Friday, March 28, 2014

Six months later

Six months ago we rented a vacation house with friends. I was pregnant with Ainsleigh. It was August, warm and beautiful. This month we're renting the same house with my family. It's cold and rainy. I love the sound of rain on the roof while dry logs snap loudly in the fireplace.

I'm not pregnant. Ainsleigh is sleeping on the couch. Tiny baby on the biggest couch I've seen.

It's strange to have someone I hoped for so desperately the last time I was here sleeping a few feet away.

This is what I wanted after Charlotte died: living children, a peaceful heart, an intact marriage, happiness. Now the trick is to embrace and enjoy it instead of waiting for it to disappear. There will always be disasters on the horizon. Always. I don't want that inescapable fact to stop me from hearing gratitude in every heartbeat and finding faith in every breath of those I love.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

the kids, the kids

Ainsleigh will be FIVE months old in a week. I'm writing this post now because it's 6:30 am, she's happy playing on the floor, and I may not have time to write it next week. Ainsleigh is busy and curious - as are all babies. Her favorite toy is the baby wipes package because it crinkles loudly. She loves her monkey too. Ainsleigh is in love with Bennett. He makes her laugh and laugh and laugh, just by being Bennett. He doesn't even have to do anything whereas I have to play three thousand rounds of peek-a-boo with her before she will laugh. Ains loves to use her voice to make her wishes known (she YELLS a lot) and she just learned how to blow raspberries. Ainsleigh is trying to sit up, and scoot, but I told her she's not allowed to do either of those yet. She is a master at rolling over, and she prefers spending time on her stomach. Ainsleigh loves to be held. I used the stroller for Bennett a lot, we went on many long walks, but Ainsleigh often cries in the stroller and her car seat so I use the Ergo a lot. I have no idea how much of the need to be held is her hearing loss and how much is because of her babyness. She needs more holding than Bennett did, but I think the world can be very overwhelming for her.

Bennett is a VERY busy boy. I know, I know. Toddlers are busy. Boys are busy. But you guys, this kid takes it to a whole new level. He's busy and smart, most days he outwits me. This is a challenging phase for me. Bennett is testing a lot of boundaries - as all toddlers do - and I am sleep deprived and slow. We're figuring out how we want to parent and what our household should look like and some days I call J in tears and say, "I don't know what to do!" I honestly forget Bennett is only two sometimes. He is so verbal I expect more of him in other areas, but that's not fair. Sometimes Bennett frustrates me, but he also amazes me with his knowledge and makes me laugh. He'll still cuddle on the couch with me for a long time - sometimes even an hour! as long as there is a big stack of books to read. Bennett loves to sing, he has many songs memorized and he likes to make them up as well. Bennett loves church, running around outside, books and spending time with his friends. 

We're transitioning into spring, a time when we remember our first child. I can feel it coming, and I can sense it's going to be a rough anniversary. I should have a four year old is a constant refrain in my mind. Three babies in four years. No wonder I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

this is not the post I sat down to write

I want to write one thousand posts, but I only have time for one. I am trying really hard to put all of me into my family. I am trying to use my spare time to read devotions, kiss my babies, prepare to spend time with Bennett, and connect with J. I'm trying to be more present, because I have done a lot of checking out over the last few years.

These intense years will be gone in such a short time. I want to pour everything I can into my family. I want my kids to remember me and my face, not me and my phone (though they get plenty of that!). I want to cover them with love and point them to Jesus. I want them to know they are important and that when they speak I am listening.

Bennett is bright, and vivacious, and can you believe he's already well on his way to three?! Ainsleigh is busy, curious, exhausting, and an absolute delight. We're learning how to work with her hearing loss and beginning the journey of amplification and early intervention. Most of the time I am fine with it all, but every time I have to say, "My daughter is profoundly deaf in her left ear," my knees shake a bit and the reality of it sinks in a little more. There's a lot of information coming at us right now. We are trying to be thoughtful as we make huge decisions for a very tiny person.

Overwhelmed is my word right now. Having a 2.5 year old and a 4.5 month old is SO overwhelming. I cry a lot. J often comes home to toys strewn across the floor, dinner half done, barely started, or not even considered, and wet diapers in random heaps around the house (I'm not the only one who changes kids in whatever room we're in, right?). But there's other words too: grace, mercy, Jesus, chocolate, support, love, friends.

Pouring more into my family means less time to be here, and in a way I feel like I'm leaving Charlotte behind. She will always be a part of our family, but she is not living here with us demanding our time and attention. She'll always have our love, but I can't continually show my love for her because she's dead. There's only so many ways I can say I love you to a dead baby. I can't love her like I love other people in my life - through words, actions, gifts, hugs and kisses.

I can't remember what Charlotte looked like. I don't recall what it felt like to hold her. I can remember what she sounded like, the little noise she made. But I still see all of it as an observer. I thought that would fade, that at some point I would remember it differently, but any time I think about her birth and death I am to the side or hovering over it all.

Her birthday is coming. I already feel the weight of it. I think there is less writing because of a change in focus and because of the time of year. Spring is a slow dance with grief and joy through a morass of memories. An awkward triangle, we just can't find our rhythm. Four sucks just as much as one, who woulda thought? The pain eases, yes, but that one particular day will always be heavy and hard.

I feel like I'm changing. Am I the only one who sees it? Maybe trying to write about it while it's happening isn't the best idea because I have no idea what is going on!


This is not what I was going to write about! I was going to blog about Ainsleigh's first beach trip - which was miserable thanks to the weather! - but when I sat down that's not what my fingers began typing. Here's a few pictures from the trip. Ains and I jumped out of the car for three minutes while Bennett and J lasted thirty on the beach before J decided to pack it in.

A few pictures then, goodnight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

brave questions

I didn't hear the sermon at church on Sunday. I was in the cry room with Ains. I meant to feed her before church, but I was slow, and sleep deprived, and didn't get it done. There is a television in the cry room so the sermon can be viewed, but I still didn't hear it.

The cry room at our church has been a place where I have felt both welcomed and shunned. I could write three thousand words on that room, but this is one of the (few) topics I can't write about. There's about three thousand reasons for that. One is that I don't want to write something that can be misconstrued. So let me set this post up by letting you know that small room in our big church is a complicated place for me.

And for those of you who don't know what a cry room is, it's a small room for parents who don't put their little ones in nursery. It is not meant for just anyone who is crying. Although I have often thought it would be nice to have a cry room in various public places. Break down in the middle of Target because Easter dresses are on sale and you wish you had a baby to buy one for? Head to the cry room! Anyway, I often start with Ainsleigh in the service, but she doesn't always make it through without being disruptive (she just has to scream to go to sleep).

This Sunday I didn't hear the sermon because I was talking to the women in the cry room about Charlotte. Someone was asking me questions, and I answered as honestly and openly as I could. I credit the Lord for giving me the ability to answer intense, difficult questions about grief in a concise, clear manner without becoming emotional. I know it isn't easy to ask the questions, and I appreciate those who are open and brave enough to ask what everyone else is thinking.

What's it like to lose a child?

Do you feel guilty?

Do you blame yourself?

How do you work through it?

What's it like?

What's it like?

What's it like?

That is the question everyone comes back to. That's the one thing everyone wants to know. And all I can say is, "it's hard, impossibly hard, to wake up the day after your baby dies and know you will spend the rest of your life missing them and wishing for their presence." etc. etc. etc.

There are so many articles and blog posts on the wrong, and sometimes thoughtless, things people say when the dead baby card is dropped into a conversation. But I've experienced kind words and meaningful conversations too. Sunday's conversation opened a door to a room in my heart I didn't know was there.

I finally have an answer to the question of how I am able to be at peace with Charlotte's death. I'm going to throw out some difficult thoughts here, and if you are not a person of faith they may be hard to understand. You might even think me naive or stupid. I hate being thought of as naive, or stupid, or willfully ignorant, but I am going to put the fear aside because I really want to share these thoughts.

You may have noticed that I've been writing about faith and my belief in Christ more often. It's always been a part of me, but when I began writing here my faith was on shaky ground. It has taken me this long - nearly four years now - to figure out that I still believe in God and trust Him with my life.

So, deep breath everyone, here are the conclusions I came to on Sunday:

I believe God is the author of my life. I believe He has a plan for me and that He is in control of that plan.

I believe that God numbers our days.

Therefore I believe that God numbered Charlotte's days. And for some reason, the number he selected for her was one.

On Sunday one of the women in the cry room said, "If Charlotte was meant to live until she was 21 it would have happened no matter where she was born."

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

J and I made a considered, prayerful decision to have Charlotte out of hospital. We did not feel compelled to birth elsewhere. Every concern and question we raised was answered satisfactorily and competently. We felt secure in our decision. I believe that secure feeling of peace was from the Lord.

He numbers our days.

He is using a little girl who was only meant to live one day to change and shape my life and the lives of others.

Charlotte was only meant to live one day.
I couldn't have changed that.

And from that belief comes a difficult question:

God could have saved Charlotte. Why didn't He? Why did he choose one as her number?

And that is something I don't know. That is the point where I choose to lean into my faith and believe that I am in the hands of a wise, caring, loving God who is shaping me and my life. Just as he shaped Charlotte's life.

I choose to trust the Lord and His decision to leave us with more questions than answers about Charlotte's birth. I believe there is a purpose for that which I cannot see right now.

I find comfort in my faith.

Psalm 139: 14-16:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

It is comforting to know that God has this swirling chaos that we call life in His hands. I can't tell you why bad things happen. I can't tell you why babies die. I can't take your pain away, or ease the ache of empty arms. But I can tell you that I find deep solace in my faith, and my belief that I will see that little girl of mine in heaven when my days are up. This isn't all there is, friends. This broken world is not my home. It doesn't have to be yours either.

I know it's hard to be the one with the dead baby. I know how it feels when someone asks you about it and you don't want to answer because it hurts too much. When people honor Charlotte by asking about her I try to answer because I hope doing so will help the person asking gain understanding. And sometimes - like last Sunday - it allows me to discover something new about my grief.

So thank you to those who ask the brave questions.

Thank you for treating me like a mother to three children.

Thank you for making space for Charlotte.

Thank you for trying to understand.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

tot school: the beginning

We completed our first week of tot school yesterday. (I'm using the term school very loosely here, Bennett is only 2.5!) Bennett asks for projects every day so I wanted to start having school time set aside three mornings a week to encourage me to foster his desire to learn. I like the tot school curriculum because it's all about learning through play.

Bennett LOVES school time. I have everything in a bin in Bennett's closet so I can easily pull things out and set up on the dining room table without having things out all the time. I also have a binder with each week in a separate sheet protector (right now I only have A, B, and C printed out).

Before starting tot school I went around the house and found items I could use - alphabet puzzles, foam letters, alphabet cards etc. and put them in ziploc bags in the bin. When we have school time I select something from the bin and get it out so he can have free play with something he doesn't play with everyday at the end of our time together.

I tried to use things I had around the house but I did buy the following:

cardstock - I print the lacing cards and puzzle then glue to cardstock and cut out (this is the super budget way to do things. I also use black and white ink)
sheet protectors - I use these to cover most of the worksheets so I can reuse them. (I had Crayola dry erase markers in our craft bin. They work really well and wipe off easily) Bennett has already gone back to a few of the worksheets and wanted to do them again.
dot paint - Incredible. I love it because he can have painting time without making a mess.
craft stones

puff balls
white board

I recommend going to a dollar store and seeing what you can find there.

I would also like a laminator because I want to use a lot of this for Ainsleigh, and once I have a few weeks behind us I can set out three or four puzzles, or three to four lacing cards, and let him free play for a while.

I borrowed a few things from my mom as well. My mom was the director of a preschool for many years. She's like a walking, talking preschool ideas Pinterest board. I borrowed Unifix cubes from her and a couple other items, but the best thing she provides is her ideas. And her time. She prepped week two and three for me when she was here on Thursday, and she worked with Bennett on his school time Friday morning.

My plan is to work with Bennett three days a week on tot school and four days a week on the Before Five in a Row reading curriculum. I had to buy the Five in a Row curriculum, but if we do homeschool we will likely use Five in a Row so I want to start it now.

Spending time on tot school is giving me the opportunity to test the homeschool waters and see what I think. If I can't handle fifteen minutes three times a week with a toddler I'm not going to make it with a first grader.

We only have one week behind us, but it's been a good week. Bennett is having fun, I'm having fun, and I feel a little bit proud when he asks for school time, or repeats something he learned. I am being very careful to let Bennett lead. I don't want him to be bored, or feel like school is a forced activity. I always ask if he wants to do school time, and if it ever seems like he needs a break we'll take a week or two off.

And when I set out a number sheet and ask him to make Unifix cube towers on each number I don't stress about finishing the task. On Wednesday he hit number seven and decided that was enough so we set aside the worksheet and built tall towers while he talked about the colors he knows instead. It's all about what Bennett enjoys, which is exactly what I want to encourage and focus on.

I like tot school because it's cheap, the curriculum is free, and its focus is learning through play. I found all of the information and curriculum I needed HERE. I found THIS blog post really helpful as well.

Monday, March 3, 2014

the important things

Ideas for posts come to me all the time: when I am cooking dinner, changing diapers, looking for clothes for the kids (I really need to catch up on the laundry). The ideas pile up in my brain, but when evening (finally) rolls around I always turn to something else.

I am deep in the trenches of parenthood here. I know I only have two at home, and I know how blessed I am to have them, but I am exhausted. At church on Sunday I watched a mama in the cry room. She had five children with her, many of them young. As I observed her all I could think was, "She has two more. TWO! How in the world does she do it?!

I spend a lot of my day with Ainsleigh in the Ergo. She has finally settled in and likes being worn, but most days I wish for one crib nap - that lasts longer than ten minutes - so I can have a little break. Although the way Ains looks at me when waking from an Ergo nap is pretty wonderful.

At night Ainsleigh sleeps with us, and at some point during the night Bennett comes in with us as well. We are halfheartedly trying to convince Bennett to sleep in his own room, but he's as interested in that as he is in toilet training. Read: not at all. Although yesterday J told Bennett he could drive a car when he toilet trained so he is suddenly more interested in it. Okay, that story requires a lot more explanation, but I'm going to leave the short version because I'm tired and trying to write this before someone cries.

In the last week I've had so many conversations with friends about how overwhelming parenting is. I've witnessed tears, and eaten cake at 8 pm, and cried, and agreed that most of the time I feel like I'm not doing anything well.

I know I'm not the only one who is grateful and exhausted. Can we just take a moment and admit that we are all struggling? I want to find joy in serving my family, but sometimes it's really hard to feel happy about doing another load of laundry, or dishes.

Can we also agree that living in community would make life much easier? If someone would watch the kids for two hours every day my house would be clean, dinner would be cooked, and I wouldn't have to wonder where in the world Ainsleigh's only pair of jeans is. Of course I don't want the kids to be with someone else two hours every day, but having that time would make things a little easier. Although I would probably use the time to read, or blog, or take a shower without wondering if Ainsleigh is crying (most days, yes, she is).

I think I've been writing less because it doesn't feel as important as other things, and people, in my life. I still need it, but I don't feel as compelled to write. I'm sure some of that is exhaustion, but I think a lot of it is a shift in my priorities. I don't write when Bennett is awake, and the kid does not sleep during the day, and once evening rolls around I want to spend time with J. And around 6:30 Ains goes to sleep in my arms and there she stays until I  hand her off to J or take her to bed with me.

I think I'm finally realizing that I'm not going to be a blogger. I'm not going to make money from it. I'm not going to advertise, or do giveaways, or seek ways to promote my blog. I don't care enough to put forth the effort. I just don't. I don't care about Twitter, or branding, or finding a niche, or blog conferences, or growing my stats. I just want to write when I feel like it. (And I am so grateful that there are people who read what I write when I manage to sit down and do it.)

When I write what I really want to convey about my life is this: I love my children - all three of them - my family - immediate, extended, not related but part of my tribe - and Jesus. I want to keep this writing space because I want to, not because I want to generate something. So I'm letting go of that little dream; that idea of being a blogger. This is not a goodbye, or a break, or anything close to that. I've just been thinking about my priorities a lot, and I wanted to write some of my thoughts down. And I want to be honest about where my heart is so that I can look back and see where I am at in this season of my life.

It's actually really difficult for me to set that dream down. I feel as if my accomplishments are few, but the Lord has been encouraging me to see what I am doing - raising little people - as important and worthy.

I'll write, of course I'll write, but when it comes to striving I quit. I'm not going to write because it's been a few days and if I don't write people might stop following me ... I'm setting all of those worries down, and letting this be what it originally was: a place to write about my life.

Someday I would like to write more. Someday I would like to finish the book that's been sitting on my desk upstairs for ages. (How many times have I written that sentence???)

Someday life will be about me, but for now it's about them.


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