Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I want my Ren TV.

20 Weeks

Last week, Mommy and Daddy and Ren all lived in one hotel room. Ren slept in a crib resembling "baby jail" and Mommy and Daddy took turns rocking Ren back to sleep when one of the three of us would accidentally wake the other two. It was nice to be together, however our nights were lacking one key element of our usual every day: the monitor. We use it every time Ren sleeps. It is such an amazing modern tool for baby that I found I missed it even if we were all in the same room. I wanted to be able to WATCH him—without actually breathing down his neck. Although I think he'd like that. He likes face-to-face-I-mean-face-smashed-to-face time these days.

Nanny Skura watches us too, and posts her findings on Facebook. I like seeing how happy we look. Our family certainly doesn't lack in the love department.

23 Weeks

Beautiful and sweet, first-born Emma will rule the Skura cousins with her mighty smile and joyful smarts.

23 Weeks

Mommy smiling at Emma and keeping Ren from JUMPing at Nanny's phone.

23 Weeks

Face-smashed-to-face. Or Vampire Baby with bad aim.

23 Weeks

Ren discovers new toys. Mommy and Daddy discover new feelings about baby keyboards: a must have.

23 Weeks

Emma, Ren, and Joey. The adults in this photo are invisible.

23 Weeks

Priceless: Ren's face when he realized up close that Uncle Mark was not Daddy. Uncle Mark's face when he realized Ren liked to JUMP!

When will Facebook turn into a reality show?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Little of That

22 Weeks

3/7/15 7:24am EST

I’m having left over chocolate cake for breakfast. Bill Cosby said it was OK but who can believe anything he says anymore? Ren said it was OK.

Playing God. Two days ago I came up with the idea that we await my mother’s immediate fate based on the results of a new EEG. If her failing liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, hemorrhaging GI tract and eyeballs have not killed her they have destroyed her brain and put her in a coma. Julian, Matt, and I know she does not want to be kept alive by machines. She has said if she can’t think, she doesn’t consider herself in existence. That means we have to talk about... this...

The most difficult job in the past few days hasn’t been trying to function, or work, or wrangling doctors, nurses, and wandering opinions, it has been conversations with my mother’s father. I did not grow up knowing him well but in my small world, he is legendary. He is a voice of reason and wisdom. Conversing with him has been profound.

Profound. Everything is profound now. Like everyone said about childbirth, you can’t know how this feels until you’re there—losing a parent. My step-mother said this is losing a part of yourself. I look down at my mother’s hands attached to the ends of my arms. I am a part of her and she, me. We are all a part of each other. The Beatles sang it well.

Profound images will forever rattle around in my head:

Hand pumping breast milk next to my unconscious mother. The sounds of death and machines as I pump my son’s life.

Cocooned inside a crowd around an airport chair, I am lost inside my head, thinking about my mother. I glance up at an, “is that a costume?”, exaggeratingly gowned, orthodox priest. His heavy, golden cross the size of my forearm dangles inches from my eyes.

Sitting on the lid of our bathroom toilet while I listen to a neurologist explain his definition of ‘severe brain damage’. I glance at the floor and watch a lady bug struggle in circles around her broken wing.

Yesterday, in good story fashion, we painstakingly awaited the test results of the new EEG. It took two days to receive the information. The two longest days of my life. We were hoping they would give us a clear picture of the right thing to do. The stuff of movies. Except the movies don’t tell you that the truth about ‘pulling the plug’ is that the person you know and love is still in there. You know she is. She is in there frightened and suffering and trapped in her own hell and without knowing her thoughts, without her even knowing her thoughts, you have to decide if murder is the humane thing to do. I believe ending this torture IS the right thing to do but I didn’t know I would be a part of swinging the axe. It’s easy to have an opinion about our culture’s morality. It is a very different thing to be faced with the reality of it.

I can’t help but think about what Ren would do in a situation like this. I never want Ren to have to go through this. There has to be a better way for our society to deal with… this…

3/12/15 7:44am CST

Elizabeth (known affectionately as "Liz" or "Dale") Dallas Robbins Vela, 68, of Plano, TX died March 8, 2015. [It was tragic and terrifying and will forever haunt her children.] Elizabeth, born in Raleigh, NC, daughter of William Robbins and Winnie Johnson, loving wife of Julian Vela, passed away at the Medical Center of Plano in Texas. [She didn’t speak about her childhood very often. She had a strained relationship with her difficult mother.] She is survived by her father William, husband Julian, daughter Jennifer Skura and son Matthew Vela as well as her brother, Billy Robbins, sister Linda Ariella Robbins, niece Amanda Zoloto, and grandson, Ren Skura. [All of who knew only a precious fraction of her intelligence, strength, and power that suffocated inside her layers of challenges and self-doubt.] Liz worked as a technical writer and her hobbies included reading, photography, collage, gardening, and spending quality time with friends and family. [These are things she used to do mostly before she got sick. Towards the end of her life she enjoyed sitting on her porch, in front of her TV, or looking at pictures of her newborn grandson whom she never met.] She will be greatly missed by many who appreciated her empathetic heart, creative talents, and sharp wit. [Her daughter struggled desperately to make this part of the obituary truthful and succinct. She misses her mother and chokes on her own love and anger.] The family is grateful for any donations given to your preferred charity in honor of Liz. A memorial celebration will be held Friday, March 13th at Gaston Oaks Baptist Church (non-denominational service). [She wasn’t into the mythology of religion. She believed in the power of God as love. Her son was angry the ceremony was in a church. Her daughter was outraged and unprepared for... this... ]

3/13/15 8:58am CST

Mom’s memorial service is today. I wanted to write a eulogy or at least something to say. I wasn't asked to do the eulogy. So I asked to if I could speak because I definitely had something to say. I sat in the bathtub last night with a pen and wet piece of paper struggling to write the truth. I don’t want to speak unless I say the truth. I made a list. I’ll bring it.

The horror of watching my mother die will forever scar my heart. It can't be in vein. This... can't be.

3/14/15 1:58am EST

I spoke the truth about all of... this... while Greg held our son amidst family and friends.

Ren may not have known his Grandmother, but he will know the story about how he went to her funeral because his mother loved her so much.

Friday, March 13, 2015

"...tell why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death, have burst their cerements..."

21 Weeks

21 Weeks, 3 Days

2/28/2015 4:14pm EST

“I’m gonna do the next square.”

“No, Danny. Keep going! You’re about to win!”

“But the square.”

“No, Danny, look! You’re winning!”

“OK. [Danny pushes more buttons. His screen makes more noises.] I did it! Look! Yay!”

“Yeah Danny! Yay! You won again! Good job!”


“Yeah. Mom? Yeah, Danny, again. Mom? Mom. Can I have a coke, Mom?”

Approaching the airport charging station, I see a colorful family of five and remember where I’m headed—Texas. Dad, nice watch, nice iPad. Mom, coiffed, blonde head dotingly tilted on her husband’s shoulder. She scrolls through text messages while ignoring every other “mom” she hears. Big sis oversees little Danny’s game on another screen in his lap. Four-eyed middle kid sits afar with crayons and blank pages. The tower of electricity hovers uselessly over his head.

I park my overstuffed shoulder bags next to a young woman and her dagger nails. She types on the device in her lap and speaks into the device in her palm. “She’ll get sick if there’s too much chicken. Don’t, yeah, don’t do too much.” Dagger nails moves her coffee and her iced tea so I may spread out and plug in. Dead batteries: the new equalizer. I attach my computer to the neon totem and my cell phone to the computer. I make sure the energy symbol starts to rise then sit across from the oasis and wait. I stare at the floor for a while. Stare at the screen above my head for a while. Chuckle when I hear an announcement that the flight we are waiting for has not left—“there’s an error on the monitor and the system needs rebooting.” I wonder about the question that prompted the announcement and what came after. “No m’am. We are not flying right now. You are at the gate waiting to board the plane. I know it says the plane has left but it hasn’t. The system is rebooting. REBOOTING.”

I need rebooting.

My mother needs rebooting.

I blink and watch the little boy exclaim another joyless, loud, “yay” for his newest victory. I’ve been sitting across from him for a total of 180 seconds and I’ve heard this same “yay” at least every thirty of them. How exciting can it be to win every single game? And why is it so important he continue to do so? Is he accruing frequent flyer miles for the flight his entire family is about to board? “Hurry Danny. One of us has to stay behind if you don’t win another round! Go Danny! Win Danny!”

I think about Ren. Will he be a swiper or a scribbler? I secretly hope more of the scribble. By the time he’s old enough to do either, will there be something else? Will we all be sitting around a telepathy station when we fly?

Ren. When do I need to pump again? I check my itinerary that Greg prepared for me only hours ago.

Thank goodness for a husband who cares about details. At home, I felt like a Washington executive as he handed me a credit card and a stack of clipped paperwork, complete with highlighted maps. I continue stuffing random clothes into any bag I can find and run downstairs.

“How many bottles in a day?”

“I think… eight?”

I pull more baggies of frozen breast milk out of the ice box and start calculating the ounces Sharpied on the outside. More good fortune—I’ve been collecting extra breast milk for months now. Ren can do without my presence for at least a couple of days. Me, I will still have to pump every few hours to trick my body into thinking he’s still around.

I blink again. He’s not around. I’m sitting in an airport hundreds of miles away from my five-month-old son. I haven’t been hundreds of seconds away from him since he was conceived. I shake it off. This, what I’m doing, why I’m doing, is important.

Hang in there, Mom.

2/28/2015 7:08pm EST

I think I have HELP ME written into the lines in my forehead. I got a first class seat on the first leg of my journey, I was moved to economy in the exit isle for the second, and because the credit card machine was down, I got a free meal on a plane. What is this—1985? Thank you universe for the air travel kindness. Even the pat down at security felt nice. I haven’t had a hearty vertical back rub since before we became parents. Now, I get a sleepy pat on the neck once a month before Greg and I start to snore on each other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a glorious neck pat. It’s filled with love. Exhausted love.

The last time I sat on a plane typing away my fears it was six years ago and I was headed to Dallas to check in on my brother. I was worried he was doing a few too many drugs and a few too little family hugs. If I could go back to that visit and show him a vision of today, I wonder if he’d do anything differently. It’s amazing how quickly things can get ugly.

“Take care of your body, you only have one.”

I keep thinking I’m going to pronounce this somewhere of perceived importance. An obvious message to anyone who will listen: 

“Be nice to yourself and love yourself because you are your only you and you are only truly responsible for you. You only have yourself to be with you for the rest of you that exists. No one else and nothing else will give you the love you need that has to come from taking care of yourself. Don’t leave it up to other people and other things. Don’t be lazy and don’t be afraid to appear selfish. If you take care of what you need to make yourself happy and healthy, then you’ve done all you can and you will be as happy and as healthy as you can be. And then there is the added bonus of passing on happiness and healthiness to others around you. It’s good for us all if you are good to you. Be compassionate to yourself as well as the other people and things you love. It will be hard. There is no easy fix or path that will give you the happiness only you can know in your gut. Don’t pretend to be happy for the sake of others. It won’t work. Don’t pretend to be happy because you are ashamed of what makes you happy. It won’t work. Don’t lie to yourself and don’t hate yourself. You won’t survive. Find your love of you inside of you. Close your eyes and know what it means to have nothing else but you to be there for you. You are really all there is. And at the same time, that you, that you need to love, is also everyone else. If you practice this and pass this on to others, especially those you teach, you will find the secret to happiness. Loving everything through yourself is the secret to happiness.”

It’s that simple. Very. Simple. So difficult, it’s simple.

Plane is landing. So is my free dinner.

3/1/15 12:34am CST

Oh right. It’s the end of February. The short month.

Muzak plays in a cold parking garage lined with hundreds of brightly lit rental cars. “Pick any car in the economy lot. The keys are in it.” I wonder what would happen if I open doors and start all the cars. What if I take that BMW? What if I drive off in another company’s car? Then I remember everything is automated and loaded with computer chips. Even if I managed to get in the wrong car, they’d probably send a drone to zap me out of my seat. Why is the economy seat desirable on a plane but the cheap chair on the ground? Inches are relative.

I pick out a silver mini something, get in, and look at a map. (Later my brother called it a “suppository.” It fits.) I realize I’m headed to old stomping grounds. I don’t even need directions. I drive past the smiling man in a booth and abruptly stop at the electronic arm blocking me from the road. In my rear view mirror Mr. Smiles is frowning outside his little house and waving both of his little arms. I back up and apologize, blaming the novelty of my experience.

“Your mind is somewhere else.”

“It is. It is.”

“Unusual this snow, yes?”

“It is. It is.”

“Were you supposed to be here yesterday? Did the snow keep you away?”

“Oh no. I was supposed to be here today.”


I head to the hotel in the ice and snow. I have never seen a snowflake in Dallas, Texas and my mother is dying.

3/1/15 9:14am CST

Leaving for the hospital.

I’m afraid.

3/2/15 7:32pm CST

Voice Mail
Listen  |  Close

In Chicago, we taxi toward take off. I look around, quickly remove the airplane setting on my phone and hit listen. In the silence, I remember. This isn’t going to be her. She can't speak. I hear her voice in my head. I'm already haunted. I want to be haunted. I want her to come back and tell me her secrets. I hear a familiar voice: “Heeeey. It’s your— Hold on. It’s— Hey. It’s your brother. I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before Ms. Thaaaaang. I need a hair model for my interview tomorrow. It’s you! Be my hair model. Call me if you’re back. It’s at 1:45p.”

We all grieve differently.

I left the hospital last night with my brother. We held hands over mom, with mom. A twisted ‘ring-around-the-rosy.’ Then Matt and I looked up and into each other’s eyes and giggled. I’m not sure why. He told me about his new boyfriend and pulled on my hair, telling me how awful it looked. “It’s called a comb.” I look at the time and see there is about ten minutes left before they will ask us to leave. No visitors after 10pm. I had gotten there at 9:30am. I went to say goodbye and I did. I wanted to stay and I didn’t. I’ve got to get back to Ren and Greg and figure out how to do this—this weird thing of being around death from afar—with my son and my husband near me and with actual luggage and clean underwear. I had packed for this trip in twenty minutes. I’m now carrying a garbage bag full of breast milk. I begged it, sans the breast milk of course, off an O’Hare porter in the ladies room after a TSA inspection busted a few of the Ziplocks I was using to for milk storage.

I am a walking Saturday Night Live sketch on the Devil’s TV.

3/4/15 6:59pm EST

I woke up in the middle of the night last night dreaming my body was covered in yellow jackets and each of them penetrated my skin. It didn’t sting, it ached, and when I woke the pain was still there. Then I remembered why. This is what a broken heart feels like. This is grief. Dark and sticky. The stuff of vomit and a numbness not worth the experience.

Ren was born five months ago today. He never met his Grandma.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

To be human is to create.

20 Weeks

Artists aren't 'free-spirits'. They are the control-freaks of the world—interpreting the overwhelming chaos of reality. Painfully, achingly, persistently, obsessively attempting to explain the unknown.

Ren's curiosity is contagious. He has furious focus and an excitement about everything with which his senses come in contact. Greg and I are students at Ren University.