Spring Break Snowflakes

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I held our new shivering puppy, Patch, tightly as I watched and listened to my boys race up and down the slippery slides at the school playground. They all giggled nonstop as the cold wet slides launched their bodies onto the turf below. Time and time again.

“This is FUN, Mama!” they shouted.

I looked down in amazement and wonder at the beauty of the snowflakes that landed on Patch’s black fur. How can each one be so different? So beautiful. So perfect. The tiny, intricate, unique patterns and designs of the snowflakes that became gently trapped into the hairs on his back. He nuzzled his nose under my arm.

Each of my boys ran over to pet him or attempt to temporarily shield him from the snow. Their pink cheeks, grown-up front teeth and their bright eyes quickly peered into mine from beneath their stocking caps. They each tried to tell me something different. I can’t remember what. They looked so happy, so perfect. And then they each ran off.

I sat there, temporarily stuck in the moment, mesmerized and overwhelmed by their existence and the beauty held in their precious freckled faces. I will never tire of looking into their big brown innocent and smiling eyes, framed by their gigantic snowflake-trapping eyelashes.

“Do you feel the snowflakes trapped in your eyelashes?” I asked one of my boys.

He responded by blinking. The snowflakes melted or disappeared. Gone.

I will always thank God in these outside, overwhelmingly peaceful and joyfilled moments. I will count them. My boys. My blessings. Over and over and over again. I will marvel and wonder and nearly implode with thankfulness for the gifts of their lives. I can’t help but feel a varying combination of being utterly humbled, confused, worried, imperfect and beyond grateful for the privilege, the honor, and the responsibility of being their “mama.”

And then, most likely, later in the day, I may be tired or short-fused, perhaps even close to near-exploding at their fighting or complaining. But I promise myself that I will take a deep breath. I will gently tap myself on the shoulder and whisper in my head,

“Hey, you tired mama. Remember sitting at the picnic table earlier watching your boys like the most proud mom in the universe? With the spring snow flurries drifting down. And a new puppy on your lap as the confused birds sang, the highway traffic buzzed, and the irresistible sounds of those three rosy cheeked, giggling boys bounced around….”

I will tell myself to remember the powerful moments and my prayer of thanks. And I will shape up. I may even need to take an extra deep breath or two to activate my secret stash of patience.

Spring break snowflakes.

Remember their beauty, the quiet power they possess. They disappear too quickly.

I will slow down and remind myself to notice, to pause and to embrace the ever changing, beautiful and raw moments of motherhood.

Defeated Moments

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When I played basketball, I was annoyingly scrappy. A hustler. I wore floor burns with pride. I occasionally stole the ball from an opponent resulting in a break away lay-up. This meant that I had an opportunity to score two points practically without defense. I choked sometimes. A lot of times, actually. As in, I bricked the lay-up so hard off of the backboard that either the pissed-off opponent would get the rebound or sometimes one of my teammates would save the day following close behind for the put-back. Thank, goodness. I always enjoyed the steals, rebounds, assists, tips, blocked shots etc. a lot more than scoring.

I think about basketball a lot as a parent. It’s practically second nature to me. I often talk to myself like I used to on the basketball court. “Don’t lose your cool. Don’t show too many emotions. Don’t turnover the ball or lose the moment with your child,” I think. But parenting is a crud-ton harder than even playing collegiate basketball. It’s really harder than anything I’ve ever done. Even managing multiple chronic diseases can seem like a breeze when compared to the unpredictable, life stealing moments that mothering my sons can produce.

Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I want to sound like is a whining, complaining, ungrateful mother. I love the hell out of my kids. When they’re not wearing me out and oftentimes at the same time, they’re totally filling me up. I’m that crazy shaken up can of pop. I’m literally overflowing. They make me laugh and smile a million different smiles and they ignite this overwhelming and unexplainable sense of love, joy, hope and beauty that I otherwise may not have ever seen in this world. If not for their eyes, their hearts, and their ever growing inquisitive minds, I may be lacking something that I never knew existed.

For example. The other day, my husband trimmed the bushes. He found an empty bird nest. I saw it lying on the grass. It was beautiful but it made me a little sad. I wanted to take a picture. I knew I would be able to write about it later. I wanted to show a friend The empty nest. She unexpectedly had dropped by. We walked outside and it was gone. Disappeared. Later, I asked my boys if they had seen it. One of them replied, “Yeah. we put it back in the bushes.” I could have on-the-spot cried. For so many heart-exploding reasons. Of course, I thought and probably overthought their kindness. It was a simple gesture born out of an enormous love for tiny creatures and their importance. Their hard work. Not just an empty nest. They wanted birds to come back. They wanted to help. They did this thing without me ever prompting them. All by themselves, they did something so meaningful.

I love my boys.

Yet, I digress.

You can love the heck out of your kids and still have these moments of raw, ugly, and unexplainable defeat. I’m trying to tell myself. Like I used to do on the basketball court. It’s okay. You messed up. You’re not perfect. Neither are they. Mothering is not always going to be filled with these beautiful and proud moments. You’re going to need time-outs. You’re going to need to get back on defense. You’re going to feel like you’re outnumbered and failing at this zone defense. You’re going to lose some days. Some moments. Some arguments. But you will learn. You will grow. You will be stretched and pulled and strained in ways that you never could imagine. But, you can never give up. You must always recover. Get back. Keep your head up. Stack it up with your teammates. Those who know the caliber of mother you are. Who you strive to be. They know your potential. They’ve seen your best days and they have heard about your worst days too.

Accidents happen. Ugly moments happen. You can have both the gut-wrenching, mountain viewing beautiful moments and the dried up, hot-as-hell, dying of thirst valley moments. It’s okay. Your heart, your passion and your motivation to do better, grow stronger and learn from even the toughest moments will drive you to love in the most incredible ways.

Keep up the good yet hard work, teammates. Parenting friends. We are in this thing together. If I could stack it up with all of you in the center circle and smack all of your butts, I would.

Go! Fight! Win!
“I didn’t leave her there for long. When a player makes a mistake, you always want to put them back in quickly—you don’t just berate them and sit them down with no chance for redemption.” -Pat Summitt

Our Scapeghost

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We have a ghost in our house. Just hear me out. Or don’t. I’m convinced of it. My husband is not. He thinks I just blame the ghost when things disappear.  Our scape ghost. It tends to steal or hide things at the most inopportune time. I will swear up and down that I placed something right on my nightstand, or chest of drawers or on the kitchen counter. But the stuff moves. Vanishes. It sounds absurd, I understand. I believe that we most likely have a toddler scapeghost.

If you’re curious. I think it followed us from our last house too.

In our last house, it did some crazy things. It would leave showers running for so long that there would be no hot water left. This one time, the keys to my van went missing for months. The good set too, you know the one with the key fob on it? That one. Do you know that it costs hundreds of dollars to replace that? Nice one, Toyota. If you’re getting a mini van, shouldn’t you get a few sets of those? Yes. So, every time it would be raining or snowing or I wouldn’t have an extra hand to manually unlock the door, I cursed the scape ghost. And sometimes myself. And of course, my husband too. It’s sad stuff. First world kind of problems.

Then, one day, my husband was cleaning out the deep freezer. It was one of the last things to finish before moving out of our first house. He reached into the deep freezer and grabbed a box of popsicles and heard a little rattling sound. You’ll never believe what he found in the bottom of the popsicle box. You got it. My car keys.

If you know me, you know it is highly unlikely that I would lose my keys in a popsicle box in the bottom of the deep freezer. It had to be our scape ghost, getting a Popsicle while playing hide and seek with the car keys. It purposely messes with me the most. And makes me feel like I’m a little crazy. But now, when “I” lose something, I do tend to check the deep freezer because “Fool me once, shame on you, scapeghost. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

One of the reasons I strongly believe in our toddler scapeghost is because one night, my husband and I were watching t.v. downstairs and we heard the sound of footsteps upstairs. And, the guinea pigs sounded their motion detecting alarms, “EEP. EEP. EEP.” We went up to investigate and all of our kids were asleep in their beds. Cue the eerie ghost music or maybe the X-files theme song.

If you’re curious as to whether I’ve lost my mind or not, you should know that this is both a fiction and non-fiction blog post. You get to pick and choose which parts you believe to be real and which are not. My husband interupted my writing and told me that I can’t just start blaming stuff on the scapeghost or our kids will do the same. Oh, my homework disappeared. All the lost shoes. The last chocolate chip cookie. You get the gist. But the great thing about my mind is that inside of here, I can blame whoever or whatever I want. Anyways, as soon as I figure out what our scapeghost wants, I’m sure he or she will just leave me alone. That’s what I hear about ghosts anyways.

 

*since writing this, my key fob disappeared again….and reappeared. However, a brand new pair of my four year olds shoes went missing…..driving me crazy. They’re still missing. And yes, I credit the Scapeghost for their disappearance.

How to Raise an @$$hole

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This is a rather unfriendly public service announcement. Because I’m tired of my kids coming home from school and retelling the cruel moments about when “so and so” made fun of this person or how “so and so” called him this name or said “twins are weird.” I’m tired of kids being rude, unkind, exclusive and for lack of a more accurately descriptive word, just pretty much assholes. On playgrounds. At school. At church. In the grocery store. Pretty much, everywhere.

However, I realize that most of the time, it’s not their fault. Somebody intentionally or unintentionally has taught them most everything they know at this point.

Come on! Let’s give proper credit where proper credit is due.

There are several ways to know if your kid is being an asshole at school. Or daycare. Or church. Or at a random park playground. Or anywhere really. I love the heck out of kids. They’re little sponges. They’ve got massive amounts of intuition, instincts, and innocence. They learn amazingly quick from the ways that others treat them.  Specifically how parents or caregivers treat them and the people around them.

Here’s a brief list of ways to predict if your kid will be an asshole.

1. Do you call your child names, belittle him, dictate what he can or can’t wear, what he can and can’t eat, who he can and can’t play with, all to a ridiculously obsessive level? Do you control him to the point that you would go ape-shit if a boss, spouse or another adult tried to control you to the exact same level?

Ding. Ding. Ding. Your kid may take out some of his pent-up lack of control on “weaker,” more sensitive non-conforming kids at school. Stop over-controlling your child. Let him make some choices every once in a while. Does it really matter if his pants and shirt don’t match? Everybody will know that he picked out his own clothes. And that’s okay, right? Riiiiiiiight.

2. Do you have the same group of friends, never including anybody new? Always the same. They look the same as you. Act the same as you. Do the same things as you. The same group of friends. Always. Do you scoff at or talk about how “so and so” tried to play with your child or tried to include everyone over for a party or play date? Do you have an anxious or allergic or condescending reaction to people who are different than you?

Do you also determine if you will be friends with someone based on their appearance? Where they live? Who they know? How they talk? How much money they have? Or don’t have? Have you ever started a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” Or do you make generalizations about groups of people or stereotype people on a regular basis?

Congratulations. Your child is learning how to exclude others. From you. Your child is also learning how NOT to appreciate or embrace diversity. From you. Your child learns how to be racist, discriminate, judge others, and stereotype from your words and behavior. You probably think you know everything about everyone. Of course you do.

3. Are you rude, snarky, condescending or unkind to waiters, waitresses, baristas, cashiers, or basically, anybody that serves or helps you in some way, shape or form? Ugh. “Uh-hem”…let me guess, you need more of something? But you don’t ask. You demand. Bark. Bark. Your orders while you’re on your phone. You won’t say “thank you” or “sorry” either because it’s their job or their fault. Always. Never yours. Never.

Your child will quickly catch on to this behavior. And big freakin surprise here…he may want to be just like you. And treat others like an asshole. Gooooooood work. Not really.

4. When your child demands, wants or asks for something, do you give it to him? Always. Right away. Hurry up. Every single time. No matter what. So that you can avoid a tantrum, whine fest or feeling of inferiority as a parent, comparatively speaking. Bonus: you can also teach your child a valuable lesson in being an asshole. Other people should also give him any and every little or big thing he wants, commands, or demands. Immediately. No questions asked.

It’s back to the control issue. You’ve got yours and he’s got his. Big surprise.

The truth is that we’ve all been an impatient asshole at one time or another to some person. At least I think so. I know I have. (See “@$$hole Bedtime Parenting award” post) Acted embarrassingly. We’ve all probably said something insensitive, inaccurate, mean or just plain wrong. Maybe to our spouse. Maybe to our mom. Maybe to our friend. A waiter. A cashier. Maybe to our kids. The problem is not that you recognize you’re an asshole every once in a while because we all have those challenging moments or days. The problem grows out of control when you no longer recognize when you’re not being a decent human being. When you start becoming such an asshole that, ironically, you think everybody else is an asshole.

So, stop being an asshole. The world has enough of them already, right? Riiiiight.

Magic Bubbles

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I watched you cry. Silent, trapped cries that pushed and pushed resulting in your gasping and straining. These are the hardest cries to see. And not hear. The tiny veins in your face grew as you tried to scream in protest. And I wished I could do more.

I blew bubbles.

Your dad sat beside you and held you. Your mom stood next to the bed. Your brother played in a different world, he popped bubbles with Buzz Lightyear. I know you wanted us all to leave your room. And leave you alone. I know you wanted to go home. You knew exactly everything we had to do. I wondered if you hate bubbles. A hospital bubble aversion. All that they represent. All that they predict. This place. These experiences. Your pain. And your trapped cries.

I blew more bubbles.

This time for your mom. She stood there, helpless, yet not paralyzed by the unfairness of watching you, her beautiful child, suffer. She talked about the bubbles. She popped the bubbles for you. I hope you weren’t mad that I kept blowing them. For her. She needed the distraction. She needed a role. She needed to feel like she could offer you some comfort, some familiarity, a glimpse of hope.

I exhaled. Slowly. Repeatedly. My breaths filled all of the giant, tiny and medium sized bubbles that escaped. Into the air of your room. Before they vanished or popped.

I heard your father interupt the nurse as she prepared you for another “poke.” I think your dad wanted to protect you. Or maybe himself. Maybe he hoped you would cry less. Your nurse performed her job beautifully. She handled herself gracefully. She calmly stood her ground yet held her tongue. A delicate skill mastered by nurses who empathize, relate to, love and often sacrifice a bit of their pride, when necessary, by not fighting back. Because they understand that everyone’s on the same team. Or should be. A team that wants to get you feeling better. A team that wishes we could cause less hurt to help you. A team that will do some of the hardest things because we have to. To help you. Because we love kids. Especially the most resilient, the kids like you.

I blew bubbles.

Over and over. Again.

And again.

Until it was done. I left momentarily to go find your prize. When I returned to your room, I looked at you. No more hurt. No more crying. There, I saw it, resting in your lap, your two tiny hands gripped my pink and purple bubble container the best they could. While I was gone, you chose to hold the bubbles. I watched you happily play as you pushed the bubble wand in and pulled it back out. This helped me feel a tiny bit better, knowing that maybe you didn’t hate bubbles after all.

I put the bubbles away into my bag. I let them rest. I knew I would be using them again. A lot of times today. The next time my pager beep, beep, beeped at me.

So I walked into the next room. And I saw you.

You laid across your daddy’s lap. Your sweet ocean colored eyes peaked out from the hair that had tumbled down around your face. Your tiny half-naked body was completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. You needed a quick distraction. Something to look at. To play with. Something to occupy your active toddler mind. I grabbed the magic container from my bag.

And I blew bubbles.

On my knees, at your level, I blew hundreds of bubbles for you to watch float around the room. They bumped into you, your dad, the nurses and doctors. Your dad blew them. And you did too. Your contagious and playful smile encouraged every adult to reach out and play along by popping the bubbles that drifted their way. Like a bunch of silly big kids. We would all do just about anything in our power to see you smile and hear your giggles.

Blowing bubbles seems like such a small thing to do. Sometimes it reminds all of us to breathe. Sometimes the bubbles remind us of your innocence. Your transparency. Your fleeting busy minds. Sometimes the bubbles can stop crying. And sometimes bubbles possess this quiet magic to momentarily take you away from the present pain.

I think I’ve watched a million bubbles take flight. And I will gladly watch a million more. If it can help in some small way to  make you less scared, less worried, more playful. And especially if it can make you feel more like a kid and less like a patient.

Truth or Dare

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Truth or dare: a classic childhood sleepover game in which I always preferred the dares. Not surprisingly, I would have much rather done some ridiculous thing than share a previously unknown fact or “secret” about myself. It seems safer and easier to predict another’s response to a “dare” than to predict her response when she finds out a truth.

As a fun and light-hearted joke of sorts, I played the old game with a couple of sisters and friends last night. My boys saw me creating the game and asked if they could play too. So we played a fun kid version of this game today. My boys were also drawn to a certain side of the game. They laughed and thoroughly loved smearing whipped cream in their faces, kissing a tree and dancing with the dog and a broom. They each asked me if they could play the game again, only with “more dares.”

Life has always been a bit of both, specifically in parenting. No matter how many books you read, none will prepare you for the emotions, the feelings and the raw truths that parenting will reveal in you. Your pride, your hopes, your fears, your insecurities, all hidden in the midst of the gut-wrenching and utterly beautiful moments of raising a child.

From those first overwhelming minutes of meeting this new life before you, the piercingly beautiful sound of your baby crying upon breathing his first breaths, to the seemingly millionth cry in the night. Your baby that desperately needs to be fed, burped, or changed. Your baby that must need something again. You. There’s your toddler that needs constant help but doesn’t want to accept it. Or your preschooler that can communicate what he wants to eat but can’t begin to understand the emotion he feels when you say ice cream isn’t a choice for breakfast. And the parenting journey continues on.

Your child has this mysterious power to take a heart that you’ve possessed your entire life and place it delicately under a magnifying glass. For good and bad. All of the sudden, you’re whisked back to moments. To the classroom where somebody made fun of you. You’re feeling emotions all over again, in a different way. You’re seeing things in a more sensitive way, a more honest way, and a more difficult way. All through the magnified lens of your past experiences and through this new and innocent life constantly pulling, tapping, tugging and elbowing for more space in your heart. You’re feeling those difficult-to-describe emotions through the eyes, ears, and skin of a little human being dependent solely on you in countless explainable and unexplainable ways.

The parenting journey continues and I’ve learned it doesn’t always get easier. In some ways, yes. In others, no. Your child unknowingly dares you to do hard things on his behalf: make sacrifices, humble yourself, apologize, ask for forgiveness, confront your past, ask for help, and step outside of your comfort zone on a routine basis. Your child dares you to ruffle waters. Dares you to belly up to confrontation. You find yourself in a principal’s office fighting back tears to advocate for your child. You find yourself having difficult conversations on behalf of your child. You oftentimes feel lonely, isolated, different because you don’t want to fit in if fitting in means compromising on certain parenting issues. You routinely end up in hard conversations where you and your child bump, bump, bump into a door. Maybe it’s just temporarily stuck or maybe it’s locked.

The truth is you don’t have all of the answers. You never will. The dare is that still you readily leap into the familiar and unknown parenting waters. Time and time again. Not always gracefully, but willingly. You’re alternating strokes on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly. Often doggy paddling, back stroking and plunging yourself deep down, holding your breath for what seems like forever. You come up gasping for air. And the crazy unexplainable thing is that you will do it all again. And again. For your child.

Tears in Heaven

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We started our drive. I don’t let my kids use technology (most of the time) as we shuttle around town. For a reason. We have these really silly imaginative or extremely deep, awesome and sometimes hard conversations in the van. At red lights. On the highway. In our driveway. Or we listen to music.

The other night, one of my seven year old boys asked, out of the blue, from his backseat by the window,

“Can a kid cry in Heaven?”

Oh man.

I think we have more talks about God, Jesus, dying and Heaven in the van than the average family. My kids ask really, REALLY hard questions that most times, I don’t know the answer to. Questions that cause me to think about the most painful stuff as a parent. A child dying. My child dying. Going to Heaven before me. But without me.

Suddenly, a million thoughts floated frantically around in my head like a snow globe that had just been picked up and shaken hard. By a little boy. I suffered from a rare temporary loss of words, I didn’t know how to answer him. So, I dug a little deeper. I asked him a question back, knowing that his sweet answer may cause the huge lump in my throat to expand, making it difficult to talk. Or answer him.

Wait. Maybe we could just talk again about the ten deer we had just stopped to see. As we pulled up next to them eating at sunset, they nonchalantly stared back at us. All of their eyes looked up at us, as they chewed on their grass. My boys thought it was awesome. I did too. One of my boys said he would like to have a pet deer. To which his younger brother replied, “do you want one with horns or not?” No bucks. Good to know.

All of these spontaneous thoughts volunteered to help me change the subject, but I just couldn’t ignore his question or dodge it either.

So I asked him, “Why would a kid cry in Heaven?”

Then out came his too-quick-of-a-response.

“Cause they miss their mom and dad.”

My heart dropped. Or maybe it stopped for a second. And then I was driving and silently crying. His sweet answer physically hurt. His honesty, his innocence. It really doesn’t matter how great Heaven is if you have to go there without your mom and Dad. That’s scary and sad. I got it. I understood him. And so I talked about how God and Jesus and so many others, like Gammie, would hold, carry and love on a kid in Heaven and how even though it seemed like a long time to not see their mom or dad for a little while, they would get to spend forever with them. One day.

Then my son said, “I wanna be a kid when I go to Heaven.”

I quickly replied,

“I don’t want you to be a kid when you go to Heaven. I want you to be a grown up. A lot older than you are. Like Grandma Fritz.”

“No, I don’t want to die like a kid…..I just want to be a kid when I’m in Heaven.”

Oh. Okay. I could understand why he would want to have a kid’s body and energy to live and explore and play in Heaven. Maybe because Grandma Fritz needs help moving, going to the bathroom, or getting out of her chair. She also has a hard time hearing. She’s 94. That’s who they know that may be going to Heaven soon. Its not easy describing how our bodies may look or be different in Heaven in a way that is easy for seven year olds and four years to understand. Or me. And it’s not like I’ve been there to speak from experience. So then, he asked me a few more questions.

“Does it hurt when you die?”

My goodness. Another tough one. I talked about how I hope it doesn’t hurt. How I hope it’s peaceful for Grandma Fritz. But I said I didn’t know. Again.

We had twenty more minutes to drive. The sun had set. The car was dark. And I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s hard thinking on painful things that aren’t supposed to happen. Things that are my worst nightmare as a mother. It’s hard to be separated from my boys for a few long shifts away at work. I definitely don’t want to think about death separating us. Too soon. Before I’m ready. But it will happen. A temporary separation. One day. Hopefully, a long, long way away.

Of course, it’s more fun to talk about pet deer. And taking rides on shooting stars. And the human body, especially the spinal cord. Most days, I would even choose to talk about how to handle mean kids that mistreat and call others names than talking about Heaven and dying. But, for some reason that night, my son needed to know if a kid could cry in Heaven. So, I answered him the best I could.

Then, I started to think about the moms and dads that go to Heaven. Too early, too young. Too soon. Without their kids. How I would cry in Heaven too. Cause I missed my boys. Temporarily. Just a blink of the eye when compared to forever. So, I will keep believing in forever. I have to. Even when it’s hard, painful, confusing or unknown. And a little scary. Maybe there are temporary tears in Heaven. Maybe not.

Either way, I shake up the snow globe of my thoughts again. This time I think on the excruciatingly happy moments of life. I imagine the joy of birth, hearing my son’s first cries. Holding them for the first time. I picture their arms wrapped around me, snuggled up in the rocking chair. I imagine them reaching up and saying, “Hold you, momma. Hold you.” I imagine the joy of seeing my school-aged boys waiting for me to pick them up after a long day at school. I imagine the joy I felt when I hugged my big sister after not seeing her for over a year. I imagine the time my husband showed up at Starbucks when I was working and he had just gotten back from Australia. Or when my best friend flew in town and showed up unexpectedly in my hospital room. I remember the joy of driving home with the windows down from the hospital after weeks of being there. I think of our crowded dinner table, growing up and still, everyone talking, eating, and laughing.

The moments keep coming. Accompanied by the joy felt when experiencing all of these times and a million more. I collect all of this joy. Gather it up, and set it in a special nook in my heart. I hold it tightly. Dearly. This happiness. And it helps me feel a lot better if there are temporary tears in Heaven.