Joy in Four Parts

1

The baby is both things incarnate: the embodiment of joy, and unexpected. Even now, almost a year later, I still look at her in astonishment. Is she really ours? I take a beat before I recognize our reflection as a family of five. Who is that family with three children, outnumbered? Spilling noisily out of a grocery aisle, or strolling loose and easy to the park like, it’s no big deal, what’s one more? She is our big deal. She is our more, and her whole face shows it. She opens her mouth as she takes her first wobbly steps, holding my hands. Ha! Ha! she shouts, looking at me, eyes wide. Did you know this, mama? Did you know the world contained this miracle, this walking? I have doubts about my own purposes here, but I know our baby’s. She came here to be joy.

2

He is so small, so heavy with tears each day, and so much lighter– like a bird– than his constant motion makes him seem. Every day I wonder: Who are you? Who will you be? Our birthdays are five days apart, with 35 years between us, and when he was born I thought, Here is a child who will be like me. We will understand each other, like January people do. In some things, that’s true. Today, working on the solar system puzzle together, slowly, on the kitchen table. Making a nest of blankets on the couch for us to read books in. How he never wants to NOT be wearing pajamas. But then, the abandon with which he sends his trucks into the block towers, whooping at their destruction. The shock of his delight. The shock that it doesn’t take sameness, that I don’t need to share his tastes to share the blaze of his happiness.

3

My first light, my bright girl, she laughs loud. She’s so silly, so ever in the mood for a game it’s easy to miss how soft she is, how easily, deeply wounded. Her quick hug around my waist at the stove where I’m cooking, seeing me frustrated with her brother, stepping around the baby. The many all-caps drawings in pen she makes for us. LOVE SKY FOR MAMA DADA ILOVEYOU SO MUTH. I had bought all the books, last year, to teach her to read. I was going to follow all the steps and now it’s like she’s taken flight. I’m watching her learn it on her own, among her friends at school, trying out different spellings at the kitchen table, or picking up on letters in the wild when we’re out driving, her whole face lighting up in the rearview.

4

The grass in the meadow had curved low on the ground in a pattern like clouds, and the kids were running in it, in the breathless, expectant way of children. They don’t know what comes next or where they’re going, they just know they have to be there, be in it. We called them back from the edge where the grass darkened into bog, picked them up to take a picture with us, in the spot where we were married ten years before. I remembered looking at the stand of pines in the near distance, thinking to myself– Could there ever be joy as deep as this? With him, with us, together, could life ever really be that hard? Yes, I thought, holding our children close in the meadow. And yes.

Just Write

I haven’t written a post in over a month. I feel like I’ve been wringing every last bit of energy and time out of each day, and the truth is, most days there just hasn’t been much left of either. Each day dawns a little sooner, each night curves down a little later, and it seems like that should equal some spare change in the jar. Instead, we’re out planting ferns and groundcover in the backyard as dusk falls, finishing the second coat of paint in the basement bathroom, wiping the last counter and wondering how it could be 10 already.

Spring has opened all the little envelopes of the flowers. In this part of the world, the letters inside are nothing short of spectacular. One by one, we’re discovering the plants we’ve inherited from the hands who tended these gardens before us. Two daphne bushes in the corner of the drive, little clusters of pink and purple with a scent that stops you in your tracks. A pacific dogwood, taller and more reserved than its showier ornamental cousins: a few pale yellow blossoms here and there, like small clocks. The magnolia’s enormous blooms paper the grass like cartoon hearts, having blossomed before any leaves emerged. There’s a brash, magenta rhododendron out front, and a carpet of trilliums under the ferns out back. The tiny native irises we planted are already flowering, even though they’re only ankle-high.

Our own little Iris turned 4 months old. Already, I’m packing away the newborn clothes that stretch too tight on her busy, chubby legs. It’s going too fast, but I’m resting in the deep joy we’ve taken in her each day. Just about every day since she’s been born, Lyle or I have been teary-eyed with gratitude. I can’t believe we get to do this again, one of us will say. I’m so glad we have her.

Iris is intensely observant of her brother and sister, who have become experts at drawing out her elusive laugh. I love the way she looks at her world with expectation, ready to be delighted. My favorite parts of each day are the moments I get to sing to her before putting her down in her bassinet for her nap. She looks up at me so sweetly and calmly, sometimes babbling her own little song back to me, or just breaking into a quiet, open-mouthed smile. It’s hard to put her down, even though naptimes mean a chance for me to change out a load of laundry, make a snack for the big kids, tackle the pile of dishes or maybe, just maybe, get a little writing done.

There’s this thing I’ve been trying to write since February. It’s done, but it’s not done, and that bothers me. There’s more I want to say, something that’s not quite right, and I’m having trouble being patient. I’m nervous that the energy buzzing around these ideas will fade if I don’t move more quickly. Yet I know I can only do this work within the limitations of my body, the slower pace of our days, the demands of this season of mothering small children.

I’ve realized that for a long time, I’ve pushed myself to the max, and it’s tempting to keep doing that on days when I feel well. Coming to terms with the chronic migraine variant I live with has meant prioritizing real self-care: going to bed before 10, getting regular cardiovascular exercise, doing yoga and meditation, getting acupuncture once a week, and making time for prayer and rest and water during the day. Those things take time. So does being present with my kids. I can easily get caught up in clean-up all day long, and I’ve been trying to remember that it’s okay to leave the dishes and just play. Have some Barbie conversations with my oldest daughter. Push a toy car around the carpet with my son. Even watch a movie with them and snuggle on the couch, instead of using that time to frantically check something off the to-do list.

Iris had her 4-month vaccines this week and felt a little uncomfortable for a few days. She couldn’t rest for more than 30 minutes on her own. One day, she fell heavily asleep in my lap on the couch, and I just sat there watching her and looking out the window at the robins and sparrows. It seems like such a small, obvious thing, just slowing down. Just letting the weight of a sleeping child still my own limbs and mind. But it can be hard to slow down in spring, after a long pandemic winter, when it feels like everything and everyone is waking up.

Sometimes when I’m troubled by a writing project that isn’t moving at the pace I want it to, I can start to think I can’t do anything else until it’s done. No blog posts, no newsletter, no sewing project. No just-because poem. No meandering words in my journal. It can feel like any other use of my creative energy is wasteful, or procrastination in disguise.

But I think sometimes this effort at discipline is plain fear, dressed up as diligence. All it creates is rigidity, a stinginess that doesn’t help. It takes the joy out of creating, and blocks the flow of energy that, ironically, would help me get unstuck and finish the thing I’m obsessing over.

There are a some good reasons why writing is hard right now (I can think of three very small, cute ones who live with me). There are some good reasons for not writing, for spending some time in a backyard hammock, or holding a baby chick in the cup of my hand. (It’s true! We didn’t think home felt chaotic enough, so we brought home six baby chicks!) For putting down what’s hard and just writing, sewing a tiny dress, or messing around with the camera on my phone when the light is good, while stirring a pot of soup from an interesting recipe I haven’t tried, even if my kids don’t eat it.

Sometimes the only thing to do when I “can’t” write is to just write.

What about you? How do you get unstuck?

Perfectionism and Redemption: A Lenten Reflection

I’ve been working on this essay, making notes on a waterproof notepad in my coat pocket as I walk around the reclaimed quarry, now a wetlands park, near my house in the morning.

On one of my walks, my friend and priest joined me. I tried to explain what I was writing about, how I’ve been drawn to this metaphor of the reclaimed quarry. As a child I grew up near one such project, but always dismissed it. I used to say that when I grew up, I’d live somewhere wilder, more natural. And here I am, raising my three children near just such a place.

It’s perfection versus redemption, she said kindly, and I was floored.

That’s exactly it.

Lately I’ve been more and more struck by the ways in which perfectionism colors so much of what I do, see, think. From conversations I’ve had with other women, I’ve started to think that this is a symptom of living in the toxic sludge of our industrialized, patriarchal culture. I know I’m not alone.

I also know that perfectionism doesn’t define me. That voice that says I just need to be better cannot define me if I turn to God, and away from the destructive voice that tempts me to think I am only deserving of love if I am perfect.

Today, I went for my morning walk and took a minute to read the day’s devotion in Forward Day by Day. The scripture read: “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The devotion writer went on to reflect on the impossibility of those things. No one can do them. Jesus was the only perfect one, and he came to free us from ourselves, simplifying those commandments into these: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

“In our desire to meet these requirements,” the devotion author writes, “God is pleased, even when we fail.” Then he closes with a quote from Frederick Buechner: “The final secret, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.”

Those last words fell deep this morning as I looked out at the calm water. There was one fisherman on a far bank, the first person I’d seen that day. There were little sparrows zipping in and out of the willows. There was the sound of a leaf blower somewhere, and traffic. There was the tick of my watch, my inner knowing that I had ten minutes before I needed to be home, back into the ongoingness of pandemic parenting, so that Lyle could go to work.

These words calmed me. They unraveled, for just a moment of clarity, the tangled threads of my longings: to hear and know God’s voice, to know God’s will for me, to have a clearer sense of purpose in my writing and mothering, to better serve God in my community and in all my relationships. My longing to know I am serving God well, that I am going to God in prayer not just for myself, but not just for others, either. I came to see how even in my deepest longings, perfectionism keeps me from accepting Grace.

These words today assured me that not only do my efforts please God even when I fail, but that it is God’s promise, it is God’s will that I will love God. Even this God will do for me.

In the space that my longing makes, within its contours, this is where God enters. Maybe I will always feel scattered, tangled, maybe I will always have this sense that if only things were different, or maybe if I tried harder, then I will know God’s will and love God better. But here in that question, Grace appears again. Jesus appears and says, “Even this I will do for you. Even this I have already seen, loved, and covered.”

Things will never be perfect, including my perfectionism, and God says, I want you to live and love anyway. In doing this, you serve me.

Amen.

Written on February 26, 2021

Going to the Library, Then and Now

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

“I’m going to the library, who wants to come?” I call into the yard, jingling the car keys.

“I do! I do!” my big kids yell, racing to climb into their carseats. 

“I want to get my noodle book!” Sky says excitedly, thinking of the next Noodlehead graphic novel waiting for her on the holds shelf.

“I want anudder race car book,” Robin adds.

I smile at my children’s excitement, even though it makes me a little sad, too. Pre-pandemic, a trip to the library was much more than a quick ten-minute drive to the curbside pickup. We used to spend hours at our local branch a few times a week, chatting with friends at story time and adding books to our bag until it overflowed. Sky loved to choose a few I Can Read books and sit on a stool in the corner by the window, looking at the pictures while I chased Robin through the stacks and retrieved my holds. 

Now they don’t even get out of the car when I park in front of the library. I pull my mask on over my eyes, turning around in my seat to ask if I’ve got it on right. They laugh but tell me to hurry and get their books. At the library window, I try to say my name as clearly as I can through the fabric, and the librarian returns with our stack– the noodle book, the race car book, some books on ballet, an Eye Spy book, and Upstream and Coming Full Circle for me. I try to smile with my eyes as I thank the librarian and say goodbye.

My kids want to hold their books on the drive home, and when we get there they both hurry inside, sit on the couch, and start reading. Like so many other times in this past year of closures and absences, I find a small win to celebrate. 

Sky , age 4, in her happy spot at our local library.

They are still delighted by books. They still love the library enough to want to be in close proximity to it, even if they can’t go inside. We’ve lost the wonderful experience of wandering through the aisles and choosing whatever looks interesting that day, but we’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the books we carefully choose, place on hold, and then wait for. We check out fewer books, but we keep them longer and savor them more. It makes me happy to see that books seem to matter to my kids as much as they’ve mattered to me since I was their age.

I remember my mom taking my sister and me to the library before we could read. I remember the way it smelled– a mix of the big eucalyptus trees outside, the ocean air, and that unmistakable book smell all libraries have. There was the crinkling sound of the books in their library jackets, the light pouring through the huge windows in the fiction room where my mom browsed, and the freedom she gave us to wander wherever we wanted as she chose books for herself. I loved gathering my own stack of books for the week.

Reading has always been tied up with the thingness of books, and the place where books are, but during the long stretch of time when there was no hold service, I bought an e-reader so I could check out e-books from the library or buy them from our local booksellers. It’s made it possible for me to read more during these early months with a newborn. It’s small and light enough to hold while nursing Iris or wearing her in the sling as she naps. I can even read in the bathtub. It’s also making it easier for me to take notes as I read, because I can add digital highlights and then transfer them to a word document later. 

As a child and later as a teen and young adult, I read for hours. As a mother, I probably spend more time reading to my children, but I try to make sure they see me reading my own books, too. “Are you reading in your mind, Mama?” Sky asks me. She’s not quite reading on her own yet, and I’m excited for the day when she discovers the pleasure of reading to herself. 

Reading connects me to the world outside the borders of home and children, and the person I am in addition to “Mom.” It keeps me grounded and makes me more receptive to ideas for poems and essays. I read before I could write, and I think it’s part of what made me a writer. I know it’s made me who I am today, and I can’t wait to see what role reading plays in my children’s lives as they grow.

Baby Gear Favorites from a Third Time Mom

We welcomed our third baby, Iris, a few days before the new year. With an active 5-year-old and a busy 3-year-old in the house, the newborn stage isn’t exactly new to us, but it’s so easy to forget about the stage your child just exited as you focus on the new challenges at hand. There have been plenty of things I’d forgotten about pregnancy, birth, and the early post-partum/ teeny-baby weeks.

Photo by Al Soot on Unsplash

Somehow, Iris is already one month old. Time is flying, and the days are full, so I wanted to get some notes down before some of these realizations slip away into the blur of our baby’s first year. It can be an intensely stuff-laden time period, so while I’ve mostly linked to stores in this post, it helps your wallet and the environment to check your local consignment store or Buy Nothing group before purchasing something new.

This is my first post experimenting with Amazon affiliate links, a step I’ve been wary about up until now. That means that if you see something you like here and use one of my Amazon links to make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage. Maybe, like me, your Amazon purchasing has sky-rocketed during the pandemic. While I still try to buy locally as much as possible, particularly with books, I’m also trying to give myself a little grace on this front during a challenging season of motherhood.

UPDATE: June 7. Since publishing this post I have become more aware of just how damaging Amazon is for bodies and small business. I’ve canceled my affiliate account and replaced all Amazon links in this post with direct links to businesses. I felt a little wary about becoming an affiliate in the first place, but I had fallen into a routine of heavy reliance on Amazon during the pandemic, and since so many bloggers I admire use affiliate links, I wanted to try it. I’m now taking baby steps toward actively resisting Amazon. This is not to shame anyone for their consumer choices or blogging choices: for many of us, there’s simply no alternative, and that’s part of the problem. Similarly, the Internet has transformed the way writers are compensated for their labor, and I don’t begrudge ANYONE making a little extra money for their family by linking to things they love and recommend. This is the choice that makes the most sense for me.

Below you’ll find my favorites for parents and baby, plus a section at the end for fitting three car seats in a smallish car.

Enjoy!

Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash
  1. Invest in a few good pairs of leggings and overalls. For me, most maternity pants with panels just didn’t stay up. Remembering my irritation with all pants in my previous pregnancies, this time I bit the bullet and bought two pairs of Storq leggings. They were worth the extra money because I never had to yank them up, and they haven’t pilled or snagged. I liked them so much I also bought a pair of overalls and a nursing caftan (on sale!), and all four items are working well postpartum.
  2. Maternity jackets are worth it. I love this coat because it has zippers on the side, so it doubles as non-maternity wear. I wore it unzipped during the third trimester, and it’s large enough now to wrap around Iris in the Moby wrap, or zip up the sides for a cozier fit. With my son I wore a vest similar to this, but had given it away thinking he was our last baby. Either way, a roomy outer layer is helpful for fall and winter babes in colder climates!
  3. Look for maternity tops with buttons or flaps. During pregnancy, I bought a bunch of tunics and t-shirts that don’t work for nursing, and so have had to buy additional nursing tops and pajamas. Whoops. In hindsight, I wish I had paid attention to whether the maternity items I bought were nursing-friendly! I love these jammies. For me, it has been worthwhile to have 6-7 nursing-friendly pajama tops because nursing can be messy, and who has time for more laundry with a newborn in the house?
  4. Yes, you do need slip-on shoes. I was so tired during the third trimester, the thought of buckling or tying my own shoes made me weep. I got these cute Target leopard-print slip-ons on impulse when buying diapers, and I LOVE them. They’re helpful postpartum because I can get them on while baby-wearing without having to bend over.
  5. Opt for gentle postpartum support. Iris was born “military presentation,” (such a weirdly inappropriate name for the position of a baby being born) so I got a referral to a physical therapist. On her advice, I stopped wearing my lovely womb wrap (which is easy to tie too tight, and can also be a bit cumbersome) and instead got a pair of these Target leggings and this gentle belly band. I love both. It can be worthwhile to see a PT early on to get advice tailored to your specific post-birth anatomy. I wish I had done so after my previous births. Apparently the ever-popular Velcro Belly Bandit type supports can be too restrictive in the immediate postpartum for some people, especially if you don’t have much abdominal separation. You want support, but with enough flexibility to let your organs move back into place. (The pregnant body is amazing.)
  6. All the breastfeeding stuff. Some breastfeeding people just tend to be more prone to plugged ducts, and unfortunately I seem to be one of them: by this time postpartum with my son, I’d already developed mastitis. This time around, I am trying to be proactive about prevention. I take Wish Gardens’ Happy Ducts tincture several times a day when I feel a plugged duct developing. Iris is going on two nights sleeping in her Sleep Pea swaddle in the bassinet, but I bring her into our bed around 3 a.m. to co-sleep. I alternate sides of the bed so I don’t squish one breast more than the other. I tend toward oversupply and leak a lot in the first few months. Disposable nursing pads always ended up sticking to me and being a soggy mess, but these reusable shaping nursing pads keep me dry and hold their shape after multiple journeys through the washer and dryer. I’ll also put in a vote for having MANY sleep bras (I like Majamas) and multiple large water bottles and burp cloths. Leave full water bottles and clean burp cloths all over the house so you’re never far from hydration when you sit down to nurse.
  7. Be flexible and open-minded on sleep. Have multiple options in mind, and don’t be afraid to try again later. With our first baby, we tried swaddling and putting her down in her bassinet for a few nights early on. When she screamed and cried, we figured that was that, and never tried it again. We ended up co-sleeping for far longer than I wanted to, and felt like we had no choice but to sleep train when she hit the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. (I didn’t even know that was a thing. Rookie mom mistake.) The second time around, we got a little braver and tried different things earlier. We even returned to previous strategies before we found something that worked for our son. (A Magic Merlin suit.) This third time, we’ve started introducing her to independent sleep from the get-go. She’s sleeping in her bassinet in the Sleep Pea swaddle as I type this, and I am fairly giddy with hope. TL;DR: Every baby is different, there are lots of different ways to help babies sleep well and safely, and it’s okay to do a mix of things until you find a rhythm.
  8. Pajamas forever. Iris is our second winter babe, and this time I know there’s no reason to change her out of footie pajamas. Except maybe a super cute photo op. That said, I prefer footie jammies with snaps for 0-3 months, and zippers around 4-6 months: zippers are much easier, but they bunch up and hit baby in the chin in small sizes.
  9. Try and use several types of baby carrier. Being able to “wear” Iris means I have more options for getting her the sleep she needs when I need to chase after my little 3-year-old escape artist. I like using a soft wrap carrier like the classic Moby or Baby K’tan for the first six months, and a more structured carrier when baby is bigger and has better head control. We have an orange woven Chimparoo Trek that we used for our first two babies, and I love its simplicity. Also, different body types feel more comfortable with different carriers. My husband, who has a long torso, really loved the Lillebaby structured carrier with our son, but it was waaaay too long for me. Likewise, he couldn’t fit into the Baby K’tan carrier I loved. This time around, we both love using the Moby wrap. Having multiple carriers can get spendy, so check consignment for used gear. Carriers tend to be used so briefly that most used ones still have a ton of life in them.
  10. Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Plenty of folks get intimidated by cloth diapers and never try it. There are good reasons for this: it can be expensive to invest in the quantity of diapers needed to cloth diaper full-time, and you need enough bulk in order to launder them effectively. It can be time-consuming. It takes time to find the style you like best. The good news is, you can cloth diaper part-time and still get the benefit of reducing your impact on the environment, and saving money in the long run. (And, babies with fluffy cloth diaper butts are so cute.) Depending on where you live, you can also outsource the laundry! We use Tidee Didee diaper service, which picks up our used pre-folds and drops off a clean stack once a week. We have 6-7 covers in different sizes (these and these are my faves), and we just wipe them out between changes and wash them with our towels once or twice a week. I do a hot wash with bleach and an extra rinse. We use cloth napkins at meals, and rags for cleanups, so we’re used to doing regular towel loads. This time we’re trying out cloth wipes as well, with water from an insulated pump thermos on the changing table. We also use disposable diapers and wipes. No big deal. It doesn’t have to be black and white.
Photo by Laura Ohlman on Unsplash

Bonus: A Word on Carseats and Fitting 3-Across

We have a 2015 Honda CR-V, and figuring out a safe 3-across has taken a lot of effort. During the pandemic, safety events and carseat clinics were canceled, and stores stopped allowing families to try floor models. I read blog posts from the Carseat Lady and Carseats for the Littles, and joined several Facebook groups to get advice. Many posts and commenters insisted that the 2015 CR-V has overlapping seatbelts, and therefore can’t safely accommodate a 3-across. Turns out, this isn’t true for all 2015 models, including ours– but it’s still tricky.

After many emails and phone calls, we found a carseat technician at a hospital safety center who was able to counsel us over email, then follow up with a socially-distanced fit check at the hospital. We settled on two Baby Trend Troopers and our Graco Tranzitions convertible carseat. We put Robin, our 3-year-old, forward-facing in one Trooper on the passenger side, and Iris, our newborn, rear-facing in the second Trooper in the middle seat. Sky, our 5.5-year-old rode in the Graco in harness mode behind the driver. This was technically safe and possible– but in practice it kind of sucked. It was really hard to get the Trooper to adjust down small enough for the baby, and with the seat in the middle, it meant a lot of awkward wrangling– usually in the pouring rain while all three children wailed.

Onward to our next attempt, which is a Chicco Fit2 infant seat for Iris on the passenger side, Robin in the Trooper behind the driver, and Sky in the middle in a RideSafer travel vest. (The vest is great because Sky feels like a parachuter in it, it can be used in cars and planes, and it eliminates the need for a booster. Great for carpooling or two-household families!) This is a little better because I can load Iris into her seat indoors and just click her in– but Sky feels a little cramped in the middle of two car seats.

After all that, three new carseats and one travel vest later, we are somewhat reluctantly looking into buying a used minivan. It’s not that we have anything against minivans, we were just hoping to avoid the expense, and thought we’d save some money by investing in the right car seats. Oh well!

UPDATE: We bought a used Sienna minivan and it is an absolute dream. Now using a Trooper and an Evenflo Big Kid high back booster in the back row, with the baby in the Fit2 in the drivers’ side middle row.

Four Weeks

The sunrise is red through the blinds and somehow the baby is four weeks old.

There’s no margin between days. Instead the sound of feet running down the hallway, the door creaking open and two small voices saying good morning in the dark. Someone reaches a hand into the quiet nest of the bed and the baby stirs next to the mother, stretches and curls tiny arms and legs, and someone trips on a twist of clothes on the floor and hits their head on the bed’s edge and now they’re howling. It’s seven in the morning, as loud with need and newness as seven the night before.

The sunrise is red but the day will be dark, low with clouds and the threat of snow. They will all be in the house again together, and now the father is grinding coffee, and the five-year-old is spinning and jumping across the floor, a slept-in tangle of hair at the back of her head. She approximates ballet moves from a video lesson emailed each week– a teacher she’ll never meet, classmates scattered across states–What does échappé mean, mama? Watch me, watch this!

There’s no margin between days and the mother rubs sleep from her eyes, tries to access the part of her brain that once knew French. She holds her third baby to her breast with one hand while the father puts a cup of coffee in the other hand. This is love’s language– a cup of coffee, a look exchanged.

The sunrise is red and the father is tired, but he picks up the middle child so he can see, too, this boy too suddenly big beside the new baby, whose feet move too fast for the rest of him, who says I fell down every night when they recount the day’s roses and thorns. Why it have those poky things, mama? he asks in the yard, little eyebrows furrowed at the one pink bud on the bush. Why does every sweet thing come with some pain, why does sun make shadows, how does the year behind us still trail its weight into this one?

There’s no margin between days or years and the baby was born at the threshold of both. The mother knows her own tendency to will time forward, tries to root herself down into this day, its shapes and sounds.

Somehow the baby is four weeks old and there will never be another first month with a baby again, each first becoming one last time. Soon enough she’ll sleep, and she’ll sleep, and he’ll sleep. They’ll have conversations longer than a minute. He won’t always fall. She won’t always dance in the living room.

The sunrise was red and later the first flurries of winter came down. The kids put on boots and gloves and woke the baby, whooping and shouting in the yard, and it wasn’t enough to be snow, not really. It felt like rain but lighter somehow, and it left little prints in their hands.


I wrote this with Rhythm, a year of weekly writing prompts. See more at #rhythmwriting2021

This Difficult Advent Hope

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The baby sits heavy in my pelvis. Her heels and fists roll under my skin, her head burrows lower, her toes press against my ribs. There is enormous pressure. Eating is a problem. Some nights I can’t hold onto my dinner. I choose between eating and sitting upright on an ice pack, or skipping dinner so I can lie on my side and relieve some of the pressure. My sleep is broken, my dreams vivid and often frighteningly focused on death– apparently not uncommon during the third trimester.

They don’t tell you how close birth and death become within the body of a pregnant person. Pregnancy holds us in a layered experience of beginnings and endings, whether at the literal level or more figuratively, with the death of control over your own body, the end of your old identity and its transformation into a new one. This third time around, I know there is no way to give birth to another person without being changed myself.

In these last weeks before birth, the baby’s body has nearly taken over mine. I can feel myself drawing inward. My thoughts have trouble adhering to anything that isn’t about this impending birth. Approaching labor feels like entering new but familiar country– a passage I navigate alone, even though I’m accompanied by and accompanying a brand new life, even though I feel God’s nearness.

My 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter is more curious this year about who Jesus is, how God could come to earth as a child. For the first time, she is feeling out the deeper meaning of her favorite holiday. We are slowly making our way through The Jesus Storybook Bible, and she has lots of questions about God’s character: Why would God bring flood? Why would God ask Abraham to do that?

As we move out from the simple warmth of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and into more complicated territory, I find myself feeling grateful for my own experiences of questioning, of having my faith shaken. I try not to tie everything up in a bow for her, but instead admit the places where I also feel stumped, while still helping her understand that she is held and loved. This is tricky stuff. As we look at the Old Testament stories together, I’m careful to draw her attention back to the arrival of Jesus, to show her the ways that all of these stories are Advent stories, anticipating Christ’s coming. But Christ’s coming contains within it Christ’s life, death, and resurrection– the whole story of Love’s struggle to be born in us.

Meanwhile, my nearly-three-year-old son is busy exploring the shapes of our nativity set as we unwrap one each night. Sometimes he goes to sleep clutching a tiny plastic lamb. Sometimes I find a miniature Joseph in the seat of a toy helicopter on the bathroom counter. Listening to the nightly story of the little bear following the star, or trying to blow out the Advent candles as I light them, my children are doing what children do. They are making sense of this new mystery with their hands and feet, their eyes and ears– with their bodies.

Our Creator came to us in a body, and worked out our salvation in a body. He experienced birth, growth, fear, anger, joy, sadness, love, suffering, and death. Faith can easily become something we do just with our thoughts, and I’m grateful for the ways the liturgical year and the Episcopal tradition invite me to experience faith in my body. This Advent, worn out by a challenging pregnancy, I feel more than ever the paradoxes of this difficult year– its unexpected gifts alongside pain and grief– and with increased intensity, my longing for hope.

This is the third time I’ve been pregnant during Advent. The first ended in miscarriage, the second brought us our son, and this third time we are expecting his little sister. Expectation, anticipation, waiting– these are vulnerable states of being. Along with the births of my two children, I have expected and anticipated and then lost two little lives, and I am not “over” them. They have become part of me. I carry those wounds in my body and have come to understand the lack of resolution as its own kind of healing– as a place God enters and redeems, over and over, as the years pass. My active, earthside children run and play and fill me to bursting with love, with gratitude for the privilege of mothering them. I kiss their soft, round cheeks and hug them close. Along with these deeply satisfying experiences in my body, the experience of losing their two siblings is also part of my faith, this lifelong process of getting to know God.

When I started thinking about writing for this month’s theme, “tethered to hope,” my mind filled with images of that word tether. I could see the rope my husband uses to strap lumber and tools to his truck, the promise of useful things his hands can make to help us. I could see an astronaut floating in the terrifying vastness of space, tethered to a shuttle by a slim cord, the only hope of a return to earth. And I could see the umbilical cords that connected me to each of my babies, and my son’s curious gazing at his belly button, the mark that first tether left on his body.

These images tell of security, safety, connection, promise. But a tether can be troubling, too. It can be a chain that keeps us in places where we don’t want to be. In reading through the book of John recently with my prayer group, we found ourselves pausing at two little verses, where the disciples are struggling to accept who Jesus says He is. Some of his followers have begun to desert him, and Jesus asks the Twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69, NIV)

Once you know that truth deeply, with your whole being, it becomes impossible to walk away. That can be both freeing and terrifying, especially when our human minds fail to see when we have misunderstood something about God’s character. My prayer group talked about how each of us has come to a place in our faith where we felt trapped by it, tethered to a truth that can be difficult to grasp, yet alive. And we each described feeling like Jesus was holding onto us, even during times when we felt angry, hurt, lost, and confused by our faith. Even when we felt like giving up. With the loss of my first baby, I remember confiding in my pastor that I felt strangely imprisoned by my faith. Having only recently returned to church after long absence, I felt suddenly trapped inside of a new/old truth. I could not let go of it, and it did not seem to want to release me, yet I felt utterly confused about its author. God the Good Father exists and is in control, and his children experience terrible suffering in this world.

This remains an unsolvable equation for me. Through loss, God shows me that instead of trying to solve the equation, I can rest in the assurance of God’s love. I can look at the ways God has brought healing, has written the Christ story inside of my own story. From out of pain and loss and death, God grew in me greater empathy for others’ suffering, deeper awareness of God’s presence, stronger relationships with my partner, my family and friends.

I am careful not to place these things on either side of an equal sign. The liturgical year is so meaningful because it is cyclic, because in our bodies we continue to live out the mysteries of the Christ story. It is both solved and unresolved. We are always somehow waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for His resurrection, and waiting for His return– even as we mark and celebrate the fullness of these things.

In this Advent season of 2020, my kids keep me connected to joy, even as I acknowledge the devastating losses this year has brought us all. Every morning, my daughter moves the snowman to the next pocket on her Advent calendar, and asks me, “Is it solstice yet?” She is thinking of winter, of hot cocoa, snow, and sledding.

In this hemisphere, Jesus comes at the peak of the year’s darkness, when the earth tilts furthest from the sun. Hope comes to us in the middle of the longest night. In 2020, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, and an end to this very long night is still uncertain. It can feel painful to remain tethered to Hope, to all that God promises, when so much is unraveling around us. Advent teaches us that this is exactly where Jesus meets us– not in our picture-perfect Christmas cards, not in our matching jammies or gift-buying, not in our untroubled certainties. Jesus meets us outside of the limits of town and faith, in the stable of our brokenness, and He promises restoration and redemption.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Tethered to Hope”.

Discomfort and Joy

I’ve been writing down notes on little scraps of paper about the sweeter things I want to remember from the past 9 months. This pregnancy, which has overlapped with the strange liminal time of the pandemic, has been full of discomfort– but not without joy. These notes are part of my prayer to remember to savor this time, just as it is, even though it is not what I had hoped it would be. Great joy is often made up of the smallest, simplest things.

Raspberry Zinger iced tea. It has helped so much with nausea and hydration. I hope I still like this after the baby comes. I put two tea bags each in two quart-size mason jars and let them sit until they’re cool enough to touch, then pour them into a pitcher I keep in the fridge.

Lyle bringing me breakfast in bed every. single. morning. It has helped with the nausea and just made me feel so loved and cared for.

When Sky and Robin started calling the baby Peaches. Robin loves to nestle next to me in bed, put his ear to my belly and say, “What you DO-EENG in there Peaches?” He doesn’t stay still long enough to actually feel her kick under his hand. But Sky has become very expert, feeling for baby’s foot like a serious little midwife. She laughs out loud whenever the baby moves. To her it is brand new magic each time.

My Zoom baby shower! It filled me with so much joy and love at a time when I was feeling very low. And it restocked our nursery with much-needed items we had given away once Robin (who we thought was our last baby) grew out of them.

Taking walks around Salish Pond near our home when the weather was nice and I was feeling well enough. Getting to see my big kids explore together.

My kids playing nicely together for longer stretches of time. Where before this was sporadic and short-lived, they’re 9 months older now and they’ve learned a few things about resolving squabbles, apologizing, and what kinds of games they like to play together. It’s really reassuring as we approach the time when Mommy will be much less available to referee their fights or make suggestions for their play.

Homeschooling Sky and watching Robin’s curiosity bloom. I love having plenty of space for them to create. It is so sweet to see them busy with projects at their little tables.

My friend Stephanie’s incredible support. This woman watched my kids for eight hours on the day we moved to our new home, after gathering and delivering piles of moving boxes she spotted on her Buy Nothing page, and also spending several days painting over wallpaper with us. She has sent me encouraging texts as well as satisfyingly snarky ones acknowledging how crappy pregnancy can be. She is currently filling our freezer with meals. Along with her own two kids and two brand-new puppies, she’s watching my kids so I can rest. And she’s on-call to come scoop them up or stay with them when I go into labor. And probably a kazillion other tiny things my weary mind is forgetting in this moment. This woman’s heart and her friendship make me cry happy tears.

Enjoying a fire in the fireplace at our new home. The kids are mesmerized by it, though we really have to watch Robin, who seems destined to become fire-obsessed like his daddy. I especially love sitting by the fire with Lyle after the kids are in bed, dreaming together of who this little girl will be, and what it will be like to have not two but three wild kids in our home soon. This fireplace, this home, and this family have been dreams of ours for so, so long, and it feels so good to enjoy them.

Reconnecting to my church community through Zoom morning prayer and virtual church services. They have been praying with me through all the ups and downs of this season. Their love and humor, and their powerful prayers, have helped me get through it.

Lots of snuggles with my kids. Nothing like “morning” sickness to make all-day-jammies-and-movies a new tradition.

Knowing Sky is going to have a sister. She is already talking about what she wants to teach this baby girl. I grew up with an amazing sister and I’m so happy Sky gets to have one, too.

Savoring my Non-Instagram-Worthy Pregnancy

Me in May 2015

Her heartbeat is strong, immediate.

“155 beats per minute!” says the intern cheerfully. My midwife, Catherine, adds this to my record on the computer.

“Wow, she’s excited!” Catherine says. 

She has just finished reassuring me that I can go back on the antidepressant I had stopped taking when I saw two lines appear in April. After years of  worsening, debilitating symptoms, and countless incorrect diagnoses, I had finally found a way to manage my cyclic vomiting syndrome. Within a few months on a low dose of amitriptyline, I had finally felt like myself again. And then I was unexpectedly pregnant, and my former doctor advised against continuing a class C drug. 

Now, after months of struggling under constant nausea, deepening sadness, and stress from an increasingly isolated pandemic pregnancy, I find myself suspecting depression. I need relief, support– beyond what fragments remain of a previously robust support system. It’s beginning to dawn on me how much I’ve been trying to hold together, especially for my children, and it feels so good to admit that I am struggling, that this has been hard.

The intern asks if I’d like to record the heartbeat on my phone, so my husband can listen to it. Suddenly I am flooded with images of all the appointments and ultrasounds he has missed this time around, and all the times I’ve sat in offices like this one, masked and alone, often hurried along, to reduce potential exposure to the virus. 

Instantly my eyes brim over and a sob escapes from my chest, like a strange fish hauled up from the depths. I am so happy, and so sad, at 33 weeks. So grateful for this baby, and so heartbroken by all I’ve missed this year.

I wanted, from the beginning, to truly enjoy this pregnancy. To savor the indescribable feeling of growing another brand-new person, likely the last little being we’ll welcome into our family. To savor her. To wonder over everything she brings with her, all that lies ahead that we can’t know. Listening to her heartbeat, I feel regret over how difficult it has been to do much more than just survive this pregnancy. How many times have I picked myself up again in the name of just getting through it

I finish my recording– 30 seconds of that incredible sound– make my next appointment, and head to my car in the falling light. I douse my hands in sanitizer and take off my mask, and I ask God what I can do to savor these last few weeks. I don’t want to just get through them. I want to find small ways of celebrating and recording our time together, for better or worse. There is no denying that this pregnancy has been difficult, and yet I still want to remember what it felt like to carry our daughter.

A picture comes to mind, one my husband took of me when I was pregnant with our oldest, over five years ago. It was an airless day in late May, a few days past my due date. In the picture I am sitting in the yard of our rental house, a misshapen straw hat on my head. My belly is huge and my posture bears the distinctive air of defeat and surrender that only late pregnancy can bring. I am half-smiling and half-grimacing, and my eyes are closed as if I’m sleeping. I’m not sleeping, though. I’m blinking. This is a frame caught on old-fashioned film with Lyle’s TLR camera, and with no digital proof to check, it was the only shot he took. (On the same roll of film, there were images from our wedding four years prior.) It’s the last picture of Sky and me together in just this way, a few days before I went into labor for the very first time.

In the picture, to me at least, I look totally and supremely over it. I winced when Lyle showed it to me months later, after developing it in the darkroom. I had had visions of sweeping gowns and flower fields, the kind of maternity shot Instagram would have me strive for, and this? This lumpy, tired woman in an old lawn chair? Definitely not what I had in mind. 

“Look how beautiful you are,” Lyle had said in complete sincerity, misty-eyed as he looked at the image, then up at me, cradling our daughter. I thanked him then, but put the photo away for a long time.

Now, arriving home from the midwife, I play the heartbeat recording for Lyle and the kids and I tell him I think it’s time to get that old picture out. Looking at it now, I love it because it is real and it is ours. I love the man who took it, who looks at the picture and sees peace, and the tiny person in that huge belly who has become unaccountably tall, funny, and wild about her world.

This picture reminds me that I’ve been here before, in just this same imperfect, uncomfortable, kind-of-over-it way. All of it is sacred, and so worthy of savoring. My previous pregnancies, just as they were, brought us our daughter, my spark and flint, and our son, with his soft-centered mischief. Who will this new little one be? This time around has been painful and difficult, but it has been ours: mine, his, this baby’s, our family’s. This is our time together, and I don’t want to forget it. 


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Savor”.