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remembering mom

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Today marks one year since my mom passed away, and what a year it has been.    So much has happened all over the spectrum.   There was so much change and so many tears.  A few priceless memories and several painful memories.

I remember the especially traumatic events used to replay in my mind in order of appearance in my life and haunt me.  And when those memories weren’t playing, the guilt was.  There were so many things that I wished I would have done.  None of them would have saved her, but I wished I had done them anyway.

Leaving all that behind me hasn’t been easy.  I want to get to the point where my happy memories hit me first.  She wouldn’t want me to be haunted by painful memories. She loved me and was an incredible source of comfort to me and that’s how she deserves to be remembered.

Mom helping me walk

My favorite memories aren’t anything particularly exciting.  Just spending time together and laughing, mostly.  I miss her laugh and her making me laugh. One day, in the hospital, she was about to go down for some sort of scan.  The guy that always came to get her had only met me, but this time my dad and my brother were also there.  He asked my mom who everyone was and she gestured to us and said, “My daughter, Kasey,  My son, Bryant,” and finally she points to my dad (keep in mind, my parents were divorced) and says, “baby daddy.”  Everyone in the room busted out laughing.  I think that was the last hearty laugh we had, the four of us together.

A family classic

I think what I miss even more, is having that extra person on my side unconditionally.  It is such a profound loss, not just because of what she did for me in my life but because she gave me life.  She didn’t have to keep me safe in her tummy for 7 months.  When the doctors wanted to refuse to tie her tubes because they thought I was going to die, she knew in her heart that I am a fighter and I wasn’t going to give up so easily.

She always fought for me and she was always proud of me.  I don’t know many other people’s moms that would walk around bragging that their daughter is a bartender…but mine did.  Annoyingly so, sometimes.  Anyone that ever came to the house, I just HAD to make them a drink.  I just HAD to make hors d’oeuvres.  I hated it, but I know now that she just wanted everyone else to see what she saw in me.  She wanted me to see what she saw in me.

Yes, that’s what I miss most.  She was one of only a handful people in my life that went out of her way to make an effort to make me feel like I was important and that I deserve great things, you know?  Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but when it came down to it, she put in the time.  Even if she was exhausted she would pick up my calls at 3 a.m. to let me vent about work.  Every time.  I miss her so much.

mommy and me

I had a bond with my mom that I have very rarely seen in other mother daughter relationships or been able to relate to anyone else about.  When I was a little kid, I was always right next to her.  I can’t remember ever going through a time where I was embarrassed by her mere existence, as most teenagers tend to be.  I held my mom’s hand in public until I was 27 years old.  She was my best friend and even though I am not religious, I know that it was no accident that we were placed together in this life.

I can’t say that I will be celebrating my mom’s life today.  I think it’s too soon, I am still mourning her loss.  I can,  however,  celebrate how far I’ve come since that day.  I was sure that I had hit my threshold for emotional pain after the funeral.  But the bad news just kept coming.

If it had only been my mom, I think it would have been easy to let grief completely take me over.   But my brother and best friend were fighting for survival and, even though I was completely broken, I had to get up and fight for them too.  They are worth fighting for.

I would have never thought that in the process I would learn so much about my character.  The difference between what I think I can handle and what I can actually handle is far greater than I previously thought.  I think I have grown more as a person in this last year than I had in the previous 3, combined.

All that and my own personal safety net was gone during all of it.  I know that my mom would’ve liked to see the two big passions that have come out of my experiences.  For one, I love to cook, which I never did before.  While I will admit I had to start cooking out of necessity for my brother, it really turned into a hobby that I throw myself in to.

Second, my mom always said this one phrase to me, from one of her favorite songs.  I thought it was so cheesy and I always rolled my eyes whenever she said it.  She always said, “I hope you dance, Kasey.  I always loved watching you dance.” I quit dance to become a full-time cheerleader when I was thirteen, so it just sounded ridiculous to me.   Well, you can imagine my surprise when I started going to one dance class at my gym and now dance seems to be slowly taking over my life.  I forgot how much I liked it and now I go to anywhere from 3-8 classes a week.  Who knew?  Mom did, of course.

Maybe she’s watching me dance, but honestly, I hope  she’s dancing herself– with her dad, brothers, friends and, as of April 2, 2012 her mom.

Mom, Bryant, Grandma, and myself

Rest in peace, Mom.  It’s been a year since you left and I think of something you taught me everyday.  I know that I am who I am today because of you and  I’ll continue to miss you every day until I see you again.

Peggie Anne Gardner
April 15, 1951-April 19, 2011

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My Little Green-Eyed Wonder

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I know this may come as a shock to many of you, but I’ll go ahead and admit it. I love kids. Okay, it shouldn’t be a shock at all because if you’ve ever gone anywhere with me where kids are, you’ve seen my inability to control tears welling up in my eyes at the sight of a cute baby. I can’t help it, I have a soft spot for kids in general. There was one particular kid though, who really made an impact on me when I was teaching pre-school. And this is a little story about him.

I’ll never forget him. He was the littlest three-year-old in my class with the cutest face and the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. His name is Ethan and, even though he stole my heart the second he smiled at me, we had a tumultuous relationship from day one. He was loud, disruptive, uncooperative and completely unreasonable–to say the least. His tantrums could be heard radiating throughout the center’s thin walls on a daily basis. Ethan made many decisions that even he knew would lead to him sitting at a table in “quiet time.”

But I liked Ethan. Even though the majority of the time he was “actin’ up,” as he referred to it, when Ethan did do his work, he did it very well. When he was being cooperative he was the sweetest little kid in the entire place. I started calling him my “little green-eyed wonder” because I wondered about the two sides of Ethan and how he processed his tiny world. It couldn’t have been easy for him. He attended a rigorous pre-school program for 10 hours a day, his mom was expecting another baby, he was potty training and, on top of all that, he had a new teacher who made rules and enforced consequences for not following them!

Looking at things from Ethan’s perspective really inspired me to help put some stability back into his life in the only way I could- by putting stability in the classroom. I researched and implemented teaching techniques that slowly transformed not only Ethan’s behavior, but also the behavior of the majority of my other students. With encouragement, individual attention and a little discipline, they went from being the class of terrors that no one even wanted to visit, to being one of the most well behaved classes in the school. Ethan’s tantrums were few and far between and he was doing great on his lessons. I could see that he was slowly adjusting and it was very rewarding to be a part of the change. The classroom was much more fun as a result.

One day, as I was tucking Ethan in for a nap, he told me he was moving away. I took the information with a grain of salt and continued to pat his back and wait for him to close his eyes. Then, he looked up at me and said,
“Miss Kasey, I’m your favorite?” I couldn’t help but laugh. Was it that obvious?
“Yes, Ethan…you’re my favorite.” I said.

His parents confirmed the news later that evening and two weeks later was Ethan’s last day. His mom picked him up from school that day and thanked me for all my help with him. I asked him if I could have a goodbye hug, but he was distracted and went running out of the room, his mom chasing after him. I sat on the floor, fighting tears and continued “movie day” with the rest of my class. Five minutes later the door opened and I felt a tiny pair of arms hugging me behind my neck.
“Goodbye Miss Kasey!” Ethan screamed into my ear.
“Goodbye my little green-eyed wonder.” I said as I hugged him back.

Even though Ethan was only in my life for five months, he had such a big impact on my experience as a teacher. He tested my patience and forced me to see the world from his perspective. In doing so, I feel like it made me not only a better teacher, but a more understanding person.