What I wish I’d known when I had my first child…and second

It is 12:51pm on a Saturday.  Saturdays are extra-chore days, so the house is clean (relatively speaking, that is, for a child-filled home) and supper is in the crock pot.  The 1-year-old is asleep, the olders are reading quietly behind a closed door in the “blue room”.  In approximately 32 minutes, the 4-year-old will get tired of reading and I’ll begin hearing the blue room transformed into a jungle, or desert, or whatever they want it to be today.  They will make-believe, using shoes for bird nests, animals for friends, and trucks for magical spaceships for another 80ish minutes.  Did you do the math?  Almost two hours at my disposal.

Rewind a handful of years.  I had my precious strong daughter who refused to sleep through the night until 17 months old (as in, waking up every 2 hrs to nurse, which it turns out, doesn’t actually allow for REM at all).  When she developed upright mobility at 10 months, I got pregnant again because, you know, I thought it would be a good idea to be throwing up while my toddler was putting forks in outlets and unwinding every roll of toilet paper in the house.  At 7 months pregnant, overwhelmed with not having slept in 547 nights and trying every known “method” for getting a child to sleep through the night, I tried the dreaded cry-it-out method.  That lovely daughter of mine screamed for 5 hours straight.  BUT, by night 4, she slept through.  I did mention that she’s quite strong, didn’t I? (My husband has the great luck of sleeping through all amounts of mayhem, but believe me, those hours of screaming were tortuous).

If you have one child, or two, hear this: your work is totally, all-encompassingly exhausting.  Your body is tired, your soul is fatigued with no oasis in sight, and your mind, well it has atrophied to a minuscule size.  It can seem like drowning in your own life and you may question if this is really what you wanted.  Our society doesn’t help this at all, by the way.  Expectations, comparisons, unhelpful “mom groups” that make you feel like you’re failing, and Facebook with edited pictures to make you feel insecure and insufficient.  How many times have we been talking about a bad day or difficulty with your child and gotten the response, “oh, just wait until your kids ________”.  Not helpful.

So, to you I would repeat, it does get easier.  But maybe not for the reasons we tend to think of.  It gets easier because that sleepless boobie-monster firstborn starts growing up and making her own bed, getting wipes and diapers for you, sets the table, and even gets tall enough to take the baby out of the crib for you (one less trip upstairs while your octopus hands are full!).  It gets easier because your older children begin having natural consequences for their actions that don’t always have to be imposed by you & then you get to shepherd the conversation in their wake.  But mostly, it gets easier because you start tuning out what everyone else does and can tune in to what you do.  You still need and want input and wisdom on so many things that come up, but you have the basics down because they’ve been born through the fire of the first two children.

The other biggie: grace.  Just like starting anything new, there’s a learning curve.  (Unlike many things, the learning curve of motherhood never ends…).  As the children come, with all their anecdotal glories, grace becomes a more practiced necessity.  Grace with oneself, grace with your mate, grace with your children, grace from the creation around you, grace from God.  Remember when you thought you were a pretty great person while single and realized how difficult you were to live with when you were a few years into a solid relationship?  That’s similar in the parenting sphere, only the honing and sharpening comes from these little poopy humans you brought into the world.  Let me tell you, grace is needed from and in every direction.

Now it’s 1:24 and I have at least 45 minutes left to be alone, to meditate, to do whatever it is that refreshes me.  I wish that I’d known that this time would come, it may have helped the long days and longer nights of my firstborn.

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2016, you were cracked

“The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.”

I sit in my lovely rocking chair watching the snow fall hard and gently outside, warmed by the the ever-changing orange glow of the fire beside me.  My friend, a dear 93-year-old man, gave this chair to me as a gift.  His wife of oh so many years had rocked in it as he composed piano concertos in their living room.  It’s one of my most precious belongings.

I feel the warmth of the egg nog coffee in my hands.  I rock. I think.  The New Year always comes with a cosmic musefulness to it.  I allow myself to wander and remember.  This time last year, my internal world was crumbling.  Too much doing and not enough being.  Too long picking up other people’s pieces and imagining I was holding them together.  That weight became heavier than my frame could bear and in revolt, my insides raised a white flag with as much subtlety as  stampeding buffalo.  Even now, I feel the emotions swell within me as I venture to recount those months – but today, with a new year ahead, I take the time to be a part of the swell, to feel what I didn’t have the capacity to feel back then.  Each emotion is so vivid, strengthened by the suppression.  (Never be fooled, putting emotions into dungeons only gives them more strength, a loudening static deep within making it increasingly difficult to live in the present).

In the difficult months of the early year, I can now see how much beauty lay there as well.  My lover became a stronghold for me and our children as he gently dealt with all the details of our life.  He not only took care of our three children, but also did all the mundane things which make life move – the laundry, the shopping (guess who didn’t set foot in a grocery store for 3 months!), the toddler mediation, the baby rocking.  He let me (made me) rest.  Through those long weeks, he was directing me to “do whatever was nourishing in the moment”.  I would read a book until it became tiring, then stop.  I would sleep for hours in the midday. I would walk or run or roller blade whenever it struck me to.  In that valley, our friendship and marriage were fortified into a mountain.  We had luxurious amounts of time together as a couple and as a family.  We made a new family friendship that was fast and furious and deep.  We planned for a new adventure ahead.  These things were beautiful and good.  I want to remember that they were the result of the struggle because vision is so often found in the valleys.

In the whirlwind of Spring, we moved a couple thousand miles from Dallas to a place in Northern California you’ve never heard (though treasured by its 1,647 inhabitants).  We unexpectedly lived with my gracious parents for 8 weeks while Escrow was delayed and delayed and delayed.  We bought our first home.  We planted a Japanese Maple in the yard.  We got two milk goats and a hog.  Our goats ate the Japanese Maple.  We had the great pleasure of being a part of the community pulling together to support a Farmer’s Market. We sorely missed those we left behind in Dallas.  We soaked in the grandeur in the landscape all around us, a salve for the weary soul.  We harvested and preserved pears, apples, plums, potatoes, cabbages.  We weathered the morphic unrest that followed in the wake of the election.  We enjoyed a white Christmas. We watched the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years.  We have laughed and cried and laughed again.  We have found, yet again, that God is present in the valleys and on the mountains, though more clearly seen and poignantly sought when in the valleys.

While I cannot yet say in full honesty that 2016 was a great year, it was a year where we changed and grew and loved and stayed open – to ourselves and others.  It was a very vulnerable year.  Maybe that’s how years should be.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

              – Leonard Cohen

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Going Home

Home is an illusive changing thing.  As a child, “home” needed no definition: it was a reality and a rhythm and an unquestioned state of being.  As a fresh college student returning for a break, home seemed like a shadow, still connected but I stood somehow separate and above – casting a past and projecting a future.  After traveling the world and returning home, the sense of familiar remained but seemed strangely floating and undefinable –  I interpreted this as a change in myself.  I had this unsettled feeling deep within that I no longer belonged in the place where I had become.  I remember a sense of fear at this discovery.

Many years have gone by, and at various times this creeping fear has surprised me by its reappearance in my life.  Sometimes it has been grippingly present as I wake in the morning, only fading slightly by the time my head hits the pillow at night.  My mind has groped for reasons, ways to understand this unwelcome feeling within, attempting to find coping mechanisms for existing in the present.

Recently have I realized that a longing for “home” has little to do with place and everything to do with self.   There is, within humanity, a desire to have a mummified self held safe and sound in a known location.  As long as we have that, we can travel the world, fall in love, change social groups, bring new humans in the world, change and be changed in nearly every way.  Then at Christmastime, when that bite of great-grandma’s pie hits your tongue *BAM* mummified self sighs with relief.  Home nostalgia floods the senses.  All is right in the world.

I’m in my thirties and after a long absence from the place where I grew up, I am moving my family across the country back to my mountains.  Only, there is no going back.  Our language reflects this idea that we can “go back” to places, but we can’t.  Nothing is static, not us, not home, not place, not people.  Nothing.  The mummified self doesn’t exist.  For the first time in my life, I am so very thankful for this.  I find it freeing.  I can embrace the change in my self and the change in the place and the change in others that is the reality of the present.

So, Home, I am coming.  But I am not coming back.  I am coming to discover you again, delight in the sense of familiar, resolve the awkwardness we will have when we find where we have both changed, introduce you to the small human selves that run around outside of me, and invite you to discover the love of my life who is inextricable to my self.  This family that I bring is more my home than any place will ever be, but I am so excited to watch you captivate and enchant each other.

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Incline Your Ear

When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you.

A beautiful bulging belly, the image of fruitfulness and love, sat before me.  Her eyes were brimming with the life growing inside of her, a life which would soon burst through her heart and shatter it into thousands of droplets filled with colors and light and make a rainbow of her soul.  There were other feelings there, in the pools of her eyes: fear, insecurity, doubt.  My pastor once said, “God gives children to the most inexperienced people.”  Here she was, wondering how the never-ending nine months could have flown by so quickly.  Ready or not (as all parents learn, firmly “not”), this baby is coming and coming soon.

She was my patient and her question seemed simple, though her voice was anxious and taught,  “what do you keep in your home medicine cabinet?  I want to make sure I’m prepared.”  Being a leaning-towards-hippy-and-all-things-natural midwife who was also raised in the rurals of Northern California by a saintly woman with solid nutritional, herbal, and medicinal values, I should have had a ready-answer.  But, being a real life mother, there was this rush of panic, self-consciousness, and insecurity.  Startled by this unforeseen halter, I noted that our appointment was running long and I’d be delighted to answer her question the following week.

This is not about what’s in my medicine cabinet.  It’s about stepping into the wardrobe behind the medicine cabinet and choosing who to trust in a wide and unfamiliar world where you are the monarch and responsible for taking care of lives.  You discover during pregnancy that everyone feels the freedom to tell you what you just have to know and just have to do and just have to…  And then you wade (or drown) into parenthood and there are even more voices telling you what you should do or think.  How and who do you believe? How do you choose who to trust?  What do they know, anyhow?  Pretty soon you’re requiring everyone’s credentials, background, and philosophical position on modern medicine before you lend them an ear. And THEN you realize that you’re not one bit closer to making a decision and really everyone is out to confuse you and how, oh how, can there be so many opinions about every tiny piece of parenting? (If you don’t believe me, just speak the word “immunizations” publicly and experience the torrent of opinions that follow).

If you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
The Lord gives wisdom;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright

In my profession, there are things that a pregnant/laboring/breastfeeding woman should do (eat well, drink plenty of water, stay active…) and shouldn’t do (smoke, drink diet soda, run a marathon after 36 weeks…).  Everyone agrees, these things are sound and smart and will always be true.  Science is not what we as moderns tend to think it is – it is not static or infallible or universal.  Wisdom, however, is.  We need both, but not equally.  Wisdom is a gift; science is learned.  Wisdom is unpalpable; science is experimental.  Wisdom is unprovable; science is theory proved to law.  Wisdom emanates from the Almighty who alters scientific “law” upon His whim (or request, sun standing still and all).  Wisdom transcends us yet is deeply personal, piercing to our conscience and ordering our ways.

Yes, incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding

When someone says something like, “you should try using essential oils when your child has a fever and you’ll never use Tylenol again” or “you really shouldn’t give any vaccinations before your child is one year old, my 5-month old had a terrible reaction when we vaccinated,” this is confusing wisdom for science and making intuition a universal law.  I am, you are, responsible for the little lives given to our stewardship.  For an indefinite amount of time, they are ours.  Mine are not yours and yours are not mine and the woman in Target or at church or at playgroup does not know what is best for your family.  We need community, we crave input, and it’s good to seek advice, but both the decisions and consequences of our family’s health are responsibilities given to us as their parents.

I am not saying to trust your intuition and throw all else to the wind.  I am encouraging you to do your research, talk to others, ask questions of professionals, soak these things in and seek wisdom.  Do not be driven by guilt or insecurity, there is no shame in having (or not having) Benadryl, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or any other medicine in your cabinet.  Vaccinate or don’t vaccinate based on research or trusting your care provider.  Don’t make these decisions from fear, for in parenting the fear threatens to run deep and cloudy through all things, marring joy and stealing peace. The Good Lord has given you intuition for your family. Incline your ear and learn to trust.  Trust God’s provision, His plan, His love for your children. Surrender them to Him and you will find freedom from fear.

He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints. 

Proverbs 2

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We’re All Terminal

I wake.  I write, I write it all, I write it now because now is all I have.  The moment to come may bring a waking child, a mosquito vibrating around my ear, or a jack-hammer trying to break through the concrete and my reverie.  But now, now is silent.  Now is mine.  In the recent past (recent is, of course, relative to your sense of time; for here I will say recent is few years), I have not written for fear.  Fear of being too full to write.  Fear of starting in the wrong place and not having time (when did time become so precious?) to end where I wanted.  These are surface things.

I am not secretive. My thoughts are scarce my own before they’re shared. This is how I live, how I’ve always lived.  Open.  Flowers stay open under the right circumstances: water, sun, earth, chlorophyll and photosynthesis.  They take droplets of light and turn them into life.  During the span of time which I’ve called the recent past, there is a deeper reason I have not written.  It has something to do with nyctinasty, that mysterious lot of flowers that close at night.  The nyctinastics elude scientific explanation.  Some think that the petals grow at different rates of speed, so the top petals are forced to shut.  Maybe. Others say that the flower is protecting its powers of reproduction by closing at night, when the dew is the heaviest.  No one knows why they close, but scientists keep making up answers.  We will never know because flowers are not emotive nor, under most circumstances, talkative.

A butterfly cannot always be beautifully fluttering about.  We grew butterflies in our living room.  They started as specks and grew into caterpillars at an alarming rate.  Then, magic happened.  The greatest change occurred out of sight.  Somehow a speck grabbed a blanket, wrapped it close around itself with hot cocoa and came out a butterfly, fully equipped with the latest flying paraphernalia.  Magic.  I, too, closed up for the night.  Special blanket in tow, I plopped a marshmallow into my cocoa and cocooned myself for an indefinite length of minutes.  Or years.  Grace abounded. I’ve changed and been changed. Marriage changed me, changes me.  Motherhood transformed me, transforms me.  My wings may not have hardened yet, but they will soon.  I feel it coming and I will fly.

The first butterfly we released into the great outdoors burst out strongly.  She almost made it to the sidewalk when a mockingbird dove and tackled it, quite brutally, to the ground in front of my two-year-old daughter.  Life is bloody. Death is inevitable.  What would I write if it were my last day?  What would I write to you if it were yours?  We are all terminal.  I write again because now is all I have.

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Ashes, Ashes

The poignancy of Ash Wednesday struck with quite a blow this year. I had on one side my nearly 2-year-old girl and on the other my new baby boy. The rhythm of the liturgy Proceeded as usual, my sweet little girl chiming in with her hearty “amens” either just before or after the beat. “Come, all is made ready” rang the familiar call and papa with daughter and I with my freshly-born son stood to make the journey to the High Place. We supped with God and then the brutal truth blazed before us: ashes would today be our crown. We, as Adam, would be banished from the Garden. The striking part this year was in my arms. My son, a month old in this world, who has as far as I know, committed no volitional sin – he too bore a black cross, the symbol of his grave.

“From dust you are and to dust you shall return”. How can this be? This cherubic boy’s face marred with the mark of a sin-stained soul? I looked to my left, finding it quite easy to believe such guilt lay in my spirited and stubborn girl, easier still to know many sin-lived years in papa & I, but more difficult to see it in this helpless child asleep in my arms. Yes, even he needs ashes. His soul needs reminding of sinful mortality. He is as needful of a Savior as his papa, mama , and sister. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, the Font of my son’s redemption. Thankful that my son has been cleansed by Christ, I descend the Hill with a new light shining to the depth of depravity.

Shadowlands

I have ventured out. I have traveled a very far distance of five floors. It seems a very far distance, at least, since my precious little girl is bound to room #558. But I’ve gone for a walk, taken deep breaths of outside air for the first time in five days, and now I sit alone in the “Family Resource Center”, here looking for some words. Thoughts bubble, not flowing together as they should, but bubbling as though from an underground spring, or maybe like a fountain shooting out of the earth not knowing where its droplets will land or if the earth will be receptive to its dew. It doesn’t care, and spouts away. That’s me. My girl is very sick. A week ago she was laughing and running and talking, always talking. In the course of hours she went to a shadowland all of her own, one I could not go with her to nor bring her back from. Flashbacks to a time and place of my past when life was understood to end in death at any age. The way I saw her sternum suck to her spine with each breath – this was a familiar sight when I was in a different land – but not here, not my little girl, how could she be struggling to breathe in the same way they had? Most of those babies from the past had skin as dark as the dirt I buried them in, not the blue eyes and blonde hair of the precious child in front of me. I have reached a new level of understanding, I have ascended the hill of the Lord by descending through the depths of despair. On this journey, I have learnt one thing: Sophia is not mine, nor would I wish her to be. No, she is covered by One so much greater than me, she rests protected in His hands and covered with His feathers. Our Lord has given angels gaurd over her to keep her in all her ways: this I could not pretend or imagine to do. I sit at her bedside, He dwells within her and surrounds her. I grasp her hand, He securely holds her soul. I stroke her face, His countenance rests upon her and grants her peace. She is His, as I am, and I am the steward whose heart floods over and drowns with love – the love that He has given me to have for her. I rest under the Shadow of the Almighty.

Love

I’ve been gone a while, maybe someone noticed, maybe not. You can never tell in this technological world we find ourselves in. The photo on the last post I had makes me smile. It feels like yesterday and at the same time a decade ago. I never have been very good at judging the passage of time. However, I do know what has filled the void of the past two and a half years: LOVE, baby! Oh, yes. Lots and lots of love. See:

               And see some more:

That’s a lot of love there, folks.

Fun in the snow…

Photos by the great Chris Linebarger:

Getting out some of my violent tendencies:

My dearling fiancé after he did some tree-hugging:

What a mystery it is when two people are knit together through the difficulties and the joys. Love has become a secret that I want to share with everyone and at the same time know that it is intimate enough that only Jason will understand our love, for each love is different. We have become witnesses to the others’ heart and soul. I am left simply thankful. The 55 days left til we get married are invaluable to us and I look forward to the click of the invisible knitting needles poking, bobbing, looping, and binding these two threads together.

The Not So Silent Cup

30 June 2009: Seriously consider canceling my upcoming trip to Dallas because of a bad attitude. For some reason, however, I had gotten an unreturnable ticket (I never do that!). Life would not be what it is now if I’d bought a refundable ticket.

08 July 2009: Dear Leslie picked me up from the airport (for those of you who don’t know her, she is my high-kickin’ mad-cookin’ wonderwoman of a friend) in the late afternoon. I was in Dallas for an annual Anglican conference. When she picked me up, we started chatting in the car. She happened to mention, among other things, that Jason Staniger was also staying with them for the conference;
“Who?”
“Jason Staniger, I’m sure you’ve heard about him”
“I don’t think so”
“Oh, well he’s kind of….unique” [laughter]

Obviously, my interest was peaked.

Standing by the wet bar of Chris & Leslie’s house, Chris walked in first and then what seemed like a handful of people all at once. We all started chatting about owls (a frequent topic of discussion with me) and about 5 minutes later the door opens again and in walks this tall, dark, and handsome man who seems to avoid my eye contact at all costs. Maybe he is unique in his bad attitude, I thought to myself.. Me being me, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. It was the first time I saw his eyes, his countenance, his soul; gentle, this man is gentle. No time to linger, I was back on the owls.

The conference itself seemed inconsequential to me this year, but everything in the periphery was monumental. Leslie was asking a lot of questions. Questions about nursing school, questions about who I was and what I wanted to do. She asked about if I’d ever considered midwifery. Concurrently, because Jason was also staying with Chris & Les, we were talking. A lot. I was surprised, shocked, and at times confused as to why I was being so open with him.

My last evening in Dallas, Jason and I had offered to go get dinner rolls for Leslie. She sent a short list of items and told us where the nearest WalMart Grocery was (~2 miles away). But Jason had other plans, which I truly was ignorant to. We drove all around Dallas looking for Whole Foods because Jason won’t go into WalMart. He finally pulled into a WF and looked at the list we’d been given. There, next to “Cereal” were the clear instructions that we must “do a high kick in the cereal aisle” (you thought I was joking about Leslie being a high-kickin’ woman? Oh no, that’s VERY true). We laughingly did some pretty fantastic high kicks in the middle of the Store and proceeded home. How many hours had we been gone?!? There’s still discussion out on that, but it was somewhere around three hours.

16 July 2009: California. Work. Decisions to make about nursing school. Suffice it to say that the Lord flung doors open and shut them with more visible force than I’d ever seen before in my life. By Thursday, I knew that the decision had been made and confirmed ten times over for me to move to Dallas. My choice was to be faithful to the leading.

The fly-by: for the rest of the summer Jason & I were spending copious hours on the phone, I moved to Dallas in September, our official first date was to a U2 concert on 12 October, and were engaged on 12 January.


For those of you still with me, allow me a little more time to tell you about my fiancé, Jason Patrick Staniger:

He was born to two Croatian parents in Des Moines, though the ancestry seems to have been lost at Ellis Island. He thinks it’s strange and almost funny that that was my first sentence about him, but he shares an appreciation for history so he secretly likes that I introduce him as Croatian.

His countenance is filled with kindness but flushes with mischief when his jocular humor subtly seeps out, which often has that quality of dryness which leaves the listener unsure of the appropriate response.

He has a passion for the high liturgy and coffee (separately, of course). He loves hosting people in his home. He makes the best apple pie I’ve ever had, and makes a killer crust (which rates pretty highly in my book).

Given five adjectives for him, I would pick: Gentle, Sincere, Honest, Funny, and Eager. He makes me laugh, and amazingly, laughs at me. Which ends up equalling a lot of laughter.

He knows that some of the greatest music is on vinyl. He has the most carefully-chosen collection of films I’ve ever seen. He has an eye for cinematography and story that would weave the world into my favorite novel.

He takes his shirts to be professionally pressed because “no human can achieve the right amount of stiffness and shape” that he desires from his clothing. I find this quite amusing.

His aura is a mix of blueish-silver turning yellow-red. He thinks its ridiculous and kind of funny that I just mentioned his aura. He will also google those aura colors to figure out what I meant by them. With some amount of luck he might find a legitimate guide to read them by.

We are both pretty characteristic Geminis, so having done my research, here’s what our relationship looks like from astrology:

This relationship will never be boring and both partners will share an intellectual approach to life. Both will not only allow but also appreciate the freedom and variety of expression which is characteristic of Gemini. Both enjoy each other’s conversation and love to cultivate the art of discussion. Wit and curiosity make them a stunning and stimulating couple, entertaining each other and the people they socialize with. If they learn to cooperate, rather than compete, they will enjoy a happy relationship.

Whew! What a relief.

And that’s the beginning of who Jason is.

I am grateful to the faithful God for so ordering the lives of His people so that we might better serve Him. Every ounce of me looks forward to serving the Kingdom with Jason. I desire to follow him as He follows our Lord. I look forward to creating a home with him that is a haven for those in need.

I am thankful. I am in love.

(For his side of the story: The Cup of Silence)