When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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When Dinosaurs and Fancy Nancy Go the Way of Puff

Parenthood is such a rollercoaster of emotions. The happiest day of my life was the day my first daughter was born–and the worst day of my life was the day I found out she was going to leave us.

Most parents (thank God!) don’t have to experience that lowest of lows, but there are still plenty of moments of pain, sorrow, disappointment, and frustration in every parent’s life. There are also the moments where your heart feels so full of love that you can barely breathe. Moments when you look at them and think, “This is what life is all about!” The moments that you want to hold on to forever and never let go.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my children at every age. I enjoyed them as babies, as toddlers, and as kids. But now, I find that I need to adjust to them as tweens. The problem is, I wasn’t ready for this transition. I thought I had more time.

Parenthood is a series of doors opening and doors closing, pretty much continually. I’ve recognized that from the very beginning. Because I understood that, I savored the moments, stored them up–like a squirrel with his nuts–deep in my heart, so that I could take them out, remember them, gaze at them, knowing that I had made the most out of every one of those moments.

You never know when a door is going to close. My daughter always called “Joe’s Crabshack” Crabshadrack (for years!), until suddenly, one day she didn’t. The door had closed. She was a big girl, and she could say the word right. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

For years my son has snuck into our bed at night, and for years, despite the fact that I often don’t sleep as well with him there, I have told myself to hold on to the moment–snuggle, enjoy his closeness–because one day he will stop coming, and he will never come again. That special bonding moment will be gone forever, lost to adolescence.

Ironically, Gavin still occasionally crawls into our bed at night, but Arabelle stopped coming a long time ago, and had I known on that last time that it was her last time, I would have hugged her a little closer, and snuggled a little longer–savored it a little more. But I didn’t know, and that door closed, never to be opened again. That moment lost to her growing independence.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not mourned the transitions–at least, not exactly. The truth is, one of the things that I think my husband and I have done exceptionally well is to foster our children’s independence and individuality. We have never been helicopter parents, hovering around, fearful of any misstep. In fact, we’ve always recognized that it takes some missteps to learn how to do it on your own. And we’ve always recognized that healthy children are children who are independent, but also well-supported children.

We’ve always felt very strongly that, despite how much we might want them to stay little, we need to encourage them to feed themselves, take that first step, run, take that big slide though they might be terrified (and maybe so am I!!), etc. etc.. I believe that it creates confident, independent children. They know they can come to us for anything, but they are also sure that they can take on this world and succeed.

Up until now, though my heart broke a little each time, I graciously handled the closing doors: the last time I breastfed each of my children, when they no longer needed help at bathtime or brushing their teeth, when they could take the big slides without a nervous glance at me–desperate for my encouragement, when they no longer needed me to tuck them in at night, when they started spending more time at friends’ houses on summer days than they did at home–all of these, though a part of me did not want them to happen, though I wanted to create “little pills” to keep them little so I could see Gavin’s happy dance one more time and have him crawl up into my lap to snuggle a little more, still, despite what I felt, I celebrated the open doors even though it meant some doors were closing.

I was proud of them. I felt a surge of joy at who they were becoming. Though it saddened me that Gavin’s obsession with all things dinosaur just disappeared one day, I embraced the new. Though a part of my was saddened to see Belle slowly neglect her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and her My Little Ponies, in exchange for Monster High and American Girls, I accepted it. I embraced it. Until now.

gav dinosaur

My husband always laughs at me. I’m very analytical. I think about things, I ponder them, and yes, sometimes I even obsess over them. I often do this years in advance. It probably has helped me with those closing doors. I anticipate the closing door, and so, think to myself, “Any day may be the last day I breastfeed my child. This could be the last time we have this particular kind of closeness, this particular kind of snuggle” and so, because I have anticipated it, I feel somehow ready–I know I have treasured it.

Despite all my forethought, somehow this whole “tween” thing really blindsided me. I knew it would happen, and I knew a little bit about it, but I thought I had more time. I wasn’t exactly shocked when Gavin, who is ten, started showing some signs of this transition (though diving straight into things like porn and dildos–yes, for real!! was a bit much). However, right on the heels of Gavin, Arabelle, who is only 8, started acting differently. She is still my sweet little Belle! I am not ready for her to step across that threshold into tween-ness! No! She is a little girl! She is my sweetheart! She is a child and no where close to being a teenager!!

I think I feel a little bit like Puff might have felt when he started to realize that little Jacky Paper wasn’t going to be coming back for much longer–in fact, he wasn’t going to be little Jacky Paper anymore. Instead, he was going to transition into someone different, someone simply known as Jack. Puff probably felt proud, but he also likely felt incredibly sad as he realized all those special moments of childhood had moved into memory, and those particular kinds of moments would be no more.

puff_the_magic_dragon_by_anubis3021-d4lru2v

I might protest it all I want, but the change is happening. One door is closing and another is opening, whether I want it to or not. She is spouting things like, “I need my privacy” and “I need some alone time.” She is posting “Keep out” signs on her door. She listens to her ipod rather than hanging out chatting with me and her father. She is pulling away–just a little bit, but it’s the beginning.

belles note

This time, I am not ready. I am not ready to put away all things little girl. I’m not ready to see the end of dress up and Fancy Nancy and tea parties at Grandma’s house. I am not ready for my cuddler to stop cuddling in exchange for “alone time.” I am not ready–but it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s not up to me. My sweet, people pleasing daughter is ready to begin spreading her wings and asserting her independence, and though it might break my heart, I want her to fly! I want her to find who she is, and I will certainly not be the one to hold her back.

Still, I know where big sister goes, little sister is soon to follow. Lily will not wait long before she starts to emulate her sister.

But that is a thought for tomorrow. I cannot bare that thought today.

Today, Lily still clutches her blankie and sucks on her finger. Today, Lily thinks the whole world is her friend. She still climbs into my lap every morning and evening. She still plays with barbies and loves princesses. She loves dress up and tea parties. Today, she is still little, and I am going to wrap my heart around that littleness.

tea party

 

And I’m going to make the most of every one of these magical childhood moments and treasure them while I still can!

A little dose of clarity and a large dose of gratitude

We live in an age where it is the “in” thing to dis America. It’s en vogue to talk about all the things that we have done wrong. It’s almost chic in some circles to talk about our country with venom and disdain.

I never agree with such opinions, but I’ve gotten used to them. I disregard them with a sort of complacence. I take them in stride and ignore them, most of the time.

Every once in a while there is something that shakes the dust off of my patriotism and makes it burn bright again. The fire of pride and gratitude toward this country that has given us so much begins to pull me from my apathy, and I find it impossible to remain silent. I am PROUD of this country. I am humbled by the safety and prosperity it has allowed me. And I am grateful for all the men and women, alive and dead, who have poured their lives into creating this country and protecting its freedoms.

So to what do I owe this fresh stirring of patriotism?

Well, it started when I browsed my Netflix options a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled on the movie “The Patriot” and decided to give it a re-watch.

Though not very accurate in the historic details, the movie does a great job of capturing the American spirit and the sacrifice required of the revolutionists to give this dream of democracy a chance. So many lost their lives–fathers, husbands, brothers–to give us the chance to live in a land where even the richest and most powerful are held to the law, and where even the weakest among us is protected.

Now obviously, we didn’t do everything right. We had to fight again for the equality of all men in the Civil War, but, may I remind you, that slavery was (and still is in many countries) a world-wide epidemic, and it took us a mere 150 years to begin to right that wrong, whereas most countries took far longer than that to make the same changes we made (not to mention the many countries that still enslave their people today). It was a horrible thing, but even today we are still trying to right the wrongs of generations long gone. Show me another country on this earth who has done the same.

My second surge of pride came from reading “Memoirs of a Geisha.” I’d seen the movie–which I LOVED–and decided to give the book a read. It’s even better than the movie. It is poignant and lyrical, and it pulls you into a world that is so very different from our own–and it doesn’t let go.

What does a book about Geisha in Japan have to do with my pride in America you may ask? Well, it has a lot to do with it in the form of contrast.

You see, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve seen places quite similar to the Japan of pre-WWII. They are places where the powerful rule with an iron hand and no one protects the rights of the poor and the weak. With my own eyes I watched a truck hit a rickshawala and continue driving when I was in Bangladesh. He was left there injured and possibly dying–and there were no consequences for the truck driver. He continued on, living his life untouched by any reckoning for the injury he caused another.

I went to a conference with the leaders of Bangladesh (long story about how I got to be there!) and watched as they ignored the one token woman speaker (because she was a woman of course) who tried to get them to do something, anything, about the number of women who go missing on a regular basis, never to be seen again. These countless, nameless women dead as the result of the anger of a husband who fears no reprisal. And that just touches on the injustice.

What about the poverty? In my country no one needs to go without food. The poor of America are better off than the middle class in a place like Bangladesh! It was with horror that I traveled the streets of Dhaka. The number of mutilated and disfigured people who mobbed my rickshaw was staggering. What was worse was hearing that it was common for a mother to intentionally disfigure her child because a child such as that would receive more sympathy, and thus more money, from foreigners. And that might likely make the difference between her other children eating or starving. Such a harsh reality!

The workers in most of the world can only dream of an eight hour work day and a five day work week!! I wonder what the rickshawalas of Bangladesh would think to hear of the ease and comfort of an American work environment? And what if I then told them of how often we still find reason to complain about it!?

Or how about the little children I saw working in the hot sun? I will never forget the image of a little girl sitting in the sweltering heat with a large rock, a chisel, and a hammer. She sat there making the large rock into pebbles. Why did she do such a thing? Because without the little bit of money she would bring in, there would not be enough money for all the members of her family to eat.

           My children get to be children. My children need not fear that they will not eat. My children know that they are safe and protected.

Many children in our world today do not know this. Many children fear hunger and know nothing of safety. Just like Cheyo in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” many young girls today are still sold into sexual slavery. It’s rampant around the world. Don’t believe me? Google it. You’ll be shocked to see the extent of this horrible trade in our modern world.

I am so incredibly grateful for this country I live in! I am grateful that I am safe, and that my safety, and more importantly, my children’s safety, is relentlessly protected. I am grateful that my country provides a safety net that ensures that those down on their luck need not fear hunger. I am incredibly grateful that my rights as a woman are not secondary to the whims of my husband. I am grateful that we live in comfort and prosperity, because, believe me, we are one of the most prosperous countries in this world! We are so lucky!

I guess what I want to say is that, any time I gain perspective, when I am reminded of the reality of the rest of the world we live in, and compare it to what we have here . . . how careless we so often are! We take so very much for granted and instead of feeling grateful for what we have, all we can see is what we don’t have.

We are the luckiest of people to be born in this amazing country, to have the opportunities that we have, and the freedom and security to pursue those opportunities!

On this Fourth of July, take the time to gain some perspective. Take the time to realize how lucky we are, and how much of a debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have given their lives to give this great experiment a chance– and to those men and women who have protected it, for our sakes, ever since.

Bye, bye crazy toddler days! Hello lazy, hazy days of summer! I’ve been missing you!

This summer has been a summer of firsts for me as a mother. It has officially launched me into the next phase of parenting. I am no longer the mother of babies and toddlers. I am now the mother of big kids. Lily, my littlest, will be four in a few weeks, and she acts older than that. The days of hovering and constant watchfulness are a thing of the past, and as much as I enjoyed my children at this stage, I can’t say that I regret the passing of these days, at least not yet.

I knew this day was coming. As Lily told me the other day, “Soon I’m going to be four and then I’ll be sixteen!” She’s not far wrong on that. The time will move so quickly it will feel like that I’m certain, and my girls take after me; they act older than their ages and so I knew that the baby days were about to pass me by forever.

The high stress days of toddlers and temper fits, bolting children hiding in the clothing racks, and constant danger due to lack of coordination are behind me. The days of increasing independence are here. Each day will take my children a bit further from me and more into being capable and independent in their own skin (when I put it that way it is enough to make me cry!). My children will always need me, but they will need me less with each passing day. Their school, teachers and friends will begin to exert almost as much influence over them as my husband and I do. It is a sobering thought!

And yet, my fledgling freedom, the faint stirrings of a me forgotten, can’t help but excite me! To be me again and not just an extension of my children! It sounds heavenly!

So many parts of me were put on hold when I had my children. I haven’t drawn a picture since Arabelle was a baby. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve sat down and played the piano. I’ve only recently started writing poetry again, something you need a measure of peace and time for reflection to create, and since I’ve had neither peace nor time . . . . So many things that were foundational to who I am have had to be put on hold, and I won’t lie, at times it has been suffocating!

I realized that the next phase had arrived the other day when I took my kids to a splash pool. It’s a pretty great place when you live in Texas where we’ve been in the 90’s for weeks already. The water’s not deep, there are fountains everywhere and there is a big play structure in the middle with a water gun and a water slide. It’s little kid heaven!

As it turns out, it’s Mommy heaven too! You see, there were a bunch of lounge chairs under a big tree and the breeze was blowing and it feel COOL under that tree. There were two lifeguards on duty and the pool was enclosed so there was no danger of my children running off or being in any danger. Very quickly I realized that I could sit back and only keep a casual eye on my kids. The kind of vigilance I needed last summer was not necessary this summer!

I read a chapter in my book. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of my happy children playing in the background. I took the time to notice how pretty it looked underneath the tree with the sun filtering through the leaves. And I felt peaceful. With all three of my children there, I felt peaceful. Not happy, not content, but PEACEFUL. It was heavenly!

Yes, I know I will miss the antics of my children when they were little. I will miss each day being a new discovery. I will miss baby kisses and cuddles. And nothing is cuter than the cherubic features of a toddler. It’s why I take so many pictures, to capture the moments, to remember. I know I will miss it.

But, big kid hugs and kisses are pretty great too. And the things we are able to do together now that Lily is old enough are a lot of fun. And the chats we are able to have are really pretty wonderful. And the freedom and the peace . . . well, they have been a long time coming!

It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times . . . it was Summer Break!

            This is the first year that I looked toward the coming summer break with sheer terror mixed in with the anticipation. This was the first year in a long time that I have had only one child at home during the day, and though she can be pretty crazy, she has no one to argue with, therefore, it means no bickering, no tattling and so no Mommy refereeing. Though I have to be pretty hands on with Lily, it has been a fairly peaceful year.

            Summer break means all that is going to change.

            I love my kids. I enjoy hanging out with them. The closer it comes to the end of the school year, the more I begin to think of all the fun things that we’re going to get to do together. It means more snuggle time, more hugs and kisses, more chats, more laughter. It means long days at the park and it means lazy days at the pool. All of this with three of my favorite people in the world!

      

            But, you see, I am no longer a young, idealistic, novice mom. I know that it also means long days of bickering, whining and refereeing. It means that I will now have three children to interrupt me every thirty seconds instead of just one. It means there will now be three children hollering for me across the house and finally poking their heads in when I’m going to the bathroom. It means absolute chaos!          

            Summer break began for us last week Friday, and just as I knew would happen, we have had some great times. We’ve had pool parties, play dates, picnics and visits to the sprinkler park. We’ve had fun with friends and cuddles with family. It sounds idyllic!

            But, as I also knew would happen, they came out of the gates bickering. Every single one of them wants Mommy to his/her self and each one thinks that they should have sole control of the remote.

           Knowing this was inevitable I was proactive. I filled my calendar with fun things to do and planned out a school chart so the kids would continue working on their reading and writing all summer. I planned out a chore chart (I mean, there’s no reason they can’t help more when they have so much free time on their hands, right?). I tried to think of anything and everything.

            Even being proactive, it doesn’t seem to be enough! It’s only week one, and this Mommy feels like a computer when it has had too much input in too short of a period of time and it just freezes. My brain does that same thing when I am bombarded by my three children all at the same time, it just freezes, and I find myself simply staring at them with that deer in the headlights kind of look. My brain just stops working!

                                  TOO . . . MUCH  . . . INFORMATION!!!!

             And yet, I know that these are the times I am going to look back on, the days I’m going to wish were back when they’re gone. I’m not going to remember the bickering and the squabbles. I’m going to remember the days when Gavin still wanted to read with me and the times when Belle wanted to take a walk holding my hand and chattering my ear off about all of the things that are most important to her. I’m going to remember that last summer when Lily, by any stretch of the imagination, could be considered babyish at all.

            The chaos is just as much a reality as the good times, but somehow, that just doesn’t seem to matter, at least not right now in the few moments of relative quiet I have managed to carve out of this crazy day. I look at them and I see them growing, sometimes I feel like, right before my eyes. These moments are going to be gone before I know it and I know that I would take all the chaos to have them back again when they’re gone!

 

           

 

         These are the magical days of childhood, where Lily is still so free and unselfconscious to burst into spontaneous song and dance, and Arabelle is uninhibited enough to snuggle up with me in bed, and even Gavin is still young enough to sit on mom’s lap, even though part of him hesitates, wondering if it’s still okay.

 

 

 

 

                            These are the heart and soul of Motherhood

                              and I’ll take the bad along with the good any day!

Teetering on the Verge of Insanity

         This is part two of our journey after losing Serena. If you missed part one, feel free to click here to read the first blog titled “Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?”      

 

           Usually when a woman gets pregnant, it is a time of excitement and of joy. It is a time of the high pitched squeals so characteristic to women. Usually the news of a baby on the way brings a flurry of hugs and well wishing. There is an aura of elation that overshadows any lingering fears you may have about parenthood or the pregnancy. It is an emotional high. Usually.

            For us, after Serena, it was something quite different. At the best, the news of our pregnancy brought a weighted silence followed by a “Well, we’re there for you.” At the worst, it was greeted with accusations “How could you be so careless!” and recriminations “I will never forgive you if you make me walk through that again!” (The extreme irony of the latter comment floors me to this day ! What this person felt in grief at the loss of Serena was the palest shadow of the hell we experienced and yet her concern was not at what we would have to go through all over again, but what she would go through!)

            When I found out that I was pregnant with Gavin I think I went numb. I swear my heart stopped beating for a second and my blood turned cold. When my heart started again and the blood resumed pumping, it all rushed to my head and I felt like I would faint. God help us! The decision had been made for us and I felt by turns a numb hope and a bone-crushing fear.

            I told myself it would be okay. It had to be. God wouldn’t make us walk through that again, not so soon? I mean, He wasn’t that cruel, right?

            But, I was by no means certain. Walking through what we did with Serena had shown me that I really had no idea of what God would or wouldn’t do. I had learned the hard way that He cared a whole lot less about my happiness and comfort than He did about some overarching big picture which I couldn’t see much less understand. I had experienced the very real lesson that being a Christian does not exempt us from pain and hardship. I could not say what God would or wouldn’t do. I felt like I was standing on the edge of some great balck nothingness that was going to swallow me alive.

            So, in my lack of faith that God would take care of it, I appealed to Fate and to Chance. Yes, there was  a 25% chance that the baby would be sick, but the odds that we would roll that number twice in a row . . . no one could be that unlucky, could they?

            I remember sitting at our table and rolling a four-sided die over and over again trying to convince myself that the odds were with us. It didn’t work, especially since I had met a mother online who lost four children in a row to SMA. (And she was a Christian too by the way!) God didn’t stop her from walking through hell over and over again. Why should I be any different?

            We were referred to a geneticist who walked us through what SMA really was, how it worked and what we were looking at for the pregnancy. We would need an amniocentesis at 17 weeks. The sample would then be sent off to one of the two labs in the country capable of analyzing at the DNA level. They would look to see if there was at least one copy of the gene necessary for reproducing neurons. If at least one of us gave the healthy gene, the baby would be okay, if not, well . . . .

            The assumption was that if the baby wasn’t healthy, we would abort it. If anyone has ever had a reason to consider abortion, it was us. We had walked through the pain, the grief, the absolute hell of watching our daughter get weaker and weaker. We had watched our daughter stop breathing and felt our hearts stop right along with hers. Time and time again my husband had breathed the life back into her little body to give us more time . . . until eventually there was no more time. If anyone had a case for abortion, it was us.

            And yet, we barely needed to discuss it. It wasn’t an option. To abort this baby was to say that Serena had never deserved to exist at all, that the days she had were meaningless. Serena had lived and she had loved. She had known happiness and joy in her brief days. She may not have had many of those days, but could we deny her the few she was given to spare us grief? Could we do that to another baby?

            The idea of walking through it all again was unbearable, but the thought of taking away even the few days given to our child was simply unconscionable. We needed to know if the baby was healthy, but we would have it regardless.

            It took a month to get back the results of the DNA test. I lived on the brink of a panic attack. I could barely breathe. Luckily, two weeks before we found out we were pregnant I had started a new job and I had started my graduate program. I immersed myself in the busyness. If I was too busy to think, I would be too busy to let the emotions in, so I tried to box up the grief and fear and I put it somewhere in the back of my heart and I kept moving, one foot in front of the other.

            In the moments between classes and work I found myself listening to the song “My Immortal” by Evanescence on repeat. The words of that song seemed to express my grief in a way I couldn’t. I remember sitting in my car singing that song and sobbing, briefly indulging my pain before drying my tears, squaring my shoulders, gritting my teeth and willing myself to go to work, smile and pretend that the world was still good.

            At one point in one of my classes we had to take a stress test. It looked at all the things that are considered stressors, added them up, and then told you where you were at. My score blew the top off the test. In fact, my professor asked if anyone had scored over a certain point and I raised my hand sheepishly. The whole class just stared at me when I shared the score. I shouldn’t have been functioning. They didn’t even know what to say.

            The test hadn’t taken into account the effort of will. How did I keep functioning through what should have paralyzed me? I wasn’t a quitter. I could barely breathe, but I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to let life win. I was going to keep walking. Somehow, I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I lowered my head and just kept moving. I was too stubborn to give up! I may not have been living, but I was existing and I was faking the living part really well!

            Every time the phone rang, our hearts stopped. We would stare at each other. Neither of us wanted to answer it. As much as not knowing was torture, to know, if the news was bad, would be hell itself. Was it the call we were waiting for? With bated breath we would answer and with part relief and part frustration we would answer the phone to find one of our parents or a friend on the other line.

            Every day, for an agonizing month, we waited with our heart in our throats, until finally, one day, after class, as I was about to leave for work, I got the call. It was a boy, and he was okay.

            I couldn’t stop sobbing. I tried to call Aaron, but the truth is, I probably scared him half to death because I COULD NOT STOP sobbing. I tried to call work to tell them that I was going to be late, but I couldn’t stop sobbing. I just couldn’t stop.

            I was going to be a mother again, and this time, I wouldn’t have to watch my child die. This time, I would get to see him grow. I would get to hear him say “Mama” and I would get to feel his little arms around my neck. This time I would get the joy of motherhood, not the sorrow.

            The truth is, my heart was too broken for joy. I didn’t feel the same rush of elation that I had felt when Serena was born. I felt like Humpty Dumpty. I didn’t know if “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could ever put my broken heart back together again.

            The reality is that my heart is still not put back together. There are still craters and fissures and barely healing wounds riddling my heart, but every time one of my children tells me that they love me, every time I feel their warm little arms around my neck and their soft cheeks nuzzling mine, each day I get to see them grow a little bigger, my heart heals a little bit more. (As if on cue, the cutest little three year old just came and whispered in my ear that she loves me . . . her little lips brushing my ear. Like I said, it heals a little bit each time! :))

            This is Gavin now. He just turned eight!! He is an enormous blessing. He held our marriage together. He kept us sane. He was counting on us. We couldn’t allow the grief to swallow us because of what it would do to him. We weren’t ready for him, but God knew we needed him anyway!

            Finding out that Gavin was okay, was not the end to our journey of fear. We had two more children after him, and the truth is, our journey with Lilian was the scariest of all in many ways, but that is a story for another day. 🙂

Is God Just a Big Cosmic Bully or What?

            Yesterday was my son’s birthday. Every year on his birthday, I find myself reminiscing about him and my second chance at motherhood. It was a day that I never thought I would have. It was a day I longed for, hoped for, but was too scared to believe could really happen.

            You see, though I’ve been pretty up front about our journey in losing Serena, I don’t talk about the journey to our second family very often. I’m not quite sure why that is. Maybe there was just so much pain that I spend most of my time focusing on the biggest source of it or maybe it’s because the journey to our second family ended up having a happy ending, as unlikely as that should have been.

            The day Serena was born was the happiest day of my life. The rush of joy, complete and utter bliss, that I felt in that moment is simply indescribable. I was so in love with my baby girl and with my husband. It seemed impossible that anyone could be so perfectly happy, but I was.

            Motherhood was everything I had hoped for and more. I didn’t mind the sleepless nights or the toll that being a caretaker takes on you. The few times I could be pried away from Serena, I missed her instantly. My favorite thing to do was to watch her sleep. I was enthralled.

            In my darker moments I’ve wondered if my very happiness was too great a temptation for fate. I’ve pondered the idea that there is some great cosmic balance that says so much happiness needs to be balanced with an equal portion of pain. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if God is simply sadistic. I think it was something far simpler than that actually. I think we were just unlucky.

             That day, that horrible, nightmarish day when we found out that our perfect, beautiful girl was going to die, we found out something else as well. Any child we conceived could have the same genetic defect, in fact there was a 25% chance that any child would have it. Not only were we going to lose our only child, but having another child came with the unbearable risk that we would have to walk through the same hell all over again.

            The five months between when we found out Serena was sick to the time she died were consumed by her. Those moments were spent in keeping her alive and treasuring every moment we had left. We were numb, on auto-pilot and consumed by anguish in turns. We waited in horrified anticipation of the day we could not prevent. We couldn’t think; we could merely exist.

            Then the horrible day came when Serena left us and time started moving again. We were left with a void, a complete absence of purpose. I had spent every moment of the last year taking care of this little person, straining to hear the sounds of her alarms in the night, and suddenly, my whole purpose for living was gone. Into that absence came the very real possibility that I would never be a mother again. I can’t even begin to explain the double agony of this realization!

            I was angry, incredibly angry. I felt certain that God was a sadistic bully who liked toying with my heart. How else could I rationalize a God who allowed me to taste motherhood, fall in love with it, only to rip it away from me and deny it to me forever? 

            I became bitter. Looking at other mothers, especially the ones who didn’t deserve the name, made me fume. Expectant mothers were like a knife in my gut. I begrudged them their happiness. They didn’t even know how lucky they were. They took it for granted. The injustice of it was eating me alive.

            We wrestled with our grief and it felt to us like everyone watched in judgment of how we handled it. Our parents were so worried that our anger would destroy our faith in God that their concern became stifling. We had to grieve, and anger was a part of that process, so we ran away to Europe.

            Like Sabrina from one of my all-time favorite movies, I packed my journal, my camera and my drawing materials intent on sitting on the various bridges of Europe (not just Paris like she did, but that was one of the stops) and writing/drawing until everything started to make sense again.

            One of our main topics of conversation on the trip was if we should stay together and if we should ever try to have children again. We contemplated separating. That would be an easy solution. The chances of us finding another person who was also a carrier were only 1 in 40;  surely we couldn’t be so unlucky as to fall in love with another carrier?

            We thought about it, but, the problem was, we still loved each other. We were best friends. We didn’t want a family with someone else. We wanted it together.

            That brought up the second part of the conversation, could we, should we, take the risk of having another child?

            I was so desperate to be a mother again that I was willing to try despite the risks, but Aaron was not, and he couldn’t say that he ever would be ready to take that risk again. We talked, we fought and I agonized, but he wouldn’t budge. I told myself to be patient (something I can be incredibly bad at!) and to give him time, which I tried to do (and failed miserably at!). And I waited.

            Despite trying to respect Aaron and taking the steps to prevent a pregnancy, we became pregnant about a year after Serena died. I had been willing to take the risk in theory, but when that choice was taken out of my hands in actuality, I found that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Imagine feeling like at any moment the axe is going to drop and you are going to find yourself back in hell . . . yep, that’s pretty much what it felt like. Sheer terror.

I’ll blog the rest of the story in a couple of days . . . it’s just too much too put in one blog! Nobody would read the whole thing! 🙂

The Day My Muse Died

               I have been a poet without a muse for ten years. That means for ten years I have not written a single poem. I’ve written other things, but not poetry. That was gone. No matter how hard I tried to push passed it, the voice was gone.

                Years ago, while taking a poetry class in college, my professor asked me to share with the class my process in writing poetry. I was one of her favorite student writers and I think she assumed that it was something that I really worked at and had a process for. I’m pretty sure I disappointed her.

                For me, my poetry has never been something I worked on.  It is something inside of me that has to come out. It’s something I feel rising from a place deep inside myself and when I feel the stirrings, I grab a pencil and I let it come. It is its own voice.

                In my youth, my muse was full of passion and possibility. It was a voice of idealism. It was a voice craving for life, all of it. It was the part of me that thirsted for all that life had to offer. It was the voice of my deepest longings and my greatest hopes.

                The last poem I wrote was in the days before my daughter died. It was the day my muse died. It was the day that the voice of idealism and hope inside of me died. It was the death of possibility and the birth of pain, a pain so deep that it had no voice.

                For years I tried to give a voice to my pain. I tried to pull a muse forth. For surely, such a wealth of living, such a windfall of pain, must come with a voice? I forced a few poems, but they lacked the magic, the power of a muse inspired poem. Quite simply, they were not good. I don’t know if I even kept them. If I did, they are buried in some old notebook or some abandoned stack of papers somewhere.

                I had all but given up the hope that I would write like that again, when last month, a new muse stirred somewhere deep inside of me. It was not a rebirth of my old muse. That muse was the muse of youth, a muse that gave voice to the hope of a life not yet lived. This muse is darker. This is a muse of life lived and lost. It is the muse of a decade of pain without a voice and the broken pieces it left behind.

                I am glad for this new muse. I am grateful that my pain, my loss finally has a voice. But I am sad to say a final goodbye to that muse of hope and possibility, the muse that made the world something of light and wonder.

                As a eulogy of sorts, I want to share the last poem I wrote, the poem where my muse died.

 

Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

 

I am caught between yesterday and tomorrow.

Yesterday was full of sweetness—

Girlhood, new love, stolen moments, baby kisses.

Tomorrow is ripe with possibility—

Places unseen, adventures unlived, love yet unborn.

But I am forced to live in today.

 

Today is confusion, pain, despair.

Today is the limbo between life and death.

Today is the day baby kisses might end,

Soft, warm snuggles turn cold,

And sweet baby babble turn silent.

Today is consumed in dark Maybe.

 

Today is the knowledge that

Dimpled fingers will not reach for my hand,

Sweet, soft lips will not know love’s first kiss,

Tiny, tiny toes will never feel the squish of sand,

Smooth, kissable cheeks will never feel the blush of youth.

 

Today is blackness without hope,

Sunshine without sun,

Life without reason.

Today is the nightmare

I’m living while awake.

 

All I want is yesterday returned to me

Or tomorrow untouched by today.

What I want is for today to have never been.

Move Over Red Shirt, and Make Way for the Heroine!

There is so much of being an adult that isn’t what I expected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly rational person (despite my idealism . . . maybe I didn’t have a very real picture of myself after all . . .).

Maybe I should blame it on being such an avid reader. After reading so many stories that follow the same basic principle, maybe my subconscious actually started thinking it would work that way.

You know, the heroine, misunderstood and under estimated, meets the boy who sees her for who she really is, they fall in love and walk merrily into the future hand in hand where everything comes up roses and sugar blossoms. Happily Ever after and all that.

Like I said, I do have a fairly large rational streak, and I certainly never thought that is how it would work, in my head at least, but my subconscious expectations, well . . . maybe they weren’t so rational after all!

I guess, whatever it is I expected, this wasn’t it. The normalcy of life, the hum drum progression of days where each one looks pretty much like the one before, this is NOT what I expected. The endless succession of ordinary tasks . . . getting the kids up for school, getting them out the door, cooking cleaning and cleaning some more only to start over with the same list of “to dos” the next day . . . . I have more in common with a scullery maid than the heroine in a story!

And see, there is the rub. I used to feel like the heroine in my own story. The same feeling I feel at the beginning of a good book, that feeling of potential and anticipation where the unexpected, the magical could be waiting for me just around the corner . . . I lived life in that charged place.

And like a good story, insecure, underestimated girl did indeed meet the boy who helped me believe in me and who swept me off my feet. I heard the swell of Andrea Bocelli in the background and felt the fireworks in his fingertips. I had my story and I was the heroine and it was glorious.

Next comes the happily ever after part, right? Like I said, I was too rational (and too smart!!) to really believe that. I knew that life in the real world was something very different. What I didn’t expect was that I would stop being the heroine of my own story.

These days I feel much more like the red shirt in my story rather than Captain Kirk. Aren’t I supposed to be the protagonist in my own story?  I feel like an insignificant extra. I feel like when I had my children, my story ended and theirs began.

Maybe a good mother would be okay with that. Maybe a selfless person wouldn’t think about it  twice. Certainly June Cleaver never would have spared a second for such selfish thoughts! But, then again, I am no June Cleaver! Though I am a good cook, even Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals are fancier than I tend to cook. Not to mention that when it comes to housework, well, I am simply an abysmal failure. All my extended education did not prepare me for the impossible task of balancing the endless mountains of laundry and the messes left by some of the world’s messiest people! And I always thought that I was so good at multi-tasking! Hmpf!

But I digress. Maybe it is pure selfishness that makes me so crazy about not being the heroine of my own story. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. Maybe a good mother is content to fade into the back story and live her life through her children.

But I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be the heroine of our own story? Should our sense of potential and anticipation disappear just because girl has already met boy? I don’t think so! My story is not over at 35! I won’t allow it to be!

Ah . . . but then there is the guilt. Shouldn’t this be enough? Shouldn’t I be perfectly happy just as I am? My husband is hot and he is my best friend to boot. I have three amazingly beautiful, smart children when genetics should have kept me from having any at all. Shouldn’t this be enough?

My family is my world and I would die for any one of them in a heartbeat. I know I am a good mother. I do put my children first and I suspect I always will, but that doesn’t mean that I need to play the role of martyr either.

I think the modern mother walks a difficult road. We have left the role of June Cleaver behind, but we see the error in the career mom who is an absentee mother. We long for balance. We want to be the heroine in our own story while teaching our children at the same time to be the hero/heroine of their own stories.

Most days it leaves me feeling like there is an internal tug of war being waged inside of me, and sadly, most often, it leaves me feeling like a failure at pretty much everything.

I don’t need to be the center of the universe. I don’t even need to be the center of my little family. But I do need to know that there is more waiting for me around the corner than Saturday’s soccer game. I need to know that I still have a role to play in this crazy story of life and that my role is more than just being the expendable red shirt.

I need to know that I am indeed the heroine of my own story, and that my story is not over, not now at 35, not at 55, not even at 75.

I think we all have a duty to step up and be the hero in our own story, to not sit back and let the story happen, but to find our role, to be an active participant.

Ever hero has to overcome, ever heroine has conflict and crisis that must be met. If you don’t have conflict, if you don’t have crisis, you’re not living your story.

Or, if you’re like me, and have had lots of conflict, always remember, the hero always has a choice; he can rise to the challenge and overcome and live the story he was created to live, or he can sit back and be the forgotten red shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a red shirt! I won’t be a forgettable extra in my own life! I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m going to keep trying to find that line, the line of being the best mother I can be while at the same time being the best me I can be.

Do You Have to Follow Me to the Bathroom? Seriously?!?

There are many things that are difficult about being a parent. There are so many changes and adjustments that you need to make seemingly on an ongoing basis. Nothing is ever constant, except for change. It would be hard to pick the hardest thing about parenting. There are simply too many challenges to choose just one!

However, one of the things that I think has to be right up there somewhere at the top of the list is that you never get any time alone. Barely a minute goes by without an interruption. If I go to the bathroom, someone follows me. If I’m in the shower, inevitably someone is pulling the shower curtain back with some question, complaint or need that simply can’t wait for me to be done with my shower. When I’m changing, I get walked in on, usually multiple times. When I yell at them to wait because I’m changing, they walk in, sit on my bed and proceed with whatever it is that they needed right at that very moment. Nothing is off limits for a mother!

The constant interruptions, bickering, referring, and urgent needs leave me feeling frazzled and make it difficult for my brain to function like a normal person’s. I never felt like I had ADD until I had kids. It’s as if they have changed my very biology! Now, even on the rare occasions that I am child free, I find that my brain simply can’t function, it can’t focus. It’s jumping around in the pattern that has become its normal since these three little blessings showed up on the scene.

I am by nature a quiet person. I have always loved time alone.  I was just as likely to stay in and read all day when I had a free Saturday as I was to go hang out with my friends. I am stuck somewhere in the middle between an introvert and extrovert. The only problem is, being a mother doesn’t really allow you to be an introvert. Unlike when I was younger, I cannot just choose not to be around people for a day or two when I’m feeling that introvert inside of me fighting for the surface.

As a result, every day I find myself looking forward to the couple of hours a day I get to myself when my little Lily goes down for her nap. And every day I struggle with how I should spend that time.

I very rarely waste those precious minutes on a nap.  As heavenly as a nap would be, I don’t want to squander that precious time. There is just not enough of it to waste it on a nap!

I usually wrestle between three options, cleaning (the most boring one, but I can get three times as much done in the same amount of time without constant interruptions), doing my work out (a strange option I suppose, but I am so sick of the kids sitting there and watching me while I work out. It’s like I’m a monkey at the zoo or something. You’d think that the novelty would wear off at some time, but so far . . . not so much!) or writing. It is such a treat to be able to write without the sound of PBS in the background (for example, right now I get to hear the rundown of dinosaur train) and without the constant stream of needs and complaints (suspiciously absent right now . . . I’d better go and check what the little imp has snuck off to! Sure enough, she’d gotten into her brother’s box of markers. Sigh . . .)!

Some of my mom friends have the opposite problem. It’s not the alone time they are so desperately craving, but instead the active social life they need. Whichever end you land on, the point is that being a parent means a whole lot less time to spend on doing the things that we need, the things that make us tick and a whole lot more time going to parks, play areas and zoos.

As great as it is to spend time with our children, I believe that we need to fight for a balance. The truth is, when I am not getting the “me time” I need, I get cranky, dissatisfied and I enter a general funk where I cannot enjoy my children in the way I want to. When I find ways (sometimes with much effort and creativity) to carve out some time for me, I am not only a better person, but also a better mother.

Finding that balance is a daily effort. I am an artist and musician as well as a writer, yet I can’t tell you the last time I picked up my charcoals or sat down to play on the piano. I certainly have not figured this all out. But I am trying, and I will keep trying.

Every few months I find that I need to pull away for a few days. I ignore the house and the list of petty tasks that I always need to do and instead I retreat to a “me” place. I get my balance back. The housework will always be there. A few days won’t hurt anybody. And I get my equilibrium back.

It does not make me a bad mother. It does not make me a bad wife. It makes me a real life woman, admittedly like all the other struggling parents out there trying to find a place for self in the midst of all the clamoring needs around them.

Being a mother is the best thing I have ever done, but I don’t want to lose myself in the process. That wouldn’t be the best for anyone.

Remember that when you feel guilty for leaving that sink full of dishes to make a little time for yourself! Everyone will be happier with a happier mom or dad! They really could care less about the dishes! 😉