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The Peter Smith Feis

Okay, the good things:

The facility was very large, so there was plenty of room for folding chairs and people.  Brighid’s dances didn’t begin until 12:30, according to the stage schedule, so we didn’t have to leave the house until later.  That gave us plenty of time to get up to the Expo, which was very nice.  There seemed to be plenty of vendors, and most of them were selling different things so there wasn’t a lot of looking at repeat stuff.  The stage area seemed very large and there was plenty of room for the kids to dance.  The facility really lends itself for warm-ups and practice, as there was a lot of space – I don’t know if that was true earlier in the day, but it certainly was when we got there.  Brighid danced 4 dances, all on the same stage, all back to back.  That worked out pretty well.  There was a food counter at the far end of the facility, and a few tables outside of it.  That kept most people down that end to eat, so I didn’t see too many people walking around with drippy pizza or anything that could damage some of the beautiful dresses.  Peter Smith has the best trophies!   Brighid got a second and a third, and the trophies were tall and impressive – and that’s a nice prize to give to a kid who has worked hard to compete.

Okay, the bad things:

I know the stage schedule is really just an estimate.  I have been to enough feisanna to know that everyone refers to the time estimate as “Irish Time”, and if you are told you will begin dancing at 12:30, you will not begin dancing at 12:30 unless God himself appears in the room holding a huge alarm clock, damning people to hell if they don’t start on time.  Brighid actually started closer to 1:30 – maybe a bit later – and by the time she finished, it was close to 3.  The facility was supposed to be air conditioned, so I wore jeans and a golf shirt.  I was roasting.  I know I didn’t feel well from having spent the whole day before out in the hot sun, but even Eilis’ face was red from heat.  It just didn’t feel that cool to me.  We were at the tail end of the feis when we picked up Brighid’s trophies, but they did that a bit dumb, I thought.  There were different people giving out trophies based on the place you were in, so you had to see one person to get your third place trophy, another to get your second place trophy, and if you won first, you had to go to yet another person.  I cannot imagine how that worked if the line was long – you were forcing people to wait in multiple lines, rather than just having one person awarding the trophies for whatever place you were in.  Another thing – the lines for marks were horrendously long and barely moved.  We ended up skipping it and heading for the mail order line.  Because the food was run by the facility, you could not bring in coolers with food or drinks, AND a can of soda purchased there was $1.50 – water $2.00 a bottle.  They were theme park prices.  I didn’t go to the food counter, but I did see pizza and sandwiches (like burgers).  We had pretzels, since we ate breakfast in the car on the way up, and the pretzels were $2.00 each.

Overall, based on the dance experience, it was a good feis.  Brighid enjoyed herself, and I was glad to have everything run so close together without having to move from stage to stage, especially since I had Eilis in tow 🙂

Celtic Fling and Irish Feis 2005

First, let me say that I will never attend an outdoor feis in the summer again if I can help it.  I mean it.  Honestly.  Brighid was so hot and drenched in sweat, and we took the whole family out because it was going to be a great day to wander about, enjoy the Celtic entertainment, and have a grand old time, so the lot of us looked like wet dishrags after the first couple of hours.

The feis was a little tough to manage for me.  She had four dances on four different stages, so I had to keep bouncing back among the stages to see where we were in the rotation.  I HATE it when feisanna directors schedule breaks for the adjudicators and musicians for lunch, but don’t announce it ahead of time.  At one point, there was only one competition up before Brighid’s, so we got her all dressed and zipped up, only to find out that there would be a 20 minute delay so the judges and musicians could have a break.  Although there was not  a lot of distance between the stages, theoretically speaking, it should have been easier to get back and forth.  But at the high point during the day, it was crowded, people had blankets spread everywhere and chairs all over, kids were running wild without adult supervision, and you nearly risked life and limb to get from one stage to the next.

And let me give you the true low-lights.  We had gotten a ton of emails from these people once we registered for this feis.  A few of the emails alluded to the fact that the feis would be crowded, registration would be a lengthy process, and if you could not get to the hotel the night before, it encouraged you to get to the fair grounds early.  Additionally, you could get  a discounted ticket to the Celtic fling if you paid admission to the feis before 10 AM.  We arrived at 9, walked right up to the registration desk, picked up Brighid’s competitor number, and then found out the fling didn’t open until 11 AM.  Brighid didn’t start dancing until after 12, so we ended up sitting around from 9 AM until the hottest part of the afternoon with NOTHING to do.  Did I say we had the whole family with us – except for the baby?   Did I say that included Eilis, the four year old?   Did I say there was NOTHING to do for 3 hours?   Are you piecing this together?   By the time the fling opened, Eilis was already soaked with sweat and tired of waiting.  Then they got into the fling only to find out that some of the stuff she remembered from the Renaissance Faire last summer was not open, and some of the other things she needed someone bigger to go with her, and Brighid couldn’t go because she was dancing.  So, they wandered around the fling for a while, but then came back to wait for Brighid.  By the time Brighid was done (just before 3), everyone was really too tired to go back through the fling.  But, since Brighid hadn’t gotten to do anything, we spent another hour wandering around in the heat.  The girls road an elephant, who looked about as happy to be there as we were by that point, and then we pretty much dragged ourselves back to the car.

It seemed painfully slow to get scores – but again, it was so hot and we were so tired by the time Brighid actually danced, everything seemed to take forever.  In the feis area, there was only one food vendor, and the line to get a bottle of soda or water at mid-day was pretty long.  And Brighid was disappointed that she only got medals and not trophies.  She placed in three of her dances (a second, third and fourth), but she needed a first second or third in the two soft shoe dances, and she didn’t get that.

All in all, this is not an experience we wish to repeat.  I kept thinking the whole day how very sad it was for the kids in these thousand dollar dresses that they were sweating their fake tans all over them.  Ugh!

The Pin Headed Circus Freak

Not how most moms describe their brand new infants, but as a panicked mother to a child with a head who’s head circumference is a bit on the small side, it’s words like this that are coming to my mind.  If her head doesn’t catch up, what will the kids call her?   Will she be teased with names like Pin Head?   Will she be called a circus freak?   Will kids make fun of her with names like Conehead?  

We took Grace, like good parents do, for her one month check up  a month ago.  As with all kids, they plot their growth on growth charts – pink and white for girls, blue and white for boys.  Usually, it’s a pretty big thrill for a mom to see the doctor pull out the chart, plot the new height and weight measurements that the nurse has just taken, and feel that swell or pride that you, like any ape on the planet, have fed your child enough to encourage growth. 

Then there is the head circumference.  I have never paid that much attention to this measurement, and I don’t recall anyone every saying it was a big deal.  Apparently, however, if your head doesn’t grow, neither does your brain.  And if your brain doesn’t grow, you may be mentally retarded.  You may have a lower than normal IQ.  You could have seizures and convulsions and become hyperactive.  You could experience limb paralysis.  You could end up making less than minimum wage stuffing envelopes from home just so you can be a productive member of society.  These are the things I learned while researching on the web something called MICROCEPHALY – the condition where your head is too small. 

So last month, Grace’s head measurement put her in the 10th percentile.  That means 10 percent of babies her age have smaller heads, and the rest of them have larger heads.  But that number is still normal.  The doctor told me if she fell below the 10th percentile, that could be reason to be concerned and we would discuss it at the two month appointment if it was necessary.

Yesterday was the two month appointment.  We had a bunch of stuff to talk about.  She still has a bit of scab in her belly button.  She has cradle cap that spreads down behind her ears and over her eyebrows.  She turns her head to one side too often.  Then he plotted her measurements.  She weighed 11 pounds, 8.9 ounces, which on his chart put her right about the 50th percentile.  She is 22.75 inches long, which on his chart put her right about the 50th percentile.  So far, so good, so normal.  Then he got that head circumference measurement.  Grace’s head was 37 centimeters around.  That, on his chart, put her at the 5th percentile.  Recalling our conversation from last month, I ask him what our plan is.  He tells me not to worry until the 4 month check up in August.  The measurements are not always accurate, he tells me, and we should get at least one more before we panic.

Like I haven’t been panicking for the last month, worrying we would not be above the 10th percentile.

I leave, but I am in a frantic state.  When I get Jim, he makes it his mission to get in touch with the doctor’s office and see what we can do.  So we went back today to see another doctor in the practice – but not without an argument.  The doctor today measured her head at 38.2 cms, and that puts her at the 9th percentile.  Not totally out of the woods, but better than yesterday.  We also get to come back in a month instead of two months, and we found out that she has an impressive soft spot.

So ends another day in the life of a mom.  Well, not ends really, because I’m sure there will be a 2 AM feeding…

Daddy’s Mailbox

Yesterday was the day that we took my father’s ashes to the cemetary in Yeadon, PA to have him “inurned” in the columbarium that he and my stepmother purchased a few years ago.  We always joked that it looked like a mailbox, right down to your name plate on the front.  I have never been to an inurnment, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I think I half thought we would just take the urn over to the cemetary, drop it off at the office, and be on our way. 

Anyway, my stepmom, Ann, picked Brighid and I up about 10 in the morning.  We met Ann’s sister Maria at the cemetary, and she had stopped to pick up Father Gormley – a friend of my dad and stepmom, who would be using his credentials to conduct the inurnment.  My Uncle Bud and Aunt Lee were also there, and that was nice. 

In front of the columbarium, they had set up a table, covered with that green indoor/outdoor carpet kind of stuff like they use at a regular gravesite.  Ann placed my Dad’s urn on the table, and Father Gormley conducted a service, which was short but very nice.  We weren’t sure what to do at that point, once the prayers and everything were said, so the guy who worked there said we could stay and watch him seal the mailbox.  He took my dad from the table, and slid him into the back of the mail slot.  The slot is a double slot, and some day, my stepmom will be inurned there as well.  He placed a heavy looking stone type thing over the opening, and sealed it shut with glue.  Then, he replaced the marble face that has the plaque with my dad’s name on it.  I was surprised that they already had the placque with his date of death on it, but I guess it’s not that much work to just afix a plaque to the front of the thing.  I did shed a few tears – when I saw my dad’s name on what is the equivalent of a tombstone.  It’s a cold reality. 

We left the cemetary and went to lunch together at Filomena’s.  I had only eaten there once and wasn’t happy with my meal, but the lunch was delicious.  I had a crab cake that was accompanied by nicely flavored green beans and some delicious pasta.  We talked a bit about my dad, got to know Father Gormley a little better (he was an Irish step dancer!), and had a nice visit.

I am glad to be able to spend this time with Ann.  I had felt like when my dad passed away, she would surround herself with her family and her own grandchildren and we would be cut out.  I think it would be a terrible thing for my girls not to have her as part of their lives.  Aside from the benefit of knowing her, she will be able to share with them things about my dad that I might not know.  That’s important to me.

Just another day at Casa Skamarakas

Have I mentioned how my life is never dull?   Have I mentioned that there are times when I WISH I had one of those June Cleaver kind of lives, where there is no yelling and screaming at your kids, no toys all over the house, no weeds in the yard, and no policemen on the doorstep?

Yes, I said policemen on the doorstep.  For most people, that would be an indicator of a major emergency.  Not in my house.  If there is a police officer on my doorstep, front lawn, in my living room, I do not immediately think that someone has suffered the loss of life or limb.  I assume that Jim has gotten a bug up his butt about something and the police are here to sort it all out. 

Most of you probably have to think long and hard if there has ever been a police officer at your doorstep, and I would venture to guess that for most people, they could safely answer no.  You lucky souls, living your normal and calm lives!!  

The latest reason for a police officer to turn up at my doorstep.  Nothing big.  Bomb scare.  Yep.  I did say bomb scare.  No, Jim did not call in a bomb threat to someone, but he did have someone tell him that there was a bomb in our “building”.  Apparently, in his dealings with some people on his gaming site, some youngsters got a little upset over not being able to play on the all adult site, and made a bomb threat.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not legal.  Someone recorded the threat, and the authorities were called, and someone’s mom is gonna be really pissed off when she gets home and finds a police officer on her doorstep. 

Poor woman.

The Bitter and the Sweet

My father’s Memorial Mass is later this morning.  I have just finished stapling together all of the booklets for the Mass, and Brighid and I worked on a photo collage Thursday night to display at the visitation and the Memorial.  All I have left to do is print directions for the funeral director to give to the people so they can get to the luncheon.  I am finding that with the passing of a few days, I am not crying as much, but I am feeling more like this was a bad decision.  I just wish he had waited, given the dialysis another chance, maybe given us a little more time. 

We went to Brighid’s Graduation dinner dance last night.  The school cafeteria was beautifully decorated, and the kids all looked great (well, most looked great).  On the way there, I got very emotional.  We had to drive past the nursing home/rehab center my father was in before he went to the hospital with the pneumonia that convinced him to end dialysis.  I was supposed to take Brighid there before the dance so she could see him and he could see her all dressed up.  She looked so beautiful, and I know he would have been so happy to see her.

I remained tear free at the dance until they asked the Dads to escort their daughters to the floor for a dance to “Butterfly Kisses”.  That song normally brings tears to my eyes, but just days after losing my own Daddy, and watching our little girl dance with her Daddy just broke my heart.  And then, I glanced around the room, and there were at least two, maybe three other little girls with no daddies there.  I thought it was a little out of sorts for the school not to take that into consideration, but maybe it was the DJs decision.

I posted some pics of Brighid in her photo album.

My in-laws came in from FL today to help Brighid celebrate her graduation.  They came by tonight to take pictures of her in her dress, and then stayed here with my mother until 9 PM.  My mother isn’t at all fond of my MIL, so I owe her big time now. 

Well, it’s after 1 AM and definitely past my bed time.  I hope the dreams are sweet and the baby sleeps!!

The Days Ahead

After a fitfull few hours of sleep – from about 6:30 until 9:30 – Ann phoned to tell us that we have a meeting with the funeral home at 2 today.  My dad wanted everything done on a Saturday so no one will have to take off from work to attend.  We have to find the first Saturday that there are no 11 o’clock masses scheduled at their church.  Jim offered to take Ann out to get something to eat afterwards, but her sister is putting a meal together because Ann has people visiting at her house.  I’m not sure where I fit in in all of this.  I’m not really part of Ann’s family, at least when it came to things like celebrating holidays and stuff.  I mean, if Ann and my dad were hosting something, we were usually invited, but if they were spending a holiday with Ann’s extended family, we were not included.  I’m not sure what my place is in this whole thing.

I am going to work this week on a booklet for my dad, like we did for Jim’s dad and for Bean.  I have some nice pictures of my dad, but will probably have to get pictures from Ann of stuff I missed while I lived in FL.  He has pictures from trips to Hawaii, Alaska, and Ireland – I’m sure he would want some of those pictures included in the booklet.  He seemed happy when we told him we were making one for him.  I hope I can do him justice.

Monday, June 6th 12:45 AM

John Joseph Bilbrough, my father, grandfather to my three beautiful little girls, devoted husband, loving brother, took his final breath at 12:45 this morning.  My stepmom, Ann, was with him when he took that last breath, and I was notified shortly after the nurse in hospice pronounced him dead.  I arrived at the hospice at 1:20 and was escorted to the floor by the hospital security guard.  I went into his room, and Ann was sitting at his bedside, her sister in the chair next to her.  They both got up, Ann hugged me for a few minutes, and then she told me to go sit by my dad.  He was just as I had left him the evening before – the same position in bed, his mouth hung open as if he was still breathing in air through the gurgle in his throat.  I touched his cheek, which was cold for the first time since he went to hospice.  His hands and arms were still warm under the sheets. 

They allowed us to stay with him as long as we wanted.  It never seems long enough to say goodbye.  We sat with him an hour or so, and then we had the nurse phone the funeral director.  They came about an hour later and after a brief introduction and a few questions, he left us alone to say our final goodbyes.  Ann went first, and when it was my turn, I hugged him, feeling how thin and frail he had become in just this past week.  The hospice nurses came to the hallway and hugged us and told us how sorry they were.  They took us to the elevator and offered assistance with whatever they could.  Hospice is a wonderful thing.

I am so grateful that his suffering has ended, although I cannot accept that it was really his time.  I think he could have given us a little longer, and even he admitted to Ann one evening this week that maybe he made the wrong decision.  When he lasted longer than he thought he might, he became very discouraged.  It was hard for him to continue suffering when he had made up his mind for it to be over.

We will spend some time later this morning planning the funeral to his specifications.  I am glad he got to plan things the way he wanted them, and I am more glad that we are able to carry them out for him. 

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You've come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore
Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass
Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say:  «We have come now to the end »
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn 
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass 
Into the West

Sunday, June 5th There Is Still Humor

My dad is a funny guy in an odd sort of way.  He has a huge stockpile of jokes – all of them old, most of them told time and again – but that’s not what makes him funny.  Funny are the comments like “I was born on a Friday.  I know because we had fish for dinner.”   He could always suck you in with a story about a guy he worked with, a relative, or a friend, but the story always ended in some sort of way that made you leave knowing it couldn’t be true, but wondering if it was. 

Yesterday, when Ann was struggling to get him to eat dinner, which was a bigger fight than getting him to eat lunch, he looked at her and said to her in absolute frustration, “Your as bad as Ann!”   In the moment, how sad was it that he didn’t know his wife of 12 years?   But 24 hours later, it was something my dad might have said anyway.  This morning, like every morning, Ann said to my father, “I love you.”   Every morning, he has responded, “I love you too.”   This morning, he didn’t respond.  She said, “Don’t you love me back?”   My dad finally responded, “No, I love you front.”   That was a little bit of him still coming through.

My dad stopped talking shortly after that.  He has uttered no other words this entire day, and he has stopped eating.  By the time I left tonight, the word “coma” was being bandied about, but only by those of us at his bedside.  When dinner came and Ann tried to rouse him, she got no response at all.  He didn’t grunt, he didn’t get “bitchy”, he just didn’t do anything.  Ann, who has been so persistent at making him eat, resigned herself to the fact that he has officially stopped eating.  The nurse came in, she moved his position, put on the nebulizer mask for a breathing treatment, cleaned him up a bit, and he didn’t wake for any of that.  No reaction or response whatsoever.  And he has had no medication today at all.  I think Ann was going to ask the nurse later tonight how we would know if he was in a coma, but as of the time I left, she simply said, “I don’t think he’s going to wake up for us again.”  

His breathing was difficult to listen to.  The doctor today said his lungs are surprisingly clear, but there is such an accumulation of fluid in his throat that when he breathes in, it sounds as if he is under water.  And he would breathe in two or three times, then not at all for 30 or 45 seconds.  I started to hold my breath with him, and sometimes, it was hard for me to hold as long as he was holding.  I waited for there not to be any new breath in.  Then there would be one.  Or two.  Or three in a row.  I left before there wasn’t a next breath.  I don’t know if I want to be there when the last breath is taken.  I want there to still be something to laugh about.  That’s how my dad would want things.

Saturday, June 4th Itchy, Bitchy, Twitchy

The hospice nurse told Ann this morning that my father was at the beginning of the end.  I thought that was a week ago, but apparently not.  One of the other nurses put the stages towards death as Itchy, Bitchy and Twitchy.  In the very beginning, your skin gets very itchy.  They have been rubbing my father with some kind of lotion and giving him Benedryl to keep him from itching because it’s been bothering him so badly.  For the past two days, I would say Bitchy about covers how he has been.  He’s been agitated.  He wants help, then he doesn’t want help, then he wants to know why you’re not helping him.  He keeps repeating that he’s stuck there – we don’t know if that means in the bed, in the hospice, or here on this plane.  It’s a difficult thing communicating with him.  We had his TV on tuned to a Clint Eastwood movie – one of my dad’s favorites.  Ann said to him “You like Clint Eastwood, don’t you?” and my dad said, very belligerently, “NO!”  

He’s also not eating very well.  He ate about half of his lunch, with Ann coaxing him.  At dinner, though, she barely got a few mouthfuls into him. 

It’s been very difficult for Ann to think about letting him go.  Whenever they want to medicate him (which they did yesterday rather heavily), she says she doesn’t like it when they give him so much medicine that he can’t interact.  If she didn’t push the food, I know he wouldn’t eat as much as he is eating.  I made the comment to my Aunt Joan tonight that she has been taking care of him for so long, she doesn’t know how to stop, and I’m thinking unless she does stop, he’s going to remain stuck.

Ann is going to spend tonight at the hospice.  They told her she could even take the bed next to my dad, since no one is using it.  She doesn’t want to leave his side at all, and you know they always say that people won’t move on if there is something holding them too tightly here.  That’s why people die the minute you leave the room rather than when you are hanging all over them.  I think that would be my dad, except I really don’t see Ann leaving him.

I can say now with some authority that dying really is something to be done suddenly, without warning, in your sleep if possible.  It seems difficult for those left behind at the time, but this that my father is doing is much worse for everyone.  I pray I go quickly and don’t do this to my girls.  I would hate to think that I caused them this kind of pain.