Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Premature


On the eve of my seventeenth birthday, I received a frantic call from a close friend: her sister had been killed in a car crash. In reality, both of her precious siblings had been in the car that day, but one had been spared with a short hospitalization and released with her jaw wired shut while the other had been declared dead shortly after impact. At sixteen it is hard to comprehend the death of those only a few years older--they had so much life left to live. We had so much life left to live. 

A week later the service was held to celebrate a life cut short by a drunk driver on I-5. I was scheduled to run in a race during the service, but opted for an early morning race at the same invitational, and hopped in the car with one of my coaches for a frantic two-and-a-half hour drive back into the city. The comparison was not lost on me as we weaved in and out of traffic on one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state--anything can happen, any time. We are not owed another day.

I stood in the back of the church since our late arrival afforded us few seating options. I watched as the surviving sister stood beside a friend who offered to read her eulogy. She could not read it herself due to her injuries. I watched as sister who had passed was grieved by her fiancee who strummed his guitar and sang to his lost love. I watched as the slideshow played the countless memories of her twenty-some years of life--endless reminders of how much was lost by her family. This was a precious member who would never be replaced, never be forgotten, never be fully grieved.

A year and a few months later, I lost my father. When the news came, I was speechless, even though I knew his health was failing, even though I knew this was realistic possibility, even though I'd been hanging on reports of his health for seven weeks. In the days that followed I struggled to interact with my friends, who walked on egg shells around me unsure of what to say. In the months that followed I resented those around me that failed to remember my grief, to acknowledge that my loss still burned within me. In the years that followed, I learned the cradle the ache I felt with the loss of my dad every time it came to the surface--sometimes at expected times, sometimes catching me with total surprise.

This week marked thirteen years since my dad's death, thirteen years of wondering what might have been different. In October we travelled to a farm belonging to one of my dad's closest friends from high school. Originally a dairy farmer, his friend had remastered his land into the quintessential elementary school field trip--corn maze, pumpkin patch, hay rides all included. The pig show delighted my two year old daughter, and someday my son will cherish the hay maze and slide housed in the old barn. After years of struggling to make it, this family has developed a business that rewards their hard work. My dad would have been so proud of his friend, and happy for his success--and he has missed it all. My dad would have loved ride behind the tractor pulling a trailer stacked with hay, carrying his grandchildren, and he will never know them. 

Today a friend I have known since junior high found out her sister died. She was traveling the world, relishing her freedom as a single twenty-something with no mortgage and few responsibilities. She died hiking a trail with a few well-known treacherous points, and lived her last moments doing what she loved--traversing the wilderness. She wasn't yet 25. 

I found myself shedding tears on multiple occasions this afternoon after hearing the news of her death. While she and I were not close, her sister and brother are people I have been close to for years, and her family is precious to me. I grieve for the loss of everything that might-have-been: her nieces and nephews that will never know her, her parents who are left without one of their children, her siblings who have lost a part of their shared history--and shared future. 

Most people don't lose an immediate family member in their teens, but now that I am in my thirties I see more and more of my peers joining the ranks as those who grieve. Billy Graham once commented that "old age can be a lonely time," and I imagine that is very true. When a loved one dies, you move on, but you don't forget. The absence remains weeks and months and years later. As we get older and lose more and more of those close to us due to death--both foreseen and unexpected--we become less attached to our lives on earth and more intent in our pursuit of heaven. 

As a pregnant woman readies for labor, so uncomfortable with the child she would prefer the pain of delivery over the continued confinement, so we grow weary of this broken world. We desire more and more earnestly the promise of heaven. Until then, until we meet our end, we grieve. We ache for lives ended too soon; we long for what might have been. We press on.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Matching


"Sit still," he repeats for the umpteenth time. He focuses, and attempts, and adjusts his method, and focuses and adjusts and asks for further clarification. "Like this?" he questions me, as I watch from a couple feet away, smiling at his insistence he learn how to accomplish this--by himself.

My husband is fixing my daughter's hair before church, and I love it. The most problematic step in the whole ordeal was creating a center part--no small feat on the head of an active two year old turning her head this way and that as she unknowingly makes my husband's job more and more difficult. He wields the pale yellow comb we received the day she was born, the same we used to comb her hair after her first bath. With the attempted precision his job often requires, he focuses on the top of her head--and her demeanor almost mocks his efforts. She has no understanding of complete stillness at age 2 and 3/4. It is a foreign concept.

I help him secure the part, fix one half of her head, and watch as he attempts to match it on the other half, securing the ponytail at a similar height and then wrapping the hair around to create a tight bun. She calls this do "bear ears," a family name given to my younger sister when she frequently sported the look herself. 

I treasure my husband's efforts to participate in all of the child-rearing efforts: the cooking, the cleaning, the diaper changing, and even the hair-fixing. When our children receive new hand-me-downs from friends, he often asks for a tutorial of the "outfits"--developing a working knowledge of what pairings he should keep in mind when dressing them. I appreciate that when track season rolls around in three short months, and traveling follows soon after, he will require little preparation for weekends they weather without me. He knows our routine, the rhythms we follow on a daily basis. He can dress them and bathe them and fill their days with meaningful play. And even in this, he always welcomes me back with open arms (and occasionally a flower or two) when he experiences the exhaustion of my daily rituals, and all that our two precious babes require. That pat on the back, especially from someone who knows the routine, is pretty great as well.

For the rest of the day he compares the right side of her head with her left, examining how his work fares compares to mine. They are nearly identical, in my opinion, but when the right side begins to unravel, he questions (again) his technique. "You'll get better at it," I assure him, reminding him I've had three decades of practice on both myself and my sisters. He will probably never french braid her hair or create elaborate new looks, but the desire he has to master basic hair wrangling technique makes me happy. He wants to be a part of all of their care, and I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Water


Today I woke up to the sound of the wind and rain. Throughout the night when my son beckoned, the rhythm of sheets of water against our siding made me feel as if I was riding the waves I could hear crashing not far beyond my window, on the beach I can glimpse through the trees. The howling continued through the morning, the window screens rippling with each gust, the glass glimmering in the steady stream of water pushed against it. With a toddler and an infant I was not sure what to do in the mess I heard outside. I'm not above bundling them both up and venturing out onto a sheltered trail, but today that felt like a lot of work, and as long as they were putting up with the washing of toilets and sweeping of floor, I was going to press forward cleaning the house. 

Then, a friend mentioned she was heading to the pool. 

I grew up in the water, filling the days of summer and the afternoons in spring and fall with hours upon hours in the pool in our backyard. The games my sisters and I invented constantly morphed into new varieties to entertain our growing imaginations,  and throughout our backyard were stations and homes and towns and businesses we had invented weeks and months and years before. There was an entire world to behold in our backyard, and it centered around the water. As an adult I still find myself drawn to it, with overwhelmingly positive connotations and countless memories attached to it. With two pregnancies and two babies in the last four years, I have spent less time than ever in the water.

A couple weeks ago when my toddler was brought to a kiddie pool I realized she was nearly afraid of the water. How could I be surprised? She's spent very little time in anything more than a bathtub, save the occasional hotel pool or a dip in a frigid Alaskan lake. I was surprised at how much this realization bothered me--how could she have a proper childhood if she was afraid of the water? At two she's not eligible for swim classes, but our city pool has an amazing wading area, and I had no one to blame but myself if she continued to bemoan swimming opportunities.

I gave myself ninety minutes to get ready and arrive at the pool; keep in mind, it is no more than three miles away from my house. Lugging two little ones to a pool was a bit intimidating to me, and I knew if I could just get out to do it once it would be infinitely easier the next time. This is true of just about every task I try to undertake on my own: intimidating until I complete it once. So I crawled (carrying my son) into our under-the-stairs closet, dug around until I found the baby-floating-intertube-thing, and lugged it upstairs. We sat in the hallway--all three of us, because I live with leaches--and I struggled to blow the tubing to life. Apparently the devices invented to prevent the de-flating of the inner-tube also make it nearly impossible to blow up. We set about outfitting ourselves in swim suits and layers for traveling in the monsoon outside. We filled a bag with towels and baby shampoo and lotion and fresh underwear. And finally after several minutes of assembling shoes and coats, I loaded both kids into the carseats--with time to spare. 

In the end, we lasted around forty minutes in the pool, with far more than that spent unloading the car, stripping down in the locker room, showers, reassembling our many layers to depart, loading up the car while fighting hurricane force winds, and unloading again at home (thankfully with the protection of a garage). Normally I would think twice about any activity that was that was this high maintenance with only forty minutes of entertainment to show for it. For the pool, I can make an exception. My daughter was still skittish, but less so than last time. She paddled cautiously around in water that was high enough that she couldn't touch her feet but shallow enough that she could clearly see the bottom. My son was laughing in glee for the better part of it, intermittently drinking the water and trying to climb out of his floating oasis. With a couple friends and our combined six kids age four and under, the shallow pool was a bit of a circus, but it was great. In between rescuing the bold kids from drowning and the skittish kids from crying, we chatted about last weekend's mountain race and the triathlons coming this spring. We shared traveling schedules for the holidays and the class schedules for one gal's degree in progress. We talked about our personal positive associations with the pool, and our desires for our kids to (safely) love it too. 

Now that it's nap time and both kids are asleep, the thought of ever repeating the outing sounds exhausting--but I know that I will. It won't always be this hard to get out the door. Even though it seems easier to stay home at times, the days that I never leave the house feel empty and energy-draining in their own way. These are good days; these are hard days. A smile from my son and a string of hilarious antics from my daughter remind me to look past the struggles to sleep and feel like a balanced adult, and appreciate the space I am in. Some days a trip to the pool helps me feel a little more like myself.I hope that some day it may do the same for them too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Story in My Locks

I am reminded daily of the birth of my children when I look in the mirror, not because of stretch marks--though those surely still remain--but because of my hair. Thanks to my son, each time I comb it large handfuls fall out, wrapping around my fingers as I seek to detangle it. With my daughter I eventually lost half my volume--months of shedding culminating in a slowly growing crown of short hairs that mirrored the fuzzy growth of my daughter though a bit less socially acceptable. But a funny thing happened as it grew--it came in straight. As someone that has wrestled and made my peace with a head of thick, curly hair, this threw me for a loop--what was this? Is this my new normal? And thus my hair came to catch the persona of my life: new, different, unfamiliar. The stress of a newborn, the trials of postpartum anxiety and depression, the shift in hormones with a birth and breastfeeding: all of these likely played their part in my awkward hair growth. Yet as time progressed and I became acquainted with motherhood, my hair settled in as well, curling lightly once again, growing out from baby hairs to locks that fell around my face.

All of this came to light a couple months ago when I cut my hair shortly before giving birth to my son. It had been over a year since my last cut, and I had several inches cut off, creating a fresh layered look to elongate my ever round face. And when I looked in the mirror after washing it, I was struck by the curl that emerged, freed by the extra weight that dissipated when the inches were cut. But instead of the strongest curl being near the base of my hair where it was the lightest, it was near my head with the fresh growth. The bottom few inches were barely waves and awkwardly hanging beneath the peppy curl higher up. This last evidence of one of the hardest years of my life causes me to pause on a regular basis. The stretch marks from that first pregnancy have long since faded. My body has lost weight, carried another pregnancy and gathered more stretch marks to tell of my son's gestation. This transition has been easier for any number of reasons, not the least of which being I knew what to expect. He sleeps better, cries less, eats well and is generally such a happy child. Part of this is undoubtedly due to his disposition; part is likely due to the fact that he can sense I am at ease--a reality that was a long time in coming with my daughter. And while those dark nights and darks days I weathered as my daughter aged were something I would happily never live through again, I am reminded these days that they are etched in who I am. They changed me, challenged me, made me stronger and revealed my true weaknesses and fears; they grew my faith even as it was challenged daily and sometimes hourly. I am thankful for those months of trial even as I detested every hour of them.

I need a haircut once again, and in this next trim I will likely lose the last physical evidence of that time after my daughter was born, a step that will leave me with locks of even curls, a head a little lighter, and a heart a little nostalgic.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Nomenclature

Knowing an item's proper name is almost as important to her as knowing it belongs to her...a small chair, fitting for no one to use except her small frame, fits this bill perfectly. I am not looking forward to the day her brother learns to claim things for himself; she will not be thrilled with the competition.

I'm not sure when she learned how to respond to the question, but at some point this summer she determined the answer people were looking for when they asked her "What's your name?" Around the same time she discovered that everything has a name. Everything.

"Stop sign"
"Seat belt"
"Door handle"
"Rearview mirror"
"Wheel"
"Exhaust pipe"

"What's this called?" she repeats over and over and over. The construction equipment around town needs a proper name; the different types of dinosaurs in the orange plastic container from Uncle Josh need a name; the metal pieces that hold up the railing along our stairs need a name. 

"Sewing Machine"
"Needle"
"Ruler"
"Rotary Cutter"
"Fabric"
"Iron"
"Sewing Machine"

It can be a bit embarrassing at times when a new person walks in the room and she loudly proclaims, pointing at the human that now stands before her, "What's that called?" She doesn't want to know their gender--she will happily tell you that if you ask--she wants a name. And she will repeat it to herself ad nauseum once she knows it.

"Windex"
"Rag"
"Toilet bowl cleaner"
"Toilet brush"
"Toilet seat"

At the end of the day, when I'm hoping for peace and quiet and she is still moving full speed I find it challenging to answer these requests patiently, especially as they circle around to the same items repeatedly because she has forgotten what I told her the first time. Other times she shocks me by naming an item we haven't seen (or discussed) for weeks. She remembers more than she forgets, a trait I envy at times and condemn at others. 

"Tea cup"
"Saucer"
"Tea pot"
"Sugar bowl"
"Lid"

She is in tune with so much these days: the rhythm she has come to count on with our schedule, the items she expects to eat at regular meals based on frequency, the meanings of the different noises her brother makes, the probable location we are headed based on the route we are driving in the car. 

"I need food", she declared this morning, almost an hour before we typically eat lunch. "I need breakfast, a banana," she added to amend her initial request. Now that she can communicate, she regularly tries her hand at negotiation, requesting "one more time" with an item she is not ready to put away, "one second" for an action she is not ready to quit. We realize the phrases we speak without thinking because she repeats them back to us--over and over and over again.

When you become a parent, people warn you of the challenges you will face. What you don't understand initially is how these little people will wear you down. It's not just that they don't sleep--it's that they don't sleep for months. It's not that they throw fits when they don't get their way, it's that they do it over and over and over again. Even when you don't give in to their whims, even when you make it clear that you are the boss, they continue to try---for days, and weeks, and sometimes months. And if they don't wear you down with misbehavior, they may slowly drive you insane with the little questions asked all day, every day.

Yet, even as my husband and I high five over getting two kids to bed to close out another day, we spend the evening chuckling about the funny things our daughter said, the adorable grin flashed by our baby son, the hilarious chain of events that took place earlier in the day. And in that way, it is probably a gift that our memories are not quite as sharp these days: how quickly we forget the exasperating moments as they are overshadowed by the adorable. I am thankful for the short memory I have these days; I would rather start relatively fresh each morning. Perhaps the sleep deprivation is a gift, after all.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tile Floors and Birdcages


There's an understanding among parents with small children that sleeping away from home offers it's own set of challenges. Add in a single room with lots of unfamiliar noises and uncontrollable barriers and you may be met with looks of terror. Sleep time is often the break you need at the end of the day; a few precious moments to reset away from the crying of babies or incessant questions from toddlers. Hotel rooms offer none of these respites; hotel rooms trap you all together to cry it out in one large symphony.

I found myself laying on the floor of our hotel room last night, whispering in our son's ear as I stared up at the hems of our dresses and coats, feeling the cool of the tile against my bare shoulder. He often sleeps in the closet when we travel, the doors offering a small barrier against noise--both for him and me. My daughter was snuggled into the provided crib, which we had draped with a blanket on the sides facing the bed, an attempted barrier against visual distractions. One evening as she fell asleep she talked about her "little fort". Though she protested the birdcage-esque covering during her first nap time, that evening when she returned she requested the brown blanket as she bedded down, needing it to complete the ensemble.


Children have a way of bringing you down from whatever semblance of pride you would normally exist within. Lying on floors to awkwardly shush a baby to sleep is only the beginning. I have walked around for hours without realizing I have a waterfall of spit up decorating my front. I have paraded through grocery stores with one child crawling and the other proclaiming each and every detail of our lives to each shopper that passes us by. I have made plans and cancelled them at the last minute, made plans and shown up and then left prematurely, made plans and totally forgotten about them. I have flown on airplanes while covered in vomit, been urinated on more times than I can count, and held chewed up food in my hands for far too long while searching for a place to dispose of it. When you're caring for children, it's what you do. 

Two years down, so many (I hope) to go.

Even as these little people take me down a notch every time I get my act together. I can't help but love them. And even as vacation is more exhausting than normal life, it's nice to change things up once in a while: see new places, exist in milder weather, and spend time a bit less distracted by everyday details. This is why falling asleep on a tile floor doesn't bother me as much as it might have two years ago--it's just for a couple days, and then we will be back to normal life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unanticipated Delight


The sun hangs late in the sky these days, the lingering effects of solstice three weeks past. Our young Alaskan children know nothing of daylight (or darkness) as indicators of times to wake or sleep--they are arbitrary details for now, thankfully.

We ventured to the park this evening after dinner since the sun was still bright, a common activity when the rain has subsided and the hour is not too late. Our daughter circled the equipment confidently, familiar with all the routes and options. After watching her go up and down a slide several times, I told her I would take her brother down the slide too, and she shrieked with delight. She rushed up the stairs to the spiraling red slide, muttering "Both! Both!" to herself as she climbed. When I reached the top she was poised at the top of the slide, scooting as far to the left of the arch of the slide, letting me know there was room for both of them. 

"I'm going down with him," I tried to explain to her. She was so disappointed. She wasn't interested in going down the slide with her brother AND her mom--she just wanted to go with him. In her mind, I would set his 3.5 month old body next to her and they would spiral around to the bottom in perfect harmony. 

Thankfully, this is how she sees the relationship she has with her brother most of the time. This baby that monopolizes meal time and play time with his need for me to sit and feed him. This baby that cries for reasons she doesn't understand and is perfectly stationary wherever we lay him. She adores him. She lays on the floor to talk with him while he lays on his belly. She cheers when he rolls over; she shrieks with delight when he laughs. She rocks his car seat when he cries and runs to his room to keep him company until I can retrieve him when he wakes up from naps. 

As we approached the park this evening, our son began to cry. I knew it was because he was ready to be fed, but my daughter was sure it was because he had grown weary of how long it was taking us to get there. "It's okay," she spoke to him in soothing tones from her side of the double stroller, "we're ALMOST there." And she repeated this mantra for several seconds as she sought to console him in his misery.

These are the moments I didn't anticipate when the chaos of having two children unfolded. I knew there would be twice as many needs. I knew there would be much less free time. I knew the love for my son would match the affection I have for my daughter. I never stopped to think about how she would fall in love with him too. It is truly precious. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Testing Our Limits


There are days when I pack up snacks and both babes, and head to the beach. The sun is shining, warm on my neck as I soak up as much as I can while shielding the delicate new skin of my son from exposure. The sun hat falls in his face constantly, and I simultaneously adjust it to improve its effectiveness while wondering if it's worth the effort. 

Meanwhile, my daughter plays. She sheds her rubber boots and galavants in the creek that feeds into the ocean, stepping on the rocks and letting the water  run over her toes, crouching to examine the details and letting her skirt soak up cold water like a sponge--a reality she wont realize until she stands minutes later. She climbs the boulders and slides down their slanted fronts, proclaiming "Wheee!" for her own entertainment, looking up to confirm that I'm still nearby before getting lost in her own world once again.

In these moments I wonder why we ever go to the playground, why we ever choose anything but the ocean shore for entertainment.

Then, there are days when we pack everything up and head to the beach only to find that the wind is colder than it seemed at home, the temperature much more brisk. My daughter still sheds her boots, and this time her shorts as well--since they will surely get wet anyway. She digs in the sand with her shovel while I huddle under the towel for warmth, my son curled against me wrapped tightly in the blanket I brought for him. I tilt the brim of my hat against the chill and watch as she kicks a ball around, intermittently coming over for a snack or to ask for assistance in going to the bathroom. Then, for no reason I can see, she declares, "All done." She's cold--an unsurprising declaration given that she's been frolicking around in the sand in a t-shirt and underwear for nearly an hour. We pull on her boots and shorts and trek back. I'm disappointed our efforts to get out were so short-lived, but also impressed we lasted so long given the conditions. 

In these moments I wonder why I put forth the effort; it took as long to prepare and gather and get out the door as it did to sit and (not) enjoy the sun and sand and waves. 

Occasionally a friend or acquaintance will comment to me that they are impressed I am out: to dinner, to the beach, to the park in the rain, to track practice, to run with a double jogger. I feel the same way when I see photos of friends on facebook and Instagram: out camping with their toddler and baby, road trips with three kids and without a spouse for hours on end, climbing a mountain with a baby on their back. I guess we all have our limits, and we all have our needs. I need to get out--to the beach, or the park, or the track. Fresh air--with or without rain--keeps me sane...even as the effort of getting there may occasionally make me crazy.

 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long, But Very Good

Sometimes at night while rocking my son I match my nose and forehead to his and sway. My neck is unquestionably cramped and my arms eventually tire of his fourteen pound frame but the smell of his breath and the rhythm of his lungs is intoxicating. I fear I will never be as close to him as I am now. He still depends on me for his nourishment, his confort; his eyes light up when they make contact with my own. His distress in being alone or being held by a stranger calms when I scoop him up and whisper in his ear. I am his person.


I am well-rested enough these days that I occasionally miss my children once they are in bed. The relief of two sleeping tiny ones is still rich, but the memory of their smiles, the pitter patter of my daughter's feet as she runs back and forth across the house, the grins and chuckles of my son from the slightest bit of interaction--I am hooked. They are such precious gifts; I can hardly believe at times my life is so full.


"These are the best days," a grandmother from my church tells me over lunch. Her daughter is due with her second grandchild any day, and I can tell she can hardly contain herself in waiting to travel to meet the new child. When I went into labor with my son, I texted my mom that morning to let her know the delivery was only a matter of time. Fifteen hours later she had packed a bag, tidied up her affairs at work and hopped a flight over to our island, where she arrived in time for dinner and met her first grandson before bed. She knows the truth of this time; it is fleeting.


At times it is good to be reminded of the gift of these moments, when the day has gone well and the connection I feel with my children is intoxicating. Some days the feelings of bliss seem light-years away, and it's all I can do to hold my tongue as my patience is stretched far beyond the limits I have previously known.  Yet at the end of the day, the roller coaster I am riding is one I will choose to ride again tomorrow--highs, lows, and everything in between. These are good days, long but good. 



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts mid-flight, with a sleeping baby on my lap


Perhaps as a testament to the subject matter, this was actually written nearly a month ago on May 20 while flying over the ocean, on my way to yet another meet.


The clouds have been low this week, leaving the town in a bit of a fog that holds planes at bay and travelers stranded. At times I can't help but feel a part of the fog--the product of not quite enough sleep and hardly a moment alone, let alone in silence. Despite the chaos, we have settled into a bit of a routine around here, with our son's eating falling into a bit of a rhythm and his sleeping mostly dependable.

This is a busy season for many: school is ending, seniors are graduating, plans for summer travel are coming to fruition, and many are moving along to their summertime work. We live in a town that still operates on an agrarian calendar, where clusters of men and women and set out to gather fish in season, succeeding and failing as the price and migration work for or against them. 

These days I am busy as well: wrapping up my commitments that break for the summer and venturing to the track daily to coach the athletes who are up for the challenge--testing their limits and fighting the almighty stop watch, whose truth can't be excused as biased or unfair. The push to the finish of the season is the last of my school-time commitments to end. While I look forward to afternoons where nap time need not be cut short and dinner prep isn't mandated before lunch, I will miss much about it. I love the schedule and routine it adds to my days; I love the conversations I have with the athletes. I appreciate the ways they challenge my thinking and assumptions with their acceptance of behaviors and attitudes I would have written off a long time ago. They ensure I don't get lost in the fog that surrounds me as I juggle life with a two month old and two year old; they ensure I get a good laugh and their parents ensure I remember that my little ones will be teens before I know it. They remind me to sing to songs on the radio and teach me the new lingo and trends. 

I am tired of clouds and fog; I am tired of rain. Thanks to hours on my feet and four weekends of traveling and sleeping on air mattresses while coaching and caring for a newborn, I am just generally exhausted. Yet I am also in love--with my babies, with my job, with this season of my life, which thankfully won't last forever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Savoring the Present

Our latest addition, eight days old.

In the evenings I fall asleep to the whistling breaths of a newborn, tucked safely in my closet a few feet away. The door is mostly closed to shield me from waking to his every grunt but cracked enough that I can find solace in the rhythm of his chest. The whistle of his presence follows me throughout the day: echoing in my ear as I carry him from room to room and projecting from the back seat when my toddler finds a moment of silence, an ongoing chant that disappears in the chaos of many moments of life only to return when there is quiet.

Three weeks ago our son arrived, and he is beautiful. A pound and a half bigger than our daughter, he immediately seemed large; it had taken her a few weeks to reach his size. After introducing him to our two year old however, he was immediately dwarfed. Such gentle limbs and soft skin, such tiny features: I had forgotten what a newborn felt like. And as the visitors cycled through our hospital room and the women of the church passed him around the following Sunday, they all commented on how he smelled--that captivating fragrance that is enchanting, especially to those women that have given birth. He was bathed within me for months and exited my womb carrying a smell that faded every hour he existed outside.

--

Life with two children feels so different than one. As I expected, I didn't quite know what it would feel like until I arrived in the midst of it--shell-shocked by the level of chaos that descended on me in my sleep-deprived state.  A moment of quiet like the one I am in right now, where both babies sleep and I'm not immediately grasping for rest myself, is a rarity. There is so much I want to record from this time, and few moments to do so. 

Consequently I settle for glimpses:
...the memory of the constant grunting that newborns make, eliciting emotional glances (perhaps even longing?) from so many everywhere we go
...the stacks of books my daughter carries to me to read the moment I settle in to feed her brother. She has discovered I'm bound to my seat for the time being, and commandeered that feeding time to her benefit--a reading session that won't be interrupted except to burp and adjust her sibling. 
...the striking similarities in appearance between my daughter and son, while personalities thus far could not be more different. Many comment on his dark hair and complexion, a trait she shared for the first several weeks of life before shedding it for fair skin and hair that grew in blonde. Many remember my daughter's need for movement and the generous amount of crying she shared with us for months of her life. Meanwhile he enjoys being cuddled, will sit awake and not crying (a reality that still amazes me), and --for now-- sleeps very well at night. 
...his consistent napping during track practice, a reality that is undoubtedly leaving all the high schoolers with a very rosy glimpse of what having a newborn is like. 

She was different. He is different. I am different. The 23 days since his birth have been challenging at times, but such a contrast to the first 23 days of my daughter's life. It is impossible not to compare. There is something so empowering about knowing what is coming--the constant feeding, the pain of recovery, the sleep deprivation, the feel that it will all never end. 

It does end. It does get easier. It happens all so fast. 

This time I feel more free to savor, lingering in the rocking chair after he has fallen asleep, holding him selfishly while others around covet his tiny frame, leaving the dishes and laundry and cleaning for a moment that doesn't feel quite so fleeting. This time the crying doesn't bother me quite so much, the feeding schedule doesn't feel so rigid. 

A new rhythm is far from established in our chaotic little world, but every day brings us closer to this feeling a bit more normal. And so we press on. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anticipation {Nearly 40 weeks}

Taken on Saturday in the midst of a glorious, sunny day...

This past summer I took on a furniture refinishing project that I worked on many rainy days while my little one napped. It started with a wooden rocking chair which I had found used in town. I sanded it and primed and painted it, and was quite proud of my refinished handiwork--something I had never done before. After that I set to work on a bookshelf, a piece that was well-worn and sitting unused in Curtis's childhood bedroom, something our own daughter could use. Again I sanded and primed and painted the piece, thrilled with the bright white piece that emerged from the ashes from something so dark and scratched. 

Next on the agenda was an even bigger project: the bunk beds Curtis and his brothers had used as children, a well-made, sturdy set with lots of wear but lots of life. I began to sand the pieces as I had the furniture before, and then I found out I was pregnant.

After several weeks of exhaustion and nausea, I emerged from the fog recognizing the need to get back to the bunk beds soon--for my days of being in any position to sand and paint were numbered. Thankfully at this point Curtis took over the project, with the hope that with his unhampered physical state they would be finished before the new little one arrived. And with three days before my due date to spare, they are.

There have been many markers in the course of this pregnancy that have given me reason to be glad the baby hasn't come yet. At 24 weeks, a pregnancy is viable. Though it will take many weeks in a NCU and lots of medical care, a baby can survive at that point--but needless to say I was glad our child was still safely in utero. At 34 weeks, a baby has lungs that are developed. Though a child may need some medical care, some of the most vital development has taken place--but I certainly didn't wish for that early of a delivery. At 36 weeks, pregnancies are no longer "shipped off" the island we live on, and deliveries are considered far enough advanced to care for locally. This is an important milestone for the women where I live for obvious reasons, and one I was very happy to pass. At 37 weeks I was considered full term. At 38 weeks I reached the furthest I had progressed in a pregnancy. 

In the nearly two weeks since then I have continued to find reasons the time wasn't quite right to birth our second child. There were still other markers I managed to find to justify not having a baby quite yet: finishing organizing baby supplies, changing out and updating pictures hung around our house, waiting for a break in Curtis's work schedule when a colleague unexpectedly left town, and of course finishing the bunk beds--the project that has bookended the pregnancy. Every day that I've gotten a good night's sleep or had the chance to lay down to rest during our daughter's nap has felt like a bit of a bonus. I know how exhausting the first few weeks, or more realistically months, can be.

Yet, here I am at the predicted end, approaching the beloved due date, still with child and nary a project to finish. Two friends due within days of me this week have delivered their children, leaving me and my very large belly alone to gestate another day or two or ten. Everywhere I go I collect stares and constant comments. At this point I should wear a sign on my belly that reads "March 25", because that is what everyone wants to know--irrelevant information that it is.

So we wait, and I find myself recognizing how the time of birth and the time of death hold many similarities: life changing events that are hardly planned and mostly unpredictable. We speak in church of never knowing the hour of Christ's return--a call to be ready at any hour. I think for the first time in my life I have a better understanding of what that means. I watch for signs; I ready my affairs. I wait.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Content {39 Weeks}


Every night this week, Curtis has worked. Tonight it is scheduled, but the past two he has been called in to deliver babies, admit patients, deal with medical issues that can't wait for morning or a scheduled visit in the clinic. Many weeks I enjoy a singular night to myself. I read, take a bath, drink tea, or write. I put our daughter to bed and listen to her talk and sing herself to sleep, before settling in to rest--sometimes immediately, sometimes hours later. With a week like this, where every evening has found me with hours to read and think and write in silence I find myself embracing it a bit less. I miss my partner, the one I debrief with at the end of every day, the one who shares in my delight at the silly things our daughter did and said, the one who cares so much about his work and cares so much about mine too.

I ran into a friend on my way to track practice this afternoon who has two children close together. Unlike me, the delivery of her second was scheduled and she was remembering the night before she became a mother of two--a precious evening that she and her husband embraced and celebrated as the calm before the storm. Every night feels a bit like that to me these days--borrowed time, cherished silence, sacred sleep. Yet not sharing these moments makes me and my hyper-hormonal self sad--I want him to be in the quiet, the peace with me. After all, he too will get to experience the crazy. 

Today was my due date for our first child, our daughter who came two weeks early against all my planning and wishes. When the pregnancy test came back positive for this second child last July and we calculated a due date, I assumed that I would neither make it to that date, or even my first--the day marking 39 weeks. After all, who delivers their first child two weeks early and then goes over 39 weeks with her second? As if predicting such a feat, four good friends in the last three months whose first (and sometimes second) children came early have been met with second (or third) children that have moved along at a much later date. I wonder if my body knows how to handle the stress better; I wonder if I am better at resting. 

In the meantime we continue to take care of details: a (last?) load of laundry, a (last?) meal in the fridge, a (last?) clean-out of baby gear never sorted through after our first. Soon and very soon we will meet this new child. This time we are ready. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Complete {38 weeks}

Exploring Curtis's grandmother's farm where he spent many a summer in his childhood; photo taken the day before we found out we were pregnant.

With my first, after 37 weeks and five days of pregnancy, my water broke. I labored all through the next day, delivering my daughter with a grateful and exhausted heart on the first day of my 38th week of pregnancy at 3am on a Monday morning. I was not mentally ready to deliver a baby two weeks early; I still felt like I had a lot more to accomplish. Even as had I left my desk that previous Friday night in perfect condition--all papers graded, all grades entered, all stacks of copies meticulously organized in the event that someone else needed to take over--I assumed I would be back. I wanted to finish the third quarter; I wanted to rest over spring break. I took my due date as a date of completion; it wasn't.

I find myself ordering the details of my life in the same way as I did before this time around--with a larger sense of expectation that I seek to guard. I buy an extra carton of milk at the store, and wash towels and sheets a bit sooner that I might otherwise. I feel like a kitchen of dirty dishes can't be put off quite as long, and every morning I can workout represents a last bit of alone time that I might not have for a while. We make plans to host our usual Bible studies, and to attend the community play. 

As much as my body is feeling the strain of a baby preparing to make an exit, my mind is straining to appreciate the last moments of our life as it exists right now: a bit more simple, more relaxed, more quiet. 

Yesterday evening we had dinner with Curtis's parents after the first day of track practice. I had been outside, standing in the 30 degree sunshine for two hours observing and critiquing drills and stretches. When I returned to Curtis's parents, where our daughter had spent practice singing songs and coloring pictures and laughing and playing with Nana, Curtis had already made it over from work and they all were lounging around the living room talking and laughing--my daughter in her prime with three people who couldn't love her more hanging on her every move. I was exhausted from the physical demands of practice and from the cold, but I was so content to just observe life as it is right now. 

When a woman is in labor, she is deemed "complete" when the baby is ready to exit, when the pushing can begin, when the body has fully dilated. This takes a different amount of time for every woman, with every birth, and the experience is never the same and rarely predictable. Though I know that there is no sign that my pregnancy is complete until we are entering full-blown labor, I find myself simultaneously looking for clues and distracting myself from desiring them. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Breakdown {37 weeks}

     23 weeks, the golden stage of pregnancy

The first time I was pregnant, I was enamored with the weekly updates: how was the baby growing, developing? When did its eyes start to blink? When were the lungs fully developed? I was equally intrigued by the changes in my own body: the slow and steady expansion of my belly, the weight that increased with every doctor visit, the shifts I could feel with the baby growing larger and stronger, the way I could feel the baby descend as we neared the end. 

All of this is discussed with glowing faces among pregnant mothers--especially those that are delivering their first child. The faces of those who have delivered before know the reality: all of the build-up--the creation of a child and a vessel that grows and supports that child for nine incredible months--comes crashing down with delivery. While the baby exits with a rush of adrenaline incomparable to anything I have ever experienced, the vessel of this baby's existence is left a shell of a near-martyr. Stretching, working, spreading, often tearing--the body turns inside out as the baby exits. 

For weeks following the delivery the transformation continues, as milk is produced, as the uterus shrinks down to size, as tears heal and stretch marks fade and skeletal shifts all seek to return to their original positioning--all with growing pains of their own, all with very little sleep.

The last few weeks of pregnancy foretell of this breakdown as muscles become pinched and strained and one body prepares for another body to exit. In medical school a professor lectured Curtis's class on why the skeletal structure of a woman allowed for birth to happen--complete with a small skeletal baby on a stick that slid through a larger skeletal woman's frame. Curtis said it was all presented in a very comical fashion in this lecture to first year medical students, but the humor is quite absent when the reality takes place. An OBGYN that worked with him in residency once commented "pregnancy maims and kills"--an adage meant to be both blunt and sobering in an event that stretches women to the limit. Only in our modern age do we see it as an event that is somewhat domesticated, in a setting where safety precautions have created an assembly-line-like process where women are watched and monitored from beginning with the attempt to try and foresee potential threats.

This transformation that allows for a delivery is one that brings some women to the edge of survival, and the exhaustion that follows speaks of the depths from which she must recover. Yet this child that emerges, the product of chance or dreams, brings us beyond this breakdown, our bodies miraculously surviving and even thriving on the other side of the trauma--for we have no choice but to do so.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Final Month

{Selfie} Taken the day I went into labor with our daughter...

Today I bought nursing bras and newborn sized diapers. Because the purchases were made online, it didn't have the same thrill as picking out products and putting them in a shopping cart, wheeling them to a checkout clerk who knowingly eyes the products and my oversized belly with a smile. It's a bit less climactic picking them up at the post office wrapped discreetly in boxes, loading up a cart full of mail before loading up the back seat and eventually bringing it all home. 

With our daughter I wasn't totally prepared when she arrived two weeks early. We had one package of newborn diapers--provided by the hospital--and another package of size 1 given to me at a baby shower. With her delicate weight of less than six pounds, we hardly had an outfit that fit her, and I totally forgot to pack one to take to the hospital anyway. I took a trip to Target with my four day old baby to buy nursing bras, a task I was planning on taking care of that week, just without a baby in the changing room with me. I chuckled to myself as I struggled to try on the different sizes without leaking all over them, ever aware of the sleeping time bomb resting on the bench next to me. 

I have been warned not to expect the same delivery scenario as last time; a first child born two weeks early hardly ensures that the second child will do the same. It seems presumptuous in some ways to plan on having a baby at all. Sure, at 35 weeks the baby is viable, more than able to survive outside the womb, but I know so many people whose babies don't survive thanks to genetic issues unforeseen, delivery complications, or even spontaneous death before labor and delivery even start. Many would say it's morbid to even acknowledge or consider that these possibilities even exist, but I tend to believe that they are good reminders to appreciate what you have--every day, every week, every month. Nothing is guaranteed.

Lately one of my daughter's favorite toys has been a metroishka doll my sister gave me after a trip to Russia. When she can't find it, she walks around looking in the usual places, muttering to herself "Baby, mama, baby, mama". If she can't find it, she will come up to me proclaiming the same thing, hoping I can offer some insights as to its whereabouts. A couple weeks ago when I gave her the doll, I was hopeful that this might help enlighten her 23 month old brain about what is about to happen in our lives: a baby with pop out of a mama and then exist out in the world out on its own. I am hopeful that I won't be completely split in half (as the doll does) in order for the smaller version of myself to make an exit. I am also hopeful that the baby won't be lovingly thrown down the stairs by our toddler, and then retrieved with a squeal to repeat the exercise again.

It is impossible to prepare for a life changing event as an adult, even more impossible to impress upon an almost two year old how her life will shift dramatically. Our house will turn into a regular host of visitors from in and out of town, and while everyone gleefully celebrates the entrance of a new child into the world, she will undoubtedly struggle to process what exactly is so great about this mini-human that cries and sleeps and grunts. 

Perhaps the preparation we do in advance of delivery is more of a comfort to us than a practical plan of attack. We can freeze meals, wash clothes, and stack diapers, but nothing will hint at the temperament of our child: whether he or she will sleep or cry or eat well or rest contentedly in the swing. Until the details come to light, in a glorious influx of data met with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, we wait, ever thankful that the data comes alongside a precious, tiny bundle that smells delightful and inspires gentle care and deep attachment--even in the most discouraging moments. 

Stretching {35 weeks}

Taken at 32 weeks...
I have always been very aware of my body. As a runner engrossed in training, I constantly assessed aches, pains, strains, strength. My shoe wardrobe has never been particularly fancy, mostly practical more than anything--a testament to the desire to support my joints and not add any additional strain to a body that I put to work--sometimes in gut-wrenching ways--challenging and testing and seeking to create new limits.

Pregnancy feels very similar at times, a rigorous, daily workout that I have no say in. I wake in the middle of the night and feel my spine adjust to the weight imbalance. I crouch to pick up a fallen Cheerio and sense the extra weight I have to bear as I struggle to stand. I walk and I bend and I groan, weighing the activities I desire to accomplish and my body's ability to realistically do them. 

My daughter sensed this shift in ability the minute I stopped carrying her as frequently. It's worth noting that she is generally very independent and enjoys being off to enjoy her freedom. With that said, when in the company of large groups of strangers (or in the company of good looking food decidedly out of her reach), she seeks to be held. And about two weeks ago, my ability to hold her--while also carrying her sibling--was fading. Thanks to my large belly, I was unable to hold her in a neutral position out front any longer, and hoisting her on a hip out to the side created a strain on my back that wasn't sustainable for long. 

Her persistence in asking to be held was admirable, and she wouldn't take anyone else for a substitute. At times I would sit on the floor and offer my lap as a peace offering. Other times I would be forced to ignore her please for my arms as she expressed her dissatisfaction at being held by someone else. In some ways this is good practice for the near future when she won't be the only child I'm caring for, when her needs won't be met quite as quickly. Perhaps this is good practice for me, conceding to the reality that I cannot be everything to everyone--now or ever.

This new child, still happily in the womb, challenges and stretches me already. His or her growing body is pushing the limits of the space I have available--head driving down, feet in my ribs, torso arching against my stomach creating an arch that grows by the week and sometimes by the day. My shirts are getting shorter; my meals are getting smaller. Shallow breathing plagues me when the child settles just right, cutting off the expansion of my lungs. 

Even still, I find myself content with the status quo---one child that sleeps within me, the other in the next room. My nights are far from peaceful, thanks to restless legs and hormones that cause my mind to race. Yet the quiet is something I cherish, knowing these evenings are numbered. One night, not so far from now, this child will stretch my body to the breaking point and emerge an independent (and oh-so-dependent) human being, and our lives will be changed. And though my body will begin to recover from the strain it has experienced in pregnancy, we will be stretched in different ways beginning the minute the child emerges. It is coming, ready or not. 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Familiar


I was recently asked what it is like to expect a second child, as opposed to a first. It is an interesting question, one that I have thought about sub-consciously as I weathered the ups and downs of this pregnancy, but never thought to put words to--until I was asked.

There's no question that it's different. I don't excitedly read the weekly updates that give me the fruit or vegetable estimation of the size of my child; I don't dwell on the minute developments of the liver or eyelids or hair follicles the way I did before. 

I do revel in the movement of the child that grows larger and stronger from day to day and week to week, poking and prodding me from the inside with more vigor. I do note with appreciation the milestones I have known were coming: the last day I wore jeans without an elastic waste, the day the baby pushed into my rib for the first time, the night I had to get out my collection of Tums the moment I tried to lay down for the night. 

The first pregnancy the onset of discomfort and inconvenience was not something I savored. In a sense I was a newly-wed, enamored with the newness of everything and annoyed with all the details I didn't see coming when living with this new person. This time I embrace the familiarity of these nuances with an appreciation for the brevity of the time--this child, living and growing under my nose, will not be there for much longer. 

It will be less than two months from now, if my delivery follows similar timing to my first child. Soon, I will wake in the night not from the discomfort of rolling over, but because a loudly, breathing newborn is hungry--again. Soon, I will ache as I go throughout the day not because of an imbalance of weight but because of gross need for sustained sleep. Soon, my body will reach the arch of transformation and begin to slowly return to the shape from whence it came--altered and marked with souvenirs of the journey.

Yes, the second pregnancy is different from the first: less naive and shocking, more rich and comfortable and known. I have always been one to prefer the pair of shoes broken in and familiar. Knowing the road ahead can be intimidating, but it can also be freeing. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Looking forward, Looking back

Shortly before taking our first little one home from the hospital.

This evening I sat in the room that will belong to our second child. I had gone in there to assemble the pack-n-play that he or she will sleep in, relishing the undisturbed minutes of productivity that come after my daughter has gone to bed but before I hit my own exhausted state. I put together the pieces, quickly and without much thought--much different than the experience of putting it together with my daughter's birth. And as I stretched the oft-washed and well worn crib sheet over the patterned mattress I could hear my daughter singing from the next room, carrying a made up tune in the dark as she likely cradled her beloved puppy and worn pink blanket. 

I settled into the glider to read, while being serenaded by my toddler who is not yet two, who still sleeps in a crib, who learns new words every day but still speaks in sentences of gibberish a good portion of the time. In some ways she seems so old to me when I mentally prepare myself for the needs of a newborn. In other ways she is so young: completely unaware of the upheaval her life will experience when this new child comes along--a reality we try desperately to prepare her for, while we aimlessly seek to prepare for it ourselves.

It is a very different task to prepare for a child for a second time, when you know the challenges you faced the first time will now be complicated by the needs of your other child as well. Yet there is comfort in the known: the complete sleep deprivation, the experience of having nursed a child before, the survive-at-all-costs mentality that takes over sooner or later. And there's comfort in knowing what comes after the chaos, when full nights of sleep resume once again, when the child eventually transitions out of diapers, when he or she gains independence and conversational skills and is more than just a feeding, crying, pooping mess. Because one day, instead of putting the child to bed and crumpling in a heap of exhaustion that can't be far enough away for need of independence, I found myself hovering near her room to listen to her sing herself to sleep. And when she finally drifted off, I was almost disappointed. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

{30 weeks} & Indecisive Nesting

A couple days ago with the toddler in bed and Curtis at work, I crawled around the kitchen on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor where it dipped beneath the kitchen cabinets. When I mop the floor, I can't get these areas very clean, and it suddenly seemed extremely important that the deep recesses of the kitchen floor be spotless. Never mind that I'm carrying a basketball under my shirt and an extra thirty pounds--it was time to crawl around on my hands and knees wielding a wet rag. Today I found myself wiping out the frames of the windows where dust and dirt collect, a chore that hardly existed in my mind until a few days ago, all of the sudden the bane of my existence.

Thus, third trimester is upon me. The urgency of getting the house in order--kitchen corners, window frames and all--is difficult to fight this time around, a problem I didn't have last pregnancy when I worked full time. All extra energy the first time went to twelve weeks of substitute plans, on top of the normal prep and grading a full time teaching job requires. Anything beyond that went to working out 4-5 days a week, with little energy left to work on the organization, cleaning and even painting that could have been getting done at home given our move three months later. The reality is I didn't understand this "nesting" urge that everyone spoke of. This time I do.

Yet, there are days when I can't fathom any tasks beyond the immediate needs. After the overly productive days of early week, Friday found me lying on the floor most of the morning. My daughter woke before 7am, and after breakfast and the assembling of dinner in the crockpot, I crashed--at 8:55am. I proceeded to kill the next four hours until nap time carrying a pillow and blanket around the house while my daughter entertained herself. She emptied her dresser drawers while I lay there smiling at how happily entertained she was. She assembled lego towers while I dosed off--which she graciously ended by tapping me on the forehead and giving me a big grin when I opened my eyes. By lunch she was exhausted as well, and took a glorious three hour nap--of which I could only sleep one.

I am convinced a third trimester is one that is indecisive: some days craving clean, other days tolerating sheer chaos; some hours falling asleep on a cold floor, other hours unable to sleep in a comfortable, cozy bed. The preparation for a newborn is not lost on me, as I'm learning quickly to function in an increasingly sleep deprived state, with a body that is physically growing more and more uncomfortable. 

I have ten weeks and change until my due date, eight if you consider that I delivered early last time. Some days this seems like a long wait, most days I am content with the time table. Even when I can't sleep, I still enjoy hours of reading in the middle of the night uninterrupted. Even when my body is uncomfortable, I don't have a little human attached to it at hourly intervals. Even when holding my 23 pound daughter tests my compromised frame, I'm still able to hold both children at once. These realities are going to disappear soon enough, and our life will shift in huge ways whether we are ready or not. For now I'm doing my best to enjoy the status quo, indecisiveness and all.