Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Family

One More Moment

Dad,

What I have to say is kind of a mess right now.

Stay with me as I take you through some things that I’ve been thinking about.

***

It has been seven years since I saw that message from Mom.

Call me as soon as you can.

And I just knew. Before I pressed Call, I knew that at the end of the conversation, I would know that you were gone. I remember looking at that button on my phone thinking, Just one more moment before I know for sure. I need one more moment of not knowing. Just one more moment before I know and I can never not know again. I need just one more moment.

This is not happening.

But it is.

I sat at the top of the stairs and I pressed, Call.

I heard the words and they rattled inside my mind like marbles in a jar. Away. Passed. Unable. Last night. Nurses. Dad. Breathing. They were all words that I knew and understood, individually, until they were forced to be in the same sentence. I had the context to expect these words. You had not been doing well for weeks after you fell. I was expecting this.

My mind understood. But my heart did not.

The reality of losing someone who has seen your hand grow from the clenched fist of a newborn to the open palm of an adult. Someone whose memory populates the entire landscape of your childhood and teenage years.

It should not be possible to lose someone as important as you were to me.

And yet it does.

All the time.

***

The first time that Felicity asked seriously about death was shortly after the pandemic broke out, no doubt fueled by the never-ending news updates about the virus. She was six years old. We were watching Hook, specifically the scene when Rufio dies. When the movie ended, she was sobbing.

I had never seen her cry like this before. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “What happened to Rufio?”

“Well, he died,” I said.

“But what happened to him? Where did he go?”

I could feel my heart seizing in my chest. This was an important moment and I literally had no words. I almost wished that I was still 19 years old, certain of the destination of souls depending on who was right and who was wrong.

So I did what all smart parents do.

I stalled. And then I put the question back to her.

“Where do you think he went?”

“I don’t know!” she sobbed harder.

I panicked. Like I said, I had never seen her like this before. This moment was crushing her and she was seeking out my comfort and certainty.

Say something! I chided myself.

“No one knows for sure what happens when we die,” I began. “But I think that we go to be with God.”

She sobbed even harder.

And I instantly knew that it was the wrong thing to say.

“I don’t want to be with God! I want to be with you and Daddy!”

“You’re not going to die, Kermit. You’re going to be fine. This virus mostly hurts people who are older.”

“But what if it does?”

I swallowed the growing knot in my throat, pushing it deep into my stomach and straightened myself. She wasn’t saying it–but I knew what she was getting at.

“Is that what you’re afraid of? That me and Daddy will die?”

“YES!” she continued to sob.

At this point, three-year-old Henry walked into the room and saw Felicity crying. He walked over to her and put his arms around his sister and said, “S’ok, Ficity.” She hugged him back.

And in that moment, my three-year-old had given more comfort to her than I had.

Of course telling her that she would “go to be with God” was a terrifying concept. Who was God to her? Some large, unknowable entity who lived up in the clouds. Although she had learned in church that “God is Love,” her six-year-old brain understood love as a packed lunch, a hug when you’re sad, and the voice that says “good night” before the light goes out.

I pulled her into my arms and held her while she sobbed.

And then I told her the truth.

“You will never be alone. Daddy and I have surrounded you with friends and family so that this will never happen. Even if you lose me and Daddy, there will be someone to take care of you. You don’t ever have to worry about who will take care of you and Henry.”

“Who will take care of me?”

And then we spent the next five minutes listing, in order, the people that would take care of her. I started with those we had designated as her legal guardians should such a situation arise. Then, I kept going. I named every friend that we had incorporated into our lives, one by one, holding a finger up for each person who loved her and cared about her. When I ran out of fingers, I made her hold one of her fingers up for the names that I was still listing.

When we got to twenty names, we looked at our fingers and then I held her hands in mine.

“You will never, ever be left alone. Ever.”

***

The day after you died, I got a bouquet of flowers from my friends.

Our friendships are special.

I understand this more now that I’m approaching 40. To continue to share weekly dinners and breakfasts with a group of friends throughout your 20s and 30s is not typical. We’ve taken vacations together, both long and short. We’ve stayed after parties and helped each other clean up. We’ve made each meals when we were sick. We’ve supported each other through the stuff that we don’t talk about with just anyone. We’ve come together to support each other as we’ve lost parents. Six times over now.

And when the pandemic came, we moved our dinners to Zoom and suffered through the constant, Wait, what did you say? Go ahead. Wait, me?, just so we could stay connected.

After 15 months of separation, we had our first in-person dinner a few weeks ago. When I hugged my friend, Ben, I said, “I’m not letting go first.”

He said, “Okay.”

And we just stayed like that for a full minute.

What is a word stronger than “grateful”? If there is one, that’s how I feel toward my friends.

I wish you had a friend group like this when you were alive.

***

Dad,

Does time make it easier?

Sometimes.

It’s not so hard when I’m remembering the things about you that make me laugh and smile. All the ways that you were completely unique and unforgettable. Whenever I see someone dressed oddly, I remember that one time we were at the gas station together. I took stock of what you were wearing on a hot July afternoon through the driver’s side window of your sedan. You were so tall that all I could see was your belly, covered by a blue and maroon striped dress shirt, tucked into teal and black swimming trunks. When you got back in the car, I laughed at your bare feet, shoved into brown loafers. You grabbed a McDonald’s napkin from your glove compartment and mopped at the sweat underneath your baseball cap.

It’s also not so hard when I’m remembering things you used to say. Whenever situational context pulls something you would say out of the depths of my memory, it makes me smile. You lack motivation, but not know-how, you used to say our border collie, Gator. Down at the Old Country Buffer, you would say to talk about the restaurant, Old Country Buffet. It’s the Boss! You know they call him the Boss?, you would ask me every time Bruce Springsteen came on the radio in the car.

But then sometimes, no, time does not make losing you easier.

It hasn’t been easy to hear How Great Thou Art or Amazing Grace. I miss the way you would lower your head and mutter the words. Not sing. You weren’t a huge singer. But mutter, yes. You were a soulful mutterer. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed.

It’s not easy when Felicity reads a story to Henry, cover and to cover, and he asks her what the difference is between a My Little Pony storybook and a My Little Pony comic, and she comes up with a perfect child-appropriate answer. You never got to see them like this. I wish you had.

And the squeezing of my heart when I look at Henry’s school pictures and I think, He has my eyes. Which means he has Dad’s eyes.

Those are the times when it is not easier.

***

After seven years of life without you, I understand a few things better now than I did in the immediate days after you passed.

First, the times when I’ve felt your loss the most were the times when I built the walls high and kept everyone at arm’s length.

These were times when I was perpetually stressed by the endless juggling of work and care-taking when the kids were small(er). To be honest, I was afraid of running out. Running out of what? Everything. Energy. Time. Love. Everyone wanted something from me and so I gave and gave and gave–almost as if I were trying to beat life to the punch. Ha-ha. You can’t take away when I’m readily giving and giving and giving. And that’s what I did.

Until I had nothing left except numbness.

And in that quiet numbness, the feeling of loss would rear its ugly head at surprising and unpredictable times. And I was shocked by it. I thought I was fine. I had been getting everything done for everyone else, hadn’t I? But in all that business, my heart called out for me to acknowledge what I had lost.

Dwell on it? No. But acknowledge? Yes.

I don’t fully understand why the acknowledgment matters so much. But something within the human heart calls out for remembrance. It’s why we have namesakes and statues and days of remembrance. Perhaps we sense on a primal level that the worst horror of death is in the Forgetting.

Maybe it’s why no matter how far I meander here and there throughout the year and throughout my writing, my steps and my words always bring me back to this sacred space of remembering you around this time of year.

Second, after seven years of life without you, I can say for sure that the one thing that has helped the most is this:

My commitment to keep my heart open to Love.

To welcome new friends into my life.

To share my house and food, conversation and laughter.

To sacrifice for those I love, even when I’m not sure of the outcome.

To listen and believe and comfort.

To give and hold.

Every act of love and care that I’ve given someone else in the time since your death has healed me.

Because every act of love proves I have not surrendered to the pain of loss.

Because every act of love is an act of Courage.

People who have lost understand this more acutely than those who have not. Because after someone you love dies, you have the evidence that the act of loving can feel like a painful, reckless act.

Because the more people you love, the more you have to lose.

And so to continue to love after you have lost proves, once and for all, your tremendous bravery.

You understand this, Dad, especially because of your experience as a father. That first child that enters your arms opens a giant hole to your heart that remains exposed forevermore. The more children you have, the more vulnerable you are to the ways they can hurt you.

And you were a father of five.

To love deeply is the definition of courage. So much can go wrong. But it is the act of loving that gives us the greatest joy, the greatest reason to not only live, but thrive.

***

When I want to remember you the clearest, I always find myself in the passenger seat, you in the driver seat, hand on the wheel. I don’t know why, but we are headed south on route 127, going toward Oxford, back to Miami for classes. We pull over for Croissan’wiches–sausage, egg, and cheese–and coffee from Burger King and we eat from fast food wrappers in the front seat. We talk past each other over and over again because the space of our common ground is shrinking now that I’m building my own life, replete with different interests and concerns. We both feel it, crumbling on all sides of us, accelerating now that the time we spend together is limited to school breaks and summers. It pushes us closer together for the moment even as the edge approaches fast.

But I couldn’t see that.

I was looking somewhere else.

Somewhere off into the distance.

Somewhere where you were not.

I was falling in love, making new friends, traveling, taking class after class after class, and redefining my beliefs. I was growing up, reaching out, moving on.

And you were standing there.

Is this the terrible pain of parenthood that they don’t tell you about?

That as you are standing there, the circle where you stand with your kids gradually and imperceptibly shrinks over the years? Until you realize that everything around you has changed and your shared common ground has dwindled to only your shared moments from the past?

Maybe it is.

And maybe your wisdom to me now would be to say,

Stop looking off into the distance. Stop looking for the approaching edge. It will get here soon enough. Just stand with me. For now.

For one more moment.

Just one more moment before everything changes.

Just one more moment.

Love this moment.

Write it on your heart.

And when it’s time to let go, remember that they can be loved by others, just as much as they were loved by you.

Find comfort in that. Because I know it’s true for you.

It is, Dad. It is absolutely true.

But I still love you.

And I still miss you.

Sharon

We danced to “Unforgettable.” It’s still true.

***

Second Chances

I remember staring out the window at the laughing children, sliding around on the giant 80′ Slip N’ Slide that my husband had constructed for Felicity’s sixth birthday. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, 85 degrees, the smell of a freshly cut lawn, the sound of laughter, and a tub of beers and soda, already half gone.

I was holding back tears.

Not thirty minutes earlier, my mother was telling me in her it’s-not-a-big-deal voice that her cancer was back.

And it had spread.

And it was not good.

I stopped cutting the corn cobs, afraid the knife would go straight through my hand. When I looked at her, she was on the verge of tears.

My mom does not cry easily. And almost never in front of her kids.

It’s nothing to worry about. Don’t even give it a second thought.

These are things she has said over and over again since the first diagnosis in 1998. It was a blood cancer, something that would circulate in her blood, basically forevermore, emerging in locations like her intestines and her liver.

Neverthless, It’s nothing to worry about and Don’t even give it a second thought, were how she lived her life. Even when we didn’t believe her.

But shockingly, that advice has held up for time. Even after my father passed away, she kept on swimming. And if she felt sadness of anxiety, she never let it show.

And so to see her eyes filled with tears like that… That shook me.

I could hear “Young Blood” playing over the outdoor speakers as my husband pulled a long rope, held by a dozen tiny hands as they squealed in delight. I envisioned cancerous cells circulating in my mother’s blood and taking residence wherever they damn well pleased.

And all I could think was, There is never enough time, and I’m not ready, and but how much time do we have? and maybe we can start visiting every weekend, and Will there even be one more summer for Felicity to spend with her?

Through the window, I could see my two-and-a-half-year-old son, toddling through the giant bubbles of Dawn detergent until he fell backwards with glee. Tiny legs and arms sliding down the river of bubbles and water.

My sister came in through the back door and I fought my feelings with every shield that I had. Nothing’s wrong. Just don’t look at her. Talk about it later. You can’t talk about it right now. You have thirty people at your house. This is a fun event. It’s Felicity’s birthday. Don’t talk about it.

But when something this massive moves into your life, there isn’t enough armor to save you from feeling the full force of its crushing weight.

Our eyes met. And then we just walked toward each other, tears streaming down both of our faces.

And all I could say was,

There is never enough time.

But what I prayed was,

Please, God, don’t keep her here for me.

Keep her here for my kids.

***

That was August 2019.

We managed to get in two visits before my mother’s radiation treatments started. They lasted six months, so she would finish by February 2020. When we passed that milestone, I breathed a slow sigh of relief. At least that was done. We wouldn’t know how effective the treatments had been for perhaps another year, but at least the treatments were over.

And then March 2020 came, and with it, a new reason to panic.

My mom was still like, Well, what are you gonna do?

In October 2020, she got COVID and was hospitalized.

And when that news came, I felt that familiar sinking feeling of, There is never enough time and I’m not ready. I prepared myself again for what might be coming. If a truck is going to hit me, I’m the kind of person that would prefer to see it as it approaches, even if it doesn’t change the outcome. I just want to know. I want a few moments to think, “So this is how it happens.” I want to be alone with my thoughts for just a moment to say, “Okay, I’m ready.”

And then she recovered.

And after she got vaccinated, she was making plans to have my daughter stay at her farm for two weeks this summer.

***

I was sitting at my desk, working, when I received the text from my mother.

The malignant tumors are gone.

G-O-N-E, gone.

The long-standing, stubborn tumors remain. The ones she has lived with for over ten years.

I read the text from my mother with the news over and over again, shock keeping the emotion at bay.

But as I started talking about it with my husband that night, the dam burst. I turned into a slow stream of disbelieving, but grateful tears.

She’s going to live. For now. For how long? Will it come back? Probably. But not now. Do I deserve this? No, I don’t. But Mom does. I don’t want to go through this again. But we probably will. But she’s here for now. And that was my prayer. That she would be here for the kids. As long as it’s possible.

I couldn’t say any of these thoughts. They were too heavy for an already-heavy moment. But my mind drifted back to that moment in the living room, my sister and I holding each other as we cried.

We’re only young and naive still
We require certain skills
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins

The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually

“Young Blood” by The Naked and The Famous

The Line Between Exasperation and Gratitude: (Week 3 and 4 of Pandemic Coping)

…is so very real, is it not?

I feel emotionally dizzy.

I mean, honestly, what bizarre disaster movie are we living in?

From what I recall, even Hollywood couldn’t conceive of the current crisis. In all the apocalyptic movies that I can recall (Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), the fictionalized president of the United States displayed a measure of calmness and wisdom that the balanced the public frenzy.

We don’t have the opposite of a calm and wise leader.

What we have is actually much worse.

We have a delusional, narcissistic, inattentive compulsive liar. In addition to his irredeemable character flaws, throughout the duration of his time in office, he has managed to drive away all of the last bastions of intelligence and competence from the White House so that he is now solely surrounded by sycophants and butt-kissers that hold onto their jobs by constantly showering him with unearned and exaggerated praise for even the smallest achievement while covering up his most egregious errors, which he makes based on his personal intuition (“That’s my metrics.”) which has always been and will always be directed by his own self-preservation.

Could we ever have imagined that a President would suggest that healthcare workers are either “squandering” or stealing masks? Or who would stand by the statement that the National Stockpile doesn’t belong to the States? Or who would encourage the general public to buy drugs that haven’t been properly vetted for fighting coronavirus? Or who would push conspiracy theories that the media is purposefully overhyping the coronavirus because they want to hurt his chances of re-election?

Just… what?

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THE ELECTION.

At least nobody who’s immediate livelihood is dependent on whether or not they are able to keep their jobs three weeks from now.

Just when you think our President cannot possibly make us feel worse about having him as a leader…

He rises to the challenge.

I just cannot.

This is literally the worst time to have this man in office.

I would take so many other politicians in his place right now.

Mike Pence, whom I despise for his “spiritual” quest to rid the country of birth control and abortion? Yup. Approved.

Mitch McConnell? Put in him.

Lindsey Graham? In this pandemic, I LOVE Lindsey Graham.

Mike DeWine, the governor of my home state of Ohio, whom I didn’t vote for in the last election? I kiss his feet.

I would literally take just about anyone in this entire country who has the ability to apply reason to situations, seek advice from experts, and speak in a calm manner.

My six-year-old is a better choice.

My three-year-old is a better choice.

(Although, admittedly, he’s at his best first thing in the morning or after a nap. Even then… He’d probably be less dangerous to the American people because he would be distracted enough to let others do his job. As long as tiny Oreos are involved.)

***

So that’s the exasperated part of me, lately.

But I want to clarify that it’s not my only mode right now. Because at the height of my exasperation, when I feel that I cannot possibly take another day’s news, my rational brain kicks in and I remember gratitude.

Despite the madness that continues to swirl around my house, we’ve managed to create a zone of (mostly) peace and normalcy within these walls.

It’s different.

It involves more teleconferences, Zoom meetings, and screen time than I’d like to admit.

But it also involves being in the yard and the garden a lot. And taking walks. And having the kids around as we prepare dinner. And reading books together. And listening to audio books as I fold laundry, do dishes, change sheets, and vacuum.

We took our kids to fly kites. They loved it.

It doesn’t leave much time for us (parents) to be alone.

Being a parent during a pandemic without any tangible social support networks turns out to be hard.

It’s hard if you’re still lucky enough to have a job that you’re trying to do while the kids are awake. It’s hard if you’ve just been laid off and are looking for work when all the jobs that are hiring require you to put your health and safety at risk. It’s hard if you have a job–but you’re wondering for how long.

But who am I kidding? It’s hard for just about everyone in different ways.

So, gratitude.

We have jobs.

Getting into the field of e-learning last year turned out to be the absolute best decision I could have made at this point in my life. I recently took on a short-term contract as an independent consultant to advise and collaborate with faculty at a small, private university who are moving their traditional face-to-face summer courses into the online format.

We have a home. We have a yard where the kids can play.

We have food. More than enough food, honestly.

We have education. And friendship. And camaraderie (even if only online right now).

We have love. And laughter. And a sense of humor.

And these days, we **do** have something that we didn’t have two months ago.

Shared purpose.

A reason to look beyond the frustration and stress that we’re experiencing and look for those whom we can help.

For there is always someone who needs more help than you do.

***

And here’s where the emotional dizziness comes in. Because if I think about it long enough, my mind swings back to the realization that…

Wait… I cannot stop at gratitude.

If all I do is focus on what I’m grateful for and not be concerned about how others are suffering, nothing changes.

The cracks in our systems that are opening and swallowing so many people, they will remain.

Just because I have what I need does not, and SHOULD NOT, make me stop noticing and raising issue that the systems that are supposed to support and protect Americans are broken.

It does make me wonder though…

…will Americans finally put their collective foot down?

Will they push for the urgency of providing health care to all Americans?

Not a stop-gap. But real, actual, tangible access to health care that anyone–working, unemployed, full-time, part-time, retired, disabled, even (gasp!) non-citizens–can receive health care at a low cost?

What about sick leave?

What about family leave?

What about universal child care and preschool?

What about humane systems of incarceration?

What about preserving the human rights of anyone who is in this country, not just those who are citizens?

Or will we, once again, be too busy to push for real change?

Will 45% of Americans, as always, follow the President’s advice?

Not me.

Each day’s news, each day’s death toll, each day’s mental and emotional burdens are driving this experience deeper and deeper into my memory. It’s exposing all the flaws of capitalism run amok.

This cuts too deep for me to allow it to be “quickly forgotten.”

Pandemic, Here We Go: Stream of Consciousness # 2

Where to even begin.

For me, it really started on Tuesday, March 10th. There was an emergency meeting of the eLearning division entitled “Pandemic Planning,” which had been set the previous Friday. We were told to expect that very soon all in-person classes would be suspended. As an eLearning division, we would abandon all projects and previous plans and meetings. We would come together as a group to help the university faculty–especially those that have never taught online–be prepared to teach everything online.

Thursday afternoon, 3/12
Deserted hallway at Sinclair.

Yes, it was a bit of a shock. But honestly, I was already on high alert because just a few hours before this meeting, the chair of a department wandered into our media production studio, holding a printed email in her hand, asking me if I would come to a department meeting to help her faculty members understand how to teach online.

I remember the way she looked as she hesitantly held the box of an unopened webcam that we loaned out to her. It was that moment between reluctance and resignation and all the body movements that come with it. She was going to have to be the one to rally her troops.

But none of us were expecting that the end to in-person classes would literally be just hours from that moment.

And then the spotlight swung to the eLearning Division.

***

Ah, eLearning professionals. The unsung heroes of this whole mess.

Here’s how to do a web conference. Here’s how to record it. Here’s how to upload slides into your web conference. Hey, look! You can draw on the slides. Here’s how to do picture-in-picture. Now, you’ll need to publish it, share the link with students, create a document with the list of links. Captions? Here’s how you do that. Should you make all your lectures right now? Why don’t you work on just one week’s worth of content? And keep your videos short. Seriously. Think about what is necessary to say. Remember, they can re-watch the video. IT is working on purchasing more webcams. In meantime, do you have a laptop with a camera?

It’s been fun.

But seriously, it feels good to be able to help others who need help. It is my life’s true calling and I’m happy to do it.

***

In the meantime, we will be fine.

We may run out of toilet paper.

But by God, there will be sausage. And eggs.

***

Kidding aside, yes I’m concerned.

It’s hard not to be in the midst of so much social disruption.

But I know that if I get it or my kids get it, we will likely be okay. It sounds like having it is going to be awful, but hey, our mortality is low.

My prayers go to my mother in her 60s, who is also immunosuppressed right now.

To my stepfather.

To my niece, who lives with Type 1 diabetes.

To 75% of my church congregation, older than 60 years, with whom I typically worship every Sunday.

To all of the grandparents who, now that Ohio K-12 schools are closed and parents need to work, may be watching their grandchildren, some of whom are currently carrying this virus and don’t know it.

To all of the small businesses (and the families that rely on them) that are going to be hurting because everyone is staying home.

Despite the negligence of our current President in treating this public health crisis with the attention and seriousness that it deserves, I’m encouraged, nay comforted, by the leadership of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. (A REPUBLICAN! Look! It’s possible to do the right thing even when it contradicts what the President says!! LOOK!)

My hope is that leadership at the federal level can also get some legislative pieces in place to protect and aid the most vulnerable. This isn’t time for your lesson in Bootstrapping of whatever other American Resiliency morals you’re trying to teach via withholding vital healthcare services.

And it’s sure as hell not helping to keep on driving the Anti-Immigration narrative by calling COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and adding more countries to the travel bans.

The neat thing about viruses is that they have no nationalities (Did you know?), they don’t need to apply for visas, and they can’t be turned away at the border. And bonus points for them: They’re likely bringing ALL of their family.

And there was no wall that could have been built that would have stopped this from happening.

Birthday Parties: Stream of Consciousness # 1

One thing that I miss about the time before Child # 2 was having a bit of time to write out real-time reflections on parenthood. With one child, I was able to do quite a bit of that because naps existed and there was just one child to take care of.

With two kids, it’s pretty impossible to do much blogging as I once did. At least the kind of blogging that I prefer. The kind where I revise, revise, and revise until it’s just right.

But it’s a new year and it’s time to get realistic about how I use my time. I love to write. I love to share my writing with others. I work. And I also take on far too many creative projects, which I am not willing to give up because they all bring me joy.

So my goal is to change my methods and standards for writing this year.

For this year, I’m going to blog in a more stream-of-consciousness style. Not because I don’t like to revise and make everything just-so.

It’s more out of necessity.

So excuse the typos and love me for my Flaws (of which, I’m sure there are many).

***

So Henry will forever celebrate his birthday on Groundhog Day. Which I think is payment for putting me through 11 additional days of pregnancy past his due date, which, at the time, made me feel like I was living my own personal Groundhog Day again and again.

Three years later, I mostly remember his birthday as being a test of sheer willpower to confront pain and refuse to give up.

And there was lots of screaming.

And too much blood.

And this.

Isn’t it disturbing/befuddling/miraculous that time helps us summarize the most momentous of days in such few words?

***

In any case, we celebrated Henry’s birthday yesterday, and we came out on the other side of it unscathed and only somewhat frazzled.

One of the dads that came asked me while I was getting ready to serve cake and eleven kids were chomping at the bit for sugar how I could “be so calm.”

That was pretty much the best compliment I’d gotten from a stranger in a while. If “calm” is what I’m projecting, seriously, I deserve a medal.

I said, “It’s because I’m not expressing everything in my head.”

Which is so true.

I think that’s what the second/third/nth child does to you–they elevate your threshold of what your expectations are for what you deal with during the day.

What do you do if you go from zero kids to twins? Or triplets?

Yeah, those parents deserve more than medals.

In any case…

Kudos to my husband for cooking the food for the party: a gluten-free, dairy-free pasta bake and broccoli. Sounds gross. It’s really not. But this is what you have to do when your kids have allergies.

And hey, did you know that basically every birthday party has pretty much the same menu that neither of my kids can eat?

Pizza, cake, and ice cream.

Gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake (courtesy of me)

It makes for a lot of texting back and forth with parents who are hosting birthday parties.

The good news is that just about every parent I’ve communicated with is more than happy to secure an alternative.

#inclusiveeating

For whatever reason, we’ve been to about five birthday parties in the last four weeks. ‘Tis the season? I thought kids had birthdays throughout the year, not just in the winter. But okay.

I guess this has been about birthday parties.

Title found.

See you next time.

A birthday cake with Grover and Cookie Monster. It says "Henry" and "3."
Not dairy-free or gluten-free (courtesy of my amazing Mom)

PoP #19: Potty Training

I am not used to having a child that triumphantly declares, “And I make Mama so happy!”

I am used to my older daughter, going her own way, not really responding deeply to the words, “That doesn’t make me happy.” I am used a preschooler who sat in her chair at the dinner table for three HOURS (not exaggerating), staring at a piece of pizza that she refused to eat.

Imagine my surprise that my soon-to-be three-year-old derives deep satisfaction by making his mom happy. Who rejoices in his mom’s approval.

Say what?

Some kids care about making Mom happy?

Yassss!!!!

So potty training.

The End is nigh, friends. It is so nigh.

I can be totally content doing overnight Pull-Ups until this kid is four.

But I’m beyond done with the constant vigil of diapering a child. For the past seven years, since 2013, since the beginning of Obama’s second term, since the premier of the first Frozen, we have been changing diapers and Pull-Ups and a significant number of those were cloth, which means thousands of loads of laundry.

And for an added bonus, Child # 2 went through about 8 months of on-again-off-again Toddler Diarrhea (for no apparent reason, which resolved seemingly overnight when he was almost 2). I cannot tell you how many times we woke up in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night) to a toddler absolutely covered in poop juice. From the back of his head to his toes. Covered.

Child # 2 is the reason we have a Steam Cleaner. And the ability to initiate hazmat protocol at 2:00 a.m. with a toddler screaming less than a foot from our faces. And the reason we probably spent $150 on tubes of diaper cream. (Pro tip for new parents: Resinol. Google it. Buy a lot.)

What I’m saying is… We’ve worked hard for this reprieve.

And I am ready for it.

“It All Goes By So Fast”: 2010-2020

We were three years into this decade before the biggest memories were made. It’s strange to think about now, but what did we do from 2010-2013? I remember that we traveled to Finland and Maui. We spent a lot of time with friends, cooked a lot of breakfasts…

… and experimented with making prickly pear lemonade and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

I wasted a lot of time worrying, wondering if I would ever be able to land a full-time job in my field.

And then one day, there was a newborn hand, wrapped around my finger

Maybe you remember something similar

Maybe if you thought hard right now, you remember

That bouncer where they slept, all swaddled, mitted, and capped

The beep of the microwave (tsk-tsk) as you warmed water for a bottle

The smell of Pampers and Similac and detergent

The creaking of the tea kettle as you boiled water at 3:00 a.m.

All the onesies, the bibs, the burp cloths, the swaddles

And all the Googling.

All of the Googling.

Normal baby poop.

Milk allergy in newborn signs

Breastfeeding milk production normal

How to stop breastfeeding

When does a baby start teething?

How old is a 20-pound baby?

Best car seats

What does croup sound like?

Croup vs. whooping cough

Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?

My toddler won’t chew disorders

Toddler diarrhea

How often do toddlers get diarrhea?

Bleeding diaper rash remedies

And then, the Googling stops. Mostly.

One day, you just decide, To hell with it. It is what it is.

You decide the toddler is more like a preschooler and you let him carry scissors around the house, and play with teeny-tiny Legos, and walk around without a Pull-Up on.

You’re on the brink of Life without Diapers, but not there quite yet.

There is Light. A Sweet and Glorious Future beyond the constant wiping of butts.

And you wonder, How did I ever get used to wiping another person’s butt?

That whole area of another human being used to be totally private and off limits. And then, suddenly, you became completely responsible for the care of another human’s butt and genitals.

It was strange.

But so was the feeling of another person growing inside you, jostling your internal organs, barreling through your genitals, and causing your breasts to ache, throb, and leak.

It was all very strange.

How their tiny cries subsided when they smelled your skin, felt your heartbeat, and heard your voice.

You weren’t expecting to be so moved by this. You weren’t prepared for the swallowing of your heart, how the gentle breath of a newborn on your chest could eclipse all the pain, emanating from top to bottom, inside and out.

You weren’t expecting that you could be this utterly exhausted, and still be strong. And still practice patience. And not completely lose your shit while on the brink of sleep-deprived psychosis.

You expected them to be earthquakes in your life, each a great shifting in the plates of your being. You expected there to be changes, fractures, new landmarks, and new paths to chart in their wake.

But you didn’t expect that it would lead you to new beauty.

That it would create new oases, new islands.

And now here we are.

On brink of having a three-year-old and a six-year-old.

My babies are not babies anymore.

They have become tiny people with personalities that converge in some respects and diverge in others.

It goes by so fast, they all said.

Does it really?

There were moments that felt like hours. Times when I, hand-to-God, prayed that we could all survive the Present Moment. If we could just get through this day, everyone alive, it would be a win.

A huge win.

If I could just get to the end of today, when the kid or kids are asleep, I will be okay.

How many more hours until bedtime?

How many more hours until I can go to work and someone else can do all this?

Oh, Sweet Lord, if I have to tell you to eat your food one more time, I’m going to completely lose it.

And, there it is. I’ve lost it.

The truth is more like, The nights are long, but the years are short.

The last six years of care-taking is settling in on my face, in lines that are not going away and little patches of gray hair that will one day make a magnificent streak (though I’m not ready for that just yet).

At get-togethers and parties, I’m realizing that, Whoa, I’m no longer the youngest adult here anymore.

I’m most definitely approaching 40.

Time. Oh, Time.

I feel fickle for feeling this way.

I also feel like they were right.

It goes by so fast.

On Getting the Job (A.K.A. Falling in Love with a New Job)

I feel like I’ve just left an abusive, toxic relationship and fallen straight into a healthy, functional one.

Does this happen?

Is this how people work?

What the hell?

***

This kills me because I actually truly LOVED teaching.

Okay, not all the lesson planning, assessment making, grading, and tracking. The stacks of books on other books, the Post-It lists that never seem to be completed crossed off. And then all the micromanaging from above to point out all the times that I didn’t keep a few of the 10,000 things straight.

So like I said, what I truly loved was the TEACHING. (Advising was a close second.)

I loved the relationship building: the conversations, the jokes, the stories, the updates. So really, it was the people. Both the students and my colleagues. And the fact that I was providing a service that was helping others. Bonus points for the fact that I was helping a vulnerable population. It truly checked (most) of the boxes that I needed in a job to be fulfilling.

I just dealt with the mountains of work that came with it.

***

Let’s go back to the interview for the job that I landed, just months after being turned down for a corporate job at an educational technology company.

It started out great.

Looking through the windshield of a car and seeing a line of cars, all stopped behind a stalled train at railroad tracks.

Yes, that was me: Stuck in a line of cars at a railroad crossing. When a friend wished me luck on the interview by text, I sent him this picture to let him know how the day was going so far.

No big deal, right? I still had 40 minutes until the interview and I was only 12 minutes away.

But this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that the train moved forward a bit… and then back a bit… then forward a bit… and back a bit… see-sawing along the track with no apparent end in sight.

So I called the contact person, and she assured me it was no problem at all.

I ultimately arrived at about 9:10.

The interview was with three people on the team. They took me to the Green Room.

“Is this actually a Green Room?” I asked.

Yes, it was. This was where they might help someone get ready for filming.

They had a list of questions, and they were all good ones. A lot of them were questions I had anticipated and planned for. A few of them were unanticipated and I thought I rallied well in answering them. They told me more about the job: It would be in the production department of eLearning, so I would be assisting with filming shoots and doing things like writing scripts for videos and helping with sound editing. I would be trained to do a lot of different aspects of create high-quality videos that would be used to supplement face-to-face instruction.

My first thought was:

Shit. This is way over my head. When they figure out that I don’t have much experience in any of this kind of stuff, they’ll ghost me.

My second thought was:

You totally have experience for this job! You’ve done video and sound editing! You’ve written scripts for videos! You are well-versed in all things higher education! HUSTLE, GIRL!

So I hustled. I talked about the projects that I had done, the software that I used, books that I had read, and my understanding of living out learner-centered teaching. The things that I said were very similar to what I had said in a previous interview.

Which was a problem at times because when the conversation would veer toward my background and why I was looking to change careers, I kept thinking, Don’t say that! That might have been the reason you didn’t get the last job! You were too honest! Button it up! They don’t have know the level of dysfunction that you’re coming from! Why can’t you just say that you’re looking for a better opportunity?!?! SHUT UP!

But honest, I was. Albeit tactful.

It felt like a good interview. I thought I did great.

But then I thought I did great at the last interview…

***

On my first day of work, I walked into the office and my name was already on the door.

Swoon.

In half-a-second, this job had already made me feel more included than my last one, which “welcomed” me as a full-time instructor by sticking me at the other end of the building because they just couldn’t figure out how to add another cubicle in either of the two offices where the other teachers had desks. And, yes, there was plenty of room. (True story.)

This was my new office and office-mate. And there was my desk. With TWO computer monitors?!?!

And would you mind reading this email that I’m about to send to the division to make sure that I represent you well?, my new boss asked.

Um…. I wondered, Is this somehow a trap?

Then my new boss walked me across campus to orientation rather than setting me loose with a campus map.

And on my second day of work, he gave me a full campus tour of all the buildings. We spent an hour and a half just walking around, him introducing me to administrative assistants and random people in the hallway that he knew.

And apparently I’m getting paid for this?

Wait, what?

I don’t have to be actively teaching or grading or creating something every moment of every day?

Sometimes, I would find myself in a conversation with my new co-workers and I would realize 40 minutes had passed. Sometimes the boss would keep the conversation going.

Of course, we would go back to work. But no one seemed to feel guilty about taking time to talk to each other. There was no feeling that we had just squandered 40 minutes and now WE WERE EVEN MORE BEHIND!!!

Is this what some people do at work? It’s okay to sometimes spend 40 minutes talking?

Could it be that there are jobs where the pace doesn’t consistently move at 100 miles per hour, exhausting you to the point that when you finally do have a chunk of time off, all you want to do is wall yourself off from people for a solid week, just to recover from the emotional and mental drain of simply fulfilling the requirements of your job? (Which, by the way, are totally industry-standard, so it’s not like you have any reason to complain. I mean, everyone in your field is overworked and underpaid.)

Have I just been a white-collar factory worker for the last thirteen years?

Every moment of the day carefully portioned and allocated to the endless tasks that encompass teaching.

I repeat: Is this what some people do at work?

To be clear, it’s not just days and days of talking. Some days have been filled with meetings, filming, and writing. I like those days. Others have been more low-key. And on those days, I find plenty of ways to continue to grow and learn. (Hey, did you know that there are jobs that will allow you to do professional development and trainings during your work day? Wonder of wonders!)

I think that’s what is different: the fluctuations in pace. The pace of this new job is like drinking from a water fountain with variable pressure: You’re always able to drink, but at different speeds.

And this is shocking to me, having spent the last 13 years drinking from a firehose, turned on to full power for eight-weeks straight, five times per year. Each time someone turned the hose off, I was so water-drunk, exhausted, and disoriented that I couldn’t do anything for days when a break mercifully presented itself.

***

This week before Christmas has typically been a time when I haven’t had to work.

I would use this week to delve into creative projects that had been on the back burner for months while I paddled along through life.

I would probably watch The Family Stone (my sappy, no-one-wants-to-watch-with-me Christmas movie). I’d get Christmas shopping done, address the cards, and bake cinnamon rolls.

Then, I’d brace for the impact of doing all the Christmas stuff with kid or kids in tow.

But this year, I do not miss taking this week off at all. Not one bit.

My husband has told me for years that he thought I’d be happier at a job with a slower pace, but with less time off. Maybe you wouldn’t burn yourself out so quickly, he said.

Wise words. Though I didn’t recognize them at the time.

This one’s for you, BG.

PoP # 18: New Job, New Life

Two months into a new job. And really loving it.

I haven’t done a mostly picture post in a while, so enjoy.

Muddy Henry (a.k.a. What?!?) (Summer 2019)
The note reads "Have a great day! I love you!" Mom.
First Day of First Grade Sandwich Note (August 2019)
New Office: Harvest Edition (September 2019)
The Art of Vacuum Sealing (October 2019)
Felicity inspects the seal on a vacuum sealed bag.
Inspection (October 2019)
45 Minutes of a Six-Hour Fall Drive avec Enfants (October 2019)
Felicity is She-Ra. Henry is a dinosaur.
Trunk or Treat: Happy Edition (Week before Halloween 2019)
Halloween: Scared Edition (Halloween 2019)
I love you Dad because you bake for me.
Expression of Sentiment for Paternal Unit (October 2019)
I love you Henry because you are funny.
Expression of Sentiment for Fraternal Unit (October 2019)
Top Tooth Loss (September 2019)
First Light Set Up for On-Site Aviation Shoot: The I-Can-Do-It! Edition (November 2019)
Henry is super smiling about pulling seeds from a pumpkin.
Henry S. Pumpkins. (ANY QUESTIONS?) (October 2019)
Display of Sibling Affection (November 2019)

On Rising Again: A Remembrance of Alyssa

Alyssa,

We were cousins who grew up states apart, seeing each other sometimes in the summer. You were two years older than me, always finding out things before I did. Always reaching milestones before me. We survived the traumatic hairstyles of the early 1990s, which inevitably led to us inhaling whole cans of Aquanet over the years.

True warriors, right?

But I didn’t know you like your family knew you. I only have a few memories that still remain sharp, even today.

Here is my favorite one.

In the summer of 2000, my friend and I were driving from Ohio to California, as a celebration of finishing high school. Our first stop was Minnetonka, MN, where we stayed with Grandma Bundy. Our second stop was Sioux Falls, SD, where you had just moved. My friend and I met you at the hair salon where you had just started working. Grinning from ear to ear, you greeted me like an old friend and insisted that we try out this burger place that you loved.

Over burgers and fries and sodas, we talked. You were 20 years old. I was 18. You seemed so much cooler, so much more grown-up than me. Your life was taking off, and it was exciting. You had an apartment of your own. A full-time job. You were the one calling the shots, and you reveled in your freedom.

While we sat there, a song came on that made you howl.

Yes, howl.

You threw your head back, laughing, saying, I LOVE THIS SONG! And right there in the middle of the restaurant, you belted it out, wiggling in your seat, arms and hips twisting in opposition.

I did not know the song. But you knew it word for word.

The best thing about being a woman
Is the prerogative to have a little fun and
Oh-OH-oh-oh, Go totally crazy, Forget I’m a lady
Men’s shirts, short skirts, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Really go wild, yeah, Doin’ it in style, Oh-OH-oh-oh,
Get in the action, Feel the attraction, Color my hair, Do what I dare
Oh-OH-oh-oh
I want to be free yeah, to feel the way I feel
Man! I feel like a woman!

Young. Wild. Free.

I think that is how I will remember you best.

***

Although we didn’t really talk much over the years, I heard updates from my mom. You got a new job. You started a new business. You got married. You became a stepmom. Life was no longer Young and Wild and Free.

Yes, Life had taken off. But instead of riding a rocket to the stars, you found yourself navigating life in a hot air balloon. Fueled by your energy and drive to keep rising. Tethered by so many ropes. Carrying a basket holding all those you loved. You traveled a bit. Then, came back down. Then traveled more. Then, back down. Up and down. Over and over. Your will, the fuel that kept you going.

Did you ever have the chance to ride in a hot air balloon? It seems like it would be just the kind of adventure that you’d like.

Years ago, I went hot air ballooning on my honeymoon. There was a lot about the trip that surprised me, but the most surprising thing was this:

The pilot didn’t have a fixed landing site.

In fact, it was impossible to do so because the trajectory of the balloon shifts as the air currents change. At one altitude, the wind may take the balloon east. At a lower altitude, it may shift west. And so safely landing the balloon requires that the pilot be able to make adjustments and readjustments to the landing process, depending on the air currents and the landscape.

Is there a better metaphor for how many of us live life?

Hard to think of one.

You faced a lot of shifting currents as your life took off. Through the ups and downs, the surprises, the detours, and the unexpected mid-flight landings…

You kept rising.

For that is the true Measure of a Life.

It’s not about how high you rise or how far you travel.

It’s about how many times you get back off the ground.

And it’s about the people you carry and how much you lift them.

That’s what makes the loss of you difficult. You lifted so many others with you.

***

You shared memes on Facebook about raising teenagers. You seemed to be carrying a lot on your shoulders. One of the last memes that you shared was this:

That line haunts me.

We are almost there.

There.

***

How could any of us have seen this coming?

How could we imagine a future in which you died so suddenly?

Here one minute. Gone the next.

Your sister reminded us in her first post after your death that, Life is a vapor (James 4:14).

Yes. It truly is.

Even to live 80 years. A vapor.

In the millions of years that life has churned on and on and on.

A vapor.

And yet, what we do matters.

How we live our lives matters.

And when the atmosphere finally swallows the vapor that is our Life, this thing that we so painstakingly lived day after day, all the energy that we poured into our goals, getting up each morning, drinking the coffee, doing the things, making decisions, dealing with the outcomes of the decisions that we made and those that we didn’t, may we all have the perspective to hold to this Truth: All that we did mattered.

Every damn moment of it mattered.

But rest assured, no one does Life perfectly.

The true impact of our lives is measured in how we used that time. Whether we chose Love. Or not.

It’s measured by how often we chose forgiveness over grudges, mercy over vengeance, compassion over resentment, empathy over judgment, inclusion over exclusion, gratitude over envy, contentment over greed.

And so, Alyssa, when you lifted others with your sheer willpower, it mattered.

When you made space in your life for people you loved, it mattered.

When you listened to someone who was hurting, it mattered.

When you apologized for something that you had done wrong, it mattered.

And every time that you gave Love to someone, it mattered.

Love is the whole point.

It’s all that has ever mattered.

***

A final clear memory that I have of you happened during the summer when your family of six came to visit my family of seven. (How did we fit thirteen people in our tiny 1,000 square foot house? One of life’s great mysteries.) I think you may have been twelve. I can’t remember for sure.

One of the ways that we got everyone out of the house was a trip to Eastwood Lake, a fifteen-minute drive from our house.

We went canoeing.

And as a stepmom to teenagers, I’m sure you can appreciate the recollection of what happened next.

With the surface of the water so still, your father rested the oars against the sides of the canoe and closed his eyes.

Then, to the horror of my siblings, he started singing.

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace, like a river

I’ve got peace like a river in my soul…

He didn’t have a bad voice. That wasn’t the issue. It was just Parents are so embarrassing. And what if other people hear him and look at us? What would we even do? Is he ever going to stop? How many verses are in this song?

But after it became clear that your dad was invested in this moment, you threw caution to the wind.

You sang with him.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean.

I’ve got love like an ocean in my soul…

Looking back now, it was the right thing to do.

To be present and support those we love is always the right choice.

***

I believe in a God that sees through us, from top to bottom and beginning to end. I believe in a God who sees all our flaws, our mistakes, our failures, our weaknesses, and our sins. And knows the difference between them.

But I also believe in a God who sees our intentions, our motivations, our faith, our courage, all the things we’ve done right, all the love we gave, and all the goodness we shared.

And finally, I believe in a God that gathers us in and brings us Home.

May you rest forever in the spirit that you lived.

Rising again.

Young. Wild. Free.

Home.

***

If you’d like to help Alyssa’s family in their time of need, you can donate here.

Alyssa and her siblings: two younger brothers and her younger sister.
Some of the people you loved most: Your siblings. (2009)
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