A Day at the Museum

Ellie and Gray spreading love at the Natural History Museum of L.A.

Ellie and Gray spreading love at the Natural History Museum of L.A.

Every night as they’re tucked in to bed, Gray and Ellie ask where they’re going the next day. It’s become a routine. Target? Aunt Karis’s house? Anywhere? So they woke up on January 29, Jax’s sixth birthday, knowing we were going to the museum to see dinosaur bones. My wife made cupcakes the night before. Like last year, she planned on delivering them to Jax’s preschool teacher, so they can have a little party for Jax. I didn’t go last year. I couldn’t deal with it. This year, though, I was going. So when the twins’ heads hit their pillow, they knew the next day we were going to Jax’s school and to the museum.

On the morning of the 29th, Gray confirmed our plans with me from his crib.

“Jax will be at his school for his party,?” he asked innocently.

“No, buddy,” I replied, with what’s left of my heart breaking into more pieces. “Jax is in heaven, remember?” Gray wants to see his big brother again so badly. He thought he’d see him on Christmas Eve at my parents. He was convinced. And now, I mean how could Jax NOT be here for his birthday?

“Okay, so after his school we’ll go to heaven?,” Gray asked.

I wish, I thought to myself. I wish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The kids grubbed on breakfast, my wife packed up and in a feat in and of itself, we were out of the house on time. It rarely happens. On our way to the preschool, which I haven’t visited in 18 months. It was a good start to a long day.

We passed a fire truck that parked in front of a residence on our route to the preschool. I nudged my wife. We both knew. He was with us.

We entered the preschool and were welcomed by the school’s director. She hugged us and said that they received a donation earlier that day for Jaxson’s scholarship, which they started to aid families with the cost of attending the preschool. In fact they were able to offer four families assistance in December, she informed us. I started to cry. I was a mess. My wife teared up. We went upstairs to Jax’s old class and visited with his teacher. She was wearing the same shirt she wore on the last day of school in June of 2012. The last day she saw him. My tears wouldn’t stop.

She visited with us for about 10 minutes as her class patiently waited on the carpet in a circle as the confetti cupcakes topped with a green jack (like the game, jacks) teased their taste buds. It was so good to see her. She was so good to Jax and loved him so much. A photo of Jax and my wife was posted above her desk and a rectangular wooden sign with his name and 6-24-12 hung on the wall. Gray and Ellie didn’t want to leave. They were all set to hang out the rest of the day. We don’t have to worry about them crying on their first day of school in August.

This was a perfect way to start the day. The amount of love everyone at that school has for Jax and our family is astounding. I walked back out to our minivan with a little more peace. It made facing the day a little easier. And I’m grateful for that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The night before I tried to get Gray pumped about dinosaurs. We got him some plastic ones for Christmas, so he and I played on the floor for a bit with them. He asked all of their names, and I struggled to read the bellies of the creatures to confirm. The triceratops is his favorite. When we were done he placed it by the front door so he’d remember to bring it with him to the museum the next day. The T-Rex, Jax’s favorite, also came along.

At the center of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, once you’ve entered, is a display of a tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops. Orange lights illuminated the brown fossils. I’ve always thought it was beautiful. But during our last two visits, my chest tightens, my belly aches and I hold my breath. Those bones, that room; they remind me of our day with Jax.

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Gray was interested in the fossils for about five minutes. He and Ellie were more interested in exploring the halls of the museum. They asked where every door led to. For some reason, as we walked back through the fossil exhibits we already paroozed, Gray had me carry him. The bones scared him. The hell? Little man, you were fine the first time. Weirdo.

photo 1bI couldn’t get Jax off my mind. Where did he stand? What did he say? I wish he was standing next to me.

We went upstairs and looked at the specimen that proved my “Jax is a huge dinosaur nerd” statement. I told my wife the story. In short, Jax saw the bones and named the specimen. I told him I thought it was something else (I don’t remember the name, but it started with the letter P). Both had a funky bone on the skull that looked kind of like a fin. He was convinced he was right. I was convinced I was, but I didn’t let him know that. As we walked by I read the name. Corythosaurus. He was right. Of course. Why’d I ever even doubt him? Mind blown. My little paleontologist.

I snapped a pic of the fossils, but the glare off of the glass is pretty hideous. Here’s an illustration I stole off the ‘net.

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For the most part the kids were well-behaved. They got excited and would run or yell, but that was it. At one point Colin Farrell walked by, all L.A-ed out with tight jeans, white t-shirt, boots and some weird wrap thing in his hair. He told his son, this little sandy-blond kid, that he already had enough toys at home. It was definitely Colin Farrell. Have you SEEN those caterpillar eyebrows?

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We spent about four hours at the museum. We picked out a totally nerdy dinosaur book for Jax and let the kids get a souvenir. Gray grabbed a T-Rex stuffed animal he named Cracker. Ellie took a monkey, but she’s not original to come up with a name. At first she said Ellie, then Gray Gray, then Cracker (stealing Gray’s brilliant name). Meanwhile, I fell in love with a $500 robotic dinosaur named Pleo.

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After suffering through traffic in downtown L.A. we met up with our family at Red Lobster. It was comforting for me to be with everyone. It’s a safe place and we could all share our own sadness on this day together. As it should be. Not alone, separated. I downed two Maker’s Marks on the rocks and a Bud Light to help ease my anxiety and numb the pain. Gray desperately wanted to try lobster for the first time. He took bite from my fork and quickly washed it down with his water. I don’t think he even took a bite. Just swallowed it whole.

We ended dinner and sang Happy Birthday to Jax with our candle-lit cupcakes that my wife made. I felt peace this year. The experience at the preschool, sharing a fun day with the twins and my wife, together, and being with family (and maybe the drinks?) made the day bearable. It’s a day Jax would’ve enjoyed. Part of me likes to think he did enjoy being with us all day. But then the angry, bitter, pessimistic part tells me not to be such a pansy. I can’t reach over and hold his hand. It’s not the same.

Back at home we watched slide shows and videos of Jax as we cuddled on couches together. Then Ellie puked all over my wife. Really. She warned us when we left Red Lobster.

As good as could be expected. That’s how I described the day when asked. Sadly, that’s about as good as it gets for me now, especially on holidays, a birthday or remembrance. As good as could be expected. My new, unwanted measure.

Happy 6th Birthday, Jax

Jax turns 6 today. We’re celebrating the same way we did last year. And the year before, his last birthday he shared with us. When he turned 4, my wife and I took him to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to check out its fantastic dinosaur exhibit. The prehistoric lizards fascinated him. He knew all of their names. And I’m not just talking about the basic four or five. He knew the nerdy shit that no 4-year-old should know. Or would want to know. Or cared. So we took him there, because we knew he’d love it. And he did. And we left the twins with my mother-in-law, because we knew he’d feel loved, having us all to himself. And he did.

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Jax also dug trains. After the museum we met our family at Ruby’s Diner in Orange. We sat on the back patio to watch the metro and freight trains roll by. He loved that, too.

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So last year, as we celebrated his fifth birthday without him, we took the twins back to the museum. I held back tears as we shuffled the twins through exhibits. And I shed tears as our family sang happy birthday to him in the middle of Red Lobster, perhaps his favorite restaurant at the time of his death. After he completed his first year of preschool, he chose Red Lobster as the restaurant to celebrate.

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Now he’s six. And it breaks my heart to say, but I don’t know what he’d be in to. Would it still be dinosaurs? I know he’d be in to super heroes still. It’d better be baseball. But what else? Would it be something I can’t even fathom?  So again, we decided to return to the dinosaurs. To relive one of his happiest days without him. And to spend this very sad day with our family, eating at his favorite place, and crying together.

I may have posted this before, but I’m doing it again. It’s the first post from my first blog. It illustrates Jax’s arrival was to us.

Sixteen weeks of joy, bliss and walking on cotton candy clouds crashed to a screeching halt. The Boobs called me at work after a check up with the obgyn. He couldn’t find a heart beat. He sent her to the hospital for an ultrasound which confirmed there wasn’t a heart beat. Our baby died. A couple of days later The Boobs underwent a D&C at a Los Angeles clinic. We elected for the sex to be determined and tests run to determine cause of death. It was a girl, but no dice on the cause of death. The clinic was kind enough to send us home with footprints of the fetus the doctor extracted while performing the procedure.

We cried a lot over the next few weeks. I mean, a whole lot. It was the summer, and I eventually ramped up by social calendar to get my mind off of things. The Boobs, however, dealt differently. There were nights where I’d find her crying on the floor of the bathroom. Our souls ached.

Eventually the fertility doc allowed us to start trying again. This process was like ripping open a healing wound, peeing inside of it and then punching it for good measure. Month after month our hopes of another pregnancy were dashed by an early period, too many produced eggs at once or cysts cock-blocking our chance for conception.

On my birthday, over one year from the time that our lost baby girl was conceived and one final attempt before in vitro would be thrust upon us, the goodoo magic worked again.Throughout the pregnancy our joy, bliss and sugar-plum thoughts were tempered by fear of losing another child. If it happened again, could we ever recover?

Nine months later, after 26 hours of labor, The Boobs popped out a healthy, beautiful…

“Holy crap it’s a boy,” I exclaimed a mere 1.2 seconds after the doctor tugged the little sucker out of my wife. We decided to be surprised on the sex of the baby. The Boobs, a nurse, said that for some reason, infertility leads to a girl more often than a boy. Being an odds guy, I was fully expecting a little chica. But it was a boy. There’s something hypermasculine about having your first-born be a boy. Maybe I’ve watched too many mafia movies.

Happy Birthday, Jax. My love for you knows no limits. My heart aches beyond comprehension. And my soul longs to be with you again.

Love you,

Dad

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Jax turns 1.

Jax turns 1.

For his second birthday, we themed it Jax Bowl. That's why I'm wearing the referee shirt. My dad and my grandpa. Four generations.

For his second birthday, we themed it Jax Bowl. That’s why I’m wearing the referee shirt. My dad and my grandpa. Four generations.

Jax's third birthday.

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It’s October, bittttccchhhheeessss

spooky-halloween-landscape

It’s October, my favorite month. I don’t care what yours is. October is the best.

It’s finally starting to cool off in southern California, except for the week that the Santa Ana winds hit and half the region becomes a giant barbecue. The air feels more crisp. Sure, you people up in the northwest, east coast and Midwest can laugh. But the slightest chill to the air means crisp out here. AND IT’S FANTASTIC. The leaves turn from green to brown; it’s beautiful.

Football is well into its seasons (college, NFL). Our favorite television shows have returned to hopefully not start sucking. Homeland returned this weekend with LOTS AND LOTS of talking. We finally get to find out how Ted met his children’s mother, Parenthood is back and I have no recollection of how last season ended. The mom doesn’t have cancer anymore, right? RIGHT??? The Walking Dead and American Horror Story start back up. Great, two MORE hours of trying to cram in TV that my wife doesn’t want to watch with me. My DVR will want a raise.

But there are two main reasons why October owns my heart.

Halloween

The older I’ve gotten, the more Halloween romanticizes me. As a kid, I don’t remember caring a whole lot about Halloween. I mean, sure I dressed up and trick-or-treated, and it was fun, but it came and went and that was it. Now, I find everything about the holiday enchanting. Black and orange are like the best color combination possible, right? Throw in some purple and holy crap why use any other color combos at all. Candles, ominous trees, fog, tombstones. Spooky is sexy.

(I love that commercial. This was from 2012. It’s a play-on of the Knott’s commercial for the regular park.)

At 14-years-old, a freshman at El Modena High School, I first went to Knott’s Scary Farm. That began an annual tradition of 12 consecutive trips to the fright farm. Until finally no one wanted to go with me. This year I’m going to Universal Halloween Horror Nights for the second time. Last year’s The Walking Dead tram ride blew my f’ing mind. AND IT’S BACK!

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The week after Universal we’re taking the kids to Mickey’s Halloween Party. Two years ago we took Jax, then 3, and the infant twins. Jax was in heaven. And so was I. Fog oozes off the Rivers of America. Halloween music blasts from party spots. The villains are out, cruising around. And the haunted mansion is transformed into The Nightmare Before Christmas ride. I could sit outside the mansion, illuminated by candles and jack-o-lanterns, for hours. I feel warm and fuzzy gazing at the beauty.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

I’ve seriously considered a cemetery scene for a tattoo. That’s how much I like the atmosphere. I’d get it along my rib cage. Which is really just blubber, and why I haven’t done it. It’d be like inking a water bed. Anyway, the image in my head, which I can’t describe, is black and white. A creepy willow tree. Crosses and unmarked tombstones, to be filled in later. But three marked tombstones – Presley, Jax and Addison. Fucking morbid, huh?

Baseball Postseason

Ever since I was 9, when I started Little League, fell in love with Wally Joyner and the Angels and memorized The Natural, I’ve been obsessed with baseball. To put it lightly. I’m a baseball fan first, an Angels fan second.

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October 1 marks the beginning of postseason baseball. If the World Series goes a full seven games, it’ll end on the 31st. So pretty much, the entire month is postseason baseball. Every game matters. The intensity is ramped up. The pressure boils. My wife actually pays attention, it’s that captivating.

The New York Yankees aren’t in it this year. So that’s a bonus. I’ll be rooting for a first-round exit for the Boston Red Sox. And I’ll enjoy watching my friends and family live and die by each Dodgers game.

But all of it makes me miss Jax even more. I want to watch the Dodgers and Braves with the the lights out in our house, candles lit, fake jack-o-lantern glowing in the kitchen, my right arm wrapped around his shoulders and his head resting against my side. I want to watch his excitement after a collision at home plate or diving catch. I want him to be disappointed when I put him to bed in the 7th inning of a 4-3 game, only to tell him in detail how it ended the next day.

I want him to beg me to watch Scream. I want to watch him flip through the Halloween costume catalog as he flops between five different costume ideas. I want to carve a pumpkin with him. I want him to help execute my weekly plans to scare Gray. I really, really want to take him to Mickey’s Halloween Party again.

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October would’ve been Jax’s favorite month, too. I just know it.

Go On

While deciding on songs to use during the video for Jax’s remembrance I came across Jack Johnson’s “Go On.” While my wife purchased the album Sleep Through the Static, I never recall hearing this tune. Taylor Swift’s “Ronan” deservedly drew the majority of everyone’s attention who viewed the video. However, I wanted to bring attention to this song, as well.

Jax LOVED Jack Johnson. My wife listened to his music constantly while Jax was in utero and the little dude came out constantly comforted by Johnson’s soothing voice and laid back guitar. When he was 4, while in the back of our minivan, my wife told me Jax once shouted his disagreement with the radio choices “I only want Jack Johnson or rock and roll!” He was pissed at what I can only assume was KIIS-FM playing.

Anyway, here are the lyrics and the song on YouTube below.

In my rearview
I watch you watching the twilight
Behind the telephone lines
Nothing to prove, or to assume
Just thinking that your thoughts are different than mine
In my rearview
I watch you
I give you your life, would you give me mine?

I see you slowly swim away
Cause the light is leaving town
To a place that I can’t be
There’s no apologies

Just go on
Just go on
There’re still so many things
I wanna to say to you
But go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood that’s moving
The moment that we start
The moment that we start

I see perfect little eyes
Watch the shadows of the clouds
And the surface of the ocean out the window of a plane
I get nervous when I fly
I’m used to walking with my feet
Turbulence is like a sigh that I can’t help but over think

What is the purpose of my life
If it doesn’t ever do
With learning to let it go
Live vicariously through you
You can do the same
It’s the least you can do
Cause it’s a lonely little chain
If you don’t add to it

So go on
Just go on
There’s still so many things
I wanna say to you
Go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood and love
The moment that we start
Just go on
Just go on
There’re still so many things
I wanna say to you
Just go on
Just go on
We’re bound by blood that’s moving
The moment that we start
The moment that we start

Video From the Remembrance

Several people have asked me for a link to the video we showed at the remembrance on Monday, so I uploaded it. It also gives those that could not attend a chance to watch it.

As I mentioned before, my wife’s brother created the video, so all credit goes to him. Here you go. For those of you reading from your email subscription, you’ll need to click on the link to the site to view it.

The Remembrance

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming, “Why?”
Flowers pile up in the worst way
No one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died

By Taylor Swift and Maya Thompson

 

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

Around October of last year, as we approached Halloween, a very difficult time for me as it was right there with Christmas as Jax’s favorite time of year, my mom emailed my wife and I a link to a song Taylor Swift performed about a boy with cancer. Swift wrote the song “Ronan” based on a blog Maya Thompson, the mother of Ronan, created when her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in August of 2010. Ronan died in May of 2011 three days before his fourth birthday.

My wife’s brother created a beautiful tribute video that we showed last night at Jax’s Remembrance. I’m guestimating about 100 people came to Mountain Gate Park in Corona to be together as a community to share stories, hug, laugh and cry.

Projected on to a make-shift movie screen (as you can see in the background of the photo above), the video wrapped up with “Ronan” playing as we watched videos of Jax performing for the infant twins and photos as we all last remember seeing him. The song crushes me every time I hear it. I managed to mostly avoid tears throughout the night until that song played. Even though I watched the video earlier in the day and wept alongside my wife, I still lost it at the park, standing in the background and swigging Macallan scotch from a flask while I wiped away tears. (thank you my very kind friend for sharing).

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki

The best way to describe last night was beautiful. We gathered beyond the outfield fence since the Corona American Little League all-stars practiced on the large field. Blankets and camping chairs filled the grass area and children played wiffle ball as we listened to some good music and mingled with each other. The way the sun’s glow shined upon us as it set in the crystal blue sky filled me with warmth and peace.

My wife made some keepsakes for people to leave with. Maria, a mother of one of Jax’s t-ball teammates, created this beautiful graphic shortly after the event, displaying and engraved washer and a jack, our symbol for Jax.

Courtesy of Maria McRoberts.

Courtesy of Maria McRoberts.

Several courageous people stood in front of us all and spoke of fond memories, how Jax’s life and death has affected them and the love they have for our family.

Following the multimedia presentation we lit the night up by candle light. Following a moment of remembrance we released balloons. We invited people to write messages on some of the balloons while others came installed with a LED light and glowed red (Jax’s favorite color) deep into the dark sky.

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

Courtesy of Crossroad Photography, Heather Kusunoki.

The day wasn’t without any hiccups and stresses, but the evening came off as well as my wife and I could have hoped. Thank you so much to everyone that attended. We hoped this night would be for you as much as it was for us. We all continue to grieve in our own ways and doing it all together, I think, made it less awful.

Several of you asked about the “Ronan” song, so I’ll end with the lyrics and a link. While it’s written for Ronan, maybe you’ll think of Jax every time you hear it.

Jax – you were my best four years.

I remember your barefeet down the hallway
I remember your little laugh
Race cars on the kitchen floor
Plastic dinosaurs, I love you to the moon and back

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine like we had our own secret club
I remember you dancing before bedtime then jumping on me waking me up
I can still feel you hold my hand
Little man, and even the moment I knew
You fought it hard like an army guy
Remember I leaned in and whispered to you

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

I remember the drive home when the blind hope
Turned to crying and screaming, “Why?”
Flowers pile up in the worst way
No one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween
You could be anything you wanted if you were still here
I remember the last day when I kissed your face
And whispered in your ear

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
Out of this curtained room and this hospital gray
We’ll just disappear
Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you?
And what if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into?
And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through?
But what if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
Come on baby with me
We’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

I remember your barefeet down the hallway
I love you to the moon and back

Songwriter(s):Taylor Swift, Maya Maria Thompson
Copyright:Taylor Swift Music, Sony/ATV Tree Publishing

Thank you Heather Kusunoki for the beautiful photos. You can find her work at Crossroad Photography.

One Year Later

For a few days I’ve racked my brain on what to post today. I wanted something special. Something symbolic and fitting of a year that’s passed since Jax died.

But there is no magic idea to make us all feel better today. It’s a day I have to let happen. I can’t just get through it. I have to be present as it takes place. I have to shed the tears, feel my heart squish in my chest and my stomach ache. Numbing the pain with distractions is temporary.

Tonight we’ll come together not just to remember Jax, because we remember him constantly. But to experience today together. To hug, laugh, cry and be present.

One year. It’s been both the shortest and longest year of my life, at the same time. I can’t believe it’s already been a year since it happened. But I feel like it’s been a life time since I heard his voice, gazed into his gorgeous eyes, held him in my arms, kissed his head and jumped in to his infectious passion.

I miss you, Jax.

I LOVE you,

Dad

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