Friday, July 17, 2015

on wanting a fourth baby (or maybe I just miss the first)

I know I've written before about how mixed up I am about being done with having kids. My brain and heart are so confused about who is missing from our family.

Sometime in July or August I think I'm pregnant. EVERY YEAR since Charlotte died it's happened. It's like my body flips out at the thought that I *could* have another spring baby. It loses all reason. I get tired and nauseated and worry about being pregnant, although the chances are SLIM, and then I remember that it happens every year and the symptoms abate. Just writing that out makes me think I should be a psychologist's case study, or something.

Some days I think about throwing caution to the wind and deciding we should have another, but a lot of days I don't think I have the patience for it. I'm not good at being pregnant, and some days I am not good at being a stay at home mom. I just want to be left alone with a good book and a Diet Coke. I don't want to prepare another plate of snacks, or change another diaper, or do another load of laundry.

I think about how good we are as four. The kids will be 2 and 4 at the end of the summer.  They enjoy each other - most of the time - and they are old enough to play independently and be content some of the time. Ainsleigh is at a VERY difficult stage. She is into everything, and I can't get a thing done in the kitchen without her "helping" (or chasing her out 3,000 times for safety's sake), but the kids can still play alone for short periods of time. Perfect example: they're charging around the backyard playing all sorts of games while I sit at the patio table writing this.

I think about how I want to do a trip at the end of next summer down to the Redwoods. They'll be close to 3 and 5 at that time, and we would have a lot of fun. A baby would complicate that. Or make it so we would have to put it off for a year or two. Almost everything in our lives can be set aside, or rearranged, but I feel like time is fleeting and if I want to to go the Redwoods we should go!

I think about buying a minivan. Or a small SUV. A new infant car seat. And countless other items because I got rid of all the baby things after Ainsleigh was born. I think about the stretch and pull that comes with a newborn, and wonder if we are up to it.

I think about Bennett. How much he loves babies (and kittens). He told me so himself. Last Saturday night when we were working in the 0-3s room at church someone brought a 6 month old in about fifteen minutes before the service was over. Bennett raced over to me, "Look at that baby! Can I hold her?"

I think about Ainsleigh, who was so jealous of the baby in my arms she pulled angrily on my sweater and yanked the seam out of one shoulder.

I think about their relationship, and how good it is to have siblings by your side in this world. Both when you are young and old.

It is hard to be fully content when it always feels like someone is missing, but I just can't figure out if I'm missing Charlotte, or if I'm missing someone who hasn't been created. I feel certain we would have a boy if we chose to have one more. So certain I ask myself, "What would it be like to have another boy running around?" and, "Do we want to add another boy to our family?"

It's all so complicated and emotionally difficult, which is why this isn't the first time I've written about it.

My head and heart are confused.

So I'm praying for peace - one way or the other. I'm praying for a clear picture of who I am missing: one I will never have, or one who isn't here yet. I'm trying to understand if closing this chapter of ones life is always difficult, and if the disappointment I feel once a month is genuine, or something I have felt often enough I can't let go of it.

Maybe just writing it out will bring clarity. Maybe seeing how I feel in print will make chaotic emotions calm down and explain themselves.

I am mostly content. It's just that there is a constant what if at the back of my mind, and I can't trace my way back to the source. Maybe what I need to do is make peace with that tug. Learn to live with it. Embrace it even. Perhaps that is how Charlotte will make herself known in my life. She'll be here even as she's gone, and maybe that is a small blessing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

sustaining songs

B and I are deadlocked in a potty training death match at the moment. Okay, death match might be a tad overzealous of a word, but we are definitely at odds. I haven't blogged, or Facebooked, or Instagrammed about potty training very much because I don't want B to look back and be like, MOM?!" But it has been a STRUGGLE.

I am so worried he won't be able to start preschool in the fall that nice mama with bouts of frustration has turned into overly frustrated mama who shouts far too often. (Don't tell me shouting won't break the deadlock. I know that, but the frustration still explodes sometimes.)

The kids have been getting up really early, which doesn't help me feel calm and serene. I am really, really tired, and my fuse is short because I haven't slept well in so. darn. long. This morning the kids were up at 5:20; we had breakfast, baths, and dishes done by 7:30. With two hours to kill before our scheduled play date, we went to Target.

B was upset. I yelled at him - regarding potty training - which made him cry. I felt terrible. I still feel terrible. I worried about our relationship as I drove to the store. I bought him the new Elephant and Piggie book, because I was hoping a guilt gift would ease the tension between us, then I let him pick out two packs of the ridiculously expensive free of all the things he can't have HappyBaby treats. He enjoys eating at the in store cafe with a "special water" from the soda fountain water dispenser, and I wanted him to know I may yell, but I will always love him. (Even if he is twenty and hasn't figured out the potty training thing (which I know won't happen, it just feels that way now!!!) I will love him!) Gifts and food are my love language, so I'm passing that notion on to my kids.

After our Target run we headed to our play date. I put a post on Instagram about how frustrated I was, and how I felt like I was failing Bennett. And then I talked to my friend about how I was feeling. After our play date we rushed home to let Isabel out. She has a bacterial skin infection, and her medication makes her really thirsty which means she needs a lot of trips outside. I fed the kids lunch, read Ainsleigh her nap time books, put her down, then read Bennett his books.

One of the books Bennett picked out is called, Winnie-the-Pooh Meets Gopher. In the book Winnie-the-Pooh visits Rabbit, eats too much lunch, and gets stuck on his way out the door (which is just a hole). After much debate it is decided that Winnie-the-Pooh must stay in the hole until he slims down enough to be pulled free.

I love this page so much I want to frame it:

We all need friends like Pooh's. Friends who will protect us from things we want that will harm us. Friends who will wring us out when we get soaked by the rain. Friends who will support us as we try not to think about what we crave that isn't good for us. Friends who will sit with us, watch over us, and sing to us until the rain and darkness passes.

I felt like Winnie-the-Pooh today. Stuck. Unable to move without a solution. Tired. Frustrated. Hungry. And then people online, and in real life, lifted me up. Their words of encouragement became the Sustaining Song that got me through the day. It still astonishes me that all of the people who lifted me up today came into my life after Charlotte died. Or even because she died. I like that because it means her life had purpose.

When Bennett was settled in for his rest time I moved Charlotte's things around until I found a good spot for them, then I cleaned the house.

This is grieving, I thought as I placed her pictures just so and gently set her urn on our dresser. Finding a little time for her amongst the chaos is a form of grief. Making room for her in our new home, just like I created space for the kids, for us releases grief and sadness. Spending time with her ashes and photographs is a way to remember, and honor, her life.

After placing Charlotte's things where I wanted them I swept and mopped the floor. Rest. I thought as I mopped the large expanse of tile in the dining room and kitchen. This is my rest. It's not what I want to be doing, but we have company coming over and it needs done. I looked down the hallway at Bennett curled up with a book in the family room. I stood in Ainsleigh's doorway for a moment and listened to her breathing. I leaned one hip against the kitchen counter while I ate a cookie and read over the encouraging messages on my Instagram post for the third time.

Rest comes every day, but you have to find and embrace it, I thought. Today's rest came in the meditative moments I spent mopping the floor. As I mopped I thought about how overwhelmed I feel with life right now. It's really life-y, for me and a lot of people I love. But we have so much, and there is so much to be thankful for, and there is purpose - divine purpose - to all of us being here and living these moments. And when the rain falls, or darkness comes, or when the sun shines so brightly I think my heart may burst from happiness, I have people - a whole choir - to cheer me on and sing the Sustaining Songs my heart needs to hear.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

on mothering

The house is quiet. J is at the other end, down past the kitchen, which is where I expect the house to end, but stretching beyond is more house: the fourth bedroom, or in our case family room, a bathroom, and the utility/mud room. Ainsleigh is asleep. B is curled up next to me. Awake, but quiet. He asked to start out in our bed. I said no, but after thirty-five minutes of listening to him playing in the hall I told him he could come in so he doesn't wake Ainsleigh up (for the second time this evening).

It's been a long, hot day. June is typically a cool, rainy month here, but this year it's hot, more like August than June. The kids get up so early we often hit 1-2:00 in the afternoon and don't know what to do. This afternoon I took the kids to the park, which was miserable for me, but B really wanted to go and I'm trying to make his requests matter.

I read something once about how a day is not just mine, how it's the kids too. That idea lodged itself in my mind. I haven't been able to shake it loose. When I get frustrated, when I yell at the kids, when I stare at the toys strewn on every surface and feel like I just want my house back I tell myself, "it's their day too. It's their house too. It's their life too."

Yesterday B wanted to paint. He wandered into the bathroom I was cleaning with paint all over his hands. I said, "Buddy! Really all over your hands?!" And then I stopped. I listened to what he was saying: "Look Mama, look at the color I made in my hands! With paint! I mixed it in my hands! Now come, come with me, I'm going to add another color ..." And instead of getting frustrated with him for painting his hands I let myself be excited with him. I put down my cleaning supplies and followed him to the dining room so he could show me what he was working on.

It's really hard for me to do that.

Do you ever feel like being a mother isn't your best you? Or like it brings out the worst in you? Like all of your selfishness, and how easily you get frustrated, and how you like your world a certain way and when it gets disrupted you get a little shouty rises to the top, and so a lot of days you're short, or exhausted, or snappy with the kids ....

I spend a lot of my time thinking I should be better. More. Kinder. Calmer.

I worry that my kids won't remember the park days. Or the paint on their hands. Or playing store in their play house. I worry that they'll remember me getting frustrated with them for pulling the hall runner into the living room to hide under.

I feel like I should be better at mothering than I am because I buried my first child. Shouldn't losing an experience so important - the tenderness of raising a first born without an overhanging shadow of grief and loss - and the fact that I had a chance of missing out on mothering a live child automatically make me a better mother?

I honestly thought it worked that way. I thought the overwhelming gratitude would make me different, would alter the way I parent my living children somehow. Like the valves of frustration and selfishness in my heart would permanently shut down when B and Ains were born, and be replaced by a gushing well of gratitude.

I am grateful. But I'm also human. And some days I'm more human than others.

I want to love my kids well. I want them to have happy days. I want them to know they are loved just as much when they put their dishes in the sink without being asked to as when they spill paint all over the floor I just scrubbed.

I've been trying to say yes more. Like tonight. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to read a book and be by myself for a while, but B wanted to be with me. So I said yes, and within moments he was asleep next to me. It's hard to be so needed all the time, especially since I don't feel like I'm meeting everyone's needs very well, but saying yes now will lead to benefits when B and Ains are 10, 12, 15, 18 ...

No one told me parenting would be this difficult, and emotionally taxing. They said I would lose sleep. They said it would go quickly. They said it would be fun. They said it would make me cry. But no one told me how overwhelming it is to be one of a pair responsible for building a child up and creating a home of love, encouragement, and reliant faith.

That's why we have Jesus though, right? To help ease the burden, to show us how to love, to be an example of parenthood that we can use to help shape how we interact with our children. Even when I fail in loving my kids well there is opportunity for growth and enrichment because they get to hear me say sorry, and ask for their forgiveness.

I'm not a perfect mother, but I am the perfect mother for them. B and Ains were always meant to be mine. I hope I treat that concept with as much reverence as it deserves. I hope to do better this summer. I want to engage more, say yes more, and be kinder. In September B will be 4, and in October Ains will be 2! These fast moving years are sweet; I don't want to waste them, or miss out on fun because I'm too busy ordering my world. Their days matter as much as mine does. Their time is important. They are helping me become a better mother as they love me with full, forgiving hearts. They are teaching me how they need to be loved. 

Losing the opportunity to raise Charlotte did not make me a perfect mother to my living children, but it did teach me how to find joy in the chaos. Even when my hall rug is in the living room, and every dish from the lower drawers are strewn across the kitchen floor, and the bathroom faucet is running even though no one is in the bathroom, and there are sticky, red, strawberry scented hand prints on doorways and windows there is no where I would rather be. I hope my kids know that. I hope they know they are my joy, and that I'll always love them. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

We're home!!

There are boxes everywhere. Some rooms are put together. Others are in more of a fluid state. J hasn't installed the oven yet so I'm cooking all stove top meals, or using the BBQ. Our realtor brought us a HUGE basket of fruit so that's been a large part of our diet the last few days.

I like the house more than I thought I would. The brick in the dining room/kitchen is growing on me. The size of the rooms are wonderful. I love how spacious the house feels even though it's less square footage than we originally had in mind. The family bathroom is more problematic than we thought it would be, but we have two full bathrooms so we can make it work for us until J can do a full renovation (not the original plan, but it needs done).

The house is in a state, and it will be for a while as we fix things up, but there's nothing we HAVE to do - aside from the oven - so I'm ready to throw open the doors and show everyone our new house. I'm going back and forth on whether or not we should have an official housewarming party. I think I would really enjoy it, and I don't care about the fact that it won't be perfect (this is a new development. Six years ago I would have cared), but I don't know if it's too much effort. Maybe we should just have people come over whenever ... more of an ongoing housewarming thing. Last Saturday turned into an unofficial party. A lot of our family was there, kids were tearing all around the house and yard, it was a lot of fun, but I was also moving and directing so there wasn't a lot of time to chat.

When we were looking for houses J went on and on about "the lot." I was about ready to kill him, and I kept pushing for a smaller lot because we saw houses that would work if only the lot was bigger, but J really wanted a large lot, and then he found this house, and I agreed to look at it even though it was an older ranch (two things I wanted to avoid) and guess what? Having a large lot is GREAT. I love how much room the kids have to run, how there's a bit of side yard between us and our neighbors, and how there's a secret little corner the kids can make into a fort. And I can see the yard from the kitchen/dining area so I can be in the house while the kids are outside without worrying.

My view from the kitchen - Ainsleigh is swinging, B is playing with the water table way off to the side

The "secret spot" also known as the place where the last owner kept yard debris

And the ranch house layout is actually pretty great in this house. I really like the one level layout, and having the second bathroom and fourth bedroom on the other side of the house provides a fabulous space for guests to use.

It's perfect. Just perfect. And lovely. And home.

Come visit!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

halfway there

If all goes according to plan - which it may not! - we move in two weeks. I can't believe how quickly the time is passing, but my parents house is so busy it shouldn't be that surprising.

I've been on emotional overload for about a month now, so I'm ready to move to our new house and settle in even though I'll miss the great arrangement my mom and I have going (I cook, she cleans up, it's perfect!).

I feel so scattered, and like I can't find anything. It will be nice to move, sort through everything, pare our belongings down, and fall in love with our new house.

We have a LOT of projects to do. Most of them don't have to be done, but J can't stop himself from improving a house. He's been working on my parents' house while we're here, and they hardly have things that need done because their house was built in 2009.

On Saturday J and I celebrated our anniversary a little early with a movie bonanza. We went to Pitch Perfect 2 (terrible) and the new Avengers movie (not as bad as I was expecting), and then we ended with a nice dinner. The theater near my parents' house is really nice, with the most comfortable reclining theater chairs I've experienced. It was a wonderful break.

It was nice to have a day without the kids. Bennett had a fever for five days, then Ainsleigh did, and the past couple days Miss A has been so whiny and clingy I don't know what to do with her. She was so miserable today I finally gave her pain reliever, and she was happier than she has been in a while within a few minutes. She must have a molar coming in, it's the only explanation I can come up with! I wish I had thought to give her something earlier, but we so rarely give the kids traditional medicine I often don't have it on hand, and I often forget it's even an option.

I'm starting to feel a little bit excited about the new house. I wish it was cute and charming like our previous house, but I'm willing to give up charm for a space that works better for us. I had this idea of what we would end up with, and it's been a little difficult to come around to seeing this as the best option, but at the end of the day we will have a house that works for us, and we'll be way below our top price, which is wonderful!

We're gearing up for a few busy, hot days here. My sister has a routine surgery tomorrow, but it may not be routine for her, so we're praying it goes smoothly and without complication. My mom and I will be on kid duty, which means we'll have three extra little ones here for a couple days. This weekend is supposed to be in the 90s, which is WAY, WAY too hot for early June. I hope it isn't that hot when we move!

Way back in January we said, "Maybe this year is the year we move. Let's pray about it." and six months later our Hazel house is sold, and we're preparing to buy our second home. Believing that God is placing us where He wants us helps me be excited about our new house. Who knows why God has put us in that neighborhood! Who knows what will happen, and who we will meet, and how we will be changed! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

the best mother's day I've had // the perfect gift

I didn't cry on Mother's Day. Not one tear.

I felt sad. I noticed the missing one.

But I didn't cry.

That feels amazing since every other Mother's Day I have cried all. day. long.

Here we are in the middle of moving, and J found time to MAKE me a Mother's Day gift that was absolutely perfect, and incorporated all of my babies.

Mother's Day is always hard because it's so close to Charlotte's birthday, but looking at that line of photos all day helped somehow.

(Look at Charlotte's rose blooming outside the dining room windows. It's on fire this year, blooms everywhere)

On Mother's Day we packed, and packed, and packed, and then we walked to lunch. We sat outside, and for a while we were the only ones there since we went early on a Sunday, so we chased the kids around a bit to keep them busy, and J jumped out from behind a stairwell and surprised me to pieces.

It was bittersweet - as every day without her is - but the tide seems to have turned a bit this year because it was a little more sweet than bitter.

Two more days until Charlotte's fifth birthday. The kids and I baked a Charlotte cake for Thursday this afternoon. After they made a complete mess of the kitchen they scampered off to the living room to play while I cleaned up. They are the best of friends, which makes my heart sing and ache all at the same time because I want them to have a big sister to play with. Ainsleigh especially. I love my big sisters. Just when I felt the sadness crashing in I heard giggling from the living room. I peeked in to see Bennett blowing raspberries on Ainsleigh's tummy. She laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and he said, "Oh, Ains, is that funny? Do you like that? Isn't this fun??" And there it was again: the bitter edged out by the sweet.

* One of J's goals after we move and get settled is to open an Etsy shop. He came up with this photo idea the night before he gave it to me. His creativity and inventiveness impress me. I can't wait for others to have a chance to own a piece he hand crafted *

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

on year five

As if the grief wasn't bad enough I now have a serious case of, 'I'm terrible at this dead baby gig," going on.

So many seem to be sailing past the anniversaries. A lot of you seem to be doing fine. I know that can't be true, some of us are just more vocal than others, but I wish I had the ability to bear it with a little more grace.

This morning I stood in my friend's kitchen eating these horrible, processed store bought donuts I've been craving for a month. "I'm grief eating," I told her. And let me tell you, the friends in that house are two of a rare handful who get to see that side of me because I know they'll pull up a chair and eat a donut with me and there won't be any platitudes or expectations.

And then, later on, I said, "I feel like everyone else is coping better than me. Like I'm more of a mess than anyone else. It's been five years, why can't I just get it together?" I see snippets of lives online, and in real life, and I'm awed at how put together people seem. It's like I can't stay quiet about how sad I am, even though I've promised myself I will cope beautifully and calmly with late April, Mother's Day, Charlotte's birthday. It never works. The calm doesn't last. I fall to pieces. Every. single. year.

I said a variation of those words to a different friend last night and she said, "Well, that (losing a child) is the most difficult thing that can happen to you. You won't move past it."

But I keep trying. I expect it to be easier. I wonder how you all are doing, and how hard it's been for you, and what you do with the sadness. Do you eat donuts, or are you processing your grief in a healthier way?

Is year five easier than year one?

Yes. Obviously.

But it's awful in its own way.

My brain snatches two sentences from the endless book of grief and sends them through my mind over and over: I miss her. I want her back. I miss her. I miss her. I want her back ... 

That alone is enough to make me sit up in bed at night wild eyed with insomnia. And then the flashbacks come crashing in and I end up pacing the house at 4 am, nervously checking that all the doors are locked and all my people are safe.

And I know you go through this too. I know we who have lost experience incredible fear, longing, and rage when the anniversary comes. I know it, but I can't always see it, so I end up feeling alone. And I hate feeling alone because after Charlotte died I felt absolutely, terrifyingly alone, even though I was surrounded by people.

The surreality of burying a child is always at the back of my mind, but there is something about the anniversary of Charlotte's birth and death that makes me realize anew how awful it is that I have outlived one of my babies. 

So I eat everything. I wander from room to room. The laundry piles up. The kids watch too much television. I cry when asked what I want to eat for dinner. I cry when people are nice to me. I clutch the first card I receive with joy because the person who sent it remembered, and I am so scared people will forget that Charlotte lived as the years between her being here and her being gone expand.

In nine days I should be yelling, "Happy birthday!" when my five year old wakes up and comes out to the kitchen for breakfast. We would watch the video from the day she was born and talk about how excited we were to meet her. There wouldn't be tears, or sadness, or pain, just joy and excitement and too much sugar. FIVE. That's such a big number. I can't believe I should have a five year old. I wonder, as I do every year, just who she would be, what would make her laugh, what would make her eyes dance, or spark with anger. I don't know her, and that, more than anything, breaks my heart because as mothers our desire is to truly know our children so that we may love them better.

I miss her. 

That's it. 

Every year.

That is the root and the core and the bottom line:

I miss her.


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