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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Welcome to the World Baby Reagan McKenzie

KimZakReagan I have a grand-daughter.  Her name is Reagan McKenzie, born September 5, 2009.  She was a wee little one, only 4lbs 9.5oz, but she was born at 36 weeks gestation due to some complications in my daughter's pregnancy.  I don't speak much about Kimberly here because I respect her privacy, but I am bursting inside as a mother and a grandmother and I wanted to share.


I am proud of my daughter, Kimberly.  She has come a long way in her young life and has faced many struggles along the way.  Life is never easy, but hers was complicated from the start.  Kimberly was born with Ventricular Septal Defect - a hole in her heart, and it nearly cost her her life.  I was 21 and the mother of 2 daughters.  I was terrified.  I was naive.  I was emotional.  I'm still emotional.  Kimberly was the sweetest little baby.  I was so afraid of losing her, but I always thought it would be because of her heart condition - not her "heart" condition.  I suppose only Kimberly and I will truly understand that statement.



Still, she has had a hard road, and as a babe, I didn't make it easy for her to grow up.  I was not happy in my marriage to her father, Doug, and I was not happy with myself.  I felt as though I had thrown my youth away by having a family too young.  I was overwhelmed and over-emotional.  I really was a lost soul during those early years of my adult life.  I made mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  But I loved my girls.  I never walked out on them.  I took care of them.  I read to them and tucked them in at night.  I also fought in front of them and I know that changed them and hurt them.  I know that frightened them too.  I guess that makes me a horrible mother.  I was not ready for marriage or children, and so my desire to make a life for myself and go to college was in constant conflict with being an Army wife living in roach-infested military quarters and crummy apartments.  I still had my oats to sow and I was one very selfish girl back then.  Don't get me wrong, Doug was not the perfect husband by any stretch, but he was young too and we both had a lot to learn about giving and raising a family.  Unfortunately, our children paid the biggest price for those lessons.



Have you ever felt like you were running a marathon in your life and afraid that the end of the road would take you over the edge of a cliff?  Well, that pretty much explains how I felt back then.  I was afraid of everything.  I still struggle with fears but not nearly as many as in my youth.  I think that is what drives my over-emotional self sometimes.  Fear.  It can be a debilitating emotion.  Fear of dying.  Fear of losing a child.  Fear of being hurt.  Fear of losing your husband.  Fear of losing a parent.  Fear of failing.



My father passed away when I was 5 months pregnant with Kimberly.  He was 55 years old and died suddenly.  I was very close to my father and his loss crushed me.  I didn't know if I could go on with my pregnancy.  I screamed and cried 24 hours a day for the next 4 months.  I didn't think I could go on living, and then my grandfather died.  I dropped the phone and felt this incredible pain.  The next day Kimberly was born and rushed to intensive care.  She almost didn't make it.  My temperature spiked in the recovery room and they swept my baby girl out of my arms and into an incubator.  She spent much of the next 3 months at Walter Reed Hospital as did I by her side breast feeding her and pumping every hour or so. The hospital became my home.



When Kimberly was at home, she would sleep in a bassinet next to my side of the bed and scratch so fiercely in her sleep that her skin would be raw and bloody.  I was exhausted.  I changed her sheets and put cream on her body every few hours or so.  I was scared she would die, so I would go to sleep with my hand on her back to feel her breathing.  As I said before, it was all a bit overwhelming.  



During that time, I hate to admit it, but Kathleen, then 2 years old, didn't get all that much attention from me.  Oh, I took care of her, but mostly said things like "don't touch Kim" or "don't get near your sister, she might get sick."  Looking back, I regret the effect this had on Kathleen.  She just wanted to play and be a toddler.  She grew up resenting her sister and they ultimately grew apart.

I still miss my Dad.  He would have adored my children.  I think my life would have been different had he lived.  Less troublesome.  I can't change any of that.  It is what it is.  Still, I lost myself when I became a mother.  That is difficult to admit but it is true.  I was still trying to figure out who I was when I, through my own actions, dove into a whirlwind of responsibility and maternal emotion.  My life was a roller-coaster of dirty diapers, trips to the hospital, pennies for milk and orange juice, sleepless nights, and constant crying.



Kimberly, in the first 15 years of her life, had 4 open-heart surgeries and multiple catheterizations.  She is almost 29 now, beautiful, and happily married, and she met the challenge of motherhood head-on despite her physical limitations and troubles.  



Now, she holds in her loving arms a beautiful baby girl looking up at her with the same adoring eyes that I looked at 29 years ago.  The only difference is that Kimberly is ready to be a mother.  She is settled.  She has made the right decisions and didn't dive into the deep end of the swimming pool of life with the blind gusto that I did more than once nearly 3 decades ago.  I envy people who go through life and make all the right decisions.  I'm just one of those gals, I suppose, who takes the bull by the horns, throws myself on the back of the bull, and then grabs them by the tail before they buck me face first into the dirt.  I went for the horns a few too many times in my life. My head still hurts.



What makes a good mother?  I've often pondered this question.  As a mother of 4, and now a grandmother of 2, I have often wondered what truly makes a good mother.  My own mother has made mistakes, or at the very least I think they were mistakes.  For instance, she rarely ever hugged me growing up.  If I hugged her, she would hug me back, but she has never thrown her arms around me with any degree of emotion if you know what I mean.  I craved that maternal closeness growing up and never got it from her.  In some ways I think that may have contributed to my being a mother at such a young age.  I wanted to be a mother.  A good mother. I had lots of love to give, but boy was I ever in for the ride of my life.

My mother has lived with me and my family for 12 years now and I can count only 3 times that I remember her hugging me without being hugged first.  Maybe I am still looking for that maternal validation.  My mother is who she is and I love her.  I know she loves me with all her heart.  Learning to accept her for who she is, her mistakes and all, has been the most validating and forgiving experience in my life.



She has never - and I mean "never," talked to me girl-to-girl talk, or shared with me much of her life as a young girl growing up.  I don't know why, she just was never much for talking I suppose.  Me? - I'm always talking to my children and sharing and laughing and carrying-on.  In many ways I think I am trying to over-compensate for something I feel I missed out on - including all the hugs.  I'm a big hugger.  I am always hugging and telling my kids I love them. That must also be why I married Big Bear 17 years ago.  For the bear hugs.

As I grew older, though, instead of being angry with my mother, which I was for most of my life, I began to reflect on what may have contributed to her distance and inability to make emotional attachments.  Then it hit me - the loss of her own mother when she was 11 years old.  My grandmother Margaret passed away from gall-bladder disease when my mother was a young girl and I cannot even imagine how devastating that was for her or how that changed her.  She had no one to turn to during her teen years and as she grew up and ultimately became a woman and married.  She had no one to share her own motherhood with.  She once told me that she was afraid of getting close to others, even her own children, because she was afraid she would lose them.  That was a profound moment in my life when I first understood my own mother.  

Mothers are a special breed of female.  They carry with them a deep attachment to their children, no matter how distant.  Not all mothers are good mothers.  Not all mothers are bad mothers.  I think most of us fall somewhere between good mothers and bad mothers.  None of us are perfect.  I'll bet "Mary," the mother of Jesus, as perfect as she was may have changed a few things along the way of her maternal experience.  She was the perfect virgin Mary, but was she a perfect mother?  Maybe so.  Jesus was the only perfect human being that ever walked the earth.  He wasn't a mother.  He was however, a father.  I believe I'm forgiven.

We should all forgive our mothers.  They are human.  They make mistakes.  They are entitled.  We should all forgive our children.  They are human too.  They make mistakes.  They are entitled.  First, though, we should forgive ourselves and ask the Lord to forgive us for our sins.  I've done this and it is healing.  It is extremely difficult, I will admit, to forgive myself for the errors of my youth.  If only my daughters could find it within their hearts to do the same.  Maybe someday they, too, will recognize that I was only human and very afraid and much too young and irresponsible to be a mother.  Maybe then they will forgive me.

I believe that through the error of my ways, that Kimberly may just have learned to be a terrific mother.  I am certain of it.  She knows, that no matter where she goes in this world, I love and adore her.  I care about her deeply.  I worry about her health and her heart.  She will always have my heart.  We may bicker and we may disagree, but I will always love my baby girl, and I think that is what a mother does best - love.


The truest blessing one can find within the mistakes of their life is the blessings that follow.  Many blessings have followed the bad experiences of my youth.  I am a much better mother.  It is unfortunate that it took 2 daughters very early on for me to learn many of the lessons that I pose here.  I have never given up on my children.  I am even raising my grandson.  I often wish I had been as settled, as strong, as informed, and as good a mother back then as I am now.  But, if I had been all of those things, or even some of those things, then I would not have the beautiful family I have now.  I would not have Sarah and Matthew and maybe not even Glen in my life.  And very possibly, Kim would not have found Zak.  You see, I was mad as hell that some loser dumped Kimberly on New Year's 2006 and stood her up and lied to her.  I stayed up and talked to her on the phone, through her tears, for hours.  I only wish she lived closer so that I could have hugged her and comforted her.



Kimberly said something to me that I completely understood, she said, "Mom, I don't want to be alone.  I don't want to spend my whole life alone.  Who is going to want me?"  I knew those feelings all too well - fear again played a role.  No matter what I said or how much I tried to encourage and comfort her, it didn't seem to make a difference.  The pain of the situation was too great.  Then I had an epiphany, what would change the situation was a fresh start, a new love, and I had an idea (Think the movie "Because I Said So" and think of me).  So, I stayed up the rest of the night and enrolled Kimberly on eHarmony and began to weave the love story for my daughter.  I filled out her profile and that alone took me 5 hours.  Let me tell ya, they don't mess around on eHarmony. 

KiminprettyoutfitThe next morning I called Kim and told her what I did, giving her the information to log on. She was like - "huh? You're kidding, right?"  It's the bull-by-the-horns mentality in me.  I play for keeps, and don't put up with any crap, especially where my children are involved.  After the shock wore off, she finally warmed up to the idea and started looking at her matches and we shared them together.  The first one was Zak.  I said "Now he looks like a winner." Kimberly agreed, and so began their communication and courtship for almost 2 years before they married in May, 2007.

None of us truly understand the course our life will take, and each of us will experience a different journey and unique lessons along the way.  Usually, and stubbornly, taking the wrong, frickin' road.  Some, like me for instance, had a great childhood (for the most part) and a difficult early adulthood.  Others, like Kimberly, have had a difficult childhood and a great adulthood.  I don't think anyone on earth slides through life without obstacles and challenges at some point - mother's included. It's taking those lessons with us in our heart and living out our best possible life going forward with forgiveness, compassion, and understanding that matters most.  

I think we all should reflect on our own mothers for a moment ...

What is it about her that makes her the woman she is today? 

What mistakes has she made in her life that has made her stronger? 

What good things has she done? 

How has she expressed to you "her love" in "your life?" 

I'd like for you to share your mother story.

In the meantime, I think I will just enjoy this beautiful picture of my daughter Kimberly, with her beautiful daughter - Reagan McKenzie.

Isn't she a sweetheart?  Congratulations Kimberly and Zak.  I am so happy for you I could burst - and I think I just did.



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