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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because motherhood will crack you wide open.

A few nights ago my parents had a Bible study at their house and one of their group members asked me,

“How is your visit to Boston going? Are you just here to relax, or did you come for some sort of business?”

It was 8:00 at night. Both of my kids were bathed and in jammies and still awake, full of whatever business they seem to get full of when it’s dark and they are late to bed. I was in my parents’ small home which was filled with adults I’d never met before, and I’d been travelling alone with a 2 year old and a 9 month old since 3:30 in the morning on Saturday.

So I wasn’t sure how to answer him. ‘Cause while I’m definitely not getting paid to do any business during my visit, I’m sure as hell not relaxing in any definition of the word. In fact, these last few weeks have hit me hard. Hit me like an airliner trundling down the runway, like a wind whipping through trees, like a bottle blunt over the head. Sam was on-call the week before we left which meant we didn’t see him for days at a time, and then I packed up a big suitcase full of my jeans and sweaters mingled with their smaller jeans and tiny sweaters, and left for a ten day trip with Clara and Sammy to see my family in Boston. I’ve been planning this trip since my birthday in April when I asked for airline tickets to see my parents, my brother Robert,  my sister-in-law Malia, and my baby niece Elsie. It’s good to be here. I am supposed to be here.

But hey, man. I’m tired.
I’m tired from worrying about our plane rides.
I’m tired from the actual plane rides.
I’m tired from parenting alone the last few weeks.
And tonight;
oh, gosh,
tonight?
I’m tired. Of. My. Kids.
Not of them, themselves, though they can be a little awful,
but of their never-ending need for me and my space and my time.

My friend lost her baby this week, 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Her little boy, she’ll never meet him. She’ll never hear his heartbeat again or get to shush and sway him to sleep, never get to cut his hair, never have to put him in time-out. It’s a heartbreak I’m familiar with, the searing, burning pain of losing a beloved baby. It’s a loss a mother does not forget. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve kissed the quiet face of another mother’s lost baby and I’ve prayed in anger over lost babies and there’s something that breaks in that empty mother that doesn’t get fixed. It does not repair. Like a crack in the earth that now contains a formidable rushing river, it is a break so violent that it can absolutely never be repaired.
It can grow a river.
It can produce beauty.
But it cannot be fixed.

Tonight, after another long day with my two year old, the one who never ever ever stops talking and the one who never ever ever stops pushing boundaries, I called my husband behind closed doors and whispered that I wanted to run away from his daughter. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sam, I said. She’s pushed me to the edge. I’m here. On the edge. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. I was calling him from thousands of miles away and two time zones ahead and I just really needed to hear his voice, to hear from someone else who knows the difficult loveliness of our Clara and her complicated, intelligent, manipulative brand of disobedience. I needed another soldier to remind me why we’re fighting this good fight at all.

My fellow warrior gave me some advice (he was irate, he is as stubborn as she is and doesn’t put up with nearly as much as I do) and then said with resolve,
Don’t let her break you, Jess! You know she’ll try to break you! 

It was funny, and we laughed, mostly because it’s true, but let’s be honest.
Motherhood breaks us.
There is no place on a man’s body that breaks open and produces life.
But a woman?
No matter what way a baby is born, through a cesarean cut or a birth canal,
a woman is broken open for her child.

These little people, these beating hearts, they break us open. They devastate our bodies and our lives in the most resplendent fashion, carving paths and valleys so deep that they hurt, changing our very landscape with every breath that they do or do not take. The pain of raising my children is carving away at me, with every argument and every defiance and every stumble away from my instruction, the pain of their pain is widening a crevice inside me. This relentless love for my children, the terrifying and determined love of a mother, it chisels in me walls steep with miles and miles of edges and cliffs. I cannot help but love them with a wonder awash in fear, cannot help but want the best for them with a need akin to desperation.
And so the valleys extend.

But then?
Then come the currents.
The river waters begin to swell, begin to swirl, begin tumbling over those dry and sparse grounds we thought we knew so well.
It’s all changing, it’s all hard, and it’s all so achingly beautiful.

It is the very essence of God, of a holy refreshing love, breaking and changing and making space for what will come.
In the suffering, may there be promise.
In the silence, may there be hope.
In the pain, may there be the scent of fresh water. May the rain be fruitful and may the land find healing.

I am in Boston on a dark and cold autumn night and I’m so glad my babies are asleep. Somewhere back home in the chill of an Idaho October, I imagine my friend would do anything to give her baby more time.
Motherhood breaks us open. It cracks us through and through. Tonight I’m praying for refreshment, and for new days. For rivers to come. For cliffs to be beautiful and not just dangerous. For Clara to listen and for more patience and wisdom, and most of all for a mom who is getting ready to tell her son goodbye.

May joy come in the morning. 

 

don’t read this if you don’t want a baby.

This kid is just your basic dose of anti-birth control.
He is happy.
He is cute.
He is friendly.
He is sweet.

He doesn’t have those stupid looking top teeth yet, the ones that turn babies into hillbillies. I found pictures of Clara at this age and was horrified at her hillbilly teeth.

I dread the day this happens to Sammy.

Although that bottom one is looking suspicious.

He crawls, he stands, and he falls all day long and I would recognize the sound of that head hitting a hardwood floor anywhere, anytime. He rarely cries when it happens, but he always crawls to find me for a tight hug of reassurance.

He puts up with a lot of different business from a lot of little hands and he is eternally patient and long-suffering.

I tell him “no” and he grins. I tell him “no” again, more stern, and he laughs. He’s gonna be difficult to discipline, that’s pretty clear.

He loves being held. He loves giving hugs. He loves everyone.

His sister lights up his world. Here’s the scene at my house every morning at 7:30, when we hear him stirring and chatting in his bed:
Clara bounces towards the nursery shouting “He’s awake! Brudder’s awake, mama! No problems, I get him!” His grin beams across the room as she reaches through the crib slats to stroke his cheek and say “Good morning, Sammy. Hi! I miss you! Good morning, bubbies!” He smiles and chatters to her. I smile and try to memorize the way they look at each other.

And even when he’s sad, it’s pretty damn adorable.
Samuel Iradell Horney V.
You’re nine months old and still hanging on to that favorite child slot, buddy. I’m sure you’ll be bumped once you start sassing me or fighting with your sister or flushing jewelry down our toilets, but for now? Enjoy the prestige.
And your dad should bow down to the maker of the almighty IUD, because you make me want to get pregnant by like, YESTERDAY.
Love you Sam guy! Love you so so so much!

Elevate.

I love reality tv. I do. It’s shameful, I’m sure, and most people would probably not admit to such a low-level pleasure, but COME ON. It’s addicting to watch ‘real life’ on screen, scripted or no, because it feeds the obscene voyeuristic side of my personality- the same reason I read mostly non-fiction, the same reason I like to watch my neighbors out my kitchen window while I wash dishes, the same reason I have to delete Instagram off my phone every few weeks or so because I just can’t stop looking.

Shameful confessions aside, one of the shows I like best is Master Chef. I’d never watched any cooking shows before this one, and there’s this one phrase that they use all the time. I wonder if it’s part of every cooking contest, but one thing the contestants aim for is to “elevate their dish.” Basically, this means that instead of making macaroni and cheese, you make macaroni and cheese with, say, a truffle sauce. To ‘elevate’ food is to give it finesse, give it flair, make the flavors new again and make the dish a product of imagination and love. With the right skill set and the right open mind, a good chef can elevate even the most basic of foods.

That idea sticks with me. Not just because I love to cook, and I love to try new dishes. But because the thought that something like a stupid hotdog, in the capable hands of a talented chef, could become a surprising and delicious meal. That’s fascinating. And challenging. And pardon my love for a good metaphor, but isn’t that the key to living a good life? What can I do to elevate my daily living, to re-imagine its place and reassign its value?

How do I make the basic into the beautiful?

Most religions have some pillar based on this very idea, actually. Buddhists call it utthana-sampada, or working diligently at all you do. Mormons work hard to do good because they are aiming towards their own godhood, attaining deification.
And Christians offer themselves up to a life of being “holy.”
Or, the way I learned it, being set apart.

All of these theologies encourage an elevation of the mundane, an understanding that everything matters. Every act, every word, every moment of every day has a meaning with roots deeper than we can see. Some elevate for the sake of understanding, some for the sake of castles in the sky. For me, as a Christian, the reason for elevation isn’t a reason at all. It’s a calling.

It’s not about ‘inner peace’. Or karma, or any sort of celestial reward system. For me, learning to sanctify the act of hanging tiny t-shirts in a closet, or nursing my baby, or teaching my daughter to be kind: it’s all a matter of re-branding. Re-branding the mundane for the sake of the Holy, for the sake of my soul and my place on this earth as a loved daughter of the King. Elevating that which seems lowly by way of a changed heart, because I know for a fact that all of this matters very, very much.

And while I know this is a short season of my life, this home bound, inward universe of raising my young children, I’m learning a lesson that I couldn’t have absorbed anywhere bigger than my house.

It was easy for me to feel gratified in past occupations. It was easy to elevate my day to day activities.
Running an after school program for elementary school kids? Easy to see the purpose, easy to accept the love and thanks of the families we served. Attending college the last 3 years? It was easy to push forward because finishing my degree seemed pertinent, to me and to my future.

I’ve served coffee at Starbucks, I’ve directed summer camps, I’ve worked at churches and insurance offices and even a Japanese karaoke bar in Hawaii. Some of those jobs were draining and some of them were exciting, but every single one of them came with some sort of extrinsic value, like paychecks or community support or free drinks.

But now? Being a mom? It has a different sort of value system. It’s more difficult for me to elevate. It takes purposeful heart checks throughout each hour to remember the incredible investments I am making in my family, in my kids and every person they will ever meet.

I miss having a paycheck. Or feedback. But I have to say, there is a sincerity to my every day movements that has not been there before. I think it’s the lack of external motivation, the lack of accolades from any sort of public opinion or authority figure, from professors or managers, because it’s just me. It’s just me and these kids and honestly, they won’t even remember most of what goes on during these early years of their development. These days belong to us, to our ins and outs, to our moods, to our small but meaningful accomplishments. These days belong to me and my God, and the act of elevation is a discipline that is at once softening me, and also hardening a core of truth about What Is Holy and What Matters.

I think at some point, we all fight that hollow feeling of What Am I Doing Here? We work at jobs we hate, we are in relationships we don’t understand, we forgot what we meant when we started out and everything looks like cold noodles and hot dogs.

We have to elevate.
We have to know that when we are loved so enormously by a God who gives every sparrow a nest and every heart a new mercy with each sunrise, our moments surely matter.

When we sit in a planning meeting.
When our hands are dirty with another day of work.
When we pay our bills at night.
When we feel stuck.
When we fight against the injustice of poverty and yet it never seems to be enough.
When we write into the void.

It matters. More than we could ever know, it all matters.

I’ll try to remember that later, when I gather baby Sam in tight while he cries through another night of teething. When he sighs with desperate relief because his mom is near.

Elevating. It’s not feigning relevance. It’s not inflation or vanity;
it’s perception.
it’s mindful.
it’s the heart of God, one day at a time.


“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” – Paul the apostle 

releasing the gaps.

I was 16 years old before I realized my parents had faults. I mean, maybe I suspected it before then and of course I was rotten to them for years before that but still. It was a shock to me when they became human. I wonder if everyone has that moment, or if comes more gradually for some of us, that moment when our moms and dads shrink a little and the world sort of zeroes in on their inadequacies and suddenly, SUDDENLY nothing can be trusted. If my parents don’t know everything, then what the heck does any of this mean? we might ask ourselves in that moment of revelation. There are times I look at my own kids wondering if they aren’t just looking right back through me, already aware of my deep, abiding failures as a human being.

A while ago we went to Washington to visit our family. Sam left me and the kids there for the week while he went back home to work. It was the first time I’d ever been away by myself with Clara and Sammy, and each night of our trip was a small battle for a full night’s sleep. They couldn’t relax, they couldn’t get comfortable, and, of course, they both came down with a cold. Every night I laid in a twin bed in the downstairs office, the babies burrowed into my sides, occasionally waking themselves in a start and reaching out for me with shaky arms. They would whimper my name and feel around in the dark for my face. Assured I was still there, they would fall back asleep with limbs draped over me and each other, safe in the knowledge that their mother was close by.

And it occurred to me on that trip; in the dark of the small office where the three of us slept side by side, their bodies tucked into mine; in the kitchen where I settled each of them on a hip during those cranky late afternoon hours; when I would come up the stairs and watch both of their faces light up at the wondrous sight of their mother approachingit occurred to me what an enormous privilege it is to be someones everything.

It’s also scary as hell.

These babies, you know, they live and die by me. They would follow me to the ends of the earth and I am the center of their knee-high universe.
But about when my kids stop worshipping me? What about when they wake up and realize that beyond being imperfect, I have actively been screwing them up for decades?

It’s probably going to take my kids a long time to see me and their dad through the open truth of adulthood. They will adore us for years to come, copying our every steps and voicing our opinions like they are their own, reenacting our way of life because, just like every kid, they will believe it is the only way of life. It’s scary, isn’t it, that kids believe and trust their parents so willingly? We are their first mirror. They seem themselves through our vision, they see the world through our lenses, they believe what they believe because we say it so.

And yeah, YES, that is unsettling.
Because I know me.
I know what they will eventually find out about me, I can count to the stars and back all the ways that I fear letting them down, those gaps in my parenting and my person hood, and it is deeply terrifying.

Parents make enormous mistakes. Parents hurt their kids. They try and they fail to be everything their own parents were not and they try and they fail to be the one family who doesn’t screw everything up.

And you know what? You might do a really good job of that for awhile. You might do your best and things will be fine but let me tell you! Let me tell you. The day will come. Problems will arise. It will all hit the proverbial fan and it. will. stink.

However.

The good news.

The news I carry around for safe keeping.

It is in my mistakes that God shines through. It is in the gaps that the God-light of true and perfect love has room to break through and warm my kids’ hearts, melt away those ugly parts of them that I can’t reach or even begin to understand. That is a God job. And He will use my mistakes to do it. Just like that feeling of safety in the dark and that wonder in their eyes when my babies know I am near, that is a whisper to them of the safety and wonder in their true Father’s arms. It’s both things, you guys. We know goodness through our parents and we know failure through our parents, and both are so important to our growth.

This is why God puts us in families.
Why He gives us parents, I think.
To see His goodness in their goodness. 
And His completion in their faults.  

The failures of me as a mother reveal my lacking. My defects. And I hope- I pray- that the lack will send them hunting. Send my kids to search for something better. Something that fulfills them and knows them more than even I could dream.
Someone without defect. Someone with perfect love.

May any goodness in me point you towards heaven, babies.
And may my mistakes do the same.