Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 in the Review

On the verge of 2016, I can't say that I will fondly remember 2015 as one of the better years, because the truth to be told, it has not been the greatest year. However, with it not being so great, there have been a lot of wonderful moments to be cherished, and remembered. It is hard to believe that so many tragedies are intertwined with the joys to be sealed in our hearts. 

2015 kicked off to a difficult start with so many losses of our loved ones, both furry, and not so furry, and each loss was a blow to our hearts. Our family friend had passed away unexpectedly, which blew us away, and we ransacked our brains to try understand why he made the choice that he did. Following so close after, we lost Layla, and the loss resonated in our home. The emptiness dwelt in every corner, and an ache of memory was almost too unbearable at times. It really took us a long time to heal from the loss. Having typed that, I can't say that the ache has completely gone away even to this day.

With those rapid losses in such a short span of time, it invited even more losses of our family's loved ones, and pets. Our hearts grew heavier with every forlorn news we received. Our family pets had quietly slipped away from our lives. It was as if many of my final connections to my childhood, and teenage years had been slowly snipped away as I receive more sad news from others. Soon after, I started hearing, and reading more sad news among my friends, and family members about their losses.

It didn't become any easier when we learned that Grandpa Jerry, my dad's dad, had gone home after battling an illness. The loss of grandpa Jerry hit me in a spot that still ached even to this day, especially with Christmas Eve looming so near, because Christmas Eves were always celebrated with my dad's side of family at Grandpa Jerry's home. Every time I thought about this upcoming Christmas Eve, I was reminded that there was going to be a change, and it was not going to be at Grandpa's Jerry. I looked at my kids, and just felt incredibly sad, knowing that they would not get to know him. He was also my last grandparent, after Sweet Mama, and only one of two that I had most memories with.

It felt like 2015 was the year of losses. It reminded me of a meme I saw on Facebook that simply stated how this year was almost over, and not everybody we loved made it through. Then it added not to ever take people we love for granted. It served as a solemn reminder that life was fragile. While 2015 was riddled with many losses so early on, it was not entirely terrible, and that even sunshine rays managed to get through the clouds of storm.

Franklin was born with health conditions that plagued us with worries, concerns, and anxieties of whether we were proceeding with the right choices for him. While it was very difficult to sail down this road, Franklin proved to be our ray of sunshine by remaining happy, and sweet-natured. Not once did he express any discomfort with the choices we made for him. Franklin invited so many smiles, hugs, and well-wishes. He had the biggest smile out of us all throughout this journey. Every small accomplishments left me with awe of how incredible Frank was. It came to the point that we cannot imagine not having Franklin in our lives. He was a perfect puzzle fitting into our family.

In early spring, we continued to get many signs from Layla that it was time to look into adopting a dog. Every place we went to, we spotted a Basset Hound with his/her owner. Every picture that appeared in our newsfeeds, it was of a Basset Hound. An article here, and there was about a Basset Hound. The emptiness in our home felt so unnatural, so wrong, and so sad. When I cooked, I tenderly stepped backward to make sure I did not trip over a drooling log of a dog only to discover there was a clear space behind me. When Stu and I watched TV, Stu reached to a spot to pet a warm body of fur only to find a small indent in the sofa that used to lag under the weight of a dog. When Forrest dropped a snack, I expected a pink tongue to lap it up, and I realize there was not going to be one as I pulled out a vacuum to clean up the mess.

While we were heartbroken, we wanted that emptiness to be filled once again, and to have our boys grow up with a puppy. With crazy series of events, we were suddenly face to face to a wiggling puppy that we named Beatrice. Her goofiness took away our ache. Beatrice's burst of crazy energy was a perfect match to a very rambunctious young boy. She had a boatload of patience for Frank's grubby fingers as long as she was rewarded by savory food bits on Frank's chest.

Beatrice will never replace Layla. Beatrice is not Layla. We will always ache, and tear up at the thought of Layla. We miss her something fiercely. It is something we still need to work through, and heal. To make the journey of healing, Beatrice does make it a lot easier for us by being her own goofy self that brings so much joy to us.

Not only Franklin bloomed, Forrest did as well, and it was an amazing sight to behold. Forrest struggled with speech, and communicating despite knowing how to sign. He needed more structure, and organization to his thoughts to be signed, and to be verbally expressed. With evaluation, it was determined that Forrest should be placed in an intensive speech class that met five times a week, and also to attend 3-K class designed for children with special needs. Forrest literally bloomed overnight. He made friends, started speaking more, signed more cohesively, and it was as if a world had been opened from his mind. What an incredible thing to witness, especially coming from a child that struggled so much during the first two years of his life with expressing himself.  Forrest took an initiative to start potty training, to dress himself, and put shoes on without our help. It became awesome to finally see what unlocked from Forrest's mind.

Forrest had a tough start to his school year with being sick quite frequently. It was as to be expected seeing that  3K had a lot of germs! Fortunately, Forrest trucked through his illnesses to be able to handle school germs. He grew to love school so much that every time he was dropped off, he was like mom who?! 

Stuart, and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary in June. Imagine that, 4 years married, and to top that, we also recognized our eleventh dating anniversary. We often turned to each other, then shake our heads in disbelief at HOW FAST time went by. We often tell each other, did you ever imagine being here eleven years later with two beautiful boys? It was often when I find myself filled with awe of how incredibly lucky I was to have an amazing family. 

We spent a lot of time visiting our families over the summer. Memories were made. Love was cherished, and shared. The boys enjoyed a trip to Milwaukee Zoo and Racine Zoo with Grandma Tree, and Grandaunt Ro, spent hours playing Dinosaur with Papa Dave and Nana Jess, waded in a frigid water of Lake Michigan, watched the fireworks blasting across the dark sky on the 4th, celebrated Frank's graduation from the helmet therapy, visited cows and pigs at Grandpa Mike and Grandma Bobbie's Farm, played with cousins, and took long walks on summer evenings. 

Dad, and Jess got married in August. It was a beautiful wedding that held a lot of love, happiness, and beauty in the atmosphere. I was thrilled to finally have Jess to be an officially part of our family! The boys definitely loved having their Nana, and Papa there to spend some time with them. Then Forrest celebrated his third birthday! 

We celebrated Spencer's and Wally's wedding. It filled us with a lot of happiness to see our family together, spending time, and having a grand fun. After all, that was how weddings were supposed to be, right? 

The year dwindled down as holidays full force came upon us; Halloween, Thanksgiving, then soon Christmas! In between all the holidays, Frank celebrated his first birthday. It was hard to believe that the boys were growing up so quickly. Those two little guys in my life continued to be one of my biggest blessings. When going got hard, all I had to do was look at them, and my heart got to be so full of love. 

While 2015 was off to a rough start, it did end on a better note, and it gave us lessons to tuck into our hearts: never be afraid to tell someone you love them, love deeply, always say I love you, always hug and kiss when you can, and be thankful for each day you are alive. Not everyone had this chance. 

I am looking forward to what 2016 will bring to us. There will be some changes coming soon, hopefully good ones, and no matter what happens, things will turn out to be just okay, because we have each other.  


The Russ Clan

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Dear Frankie,

The tradition carries on with you as I did with Forrest for his yearly birthday letters. Because of this, you do need a first birthday letter to kick off the next 17 years. 

You are ONE year old. How is this possible that a whole year has flown by? 

A year ago, Daddy told Mama that you were going to come on this very day of the 24th, and Mama didn't believe him. She was pretty sure you would go overdue! As the day drew into the night with snow falling harder, and harder; it was quite apparent that you were coming, so Daddy took Mama to the hospital to have you, and Mama cried on the way to the hospital, because she was not sure how much life was going to change with going from a family of three to a family of four! Once you were born, everything fell into the place perfectly, and you continued to prove that love had no bounds. You were a  piece of puzzle fitting neatly into our lives, and it was beautiful.

While Mama was pregnant with you, she decided to come up with a theme for your nursery, and the theme was My Only Sunshine. Little did she know that the theme was going to be perfect, because it fit your personality, especially through the many storms in the first year of your life!

You have had a wild first year of your life. You were born with both Torticillis, and Plagiocephaly, because you were a breech baby from week 18 up to two weeks before you were born! It was crazy how being a breech led to so many health conditions that needed to be worked on. On the following day after you were born, you had a crazy foot; the top part of your foot was touching your shin, and Daddy took a picture of your foot, because he thought it was crazy how that happened! Apparently, your feet molded to the womb as you grew, and that caused one of your feet to develop an abnormal shape. Dr. Karbon, your pediatrician, assured your parents that it was something that would resolve on its own as you grew a bit more. Sure enough, by the end of your second or third month, your foot returned to a normal state, and did not affect you ever since.

By your 6th week, Mama had a whirlwind of a day of you getting diagnosed with Torticillis, and Plagiocephaly. It set off nearly a year long of treatment to resolve several of your health conditions that impacted your developmental milestones. You did not let the conditions stop you from being a happy, wonderful baby boy. You loved to be lavished on, to be cuddled, and to share your smiles with people. You lacked any misgivings about so many appointments, and treatments. You went in with a big smile, and giggles. You always got complimented about how happy you were!

You adjusted with little problems to wearing a helmet, paid no mind to PT exercises, and enjoyed being massaged at chiropractor office. You continued to blow away everybody with how well you were progressing! With each visit, you proved how resilient, awesome, and stubborn you were at getting better! After many months of treatments for your conditions, you were released, and declared to be in a good health. Everybody were so, so proud of you!!

The only tell tale sign of you overcoming your conditions is a slightly bump on the back of your head. Only Mama notice this little bump. Everybody else remarks on how amazing your head shape is, and it is as if you never had a flat spot to begin with. It is a testimony of how successful cranial doc band treatment worked for you!

Throughout all this, you remained to be a happy, jovial, sweet, and loving boy. Your personality began to emerge more, and more every passing day to continue reinforce your sweet-natured traits. You often loved to share food with the dogs, and family. You preferred to be comforted in someone's arms instead of trying to calm down on your own. You laughed, smiled, and babbled when spoke to. You rarely went without a smile. You were always so content to be held, and talked to. You loved to lay against Bea's body, and softly pat her fur. You pored over the pages of your favorite books for seemingly long time before moving on. You squeeze your fists, and shake when you began to lose patience, especially waiting for food! Your many facial expressions cracked up Mama and Daddy! You always had a big smile on your face when you saw someone familiar, and throw your arms out at them to be picked up.

You are a wonderful teacher. You've taught so many of us to remain happy, and loving, even though hardships. Mama has learned how to become a stronger person, because of Forrest, and especially you. You don't allow anything to bog you down, and you continue to preserve through the storms. You are always smiling. You're a perfect balance to Forrest's spirited nature of calm, and wisdom.  Mama and Daddy, as well as many others, are looking forward to see your personality to emerge more as you age.

We love you to the moon, and back.


Mama, Daddy, & Forrest