Thursday, August 24, 2017

Looking Back...

The other day I was looking through pictures on my iPod for some reason, and I went into the pictures from the Summer and Fall of 2013, pretty much four years ago at this time of year.  As I swiped through them, my emotions were all over the place.  It was one of the hardest periods of my entire life, if not the hardest, and yet there were these moments of joy and beauty in the midst of it that almost made me wish I could jump back in time. 

On one hand there was my absurdly adorable six-month-old Carter.  Every picture of him was cuter than the last.

I mean, the current version of Carter is so awesome and super cute and such a little character, and I wouldn't trade him for the world.  But how could you not miss that face?  He was such a happy baby and that was before he could talk back!  I'm very conscious of the fact that my baby boy is on the verge of true big-boyhood, and it kills me a little more every day because he's the last one and time is flying by.  I know my days of hand-holding, plentiful hugs and kisses, and complete adoration of me (most of the time) are limited.  My heart ached seeing these pictures because I missed my baby, but his smiles made me smile, too.  Of course, what you don't see in these pictures is that we had just started solids, and a week in he started projectile vomiting, which led us to believe he had a rice intolerance.  I'm still not sure what it was, since it didn't seem to take as long as expected for him to outgrow it, but whatever it was, it was pretty stressful at the time.

The last five pictures above were taken on a trip to Pittsburgh with Craig's family.  Throughout that trip his dad was not feeling well, and by the end of it, it was clear something was very wrong.  Instead of going home at the end of that trip, he checked into the hospital and by the time he left, he had endured bypass surgery.  Having him go through those life-threatening heart problems was really scary, and in the midst of everything else that was going on, it was overwhelming.

Because, oh yeah, this was also the time when Jacob's behavior was really ramping up and we were dealing with horrible tantrums and massive stand-offs.  We were holding him down to stop him from kicking or punching us, having him call us names in the middle of Walmart when something didn't go right, dealing with major aversions to certain clothing, and just generally struggling through everything.  He was starting Kindergarten on top of it, and we were at a complete loss to figure out how to manage it all.  I felt helpless, and most days it took everything I had to hold it together. 
Man, it seems like ages ago now.  Hard to believe we're almost to round five of the first day picture (six if you count the baby announcement one the year before)!
Then, less than a week after school started, we were off to Florida for eight days.  It was a pre-planned trip that was supposed to be with Craig's whole family 10 months earlier, got postponed due to his mom's medical emergency, then got postponed further because of my pregnancy, and finally got rescheduled in September, only to get another wrench thrown into it by Craig's dad's heart surgery.  So instead of going with his parents, we went alone.  In the end it was probably better that way, as we were still figuring a lot of things out and Jacob's behavior probably would have been very disappointing to them.  But there we were in paradise, at the Happiest Place on Earth...

And honestly, there is something special about Disney.  There is always magic in the air, and despite our internal (and external) turmoil, there was something about that place.  The contrast was probably a little jarring, being in this amazing place and being so sad and tortured inside, so my feelings about that trip are rather mixed up.  On one hand we got to see all of these amazing places, ride some great rides, and get away from the daily grind for a bit.  Carter was easier than expected to manage, and while exhaustion wasn't always easy to avoid, I think we did pretty well with the long days, all things considered.  I had a nasty cold, too, but thankfully medication helped and it eased up about halfway through.  But on the other hand, Jacob was a major handful and the pleasant moments like this one were fewer and farther between than we would have liked.
With the toy soldiers at Hollywood Studios on our first day in the park
And this picture, well, it was probably taken right around the moment our lives changed forever.  Right around this point durngthe first full day in Florida, we got a call from Jacob's pediatrician.  We had sent him for blood work a few days earlier to see if maybe his meltdowns were being caused by some sort of vitamin deficiency or hormonal imbalance, and the results were in.  I remember sitting there as Craig talked to her, not entirely comprehending what I was hearing but not liking the sound of it.  And when Craig hung up the phone, he confirmed that the doctor thought Jacob might have Celiac disease.  We sat there for a few minutes in disbelief, trying to process that news and wondering where we went from there.
Near Toy Story Mania, probably our favorite ride of the whole trip (and longest wait)!
We weren't supposed to start the diet right away, but after an evening of Googling and seeing that behavior could improve immediately upon starting a gluten-free diet, we decided to try it in case it could save the second half of our trip.  So we spent the vacation (stupidly but desperately) trying to track down the gluten-free options around the property, just in case it worked.  It didn't, and in retrospect we should have enjoyed the gluten-fest while we could and made our lives a heck of a lot easier by not limiting where we could eat (even though Disney is awesome for dietary restrictions, it was still a little challenging).  But it just shows how desperate we were.

As I said, Jacob's behavior did not improve, but we did our best to work with his quirks and ensure he felt like he was getting what he wanted out of the vacation--including trying out every rentable piece of sports equipment at the resort.

In the meantime, Carter was an absolute delight.  He sat contentedly in the stroller, napped periodically, and went in the carrier strapped to me if he got fussy or we went on a gentle ride.
Seriously, look at that little nugget.

We had good moments, like riding Pirates of the Caribbean and Jacob picking his big souvenir, a pirate chest full of pirate supplies--compass, map, coins, a hat, a hook (and it's still hanging out in our house, now in Carter's room).
Never mind that this picture was taken at 11 or 12 at night and Jacob was still awake!
Jacob also got to embrace his inner pirate later in the trip when he took part in the pirate battle at the resort pool's waterslide.

One of our "rest days", where we got to spend time at the resort.  The sandbox in the pail was cute!

Riding a dino-themed, Dumbo-style ride at Animal Kingdom.  It was one of the few moments I felt like he and I got along on the trip.
And in between battles and trying to keep Jacob content, I had moments like this where I could take a couple seconds to stop and snap a picture of a lovely moment of my own, as I probably figured without the picture it would have been forever lost in the abyss of the challenges of the trip.
Art deco!  Giant palm trees!  Rapidly approaching rain!

Halloween at Disney!

Big Thunder Mountain at dusk...I was the only one who rode it, and it was probably my favorite!

The castle after fireworks

So pretty...more fall d├ęcor.

Similar picture of the resort as the daytime one above....and even though we always saw this view at the end of a long day as we arrived back at our condo, I found it so peaceful.

Had to capture the Florida foliage!

Spaceship Earth by night
Little moments of beauty in the midst of a lot of unhappiness.  And maybe that's the theme of the whole trip.  Sometimes it felt surreal to be there, and sometimes it was misery to be helplessly off our schedule and without routine.  I hated to leave, but also couldn't wait to get home.  It was a tale of two trips - the dream and the reality.  It was wonderful to be there and under ideal circumstances it could have been an amazing trip.  I felt grateful for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.  But the reality is that we had so many challenges and a major dose of bad news in the process, and sometimes it's harder to deal with that stuff in an unfamiliar setting.  Looking back, a lot of the bad memories have faded, but the mere sight of these pictures leaves me with a heaviness because I know how  I felt when I took them.  

We had other challenges that fall, from Craig's Nana falling ill, to working through our first attempt at behavior therapy, to a very difficult adjustment to Kindergarten.  Tears were nearly a daily occurrence.  My life didn't even feel like my own.  It was out of my control and almost surreal that our situation was that bad.  I felt completely overwhelmed and in a fog for months.  And it caught me completely off-guard when simply looking at these pictures evoked emotions I didn't expect--mixed emotions that so accurately represented what a strange time that was.  Extreme joy and extreme anguish, all in one moment.  I can't say our lives now are much easier--same stress, different problems--but I guess I feel a little less ambushed than I did after that sudden onslaught.  After four years, I don't feel any more equipped to manage it all well, but the emotions don't feel as raw most of the time.  Perhaps I've grown some armor after so many battles.  Sometimes I feel like we've still come a long way, but sometimes it's clear there isn't enough armor in the world to fix what ails us. For better or for worse, it was definitely an interesting part of our journey...and I guess the journey is what it's all about.

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