By Kimberley (Dill) Graham
On January 12, 1988, a sea change occurred in my onerous life. It came in the form of a golden orb, an angelic manifestation, an innocence incarnate, whose emergence was that of our newborn daughter, Ariel Florence Graham. After several hours of hugely stressful contractions and much screaming out on my part for more pain medication, Dr. Mushovic decided to perform a C-Section to get this little precious creature out of me. After several sonograms, Dr. Mushovic was convinced that I was having a “boy” because, after all, he could see a “tallywacker”. When a heavily sedated mother finally did give birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl, with no tallywacker, the nurses asked me what was her name. I said “Austin” as I had no idea that Ariel was to be delivered. When I woke up in my hospital room nursing my little angel, I was surrounded by gifts of baby blue. Our giftors had to run out and exchange gifts to pink. (NOTE: A year later, I gave birth to my son, Austin, who was predicted to be a girl by Dr. Mushovic, with no tallywacker. Once again, the giftors had to exchange the pink for the blue.)
Alan Graham, my husband chose the name Ariel after the mischievous little spirit in Shakespeare’s the Tempest. Ariel means “Lion of the Lord”. As Ariel grew into her age of 12 months plus, her favorite song to dance to was “Sail Away” by Enya. The year of her birth, Ariel, the Little Mermaid was released but was not of consequence in her naming.
In the hospital room, I lay with Ariel suckling at my teat, experiencing my first true “bliss” in life. If anyone were to speak to me, my only response was that I have born an angel. My life would never ever be the same again. Selfless became the only adjective of my pursuit in life now. The meanings I had heard so many times of having the power to lift a car to protect someone became intensively real. I now stood among the ranks of millions of women throughout the world and throughout time who know the true meaning of “motherhood” – and, shall I say, “sisterhood”.
We were so thrilled to have our Ariel that we would wake her, the sleeping baby, just to be with her and look at her and thrill to be in her presence. Her life defined my husband and I as a couple, with a purpose besides the pursuit of ourselves. She also united a broken family — mine, the Dills, as well as my husband’s — and his growing-up children. She was the first baby in many a decade who would unite sad souls. A baby brings the best out in all of us.
As the months went by, Ariel earned a nickname, “Nee Nee Pie”, as she was always screeching out these syllables. Nee Nee Pie loved anything paper. So she also became “Nee Nee Paper”. By nine months old, this blond little jitterbug began to walk. Always adorned with a ribbon in her hair, she became the mascot for many a folk – stranger and family alike. No one could get over how pretty she was and how dainty and petite this baby was on both feet exploring the world.
As parents, we reveled in every movement and utterance that came from our precious girl. She was so adored by family and friends that she was adorned with the most precious ensembles of adorable outfits anyone could wish to dress their babes in: always with a petticoat and matching shoes, ribbons and bows as well as her own “fur” coat. Her relatives in England sent her jewelry, special hand-crocheted sweaters and blankets, bonnets, and unique gowns. Contrary to who I thought my baby would look like, brunette with big brown eyes just like me, I had a blonde baby with bright blue eyes.
Every time I looked at her, I fell in love.
As every parent knows that “love” never dwindles and my instinct to provide and protect grew stronger with each day. Fortunately, Ariel never challenged that love and those skills of protection, even through her teen years, as we as parents didn’t give her or her brother much reason to.
We homeschooled the kids and grew them up in basically a “one-room schoolhouse”. They were left to make their own choices after a bit of prodding and coaching, and the choices they made and still make have always been simple and honest to them. We exposed Ariel, and her brother Austin, to a marvelous array of sides to life that all their friends envied. Many a buddy wanted to go to the Graham’s Home School and loved to sleep on our floor in our tiny abode just to be in our home. As a result, the Graham siblings and their buddies have grown into well-rounded, responsible, happy adults because the word “yes” was more often used than “no” and where words of praise such as “good” were used more often than “bad”. For the Graham family, life was and is not too complicated and when it is, we get straight to the solution and implement it. We are not a family of whiners. We are a family of doers.
In 2006, based on compositions the Graham kids submitted and ultimately based on Ariel’s “Why My Mom is the Best”, I was selected as one of San Diego’s “50 Best Moms”, and honored accordingly. How does a child thank you? Of course, through their thoughts, emotions, and actions — I was definitely thanked. Ariel has always shown me her gratitude and devotion. When I would arrive home after having homeschooled the kids by day and working two jobs by night, I would be greeted by a spread inspired by Katie Brown. A presentation would await my arrival of candles, vases of handpicked flowers, a beautifully displayed placemat with serviette, and a meal all prepared to make sure I had a great ending to my day. So, who cared that the meal was often a peanut butter, bologna, potato chip, pickle relish, and jelly sandwich micro-waved to perfection. Ariel would anxiously watch as I ate my scrumptious sammy and I thanked her all the while for her thoughtfulness and generosity. Every night, I fell into a lovely slumber in a family bed all squished up with Yeller, our dog, the two kids’ cats (Orange Cat and Black Cat), my hubbie, and the kids, “Boy Kid” & “Girl Kid”, not to mention various favorite stuffed animals, beanie babies, and GI Joe’s.
In the latter half of the previous decade when my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, it was seven-year-old, Ariel, who accompanied me to her home to care for her and provide Janet Reller Dill with her last months of life and comfort. Together, we cared for her and loved her and just sat with her while she had her last moments of life. She dwindled away in front of us and was very rarely awake.While she slumbered fitfully away on the couch, we slept on the floor right next to her making sure she was cared for. Sometimes she would crawl down off the couch and lay between us, her girls, for some solace and connection. My mother was not an outwardly emotional person and this meant a lot for her to reach out to us.We had a terminal “sisterhood”. Ariel and I surrounded her constantly. As a young child, Ariel had the wisdom to understand that her suffering, bone-thin, once glamorous, and elegant grandma needed her. Bravely and lovingly, she held the torch never questioning whether or not this was the right thing to do with her days. Ariel hugged and assisted my dying mother to the end while bringing a bit of joy to each moment of a dying person, not just because it was her grandmother, but because she was a human in huge agony that needed her.
Fast forward: When Ariel was 19 years old, much to my astonishment, she announced that she wanted to move out of our “one-room schoolhouse”. The statement was prefaced by tears streaming down her face and a bulging swollen heart, as she did not want to hurt me. Like her robust, stalwart grandmother and me, Ariel had arrived at that place of departure. She looked at me for approval and all she saw was my fear. My days of persevering protectiveness were finally coming to a close. After hours and days of coaching by my husband, who had sent three off from the nest already, I reluctantly let her go. We let our butterfly fly and fly she has.The best constant is that unlike the marvelous allure of a butterfly, she is a human who is still unfolding and always making us so proud.
Ariel has been soaring in the blue skies above us for years now without our constant chaperone ship. From that momentous day when she left, she has never landed back except for a hug and some comfort in the storms of life. Of course, our girl is always welcome home, yet she has managed to do the rest of her growing up with great resolution. Like her parents, our girl takes great pride in her independence.
You may ask why is Ariel my heroine. Not only is she my heroine, she is my best friend. Why? For many, many reasons. She has been there for me like no other person ever has. For anyone that knows me, this is a huge responsibility for anyone, let alone such a young soul, yet she has been there for me through everything, thick or thin. I, therefore, take this time and these pages to officially honor my girl.
In 2008, after a series of health issues, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. With a full schedule of her own – work and personal – my “Nee Nee Pie” promised to take care of me, as I had to my mother, that she was completely committed to me and my battle – as well as to my survival – through this experience. She promised that whatever it took, she would be there for me, and there she was, for every moment. Beginning with my hilarity and denial of the dire consequences I was facing, she attended every procedure from diagnostic biopsies to the two surgeries I would then face. From there, we went through a year of chemotherapy and radiation sessions. Ariel was with me through everything. The men in our family didn’t have the “stomach” — or maybe I should say the “strength” — for it. She watched her mother lose her hair, go crazy, become irrational, and extremely “bitchy” as well as just plain “nuts”. She kept looking to me to be me, and I wasn’t. She became me as I had been for her. She became my mother as I didn’t have one anymore. She was my true north, my rock. She, my “Nee Nee Pie,” got me through months of true insanity, for her and for myself. Ariel made sure I ate. Ariel made sure I slept. Ariel made sure I got to all my appointments. Ariel made sure I felt needed. Ariel made sure my home was clean. Ariel made everything happen.
I have recovered from the breast cancer and have recovered very slowly from the recurrent “chemo brain”. I am still being coached by my young daughter. She is so waiting for her “real” mother to return. Slowly, she is, thanks to my heroine and my best friend. We speak everyday, in person or on the telephone. Every conversation, no matter how brief, ends with the words, “I love you.”