We Love and Miss You, Saddie

I will never forget the moment when my husband’s seven-year-old daughter was physically torn away from him on a September morning in 2017 at an elementary school in Missouri.

Time stopped. It actually slowed down with dramatic effect, as if I saw the whole scene happen in slow motion in Cinemax.  

Saddie had to go back to school after the Baker family and I had spent a week with her on the property.

Matt and I were dropping her off to Katie, her mother, so she could walk Saddie into class. But Katie was late. We had arrived earlier than the time we agreed to meet her, just to be safe.   

Students filed into their classrooms by 7:40am. We stepped out of the rental car we were waiting in and stood directly beside the flagpole. Matt received no text from Katie and had no clue of her whereabouts.

Ten minutes later, we spotted Katie darting across the parking lot towards us in her Army uniform, an E-7 rank on her chest. She had been promoted recently and re-married to her fourth husband.  

I handed Saddie’s rolling backpack to Matt. He let go of Saddie’s hand to let her greet her mom who was walking towards us in anger. When her mom approached, she latched onto Saddie’s hand and yanked her backpack away from Matt.

“The drop-off zone is over there!” Katie scolded, pointing across the lot and cutting him off. 

I stood in shock. Two seconds into the exchange and she was already making it seem as if we made Saddie late!

Matt and I watched Katie drag Saddie inside.

I realized this was it — this was our last time seeing her until the next visit and Katie wasn’t allowing us to say goodbye!

Matt knelt down, opened his arms and shouted, “Saddie! Come give me a hug!”

Saddie looked back at him with her sad brown eyes. Katie wouldn’t let go of Saddie’s hand, even though she was struggling to keep up with her mom.

That was the last time we saw Saddie. But that was not the last encounter we had with Katie’s cruelty. 

On a day in April 2018, Katie e-mailed Matt the world’s worst words: There is no way possible that you are Saddie’s biological father. 

Following a DNA test, this turned out to be true.

He could hardly breathe. He could hardly stand.

Although he was still the legal father and we had visitation rights with Saddie to be in our wedding, Katie didn’t allow it. Her reason was that Saddie would be spending time with her biological father. Katie refused to compromise with the parenting plan.   

We missed Saddie greatly on our wedding day and every day beyond then.  

I’ve grown angry. Out in the world exists such an evil. There are predators who thrive off of inflicting pain and getting what they want through lies and manipulation. Years of lies and manipulation. 

It’s not justice.

I remember when I met Saddie for the very first time at the Arthur Murray dance studio in Tacoma. 

Matt and Saddie stood in the doorway to the studio when they spotted me sitting in a chair by the window. Saddie darted across the dance floor with a big smile on her face and gave me a tight squeeze as if she knew me all her life.

We got along well that summer that she stayed with us in our small apartment. She called me Amanda Panda.

She loved to color. She loved playing with Titan. She loved my parents. She loved Matt.

One day, she was out playing with the kids at the apartment and one kid said something mean to her. She came inside crying and Matt immediately scooped her up into his arms and comforted her.

“Shhh,” he whispered to her. “It’s okay, baby girl. I’m here. No one is mean to my Saddie.”

I admired all of his parenting and hoped that one day I would be half as good of a parent as he was. 

Matt shares the same fears and sorrows that any parent would have who discovers that the child they raised from birth to when they were eight-years-old is no longer theirs.

He fears the child will not be raised with her best interest in mind, that she is shown what manipulation and psychological warfare looks like, and the most scariest of all – that she will absorb the tactics and antics that she was subjected to as a child from the parent she resided with most.

He and I both feel a great deal of sadness for not being a part of Saddie’s upbringing and do not have the opportunity to see her grow. We will miss out on many moments that would allow her to feel a sense of love, belonging and stabilization.

No matter what, he will always be Dad to Saddie. Biological or not, we love her.

We always will. 

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Meditations of Anticipation

Ahh, December 1st. The first day of the last month. We are here at last. Can you believe it? We’ve almost crossed 2018, another year. Another 365 days of learning more and perhaps wishing to have learned less. Maybe we achieved far greater goals than we set for ourselves. Maybe we didn’t even try to come close to them. Whatever the case may be, we are here in the greatest anticipation that seasons bring.

On my refrigerator is a Native American proverb that says, “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” I’m guilty for disobeying this proverb. Every morning, I mentally trace my steps from the previous day up until that very moment when I woke up. I take a good 30 minutes to do this and reflect on what I did. I write it down in my journal – what happened yesterday, every detail I draw from memory. I evaluate my own actions and, from those actions, I rid yesterday of the things that no longer serve me. Now, the refrigerator magnet, if it had a say in the matter, would disagree. I spend far too much time retracing my past in the morning when I could simply let go of yesterday and allow today to unfold as it may. Nevertheless, I am stubborn and stick to my own ways.

I’m not saying this a practice for everyone. This just happens to work for me. I make time for it, no matter how freaking early I have to be up. But this is the time to start learning more about who you are and anticipating what you are capable of in 2019, if you haven’t already. 

Needless to say, not everything has to revolve around work or your job. Enjoy this time with family and friends. My husband and I are excited to visit my family in California next month. I cannot wait to show him my childhood home, the beaches I went to, the friends I made at the dance studio and the city I grew up in. 

I cannot plan or anticipate each day to happen according to my expectations. As I grow older, I notice that I tend to latch onto the past just a little tighter. I give it a nice squeeze before I have to release it into another chapter of my life. As I write this, I realize just how difficult that is. Don’t we all tend to hold onto memories? We take pictures and frame them to share moments of the past, or share memories on Facebook. We tell stories of people we used to know, whether that be someone else or even ourselves. 

Who’s to say it’s not productive in looking back? We take many forms every year and revisiting that as we approach a new year makes it that much more enriching. It’s worth looking back on who we were then and who we are now. That within itself is productive.  

Most of all, love you. FOR you.    

Baker Life

I’ve been MIA from blogging since April and an update is most certainly overdue. Well, Matt and I had the wedding of our dreams in Missouri on June 9th. Family and friends flew in from all over the country. We powered through the 90 degree weather with 90% humidity, and instead of going to Nashville for our honeymoon, we stuck around the property simply relaxing and catching our breath before flying back to Washington.

When we came home, Matt received an award at work for Team Member of the Month! Immediately after, I signed him up to take a basic riders course and shortly thereafter, he found and bought his first bike. He’s been riding it to Seattle and back. One of these days, I’ll buy a helmet and jump on the back to ride with him.

We’ve been looking around at homes to rent, because we want a bigger, newer space to ourselves. Nothing has caught our eyes, yet, but we know for sure that we will be moving out of this dinky apartment in the next year.

Right now, loud and obnoxious fans are scattered throughout our apartment, drying the wet walls. A leak spout occurred four days ago from the 2nd-3rd floors above us, causing a cascade through our walls and into the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Repairmen ripped into the base of the walls, so we have holes throughout our home. Thank goodness our bedroom was untethered and we can get a decent night of sleep.

I hear that many newlyweds go through a tough first living condition. Not all… some have the fortune of living beyond comfortable without any strife. I guess our struggles had to happen early on in our marriage for us to later appreciate the simple things that we take for granted… like a place to watch TV or a bathroom to go potty in without fans blowing on you!

Not to mention it’s been a tough year on Matt after transitioning out of the army and dealing with the monster of an ex-wife. There is the proverbial “light up ahead”, but while we’re in this tunnel of daily life (and not so daily life) struggles, we keep faith, trust and love for each other. We are a team. We are so far from perfect, but man, we are perfect for each other in hard times. He picks me up when I’m feeling down, and I hope that I do the same for him.

We know that life will always have its ups and downs, and we gotta make the best of it even when we’re down. He has a bigger faith and belief in God than I do, but I do believe that He or the Universe is looking out for us. When we start to feel uncertain or scared from life’s turbulences, something or someone steps in and reassures us that we’ll be okay.

I feel blessed for the speed bumps we go through together, because it makes the good times that much greater. It would be, however, quite pleasant if those speed bumps grow some distance between them! But we can’t control that. We can only control how we respond to the bumps in the road.

Eventually, we’ll learn how to fly above them.

Reborn as Amanda Baker

Four days ago, I woke up as a Baker and cuddled my husband and our dog. The wedding was a success – small, intimate and perfect. Matt and I made it to the church in the morning where we had close friends and family join us. We went to brunch at a local saloon and enjoyed our first official dance that night at the studio where we first met.

The following morning, a wave of emotions overcame me as I stood in the shower and I realized that I was no longer a Ridder. I remembered how one of my female friends told me when she got married that she would hyphenate her name and keep her maiden name. But I always thought that was ridiculous. If you’re going to change it anyway, change it completely. It’s less work and it’s less confusing, but that’s just my opinion.

Still, I felt something change within me. I wondered if every woman in the history of name changing by marriage felt this way. Did they feel that sudden tear in identity? A letting go of who they knew or who they thought they knew for 27 years? I took a moment to honor her – Amanda Ridder. She had done so much. She had fought so much. She loved so much. With the black ink of a pen and a few raw vows, she was gone.

I felt her soul linger a moment in the reflection of my foggy mirror of the bathroom. Glancing back at myself, the old self I knew so well – I was with her, and then without her.

I was reborn.

 

Gratitude

The fire cracks and pops in our fireplace at our apartment in Lakewood, Washington. Outside, the sun is hidden behind clouds and the evergreens, leaving a gray cast upon our neighborhood. Trees sigh with relief as their red, yellow and brown leaves fall to the wet sidewalks. 

I am comfortable and cozy in my warm socks, drinking a cup of coffee, thinking back on Friday night when Matt and I danced a solo Foxtrot to Michael Buble’s “Moondance” at the studio where we first met. He surprised me at the end of our dance and dropped down on one knee, presented a gorgeous ring and asked me to marry him!

I said yes!!  

Love has been pouring in from friends and family all across social media. I am feeling grateful to spend Thanksgiving in California with friends and family, and share the wonderful news.

I am moved beyond words by this man. There is so much about him that I am grateful for.

It was difficult to come up with only 10 things, but here are 10 specific things that he does that I’m thankful for…

  1. He dances with me spontaneously, anywhere at any given time.
  2. He brings me a glass of wine after a long day.
  3. Cooks the best steak and potatoes, ever!
  4. Tucks me in and kisses me goodnight when I turn in early like an old woman.
  5. Calls me on his way to and from work just to hear my voice, until he walks in the front door.
  6. Accepts me for all of my silly, “Damn it, Amanda” moments.
  7. Inspires and encourages me to write.
  8. Shares my love of doing absolutely nothing on our days off but cuddle in our PJ’s with our Australian Shepherd, Titan.
  9. Despite our adoration for being lazy, he shares the same ambition as mine to get outside, play around the park, welcome adventures and one day travel outside of the states.
  10.  He embraces life to the fullest and spreads joy to everyone around him.

 

 

Thoughts with my younger me

If I could transport back in time and speak to my younger self, my seven-year-old self, I’d tell her how beautiful she is and to never lose that imagination. She loved pretending to be Pocahontas and run on the front lawn barefoot as if dashing through the forest. She played in a kiddie pool with her neighborhood friend. She loved dancing in her backyard to her boom box that played Britney Spears CD’s.

I would travel back to middle school and whisper to thirteen-year-old me that I shouldn’t insist that dad buy those boots that I’d never wear to the school dance.

To my seventeen-year-old self, I would tell her that her boyfriend would not be the man she’d spend the rest of her life with and to thank the heavens for that. I’d tell her that she will spend the next ten years of her life with all of the wrong boys.

“The man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with,” I’d say, “is with the wrong ones, too. Be patient, and continue on. He’ll find you when God knows you’re both ready.”

If I could check in with the woman I was five years ago, I’d tell her to be prepared for her life to take a giant turn.

I’d tell her, “The storm will come in and it will be fierce. But like everything, it will die down and you will find an even greater strength within you. You will be braver than you have ever been.”

Checking in with the woman I am now, I am telling her not to crumple up this page and throw it away. I am telling her to keep writing and believing in herself, because I know my seven-year-old self would tell twenty-six-year-old me to do what I love and get my feet dirty.

Seven-year-old Amanda is my guide as much as I am hers. She reminds me to embrace the imagination within me, dance when I think no one is watching, and stay in touch with old friends. Thirteen-year-old me whispers, “Dad will always have your back.” She tells me that in his eyes, though, I don’t need boots in order to be beautiful. Seventeen-year-old Amanda is on the verge of finding love and tells me to never give up on it when I have found the right one. I reassure her that I have indeed found him.  Twenty-one-year-old me reminds me that every day is a gift. Live it as though tomorrow won’t come.

Time collapses upon itself to reveal an untold story: the one I am living now and the one I will continue to live. I honor what me at seven, at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one went through to get here.

This is where I am meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing pains of the heart

I am writing from a computer in the Warrior Zone at Fort Irwin, California. I am currently on a two week rotation at NTC (National Training Center), learning how to be a role player. This training has some downtime, so while I’d love to bury my nose in a book in the library, I figured that I’d take this moment to catch up on my blog.

It’s been such a long time since I posted about current life. The last time I spoke of my personal situation was in Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in November, when I was hyperventilating about jumping out of airplanes. I ended up being the first jumper on a couple flights, and loved the experience. My dad was at my graduation to pin on my wings. I arrived at my first unit and immediately wrote an article for LA YOGA Magazine titled “Fear: Yoga for the Courage to Jump from a Plane.” The story was published in March.

A lot has happened between then and now.

I don’t want to bore you with my life story since jumping out of airplanes, but I do want to say how many “firsts” I have had since being stationed in Washington. And damn, there have been A LOT. Each new first experience opened my eyes a little more to a completely different lesson, different challenge, different world. And to think I have only just begun my military career!

Outside of the army, there were first-time experiences, still. I moved in with my boyfriend whom I met one night at a swing dancing class. I have fallen so hard for this young man who has given me an incredible amount of joy since we met.

Not only was it my first time ever meeting such a man whom I trust, love and dance with, moving in together has been a whole other adventure! A wonderful one. I moved into his apartment that is right outside of base. His dog, Titan, welcomed me into his space as well.

I have a home with my boyfriend. It still amazes me every day. My boyfriend has a six-year-old daughter who lives in Missouri with her mom, the woman he divorced two years ago.

This past summer, his daughter flew out to stay with us. This was another big step for me. Now looking back, it was a big step for her as well. I think about how nervous I was to meet her and be introduced as his father’s girlfriend, but I had met greater fears before; this wasn’t any different.

I am fortunate to say that we got along well and learned a great deal about each other. She loved to learn how to spell and hunt for words in word searches with me. We took her to dance and walked Titan to the park.

My parents even came up from California to visit. Many great memories have already sprouted from those occasions. We took her to her first Mariners game in Seattle, to the Space Needle, and around the fish market.

Besides fun visits and trips to Seattle, there were challenges. There was a motherly and authoritative learning curve on my part. Majority of the battle was me adjusting to a new dynamic in the apartment. I have never had a child of my own, so understanding another person’s child and her rhythm, her needs, her tantrums, her favorite foods, her playfulness was a whole new ballgame within itself.

But I was determined to understand and make the effort every day to adjust, to open up a little more if I could. She left me a gift bag in our bedroom the night before she flew back home. When she left, the apartment felt a little empty and, to this day, my boyfriend and I miss her a great deal. We are making a trip out there in September to see her and his family. I am beyond excited.

My heart is so full, and it barely knows what’s happening all around it. It’s beginning to grow more and more. All I can do is breathe and surrender to the growing pains.