2017…watch me! 

2016 brought us some deep struggles. But as I always say, it is my struggles I am most grateful for. Through these, I have always become the best version of myself. In 2016, I said goodbye to a boy who had a large part of my heart. I lost a job that I was truly passionate about. I watched my father take his last breathe. I buried my best friend, the biggest part of me, my heart and soul. I began a battle that was truly driven by jealousy and deceit. 

I have truly amazed myself in the past twelve months. Through my struggles I have molded myself into a resilient and strong person. I have become someone that is completely opposite of who I was twelve months ago. I have become the truest version of myself. Through prayer, I have survived. 2016 began with me in a deep depression, struggling with the idea of even surviving this year. Literally. 

In the same breathe, 2016 has been a year of great strength. My son has inspired me to push through every struggle. Watching him fight through his battles has made me put life into perspective. In 2016, I watched my son suffer seizure after seizure while doctors told us we were wrong. In 2016, I got a call from his daycare while I was an hour away, to tell me he suffered a grand mal seizure. 

I remember how my heart pounded as I drove those fifty minutes to my son’s side. I walked into that hospital room to see Anthony laying lifeless on a bed, as doctors pulled his eyelids back to see if his eyes had gone back to normal. I watched his chest pump up and down, in the most constraining motion, as if he were gasping for air. I prayed for the moment he would wake up. And when he did, I smiled at him, only to watch him smile back with one side of his face. Paralyzed from the seizure that he had just suffered.

In 2016, I learned a hard lesson  about who my true friends and family are. While this realization made me sad for our losses, it made me oh so grateful for the gains of our true family. In 2016, I feared that I could be the Mom that my son needed me to be. I worried that he deserved more. I feared that I would screw him up because of all that screwed me up. In 2016, I wondered how I could possibly survive. As I enter 2017, the fact that I did makes my year so much more amazing.

I look forward to a year of answers. We go to Boston in January with promises of some answers to Anthony’s struggles. I look forward to seeing my son thrive rather than watching him struggle. In 2017, I’m confident that medicine will be on our side. I look forward to watching Anthony reap the benefits of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. While many of our family has no clue, our son has silently struggled with the affects of his stroke in so many aspects of his life. I’m looking forward to watching his therapy ease his work load. I’m praying for an easier life for the most amazing human being I’ve ever known. 

In 2017, I wish wealth, health, and happiness to all the amazing people I am blessed to know. To those that have hurt me, I wish the love and forgiveness that only God can bring. To find all that you are missing in life, to find what you are lacking. To my mother, I wish a new found lease on life. Although it is difficult without my Dad, I hope you find the beauty in every day that I am sure he is bringing to you. 

For my son, I wish an amazing and life changing 2017. I hope you continue to bring joy to those around you. I hope you continue to raise awareness to pediatric brain tumors. I hope you continue to raise awareness for seizure disorder. I want to continue to watch you change the world with your genuine concern for other human beings. It amazes me that at 2 years old, this is who you are. You are someone who will make this world a better place.

2016, thank you for my struggles. Through them I have become a better version of myself. Through my struggles I have come to appreciate those that truly have my back and know the values of loyalty, love, and dedication. I have learned to care about those who care about me, first and foremost. I have learned to stop worrying about those who don’t matter in my life. 2016, thanks for the lessons, and thanks for all the amazing opportunities that lie ahead as we embark on 2017. This year is mine! 

Go Gold Already!

I don’t believe in rants. In a time when politics are absolutely out of control, listening to other people’s opinions makes me stomach sick. I am all too familiar with people with a personal vendetta using media outlets to blast those that they aren’t so fond of. So to me, rants are just a way to hurt others. But I think in this case, my rant is justified.

Back in September I went into Shoprite, like I normally do each week, and I was asked to donate money to breast cancer awareness programs. Based on how I was raised, I had a really hard time saying no. Regardless, it bothered me that they were asking me to donate money to breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness month is in October and everything in me became overcome with anger as I informed cashiers what September was really about.

“I’ll donate to your cause, but you should really be raising money for childhood cancer awareness,” I said to the cashier. She just shrugged her shoulders and smiled at me. I looked back at my husband and I said, “You know what, Rob. I can’t walk out of this store like this. Grace has taught me too much.” Grace is a young woman who raises awareness for childhood cancer. In fact, while Rob, Nico, Gabriella, Nana, Pop, and I sat in the hospital and waited for days to see if Anthony’s tumor was cancerous, Grace was busy gathering presents to send to Anthony to encourage him to fight this nasty battle.

At this moment, I thought, “What would Grace do?” Rob and I went over to Customer Service and asked to speak to the manager. The young man pointed to a rough around the edges kind of guy and we approached him. I said, “You know September is childhood cancer awareness month, and you guys should really raise money for that cause because there are children in our own community fighting for their lives against cancer.” He dismissed me with a “you’re right” attitude that assured me he would do nothing.

A lovely woman approached me and pointed out a manager who was in charge of many of the fundraising efforts. She seemed ever so compassionate as we talked about Anthony’s experience and our experience with other children. I thought about sweet Luke Dunn and how my heart aches regularly for him. No, he isn’t my child. But my child was in those circumstances, and my heart aches real pain for his parents.

The manager encouraged me to write a letter so I went home and wrote the most heart wrenching, jaw dropping, inspiring letter I could put to paper. I was proud of that letter. In my mind, nothing would stop that local store from raising money for childhood cancer awareness soon, or at the least, next year. I received a generic, we can’t please everyone response and I was angry. I was so angry. But I put it aside for the time being.

Today I learned Michael Buble’s dear son Noah was diagnose with cancer. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. While most people felt a desperate relief that maybe we would finally bring a voice to childhood cancer awareness, I looked at this couple as two regular human being who were just told their child had cancer. And my heart literally ached for them.

Childhood cancer has no boundaries. It knows no prejudices. It hits the most compassionate people, the kindest children, even the most famous children. And while we spend the month of October turning everything pink, raising money for breast cancer, being mindful of what this month means, where the hell are all these people in September. I’m sorry for my anger, but how the hell can you sit here and raise awareness for breast cancer in such a fierce way, without raising awareness for childhood cancer with the same drive?

I’m not sure about you, but my son means everything to me. In fact, I would die a million times over to save any of the children in my life. Wouldn’t you? So why is it so God damn hard for us to recognize childhood cancer awareness month and go gold in September? It shouldn’t take a celebrity or a famous face to make us all aware that children are dying from this terrible disease. I have friends of mine who fight every day to make you all realize that only 4% of research goes to childhood cancer. FOUR PERCENT! Do you realize how little that is?!

I’m not asking for money or funds, I’m asking for your voice. Raise your voice for childhood cancer awareness just as your raise your voice for breast cancer awareness. The fact is that seven children are dying of cancer each day and twenty four are diagnosed. Do you want your children to be part of that statistic? Of course not. None of us can imagine we are part of that battle until we are thrown into the mix. Just as Michael Buble has it all in life, sometimes having it all is having your children safe and healthy.

Think of all the children that can’t afford to get the best treatment, the strongest medication, the most knowledgeable doctors. Think of them and feel sorry for children fighting this disease. Think of them and spread awareness throughout each day of your life. Think of them and go gold for childhood cancer. Because someday, our children deserve for us to fight so hard that they have a damn chance.

Carpe Diem

My Dad taught me a lot throughout the years. One of the most important lessons he taught me was to live in the moment. I can remember vividly the moment he told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. I was driving home from work- a two minute drive at the time-when my phone rang halfway between my job and home. I answered the phone with excitement, as I always did when my Dad called, but immediately felt a vibe as if something was wrong. There weren’t many times when my Dad would call me when he was serious in his tone or in our conversation. This was one of those rare moments.
“Well I went to the doctor today because your mother was worried about my health with us leaving for Florida,” he said. Immediately I KNEW that he was about to tell me he was having heart issues again. After all, the sweating, difficulty breathing, excessive weight gain, were so symptomatic of where we were two years prior when he underwent a quadruple bypass. “I was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. I immediately pulled into the old Jeep Wrangler dealership on 34 as I couldn’t tell if I was going to pass out, throw up, or just have a complete mental breakdown. The elephant that jumped on my chest at that moment completely kept me from being able to take a breath. I hid my emotions to my Dad. “Ok so what, you’re strong, you’re positive, we’ll get through this. You’re a Dalton!” I was so confident in my positive way of thinking that his next words hit me like a freight train. “My cancer isn’t curable, but it is slow moving,” he said.
I don’t remember much of our conversation. What I remember next is pulling up to the house saying to myself “how the HELL am I going to keep it together when I see Rob with the kids here. There is no way I can walk into that house without having a complete break down.” Luckily, as I stepped through the door, my phone rang and I looked down to see it was my Uncle Turkey. Rob knew by the look on my face that something was terribly wrong, but I was able to sneak away from the kids and talk to my uncle exactly when I needed him. It’s funny how every since that moment, he calls me every time I really need it. That time was really tough for me. It was a time where I was at a cross road and really unsure of how we would all get through this when I knew one of us wouldn’t get through it alive. My relationship with my Dad was so incredibly strong that I literally didn’t know what the upcoming years would hold for us as a family.
I’m glad I can now say how grateful I am for that journey that started years ago with a heart wrenching phone call from my dear old Dad. I learned so much since then. Most importantly for me, I chose to live in the moment and cherish every single moment that we had together. That made all the difference as I said goodbye to the man who not only brought me into this world and molded me into who I am today, but the guy who in my adult years had become such a great friend to me that I couldn’t imagine my life without him. What made it even more difficult was that I watched him and my son, in such a short time, develop such an amazing relationship that my heart ached to imagine Anthony living without his Pop. The situation was sad. It was so very sad. And here we were living it with smiles on our faces because when Mike Dalton was around, sad was the last emotion anyone could feel.
It’s in these thoughts that I am grateful for my actions the past few years. I knew that time was limited. It seemed like each passing holiday, each birthday, each Father’s Day I couldn’t work hard enough to give him the best gift. Ultimately, I always left myself kicking the past version of me in the butt as I felt the need to top what I had done the year before. But I can honestly say, I lived each year as if it was his last. This is what I am so grateful for. It took a lot of planning, but Rob and I decided that we would talk to my Mom about planning a surprise weekend for my Dad to see his cousins if they were up to taking the trip. I have a similar relationships to my cousins as he did with his growing up. Knowing how important that is to me and how dear to my heart they all were, we embarked of a journey to surprise my Dad with a visit from his NJ cousins. For those of you who know my Dad, you can imagine how difficult a task it is to surprise him.
We hit many bumps in the road and had to reschedule, but in the end, we made it happen. I can honestly say that, to this point, there is no action of mine that I feel more grateful for than following through with this action. Life is crazy for all of us. I remember many times saying to myself, to my Mom, to Rob, let’s just reschedule to another time. But we didn’t. And before we knew it, here were my Dad’s cousins walking up the front walkway getting ready for the surprise of a lifetime. To this day my Mom and their friends talk about how completely surprised he was with what was actually going on that weekend.
But now I sit and wonder whether it was my Dad who gained from this relationship or whether it was myself and my family. From the moment they all walked in, Alice and Jim, Rich and Cherie, Marcia and Joe, meeting them for the first time as an adult, there was no feeling in our heart besides this is family and this is love. It was as if they had been in our lives from the beginning. Our love for them runs deep. I lost my Dad in January, but luckily for my family, we lived in the moment and reunited with his family the spring preceding his death.
Today my Dad’s family stopped by to see us on their way back to NJ. I realized how much I love these people. How much I missed the ones I didn’t see. I realized how grateful I was that everything fell into place for all of us. I realized how happy I was for that time we spent together last May. I remember being tired from all the efforts, but energized from the feeling of accomplishment and pride. Today, I was reminded that while I no longer have my Dad, I do have so many people that were a part of him to keep his memory alive. And nothing makes me happier than watching my son benefit from these efforts.
All of us hear people saying “Life is too short!” I feel like so many people walk around saying “Live in the moment” or “Seize the Day!” But how many of us actually do that? I know I don’t always jump at the opportunity to make things happen. But there was this one time not too long ago, that I did. That one time that I put everything else aside to just live in the moment made all the difference in my life. That time when I said “Hey, life is too short to wait until tomorrow,” made me realize how painstakingly true that statement is. I thank God each day that I don’t live with the regret of waiting until next time. Because my lesson in this situation certainly was that there is no next time. And seizing the day not only made a difference in the life of the man I was trying to please, it made a difference in the life of my entire family. For that, and the fact that this most recent visit got me writing again, I am forever grateful to my New Jersey family!

To the Mom who sacrificed it all…

She brought me into this world. It wasn’t what she expected, but with the help of my dear Grandma Hale, my Mom told my Dad the child they had briefly discussed having without having come to a definitive agreement was already on her way. I now understand her fears of being an older mother, but can assure you they were all proven to simply be the fear of the unknown. 
My Mom gave me a beautiful childhood. She helped me with my homework each night, made sure I succeeded in school, never missed a school event or sports activity, sat on PTA boards and was a Brownie Mom for the Girl Scouts. My Mom cared for me with patience, she surrounded me with loving and compassionate people, she encouraged my relationships with other people in my family, even if they made her feel second best. My Mom sacrificed so much during my upbringing to make sure I had everything I needed, wanted, and so much more. My Mom brought me into this world and she made sure every day since was better than the last. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t always appreciate her and all she did for me. As with most teenage regret, I spent my high school years hating every decision she made for me. Instead of appreciating the direction she was pointing me in for my life, I resented her for going against what I wanted in the moment. Instead of understanding that the no’s often meant she was protecting me, the maybe’s often meant she would look into it to assure her only daughter would be safe, I criticized her for anything other than yes dear. But I don’t regret my regrets. What I mean by that is that I’m thankful that I was wrong. I’m thankful that I learned what a wonderful Mom I really had. I’m blessed that, although it often made her life difficult she stood by her no’s and she followed through with her maybe’s. 

Now I’m someone’s Mom. I appreciate all she taught me when it comes to being a mother to my son. I am grateful for all the important life lessons and values she instilled in me. I understand from the bottom of my heart all the love and concern that went into each no. I understand what a struggle it was to follow through but what an act of love it was to be consistent.

I see my Mom, now as a grandmother, and I appreciate her in a whole new way. She loves my stepchildren as her own. She supports them in ways one wouldn’t expect. She never misses an opportunity to be cheering for them in the sports stands or beaming with pride at a school event. She holds a place in her heart equal to the space she has allotted for my son, and we can’t ask anything more than that. She is a Nana who loves her grandson unconditionally. She is one who is there for every single glorious moment in his life and who runs to our side for every battle we have faced. As a grandmother, my Mom is even more patient and kind and loving than she was as my mother. She tells my son he is the greatest thing that happened to her and I believe that. Instead of saying “hey but I’m your daughter,” I appreciate her for putting forth so much of herself to make my son happy. I am beyond grateful that he has a relationship with his grandmother very similar to I did as a child. I’m even more grateful that I learned from my mother to encourage and appreciate the loving relationships that exist in Anthony’s life. I firmly believe that as he grows these relationships will make his life easier and happier and for that I’m proud to be just like my Mom.

But while she has supported me through every moment of my life, loved me unconditionally (even through my faults), and provided me with a happy, prosperous, and enriching life, it is the love she had for my father that has set her above the rest, in my eyes, as a Mother. She endured our endless bouts of busting her chops, she passed the phone without hesitation when she knew I always called to talk to him, she simply shook her head when she knew I went behind her back to get a yes out of him, she quietly sat in he background as I proudly proclaimed to be a daddy’s girl and that I loved my Dad the most. She calmly and collectively skated through all those years with a smile on her face and the ability to let everything roll off her shoulders. 

Then suddenly, when my Dad got sick, I saw my Mom in a whole new light. And I think that her undying and incredibly deep and inspirational love she had for my father was the greatest act of love she has shown me as my Mother. She kept him here until he no longer could fight. Whether she did it for him, or for herself, or for me, doesn’t matter. But the fact that my son got two wonderful years with him is an amazing gift that will always be my favorite thing in life. She sacrificed her earlier years for me and her later years for my father. It is no small act of love to stand by your wedding vows, “through thick and through thin, in sickness and in health,” and to provide your child with a loving home occupied by both of their parents. Especially with all the stress of today’s life, it takes a lot of commitment, effort, and sometimes a fight from within to do that. But my Mom showed me day in and day out, through her actions, that she loved me because she loved my Dad first. 

To top it all off, these past few months, she showed me that her loving qualities will continue to emerge as our relationship grows closer through the years. I had lost my best friend. I told her this. And in the wake of all the madness, she calmly, quietly, and easily slipped into my heart as the perfect replacement to the void I was feeling with the loss of my Dad. And she smiled contently when I referred to her as the “replacement best friend.” She put aside her own grief and heart break to make sure my heart was ok and that I could heal the way I would need to, just like the perfect Mom would naturally do.

Mom, thank you for literally giving me everything you could in life. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t recognize what you do and appreciate you for it. For loving me, my kids, my friends, my family, and mostly my Dad, I will always be indebted to you. I love you Mom. To the moon and back.

I can’t look…

I will never forget that moment. Anthony was being prepped for surgery and Doctor DiLuna came in to talk to us one last time to make sure we understood everything that was about to happen. He had someone alongside him who was pushing a computer. He asked if we wanted to see the imaging of the tumor. I instantly felt nauseous and angry. ABSOLUTELY NOT! I did NOT want to see this demon that was inside my son’s head and causing my family to be in this situation at this current time. So NO! I do NOT want to see the tumor. But Rob did. It’s the strength he carries when it comes to the medical situations that I wish so badly I could have…especially for Anthony.
I understand why Rob wanted to see, but I couldn’t. At least I couldn’t see while it was still in his head. Because my thoughts instantly went to what if this thing I’m about to look at is about to kill my son. For that reason alone, I just couldn’t do it. As Doctor DiLuna walked away, a million emotions ran through my head. I looked at Rob and said do you think I should have looked at it. He simply shook his head and said not if you don’t feel you want to. And there is was. The mix of emotions we had dealt with on this journey that left me feeling so troubled. I want to but I don’t want to. I should but I can’t. I need to but I’m scared.
Nine long hours later, Anthony emerged from the surgical unit with a swollen face and head. Although his head looked so much larger than the last time I saw my son, it was so much lighter without this tumor. The size of a small orange. For a little man like our Anthony, that’s a big pill to swallow. My son was living with a tumor that was the size of an orange. It was causing him incredible headaches. He was such a happy baby but in loud environments he cried so hard he would hold his breath. He vomited for days before doctors could diagnose him and even then they were WRONG.
It wasn’t until the veins were bulging in his forehead and his eyes went crossed from the pressure that we were able to figure out there was a real problem. And there he was. My precious little smiling son now crying with needles hanging from his little arms and an incision in the top of his head that would drain the excess spinal fluid. The crying would stop only because a ventilator would breath for him while he was fully sedated to undergo a more intense MRI and see the problem that we would fix the following day. My dad, the strongest man I have ever known, could barely stand at the sight of him. My stepchildren weeped at his bedside, I’m sure thinking they were coming to say goodbye to their brother. My mother standing strong as she always does…the rock in my madness. Rob’s cousins and aunts running to our side to hold me up and encourage me to keep it together. When I say this whole experience took an Army, it’s not an exaggeration.
So you wonder why this month of May is so important to me…why brain tumor awareness means so much. Despite popular belief, from a past filled with people who will never understand, it is not about standing on a soap box and feeling sorry for us. The strangest part of all of this is that I don’t feel sorry for any of us…not even my son. I feel strong because of this. I feel like this journey has brought us all so much closer, surrounded our son with so much love, filled our lives with incredible people, and humbled us beyond belief. But I do go back to that time. The time where the doctor looked in our eyes and said ten years ago there was no cure for your son’s illness. The time where the doctor looked in our eyes and said five years ago we had a cure but it still had its kinks. And when he looked in our eyes and said now we can do this surgery pretty successfully, however, your son’s tumor is resting against an artery. We need to cut off the blood supply to that artery for me to be able to remove the tumor. It really is a 50/50 shot.
Rob and I fought at that moment. We fought about who would sign the paper that would allow that surgery. We worried that the burden of responsibility should something go wrong would fall on that person who put the pen to the paper. I signed. He signed the paper for the tumor resection. It was a 50/50 deal from his parents. Anthony had a 50/50 shot and we all made it. Thank GOD!
So to the people who love me. To the people who love my husband. To the people who love my son. This month is so important to us. Without raising awareness, I would have lost my precious son that Rob and I worked so hard to bring into this world. As he gets older he makes me more and more aware of how blessed I am to have him. I have, since that day, looked at the image of his tumor. I’m not going to lie about it and act like I’m this incredibly strong woman. The first time I saw it…I couldn’t breath. It took my breath away. But now I look at this image with appreciation. I’m sure it sounds crazy to you. But I appreciate our struggle. Through it, I have found my greatest heroes, I have accomplished things I never thought I could, I have learned so much about love and life, and I have formed myself into a strong and loving woman.

My son was fighting for his life. I didn’t think he would make it. I couldn’t look at his tumor, but that tumor became the image at the front line of our battle. I know you might feel I’m on a soap box for my son’s illness, but what you will never understand is that it is far beyond that and far beyond your small minded way of thinking. I will continually work to find a cure for pediatric brain tumors. I will do this similar to the way that other have done before me that allowed my son to be alive. I have seen way to many precious souls die because of this terrible disease. I won’t take our journey lightly, Anthony WILL make a difference in the life of other brain tumor fighters.

And for those below us who like to justify our greatness as being on a soap box, I will tell you this. Soap box or not, we are making a difference. Spend as much time making an effort as you do talking shit and you will see how wonderful this world can be. God Bless!


You remind me of the Dad I just lost…

Dear adorable gentleman standing next to me in the store today,

I am sorry that I so rudely stared at you for about five minutes straight while you were trying to get assistance from an Apple technician with you iPad. I’m sure to you I seemed pretty rude and you were probably wondering why I was being so nosey. I can assure you that I didn’t hear a word of your conversation between yourself and the Apple technician. The thing is that I lost my Dad almost three months ago. When I glanced over at your hand holding your stylus, tapping on your iPad with such grace, a loose fitting wedding band on your finger, you reminded me so much of the Dad that I just lost. The handsome, charming, and gentle man who made my life so darn happy. As I continued to study your mannerisms, your striking resemblance to my father intrigued me and I simply could not physical draw my eyes away from you.

I watched you smile caringly at the technician who was doing his best to assist you. I couldn’t hear what you said, but I’m pretty sure you were paying him quick little compliments like my Dad would have done. You even looked at me and smiled. That was the exact reason I couldn’t stop staring at you. Because if my Dad were sitting there with some younger woman staring at him, he would never judge her, he would simply smile. He might even ask for a hug. I watched you finish up your business and walk away and everything in me wanted to run after you. I wanted to chase you to hold onto this feeling of my father in the flesh. But I knew that wasn’t a realistic option so I watched you walk away. As you walked away, you brought me back to that day.

My mom and I sat with my Dad in a hospital room as he was dying. He had spent way too many days in that hospital to begin with, but unfortunately it was our only choice. There were about five days that he spent “actively dying.” Five whole days where we didn’t know if each moment would be his last, if we said all we needed to say, if we did all we needed to do, if he had all he needed to have. Friday afternoon they told us he wouldn’t make it through the night. Just as he would have liked it, the hospital waiting room filled with family and friends. We took turns spending time with him in ICU and each said what we thought would be our final good-byes.

As great as they were, those nurses didn’t know my Dad. Mike Dalton would do it his way, and he would only go to the other side when he was good and ready and when he decided. For five grueling days I watched him fight the inevitable. Through lots of tears, questions, anger, desperation, and of course a million laughs, those five days were our what seemed to be a long, drawn out goodbye. Now I realize it was not long enough. I remember telling him so many times that it was okay for him to go. That I would be okay. That I want him to be at peace. That it was time. The truth is that I lied. I told him what I thought he needed to hear at that time. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean one word. And if I have one regret in my relationship with my father it is that I told him I would be okay without him. Looking back, I never wanted him to die thinking that my life as I knew it could exist without him. The truth is that it can’t. And it doesn’t.

As I watched him take his last breath, I immediately wished I could pull each one of those words back into my mouth. Because since that last breath, not one ounce of me has been okay. Just as we watched the fading pulse in his neck as he held on to the last possible second, a large part of who I am faded away as well. We were holding hands when my Dad died. I knew the exact second when his body gave up and he ended his battle with cancer because I felt him let go of my hand. That was the only time in my life I felt my Dad let go of me. Whether it was a hug, a kiss, a phone call, holding hands, or a goodbye, my Dad ALWAYS waited for me to let go first. That moment of feeling him let go with live in my memory forever. That moment is when I knew I had just not only lost my father, but my best friend (the fortunate yet unfortunate part of our relationship).

So to the man who smiled at me when I was so rudely starting at you in the store today, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being kind in such a cruel world. I wasn’t staring at you because I was being rude, I was staring at you because you gave me a feeling I hadn’t felt in almost three months. You reminded me of my Dad in the flesh and gave me hope that he very well may still be here. While I may have been making you uncomfortable, you made me feel at ease. And you know what, that’s just what my Dad would have done for some strange girl staring at him.


The girl who misses her Daddy



Will you come tomorrow?

I find it interesting that I am actually able to sit down to write tonight. Yesterday and today have been pretty surreal. I find my mind drifting and my thoughts all jumbled into one huge mess in my head. Where do I begin? Obviously good-byes are always hard, but, if you are lucky enough, you have planned your next face to face and have something to look forward to. This is not the case at the current moment for us. So to say that I catch myself finding it hard to breath is an understatement.

As I said, Valerii came to us by chance. We chose Zhenya. The difference in those two personalities is something you could never imagine. I chose Zhenya because of the twinkle in his eye, the mischief in his smile, the freckles on his nose, and the beautiful red hair he has. What lay beneath the surface of his exterior is something I don’t think I was ever prepared for or will ever completely wrap my brain around, but I don’t regret him coming here for one minute. Valerii is someone who snuck into our home and completely stole our hearts. I will never ever believe this was anything short of fate. Whether it was God or destiny, all I know is that that boy was meant to be here. And he will never leave my heart for one second for the rest of my life.

As we drove them to the airport, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I am usually pretty strong, but my heart was melting and aching at the same moment. Melting while looking at the cool new hair cuts Valerii and Zhenya were sporting and aching that this was goodbye. We tried to explain to Valerii that he was going back to the Ukraine but it just seemed like he wouldn’t accept what we were saying. We approached the airport and he started pointing at the planes yelling Sasha! Sasha! I suddenly realized that in his mind, we were pulling into Newark Airport to pick up his sister so we could all live happily ever after. I’m sorry to say that this was the farthest from the truth.

As we waited for his group to come through from their connecting flight, I told him that he would be getting on a plane to go back to the Ukraine. “You will be leaving with me?” I swallowed the lump in my throat as I answered no. “You will come tomorrow?” The tears dripped down my cheek as I again had to say no. “I will never see you? You will never come?” I didn’t lie when I explained that I would do everything in my power to see him again, and I will stand by that until the day I die. He simply said to me “I will not go.” I think he believed in his heart that Rob wouldn’t allow this to happen. The relationship the two of them had developed in the last two weeks of his stay is something I will forever admire my husband for.

I never expected Rob to open his heart to these boys the way he did. The patience he displayed, his ability to get through to them on a different level than I sometimes could, his playfulness, his genuine love for them, his compassion to their needs, and how he threw all that he “was” out the door to change his life for them is something that leaves me feeling indebted to him. I’m happy. I’m happy that Zhenya and Valerii, for the first time, knew the love of a father. They knew that “Papa is good.” But at the same time, I knew that Valerii’s separation from Rob would crush him. Equally crushing would be his departure from Anthony. Not as if it surprised me, but Anthony’s resilience through the tough times, his desire to help these boys, and the love he showed them despite the circumstances left me feeling proud of my son once again. Through the broken toys, the bumps and bruises, the need to suddenly share his Mom and Dad, Anthony continued to be his loving and happy self. While his relationship with Zhenya was a tumultuous roller coaster, him and Valerii became brothers. They would laugh together, kiss each other goodnight, and look out for one another day after day. He still walks through the house yelling “Larrrrrrry??????” (The nickname Valerii gained as a result of Anthony’s limited language at this moment 🙂 )

I hugged Valerii tight and we held on for a while near the gates. I pulled his face away from me, kissed him and said “I love you. Be a good boy.” NO MAMA! NO! I couldn’t stop crying. I told him to go hug his Dad and he did. In usual Anthony fashion, my son came over to comfort him. He hugged his head, kissed his forehead, wiped his tears, grabbed his face and kissed his cheek saying “K, Larry?” When it was his final moment with us, Valerii wouldn’t go. He had to be pulled away from us which hurt so much more. There is no feeling of pain I have ever experienced like this moment. Our son was diagnosed with a brain tumor and it didn’t hurt that bad. After thinking about it I realize that this is because I knew Anthony would be ok. I’m not with Valerii to know the same for him.

Zhenya is an amazing little boy in so many ways, but he really tested us. His issues were far beyond the realm of my ability to provide him with what he needed. Although this is the case, I can confidently say that I tried my hardest. And I do think that, for him, my hardest was good enough to get us all through this. I saw great changes in him while he was here, but the minute we got to the airport and he returned to the familiar I saw all that leave him. He gave us a simple goodbye and was on his way. Zhenya is inquisitive and curious, he is silly and tenacious, he is playful and energetic. I always loved the way he puckered his lips to me when he had done something wrong. He knew my weaknesses and he played to them and for that I can say he is so smart. If I could take all the pain of his past, the scars of what came before us, the trauma that has left him broken, I would jump through hoops to do that. But I can’t. And for that reason I must only say I will continue to love him with all my heart and to pray for his well being. I can hope that he felt my love, that it will change him in some way, that he knows that he is so deserving of what I offered him these last three weeks and so much more. He will always be my little mischievous red headed Z and I will always be his Mama. I’ll miss his affection, his needs, and his laugh. I love that boy.

Throughout our constant need to provide Zhenya with a watchful eye and lots and lots of attention, Valerii was emerging as a perfect fit for our family. He is so smart. He picked up on many English words right away. He is meticulous, neat, and organized. In many ways, he reminds me of Rob. He enjoys being clean, putting on his cologne, dressing up, wearing a watch. Rob became his role model and he copied his every move. His love of music, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks makes me laugh when Rob says “he is YOUR son!” He is artistic and creative. He is thoughtful and helpful. He is kind. He is protective, strong, and steadfast. He is so, so loyal. And much to my surprise, Valerii is loving. In a world where he doesn’t no much of what we do, he is a devoted, inspiring, and loving soul. I honestly never expected it from him, but he blew me away. He grabbed a huge part of my heart, packed it in his little green backpack, and took it right off to the Ukraine with him without looking back. He needed that to get him through, but I am confident he will bring it back when I see him again. He will care for it as if it is worth a million dollars.

To the two boys who instantly became our sons. This home is so void without you. I thought I was missing peace and quiet, but I have realized I don’t miss it at all. I miss you! Each day will be a day of wondering, of worrying, but of hoping that I will see you soon. You have taught me so much more than I could have ever taught you. You have given me so much more than I have to give. You have loved me as much as I love you, and that has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.Я люблю и скучаю по тебе мои сладкие мальчики! Don’t worry, somehow, someway, some day, we’re coming for you. And we won’t stop until we fulfill our promise.