I've been looking forward to this since last year when I knew Nolan would be joining me at my school.

Unfortunately, the night before rice babies, I got several late night calls about my sister's condition getting dramatically worse. I had to miss it in order to be with her, but I'm grateful for those last precious moments with her. Thankfully, my husband dropped everything so he could be part of this special day for Nolan. 

It was a wild day Justin said but Nolan loved every minute of it. He had a lot of scooping to do because he was my biggest baby of all at 8 lbs. 4 oz. We will not discuss the weight gain during that pregnancy.

Lots of copy paper box lids bassinets were carefully wrapped for each of his rice babies. Later, the babies were swaddled and given the same hair color and eyes that the kids have to match them.

Here is Nolan's artistic rendition of his rice baby. 

I love walking by his room everyday to see his artwork on display...another perk of being a mom/teacher at the same school as him. 

This paper was my favorite. In case you can't read it, it says, 
"When I was a baby, I drooled. 
Now I can read. 
When I grow up I'm still staying with my Mommy. Good stuff" (I love how he always gives me a Patty Duke hair do')

Friday, March 23, 2012

6 months

Look who just turned half a year old in March. 

In just 6 short months she's gone from this 7 lbs. 15 oz. Polly Pocket....

to this super chunky, rolls on the legs and wrists, solid girl.

Landry reminds me of rings on a tree...a ring for every year. She has the same idea but just grows rolls for every month of age. Don't be fooled. She looks 10 months old, but is only 6.

Seeing these images makes me just want to cry seeing how quickly she's changing.

Big milestones since our last monthly pictures....TEETH! Two of them popped through right at 5 months. She sits really well supported but isn't quite 100% just yet all on her own but we'll be there any day, I can just feel it.

And food...Sister loves her some good grub. Although her first attempts at food look like it was complete torture.

I swear she loves it. She opens her mouth so wide like a little bird.

6 month stats:

Weight: 18 lbs. 12 oz. (90th percentile) and we're still nursing! It's the longest I've made it with any of my kids! 
Height: 27.25" (90th percentile)
Head: 42 cm (60th percentile)

So we're not surprised that our sweet precious little girl is above average in all areas. Seeing her little personality come out just melts my heart. She still wins easiest baby award of all my children so far, but I hear from others that I'll get payback during those teenage drama years.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Catchin' Up

Finding joy. It's a Catch 22. I crave it like a druggie, for lack of a better word. But once it sneaks up on me, I sometimes feel guilty that I'm experiencing it like somehow I'm betraying my sister by smiling since her death. Logical, I know, right?

But I don't care how melancholy you are, when you see your kids jumping on the trampoline with football helmets in their underwear because they're so skinny they can't keep their pants up, joy sneaks in and stays awhile.

Family and friends are the keys to healing. I hug tighter and look for those moments where time slips away.

Before Tonya passed, my grandfather, whom we lovingly call Big Daddy, came in town. It's been almost four years since we saw him last but the boys just picked up like they saw him yesterday. Sometimes it amazes me that my Yakee Native American grandfather is related by blood to my blond hair, blue-eyed boy. And then I see their ears, and I see the resemblance.

And Miss Landry Kate didn't disappoint in her cuteness factor in her debut of meeting her great grandfather for the first time.

"Oh hey, Big Daddy. What? Me? Cute? Really, I mean...well if you say so, " said by my genius 6 month old daughter who is already speaking in full sentences.

Landry's middle name, Kate, is a tribute to both of her great-great-grandmothers' names, one of which is Big Daddy's mother.

My cousin, Scott and his wife, Myra, were also in town from California and we have loved getting to see them twice in less than a year.

Myra is about to be a grandma in a few months and it looks like she's going to be just fine with her already fine tuned baby skills.

How do you know you have the most caring in-laws in the world? When they drive nearly 1,000 miles when you lose your sister to be there for you and help with the kids when you need it the most. I wasn't the only one who needed them, the kids were pretty crazy about them.

The hugs, the love, the laughs, the cuddles are the best band-aid during this time. Every time I experience the joy from it, I realize that guilt I was feeling really isn't guilt, it's medicine.

Thank you God for surrounding me and my family with love. I cherish every second of it.

Monday, March 5, 2012


January 19, 2012 is a day I will never forget. Earlier that day I remembered that it was my Uncle Mike's birthday, a dear uncle who tragically died in a car crash in his mid 30s. I specifically remember thinking just how sad it was that he died so young and when my cousins were so young as teenagers. 

Later that evening, my world was shattered when I received a call from my mom who told me that my sister, Tonya, received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal...as in no other treatments options. Her breast cancer battle started June 2010 at the age of 39 and was followed with months of chemo, radiation and now I'm hearing from my mom that there's nothing more that they can do. The doctor more or less said chemo would only shorten her life and she needed to go and be with her family. 

I couldn't drive to her house quick enough and I ran to her and couldn't let go. I will never forget what she said through her tears, "I'm sorry, I tried so hard to fight." The days that followed = me an absolute wreck.

All that I could think of was everything she meant to me and everything I still needed her for.  

I spent the next month driving back and forth as much as I possibly could with her living nearly an hour away. Tonya would text me often and I would ask about her pain and always her answer was that the pain was nearly unbearable. I can't tell you how excruciating it is to hear someone you love so much tell you how much pain they're in and there's nothing you can do to help. 

On February 25, 2012 my beautiful sister lost her battle but was quite the fighter. She is the mother of three beautiful and smart girls that are 16, 13, and 11. The night before, my two youngest nieces spent the night with me and as we were cooking breakfast, I got the call that she was going and going fast. We flew as fast as we could while my sister fought for every breath in her last moments. She was surrounded by family holding hands, embracing each other as we cried and prayed over her. There is no doubt in my mind that she was holding on to see her girls and her family and hear from all of us that as much as it pained us, that we were going to be alright and it was okay to let go. 

I've never had a harder day in my life than that day. While I feel like it was a blessing to be there with her and tell her that I love her, the image of her in those last moments is absolutely haunting me and one I cannot get out of my mind every time I close my eyes. 

I spoke at Tonya's memorial service and was a ball of nerves. It took me about 5 minutes, or so it seemed, before I started my eulogy about her but I knew that no one would understand a word if I went into my ugly cry, and boy was I ever so close. 

Here are the words that I shared that day:

I recently read an article about a professor along with a group of researchers carried out a study that said that having a sister helped to promote good mental health. 

He said, "Sisters appear to encourage more open communication and cohesion in families. However, brothers seem to have the alternative effect. (Sorry, Bo, no offense) Emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families." 

I truly believe that your sister is your first best friend. Being that Tonya was 8 years older than me, in more ways also made her my second mother. She experienced things ahead of me and her experience and wisdom was often the topic of long phone conversations. 

Growing up, I was her shadow. I was completely her tag-along and was there even in those years where little sisters were “uncool” and normally cramping a teenager’s style. She couldn’t even get rid of me if she tried. I even tagged along in the summers to her work when she was a nanny. I’ve lost count how many times she gave me rides to volleyball games, work, and even dances when I was too embarrassed to have Mom and Dad drive me. I completely idolized her. I remember crying and telling my mom that I wanted “yellow” hair like Tonya when we were younger. I was always so envious of her thick beautiful hair. 

She was my “person” who didn’t hold back and told me the brutal honest truth like, “Andrea, what are you thinking wearing that white eye shadow” and “Sweetie, you really need to wax your lip.” Every person needs a “Tonya” to tell it to you straight. 

 If there ever were a pair of polar opposite sisters, it was Tonya and me. There were days that I wasn’t so sure she promoted good mental health but now looking back, those arguments and differences of opinion brought us closer. Tonya was fiery, spunky, and sassy but that seemed to be in my favor because most times I was not on the receiving end of it. She witnessed my worst and best and loved me anyway. She was the type that came to spend the night while my newborn son was hooked up to a machine for jaundice just so Justin and I could get more than an hour of sleep. She had many duties as a sister. She was also my mother, my cook, my chauffeur, my caregiver, my defense attorney (she saved my bottom from many a spankins), my personal press agent, my cheerleader and most often my shrink.

I remember when she had her girls and they felt like they were my own children. My sister could make some beautiful babies that was for sure. 

 When I became a mother, a closer bond began and I understood her more than ever.  We both love being a mother more than anything but Tonya was the one person I could count on to talk to about it when it got to be too hard to handle. She wouldn’t sugarcoat anything and would validate me that it was ok to feel that way. With the birth of every child we’ve been in the waiting room for each other. The best way she showed me her love was by loving my children. 

And my children loved her so much. When Tonya lost her hair, I gave Nolan a talk that Aunt Tonya was going to look different on our way to visit her. He asked me, “Is her name still Tonya? Did her voice change? So in his 4 year old mind, he was convinced that Tonya was a man since men are the only people that he’s seen bald. And when it came to my children, she was more grandmotherly and went immediately to defending them anytime I told her a story about some hair-pulling moment with them.

When Tonya first told me about finding the lump, it was one of those, “You better get that checked out” conversations. I cannot describe the 20 months after that that were filled with countless appointments, treatments, medications, hair loss, and pain. And here we find ourselves with her no longer in pain but yet our pain is so intense. Not the same blinding rush of pain she had during her days with cancer but the pain that feels like a part of us died because you can’t live very long without a heart and our hearts are completely broken.

The hardest part of this is speaking of her in the past tense. Saying I “had” a sister rather than “have” feels like I just swallowed box full of nails as I try to form that one word. 

I’m not a professor and I don’t have research to back it up but I didn’t need a study to tell me that my sister promoted my psychological health. Let us all remember Tonya, not as a woman battling cancer, but as that fiery, spunky, and loving woman that will live on in all of us. 


Tonya's middle name, Vanesse, means butterfly. We had a butterfly release service at our church to symbolize so many things about her new journey as an angel and free of cancer. The service was absolutely uplifting and very therapeutic. Her beautiful and brave girls whispered prayers into the envelopes that carried the butterflies and released them.

After I said my prayer and released my butterfly, it lingered on my finger. It was exactly what I needed to know that she's still with me.  

She did the exact same thing for mom on her shirt sleeve and I'm so sure it was her way of saying, "Everything's going to be ok."

And so now the journey of healing begins and the best way I can describe it is looking at a huge mountain that seems impossible to climb and knowing that it's going to be so painful and you're going to fall down again, but the only way up is taking it one step at a time. 

The memories are seriously everywhere. Right now they are so painful but I know that one day, those memories will be such a source of joy.  I know she's with me, I feel her but I miss her like crazy. 

I love you Tonya. 

Love your Anna Banana 


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