May 21, 2020

The Lilacs

{hanging hearts for healthcare workers}
 "Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get--a cold sick feeling, deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were."

When I was little, I remember the lilacs. They were growing against the side of our dilapidated, old garage, with large purple blooms that carried the most intense, beautiful scent my five year old self had ever experienced. I remember a feeling of intoxication with spring, with the flowers that towered over me, with the blue sky beyond them. My senses overwhelmed, it was all bigger than life and my smallness only made it all the more beautiful. Though so many parts of my childhood- ones that I thought were so significant, and would mark me forever- have long faded, that memory lingers still.

A few evenings ago, we walked through spotted sunlight on the sidewalk, tulips and flowering trees as our guide. Showers of sweet pink petals fluttered upon our worried heads, lining the street like a wedding aisle. The sun was beginning to fade, and laughs from the kids running ahead of us shone in the warm glow. It would all be so perfect if the world was not on fire.

{stores: empty}
All I keep wondering is this: what could they possibly think now? In fifty years, I won't want to read the stories from other adults about what happened in the year 2020. I'll want to know what they think, these little heart with so much change swirling around them. And yet, I'm afraid to ask.

I have written so much here, only to feel my hands give up typing before I can share what I feel. I want to say something worthy of it all. I want to write something that my children can read someday, and know my thoughts in this moment. But all that seems to come out just adds to the noise of politicians and TV channels. All that breathes out is anger, and shock, and bone-weary tiredness, and a discouragement unlike anything before. Every morning, I wake up, remember, and feel my heart drop. I don't know how to write about this. I don't know.

I can't make sense of this life. Nothing is right. The same way these masks are hiding mouths and disguising so much emotion and expression, I feel as if society has changed too much for me to recognize anymore. It's been over two months since quarantine started- quarantine, a word too quaint for our modern world, and now is discussed hourly, obsessively. And yet, just in March, I was sitting in an arena with Sky and thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, laughing at a comedian and buying beer and pretzels from a snack bar. The next day, they closed it down, and not a single show since. Am I lucky for that? Cursed? Did I escape a terrible reality, or am I living it now? Where am I?

{a food pantry sign that was posted in our neighborhood}
In 1918, the great flu pandemic took away the vibrancy of vision. It became a strange, telltale symptom of a quick and lethal disease. Colors lacked intensity and meaning. Everything was faded, saddened, as if life itself had fallen into a miserable depression while the whole world shook with a frightened pause. It feels the same today. Some people seem to almost rejoice in their open schedule, their cancelled plans, their forced rest. But I don't feel that rest. It's not just the fact that our home life hasn't changed much (something that I am ultimately grateful for, especially that we already homeschooled). It is that all those little things- sitting in a cheery cafe with the boys while Millie has a Spanish lesson, waiting for the piano teacher to knock on the door before suppertime, and even trying on ten shirts at the thrift shop only to put them all back- that gave life more meaning than I gave them credit for, and what felt frivolous before now feels like an essential part of the framework of life.

I have always been one for tradition. I am sentimental beyond all reason. But this year, there is to be no sentimentality because the traditions are gone. Swimming at the pool and getting snacks that melt all over our hands, startling, bright fireworks and noisy parades on the 4th of July, watching the Kentucky Derby for those few and swift thrilling minutes- the bookends of summer that held together the beauty of community and normalcy, the proof of a celebrated moment- disappeared. I have tried and tried to think differently about it, but it stings in a way I can't explain.

How is it possible that I disagree with both political parties and so many leaders? How is it that I can get angry at a stranger on Facebook? How can I feel frustrated with friends and family who are doing things we're told not to for the sake of others, or confused that it's supposed to be safe for them in one state, but not here in Illinois? How am I supposed to tell my kids that people are very sick, and so many more have lost their jobs, and that even the grown ups don't know what they're doing? We're supposed to be the voice of reason, but I feel like I've lost my voice completely.

{still can't believe how emotional this sight makes me}
When I was little, my worries felt big. Really, though, they were how far around the block I was allowed to ride my bike, and how I could talk my parents into letting me spend the night at a friend's house. I didn't have to worry about what surfaces I touched, or how close I stood to someone else, or why a park was closed. My parents didn't keep the news off because of the incessant briefings proclaiming loudly what the politicians still didn't know. And when I look at the faces of these three small people I'm entrusted with, my heart hurts terribly. My prayer is that they will never look at this kind of a life as normal.

Spring, of all times, is supposed to give us the grace of hope. I know, just like the scary parts of our history on this earth, that this will eventually fade. I know that something that will mark our generation in the deepest of ways will be forgotten in a few decades' time by many. I worry, I guess, about how long it will take to get to the luxury of forgetting. The unknown is the hardest part of all.

Until it becomes a memory, I have to do the small things that insist life is normal in some ways- tuck Millie and Walter in at night. Nurse Harry and watch him learn new things every day. Plan ways to celebrate three summer birthdays somehow. Tell Sky that I'm too tired to cook dinner. Sit on the front steps, looking at his baby toes. Look for a bicycle to take the kids on a neighborhood ride. Open my Bible to search for passages about joy in trouble. Take walks in the evening under beautiful dogwoods and cherry blossoms.

And I hope, in it all, that they don't remember the confusion, the panic, and sadness of what was lost. I hope they only remember the lilacs.

Sep 23, 2019

His Story & Mine: The Three Lions

"There should be a song for women to sing at this moment or a prayer to recite. 
But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment."
— Anita Diamant

Three times, I've met a lion face to face; the proof is soft, snuggled on my chest with tiny snores and a warm head full of velvet hair. And though I was shaking each time the lion's eyes met mine, I walked away without his teeth marks. I'll tell you how.
This time, I was more scared than I had ever been before.When pregnancy aches and pains would keep me up during the hours when the streetlights were glowing, I would hold those fears in my hands, turning them over and over until I had them memorized, examining every facet until I knew them by heart. The rounder my belly grew, the greater my anxiety. I compared it to being tied to train tracks, hearing the whistle screaming closer and closer. And while I could remind myself over and over that a billion women had done this before- that I had done this before, twice, no less- all I could feel was the fear. Friends would encourage me that I was getting so close to meeting my baby boy, that it would all be worth it- but the kicks often felt like echos, second to the task I had before me. I didn't know who I would be holding, but I did know the pain that was coming.

My mom flew in on a Sunday morning. My due date was that Tuesday, so I was glad she made it before he was born. Early Monday morning, I had some real contractions, much different from the Braxton Hicks I'd felt for months. I began to keep track of them for the first time, and realized they were close enough to go to the hospital by the midwives' standards, although I wanted to stay home as long as possible. I told Sky I didn't want him to drive to work. We all waited, unsure. After a few hours, however, they all but disappeared. Even after two previous labors, my body seemed confused. Emotionally, it was exhausting to feel like it was happening, only to have it all come to a halt. I didn't know what to think. But I had a doctor's appointment the following day, so I hoped to hear I had at least made some progress since the last one.

My due date: Tuesday morning at 3 am. I woke up. It wasn't unusual- I had dealt with insomnia for weeks, due to heartburn and an intense need to watch breathing/relaxing videos on YouTube, trying to prepare myself for it all. Around 6 am, I felt the same contractions as the day before. I timed them again, and again, they were close. Sky thought he should go to work, and I agreed- no point in missing days for nothing. My mom asked how I was doing and got herself ready just in case. After a little while, I decided I should probably get ready to go, too. I kept telling my mom that I wasn't sure if I should call Sky or not, until a few contractions helped me decide. Around 10:30 that morning, I called him to come home, then called my dad to pick up Millie and Walter. (I also called my midwife and let her know I needed to cancel the day's appointment, because it looked like I was having a baby instead. She laughed and wished me luck.) Once I knew everyone was in motion, I started to get really nervous, afraid that it would be another false alarm. By the time everyone got there, things had slowed a little. I said goodbye to the kids, and tried to figure out what to do. The contractions got farther apart. My mom brought up walking several times before I agreed, so she, Sky, and I took a very slow stroll around the block, and up and down our street a few times. I had to stop for each contraction, and could tell they were picking back up. They would talk about the features of a house we passed and I would chime in once the pain was over, describing the red flower vine overtaking the front of a home. Finally, I got too hot, and we went back indoors. I did some laps around the dining room table, still nervous to go early and trying to avoid an induction if I ended up getting admitted too soon.

{I took a photo before we left for the hospital- I knew it would be my last pregnant picture.}
But the pain slowly grew stronger, and the thought of having a baby in the car did not ease my anxiety, so eventually at around 2pm, I was ready to go. Once I got settled in the car, it felt more like an emergency than a quick jaunt down the road, and I asked Sky to hurry. Thirty seconds later, we hit the road construction on our street, and I nearly lost it for a second. We pulled up to the ER a few minutes later, and my mom helped me out while Sky parked the car. The receptionist asked if I was in labor, and then asked how far along I was- "Today is her due date!" I heard my mom exclaim. They sent for a wheelchair, and after a long elevator ride, in which everyone in the hospital got on and off, stopping at every floor (I'm looking at you, Karmen with a K), they wheeled me onto the L & D ward.

The pictures of newborn babies, the frosted glass doors, and the room signs brought back a floor of memories from Millie and Walter. I let out a sob, overwhelmed that I was back in the same space again. The nurse told me to change into a gown, and I started to worry again that it would all be for nothing. They quickly checked to see how dilated and effaced I was, then told me I was staying, and got me to a delivery room. I remember Sky pointing out the baby bed at some point, and being slightly surprised and in awe of it, even then.

We talked with the nurse a while, met the midwife on call, and I settled in with a birthing ball, rolling my hips, and looking out the big windows that gave a view of our town and beyond, all green and sunny. Sky and my mom took turns rubbing my back, and the nurse checked on us often, stopping to laugh at The Office episode that was playing. The whole room began to fade into the background as the contractions intensified, and I got into the shower to get more pain relief. There was a bench to sit on, and my mom and Sky held the shower head over my belly while continuing to rub my back. I felt so selfish during this time, knowing they had to be tired, but feeling like I needed them too much to ask them to stop. Sky turned on the worship music playlist I had made a couple weeks prior, and I tried to breathe through each contraction as I listened to the familiar songs from church float in the air, trying not to get emotional when I heard "It Is Well". I didn't even know if I would be present enough to hear any music, but I was so thankful that I could focus on it, and have the constant reminder that God was there with me.

After changing positions in the shower, I made my way back to the ball for just a while, until it was time to get onto the bed. With Millie, I had pictocin and an epidural, and a horrible experience with them. With Walter, I didn't have any medication, and while it was very intense, it was a better decision for me. This time, the only option I wanted them to offer me was the nitrous oxide gas, based on what I had read and what I thought was best for myself. Someone brought it up, and I said yes. They told me how to breathe, but the mask felt a little suffocating, so I did the best I could, trying to find the energy to raise it up to my face as the next wave hit. The midwife had tried to talk to me about breaking my water, but I did not know how I could handle more pain, or less breaks between it. Finally, my mom pulled her aside, worried that I was getting too exhausted. My mom explained to me that it was my choice, but she didn't want me to become to tired to push, and I agreed. After all, it had been over 16 hours since my first contraction at this point- a far cry from the short labor I had hoped for/expected, since Walter was only 5.
Once my water was broken, things happened quickly like the midwife promised. She told me there was a little meconium, so the NICU team would be called in just to be on the safe side. I pushed for about an hour and a half, feeling completely drained of energy, very hot, and nervous. Towards the very end, they made me turn onto one side, then another, and then gave me oxygen and fluids. I started to worry about the baby, and started to get nervous about the possibility of a c-section, because it was threatened with Millie. The midwife told me to curl my body around the baby, tuck my chin in, and push, and though I had stopped being able to respond much to anyone hours ago, I heard her voice in the distance and gave it everything I had. 

Once you've had a baby before, you know the signs. I felt as if nothing was happening until that moment when there is a spark that sets the whole room on fire. Suddenly, I heard the midwife say to page NICU. With Sky on one side of the bed and my mom on the other, I heard their encouragement heighten, and everyone's voices got higher. The quiet nurse began to speak up, too.The lamp on the baby bed, which looked miles away, got switched on as the nurses poured into the room. I felt a huge gush and heard a cry. He was here.


I don't remember the order of what happened after that. I know the placed him right on my chest, and his crying was a relief. I remember seeing Sky wiping tears from his eyes, and giving me a kiss. I remember my mom holding him for the first time. And when the nurse asked what we bet he weighed, none of us guessed the 9 lbs he was. We all laughed at the size of his footprints, and marveled that when they placed him on his belly on the warmer, he lifted up his head like he had forgotten to be a newborn first. He was born at 12:34 am on August 14- just 34 minutes past his due date. If I hadn't been so stubborn about breaking my water, he likely would have been there right on time.

By the time we got to our postpartum room, it was 4:30 am, and I had been awake for over 24 hours. Sky and my mom were completely exhausted, and while he drove her home and brought our bags up from the car, I held our new son, marveling that it was all over and he was finally in my arms. All of the last year- the surprise of those two pink lines on the test, the papers from the emergency room with "threatened miscarriage" typed on them, the night I thought I was losing him, and all the aches, pains, sleepless nights from the heartburn, and crying desperate tears from the severe nausea- it was all gone. 

I've conquered one of my biggest, deepest fears- three times. When Sky told me he was proud of me, my heart could not have been more full. It's not the length of the labor, the medication used or how big the babies were (although I am certainly not above claiming the extra credit if I get any)'s that I did it. My body did it. By God's grace, they are all here, all healthy, all wonderful, and I am their mama.


Tonight, I was looking at your eyes as you dreamily stared at mine. It's amazing that we share a story together, and that I remember some of it before you, but you'll continue it long after I am gone. You'll never know who I was before we met. But I hope that, someday, I will be able to look down from Heaven and watch your life in full, because my heart will still be with you, loving you. You see, Harry, it's you, Millie, and Walter that make me a mama, and along with your dad, are the people I most adore.

I love you, my darling boy. I am so glad you were made for us, and that God put together those cheeks, the softness of your hair, and your inquisitive, searching eyes just for your dad and I, just so we could be the ones to start you on your journey in this world.

I'm so happy that you're home. 

Jul 24, 2019


“It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. 
When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, 
the days are long with gathering of experience . . .” 
― George Gissing

We're deep in warm days of the daylight hours outside in the summertime: backyard picnics, catching bugs in a jar, long swingset conversations. There is excitement over the brightly colored butterflies that land nearby or the tiniest baby bunnies that have taken up residence near the flowers, munching on white clover. The whole outdoors is a treasure hunt in blades of grass and sidewalk cracks, where rocks or leaves become valuables to share.

They are the days of sounding out big words at bedtime, spreading out joke books to tell fifty and understand five, and staying up a little too late to read the story that is too good to put down. One of them will pull Little House in the Big Woods from the shelf and ask me to read at lunchtime. They ask what a phrase means or giggle at a funny chapter.

They play travel bingo in the backseat, shouting when they see a bus or the sign they're hunting for. They ask for quarters to spend on the prizes in the machines at the grocery store. They delight in talking to everyone, about everything, and find topics of conversation easily, like a scraped knee, a favorite animal, or a rainy day.

There are so many questions; some are about how things work, and some, about everything bigger and beyond, like God, or why bad things happen, or what heaven will be like. And the answers come from my heart or from Google, except for the ones where I have to admit, "I don't know, either."

Monkey and Mousey are constant companions, snuggling under their arms every single night, rolled onto or tossed under blankets in the thick darkness, and sometimes get brought along for things like a doctor appointment that is just a little bit scary. They are worn from years of hugs and secrets, real like the Velveteen Rabbit.

Santa Claus still brings presents every Christmas, simple things like an ice cream cone illicit squeals of joy, and spending an afternoon with PaPa is a great delight. A letter in the mail with their name may as well be made of gold. Small arguments over a toy are monumental, and disappointments sink deep. Everything now is large and forever, until it isn't.
My name is still Mama and Mommy, and they don't know that it melts my heart when they say it, or that I'm clinging to it in anticipation of the time it will suddenly turn into just "Mom". My neck is still hugged, my hand still held, my words still needed and believed. His name is Daddy, and his knack for magic tricks, silly jokes, and simple instruction, as well as the uniform he sometimes wears, gives him an almost mythological status. He can fix anything, and usually does, and he is heroic in his every day habits. They tinker in the garage when he does, just to be near him and imitate his every move. He makes everything more fun.

Days are long, but not long enough. Mornings come early, sometimes with the sunrise, because there is much to do, much to talk about, and usually a rush to breakfast or to crawl into mama's bed for a hug. Nights swoop in too quickly, and bedtime foils many plans.
There are moments when I have felt overwhelmed by what is to come, when this baby boy is born and the clock starts all over for us. There will be much joy and much hard work, but woven through it all will be this beautiful season of gathering- moments, experiences, time, and treasures. And Millie and Walter will teach him, becoming their own kind of heroes to his small world.

And for a just little while longer, I will answer to Mama, gathering every sound of it in my heart to hold and pull to my chest in wonder and gratefulness, so many years from now. 

Jul 18, 2019

Our Maternity Photographs

{Photography by kDarling Photography}

 “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. 
You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” 

― Rumi

Two weeks earlier, I was running my hands over dresses at Goodwill. A soft dress seems like the most comfortable thing to wear these days. I pulled out a minty blue-green that was $5.99, and took it home with me that day.

Not long after, I was talking with our friend and family photographer, Kristin. I say friend, not because she is who we call when I get the itch for updated family pictures, as I'm always desperate to capture the stage that Millie and Walter are in before it disappears forever. She's truly become a friend, because after ten photo sessions- beginning, funnily enough, with maternity pictures when I was pregnant with Walter- there's such an openness and comfortableness with her. She knows us so well, and always finds a way to show Millie and Walter exactly how they look through my own eyes. She also uses light in the most beautiful, indescribable way, and now that she shoots with film (a talent all its own), there seems to be this intangible magic there even more than before.

So earlier this month, I pulled the mint dress from the closet, gathered what I could find for Sky and the kids, and met her at a park down the street. The sun was at the perfect point as it began to set, the air was calm, and the glow and haze around us felt so appropriate.

When I saw the first photo come back from Kristin, I looked at Sky, and said, "Look at us. Look how happy we are." Because despite the physical and emotional toll this pregnancy has taken, we are so very, very happy- deeply n love with each other, with this new baby boy that we'll meet in mere weeks, and with the shape our family is taking. I could not imagine a more beautiful life, and now it's captured on film for us forever.

Thank you, Kristin. It means the world.



Mar 17, 2019

A Sudden Gift

{photo by kDarling Photography}

“Sometimes love is a surprise, an instant of recognition, 
a sudden gift at a sudden moment that makes everything different from then on.” 
― Deb Caletti

Someday, you'll have a birth story. Someday, your dad and I will tell you about that day, and the funny things that happened, and the way we loved you as soon as they held you up and we met for the first time. And how, not long after that, it will be hard to remember when you weren't here with us, and I won't remember calling Millie and Walter without calling for you, too, and watch you pitter-patter into the room. It will seem like we've always been a family of five. It will seem like you've always been covered in our kisses.

But for now, I am still so surprised by you, little one. I'll tell you how.


I only found out because, after feeling sick for a couple weeks, I started getting a sharp pain on my side. I immediately diagnosed myself with appendicitis after a quick Google search, and resigned myself to emergency surgery. My mom told me to see a doctor, but I explained to her how many times I'd (possibly) had acute appendicitis before, and miraculously survived. Then circumstances shifted, and suddenly, I wondered if it was an undetected pregnancy going terribly wrong. I texted Sky but otherwise said nothing (since my appendix had just recovered moments before). As I passed Walter in the hallway that morning, he wrapped his arms around me in a big hug, then casually asked, "Are you pregnant?" I'd never heard him say "pregnant" before, and had no idea why he would bring it up like that. Stunned, I said no. And a few hours later, I bought a test at the drugstore and took it home. I was only ruling it out, so I could go back to my original worries that WebMD provided.

Two pink lines showed up, immediately and clear as day. I sat on the bathroom floor and stared, in disbelief and, simultaneously, terrified. I gasped and started crying. Before I could think of a sweet way to tell Sky, I video-called him at his desk in the middle of the workday, and sobbed the announcement. His eyes widened and he smiled, but I was a wreck. It was a lot to take in at once, to both be surprised by a pregnancy, and only knowing about it because I suspected something was not okay. I called the OB nurses, who deciphered my story through shallow breaths, and instructed me to go to the emergency room. Sky met us there.

After a quick rundown and a change into the patient gown, they took me to the dim ultrasound room. The man calmly announced that I was 9 weeks, 6 days pregnant. My mind reeled, because I knew with Millie and Walter as early as anyone could know, even before a positive test. Choking on the words and staring at the dark ceiling, I felt tears streaming down my face as I asked, " okay?" Yes, he assured me quietly. Everything was fine. The baby was right where it was supposed to be.

Sky and I kept the secret for a while. We had to get used to it ourselves (although he insists he really knew). But a few weeks later, just a couple days after we told the kids, I had a different, much more real scare that made me sure I would wake up without a baby. I called my mom and asked her to pray. I held tight to Sky that night and wondered what the next day would be like. I wondered if I would lose a child without anyone knowing it existed. I never had to think about that before. It was if my body and I were on opposite sides, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was the most helpless feeling I have ever felt in this world.

The next morning, the doctor had me come in. I tensed up as they searched for the heartbeat; they found it. I looked at Sky, too overcome to say anything. Then another ultrasound. I worried about the kids being there if something wasn't right. I gripped Sky's hand as they moved the wand over my stomach, remembering how we'd done the same thing twice before, but without any fear. There was the head, the arms, the legs. There was the heart again, beating visibly on the screen. The tech laughed as she tried to take the right pictures and measurements, because the baby was incredibly active, doing somersaults and tricks. Maybe God knew we needed that.

I realized that, while it is such a personal choice, I didn't want to keep it a secret anymore. If something did happen, I needed to be able to mourn and have people mourn with me. But we had good news to go on, so we had to have faith that everything would be fine. The next day, nervous as I was, we made it public. Through all the congratulations, I hoped I wouldn't have to share heartbreaking news later on.

Since then, all my checkups have been completely fine. and my belly is getting decidedly rounder. I've been a lot sicker this time than I ever was with the other two, and I'm still figuring out how to cope with that well. Sky has been the sweetest husband ever, and friends have brought meals over. Our house isn't as tidy, and life has had to slow down, but we are learning to navigate it. Millie and Walter talk about it all 50 times a day.

All this, and somehow, it hasn't felt real yet. We bought a stroller, discussed names late into the night, and talk about what the future will look like, but I still don't really believe it.


It's been a bumpy roller coaster ride, sweet one. So you can understand how I was surprised, and continue to be. Yet just this week, I have begun to feel your smallest of kicks, reassuring me that you are not only there, but that you are healthy and strong. You have my attention.

In a few days, we will find out if you're a boy or a girl. And late this summer, in the full heat of August, we'll all be introduced. Maybe you'll have blonde hair like Walter, or auburn like Millie. Maybe you'll be the spitting image of your dad, or favor my side more.

With all the uncertainty, I am sure of this one thing; you are a gift. And you will be so very, very loved.

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