Monday, June 30, 2014

you are not the best writer, but you have something to say


A few weeks ago I sent a book proposal to an agent. I didn't expect to hear back, but it still stings a little. I didn't hear anything. Even a, this could be something, maybe would have been nice.

My first year of college a professor told me "You have to work harder. You have to really think when writing your papers. You were the best writer in your high school - by far - but you're in college now and you're not the best. You have to realize that, and you have to use that realization as motivation.

I've been striving to be a writer for so long (since I was five!) that I forgot to pay attention to how I'm doing. It's not about who I am - the title, writer - but what I've done - the process, writing.

Process matters. Time matters. I'm a better writer now than I was five years ago because I spent two years writing something every single day.

On Saturday a friend and I got together for pedicures at our favorite salon. The craft of writing, and whether someone is good at it, came up in our conversation.

"What worries me," I said, "is that no one will tell me I'm a poor writer. No one is going to say - to my face - you're not very good.

But the silence from the agent, well, that's a different story. That is someone who will tell me I'm not very good because we don't have a relationship, and they are not invested in me.

Maybe I've been writing the same stupid book for three and a half years because that's how much time I needed. Maybe the last few chapters that I cannot find the motivation to write (I was hoping a contract with an agent would be the kick in the pants I needed) won't be finished for three more years. Maybe writing in depth about my grief is just too hard. Maybe it's time to give up.

J said, "It's okay. If it doesn't get picked up we'll self publish."

But I really wanted the contract. And I really wanted this agent. There are other agents. I can always send out another proposal - or ten. I'm just feeling a little defeated right now.

I think it's time to change my focus. I need to shift my priorities from getting published to wringing out the story and leaving it on the page.

I want to frame this statement above my writing desk -

you are not the best writer, but you have something to say

because despite the disappointment and feelings of inadequacy, I still believe that.

Friday, June 27, 2014

I hope you always love the simple days


My house is a mess - keeping it real!

I can't believe (of course) that Ainsleigh will be eight months in two days. She is busy, curious, and sporting her first black eye. She loves to stand, army crawl and play with Bennett. Ainsleigh just learned how to sit from a lying down position. Lately she's been doing it in her sleep, which wakes her up, which makes her grumpy. If she wakes up too much she pulls herself to a stand and jettisons whatever is on the changing table next to her crib. My constant refrain: "Ains, sweetie, what did you do?!"

Today I took the kids on a day trip to McMinnville. And now I am in a lot of pain. I felt like I was on the mend, but I think I overextended myself today. We went to the bookstore, then an indoor play place, then Bennett and I ate a picnic lunch in the back of the Subaru. We read our new books and ate cold pizza and freshly picked berries while Ainsleigh slept.

As Bennett and I have more fraught moments (toddlers are tough!) I'm trying to create more simple days where we do fun stuff that is low key. (Okay, that play place was not low key, but I thought of it at the last minute so ...) I'm trying to put my phone down, set aside my laptop and just hang out with him. He said his favorite thing about today was our car picnic. And I understand why. It was just us, reading, chatting and eating. It's amazing how much focused time kids need. The pace of life makes it difficult to move in a slower stream, but I'm trying to spend more time in the shallows. There will be time for rapids later, if I want to engage them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

anxiety and the third child


Every parent has worries and anxieties. Every mother and father who leaves the hospital with a living baby gets a nice weighty package of worry and fear as well: here's your 7.5 lb bundle of sweetness, now don't forget your 55 lb bundle of worry and fear. We'll attach it to your ankle so it will be with you at all times.

As a loss parent I have the bonus package: 55 lb of worry and fear, plus trauma and a little PTSD!


I am doing much better than I was 8 months after Bennett was born. After Bennett's birth I was anxious about everything. And not just anxious, terrified. I thought he was going to die. I thought someone was going to take him from me, or he would suddenly stop breathing, or he would simply disappear. Here one moment, gone the next. That was the summary of my parenting experience with Charlotte. It literally felt like I knew her a second: She's alive! She's dead! What now?

I was constantly waiting for Bennett's life to end, and it didn't take me - or J - very long to realize that is not a healthy way to live, or parent. So I went to counseling, which I've written about, and it helped a lot. (I'm not in counseling right now. There is a potential that I should be, but I'm not, and right now that feels like a mostly okay decision.)

The anxiety I feel with Ansleigh is different from the brand I wore after Bennett was born. Some of that is because she is the second baby I've had after Charlotte died. Bennett's sassy pants daredevil way of approaching life has made it possible for me to worry less about Ainsleigh. Bennett has come through - and put himself through - some frightening situations and been absolutely whole and healthy afterwards. Just this last weekend Bennett wandered away from my mom on the beach while I was back at the campsite putting Ainsleigh down for a nap. (J ran as fast as he could to the highest dune and immediately found him playing nearby.)

If I let every scary moment rule how I parent I will not be providing well for my children emotionally.

I have two distinct fears when it comes to Ainsleigh, which feels like an improvement! From scared about everything to focused anxiety, that's progress, right?!

Fear #1: I'm scared someone is going to take her from me.

Fear #2: I'm scared Ainsleigh is going to die and it's somehow going to be my fault.

Now, you don't need a psychology degree to understand my second fear. I still carry a lot of guilt, it's woven into my bones and muscle, and no matter how much "progress" I make I'll still circle back and pick up the guilt over and over and over.

Fear #1 is a little more complex. People are into Ainsleigh. They really like her face, she must have excellent symmetrical features. Nearly every time we are in public someone comments on how beautiful she is. That in and of itself doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people get in my space, or hers, and make comments. Or touch her. Or me. While wearing Ainsleigh in the Ergo I've had people grab my shoulder and turn me so they can get a better look at her face. That crosses about three thousand lines, and it makes me really uncomfortable.

Last week I took the kids on a long walk. Bennett wanted water, but I forgot to bring his bottle, so I told him we could walk a little further and get water from the convenience store. He was really excited about that. There was a very inebriated man wandering around outside the store, but he was still with it enough to hold the door open for us. I bought Bennett his water then went outside to give him a drink. While I was helping him a friend of the drunk guy came up to us. I saw him coming, I saw his outstretched hand out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn't move the stroller fast enough. He stroked Ainsleigh's cheek and said, "Oh my, pretty baby, oh look at that pretty baby."

I grabbed the stroller and Bennett's hand and quickly walked a few feet away to where a man and his teenage son were loading furniture from a store into a truck. I never know what to do in those situations, but I decided to pay attention to my instincts and get the kids out of there. Bennett was demanding a drink of water while all of this was happening so I stood close to the guy loading his truck, let him have a drink, then quickly walked the kids back into a neighborhood and off the main street.

When I told J about what happened I asked him what he would do. He said, "I don't know. Tell them to get their hands off my baby." I don't know if I could do that. And in that particular situation I don't know if being confrontational would have been wise. I feel so uncomfortable when it happens, and I'm sure Ainsleigh doesn't like it either. It happens a lot so I need to figure out what to say and how to handle it. And people need to step out of Ainsleigh's space and stop touching her! Just because she can't talk doesn't make it okay to touch her without asking. I know, a lot of people really struggle with that concept, but it seems like it should be easy to grasp.

My anxiety feels a lot more manageable now than it did when Bennett was a baby. The tools my counselor gave me help a lot. And so does my faith. Realizing that I have to give my kids over to God over and over is really difficult. I want to hold them close, I want to keep them safe, but I need to teach them - starting now - that the Lord is their protector. That I will do everything in my power, but they must learn to rely on and trust Him.

I've been studying and reading a lot about anxiety as I prepare a few things for our ministry's fall events. I really like what Ann Voskamp writes about anxiety in her devotional:

"The answer to anxiety is the adoration of Christ."

"The answer to anxiety is always to exalt Christ."

"Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is."

That's a great blueprint to follow, but finding a way to take the steps when anxiety rises is really hard. I'm doing better, but I still have a long ways to go. And the anxiety will change as they get older. As they go to school, and camp, and begin to drive, and leave my home to make their way in the world. At every turn my responsibility is to trust Jesus and believe I have done my absolute best to equip my children with love and the strength to face the world and all it throws at them. But it's really, really hard.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Adventure! Camping at Nehalem Bay


We went camping at Nehalem Bay State Park last week. Oh my word, it's gorgeous! I don't know that section of coast very well. It was nice to break away from our usual beach spots. Nehalem Bay campground is located between the ocean and bay, so we had beach time as well as a canoe trip to keep us busy.



Ainsleigh did really well on her first camping trip. Sleep arrangements were difficult (I now have a pinched nerve - OUCH -) but we only ended up staying one night because J fell ill. Our second night, in the last available hotel room on the coast apparently, was rough too. But we still had fun!

(When camping with little ones bring a lot of clothes and expect them to be filthy the entire time.)


Ainsleigh watching a remote control car fly across the sand.



Determined Northwesterners. The wind was blowing so hard we were in danger of losing a toddler, but my sister was determined to have her beer and beach situation. Maybe the taste of sand makes the experience more authentic.



Cuddles with Aunt Christina 


Exploring


My superhero. He wears the baby and roasts marshmallows to absolute perfection.


First s'mores! I forgot the dairy free chocolate. I almost cried. B didn't notice.



Boy battle. Gotta love the water bottle in a pink beer koozie B found on the ground.


Five minutes after we arrived B was eight feet up in a tree with one of his cousins.


5:30 am in a campground. Shhhh!


Nap with Grandma


Cousin conference



Watching the guys canoe around the bay. My sister let me borrow this awesome stroller that converts into a backpack. Seriously. You just fold it up, kid inside and put it on your back. She found it for $7 at a garage sale. She always finds the best deals (confession: I never look, too lazy).


I was fascinated by the campsites with horse corrals. I took B for a walk around that loop because I wanted him to see the horses. We saw quite a few people riding on the beach.


Our campsite was next to the beach path so I took the kids "to the beach" the easy way.


Suitcase playpen in a suspicious hotel room




Thursday, June 19, 2014

"where the machines?"


I've been trying to make a serious effort to slow down and move at the pace of my toddler whenever I can. This morning we had a quick appointment for Ainsleigh. I noticed road work down the block when we left, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to hear, "will there be more machines?" the rest of the drive.

When we got home I thought about carrying on with our day and finishing up the last few tasks before our camping trip, but I knew a quick side trip would make Bennett's day. I walked the kids down to the area where they are fixing the road. Bennett stood on the corner and screamed, "excavator!!" while Ainsleigh napped in her stroller in the shade.

One of the employees approached. I thought we might be standing too close, so I walked back to where the stroller was. "Hey!" he called out. "Your little guy seems to really like machines. You should head down to public works day at Riverfront Park. It starts in 20 minutes."

I thanked him for the suggestion, thought about it for a couple seconds, then decided to go for it. I hustled the kids home, threw a few things in a bag, and drove to the park. (Please ignore the kiddos too small sun hats. I obviously did not pack carefully!)


I spent the first hour - or so - at the park trying to convince Bennett to climb up on various machines and enjoy the full public works day experience. He kept asking for something to eat, but I told him, "you ate on the way here. Look at the machines! You can climb inside!"

We went back and forth, back and forth. We stood in line, he refused. I put him on various machines, he refused to try it out. Other kids were all over the machines. Horns would blare randomly as kids found the appropriate button and leaned in.

I finally took him aside and said, "Bennett, look, I'm frustrated. I changed our entire day so we could do this and I'm sad you're not having fun."

"I want to eat." he said.

I finally listened and took him over to the eating area. We couldn't eat the free lunch that was provided, but I had food for him. After sharing an apple and observing the fun for a while Bennett was ready to brave climbing on a machine.



Here's Ainsleigh just before we sat down to eat. I was about to call it and head home. Both kids were so miserable.


At first there was a lot of this: I'm doing this, but I'm not happy about it!



I am slowly, slowly, slowly learning Bennett. To me he is gregarious, to the world he is shy and reticent. (His pediatrician didn't hear him talk until Ainsleigh was born.) Once he knows someone he chit chats the day away and loves them to pieces. Until then it's all silence and safety in mama's arms.

Today was almost another carousel or bounce house experience, but Bennett found his bravery and I am really proud of him. And I have another experience to pull from my memory when I wonder why he isn't loving an activity I thought he would enjoy.

One employee helped me immensely today. He saw how scared Bennett was to have him around so he said, "I'm just going to check something ..." hopped down and walked away. He gave us a few minutes alone, which made Bennett comfortable enough to climb up in the truck. And once he tried one he wanted to try them all. Except for the biggest one. He just couldn't handle that today. Maybe next year.


Bennett LOVED the giant fish. He disappeared inside for a good long while. I eventually had to go in and fetch him.


Pardon my face in this one. I was talking to one of the employees about the machine. I don't want to crop it because I think it's fun to see Bennett on such a big machine. 


There it is! That's what I was hoping to see!!






I think the kids had a good day overall. I'm glad I didn't stay home and clean the house. Who cares if it's messy, we'll be gone! The kids won't remember today, but at least I can show them pictures and talk about it. I don't think they would enjoy a slideshow of me mopping and doing dishes. Sometimes it's important to let plans slide so memories can be made.



You must check if your town has a public works day. Everything was free today - including lunch - although canned food and cash donations were accepted for the food bank. The nice thing about the donations was the lack of pressure. I've been to suggested donation events where you have to enter via a gate. I think that makes people feel like they have to donate. The economy is rough right now and I know a lot of families are struggling. It is wonderful to be able to do something for your kids, but it can be difficult. Days like this allow everyone to enjoy a day out without stressing about costs, or kids asking for expensive food or souvenirs. Well done, Salem. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

conversations


This morning three men walked by the house. B instantly perked up. He's into people right now. He wants to know who everyone is.

"Hey! Who are those guys? What are they doing?"

The men were carrying bags of empty soda cans. I stood up to watch them walk by, then moved to the kitchen window, forgetting we had moved our trash and recyclables to the other side of the house so we could plant raspberries along the driveway.

"Mama, what you doing? You watching those guys? What they doing?"

"They're looking for cans, honey. Soda cans."

"Why?"

"Some people collect them. They're worth money, a few cents."

B looked confused.

I walked back over to the table and resumed my breakfast. "Some people don't have a lot of money, so they pick up cans and turn them in so they can buy food or other things they need."

B looked even more confused.

I played with my tea bag for a moment before taking a deep breath and looking him in the eye. "Some people don't have jobs. They can't afford food, or shelter. We are better off than a lot of people in this world. I know that's hard to understand. You'll learn. It's important for you to know that we are lucky and part of our job as people who love Jesus is to follow his command to love and serve people in need."

B nodded and went back to his breakfast, satisfied with an explanation he likely understood little of.


This afternoon I was sweeping the kitchen when B walked in.

"Some kids aren't loved." he announced.

I stared at him for a long moment.

"Some kids aren't loved?" I finally repeated.

"Some kids don't feel loved." he responded.

"You know, that's true. Some kids don't feel loved. Jesus always loves us. Always. No matter what we do, but it's hard to feel that love sometimes."

B smiled and ran out of the kitchen, a new activity, or idea, on his mind while I felt the weight of the day's conversations settle on my shoulders.

This is what people mean when they say raising children is the most important job, I thought as I mopped the kitchen floor.

B and I discussed two HUGE concepts - social issues really - today. Add in the discussion about respecting someone's no (I'll spare you that one) and I feel like I should receive a bonus check for the day's work.

Raising these little ones is an enormous responsibility. I feel absolutely unprepared. I know I'm not alone, that I have a husband, family, community and Jesus on my side, but it's still daunting.

Raising children is like throwing all your knowledge at a constantly changing tower and hoping when it reaches a certain height the foundation will settle - the cement hardening into its permanent place - and it will stand upright.

All day long words spill from my mouth:

Be kind.

Be mindful.

Love people.

Say thank you.

You are in control of your emotions.

Jesus loves you.

I love you.

Be quiet. 

Shh.

Settle down.

Give me a minute.

Hurry up.

Be patient.

I'm sorry I yelled.

I love you.

I'm sorry.

I talk at and to B all day. My words are shaping him. His character is quickly forming. Today's conversations made me wonder, am I pouring the right things into him?

Friday, June 13, 2014

I ask again, who would you be?


I wish I could explain to you what it's like to miss Charlotte. How there is flex to grief, times of quiet between deep, engulfing lost in the wilderness nights. How unexpectedness is the king of emotions in this particular hierarchy. The tiniest, innocent moment can make the missing and wanting almost unbearable.

There is a ballet recital at church tonight. My friend uses her talent as a ballet dancer to minister to others and the year end finale when all of her classes perform is happening right now. There is a certain little four year old who should be dancing this evening. I thought about going because I want to support my friend, but I didn't want to put myself in a place where the unexpected could knock me sideways. A little girl running down a hallway in a tutu giggling and excited could make me cry for days.

Or at least it would have six months or a year ago. I seem to have lost my ability to cry. Well, that's not true. Seeing The Fault in Our Stars pulled a few tears out of me.

Last night I went to the monthly support group that meets at a local coffee shop. It's so good and necessary to have an in person support group for those who have lost babies. I've been grateful for it so many times. I felt a little out of place last night. I think that's more to do with me than anyone else, but it was discomfiting to feel uncomfortable. That's the place, and those are the people, I'm always supposed to fit with. So why do I feel like I don't fit?

I think part of it is just a tiredness. I'm tired of living without Charlotte. I'm tired of explaining to doctors my history every. single. visit. I'm tired of remembering what I was like before Charlotte and wondering who I would be had she lived. I'm tired of being a mother who has buried a child. But that's just life. Being tired of it doesn't make it go away. I don't get to decide I don't want to do this anymore. And I'm afraid saying I'm tired of it will come across as wishing Charlotte hadn't been, and that is definitely not true. I just want her here, alive, running around church in a tutu.

I think I've written this post a thousand times. Grief sends one spinning in circles that never end. Circle after circle after circle. From why to some acceptance to sadness to happiness to bitterness to why to resolve ... emotional cycle after emotional cycle. And at the center of it all is a little girl who I wanted to watch grow up. I still can't believe I'll never see her dance on this side of heaven. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

toddler nutrition woes




The food battles are daily and extended. The battle from breakfast bleeds into the battle at lunch, by dinnertime I've given up so J has to encourage, plead and meet resistance at every turn.

After Bennett's illness last month his tastes have changed, or something else has been altered, and he will rarely eat meat, which is one of the few foods he can have.

For a while now I've been okay with the "he's small, but healthy" idea, and I still want to subscribe to it, but I have serious concerns about his lack of growth. B is growing taller, but his weight gain is sooo slow. He's just over 23 lbs, which is great, but I was hoping for 25 lbs by now. B has energy (so much of it) and he isn't lethargic, but he is skinny. Like, I can see his ribs skinny.

And I'm so frustrated!

B takes the limited diet concept to an entirely new level. Add in his aversions and dislikes and the foods he will/can eat are few.

He will eat bread, muffins, pancakes, waffles, sunflower butter, jam, goat cheese, bacon, brown rice noodles, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, many fruits, carrots (sometimes), pizza and that's pretty much it. He won't eat hamburger, pork, turkey, or chicken anymore unless we really push it. Turkey has been a mainstay for so long, even when he wouldn't eat the others. I have a feeling a lot of this has to do with will power and stubbornness, which makes it more frustrating.

We've started making B eat what we serve, but that has consequences. Some days he is really grumpy and irritated and I know it's because he's hungry. But he won't eat what we offer and we're trying really hard to stop catering to him. We catered for a long, long time because we were so concerned about his weight, but we are trying to enforce the "one dinner" or lunch, or breakfast policy now. Many nights I suspect he goes to bed with a hungry tummy and that doesn't settle well with me.

I'm concerned enough that we're going to try a naturopath again. I hope we can find a good pediatric naturopath with a deep understanding of nutrition who practices in town. I'm already dreading B's three year check up with the pediatrician, maybe if we can bulk him up a bit this summer by seeing a naturopath I can lose the sick feeling in my stomach.

Some questions for fellow parents:

Does weight gain usually slow to this degree in toddlers?

Is your toddler a picky eater?

Do you ever want to throw all the food off the table and storm out of the room during meals?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

empty arms: she remembers her babies


This weekend the Lord opened a door for the ministry I've been working on at my church. 

The church has been focusing on the importance of life, and encouraging members to celebrate it. My co-founder, who came to me a year and half ago with the idea of a ministry, filmed her testimony about multiple miscarriages a week ago. It was shown at all three services this weekend, and after each service we had a table outside with information as well as small tokens in remembrance of lost babies.

I love that I attend a church brave enough to support a ministry focused on pregnancy and infant loss. And I love that the pastor used baby loss and miscarriage in his sermon. At the beginning he talked about a fellow pastor who asked him what to say at the funeral for a two day old. Pastor explained that he has a better idea of what not to say, then told the pastor who asked for advice to tell the couple to "anticipate eternity." He then talked about how we do that. It was a wonderful, wonderful sermon. I know I say that a lot, this pastor deals with some tough issues, but this sermon goes into my favorites list.

After each service my co-founder and I talked to people who have lost babies. It takes a lot of bravery to walk up to strangers and share a story of grief and loss. With each story I feel like I'm receiving a gift; often it's a memory of a child that few knew existed.

One gentleman said to me, "My mother, she's 88, she has dementia. Between all of my siblings births she had miscarriages. She doesn't remember much, she doesn't know my name most of the time, but she remembers those babies."

How incredible is that?

We're just getting our ministry started. As we focus our goals this summer, and prepare events for the fall, will you be in prayer with us? We're starting from scratch and building with faith, but we don't know where the Lord is going to lead us, or what He has in mind for our ministry. We want to provide comfort to the hurting, but we're still figuring out what that will look like, and how we can best serve people.

I love that our ministry is about support, prayer, and honoring life. I'm always amazed by the things God has wrought in my life since Charlotte died.

I know there are many who read here who don't believe as I do. I find vast reserves of hope and healing within my faith. I desperately want that for every last person who reads here. I pray for you. I don't know who you are, but God does. I pray that you see I have only become this person through my faith and belief in God. I pray that you know Him. If you are hurt, or questioning, or angry know that I am willing to listen. And if you want me to pray for you by name, please contact me.

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