we hope.

IMG_1031It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. Maybe because we’re away on vacation, or because it’s warm here, or because I’m not going to be up all night wrapping gifts and cleaning my house. But part of me feels like it’s not Christmas Eve because I can’t stop worrying about all the mothers. It’s a storm inside me tonight, the thunderous heartbeats of all the hurting moms in the whole wide world. There are mothers laying beside babies tonight, comforting them to sleep because all they have to offer is comfort- even though their kids are cold and hungry. There are moms dying a million small deaths as they ache for the children they’ve already lost, even though no mom should ever, ever have to say goodbye to a child. There are mothers and children being abused, punished for the crime of being vulnerable, crushed beneath the weight of a world gone wrong.

So, yeah. Christmas Eve. The pain doesn’t really care about holidays or holy days, does it? The pain seems like king, a reign of suffering, holding court over a broken and weary kingdom.

I felt silly doing it, as useless as a candle in a storm, but I prayed for all the mothers tonight. The ones I know and the ones on the news, the ones I want to shake and the ones I want to hold. I prayed and I cried, imagining all the hurts of the planet piled up on my tired limbs. How can I carry this? I asked while I prayed. How can I hold the suffering without dying under it? And Why, WHY won’t You fix all of this? Don’t you care for the mothers? Don’t you care for the abandoned?  Where are You in this?

I wrote this poem from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus,  and performed it a few weeks ago as a part of our Advent service at church. The message that week was Hope, and I cling to news proclaimed here. It’s all broken; but we have a Rescuer. All will be redeemed. All will be redeemed. We are waiting and waiting, hoping and hoping, and we will not be left to solve it ourselves, or die beneath it.

May I learn to bear the burden beside Him, aware of the pain but not buried in it. May I weep with those who weep, while always facing the light.

I am praying Hope and Light over all of you, dear ones. And such thanks to my friend Brenda, who helped me find my way through this piece. Love you Boots.

And Merry Christmas, friends.

We Hope. by Jessie Horney

I carry two heartbeats.
A son I’ve smuggled beneath my dress,
he is my best-kept secret.
The closest anyone will get to my heartbeat,
the closest anyone will come to holiness.

Bethlehem clatters tonight,
bustles with Jews,
uncles, cousins, chattering grandmothers,
we gather to be counted.

From the far fields of our fathers,
broad skies of our mothers,
They will count us all
beside our Roman neighbors.

 These counters,
census-takers,
money-makers, government men,
they come to count
but they don’t know as they haw and hem.
They do not know
the king cloaked beneath my skin.

For so long we’ve been captive,
haven’t we.

Stuck in wordless prayer,
for so long you’ve been silent,
God.
The silence,
God,
lays the oceans aside.
Shadows the mountains.
Lays heavy on the hearts of your people
as we watch our world
crumble.

But now: this.
Ten fingerprints of the Almighty
forming inside me
Belly ripe with hope
I am sowing your son
one day at a time.

 

Blood will be spilt where
this babe is born,
ancient stain of new life
as he passes from my womb
into a crumbling world
he is meant to save.

Blood will follow him.
My son.
Him, whose hands flutter inside me,
His hands will heal nations.
Him, whose feet press against my ribs,
His ribs will be pierced.
Him, whose tiny body arches and twists as I lay awake each night,
Soon,
crumbling people,
his body will arch in agony
splayed out for all to see.

My baby.

And yet,
King of Kings.
Hope-bringer.
God with us.
I hold his heart
like He will hold ours
and I whisper,
“Be at rest once more,
oh my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”

Our Lord. Who counts us all,
one by one,
and declares us
Beloved.
Declares us
redeemed.

 

Oh, I have hoped.
I have prayed.
Generations of breath-holders,
I too, have anticipated.

With Abraham,
with David,
with Isaiah,
and still now I hope
along with Zechariah,
for the “tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us
from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet
into
the path
of peace.”

My body is heavy with anticipation.

I keep my hope.

He keeps His promises.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes my life feels small.

I left the kids at home with Sam last month, for the first time ever. I flew on a plane by myself for the first time in three years, and spent three days without my family. I cried a little the day before I left, preparing things and writing lists and making arrangements for me to be gone. I cried, not because I didn’t want to leave, but because I didn’t want Clara and Sammy to feel sad after I left. But I only cried a little because, quite frankly, I was too tired to really care about how they would feel. This pregnancy has been tiring, and I don’t feel like myself, and I can sense the introverted parts of me creeping to the surface as they tend to do when I’m carrying a baby. I’m relieved to see the seasons changing and to finally wave goodbye to summer, with its never-ending social engagements and that underlying expectation of having fun fun fun all the time all day long! It’s exhausting. And hot. So now as the rains come, and the leaves flame out, and the cold eases over us, I am pulling us back inside our house, so that I can pull back inside myself.

When I was this far along with Sammy, I was in my last semester of college. Clara was 14 months old, I was 30 weeks pregnant, Sam was still working out of town, I had a full-time schedule at BSU and I was directing a musical that I wrote for an elementary school. I was busy and stressed, barely pulling myself across campus, steeling myself through Clara drop off and pick ups, and then hustling to evening rehearsals with a cast of 30 kids. I was accomplishing a lot every single day, small tasks and enormous projects, working towards a degree and a creative endeavor and parenting too. I look back on that time with pride, but also with a nod of love to that girl, who was so spent, and so overwhelmed.

Life doesn’t look like that now. It’s two years past that season. Winds have shifted, the earth has rotated. I am older, rotating too, walking along curious new paths.

Sometimes I miss school. And having a job. Sometimes I miss the hustle of my old world. Even though I love being with my babies, and it would kill me to leave them with someone else to work outside my home. And if I’m honest, most jobs feel like jail to me. I’m not great at doing the same tasks every day, which is why I got a writing degree and plan on a life of poverty-stricken (free-wheeling) creativity.

But the thing is, sometimes my new world feels little. The reality of my life is that I wake up early with two tiny kids and tend to them all day long. My life isn’t centered around them, but it does move around them and their needs. I mean, it has to. There’s not much they can do without me. And in the endless apple slicing, face-wiping, story reading, sleep coercing, listening and disciplining and training, I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do anything else. And in those moments of insecurity, of hoping I still matter and hoping motherhood hasn’t rendered me irrelevant, I worry that I am losing myself in the slender margins of caring for my children.

I guess there’s a part of me that wonders if everyone feels this way. Do we all compare ourselves to ourselves? For better or worse, do we gaze upon our past selves or future selves and wonder when we will arrive, or when we lost our fire? It’s like I’m afraid that I’m not as good as I once was, but also that I’ll never be the future self I dream of becoming. What an odd vice to squeeze through, those two pressure points of my past and my future; as though either one of those ghosts could clear a path for me.

Will I feel this way when I’m 40? When I’m 60? When I’m 90?

Sometimes my life feels little. Does yours? When this happens, when I sit at my desk and write into the wind, or when I’m chopping vegetables, or walking, or talking with one of my sisters, I consider this quiet, seemingly small time, and what it’s worth. In my life, and in all of ours lives.

Because sometimes, we work at jobs we don’t love. We get degrees we don’t remember caring about, or we drop out because we don’t know what comes next. We trudge along in stagnant relationships, praying for a new fire. We can’t seem to finish our novel or start our business. We feel stuck. We are waiting for success and fame and love to come bounding our way, all while we wake up each morning and pour ourselves a little bit further into our daily work. 
Sometimes we feel little. And in a world that wants microphones and platforms and influence, this quiet toil is dismissed as the time before we arrive, before we become. 

I refute this. I refute it in my own life, and I refute it for yours.

My friend Jimmy died when he was 24 years old. And his life was rich, grand with friendship and accomplishment. Thousands and thousands of people mourned his death, and still ache for him today. That’s not normal. 24 year olds don’t carry that kind of a legacy with them; but Jimmy did. After his death we all told story after story about him, written in letters to his wife, spoken over drinks at the wakes held all over the world for him, whispered to his parents in reverent tones: stories of how Jimmy changed us. They weren’t stories of grand acts of valor. It wasn’t because he was brilliant (he was) or that he was brave (he was) or that he never failed (he did.) Jimmy’s life mattered in the quiet moments. In Bible studies with aetheist friends who trusted him. In med school classes where his peaceful spirit shone like a spotlight. In loud laughter, in worship on Sunday mornings, in expensive scotch and cheap beer on Saturday nights, on the crags of the mountain tops he scaled on weekends. In how he treated his little sister. In how he loved his wife.

I think about what this quiet time means for me, this season of small movements, and I look at Jimmy. I remember that this moment, this is it; this is what matters. What I do with my hands. What I say. Who I love, and how I love them. That’s what the quiet time reminds me of: that the essentials are simple. And that my work is essential, no matter what it looks like to anyone else. When done with great love, and great humility, all of my work matters.

Sometimes my life feels small.

Good. May the smallness remind me of God’s greatness, and press me towards the grandiosity of living in the light.

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hey you in there.

This blog has become a strange space for me. It started as a reflection of sorts, a way to track my time with Clara as a new mother. I wrote stories and thoughts about my daughter and then later my son, about our days and nights together. When I graduated from college right before Sammy was born, I lost the academic world as a sounding board for my writing, and lost the impetus to write complicated essays and arguments for professors and peers. So this blog became my own submission box, a place to craft a piece of writing and share it with someone else. I say all of this because here I am, 19 weeks pregnant with our third baby, and I have yet to share the fact that I’m expecting on my own personal blog. The whole thing has become full of philosophical essays and lengthy, heavily-edited stories, instead of any personal reflection. Isn’t that strange?

I just finished reading “Bringing Up Bebe,” a popular book on French parenting practices, and much of the author’s observations lie in the importance that French mothers place on their own womanhood. I often find myself swallowed up by motherhood, overtaken by the constant demands, and I am embarrassingly too short-sighted to step outside of the role as often as I should. I forget to be Jessie, not Mommy, and I stop doing what I love. Like writing. Especially on here.

I avoid writing about my kids because
1. Who cares, you know?
2. I don’t want to be a ‘mom blogger.’ Some part of me feels bigger than that, better than the connotation. The insecure part of me wants greater recognition.
3. Part of me feels protective of my kids as they get older. Clara always knows when adults are talking about her, and she hears everything. So sharing her stories on the internet and having strangers ask her questions about her life seems unfair, even at three years old. What does a writing mother owe to her children? Where is the line between my story and theirs? How do I know what to say, for the sake of my own soul, and what to hold back, for the sake of theirs?

I don’t know.

But here I am, halfway through a pregnancy with nary a word written about our new family member. So this isn’t an important essay, or a good story. It’s just a letter.

I wrote you a letter, baby, before we know your gender or your name or your face. Before we know you at all, I want you to know that you are loved. And thought about. And dreamed over. I’m writing this for me and what I need, but also for you and what I need you to know.

Dear baby,

I have never been as sick as I have been these last 4 months. Every week I think to myself, “This must be it! Surely I cannot be sick this long, right?” And every week I’m wrong. It’s hard to be pregnant and be a parent, it really is. Sometimes Clara and Sammy just have to play around me while I lay on the floor and try not to be sick on them. But while their presence makes this harder, it also makes all of this easier. The nights are the worst with you, and last night I couldn’t drag myself off the floor of my bathroom. It was getting late as your big sister tip-toed to the doorway. She whispered while she twirled one of her curls in her fingers, a nervous habit of hers: “Mama? The baby’s making you sick again?” I nodded. She tip-toed closer and bent to touch my face. “Can you tuck me in later if you feel ok?”

Seeing her standing there, concern filling her eyes,  made me ache for you. It made me long for another daughter or son, another child to gather close and learn to love. I don’t care how long it takes to feel like myself again after these 9 months. You are a treasure, and I will go to the depths for you. I will strap on my mask and oxygen tank and dive deep into the journey of bringing you home, because I know what you will mean to us. You might worry, someday, that you don’t matter to us like your siblings do. Or that maybe a third baby is an after thought, an accident- because a lot of people think that, in fact, when they find out we’re having another. “Are you guys crazy?” they ask. But you know what? I long for you. I have dreamed about you for a long time, wishing for you to exist.

Your sister taught us what love looks like. Those first born, they really get the brunt of parenting expectations and big fat mistakes; but they also get to blaze a pathway for unconditional love. Your brother taught us what the gift of a sibling looks like. He teaches us to breathe, to relax and laugh and watch as he and his sister figure out their own dynamics. You, third baby, are anticipated on a level we could not have comprehended when we were waiting for them. Now we know what it is to love a child. Now we know what it is to watch a family grow. So you get the best of all of this, the best of our three short years as parents, because we know what you mean. 

We try to imagine what you’ll look like, but we have no idea. Your older sister and brother look nothing alike. They are as different as one could imagine coming from the same parents. But they have these expressions, like the way they try to hold back a smile, and the way they tilt their heads when they look through a book; it’s the same face on different bodies. And oh, their voices! Daddy and I cannot tell their voices apart, not for anything, not when they cry or when they laugh, not when they call our names or when they fight or play- their voices are indistinguishable. I’ve never heard anything like it. It makes me wonder, will your voice join their chorus? Will your syllables sync with theirs as you play together, as you learn their names and ours- will your cries echo theirs? These are the things I wonder about you, dear one. Instead of picking traits from me or your dad, I pick traits from Clara and Sam, trying to place you in one camp or another. You feel like a gift we are giving to them just as much as a gift we are giving ourselves, a new life in our family, a new life to love. The four of us are not so much a steady unit as we are a living organism, expanding and changing as we make room in our hearts for you.

Soon we will be five, baby, and you will slip into our arms like Christmas morning, like a lullaby we could never remember, like a sweet aroma we could never forget. You will be ours, and we will be yours,

and I cannot wait.

I love you, I love you, I love you.
-Mommy

*and so do they!

Why you should have a baby and Why I should quit talking about it.

Our friends came over for dinner the other day and our kids went bananas. In their best “HELLO STRANGERS LOOK AT US” routine, our darling children amped up the noise level about 1,000 notches past acceptable dinner-talk decibels, and I just wanted to apologize the entire time. These friends are about to have their first baby, so they’re floating around in that dreamy space where the newly set-up nursery is a perfect snapshot of what you imagine parenthood to look like: lace dresses hung perfectly in the closet, diapers stacked neatly in a drawer, story books still straight and shiny lining a shelf. And of course, the crib dressed in fresh linens that won’t even be touched for months after the baby comes, because babies only sleep in your arms or their swing or the running car, it turns out.

So there sat our friends, the ones who weren’t even sure they ever wanted kids, now pregnant and excited, and suffering through dinner with a one year old who eats with his whole body and a two year old who never, ever, ever stops talking. I wanted to apologize, but I also wanted to say “This isn’t all of it, I promise!” Because it’s true. Yes: Sometimes parenthood is chocolate frosting smeared thick into someone’s belly button. And, yes: Sometimes parenthood is tersely telling someone that if they ask about the chocolate cake on the counter one. more. time. They will not be allowed to eat it at all. Sometimes (a lot of times) parenthood is a cacophony of noise and chaos that makes you want to buy a pair of earmuffs and go hide under your covers until you can pretend to be sad that they grew up and moved out. Just today, after a particularly whiny morning, I gave my kids their lunch and then fell face first onto my bed so I could scream/moan by myself into the pillow for a few minutes.

But truly, my dear friends- parenthood is so much more than that.

Hey you- You precious ones with a baby on the way?
Hey you, over there, the one with the kids who fight and yell all the live long day?
And you, sweet friend, with the child who struggles to speak and whose silence screams at you?

 

If we listen closely enough, sometimes all that stuff isn’t noise at all. Sometimes parenthood is the perfect chord played in the most interesting rhythm and then suddenly the air is filled with music, a tune that sweeps you away like a symphony or a Queen ballad, full and robust and intangible.

Like when I lean over to kiss Clara goodnight and she touches the silk of my sleeve in reverence, then whispers, “I love your pretty robe. I love you so much, Mama.” Or the look on Sammy’s face every single morning when he wakes up, holds my face in his chubby hands and says with wonder, “Mama. Mama!” Like he just can’t believe that I am his.

These best parts of parenthood are so secret, so unknowable to the outside world. Like a hiker coming across the silent deer in the stream, his boots breaking the path of sticks beneath him and scaring the deer away: No one can ever know the true goodness of what it it is to parent your children. It’s impossible to witness because a foreign presence disturbs the situation, the camera shutter of strange eyes rendering the tableau disturbed. Only Sam and I can know the sweetness of our children’s absolute trust, their bubbling delight that shines a light in our home. Too bad, because that’s the stuff that matters. That’s the marrow to this family skeleton, the foundation of the house we are building, the secret spice to our soup. It’s what makes all of the madness worth the effort. It’s what pushes our failures and exhaustion to the tiny place they belong, the corner they are meant to occupy yet so often escape. This light, this focus point of a love that startles the heart, is so particular to each family and so very impossible to conceive from the outside.

I am pretty much the worst when it comes to trying to convince people to have kids, or to have more kids. I know this is annoying, and probably intrusive (totally intrusive), but I can’t help it. I’ve never seen someone regret a baby, that’s for sure, and I think big families are best. But I know that some families just don’t want kids, or more kids, or can’t bear the pain of trying to be parents to any more people. Because it is hard. And as much as I want to explain how amazing it is to raise a child, or to have lots of siblings you love and respect, there’s nothing I can say to describe any of it. It’s private. It’s unknowable. It’s a secret that comes in those moments of pure melody, when even the hard parts line up to make sense, and the great parts make you sing, sing, sing.

So OK OK I’ll stop trying. For today at least. I’ll let you live your life and I’ll live mine and when you say you don’t want kids, I’ll swallow my arguments. When you get pregnant and turn into those annoying parents who think their baby is the best that has ever existed, I’ll nod in agreement (and solidarity). And when I say I want a bunch more babies, you can mock all you want, I know it’s insane. But I won’t listen. Because there’s a song louder than all the arguments in the world, and it’s a great one, and my heart hums with it all day long.

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why we don’t have another baby yet.

There’s a fast-approaching date on the calendar that I’ve been waiting to experience. It’s the day that Sammy turns 16 months and 16 days old, the exact age of Clara when he was born. I look at him every day and can’t imagine having a newborn at home as well. I don’t know if it’s because Clara is our oldest, or because she’s always been a little more observant and socially aware than he has, but Sammy seems so much younger at every stage. We dote on him, it’s way too easy to dote on him, and he also has Clara to direct and control his life (which she attempts with great pleasure and a small iron fist), and for these and many other reasons he still seems like a baby to me. Let’s be honest, it probably also has something to do with the fact that he is still nursing. I never really knew how I felt about “extended” breastfeeding until I found myself doing it, and it turns out I am not a fan. Every time he sits up afterwards and says “Ahhh! All done!” I am embarrassed for everyone in the house.

Maybe it was just ignorance, honestly, that convinced me to get pregnant when Clara was 8 months old (she’ll be so much older when he’s born! I said. She’ll practically be an adult! I said) but when it came time to think about our third baby, I felt a definite hesitation. Not in the longing for a baby; I daydream about our other children constantly, and pray every day that I can have more. But I haven’t felt a peace about trying again. Isn’t that strange? I never felt this kind of pause with our other pregnancies. I don’t normally pause for anything, in fact.

My family, my big family of my siblings and their spouses and my parents, recently struck a conversation about our Meyers-Briggs personality profiles. We all took an online version of the test and then read through each other’s profiles, gawking at how accurate they were and how different all of us are. I am an ENFP, an introverted kind of extrovert, full of ideas and love and short on follow-through and common sense. I’ve read through lots of information on my personality lately, trying to figure myself out and how to be a better person.

Mostly what I’ve noticed is that I am impatient. I am the opposite of a perfectionist: I am a “it’s good enough and if it’s not I’m sure we’ll all survive anyways” kind of a person. This is mostly because I have so many ideas and dreams that I couldn’t possibly be expected to spend any time finishing and perfecting just one of them, how dare you suggest it. Also, I am lazy. These traits cause problems for me, especially with my husband, who is too particular to even let me do the laundry because I forget which t-shirts don’t belong in the dryer. I just don’t care about doing things right, or about how they will get done, and I fail to see any value in following a set of rules for something that can be done faster and or easier.

And what a surprise, but I pay for this mindset constantly. My teachers always said, “You have so much potential if only you would finish something,” and they were right. I am impatient and I suck at being faithful in the details.

But now, as a mother, there’s not a lot of room for that part of me. Mundane tasks, maintenance chores that no one notices unless I don’t do them, a day revolving around the essentials of life; this is my new normal. (Do you know that children must eat at LEAST 3 times a day? It’s never-ending with these people!)

This is hard for me. It is hard almost every single day. But you know what? And this is my qualm with all those personality profiles, all of those lists of strengths and weaknesses: They don’t leave much room for grace or transformation. Because I can change. I mean, I can’t change who I am. I will always prefer major projects to small tasks. I will always enjoy creatively solving complex problems to doing the actual simple, good work of everyday life. But I am not my own person anymore. I don’t answer to Jessie, I don’t worship at the altar of Jessie, and I sure as hell don’t need Jessie and her personality traits determining my life. Simply put, Jessie makes a lot of messes. She’s not exactly my role model.

Inside of those four letters- those ENFP traits and ticks- I depend on the God of mercy to sift through me. Like the farmer methodically sifting wheat and chaff, like a judge and her intuition sifting fact and fiction, I pray for refinement as God sifts through me and presses the truth of who I am into my soul, letting the unsightly habits fall away one by one.

What does this have to do with babies? Well. We don’t have another baby yet because God said Wait. I know it was God, because it wasn’t me. Impatient, jump head first off the cliff me- she would have tried to get pregnant a long time ago. And I know it wasn’t the devil because he actually normally sounds a lot like me, which tends to make him  more convincing of course, and I would have told myself YES, go for it, now is always the right time.

I haven’t always heard God so clearly. Motherhood has chastened me, gripped me, led me into a lifestyle foreign to my tastes and behaviors. This isn’t some creative project I’m working on, these children and my home like some grand masterpiece preparing to be revealed; this isn’t one of my plays or my essays or even a full day of creative work culminated in a finished product. This is a long study. This is devoted work. This is work of the heart, produced by steady movements of my hands and my body, a work that is making me quiet down the demons of my personality and be still. Be steady. Listen. 

And in the listening, I heard Wait.

So here I am. With my two beautiful kids, an ache in my skin for many more, and a renewed trust in the One who knows me and keeps me, loves me and cherishes me, and is doing the work of sifting and refining me.

Wait. Be still. Be refined. 

Waiting is so hard! Waiting is the worst! But in the waiting, I’m hearing so much. I am mother; but I am more. And I am less. I am Jessie, which means I am impatient and impractical, foolhardy and visionary; but I am learning to listen. Learning to be the truest version of me. With kids, without kids, whatever: the sifting is necessary. And it’s good. So- I wait.

 

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(Imagine her sunscreen budget.)

 

 

When you love your kids but also they are the worst.

When Clara was three months old, my friend Josh was holding her, trying to make her smile, and asked me,

“So, have you ever hated her yet?”

I was appalled. Hated my precious baby? Hated this incredible newborn I was lucky enough to call my own? What in the world was he talking about? And this coming from the guy who was the most annoying new parent in the world just a few years before, believing his son was the best and only child that had ever taken a breath. Talking about hating a baby? Laughing at my outrage, he assured me that one day, maybe soon, there would come a time when I would want to throw my darling daughter out the front door. It would probably be in the middle of the night, he said, when I hadn’t slept in days and she was crying for no apparent reason and I would be completely over parenting in one fell swoop. I didn’t believe him, of course, he was just jaded with two little kids at his house driving him bananas; I would never feel that way. Never.

You know what? I didn’t. Not with Clara. Not for a long, long time. It wasn’t until after her brother was born, when she was suddenly a toddler and not my delicate newborn anymore, and no one was sleeping, and none of my clothes fit, and I spent day after day with the two cutest, MOST SELFISH PEOPLE I had ever met; that’s when it happened. That’s when I thought to myself,

“These babies totally suck. And I want to throw them out the front door.” 

But you can’t tell people that! You can’t say that! People shouldn’t talk about their blessings like that. Because kids are a blessing and I wanted them so badly, and I am so glad they are mine.

But also, sometimes they totally suck. I was so glad Josh had unwittingly given me permission to feel that way. To be able to love with abandon and also want to run with abandon. To admit that though we would die for these kids, we also at times want to get on a plane and fly far, far away. We feel all of these things. All at once. Altogether. One and the same.

My friend recently asked me: “Do you ever feel judged or looked down on for trying too hard? Like your passion or talents make people dislike you?”

She was referencing an article from a mother asking people to stop assuming you’re judging them based on your own performance, or thinking that you are annoying for doing something you love. I had to laugh when Abra asked me if I ever feel this way, because I definitely tend towards the other extreme. Mostly in an attempt to be transparent and to avoid self-inflation, I spend a lot of time highlighting the harder parts of parenthood and the rougher edges of myself. Also because my siblings and friends read this stuff and they know WAY too much about me for any falsehoods to make it safely across the pages, so. Truth it is. But because I focus so much on these difficult areas of me and my life, people tend to assume the worst about me and my kids. I cannot begin to tell you how many sympathy messages I receive when I write about rotten days, nor could I catalogue the volumes of unsolicited parenting advice, or tell you all the times people have assumed things about my kids or my life that just aren’t true. And this is my fault, I know that, because this blog represents about 8% of my life but reads like 100% fact, and I get that. And for the most part, I’m fine with that. I don’t want to share everything, I don’t want to tell stories that aren’t mine to tell, and I try to be very careful about details and intimacies that do not belong solely to me.

ON THE OTHER HAND.

I don’t want anyone to think my kids are awful, or that being a parent is a nightmare, or that I’m day-drinking my life away. The real truth is that just like everything else in the whole wide world, parenting these little people of mine is a complicated clutter of joy and heartache; grief and satisfaction; fun and monotony. And while I have no idea if the internet will be around in this form when they are old enough to read these pages about themselves, someday I want my children to have this virtual record of our life together. Sliver in time though it may be, and a simplified version of all the days and years we have together, I want them to read this and to know that it was hard AND good. Ugly AND beautiful. Fulfilling AND draining. All at once. Altogether. One and the same. So while I try not to brag about my kids and I actually don’t think anyone’s children are as wonderful as their parents might believe (sorry, except yours, I’m sure your offspring are those rare perfect ones) I do have some good guys on my hands over here. And I do happen to think they are fascinating, lovely people, and I want them to know that. Here and in person, now and when they are older.

Sam and I are not the kind of people who are going to worship their kids. And even when one of us is tempted to do so, the other is quick to find some grounding in reality. We have to be able to groan about and laugh at our kids just as much as we adore them, or we’ll go nuts. What I’ve noticed in writing about parenting is how many people don’t have that kind of reality check in their lives. You know how I learned that? The onslaught of texts, e-mails, facebook messages, and even phone calls from people needing to share about a hard time with their kids. And I’m not just talking about my sisters or my best friends; I’m talking about people I’ve never met before. Almost every day of the week, some mom or dad reaches out to me in hopes of getting some solidarity in how difficult parenting can be, how awful our kids can act, and how tired we get of teaching the same lessons. We are all desperate for someone to say, YES. I hear you. My kids are the best thing that ever happened to me and also I can’t wait until I can get away from them for a few hours.

I hope you have friends to talk honestly with, about your job and your family, your good days and bad. I hope you have someone in your life who loves your kids enough to absorb your annoyance about them without assuming the worst about them. If you don’t: If all of your people think admitting the bad days makes you a bad parent – I’ve got your back. I know what it means to love your kids and also grind your teeth in exasperation. I get it.

Our family recently suffered through a long round of stomach flu. Early one morning, Clara came to my bed to tell me that her tummy hurt and promptly threw up on my pillow and my face. Puking is not a great part of motherhood. It’s just not. But after we cleaned up (and after Sammy crawled crying through a trail of Clara’s throw up because I wouldn’t pick him up, since I was busy cleaning up throw up), after everyone was bathed, I settled Clara on the couch and laid Sammy down for a nap. As I stood in the middle of the living room, worn out by nine in the morning, my sweet, thoughtful daughter said, “Mama, do you want to do your yoga while Sammy sleeps? I’ll get out your yoga mat if you want.” Which she did. She dragged my mat across the floor, unrolled it carefully and then snuggled back into her blankets, watching while I stumbled through my balance positions, encouraging me with lots of “You’re doing a good job, mommy. You’re trying hard with your yoga!”

And that’s it. That’s all of it. It’s vomit on your face and it’s yoga mats twice their size, it’s tired tears and it’s earnest cheering from the two year old on the couch. Altogether. One and the same. I hope I share enough of both elements for you to know that my kids are incredible and incredibly frustrating, one and the same. It’s ok to feel both.

All I want my kids to know is this:

Sammy and Clara,

On the teeter totter of my life with you, on that long rough plank of ups and downs, in the balancing act of motherhood-

My love for you can not be outweighed. Not by anything. Not ever.

Those kick-you-out-the-front-door days are like blades of grass in rolling fields of wildflowers. Recognizing them is important to the landscape, to the integrity of the vista; but they are simply a part of our story. I share them to be a welcome heart for other parents, to give permission for honesty and relief to the exhausted, but please know how little I care about those bad moments. How often I just sit and watch you play on the floor, watch with delight as you pretend to cook me pancakes, how I kiss your hair and trace your shoulder blades while I hold you, how I count each breath as you fall asleep on me. How I write down the funny things you say and clap with pride when you learn to walk. How I can’t wait to put you to bed and then miss you after you’ve fallen asleep. How my days are wound up with you and your needs, but with a wary eye to the future, when your needs will extend beyond my reach and I will long for these hours on the floor together. Please know how much we treasure you, how much you are adored, how much you drive us crazy, and how much that doesn’t matter.

You are loved. 

 

And if nothing else? You’re real, real cute when you’re asleep. That’ll save you most days, trust me, kids.

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They have their own beds, I promise. She asks to sleep in the crib with him almost every night, and I can’t say no to this level of cuddliness. 

Cause you’re a mess too.

Sam and I used to be minimalists. At least, that’s what my friend Cassidy said the first time she came to our house after Clara was born. Clara was 4 months old, and our house looked very different than it had only a year before. Not just because there was a bouncy seat by the fireplace, or a carseat in the dining room, or a basket of toys by the couch. See, before Clara was born, we sold almost every piece of furniture we owned. Then we bought new furniture. Then we replaced our carpet with hardwood, set up a nursery, and have slowly added shelving, rugs and art pieces the last two years. When Cassidy called us ‘minimalists’ what she really meant was ‘you used to own nothing.’ Sam and I didn’t spend a lot of time at home before our kids were born. We went out a lot, hung out with our friends all the time, and then he worked out of town half the month and I never wanted to be home alone while he was gone. I can barely remember that life. I used to finish work at 6:30 p.m. and be able to do anything I wanted until 10 the next morning. Half the time didn’t even have a husband at home waiting for me. The freedom! What did I do with all that time? Mostly I recall eating a lot of cold cereal and making a lot of plans for the weekend. My gosh! Why don’t I like, know Italian by now? Or have a PhD in something? Young people! You there, the ones with the hours of time dictated by no one. TURN OFF NETFLIX and DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF. Love, your old and tired friend, Jessie.

So now, here we are, finally actually living within the walls of our small home in our small neighborhood, living amongst all this strange IMG_3778new stuff. Living with our kids and the strange new stuff that came with them. It’s not even like our children have completely taken over the house, either. We make them share a room so that we can keep a guest room. They have one corner of the living room for their toys. That’s about it. But still, we seem to be surrounded. Tripping over their shoes, cleaning up their crumbs, buying diapers and socks, washing their blankets, reassessing their closet and editing out clothing sizes- it’s never ending.

The other night after a wildly unsuccessful bedtime, Sammy still wasn’t asleep and needed another snuggle. I wrapped my arms around him and then Clara joined him on my lap in their rocking chair. I rocked and sang, smelling their clean hair and rubbing their backs through their soft jammies, still amazed that they are mine at all. There I was, in a big green comfy chair that I hadn’t owned a few years ago, in a nursery that hadn’t existed, flanked by a crib and a toddler bed I had never really imagined, holding two children my body had grown from sesame seed heartbeats to two warm and tired bodies melting into my lap. Their stuff is all over our previously-minimalist house. We don’t have any more empty drawers or cupboards; our corners and nooks are full of our babies.

And it turns out, we don’t mind it at all.

Because all of this stuff? It’s evidence of their existence. It is mostly outside of me in the sense that I don’t use it, unless invited to play; I wouldn’t own it were it not for their presence in our home.

It is silly, maybe, and it is cluttered, at times, but it is there because they are here. 

Their voices bounce off the hardwood, just like everyone warned us when we installed it. They smear fingerprints across the glass french doors, they spill food every day, we pick up on their toys over and over again. Two hooded towels hang behind the door in the bathroom, their names embroidered across the terry material. Clara and Sammy. There they are, in our bathroom. Splashing in the bathtub. Sleeping in our bed. Climbing on our couches. Crawling around our feet as we make dinner, crying our names in the middle of the night, laughing as we chase them and complaining as we discipline. They fill up our home with noise and mess and a joy that squeezes us, wrings us out like a dripping sponge.

We used to be minimalists. We used to be free.

We didn’t know what we were missing.

We don’t sleep that much anymore. We don’t go out on a whim, or see many movies, or leave the house without the fanfare of a small, disorganized side show. Our world overflows with their presence. Our home is full of them and their stuff. Our hearts burst with pride and thanks when we see them. Our lives are interlaced with theirs, threaded so tightly together that to pull one string apart would change the entire tapestry.

The inconvenience of loving someone often shows up in the form of their stuff. Their clothes on the floor. Their files of old baseball cards. Their spread sheets and organizational charts, pinned up in the office. Their beer in the fridge, their dishes in the sink, their toothpaste flicked onto the mirror. Their jacket on the chair. Their particular brand of mess, emotional or tangible, probably both, fills up our lives and we make room for them. Just like we want them to make room for us. Even when the mess is too much. Even when the mess has us a little bit buried.

When we love, we make room.

The space that our things occupy is a physical manifestation of the space we occupy. Learning to live with the stuff of others; the mess; the bags on wheels that we all lug behind us; that is love.When we love, we welcome one another, stuff and all. Maybe we sit in it for a while. Maybe we help clean it up. Maybe we point the direction to the trash heap and let our loved ones decide the next step to take, because the hard part is that our stuff keeps changing. Like my children’s blankets and dolls will soon be replaced with school books and muddy soccer cleats, like our home has altered over time, the things we must make room for will change too. A battle will be won only to have another soon waging in its place. My temper will cool over time, I will learn to hold my tongue, and other painful shortcomings will crop up instead. This is the way of life, and it simply must be the way of love. I will love you in your messes, old and new. Embattled and triumphant. Until death do us part.

I think realizing what all we accept when we decide to love gives us a better understanding of how sacred it is to hold someone’s heart, to love with abandon; it’s not to be taken lightly. It is important, difficult work that comes with a lot of stuff. Love doesn’t just see the stuff and passively agree that it exists; love sees the stuff and says “Welcome. All of you. Whether you ever change or go away or get better or get bigger- my love will have room for you. My love will always make room.”

I come with my grandmother’s tea cups, a penchant for breakfast goods, and an unhelpful, selfish avoidance of mundane chores or errands. Sam comes with an absurd amount of baseball hats, an incredible commitment to cleanliness, and an annoying habit of refusing to make decisions.

Clara is a little lady. She has an impeccable sense of order, a tenderness that frightens me with its fragility, and a maddening way of whining and arguing. Sammy brought the summer sun into our home, has a smile that never leaves his face, and recently tore up four beloved books in one infuriating morning.

This is our stuff. This is our family. This is the room we extend to each other, room to be and room to grow, room to rest and room to become the ones we are meant to become. It’s not easy, this love. It’s work. It’s mess.  It’s steady, faithful, messy work and it’s worth it, we say. Torn up books, bedtime shenanigans, a tired “I love you” whispered as you fall into bed- it’s all so very worth it.

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someday you will miss that robe.

Dear Jessie,

Someday you will miss that robe at the end of your bed.

Someday you will miss that pink robe, the one draped over your bed covers. The one worn thin by round baby cheeks pressed against you in sleep. The one with the left shoulder constantly caked with spit up or animal cracker or drool, that left shoulder where so many nights and early mornings you invited a sleepy head to rest. You wear that robe like a cape some nights, tossing it on as you rush to save your crying baby. You are not even completely awake, but you know the tone of their cries, you know the sound of their breaths, you know something is wrong even through the walls of your house. You are not a hero, but to them? In those long and dark midnight hours of pushing through new teeth, waking up with painful coughs, or that restless newborn confusion: you are everything they ever wanted. You are mommy. In her pink robe. Warm and quiet and soft, swaying with that ancient dance of motherhood that has rocked civilizations to sleep since Eve held her boys to her breast. You are home, you and that robe.

Someday, I promise, you will miss feeling tiny hands climb over you and into your bed. You will be more rested, I think, when these days pass, but your bed might feel bigger than necessary without those warm, wiggling bodies twisting between their tired parents. You will miss her curls, his chubby feet, their dreaming fingers fluttering inches away from you in deep slumber.

I know you’re tired. I know you are so, so tired. It’s ok. These are hard nights. It’s hard to be woken up, it’s hard to always be a parent, even in the middle of the night, even when you are exhausted. It’s hard to be kind in the morning after you slept on the couch with a sick baby, or when two-year old molars were coming in all night, or when no one has slept well for a week. It’s hard to wake up and make breakfast and say “Good morning, babies,” and be patient when people are fussing on a really good day, much less on a really tired day. But you’re doing good. Good job for apologizing when you snapped at Clara for whining. Good job for knowing you needed to take the kids to see their cousins this morning when you couldn’t handle telling Sammy’s book-tearing hands “NO” one more time by 9 am. That’s good. You’re not a hero, remember. You wear a pink cape that rests on the edge of your bed and you pray all day long for more and more and more of whatever it is that makes God love you and your fussing so much, and that’s great. That’s it, that’s all you need. Because He knows. He sees you. He will bear with you, and teach you to bear with them, and He will show them love through you, at all hours of the day. That’s good.

And remember, ok, remember this when the days seem impossible, or you are almost afraid of how happy you are to be their mom, or you just can’t remember how to be a mom at all: remember that life is meant to be interrupted. Your broken sleep is merely a reflection of this breaking inside you, as your old way of life is interrupted and a new, thick thread weaves it way through your story. You won’t be the same anymore. You aren’t meant to be, after these babies come. This thread is pulling, tugging, changing your tapestry in ways you cannot imagine. It’s gonna hurt sometimes. It’ll feel too tight. It’ll feel wrong, this piercing, tugging thread of motherhood. But it’s just right. These minutes filled with the needs of others, filled with the clatter of disruption and disorder; they are the thread that is hemming in your story and creating the rest of you. 

Because these precious, beloved children of yours? They won’t be here forever. In fact, they’ll leave soon. Someday they will sneak past your bedroom door instead of through it. Someday you will throw on that robe to answer midnight phone calls instead of cries, to whisper advice instead of lullabies. You will still be you, changed by their very heartbeats, and they will still be them, hearts beating outside of your grasp and in a world all their own. Don’t lose yourself in these tired nights. Don’t forget the astonishing joy of being their everything, nor the price you pay to raise someone well, nor the woman beneath the robe who exists beyond the nursery door, in a world all her own. Remember that the thread of motherhood is a part of your story; but not the very end. Remember that these babies and their needs are a gift, and will not last forever. Remember that the love in their eyes is saved for no one else.

Someday you will miss that pink robe on the edge of your bed. You won’t miss being woken up all night, or feeling hung over with exhaustion, or planning your sex life around a nap schedule. You won’t miss being thrown up on or changing wet pants or the onslaught of questions and requests that begins every morning at sunrise. But you will miss this simple kind of tired. The one that means you are doing your job well. The one that goes away with sleep. There will be new kinds of tired, you know? As these babies grow up, and hurt themselves or others, you will not be able to sleep away the pain you share with them. And when those days come; when you feel lost and hurt and wonder how on earth you can ever help them find their way again; remember that a long time ago, you held them tight and loved them well. You kept a robe waiting at the end of your bed so you could hurry to meet their needs, and that kind of love will dig into them. It will grow with them. It will teach them to love others and to love themselves.

These midnight hours matter. These tired days matter.

You and your babies are going to be ok.
Tomorrow morning,
and all the mornings after.

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Sammy’s surgery (part 2)

Here’s Part One if you need to catch up. 

When we landed in Boise, my sister Becca and her husband Mitch picked us up from the airport and took us directly to the emergency room. They were spending a “night out” in a hotel while my mom watched their kids, and chose to spend it carting me around and staying with me at the hospital until after midnight. It probably wasn’t as romantic as their abandoned night together would have been, but it meant the entire world to me.

When we got to the hospital, it took seven minutes from the time I checked in until Sammy was seen by a doctor. His fever still hovered above 103, he was lethargic and fussy, and the mass seemed to be growing hourly. After a blood draw and an examination, they quickly and efficiently started him on IV antibiotics, alarmed at his incredibly high white blood cell count. He was clearly fighting something very bad in his body, and needed the strongest help with whatever it was. The pediatric ER nurses and doctors seemed more worried than I was, which was frightening, but their calm and fast care made me feel more secure about Sammy’s well-being than I had at any other point in the last few days.

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The doctor ordered an ultrasound of Sammy’s neck, to find out what was happening inside the spreading mass. If it was just a swollen gland, he said, then we would continue the IV for a day or two to kill the bacteria in his body. If it was full of fluid, however, that meant it was infected, he would need surgery, and it would need to be done as soon as possible so the infection wouldn’t get anywhere else in his body or cause the mass  (sorry, so graphic) to burst open on his neck. Sammy was feeling a little better at this point, with antibiotics and Motrin in him, but I felt nauseous with all of the scenarios racing through my brain, and the fact that Sam was still a 5 hour drive away in Washington with Clara.

We took the elevator down to the ultrasound lab, I pinned the crying baby down in my arms for what I had no idea would be the first of many, many times in the next few days, and got some images of the lump. The results were in our ER room before we even got back, and the doctor walked in with a surgeon on the phone. The mass was, indeed, pockets of infection multiplying in his lymph node, and the only way to get him better was to cut open the infected area on his neck, clean it out, insert a drain, and pump antibiotics through his body to try to kill whatever other bacteria was lurking and making him sick in the first place. They scheduled the surgery for first thing in the morning and sent us upstairs to the pediatric floor.

So, ok, to explain better: Whatever was making Sammy sick in the first place, whatever bacteria in his body was causing the upper respiratory illness, his congestion and cough and fever, that bacteria had somehow slipped into his blood stream. Maybe through his gums because he’s been cutting teeth, which leaves an open wound in his mouth? We don’t know HOW it got in there, only that it DID get in there, like some sort of freak mistake in his body. Once the bacteria hit his blood stream, it settled into a lymph node and began building an evil bacteria city in his neck. And once this happens, once bacteria begins to wall itself off from the rest of the body, there is NO way to cure it except to cut it open and dig it out. Normally this isn’t a huge deal. If it happened to you or me, if we had an abscess of infection on our back or arm or something, they would just cut it open right there in the emergency room and send us home with some medicine. But because he is a baby, and especially because it was on his neck, next to his airway and his throat and his tongue and a million other dangerous areas of his body, it was a big deal and required careful and delicate surgery as soon as possible.

I called Sam and we decided to leave Clara in Washington with his parents, who would drive her home to us that weekend. Sam left immediately and drove through mountain snow storms to arrive at the hospital at 5:30 the next morning, just in time for the surgery. The night had not gone well. After the IV from the ER got kinked on our way up to our room, it took five different nurses five different tries to insert another IV. This episode from hell was an hour and a half of Sammy screaming and crying while I cried and held him down, sensing the frustration from the nurses as they worked intensely to find a vein and thread their needle into it. He still has little bruises all over his hands and feet from that night, charcoal shaded traumas from what felt like a nightmare. I know that sounds dramatic! I know it. But it was sad, so sad, and I don’t know how moms and dads with really sick kids handle all this business so constantly. It takes something from you, it really does.

By six that morning we were down in the operating preparation room, meeting lots of different doctors and nurses and holding our baby close before they took him away to surgery. Our wonderful pastor stopped by to give us a hug and pray over the baby. Becca and Mitch brought us coffee. The ENT surgeon was an older man with a kind face and gentle voice, who smiled a lot while he talked to us about the procedure and lightly touched Sammy’s arm before leaving to scrub in. The pediatric anesthesiologist took a long time to talk with us as well, explaining some of the risks involved with putting Sammy under. I had asked a few times if I could please stay with him in the operating room until he fell asleep, so I would be the last person he saw before it all kicked in. But she strongly urged against it. Normally they would never do surgery on someone as sick as he was, she told us. They would send him home for a few weeks and try again when he was well. But this was an emergency and they didn’t have a choice. She told us that his respiratory illness, whatever it was, meant he would for sure have trouble breathing once they started to put him under. It would be an “act now and act fast”  situation that they were very prepared to address, but she emphasized that it would not be something any mom should have to see. This was terrifying to hear and later to imagine in the waiting room, but I trusted her advice and kissed him goodbye before they carried him out.

The surgery itself took less than an hour. Becca and Mitch waited with me and Sam and bought us breakfast from the cafeteria, but we had both been up for over 24 hours at that point and were mostly buzzing on fear and adrenaline. I watched every minute tick by on the oversized clocks in the waiting room, wondering what was happening to my son. Finally, though in reality it had only been an hour, the surgeon came out and knelt beside our chairs, smiling again as he told us that everything had gone well. He found at least two different pockets of infection within the larger mass, cleaned them out, and the drain he’d inserted should help finish the job over the next few days.

“We’ll take his blood again tomorrow morning and make sure his white count has dropped significantly, and then we’ll know for sure if we got everything out.” He shook our hands and said that someone would come get us as soon we could go to Sammy.

When Sam and I got back to the recovery room, the baby was crying and straining to get out of the nurse’s arms. He was so swollen from the trauma of the surgery and all the fluids pumped into him, and his face was sort of scary. Even his eyelids were plump with fluid, the flesh all over his body tight and a faint shade of green. I started crying. The weird thing was that he only wanted his dad. That has never happened since he was born- he’s a mama’s boy through and through. But it was like I was a stranger, he wouldn’t even let me touch him unless he was nursing.

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It took us over three hours to get out of recovery with him, rather than the 30 minutes they had guessed. He was still upset, and having a lot of trouble breathing, which required constant observation from several nurses. Then, right when they released him to his room on the Pediatric floor, his DAMN IV CAME OUT AGAIN. The recovery nurses didn’t want to try and get another one in him, because none of them work on babies often enough. So they found a doctor to come in with an ultrasound machine and find a vein, and then it took four adults to hold him down while the doctor slowly inserted the tubing into a vein on his ankle and started the IV again.

It was truly, truly awful. I hope he doesn’t remember one tiny moment of this entire ordeal.

We spent the day in his room, getting his vital signs checked every 30 minutes, trying to keep him still so the IV would stay put, and just generally feeling miserable and exhausted. Sam and I had been awake for over 36 hours at that point and traded the baby back and forth, fighting his thrashing and crying until we were too tired to hold him anymore and passed him off to each other’s weary arms.

But, thanks to the crazy power of social media, several friends stopped by with food and love for us, and we were shocked over and over again at how many people cared about and were worried over our son. It was such a shot of energy whenever someone would text or message and ask how we were and tell us that they were praying for Sammy. From Becca and Mitch freely abandoning their night in a nice hotel room to take me to the hospital and take care of us all weekend, to our neighbors driving all the way from Nampa just to bring Sam lunch, to our friend Marti packing up a homemade dinner for us, to the worried Pelton brothers delivering froyo and hugs, to my friend Heather bringing her entire family all the way to the hospital just to “See if you guys are ok. We heard the word surgery and got in the car,”:

We were humbled and so thankful for our community. It was a reminder of what we belong to, and what a gift we have. Makes me tear up just remembering all of you and your reassurances. Thank you, all our dear friends. We love you so.

Late that night, I tried to lay Sammy down in his crib/cage to go to sleep. He crawled away from me and whaddya know: his *&#*$ (insert a bunch of curse words I don’t want my mother in law to read) IV popped out of his ankle. His incredible nurses did everything they could to save the line, but it was too far out to slide back in. They did not want to put another one in him, his fourth in 24 hours, mostly because every easily accessible vein was already bruised, blown, or had already proved useless, and their next options were not nice ones (his head, the crooks of his elbows, etc. All bad ideas for babies who can move.) They called our surgeon and decided to start him on oral antibiotics and see how he did overnight, and try at all costs to avoid another terrible needle episode.

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After a short night of deep, heavy sleep (I’m not being sarcastic, all three of us slept like a coma. We were beyond words tired) they drew his blood and we waited the rest of the morning to see the doctors and hear if we could go home. His white count wasn’t great- still over 24, 000- and the nurses told us not to get our hopes up, because that was really high to send a kid home. But! His surgeon came in that afternoon and checked the wound, changed the dressing, and said that because they really didn’t want to subject him to another IV, we could take him home on the oral antibiotics. We were shocked, elated, and a little worried. His neck wound looked awful and we knew he was still very sick- could we take good enough care of him at home? We were told to keep a close eye on his facial swelling and his fever, and if it went above 100.5 to bring him right back in.

After several early morning visits to the surgeon’s office and getting his drain and stitches removed, Sammy is starting to look like his old self. His neck and cheek are still swollen and the surgery site is red and irritated, but it seems like all of the infection is gone. Thank you JESUS! We seem to be past this nightmare, and I still can’t believe it even happened. This morning he threw a huge fit when I took my phone away from him, and I couldn’t have been happier to hear his angry yelling. Our boy is going to be ok. This was a bizarre emergency, a freak accident, and will probably never happen again. The bacteria cultured from his neck showed up as either staph or strep, and we are 99.9% sure that he had some residual, undiagnosed strep floating around his body and that is what infected him.

Did you know he turned one year old this Wednesday? January 7. The day was quiet. He can’t be around any people or germs until his face is completely healed, and he can’t have any cake or frosting on his wound, so we’ll do a party in a few weeks. But the day also felt  reverent. Like, here we are. At home. With our precious little boy, with his precious heart beating away beneath his pajama top, with two puncture holes in his neck turning slowly to scars which will always remind us to say thank you  for his life, thank you for the healthy blood beating through his body, thank you for the gift of his birth into our family. Happy birthday and thank you, I prayed all day long.

Happy birthday and thank you. 

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what the hell happened last night?

When Sam is on-call for work, it’s sort of a known factor that I’ll be doing everything by myself for a week. This is fine, it’s better by about a million and a half miles than him being gone every other week like his old job required; I can do a week “alone” every other month. No problem.

Except last night, when it was a problem.

Sam’s phone rang at 6:22 p.m. with a power emergency he left to tend. (Did you know that happens? Like, when you call the power company because your lights are off, or you just ran into a power pole with your car- someone is leaving their house to come help you. Fact.)

So, his phone rings, he leaves, and it’s 6:22 p.m. Do you have small kids? Do you have any kids at all? Do you know what is happening at 6:22 p.m. in a home with children?
Everything. That is what’s happening. Every feeling, every emotion, every complaint, every need, every chore, everything is happening. My mom calls it the witching hour, aptly named, because your children will indeed turn to witchcraft and evil spells for the next 2 hours until they are sound asleep.
Or actually, maybe it’s because the mom turns into a witch for the next two hours until they are sound asleep?

I’m not actually sure. Either way, aptly named.

At 6:22 at our house last night, dinner was almost over and the kids were ready for a bath. Which, spelled out a bit further, meant that my kitchen was torn apart by dinner preparations, my table and floor were torn apart by dinner consumption (and food throwing by my youngest, WHY SAMMY WHY) and the kids were dancing around naked in the bathroom while straining to get into the bathtub filled with warm water. This is normal, because we usually split ways after dinner, me to the bathing arena and Sam to the kitchen, me cleaning our slippery children while he cleans all the dishes and dinner mess. It’s a good system, except when he leaves in the middle of our loud little circus. This was also, interestingly enough, the night I had prepared myself to throw down the hatchet and make the baby “cry it out” for bedtime.

The last week or so (or even more? I don’t know. Life has been a blur of travel, holidays, and illness) Sammy has been terrible at night. He falls asleep fine, but then he is up constantly, from about 10:30 on, wanting to nurse or play or cry or whatever his dumb baby brain is thinking about at that particular hour. Like most bad habits that my children start to exhibit, it snuck up on me, one instance at a time. We slept in 4 different houses in 4 consecutive weeks when we were traveling last month, so I had a lot of grace for my kids and their sleeping needs. Especially because we were staying in other people’s homes and I didn’t want any unnecessary crying or bedtime shenanigans, more often than not I was rocking, singing, and nursing when it was time to go sleep, and way more often than not, both kids ended up in my bed sometime during the night. But. Now we are home. Now it is time to settle back in to routine. Both kids in their beds at 7:30 p.m. and falling asleep on their own and staying asleep until morning. Right?
Wrong, says Sam the Fifth. Very wrong, Mama. Now let’s play “bite the mommy and daddy until they wake up and play with me” one more time tonight, whaddya say?
Egads. That is what I say.

So last night! Was the night! When I was going to put my tired foot down on my drool covered wood floors and say Go The #$%& To Sleep, Baby Sam!

After many splashes of bath water, a wrestling match into pajamas (Sammy, that is. Clara is an angel at bedtime, seriously), a toy cleanup whirlwind, and reading a book, it was time for bed. I  tucked Clara in her bed, rocked Sammy while singing a few Christmas carols, then laid the baby in his crib and tiptoed out of their shared nursery. Sammy immediately started crying. I cursed.

Cut to 45 minutes later:
After several failed attempts to lightly pat Sammy’s back and lay him back down, after a few hugs, after a few desperate “It’s night-night time, buddy. It really is!” in my most convincing voice, he was still crying. Standing up, shaking the bars of his crib, furiously crying. And of course his poor tortured sister was also crying, because unlike the maniac across the room, she actually wanted to fall asleep.

I gave up on the “put them to bed in their own beds” mantra and carried a very upset Smoochie to our room, along with an armload of her pillows, stuffed animals (“my guys, mama. Don’t forget my guys!”) and settled her into my bed. Where she continued to cry, asking me to fall asleep with her, too tired to be rational at this point. But not, as it turns out, too tired to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Thank God for those weird mermaid kids.

23 minutes later:
Sammy still wailing intermittently. Bubble Guppies end credits rolling. Me speed reading tips on crying it out at 11 months old. Clara still awake. In perhaps the best parenting move of my day, I press play and let Clara watch the exact same Bubble Guppies, again. In case you’re counting, it’s close to 10 p.m. at this point and she is about to get 46 minutes deep into a cartoon haze. I’ll pick up my mothering award at the door, thanks a bunch.

23 more minutes later:
Bubble Guppies is almost over. The baby is still upset. I am slumped against the three feet of wall between our room and the nursery, my phone the only light in the hall, defeatedly reading bedtime tips for babies. Suddenly I find a list about “crying it out,” a sort of “are these things true of your baby?” list to help you determine why they’re waking up during the night.

-Will he only fall asleep with a binky? No. He hates binkies.
-Will he only fall asleep while nursing or drinking a bottle? No. He nurses in 5 minutes flat.
Will he only fall asleep to music or rocking? No, he can skip either one.
-Does he nap well during the day? At least 4 hours combined.
-And most importantly, Does he fall asleep on his own? YES. Always has. 

“Your baby does not need to cry it out. He needs to be night-weaned. Slowly and gently.”
OH GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN. Why have I been torturing my son all night? WHY AM I THE WORST MOM EVER? And why didn’t I read this stuff before we started?

I rush in and pick up my sad son. I cradle him to me and tell him I’m sorry. I climb in my bed next to Clara, turn off the tv, pull both of my tired babies close to me. I nurse Sammy while Clara snuggles up against his back, both of us kissing his head resting between us. He drifts off to sleep but his sister is still awake, breathing slow and even in the dark. I feel her delicate hand reaching across the pillow, searching for me. She touches my cheek and then presses her hand to my chest, right where my heart lays beneath my sternum. She’s done this since she was a baby; impatiently pulling open my robe or tugging aside my shirt to rest her cheek or her hand on my heartbeat. It’s been such a long night, alone, making decisions and unmaking them and feeling so tired before we had even begun; I am so tired. Clara drapes herself around her sleeping brother and falls asleep with her fingers brushing against the warmth of my beating heart.

I laid there for a few minutes, praying over my kids and feeling so thankful for their lives. I took a picture of them sleeping and sent it to their dad. I crept out of my room and cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned, took out trash, measured coffee grounds for the next morning, turned off lights and blew out candles, brushed my teeth and crawled back in my bed full of babies. I tucked myself around them and fell asleep with a sigh.

Parenting is so hard. Parenting is so amazing. Parenting makes me cry happy tears and sad tears and frustrated tears, all in the same hour. Parenting is the gift of real, messy love. The gift of perspective.

Parenting is a small hand holding your heartbeat, counting on the steady rhythm of your blood and breath to make sense of the great big world beyond their sleepy eyes.

And all of that,
every bit of it:
is so, so good.

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