Tuesday, October 21, 2014

on birthday grief

Celebrating birthdays with my living children is one of my biggest triggers.  It's the one time I hide my sadness from them because I don't want them to feel the weight of my sorrow on their special day. I want them to feel the sheer joy and heartfelt relief we experienced when they were born and we heard them cry for the first time.

After a nearly silent birth - or a completely silent birth - hearing a cry as you labor to bring a baby into the world is like birthing with a symphony in the background. That one cry lights up every nerve ending in your body and makes you so glad you held on through the trauma and fear that accompany pregnancy after loss.

It feels a little unfair that I am so overwhelmed and emotional about birthdays. Unfair to the kids that is. I asked a friend to make a tutu for Ainsleigh to wear on her first birthday. I asked for a pink tutu even though I remember the one that hugged Charlotte's cold feet for a photograph. I have to find a way to hold the image of Charlotte's feet next to the image of Ainsleigh in a tutu without falling apart. It's a hard balance. Just looking at the tutu makes tears come to my eyes, but I want to see Ainsleigh walking around looking gorgeous on her birthday, so I'll put aside the sadness for a day. I'll sit on it if I have to, if that's the only way. I'll pretend it doesn't exist just for a day. It's not a betrayal. It's not. It's coping.

When you wait so long for something getting it feels a little unreal. Looking at Bennett and Ainsleigh playing on the living room floor makes me pause sometimes because they are a dream come to life.

The other thing about waiting a long time for something, or someone, is that when you get to the place you've been dreaming about - a first birthday, a live birth, a year of growth and discovery - the achieving is weighty. And in this case it's tinged with sadness too.

There's a lot of, yay, a girl, we had a girl, and we've had her for a year, praise the Lord! and there's a lot of, but I want both my girls, but why couldn't Charlotte live, who would she be, how would we be ...

I don't want my kids to spend their birthdays competing with someone who isn't here, so I smile and sing 'Happy Birthday' with tears in my eyes and the understanding that in a few years they'll see the tears so I'll have to sing the song without the tears. And every time I wrap birthday presents I cry because it makes me realize how gone Charlotte is. How she never had time to be. How I'll never know what she would have loved to receive as a gift.

Ainsleigh is nine days shy of her first birthday. And I am glad - so incredibly glad - that she is here. That she climbs on furniture and falls off chairs and stands up in the shopping cart after escaping her buckle and generally leaves me feeling exhausted and like I can't keep up.

But I wish there were two pink tutus sitting on the back of the striped chair in the living room waiting for party day. I wish there was a four year old here. I wish I had my C, the missing piece to my B and A. I wish I had them all because then life would be purely sweet, and there wouldn't be that bitter tinge of grief that rings every celebration with shadows and guilt and that mean spirited thought: you should be happier.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

from Gabriel by Edward Hirsch

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night

The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief

I did not know I would struggle
Through a ragged underbrush
Without an upward path

Because there is no path
There is only a blunt rock
With a river to fall into

And Time with its medieval chambers
Time with its jagged edges
And blunt instruments

I did not know the work of mourning
Is a labor in the dark
We carry inside ourselves

Though sometimes when I sleep
I am with him again
And then I wake

Poor Sisyphus grief
I am not ready for your heaviness
Cemented to my body

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That's why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"take a deep breath, mama"

Dinner prep did not go well this evening. I'm back to monthly meal planning, and tonight's dinner was tacos. Here's the thing about tacos at our house: I have to make everything from scratch. Everything. I dream about those taco kits from the store ...

Taco night is tricky because I need a long stretch of time to make dinner. Like two hours if I do it all in one go. I usually make the tortillas halfway while the kids are resting then finish them off while I am making the filling and fixings, but today during rest time I crashed on the couch with my Bible and a chocolate bar.

I started with the taco seasoning, which I knew I needed to make more of. A few spices, shake the jar up, done. Then I began making the tortillas. When I went to add the baking powder I discovered an empty jar. Gah! I quickly mixed up a batch of baking powder (we don't buy it from the store because we don't eat corn).

J and I had recently discussed why the tortilla recipe had sugar in it. We concluded that it was for flavoring purposes so I decided to leave out the sugar, but the end result was so sticky I ended up throwing the batch away. I told B, "We don't normally do this - in fact Daddy would never do this - but if Mama doesn't throw this away and start over she is going to start yelling."

While I was mixing the tortillas Ainsleigh was screaming as loud as she could because a) I wasn't giving her peas fast enough, and b) that's what Ainsleigh does. Queen Squawkers is the perfect nickname for her. I think the Lord thought it would be helpful to make her super loud so that all of my worries about her verbal skills failing to develop well because of her hearing loss wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

Then B joined in the yelling, because he is three. And then I yelled, because I am human.

I was mixing the dough, getting more and more frustrated, and then B, who was standing in his helper tower, looked at me and said, "Mom, you need to breathe. You need to take a deep breath, mama," because that's what I say to him when he gets frustrated.

The tortillas did not come out perfectly, but I got enough done and pressed that we could have dinner. I threw them onto silicone mats then pulled the griddle out so I could cook them. Two weeks ago when I made tacos I had two silicone mats full of beautiful little circles all laid out and ready to cook as soon as J got home from work. This time I wanted to throw all the tortillas out the door, or have J fix the problem - which he is brilliant at - but I knew J was going to be home late and I didn't want to make him walk in the door and fix dinner (foreshadowing!)

Tortillas done. Spanish rice started. Taco meat started. Fixings done. J almost home. I thought I was home free.

Oh, wait! While I was busy cooking Ainsleigh was pushing the kid chairs and table all over the dining room, which I thought was no big deal because she does that all day every day. But little miss was scheming and plotting and when I peeked in the dining room I saw this:

She used the small chair to climb on the big chair and was doing her best to get up on the table!!

J finally came home and whisked the kids upstairs with him to change/bounce on the bed. I put dinner on the table. I taste tested the Spanish rice before putting it on the table since it was my first time making it. SPICY!! I tried to figure out what I did wrong while eating cheese to ease the burning in my mouth.

"Something is wrong with the Spanish rice," I told J. "You can try it if you like, but it's really spicy."

I served the kids then made myself a taco. I took a bite, then my eyes began watering.

"J! This is SPICY! B, stop! STOP! Don't eat the meat."

He tried a bite. His eyes got huge.

"Eat some cheese, baby!! Quick! It helps!"

"It must be the chili powder, J! The chili powder we bought from the bulk bins this weekend."

"There's different kinds of chili powder?" he asked.

"I don't know! I guess so."

Then another thought crossed my mind.

"Oh my word, that's a pound of grass fed beef!" 

"Stop freaking out, let me try to fix it."

And he did. Mostly. Of course. He used his science brain to add a certain ratio of fats to the meat to tame the spice, then he rinsed it out, and it was edible. Ish.

I just put my head in my hands and ate a plain tortilla.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

on keeping promises

I've been doing as I promised, which is a miracle. I have a  problem with sticking with things and seeing them to the end. (See quitting the diet soda habit. I. just. can't let. go.) The beginning of an adventure is always more fun than the end, right? But I said I wasn't going to add the Facebook app to my phone after resetting it, and I haven't. Sometimes I will access Facebook via the Internet  on my phone after the kids have gone to bed, but I haven't opened it while they are awake, and that is HUGE for me.

I am learning that losing one time filler leads one to immediately seek another, but I'm really trying to stay focused on the important things - like the kids and the house and my people because there won't be second chances to raise them, or love them, or take care of them - and refrain from losing myself in a world that is all about me and my interests. 

You know I'm not saying I hate social media, because that is far from the truth. My love for Instagram is on a par with my love for sweets. I'm not going to give it up because looking at picture of your babies and watching hoped for children grow brings me immense joy. So if you love Facebook, great, I do too, I just love it less because I've come to realize it's often more of a barrier than a gate for me.

I have been immersing myself in the lives around me, which has been an experience, and a blessing. And a couple days ago when I logged onto Facebook and asked people how they are what followed was the best thread on my page in a good long while. I felt connected to people. I felt like we were having a conversation instead of just complaining about little things that only matter in the immediate moment. Because that's what I used to update on a lot: petty annoyances and small frustrations.

I feel less stressed. I feel less anxious. I control what I see and what news I'm exposed to, which helps my overall mood a lot. Ten status updates on the end of the world in the space of an hour was affecting my spirit.

I've been yelling at the kids less. I think. I don't know. You know how some moms are calm and quiet, and some yell? I'm a yeller. I've been trying to follow a motto that equals less yelling: If you are going to yell, don't do it. So the house is a little messy when friends come over because cleaning every inch is going to make me yell at the kids. And some days I read on the couch with B instead of making him have quiet time because trying to enforce it will just make me yell. Three is hard, friends. Three. is. so. hard. And I've been trying to make three a happier year for B, because I feel like so far it's been rough and we've been clashing a lot. So, less yelling, more grace has been the general goal lately.

And staying off Facebook gives me space in my day. Time to read my Bible in the morning, which shapes my attitude and heart for the day. Time to say, "of course!" when B asks me to play with him. Time to check in with friends. Time to connect with people. Time to talk to people who help me be a better mother, wife, and friend.

The years are spinning past so quickly. Ainsleigh is weeks away from her first birthday. B rounded the three corner a couple months ago. Charlotte would have been four and a half now. I don't have much time to pour all of me into them so that they can find Jesus and build a solid foundation before they are on their own in this big, overwhelming, scary world. 

Every day matters. Every long day when we don't leave the house and all I get done is a load of laundry and sixteen games of car races and gun fights. Every short day when we have seemingly endless tasks to accomplish and my temper wants to be short because I'm tired and the kids aren't listening. All of the happy and sad moments that make up an hour matter. My prayer is to use them wisely to pour love into my kids and the world around me.

And now I have to stop writing because Ainsleigh is awake, and my darling girl can wreck a room in about three seconds flat if I'm not paying attention.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

on the corner of church and madison

I put up a little piece about this soon after it happened on Instagram, but I have more thoughts on the matter so I'm writing a little more today

On Wednesday the kids and I went for a walk. We wandered a while then headed home. As we were crossing Madison I noticed someone sitting on the curb. He said something, but I couldn't hear him because I had B's ride on board attached to the stroller and that thing is noisy!

I had noticed him a few blocks over and my heart skipped for a moment when I saw him again. He was quite tall, wearing basketball shorts and a white hooded sweatshirt, hood pulled up despite the warm day.

When we reached the other side of the street he stood and held a phone out. "My phone is deactivated. Can I borrow yours to call someone?"

I hesitated. In that split second of hesitation I wondered if he was running a scam to steal my phone. That's the world we live in, right? A world of mistrust and fear. A world that overshares evil and hate in so many excessive ways one can easily believe love has stopped being the more powerful emotion.

I said, "My phone is having issues. Let me start it up, then you can make your call."

"Thank you!" his face melted a little, relief colliding with worry. I noticed that he was younger than I initially thought."My dad and I got in a fight, he left me here. I'm from a town 45 minutes away. I don't know where I am! I need to call my mom to come get me."

I asked him for the number, then I dialed it, pressed call and handed the phone over. He talked for a minute while I chatted with the kids. He wandered into the street to check the street sign and that's when I realized he literally had no idea where he was.

"I can't talk, I borrowed someone's phone," he said walking back to the sidewalk. "Okay, okay ..... yes, okay."

He hung up the phone and handed it to me. He stretched his arms over his head, which knocked his hood off. As he dropped his hands back down he ran them over his eyes. I realized he was crying, and that he was much younger than I initially thought.

You know that feeling of sheer relief that someone who loves you knows where you are and is coming to get you? The weight of that feeling crashed down on him and it released ten years from his tense body. He looked as if he hadn't drawn a full breath since his father dropped him on the side of the road.

I looked up at him, he was well over 6 feet tall, and said, "Oh honey, how old are you?"

"I'm 16," he said in a shaky voice as more tears fell.

"Oh honey!" I said again, then I warned him I was going to hug him.

We stood on the street corner, two strangers, hugging, and I said, "I'm just going to tell you it gets easier. 16 is a hard age, and parents don't always remember that. Jesus loves you, okay?"

Then I offered him the $2 I had in the diaper bag, but he wouldn't take it. I spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about him. I wondered if I should have invited him to wait at the house (we were a few blocks from it). I wondered how long he had to wait before his mama picked him up. I sent a text message to the number he called on my phone. I never got one back.

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm still thinking about him. I wonder if his home life is a mess. I wonder what possessed his father to kick him out of the car in an unfamiliar city. I wonder if he made it home. And I keep circling back to that feeling of relief that washed across his face when he heard his mama's face.

Do you have that in your life? Do you have someone you can call day or night, familiar city or not, and ask, "Can you come pick me up?" I hope you do. We all need that person - or people - to help us when life falls apart.

I want to see him again because I did such a clumsy job of expressing myself in the moment. What I was trying to convey to that boy on the corner of Church and Madison was this: you might feel all alone in the world, but Jesus is here with you on this street corner. You might feel unloved and unworthy, but Jesus loves you.

Have you ever wandered from Jesus? Have you ever cried out to Jesus, "I don't know where I am, and I don't know how I got here, but I need you to pick me up?" Have you ever felt the relief of being known by a loving Father?

Jesus will always pick you up. He will always come to you, if you ask, no matter where you've been or what you've done. Isn't that amazing?

Friday, September 26, 2014

close call

B almost got hit by a car today.

And I'm not talking about almost as in it was a bit close for my liking. I'm talking about almost as in I didn't think I was going to get there in time.

The kids were playing outside when I heard a car start up a couple driveways down. B was on his trike riding, I yelled for him to come back when I heard the car start. He laughed and kept going. I screamed, "Bennett! Bennett!!!! STOP!! STOP NOW!"

He kept going.

I was walking to him as I was yelling, but I was walking slowly because I had left Ainsleigh sitting on the sidewalk. At this point I made the decision to leave Ainsleigh and run for Bennett. I felt like my heart was being torn in two.

What if she crawls for the road?

What will I do if I don't get to Bennett in time?

I saw other neighbors around so I sent up a prayer that someone would grab Ainsleigh if they saw her crawl for the road. I had to get to Bennett. The neighbor's car is an SUV. He was UNDER the bumper. There's no way he could be seen from the driver's seat.

I grabbed Bennett and his bike as the neighbor's car started backing out of the driveway. I pulled him out of the way and very calmly said, Walk straight home and go in the house.

I ran back to Ainsleigh, who had thankfully stayed put for once, collected the walker she was using and Bennett's bike, put them by the back gate, then walked into the house.

I explained to Bennett what had happened and why I was VERY upset. I managed, somehow, not to yell. I wanted to yell, but Bennett shuts down when I yell so I remained calm as I told him how close he was to being very, very hurt, or dying.

I had him spend thirty minutes in his bed, then I asked him to tell me what happened and why I was scared. Then I had him repeat the entire story to J when he came home from work.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how to handle the situation. How do I make him understand the severity of what happened this afternoon?

I was so scared I was shaking, so I think Bennett grasped the emotion behind the event, and I hope he understands and won't do something like that again. He likes to sit on the front step and wait for J to get home in the afternoon. I told him that wouldn't be happening for a good long while. And I told him we wouldn't be playing in front of the house for a while either.

Life happens. Life is going to happen. How do I love my kids well and keep them safe? How do I ensure I don't have to bury another child?

I can't. I'll never be able to.

Every day I ask the Lord to help me feel less anxious about my babies and their lives. Every. single. day. Some days are harder than others.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

around the table

My parents are in Europe right now. This extended period of time without them is making me realize how much I need them, and how often my mama helps me with the kids. There are moments when thinking about cold fall mornings with my mama, a newborn baby, and hot chocolate almost makes me want another baby. Those were ideal (sleepy) times, friends. Now my kids are all over the place:

My friends have been amazing these last few weeks. I have needed a lot of help with the kids and they've volunteered/offered/said yes to every request. It's nice to have mama friends my kids know well and are comfortable with. Last week a friend sat in the lobby at church for two hours with Ainsleigh so I could participate in the church membership class. This Sunday a friend watched both kids for a few hours so J and I could attend the final class/lunch.

At the lunch event we had to share our testimonies. I was going to be calm. I had an idea of what I wanted to say. I felt really ready to talk about my faith and how Charlotte's death played into it. But then everyone at our table had a really intense testimony, and I was the second to last to go so I was a complete wreck by the time it was my turn.

I'm not even sure I made sense! After I was like, "Oh J, I'm a mess. What is wrong with me?" And he was kind and reassuring and said I really had nothing to worry about, but goodness sometimes I would like to be less of a mess - you know what I mean? But it was nice to really get to know a handful of people from the church who we haven't met before. Although if I ever have to do this again I'm just going to pass out copies of something I've written out and stay silent.

I tend to stick with the people I know. We all do that to some degree, but I'm really introverted (today was a little painful for me. I was grumpy with the kids all evening because I just wanted to be ALONE for a while) and making friends is hard for me. I have a small group of close friends and I'm quite happy with who I know and who knows me.

But sometimes the Lord stretches me and asks me to sit at a table full of strangers and tell my story. And I think it was quite the experience for everyone at that table today. It's so easy to stay in a safe place, but when we open ourselves to the possibility that we are all a mess, that we all have histories and pasts that have wrecked us, and that Jesus has rebuilt us, amazing things can happen. We can all be thankful for Jesus together instead of standing off to the side and wondering why everyone else has it all together. No one has it all together, friends. Some of us just have bigger houses to hide our messes in.

Try being real with someone this week. You don't have to tell your life story to six strangers, but you could tell a close friend you're hurting, or that your marriage is falling apart, or that you're really worried about one of your kids, or that you're really excited about what God is doing in your life. When you live in community you don't have to hold anything in. You don't have to edit your life so that people around you will be comfortable with who you are. I encourage you to find people who want the full edition of your life - footnotes and all - because in them you can find rest - and someone to watch your kids.


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