Dear Sadie: FOUR

Oh, my sweet and precious girl. As I type, you are in fact nearing three months past turning four, and the mom-guilt I feel for not keeping up with you a little better in this space is a little bit brutal.

Truth is, I should be writing about you every single day, because you are different every single day. Your vocabulary grows and refines daily–just as I was growing accustomed and charmed to you calling them “asternoids”, you figured out that they’re really called “asteroids”. And thanks to Ready Jet Go, your current favorite show, you can also tell us that asteroids are responsible for the craters on the moon. You can also tell us that Neptune has 14 moons, and Mars has two. You know both of their names. You understand why Pluto is no longer a planet, but express your disappointment about it frequently. And frankly, I’m with you on that. I was pulling for Pluto, too. You know all of the planets in order, and know that Uranus is tilted and the red spot on Jupiter is a storm. Though I’ve let you watch way too much TV lately, I’m constantly stunned at just how much you take in. You are so very smart, ladybug.

Your letters are solid, and you’ve gotten all the consonant sounds down- vowels are a little tricky, but we’re working on it. Writing letters hasn’t been of much interest to you, but you write your own name like a pro and are starting to practice other letters/words too. You are something of a perfectionist (something neither of your parents would know anything about) so frustration comes easily. We are working hard on deep breaths, patience, and being willing to try again. It’s a learning curve for us too, baby girl–we are doing our best to model this better for you.

Your personality is EXPLODING. Truly, you are becoming your own person in every single way. Your developing sense of humor is nothing short of delightful. Whenever I make smoothies in the blender, and you cover your ears because you hate the sound, I do a little “blender dance” in the kitchen. You HATE it. It’s like I’ve already leveled up on embarrassing you. Last night while we were getting you ready for bed and playing, you yelled out, “I don’t like your blender dance!” and we all laughed and laughed. You’re starting to understand sarcasm, which is truly momentous for me and I couldn’t be prouder. Often when Dad or I make a joke, you’ll pick up on it, laugh, and say with a sigh, “Oh, mom.” You make some hilarious faces and are starting to appreciate the joy of inside jokes. I love that we are developing our own little language, and have silly things that belong only to our family. Your whole life, I’ve wanted nothing more than for you to feel like our family is your tribe, your people–the ones who see you and GET you. It feels like we are beginning to cultivate our family identity, and it’s such a sweet season because you are so much an active participant now. You make your presence and opinions known. You really, REALLY like to talk (another mystery trait with which I have no familiarity) and you ask, no exaggeration, thousands of questions a day. I do my best to answer them all, and let you know how much I love your curiosity. Because I WANT you to come to me with your questions. I want to be the kind of mama who doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, the scary stuff, or the confusing stuff. And if that means I’m currently the mama who identifies every scene in Moana as we listen to the score in the car, so be it.

You get emotional sometimes. It’s such a contrast to your usual sweet, level-headed, easygoing nature that we have often struggled to respond well. Yesterday, you had an epic meltdown because you couldn’t get your shirt off. There were tears, literal kicking and screaming, the works. And your dad and I looked at each other for a minute like, “What is even happening right now?” and then finally stepped in to try and help you out. Your feelings are big these days, and your big girl body, heart, and mind struggle to contain them. I know my job is to help you hold them. I hope you know I always will, even if I don’t always get it right.

Speaking of big feelings and hard things, our family has been working so hard to add a borther or sister for you. Someday, when I tell you about my four miscarriages and the IVF process we went through this past summer, it will all make sense to you. You love pretending to care for babies, and when you encounter a real one, you are so gentle and loving it cracks my heart open. At press time, I can’t say for certain that you will ever be a big sister, though we are doing our damndest to make that a reality. What I can say for certain is that you would be a really, really good one. Someday I will make a direct apology to you for the distraction that this journey has been. How much of my time, energy, and soul it has taken away from you. It’s a terrible feeling to neglect the child you do have on the quest to have another. I hope you know that the joy that is YOU is what has kept us invested and moving forward. You showed us how wonderful it is to be a mommy and a daddy. And for the record, sweet girl, you still do- a little more every day. And just so you know- a sibling for you would be icing on the cake. You are more than enough to complete our family. Never, ever forget that.

Sweet Sadie, I hope you are loving being four. I pray daily that you find friendship and community. I pray that the world is kind to you, and that when it isn’t, you will still be at peace with yourself. May you learn much sooner than I did that not everyone has to like you. Most of all, I pray for so many more years of watching you grow into the person you’re meant to be. No matter who that is, I’ll always be your biggest fan.

Love you forever,

Mommy

On Grief and Grace.

It’s been over four months since my most recent, most horrible miscarriage, and while I’ve talked about it plenty, I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to write. When you talk about your heartbreak, there is an immediate sense of throwing your pain over a wall, so whomever you’re talking with can take it from you, even if just for a moment. There’s something so freeing about speaking about it, that lifts the burden, however momentarily. Writing is its own brand of healing, certainly—but it’s different. When I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, it’s personal. Until I hit “publish”, these thoughts and these words belong only to me. There is no one else here on my couch to share the burden of what I say here. It’s mine to bear, at least for now. And all these months later, it’s still heavy.

In late October, I needed a break. It took me several days and many private tears to say out loud that I wasn’t handling this well. It felt like some additional failure-like I’d not only failed to carry my child, but now I couldn’t even move on with my life properly? Over time, I’ve come to understand that this is not an uncommon response to miscarriage. Women are so conditioned to NOT talk about this kind of loss, that when it happens and destroys us, we don’t believe it’s okay to be destroyed. With some distance and healing in the rear view, I look back on October and think, “Of COURSE, you needed a break. Three weeks is not a sufficient amount of time to ‘move on’ from losing a pregnancy.” (Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as “sufficient time” to move on from losing a pregnancy. There is no moving on, really.)  So even though I was frustrated to need a break, I asked for one, and checked into a hotel in a little island town.

Across the street from my hotel was a bookstore/coffee shop combo that would make any reader or writer swoon. Since the weather (crisp, cold, perfectly fall) was foggy and prevented doing much sightseeing, I took a notebook and a snack and settled in. And I wrote about grief. It’s funny now, the idea that I could have “figured grief out”, three weeks out from my loss. I mean, my hormone levels were high enough that any pregnancy test I took came up positive. My body certainly hadn’t moved on—what made me think that my heart could be healed so soon? In those days, grief was like my shadow. When the sun was overhead and the days were bright, it would minimize- but as the sun retreated it loomed larger. In the quiet early mornings, too. At night, in the darkness, it seemed to cover everything.

Drinking my iced latte in an overstuffed chair that day, I explored the popular analogy that likens grief to waves. I get why it’s so popular—it works. Like the waves, when you are brave enough to walk with grief, it is ever-present, reliable, rhythmic. Always at your feet, but gentle. When you dive into grief, as under the waves, it swallows you whole, but you are still safe in it. Even swimming with the current of a riptide, while it’s all-consuming and takes you far away from where you began, it will eventually let you go, back to the relative safety of the shore. And so it is with grief:  when you are willing to be IN IT, it takes you over and takes you somewhere new, but sets you there gently. We get into the most trouble when we turn our backs to the waves. When we ignore them, deny their strength, dig our feet into the sand in defiance…we get our asses kicked. Every time. Grief, like the ocean, is a safer place when we acknowledge, “I know that you are infinitely bigger and stronger than I am.  I will not outsmart you or outrun you, so I will follow your lead.”

And as I watched families that day, seemingly all of them with an infant or baby bump in tow, I had no other choice but to take a deep breath, and dive under. I spent the first weeks after bidding farewell to the third pregnancy, third DREAM in a row fighting grief. I fought acknowledging the truth that what happened to our family was devastating and unfair. I fought with busyness and contrived silver linings and constant empty reminders that “there must be a better plan.” I fought, and I lost. I got my ass kicked, every time. After three weeks, I’d been so thrashed by the surf I didn’t know which way was up. I was like that woman on the beach who tried to gracefully exit the water and ended up with sand in places she dare not say, and a bikini top floating 50 feet away. But way less amusing. So I dove under. I let grief wash over me and under me. And it was the safest I’d felt in months.

But just so you know, I didn’t “solve” grief that day in October.

I cried on Halloween because had our first pregnancy stayed, I could have worn a bump-highlighting costume. Like an avocado, or fish bowl.

I was sad on my birthday in December, because I had been looking forward to another pregnant birthday.

I was heartbroken on Christmas, because December 25 was the due date for our first lost baby.

Every month that has gone by without a new pregnancy, I have grieved. Even though I left feeling empowered and hopeful, I struggled with my first fertility clinic appointment, because as any loss mama can tell you—it wasn’t supposed to be this way. And in all of this, I have celebrated, too- a healthy, beautiful child, a husband I love, family and friends I adore, and a growing career. Grief hasn’t taken my joy, but has certainly changed it.

Truth be told, I don’t know what happens next. We could be pregnant in a few weeks and have a healthy baby in November. We could have another miscarriage. We could pursue IVF. We could give up. I don’t know. But I know wherever the tide takes us, we’ll get back to the shore.

I didn’t solve grief. But I did something better- I made peace with it. I made space for it. Somewhere in my soul, I’ve found grace for it. And when I follow its lead, grief returns the favor and gives it all back.

Peace. Space. Grace.

 

 

 

 

Between 33 and Me.

December 1 is my birthday. There are now just 28 days between me and 33. And as is my pattern every year in the weeks leading up to my birthday, I’m reflecting on the year I’ve had, and hoping, dreaming, and planning for the one ahead.

Age 32 was…transformative. The past year has held so many beginnings and endings—some of them have been bittersweet, some have been only sweet, and some have been decidedly bitter. I started 32 about 65% of the way through my master’s degree. I was attending classes and interning 3-4 days a week, and sometimes more. Thinking back on that season of endless deadlines and meetings, papers and tests, early mornings and late nights, I really and truly can’t believe that a. it happened, and b. we survived. Only now, four months removed from school, am I able to really assess the havoc graduate school unleashed on our lives. People have told me since day one of my program: “I don’t know how you do it.” And now, as life is still hectic and full, I look back on that season and wonder for myself, “No, really-how DID you do it?” Well, I had a lot of help, and asked a lot of my husband and daughter.  As for the rest, I guess Jesus took the wheel.  I don’t miss the exhaustion or the stress, but I sure do miss the people I walked that road alongside. Graduating was the greatest relief I’ve ever felt, but leaving my school family broke my heart a little. Bittersweet.

Through my entire 32nd year, we were trying to have another baby. It took months to get pregnant at all, and we went on to lose three pregnancies in a row. So, so bitter. There is more to say on this, on the lessons grief is teaching me, about letting go, about comparison and joy and contentment. And someday soon, I’ll say it all out loud, but for now, all I can say is that there is sweetness there, too.

I’ve lost friends this year—not in any dramatic fashion, but in the way that people grow and change, so too do their relationships. I’ve done quite a bit of growing and changing this year. Perhaps I’ve “outgrown” some people, and/or some have outgrown ME. The latter is kind of a striking thought, but it’s convicting and it’s true. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When any relationship doesn’t work out, or runs its course, it doesn’t have to mean that one person was the good guy and the other bad. It really just means that we aren’t on the same page anymore. The story is beautiful on their page and on mine. We’re just in different places. This acknowledgment brings a bit of anxiety though, because it forces the issue of knowing where you’re at, and owning that particular place in your story, however unfamiliar it may feel. It can be something of a lonely place, too, but there is freedom in knowing that I can bring full authenticity to whatever comes next. Bittersweet, again.

I started a business this year, and I’ll level with you—it’s been a slow start. I’m finding I’m doing battle with every “You didn’t think this through” and “What made you think you would be successful here?” demon that comes my way. No one else says these words, by the way. Just that damned inner dialog that won’t quit. And yet, in true Brené Brown fashion, I am crashing forward into unfamiliar territory, vulnerable and open as I can be. Where I may have once backed down I’m digging in, and it feels good. Sure, it may all completely crash and burn, but my gut tells me it’s going to be okay. So sweet.

I’ll be turning 33 in a dark time for our country and for our world. My daughter is only three, and I still want another child. Part of me wonders if it was a mistake to bring her/them into such a broken place. I fear for her future, for THE future, because so much feels hopeless and out of control. So my goal for next year is to do what I can, and encourage others to do what THEY can, and heal the pain in the world I’ve been trained and blessed to heal. There is still SO. MUCH. BEAUTY.  It’s everywhere, if you’re looking for it. For me, part of noticing it will be putting down my phone a little more often. Fine. A lot more often. I’m writing about 33 when it isn’t even guaranteed to me. Like everyone should, I will plan and fight for a better future, but I’m not promised tomorrow. So I will also aim to present, healthy, strong. In this beautiful and messy world, there is so much more to see and to do. I’m here for it. Bitter, and sweet.

Finally, the most valuable thing I’ve learned at age 32 is this: Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be too easy on yourself either. I know there are areas in which I’ve worked too hard, and areas I haven’t worked hard enough. Balancing the two will be an ongoing adventure.

So many dreams for 33. I want to grow a business, a family, and a woman (the woman is me, in case that wasn’t clear.) I want to sing, dance, write, travel, and laugh my ass off- alone and with every person I love. I want to drop all the pretense and show UP in the world that so desperately needs exactly what I (and you) have to give it. And the rest, I suppose, is between 33 and me.

 

Sweet.

 

Missed.

I sat in the waiting room of my midwives’ office, absently playing on my phone to pass the time. I checked my husband’s location- he was somewhere on the hospital campus, and I snapped a screenshot and sent it to him, captioned, “this eases my anxiety a bit.” When he walked in and sat down next to me, I reassured myself that this pregnancy was different. It wasn’t like the miscarriage we’d had at five weeks back in April, nor the chemical pregnancy we’d experienced just four weeks later. This time, the pink lines on the pregnancy tests were strong and dark. There’d been no bleeding, only minor cramping, and best of all—a sweet, strong heartbeat just 12 days ago.

With the medical assistant, we discussed how I’d been feeling, our future appointments, and took my weight and blood pressure. When the midwife came in, we got straight to the point- let’s see this baby! I made a passing comment about my anxiety, how you can never quite believe everything is fine in a pregnancy when you’ve experienced the very opposite of fine. Still, I felt confident as she applied the cold gel to the ultrasound scanner and lifted my shirt.

When the screen lit up, my first thought was, “Wow, it’s dark in there.” She moved from one side, to the next. “How far along do we think we are?”, she asked.

“8 weeks, 6 days”, I replied. And I didn’t think, I was certain.

More searching, more zooming, more silence.

“How accurate are your dates?”

“Pretty foolproof.”

Then I knew. I knew she wasn’t seeing what she needed to be seeing for how far along we were supposed to be. I knew I wasn’t going to be meeting my April 30th baby. She set down her instrument, and told me we had a couple of options: we could use the transvaginal ultrasound to see what was going on, or we could wait a few days and go for a more sophisticated ultrasound. I couldn’t look at my sweet husband yet, and still couldn’t tell you if he understood what was happening at this point. So I looked at my midwife, the one who’d delivered my daughter, and told her to get the transvaginal scanner.

“I’m going to want to get this over with, aren’t I?”

She didn’t reply. When she stepped out of the room, the tears started to flow. “Maybe we have a hider?”, my husband ventured. “No, we don’t”, I whispered. “We don’t have anything”, I thought. When the midwife returned, she didn’t try to tell us it would be okay, or maybe we were mistaken. She only told us she was so sorry—she knew how much we’d been through this year. I swore to myself I wouldn’t look when she finally found what she’d been looking for, but found I couldn’t look away. Measuring at 7 weeks, 1 day—our baby. Our “rainbow” baby, the one we were sure would redeem all the pain of our previous losses, the one we’d cried happy tears for, the one we’d celebrated with our closest friends and family. Our rainbow baby, suspended in darkness, missing the flicker of life that had once filled us with hope.

She left the room for a moment, and we cried together. My legs still splayed open, ultrasound goop all over me, completely exposed in every way. I finally whispered, “I need to get dressed”, and stood up on shaky legs.

When she returned, she presented the three courses of action one could take in a “missed miscarriage”. One, I could take medication that would contract my uterus and hopefully move the process along (no). Two, I could wait up to four weeks and see if my body miscarried naturally (hell no). The third option was surgery. As she described the procedure (I won’t do it here, but if you aren’t familiar with a D&C, Google will inform you), I watched my husband hang his head in sadness. I told her, without question, I wanted the surgery. It may have been the most expensive and invasive option, but I couldn’t bear to be a time bomb, and I couldn’t bear to witness another dream depart my body. Once was enough.

Actually, once was more than enough. To go through this again seems cruel and unusual. But it ISN’T. That’s the totally screwed up part about all of this—most of the medical community has assured us that what we’ve gone through is NORMAL. Pardon me, but what in the actual hell is NORMAL about any of this? As I’ve walked this road, I’ve heard stories from so many women—family members, strangers, close friends, who have lost one, two, three or more pregnancies. And through my own searing pain I want to ask all of them, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME? Why on earth would you go through this alone? When even your rainbow baby faded away, why didn’t you reach out?”

But then, I get it. This isn’t a club anyone wants to belong to, but it’s bigger than any of us knows. In the same way those of us who have lost a pregnancy are certain every pregnant woman we see is personally attacking us with her occupied uterus, we are also convinced that no one wants to touch us and our scarlet M. I am writing this for two reasons: One, it is my own brand of therapy, because even my therapist is pregnant right now, and how’s that for irony? And two, because I want you to know that if you are reading this and know what I’m feeling, I am reaching out and holding on to you with every ounce of my strength. You are seen, and you are loved.

And to my sweet April 30th baby, the one we “missed”. You will always be just that—missed. I never held you, but I carried you. And that is an honor I will feel in my soul for the rest of my days. I will always remember you as the child whose loss shook me to my core, whose short existence transformed mine in ways I don’t yet understand. I am grateful for every day we had together. I’ll love you forever.

Mommy

April 30

Dear Sadie: TWO…and a half.

Little girl, I cannot believe you are halfway between two and three. Turning two felt reasonable–still basically a baby, just getting a little bit older. You still had pretty short hair then and leaned on the petite side of things, but now…now you’re a little girl.

Your hair is still taking its time to grow, but these days you rock a little half-up, half-down ponytail that adds about three inches to your height. You *probably* have enough hair to wear other styles, but your hair-inept mom is too nervous to take on the cowlick right on your hairline.

Right around the time your hair started to grow, your body kicked the growing thing into overdrive-strangers tell me all the time : “She’s so tall!” I don’t really notice how tall you’re actually getting until I see you in someone’s arms, or you reach up and grab something off the counter I was certain you couldn’t reach. You’re wearing size 3T now, which still floors me, daily. You are “long and lean” like your dad these days, showing now signs of slowing down. You have a sweet little gap between your front teeth that just melts me, and the way you run is so amazing. You seem to just launch yourself forward and then let your momentum propel you. When you stop, you literally jump to “land.” Your favorite toys these days are the race track and cars your Papa got you for Christmas and your trampoline (which you called a “jumpoline” for the first two weeks you owned it). You love coloring and stickers, and are known to decorate the whole family when you get your hands on a sheet of them. If we remove the stickers, you will ask where they’ve gone. You miss absolutely nothing.

Speaking of Christmas, your third one was magical. You were old enough this year to help me pick out a little green and gold dress, and watching you twirl, with your white tights and gold Mary Janes just melted me. You seemed to understand that Christmas was a big deal, and loved our Christmas tree and making cookies with your grandmothers. Seeing you dump half of a container of sprinkles on a single cookie was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Did I mention that it SNOWED? A white Christmas! You’ll learn as you get older that our area is not known for such things, and the whole scene was just surreal. You opened your presents and forever cemented your love for the holiday. As the adult family members opened their own gifts, you stood on a box with your new toy microphone, belting out song after song at full volume.

I guess this brings me to your personality–it is magnificent. You are equal parts sweet and spicy. You love, LOVE to sing–this thrills me to no end. You have learned songs I never taught you, and can perform pretty much any song ever sung on an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (which, BTW, has been replaced by “Dinosaur Train” as your favorite show). You sing without any hesitation whatsoever, and your joy is contagious. You are a big talker, and we no longer count your words or sentences, because you seem to have moved on to full conversations. We can chat about traffic (“No thank you Mommy, I dont think I want traffic right now”), or the weather (“It’s such a sunny day,  I think I need my glasses!”), or body parts (“Mommy, wow! Is that your nipple? Daddy has a penis. Where’s your penis, Mommy?”) You tell me when you’re scared, when you’re sad, when you’re happy, etc. When we’re playing a game or doing something silly, you start laughing and shouting, “this is fun, this is fun, this is fun!” ad nauseum until the activity is over. You are a toddler, as as such, you have plenty of moments of not listening, whining, screaming a piercing scream out of nowhere for (seemingly) no good reason. Most nights you sleep well, but sometimes you’ll still rouse us in the middle of the night. If it’s a particularly difficult night, your Daddy ends up sleeping on your floor, but those are growing fewer and fewer.

Generally, you have an incredibly sweet disposition and love your friends and family so much. You are a pretty easy child to take in public–if I bring snacks, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll behave well and enjoy yourself. You’re so observant and interested in your surroundings, outings are an adventure for you. You love being outside and going to the park, which I’ll confess we haven’t done much of recently on account of rain and your mom being a wimp. Your dad and I are hoping to welcome a sibling for you at some point, but have some fears that a second child will be a terror (if you’re reading this someday, second child, we love you!). What I mean to say is, while we are trying our best to raise you well, we’re fairly confident that you just came to us this wonderful, and so much of your personality is inherent to YOU.

A couple of other details: Your molars are almost all in. You still sleep in your crib and have (to my knowledge) never attempted to escape. So, we’re in no big hurry to promote you to a toddler bed–we all like our sleep. You aren’t potty trained and show zero desire to be. You’ll tell us when you’re peeing or need to poop, but will refuse to do so anywhere but a diaper. I’m doing a fair amount of deep breathing on this, but know when you’re good and ready, you’ll tackle potty training like you do everything else–your way.

Sadie, you are becoming a real, live person- I’m so proud of the one that you are. I love the way you share your thoughts and sing out loud. I pray every day for the patience and wisdom to encourage every sweet and strong quality you possess, so you will never lose the spirit you have now. It’s true what they say about kids- EVERY age is the best age.

Thank you for the honor of being your mommy-I’m grateful for every single minute.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Dear Sadie: TWO

Oh, my sweet girl.

You are TWO years old. Actually, you’ve been two for about 6 weeks now, but nevermind that. And we love you, SO MUCH. Your birthday falls in the heart of summer, so celebrating you fell in the midst of many other adventures.

In June, you started attending day care twice a week. Just the very act of putting you in the care of strangers wasn’t in the plan when you were born. But as my time in grad school has unfolded, and it became clear that my internship would require me to be away for at least 2 days a week, we made the decision to try it out. Because I used to teach preschool and know that putting on a brave face and staying consistent were key to your adjusting well, I kissed you goodbye on your first day and walked away as your cries echoed after me. Know this, my love–you stopped crying before I did that morning. I locked myself in a bathroom stall and tried to get it together. Waves of guilt washed over me, wondering if I was doing the right thing–was I being too selfish? After all, you didn’t NEED to be there. I hid out in the coffee shop operated by the church that houses your day care, and ducked behind pillars whenever your class walked by. I did a double take the first time I saw you. You fit so well in that little group of toddlers, yet managed to stand out, chatting loudly and happily to anyone who would listen. I was so proud of you in that moment, and so relieved that I cried again. Once again, as always, you showed me: “Mommy, I’ve got this.” In a moment where I did not feel at all like I had this, or had anything at all, you did.

You have a knack for that, kiddo: proving to me that I’m doing just fine here as your mama. You are two now, and are further spreading your wings, testing your limits and my patience. And on the days I feel like a failure, like I’m failing you and failing the world because you keep yelling “STOP IT!” at the top of your lungs, and I’m convinced that I’m the mom raising an asshole, you somehow find ways to remind me that really, we’re doing okay. After screeching with frustration, flailing about when you don’t get your way, literally kicking and screaming for most of an afternoon, you’ll suddenly remember to say “please” before demanding another snack. Then you’ll say “thank you”. You might help me clean up your toys when I ask, or give me unprompted hugs and kisses. You might say, “I luh you, Mommy” and shatter my heart a little, but those are the times I know: I’m doing okay. And for the record, every mom of toddlers is raising an asshole at some point or another. Everything you do is developmentally normal and appropriate. God help us all.

You are a natural caretaker, Sadie. You are constantly rocking your baby dolls, covering them with blankets and giving them “pats” (read: smacking them repeatedly on the back). When Daddy or I stub our toes, you’ll say “Daddy, you ok?” or “Mommy, need a kiss?” Yesterday, I was carrying a stack of boxes into the kitchen and you exclaimed, “Whoa, Mommy! Be careful!” The way you love the people in your life brings me such sweet reassurance that Daddy and I, for all of our imperfections, are doing something right in this whole parenting gig.

It will surprise NO ONE who knows me that you are a big talker. You’ve been speaking in full sentences for months, and are still rapidly picking up language. When we visited our family in Ohio this summer, your 8-year-old cousin Cooper was frustrated with his video game and shouted, “Oh, come ON!” No less than once a day now, you still say, “Oh, tum ON! Cooper says ‘tum on!” Needless to say, we watch we say around you now, and marvel almost daily at the words you know. As your abilities continue to grow, I am always both impressed and a little sad when you master something new. For months, when you were done with dinner, you’d say “All Dee!” Then one day out of the blue, you threw your hands in the air and proclaimed, “All done!” And we cheered you on, but I was sad. You used to say “Oh no, I all down!” whenever you fell. Now you clearly say, “I fall down!”, and I mourn another little bit of you I won’t get back. For the longest time, your feet wouldn’t leave the ground when you attempted to jump. When they did, I knew we’d left another sweet piece of your story behind us.  I bet that’s how it will always go, where you are concerned–desperately missing what’s gone, while breathlessly anticipating what’s to come.

Sadie, there are so many Sadie-isms I’d like to immortalize here. The way you sing to yourself when you think we aren’t paying attention to you in the car. The way you laugh and jump when you’re excited, and the gap in your teeth that shows best when you’re screaming mad. The way you say, “applesauce”, “Microsoft”, and “Mooooommy!”, 756 times a day. I want to remember forever the way your feet sound as you run around the house from one activity to the next. I want to remember the way your eyes light up and your eyebrows raise when you hear Daddy come home from work. And please, dear God, don’t ever let me forget the way your little body stills fits against mine when I’m snuggling you at bedtime. The way your hair smells after a bath, and your morning breath in my face early in the morning. Baby, I want to memorize every single second with you.

So much of your future in this world is uncertain. History will show the early years of your life as tumultuous at best. I won’t detail them all here, but suffice to say that I have so many things to fear about the planet you’re growing up on, and the impact it will have on you. But kiddo, you keep making me braver. Every single day. I’m praying that together with your Daddy and all the people we love, we can navigate it all. I have to believe that you’ll just keep showing me:

Mommy, I’ve got this.

On to the next year, my darling.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Sadie 2

 

On Self-Care.

It seems that my last post resonated with some of you…thank you to all who reached out to share your own stories and encourage me.

I’m learning that honesty is the best policy. I mean, definitely don’t lie…that one seems simple enough. But I’m talking about that brutal, scary, “I can’t believe she just said that out loud” kind of honesty. The more I live, the more I believe that withholding your truth is more damaging than an outright lie.

So, dear readers, the truth is what you shall get.

In my intended field of counseling, “self care” is vital. My professors and textbooks have all driven home the fact that mental health professionals have an ethical responsibility to take care of ourselves, and to do it well.

Do it WELL. That’s where I’ve gotten a little off -track. You see, I know what self-care is supposed to look like: Exercise, eating well, rest, treating yourself! It looks different for everyone, but those are some of the biggies. So for the last two semesters of graduate school, I’ve found myself in a fun cycle of binge eating in front of Netflix (Rest! Treat yo’ self!) and then out of guilt for said junk food and TV binge, shamed myself into a week or so of eating well and overexercising.

Word to the wise: The word SHAME should never enter into a successful self-care regimen.

After one particularly nasty week of crap eating, I had something of a revelation: This is not self care. It’s self-indulgence followed by self-loathing. So I had to ask myself: Where are your attempts at self-care coming from? What motivates them? And all I could come up with was, “Because I have to, and because it’ll fix what’s wrong with my body.”

Huh.

So I thought some more about care in general. I thought of the person I care for the most, and care for the best: My daughter.

I make sure she gets enough sleep. I feed her well, but let her have a treat from time to time. I am always ensuring that she stays hydrated, gets enough exercise, spends time outdoors, wears sunscreen, and doesn’t watch too much TV. I make every effort, EVERY DAY to tell her that she is worthy and loved. Not a day goes by that she isn’t held, hugged, kissed, and cherished.

Why do I take such good care of my daughter? Well, that’s easy: I love her.

Ah.

There it is. Why am I failing at self-care? Because true care doesn’t come from a place of obligation or ulterior motive. It certainly doesn’t come from self-loathing or indulgence.  And regarding indulgence: It’s important to note that not all effective care is permissive. Sometimes it does take discipline. Sometimes it’s flossing and getting in bed at 8:30, when the indulgence would be to grab a remote and the other half of a chocolate Easter bunny. My daughter may not like that we brush her teeth despite her protests, but it keeps her healthy–so we do it.

Effective, lasting self-care can only come from sound knowledge of a single truth: I love myself.

I. LOVE. MYSELF.

So much easier said than done, am I right? But each day, I’m taking steps in that direction. I’m trying not to ask “Is this the best or perfect thing?” and instead am trying to discern, with each choice I make, “Is this loving?” It might mean skipping a workout for a conversation with my husband. Or choosing yoga instead of a run because dammit, I’ve put on 15 pounds and my knees are killing me. It could mean a myriad of things for each of us, but it should never include guilt over what we “should be” doing, or what someone else might be doing.

I’m not an expert at this. It’s been like a week since I’ve had this little epiphany and three days in I got a cold and ended up on the couch, drowning my sorrows in a quesadilla while my third episode of Big Little Lies ran in the background. And believe me, the post-game analysis of that lapse in judgment was not kind.

But today, I’m trying again. I’ll try again tomorrow too. I will keep speaking words of love to myself until I believe them, because they are TRUE.

Let’s take care of ourselves…and start with love.

Contained.

Alright, Jess. It seems you’ve hit something of a crossroads here. Something about your way of living this life isn’t working. You’ve spend so much of your energy studying who everyone else is and what they’re doing. You’re desperate to be loved for who you are—and in your best moments, when you let your own clouds part and you shine, you ARE. But more often than not you mope around, scrolling through social media, trying to figure out what you “need” to be so that you can somehow become that and then take part in everything you think you’re missing out on.

You are anxious, discontent, and bitter. And reading those words, you’re thinking, “No! I’m way more than that! That’s not fair!”

Honey, you are so right. It’s not fair at all. It’s not fair how often you don’t see the little miracles that make up every day of your life, because you’re worried about how social media may perceive them.  It’s not fair that you spend all your money on overpriced coffee and food to fill a void you created in yourself. It’s not fair that you deprive the world of so many of your gifts and talents—truly, some of the best parts of yourself– because you don’t think you’re thin enough, or cool enough for other people to appreciate what you have to give.

Girl, you haven’t worn jeans and a t-shirt in nearly a year. Yes, your body has grown and changed, and instead of accommodating it and decorating it with clothes that fit, you’ve worn leggings and sweatshirts, hoping they’ll stretch just enough to contain you. And you….you keep stretching too. You’re ripping apart at the seams with all you’re trying to hold together.

But what if—stay with me here—your body wasn’t meant to be contained? What if YOU aren’t meant to be contained? I mean, obviously you need to get dressed every day. But really, what is so wrong with a size large t-shirt and size 10 jeans if they’re what you need to feel okay right now? Why are you living in stretchy pants and flowy tops, or wearing actual indentations into your skin from pants that just don’t fit you anymore?

And more importantly, why are you blending in, holding your breath, and wearing tracks into your soul with a life that just doesn’t fit you anymore either?

It’s about so much more than weight. You must know that by now. You’ve known it all along, I bet. But you’d never be able to put your finger on what it really IS about. So you’ve gone back to the treadmill, back to the scale, and back to the fridge, willing just one of them to give you some mother-loving answers, or at least a little bit of relief. But the scale only gives you higher numbers. The fridge, empty calories. And the treadmill has most recently given you a mean case of shin splints. They have all leveled at you a heavy dose of shame.

FUCK. Aren’t you tired of this? Can we move on from this game you’ll never win? Please?

So okay, enough. But what now? Yesterday you sat in your counselor’s office, paralyzed by your inability to figure this all out. It comes down to two questions, he said:

  1. What do you want?
  2. Why do you want it?

Twenty-four hours and counting later, you’re learning that answering question #2 brings you to a fresh incarnation of question #1—so many of the things you think you want are merely empty promises. You’re still digging to uncover whatever it is you really need. Something that is real and sustaining. Something true. But you’re not digging down. You’ve dug yourself into holes before. It’s dark, scary, and flings dirt all over everything. This time, you’ll need to dig yourself OUT, until you can find solid ground to stand on again.

That’s bound to burn some calories, yeah? You DO need to be healthier. Go ahead and buy the next size up, but know that your physical condition IS important. And you’ll get to that—but not before you start the process of bringing yourself back to health in every other way—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Grab a shovel. We’ve got some work to do.

Blog Pic

Ghost Town.

This morning was one of those mornings where everything is clicking. Through a glorious combination of waking up early enough and a toddler who slept a little longer than usual, I was able to work out, shower, and have her breakfast made before I retrieved her from her crib. We planned to visit my grandmother  in a rehab facility, where she’s been recovering from a stroke.

But since things were going my way and the sun was shining, I decided we’d leave early and take a detour to the beach in Edmonds, WA. “It’s an Edmonds kind of day”, I thought.

Edmonds is a sweet little town nestled into the beaches and hills on and above Puget Sound, north of Seattle.  It has a main street with cute shops, a ferry dock, and train tracks running right along the water. “It’s an Edmonds kind of day” is an ad slogan from the 80s and 90s, and many longtime residents still proudly display it on bumper stickers and faded, coffee-stained mugs. And in addition to all it has going for it, this charming little town holds so much of my history.

My grandmother grew up there, and her father worked as a baker downtown at the Edmonds bakery. She and my grandpa settled there after raising their six children, first in a giant house on Vista Way, and then a condo with a panoramic view of the sound, the Olympic Mountains, the ferry, and the trains. When they weren’t snowbirding in Arizona, they lived out their days together to the rhythm of foghorns and train whistles.  Her sister, a widow, lived just a mile or so away until she passed in 2010. My grandfather died four years later. In his living room, surrounded by his wife, his children, and me, while the trains and ferries kept up their schedules outside.

As my grandma recovers, their condo sits empty, but spring is in full bloom all around it. Driving into town today, I passed the Chinese restaurant where all 20+ of us used to crowd into the back room, stuffing ourselves with potstickers and chow mein, and my cousins and I would order Shirley Temples with like 9 cherries. I passed the ice cream shop my grandma would take us to, and the park where we held her 60th birthday party…26 years ago. I passed the churches where funerals were held for both of my grandfathers, and the house my uncle lived in until last year, where we’d spent the 4th of July with the best view of the fireworks in town, for so many summers. I smiled at the brewery my grandpa would take us to so we could make root beer, every Christmas. I passed the library where my cousin got married, and the hospital where I was born. I can’t turn a corner in that town without a memory of someone, or everyone, I love.

And for a few aching moments today, it felt unfamiliar and sad. The backdrop to so many of my sweetest days so far felt like a ghost town, empty of all of the people who made those days so precious. For a second I wanted to turn around. I didn’t want to face this place that wasn’t the same anymore, because that would mean that I’m not the same anymore, and I’d have to admit that those sweet days are over. But I glanced in my rear view at my tiny passenger. I’d promised her a beach today, after all.

Sadie Edmonds

 

And suddenly, like so many things do, this place so sacred to me became fresh again through her eyes. It wasn’t sad, and it wasn’t empty of people I love. The person I love the most in the world was standing right next to me, full of life and joy and exclamations of “Boat!” and “Choo-choo!” And just like that, I made a brand new memory in Edmonds.

We left the beach and visited my Grandma. My mom met us there, and I watched in awe as my tiny girl interacted with them both, and felt the blessing of four generations of women, still living and breathing in the same room, together. As I drove Sadie home, I made peace with my ghost town, somewhere in my soul. The apparitions of my past aren’t there to hurt me or make me feel sad. They’re there to comfort me, to make me strong and remind me of where I come from, and where I’ll always belong…where my little girl will always belong, too.

I hope I never fail to see them.

After all, some ghosts are friendly.

Edmonds

Dear Sadie: 18 months…ish.

Hey kiddo.

Yeah, I know. You’ll be 20 months old tomorrow. TWENTY. As in, 4 months away from two. But I can’t let this season go by without trying to record some of the sweet things you’re doing, and how we (somehow) love you more every day.

Presently, you have 13 teeth, with the 14th threatening to appear at any moment. You have started to run, a gait that seems propelled by sheer momentum, and is often accompanied by your sweet chatter. Sometimes, I’ll hear your little voice wobbling “whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa”, in perfect rhythm with the thundering of your tiny little feet. You love to dance, which involves holding your hands in the air and twirling, slowly, in a circle. It’s possible that you get this from me. You “jump”. As in, you swing your whole body in a sort of distorted gallop, with the biggest grin on your sweet face. Your feet have yet to leave the ground, but you don’t seem to mind. And really, neither do I. The day will come when you finally execute a real live jump, and as I celebrate your victory,  I know I’ll start missing your grinning and galloping. You’re loving to pretend these days. When we go to your playroom, you’ll make a beeline for your play kitchen and say “eat!” while you build sandwiches and scramble eggs with your wooden food and utensils. When you determine that the meal is ready, you enthusiastically jab a toy fork at my mouth, encouraging me to “bite?”

You love puzzles and are pretty good at them. In the past week, you’ve discovered your Mega Blocks and will spend 20 minutes at a time building, taking apart, and rebuilding your “towah”. You can identify all of the (capital) letters of the alphabet…almost entirely due to your “laptop” toy. While we cook or do dishes, you stand perched on your learning tower, pressing the buttons over and over. We like to call out, “Sadie, where’s the ___?” and watch you race to locate and press the corresponding button.  You can identify the numbers 1,2,3,5, 6, and 9. Usually. You’re getting pretty good at color identification, though blue, purple, and–your very favorite–yellow, are your most consistent. You love to learn, and we love to watch you.

And oh, my girl…how you do love to talk. When we are home, you are rarely silent. I’ve lost count of the words you know, and you’re adding to your vocabulary every single day. You have started speaking in 2-3 word sentences, and your current verbal masterpiece is the 4-word Whopper: “I bush ma teet” (I brush my teeth!) Kiddo, you are so full of smiles and spunk. While you are a true toddler and can throw down an exhausted tantrum with the best of them, you still manage to maintain your sweet and happy demeanor most of the time. So far, you’re a pretty good listener. I’m doing my damndest to keep you that way, even as you test your boundaries. Your new favorite protests involve diaper changes and getting dressed. You’ll run laps around your bedroom in a diaper. When we repeat our requests, you often wander in the corner and stand facing the wall, occasionally turning around to shoot us a frown. The first time you did it, I forgot all about effective parenting and burst out laughing. Never a dull moment with you, kiddo. I love that we can communicate with you now, and hearing you respond to our questions melts our hearts, even when your response is an emphatic “NO!”

It still takes you awhile to warm up to new people and situations. When I leave you in the church nursery or with friends, they’ll often report that you were happy but quiet. It makes me a little sad to hear this, because I worry about you feeling anxious and nervous without Daddy or I around, and because I want other people to get to see the side of you that I do–the loud, boisterous, hilarious girl I love so much. But like you do, you are teaching me in this. You’re showing me that you and I are different…for all of the ways you ARE like me, with your love for music and books and letters, you are SO MUCH your own person. When you are reserved in new situations, I’m learning to find comfort in your temperament, and learning to champion this part of you and protect it. You have an innate ability to keep the best parts of yourself close until you, and only you, are ready. I will always do my best to keep you safe, but there will be times in your life when I can’t protect you…In your tiny little soul I see the beginnings of a young woman who will know to protect herself, as much as she can, until she is sure she can trust her surroundings. I pray that I will keep celebrating this part of you, even when I wish that the whole world could know the you that I know. You will only share the best of you with the people who have earned your trust…that, my precious girl, is something I learned far too late, and some never learn at all.

Speaking of when I leave you places…you’re starting  part-time daycare in two months, and I’m not coping well. I’m starting my internship this summer, and we need to make sure you’ll be taken care of. I’d wanted to find a way to keep you home and close, but financially and logistically, daycare was the right answer. I can’t tell you how often fear just grips my heart when I think about leaving you for the first time. We’ve never left you in the care of anyone but family or friends, save for the church nursery…and on those mornings, we don’t leave the building. The idea of spending the entire day a 10-15 minute drive from you makes me cringe. The fact that your caregivers will have numerous other children to supervise and won’t be able to monitor your every move terrifies me too. The “what-ifs” that have run through my thoughts range from mildly neurotic to completely paranoid.

But the thing is, and I’ve said it before: Your safety is never fully in my hands. Your life is ALWAYS in God’s hands. I am clinging to this truth as we prepare for this next chapter in your life. I pray that above all that you’ll stay safe. And I pray that you’ll adjust quickly and well, and that you’ll feel happy and loved and secure in the knowledge that Daddy and I love you more than anything in the world.

This season, sweet girl, is a tough one. Nearly two years after becoming parents, we are still struggling to figure out how to balance jobs and school and housework with being good partners for each other and good parents to you. Baby girl, I feel like I’m failing more often than not. Someday I’ll be able to tell you why I decided to pursue this graduate school dream when I did, and all the ways it’s stretching and growing me into a better woman, who is slowly starting to resemble the person I’d like to be. We can talk about the state of our world, and why it’s so important for our future, for YOUR future, that I learn how to help people, especially women. And I hope you’ll understand. And I hope you’ll be proud.

Lord knows I’m proud of you. As always, my love, keep on growing, full speed ahead.

But take your time.

Love you forever,

Mommy