banner

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Past Cannot Be Forgotten

Three years ago, today, I was sitting on the patio at my Dad's house enjoying a nice, hot, beautiful, Michigan vacation with family, when my phone rang. It was my husband, of course I answered it. On the other end, there was a lot of noise and my husband frantically said, "What do you want me to save?" I was completely confused. No "Hello" or greeting, just a question. I walked away from my family and went to my room. "What? What are you talking about?" I replied, even more confused but now with a gut sinking feeling in my stomach. "We're getting 10 feet of water. It's going to flood. We have three days to get everything out before the water gets here. What do you want me to save?"



I was in shock. Wouldn't you be? I mean for months we'd been watching the river in the town rise, and to have a little flooding after a long, record breaking winter made some sense, but 10 feet of water? In our house? "Everything...." I replied, quietly." "Well, that's not going to happen, we don't have any place to put this stuff and they are evacuating us, like 12,000 people, Abbey. We can't save it all. We're going to lose everything. Our house will be underwater, do you understand that?"




He wasn't being harsh, or mean, he was being himself. He's logical, he's rational and is very matter of fact. I was holding back tears, it was kind of easy because I was immediately filled with anger and sadness, surprise and shock, but I still was speechless. "I guess....save what you can, the big stuff, the expensive stuff, the stuff that is important to us...". "OK, I have to go, we're running out of time. I'll call you later."

And that was that. I immediately went to the computer to get as much information as possible, but there wasn't much. Some reports out of Minot said 3-5 days before the flood waters got to us, but of course, the sirens went off early on June 22, 2011 around 1 PM. In an instant, the whole town felt defeated. The levy had broken. Now it was only a matter of days before the water could get to our house, it would be several weeks before a picture of our neighborhood would come available, and a month before we could see our house and the damage, and even longer before we could start to rebuild our lives.

Over the next year Eric and I spent many nights fighting over the flood, who was to blame for the lack of flood insurance (that we were NOT required to have due to FEMA taking us out of the flood plane thanks to new dams along the river), and how we were going to rebuild our lives, we lost 7,000 lbs of goods in that flood, not including our house. We spent two years trying to rebuild our marriage and our family as Eric worked a full and often overtime job in the Air Force while moonlighting as our cleaner, builder, electrician and plumber. I spent that two years trying to stick to a very strict budget thanks to FEMA and a loan from the city so that we could rebuild our house without losing everything, while raising a newborn and a 20 month old, and having a full time job. It was a lonely, difficult time. There were days when I'd be sick to my stomach, nights I couldn't sleep, and yet, I'd try to put on a smile each day for my boys who desperately missed their Daddy and tried so hard to understand what caused their life to turn upside down.

Of course we talked to them about the flood. Nothing scary, but made it clear that our home was destroyed by a flood, that daddy was rebuilding it for us, that we had to replace a lot of things in our home, that we had to talk about it so that we could start to heal.

All of that hard work paid off, because one year and one day after the flood, we returned home. The house wasn't finished, but it was good enough to live in and resume our seemingly perfect life in our first home. I wanted to move back there, Eric didn't. I wanted the closure. I wanted to have Theodor have his first steps in that house, I wanted him to have a birthday there. I wanted our boys to run around in the yard we picked out for them. I wanted my first house back, I wanted my life back. I wanted the boys to live in the house that their dad built from the bottom up, and I wanted them to see that it was all worth it.
The Water Mark. The bottom marker is from the 1969 flood highest water level (at Eric's head).
The Plate at the top of the telephone  pole marks the 2011 flood highest water level. 
When it came time to move from that house due to a new military assignment, I was horribly sad. I hadn't gotten all of the love out of that house yet. Henrik was angry. He didn't want the house that his Dad made to go to some other family. And of course, he didn't understand what was going to happen to him, or his belongings. He was so worried that he would never see his things again. He asked daily if he would have his toys back, if he'd have his bed back and if we'd be a family. It broke my heart. We'd tried so hard to keep the flood a positive thing for them, but clearly he was affected too.


A few days ago I got a check from the city for some of our sales tax on the materials we paid for during our rebuild. It was the last thing we were waiting on to close that chapter of our life. We no longer could claim the flood on our taxes, the city owed us nothing, we still have flood debt, but man are we happy with our $5,500 debt, we could have much, much more.  Our house is being enjoyed by a new family, and we are a happy family again.  It was over. Finally over.


But, about a week ago we got a lot of rain, I was talking to my step-dad about how much water there was on the ground in such a short period of time and sure enough, without missing a beat, my boys stopped what they were doing. Theo said, "But we need to get a ladder to clean up". At first we didn't understand, but then Henrik said something about all of the water on the ground and I put it together. They were worried that with all of the water, another flood was coming. Why wouldn't they think that? Heck, they hate the Dinosaur Train episode where their nest gets destroyed in a hurricane and I completely understand why: there was a lot of water, they lost their house and the kids were sad because they missed it, but happy they were able to build a new nest. So when Theo made those comments, it was hard to hold back my tears as I told him that we weren't going to be flooded, that there wasn't going to be enough water to flood. We showed them how much rain two inches was, and we showed them how much water we had in our flood (seven feet in our house). They calmed down.

I guess, disasters like this never go away. We may not have to "deal" with it on a daily basis anymore, but the lasting effects of the flood are still inside us. I don't think that's a bad thing.


Three years ago I would have told you that this flood couldn't possibly bring anything good to the table, but I was wrong. I got to know my husband better. I got to know myself better. I got to teach my children about what is important in life. I got to understand what is important in life. I will remember the day I stepped on to our lot the day after we were allowed back in our home. I'll never forget the smell or how I tried not to cry in front of Eric as I saw my scrapbooks ruined, or my grandmother's china safe in the kitchen cabinet as I did a walk through. I'll never forget how my jaws hurt from holding back those tears and the cry that needed to happen, and I'll never forget the look Eric gave me as I looked at our house before we left that day. I will never forget cleaning the things we were trying to salvage and how I laughed at a souvenir cup that made it through, a glass I hadn't used since it's purchase, and thought about getting rid of, but now was the only memento I had from that event and it survived the flood, so I will keep it.



 I will never forget the help we had from our family and friends as they assisted in getting our stuff out before the flood and back in when we moved home. I will never forget the first night we slept back in our house and as I turned out the light my heart was at peace.

These are the important things in life. There are no bad memories, they are just things that build the character within us and shape us into who we are, and for that, I'm glad that I've now realized that that flood will never be over. Time will pass, people moving into our house next may not know the blood, sweat and tears, or the love that built that house for them. But I will. And so will my family.




A Blog From July 2011:


After 24 hours of driving and several stops along the way we arrived in Minot. As we neared Ward County, we could see the Souris (Mouse) River and the damage it left behind. When we came into town on US 2 (Burdick Expressway) that runs next to my neighborhood I looked in horror as I saw what the flood had done to this town we call home. 

Even a mile or more away from our house I could see the sepia painted town that we were about to embark upon. The debris, the pumps, and the damage that people had already begun to clean out seemed fake- like it didn’t belong. This stuff only happens in movies and to people along the Mississippi, it couldn’t happen to me and it would never happen in North Dakota. 

It didn’t really hit me until we turned onto 16th Street into my neighborhood. Dirt took the place of the road, broken windows were everywhere. There was trash and debris along every fence and home. There was water blocking our way- still. And there was a smell. A sewer, moldy, rotten smell that seeped through the car. My neighbors were tired, sad, and  hot, but they worked hard and had a look in their eyes like they were going to win this battle.

I started to choke up as we turned down 18th Street, SE. My street. This was once a lively, but quiet street with a lot of green trees, flowers, kids and families. But not today. It was gloomy, dark, dirty, and brown. It didn’t look like my street at all. Fences broken by swing sets, sheds upside down in yards, cemented down decks just thrown around; how could this be where I lived?

As we pulled in front of my house, I started to cry. It was exactly how we’d left it- minus the giant limb that had unfortunatley not fallen on our home, and the brown, muddy non-existant grass. I no longer hand plants, I no longer had a garden that screamed joy and happiness. There was no color. There was no sign of a happy family living there. 

A few hours later, Eric and I returned, ready to enter the home. It was a 90 degree day, and yet, we put on our HAZMAT suits, socks, boots, gloves and covered our heads and faces. Drenched in sweat after only seconds of wearing our flood gear, Eric looked at me and asked if I was ready. I nodded. He asked again, “seriously are you ready? It’s a mess in there.” I told him that I needed to see it, no matter how hard or bad it was. So we entered. 

The musty, moldy, wet air touched my cheeks and I still could smell it through our ventilated masks. The living room had wine glasses, momentos and mud. The floors were bowed. The walls were moldy, and there was mud everywhere. I honestly cannot describe it. There are no words but “disaster”. Eric and I didn’t exchange many words as he took me on a tour of our home. I managed to hold back my tears as I saw bits and pieces of our life thrown across the floor, damp and destroyed. It was hard to see Henrik’s quilts that didn’t make it out. Hard to see his toys just thrown around the home, and hard to see the house we worked on so hard and were proud to show off look like a condemned disaster zone. 

Then, Eric led me into the office. This was where all of the scrapbooks were stored on the top shelf of the closet. This was where a memory box containing all of the letters Eric and I exchanged during basic training, pictures from our 10 years together, and things we’d collected along the way. This was the room I’d been dreading to enter. The water went higher than the shelf and the shelf collapsed. All of those things were now piles of wet, blank paper. But there on the floor so I could see them, were two scrapbooks that fell apart in my fingers. It was hard to see. Hard to imagine that those books were gone. The memories aren’t but the images are. 

Eric and I managed to get a few things from the home, my Munga’s china- completely unharmed, my teapot, and Munga’s paintings from the garage. They all survived. It’s hard to understand how water works. It has this amazing strength and amazing power to destroy, but it left those things unharmed. Why? 

As Eric grabbed a few more items from the garage and made his way back to the car, I just stood there looking at my backyard. It was the place where we’d spend our Summer nights staying up late eating Smores and drinking wine until we realized that it was morning. It was where we worked hard to make a beautiful garden like on HGTV. We played with Lila back there, we played with Henrik and taught him about the birds and butterflies we’d worked so hard to get to our yard. We spent hours on our deck while we strived to make it the cheaper version of a Pottery Barn magazine. Now, the deck was missing some lattice, and a step. The lawn furniture was thrown all over the place, the grill upside down. The flowers were gone. There was no backyard oasis. It was a mud pit.  

It was then that I started to cry. Eric saw my tears through my goggles. But his touch in our HAZMAT suits wasn’t comforting. In fact, I shook his hand off my arm and turned away. Why? It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be upset, but it was more than that. It was anger, it was loss, it was relief. 

We got out of our suits, got back in the car, nodded our heads at our neighbors, and as we drove away I let out a sigh. It was finally over. 

A Blog From June 28, 2011


Three years ago today, veiled in lace and pearls, I stepped out on a beautiful Greek Revival front porch over looking the Village of Dexter. Greeted by my Prince Charming lookalike soon-to-be-husband, we declared our love and devotion for one another. 

It was there, on that porch, with our friends and family to witness, that we made the most sacred promise to one another- not that we’d be married forever, not that we’d love one another for eternity, but that no matter what we were in this journey together. 

Eric declared, “I pledge to you that no matter the obstacle, our love with remain and strengthen.” 

In return, I promised, “...to be there for you in times of sorrow and struggle, in good times and in bad, when our love is simple and when it is complex.”

And today, just a few years into our married life, we were faced with our largest obstacle, our most sorrowful day, and what will become the largest struggle of our life. 

Today, June 28, 2011, we finally got to see our neighborhood. Knowing that this day would come, knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy, and knowing that our house was already underwater couldn’t even have prepared me for this. Being states away from your best friend, your shoulder to cry on and the sturdy column that holds up our family made it more difficult to face the reality of what our life was going to be after this flood. 

Trying to hold back tears, I stared at this image. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and I kept thinking to myself, “Is this real?”. And, when Eric called to wish me a Happy Anniversary at the exact moment I was looking at this picture, I lost it. Comforting me, Eric promised me we’d make it out okay. He promised me that he’d do everything in his power to build us a new home, and he assured me that our life would continue to be the fairy tale we’d lived for three years. He then tried to make me laugh and told me how much he loved and missed me. His words were comforting and kind. They reminded me of our long distance relationship, that we were now reliving. 

June is supposed to be a happy, love month filled with weddings and babies. But this June has been nothing but anxiety and tears...until this moment. On the phone with Eric, I realized that love and anniversaries are much more than flowers, chocolate and dinners. It’s more than the expectation of warmth and butterflies when you see your loved one. It’s more than the anxiety over finding the perfect gift.  It’s the connection you share with someone when life just really sucks. It’s the joy that fills your entire body when your loved one tells you that he will be your Knight in Shining Armor and will whisk you away from the evil, muddy, flood water and build you a new, better castle to start your life in. 

It’s the moment when he says, “Abigail, I love you” that you are able to take in a deep breath, stop crying, and know that he means what he says. It’s then, that you, in return, promise to stay strong and move forward with whatever comes your way and reply, “And I love you”.  


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The B Word

You can I can probably think of some pretty good insulting names that start with the letter B. But in the minds of children, those words don't exist, and even more importantly, their B word is MORE of an insult than the ones adults choose to use.

How could this word exist in their language and view of the world? Where do they hear it and why is it so debilitating? What exactly is this word that brings children age two to eight to tears when they are called it?

Baby.


I remember a few months ago when our oldest son was called "baby" by some of his classmates. He was angry, upset and didn't know how to respond except to start calling them a baby back. His teacher stepped in and got him to calm down and insisted he wasn't a baby at all. Later that day, we discussed the word and what it meant to be an actual baby, and why someone might call you that as something mean. Hank insisted he wasn't acting like a baby when he was called that word, and he vowed to not call others that word because it would make them feel sad, just like he was. Seems like problem solved, right?

Wrong.

This incident happened before he turned four, and as the last child to turn four in his class it was easy to use this word to insult kids who are always comparing and competing against each other. But that's not all, it was so insulting and frustrating to Henrik because as an almost four year old he was striving each day to be bigger, do more, to do things for himself, to grow taller, and to be four. Three year olds have this challenge, they have a pass for the first half of the year, they just turned three, you know. But at their three and a half mark, they are striving for more, and should be; cognitively, mentally and physically the three and a  half year old body starts to change. Four means you aren't a baby. You are no longer a toddler, you probably don't wear diapers or pull-ups full time, you become a pre-schooler, you can start to have more freedom and more responsibility.

But, in this toddler/pre-school world of day care, staying home with mom, play dates and outings, these children are still in a world that heavily revolves around actual babies. Pregnant women surround them. Newborns and older siblings are a common sighting. Their days are filled with comments like, "Look! There's baby Dillon" or "Say hi to baby Amelia" or, "Be careful around the baby". But the problem worsens when you have a youngest child in the family who was refereed to as "Baby Theo" for most of the older child's ability to recall and remember. When that "baby" in the family turns two, the family dynamic changes drastically.

The youngest child has no desire to be the baby any more. They strive to be like their older sibling and their peers. In our case, our baby never wanted to be a baby. He insists that he's three even though he's not quite two and a half. He rides bikes and plays with older kids, and of course, now that he's been potty training heavily for the last month and a half, he doesn't want to wear a pull-up for a nap or an outing. He insists he is big and NOT a baby. He wants undies. Always. Like a big kid.

Just the other day, I was snuggling my boys and having a nice cuddle with them when I said to Theo, "I love you, baby".  "I'M NOT A BABY" he angrily replied. His face turned red, he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, "I'M A BIG BOY. I WEAR UNDIES AND I POOPED ON THE POTTY!" I quickly realized my mistake. "You're right, Theo. You ARE a big boy. You do some amazing big boy things and I am SO proud of you for using the potty and wearing undies. You are NOT a baby, but you are my baby." I thought I made it clear, but no. He looked at me stunned like, "you just said I wasn't a baby and now you're telling me I am a baby again". Again, I realized my mistake. I took a deep breath and tried again. "A long time ago, you were in my tummy, you were a baby. And once you came out, you started to grow. And grow, and grow, and grow." Both boys started to smile. They were making the connection. "When you guys turned two, you started turning into boys and now, here you are! Big! Doing wonderful things. And when our new baby comes, it will be the baby and you two will be the Big and Biggest Brothers".

They seemed to relax now as they started to talk about all of the things they were going to do for the new baby.  I let out a mental sigh of relief. I couldn't believe how big of a mistake I'd made. I knew that Theo got upset when his brother said that he wasn't big enough to do something like play with little Legos, or stay up instead of take a nap. But I didn't want to be the cause of his anger. And, when I use the word baby, I purely mean it out of love and affection, and probably some nostalgic part of me wants to keep them babies forever. I never mean it like the insult they believe it is.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Expanding

The discussion on whether to have a child or not is one thing.

The decision to expand that family is another.

Eric and I always  knew we wanted to have children, in fact, when we were teenagers, Eric knew I wanted to be a mom more than anything when I grew up. I was more eager to start that family than he was, but we agreed that the timing was right for us after a little while and so we started our family and got Henrik.

I always wanted my children close, probably because my sisters and I are close in age and I liked that dynamic. But, I also wanted to get it over with too, there's a lot of physical demand that happens to a woman when she has a child, and I thought, if I had them right in a row it would be better in the long run (the jury is still out on that one). So, when Henrik turned one, we decided to have another child. There was never any doubt about having Theodor. Once we had one kid, we knew we wanted another for playmate reasons, shared childhood experiences, sharing, etc. but the conversation changed after Theo was born.

I still wanted a third, badly. Eric, on the other hand was more content than I was. It took two years before our conversations got serious about having another baby. There were days where I'd look at Eric and he'd rattle off numbers and stats and facts like: having another one would cost us this much. Or having another child means we wouldn't sleep again for like, three more years. Or, we're almost out of diapers and the boys can get themselves a snack, why go back to the beginning. And while I not only respected his facts and opinions, my heart couldn't stop aching, and I couldn't turn off the baby thoughts in my head. Trust me. I tried to turn it off. I never wanted to have another child if my partner wasn't on board, so I thought, "Yes. I am more than happy with the two I have. They are healthy, happy, smart, adorable and perfect so why risk a third." Or, I would take a step back when we were out as a family of four and I'd see how easy it was to each have a child in tow. And I saw how the family 4-Pack was something that almost every place offered, there isn't such thing as the 5-Pack.

And then, I would take an honest look at everything, and I still wanted one more. It didn't help that Henrik would say things like, "Our family isn't big enough yet" or Theodor would say, "I want a sister". And while I knew I couldn't have another child based on what a then three year old and two year old were saying, and I knew I couldn't promise them a sister, I was thinking about the words they were implying, or at least what I was hearing.

Eric and I had many conversations about that third child, sometimes they were more polite, sometimes they weren't, sometimes there were tears, sometimes we rolled eyes at one another, but at least we were committed to making the decision together. And, one day, the conversation changed. Eric said he was OK with having another child. At first, I was in shock. It had taken two years to get the answer I wanted and for a moment, I thought it was out of guilt he had changed his mind. Then I freaked out. Are we really going to add another child to this crazy family? Is that really what I want? But when I looked at Eric, who was calm and content, I knew that this was the right thing.

So, after two years of talking about it and almost three years in between them...


We're expecting! We are all excited and beyond thrilled to add to this crazy and wild group of kids. And that's why the blog has suffered so much these past few months. Not for lack of content, that's for sure, but for lack of me being able to stay awake! This pregnancy is going well, and in a few weeks we will be able to find out if the boys get their wish of having a sister, or if life will get even more exciting with three boys.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Henrik

* Your birthday was May 2nd, I'm just now getting to posting it. Please forgive me, son. 


Dear Henrik, 
Today is your fourth birthday. I actually cannot believe that four years ago today, you made me a mother. I wanted nothing more in life than that, and, on a cold, snowy day in North Dakota, that wish came true. In the first seconds of your life we knew you were sensible, we knew you were patient, we knew you were going to be an easy baby. We didn't know that you'd carry those traits with you these past four years.
May 2, 2010
To this day, you are cautious but curious, inquisitive but reserved, sensible but sneaky, talented but humble, smart but modest, and polite but sassy. You absolutely amaze me every day, from your reasonable requests to smart-ass comments, to the sheer talent you have in every thing you do, to the sweet, heart melting secrets and always strong, genuine hugs.

September 2013
You son, can do anything you want to do in life. You were riding a two-wheel (without training wheels) bike at three and a half, you can run faster than any kid in your class and do hurdles over the dog to out run your brother as he chases you throughout the house, you are starting to read and write, you picked up your swimming strokes in a matter of weeks, you actually mountain bike on real mountains, your knowledge and understanding of things, animals and the world make my jaw drop, and yet, you insist that things are too hard for you or too much work. It's all in your head, kid. Trust me. You can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to believe it.

March 2014

If I could have one wish for you this year it would be that your confidence grew. You are timid and shy, claim to be scared and afraid of trying new things. But you can do whatever it is you want to do. You've already proven to yourself that you can. You know how? You love extreme sports, even if it happens in my living room! You are up for skiing, snowboarding, dirt bike racing and anything else dangerous that a mother doesn't really want her newly four year old to do. But, you, with your level head and thought out plan, excel at all of these tasks. You just have to believe it.


 


Henrik, you are a lot like your father, you think things through, you have a brain like an engineer, you love cars and how things work, you are patient and reasonable, and when you grin I see daddy's boyish charm in you. But I also see a lot of myself: you are starting to muster up a more leadership role. You are starting to boss around your brother, you are starting to initiate games with other kids, and you are starting to come out of your shell. You are a dreamer, a creator, and a builder. When you care about something, you do it with your whole heart. You are cunning and know that a smile will get you a long way, even if it's chocolate after you are supposed to be in bed. And you genuinely love with all of your heart and are welcoming to all you meet. I think that because of those qualities I tend to push you harder and hold you to a higher standard, because I know you have so much to offer others, yourself and the world.

August 2013
And the thing I love most about you is how wonderful of a brother you are. You will do anything to protect him. You will do anything, and take pride in the fact that you can help him, and while somedays you try to parent him, you actually care about his well being, even when he's being a Thorndao. Seeing the bond you two have is something that a mother cannot explain with words. Someday, I hope you get to experience the pride I have when you watch your own sons together.

February 2014
Henrik, you are a great kid. I know, it's a weak sentence, but you are. You are a joy to parent, you are a joy to have in our lives and you bring joy to so many. I love you more than words can express and I cannot wait to see the boy you grow into in the next year.

Happy Birthday, bud. I love you.


Oh, and Henrik, whenever you want to cuddle or be rocked to sleep, know that I am always there. Even if you don't fit in my lap anymore. Those moments are some that I will cherish forever.