today I will consider my blessings

Things I am grateful for today:

Emmie, who loves her paci so.  I always put her down in her crib with one already in her mouth.  She searches around for one of the extras I leave at various spots in her bed, just in case.  She grabs it and clings to it with her left hand, puts her cheek against her sheet, and closes her eyes.  I want to cover her in kisses or devour her but that would wake her up.  I tiptoe out of the room instead.

Windows flung open to a glorious morning.  Coffee with cream and vanilla right next to me.  Red and orange chrysanthemums in an empty baby food jar at my elbow.  Beauty and peace in the smallest of things.

Lucy, who has spent the last 2 months sleeping in our room while we attempt to teach the baby to sleep through the night (this is not going well).  I snuggle up with her in my bed each evening.  We read, pray, sing, get a drink of water, talk about what tomorrow will bring, list 8 things for her to think about while she falls asleep, pinkie promise that I’ll come check on her after I make lunches, pinkie promise that she’ll close her eyes while she waits.  She’s usually out within 3 minutes, long before lunches are packed.  When Elijah and I tiptoe into our room a few hours later we move her onto a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor.  Our bed is warm where her sweet body lay heavy and peaceful and it smells like Lucy.

Tomatoes that insist on growing even though I’ve given up on watering the garden for the year and it hasn’t rained in weeks and we’re a third of the way into November.  Delicious miracles, each tiny yellow globe.

Sophie, who is so tall that I can rest my chin on her head when we stand and pray each night, who loves to pick up Emmie and wears sequined knee socks with her school clothes and works so concientiously that her handwriting is better than mine.  She joyfully plunks out songs on the piano and she folds her legs up under her to read on the couch and she notices beauty.  She is beauty.

A stack of books on the bedside table waiting to be picked up, opened, investigated, learned from.  Insisting that I close social media, put the phone away, quiet all those other voices.  Hear something worth listening to, listen to something worth hearing.

Aida, her body so full of energy, ideas, power that she doesn’t know what to do with - yet.  She chases Lucy through the house, out back and around to the front, her braid swinging behind her.  She pretends she doesn’t need it but she craves physical touch, a hand held, a head stroked.  She sits cross-legged on the floor of her room, plunking out melodies on her guitar.  She kicks soccer balls at the fence and everything she does brims with intensity. She is so interested.  She is so interesting.

A refrigerator full of food.  This is a gift I do not take lightly.

Elijah, who never notices the baby toys on the floor and then surprises us all with candied pecans for our salad when we burst through the front door after guitar lessons and it’s dinner time.  He is creative, and thoughtful, and funny.  His musical tastes are intriguing and he makes waffles on Saturday mornings.  Sometimes when I’m with him, I remember who I used to be.  Sometimes when I’m with him, I think about who I might become.

A deep breath.  And then another.  And then another.


the in between

2 years ago I had my 2nd miscarriage.

My three girls were tucked away, sleeping.  We were living at my grandparents’ house.  I began getting ready for bed, sat down at the toilet, and did what I’ve done every time I’ve gone to the bathroom during a pregnancy since my first miscarriage - closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and steeled myself, all in a heartbeat.  Then I opened my eyes, glanced down, looking for blood, hoping it wasn’t there.  I had made it through my entire pregnancy with Lucy without seeing any.  But this time, there it was.

I’m not much of a swearer (I had a brief “dirty word” phase in 7th grade but got over that quickly, thankyouverymuch) but in that moment I said every bad word I could think of, sitting there on that toilet.  I wish I could say I had been more eloquent in the face of another heartbreak. I wasn’t.

This was different from my first miscarriage.  The first time it was an ectopic pregnancy that burst and then bled into my body while I walked around for another 2 days (denial is a powerful force).  By the time I allowed myself to admit that something was very wrong and that we needed to see the doctor, we were off to the ER and I was admitted for emergency surgery and I woke up to hospital food and 3 tiny scars across my belly and instructions not to lift anything for 14 days.  I had two 2-year-olds at home who still needed to be lifted out of their cribs and it hurt to move and the pain I carried inside myself was clearly manifested in my body.  Our amazing community rallied and I had more meals in my freezer than could really fit.  My sister came into town and swept my floor and lifted my babies into my lap.  My mom sent an atrocious number of fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls (so bad, but so good) and I ate them all myself. Friends came and sat with me while I folded laundry and cried.  I grieved inwardly, and I grieved openly, and as I marked the healing in my body, I could see it in my heart as well.

But the 2nd time things were calmer, quieter, internal.  I waited until the next morning, when my OB had an opening in her schedule.  I drove myself to her office and everything was very straight forward - exam, blood test, we’ll call you.  Those 2 year olds had grown and were now in first grade, and Lu, who went to play at Grandmom’s house while I saw the doctor, was 3.  We lived with my grandparents, both suffering from Alzheimers, although my Mimi’s dementia was worse than Granddaddy’s.

Elijah and I decided to keep it quiet.  It was mostly my decision - I just couldn’t fathom how I could explain to my grandmother what had happened and then have to explain over and over and over again.  I felt that my role in their home was to care for them, and I wasn’t able to imagine a scenario in which I could be that vulnerable and still do what needed doing.  I knew their hearts would break for me and I didn’t think I could handle their heartbreak on top of my own.  So we didn’t say anything to them, or to our kids.  Just quick phone calls and emails to our closest family and friends.  I picked up Aida and Sophie from school.  I cooked dinner for our multi-generational family.  I cleaned the kitchen floor and took Lucy on walks and cried at night.

We purchased a little gravestone in memory of this baby we had lost, and also the one before.  A few months passed and we tried to explain to our children what had happened.  We walked with them and our priest up the hill to our church’s cemetery and we placed the stone on the ground.  We prayed and then I watched my 3 girls run back down the hill, chasing the wind, very much full of life.

* * * * *

Easter came in April, a few days before that baby would have been due.  I felt our private loss keenly as we began Holy Week, leaving the church each night in the dark to walk home and tuck our tired children into bed and then fall into our own.  I did what every Mama who has lost her baby does when its projected due date arrives - imagined what I might have looked like, belly swollen and cheeks pink in anticipation, if things had ended differently.

We arrived at Great and Holy Saturday, the day in between Crucifixion and Resurrection.  The great paradox of the church year.  The seats in the church, usually set up so the congregation faces the altar at the front of the building, had been turned so that both sides were facing the middle aisle and the funeral bier of Christ set in the center of the nave.  We took our seats and began my favorite liturgy, meditating repeatedly on the mystery of the “in between” - of Christ dead and in the grave, simultaneously descended into Hades and defeating death.  Not yet resurrection, but the prerequisite.

The chanters began to sing, “Arise, O God” and the Holy Week-weary, world-weary members of our church (and their enthusiastic children) clutched sticks and banged them against chairs, on the floor, against another stick, raucously signifying the noise that filled Hades as Christ ripped its door from the hinges and invaded that place of death with His Life.  The church filled with the noise of it all, the banging and clanging.  I looked straight ahead and saw, through a window on the side of the building, brilliant blue sky, a few scattered clouds, a church cemetery.  It was beautiful. Tears pricked my eyes and I took a deep breath.

Sometimes we live in the in between.  Sometimes we haven’t yet arrived at Resurrection. But the mystery, the paradox - it can be beautiful.


it's only a phase

I sat in the rocking chair tucked into a corner of Lucy and Emmie’s room as the day drew itself to a close.  Emmie nursed and I let my head fall back against the seat, closing my eyes for a brief moment of rest before moving on to conquer bedtimes # 2, 3, and 4.  The soft light of dusk peeked through the edges of the blinds closed against the approaching dark.  And I heard it - the incessant buzzing of a fly trapped between the glass and the blinds, a sound that quickly took me back to one of Lu’s (many) phases.
It was just last year, I think, probably in the dog days of summer - like now - when we always have 3 or 4 flies sneak their way into the house and then refuse to leave.  One night Lucy lay alone in her bed after prayers had been prayed and lullabies had been sung and she listened to that buzzing.  It was “creepy.” She yelled for Mommy and would not relax until the offending fly had been located, smushed, and removed from the premises.  For nights afterward - weeks, months, even - she would not let me leave her room after tucking her in without walking to the window and checking the blinds for flies.  A mere glance in that general direction would not do.  I was required to wade through the messes of Lucy’s imagined worlds that had been crafted earlier in the day and manually lift the blinds, taking care to sound extremely convincing as I said, “No flies here tonight!” It became a part of the nightly routine so quickly and was adhered to so strictly that it seemed like it would always happen.
Except that now, it doesn’t.  As I sat in the chair with Emmie I pondered when and how we had dropped that from our evening’s choreography. And I remembered how, a few years earlier, we had sung “On Top of Spaghetti” - all SIX verses - every night without fail while putting Aida and Sophie to bed.  I remembered how I grew to despise that song and how just sometimes I wished they would choose to sing something different and how I was convinced that I would be singing that song every night for the rest of my life.
And then I wasn’t.
It is equal parts comforting, heartbreaking, and terrifying to be far enough into the parenthood journey to recognize that everything - everything - is a phase.  The patter of 4 little feet down the hall and then 2 warm, chubby bodies scrambling into bed with me to usher in each new day.  Those same little feet crawling out of bed so many times after lights out that I wanted to scream and punch the wall.  The days of library Storytime and playgrounds and looking around the house, wondering how to fill the afternoon.  The 6:30 bedtime (bliss) and the 5:30 wake up (not so much).  The tears before Sunday School, and then the tears before School School.  That time they were afraid of Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street.  That time we had 3 small children and we moved in with my grandparents. The baby grunting all night long.  The funny little 3-toothed smile.  This life is made up of many seasons and Autumn’s glorious arrival always announces the end of Summer’s carefree days.  Each new beginning, be it wonderful or brutal, requires that there also be an ending.
So as I work to parent two beautiful, senstive, strong-willed girls who are just beginning to hear the rumblings of adolescence’s independence, and walk along the path of new-school days with my fierce, fiery, glorious 5-year-old, and dwell in the days of delight and exhaustion as our infant insists on racing toward toddlerhood, I am working - in the midst of the change and the constant flow of phases new and old - to hold it all lightly, knowing how soon things will change, and to recognize the constants.
Gratitude.  Fear.  Humility.  An overwhelming, deeply-abiding Love for these people who share my life and my home, far greater - and so much different - than I ever imagined it would be.  Joy.  Anxiety.  These have been my constant companions over much of the past decade, and while there are a few I’d like to kick to the curb, I am realizing that while my children have been growing up and changing, these constants have been growing and changing me, too.  There is a stirring in my heart as I embrace this time in my life, knowing that before I can blink twice we will all have grown up a bit more and moved onto something new.  It scares me.  It excites me.  It makes me want to be SO PRESENT in this moment, in this phase.
Which happens to be the Pokemon, tears in the morning, snuggles at night, shoes on the living room floor, heads on my shoulders as I read, baby hands on my face, homework hating, friend loving, remembering who I am phase.  

I’ll take it.


thoughts that come in the quiet

My house is quiet right now.  The only sounds are the drone of the air conditioner and the click of these computer keys and the bang of the washing machine (constant around here), occasionally noise from the construction site down the street.  My baby is sleeping (cue the angels’ chorus).  And my 3 big girls are at school.  It’s quiet.

I don’t remember how to do this.

It’s only been 8 ½ years since Aida and Sophie were 6-month-olds who took actual naps - albeit not always at the same time - but the quiet during Emmie’s naptime this week is so foreign to me, so separate from what life has been for the past several years.  No singing Lucy, no big girls creating or inventing or building, no fighting sisters, no - for a moment - squealing baby.  Just me and my thoughts, scrambled and tangled inside this sleep-deprived head of mine.

Oh sure, there are lots of things calling out to be done in this quiet.  In fact, I made a list of them on Monday and it is kind of hilariously, ridiculously long, because there is no way I could ever complete it, even if I didn’t have a baby who sleeps for a while and then bounces awake, legs pumping and a smile plastered on her beautiful goofy face.

But I made a second list on Monday, and I laughed when I came back to it later and read the title I had hastily assigned to this page: “Things I Want to do for Me - to grow as a person.”  Apparently I had felt the need to include the word person, creating a phrase that has always been a no-no for its needless repetition - one grows, and the word person is implied since we don’t grow as dolphins or airplanes or roses.  Not only this, but in my moment of scribbling I had felt the need to underline the word person.  It’s as if, with that slash of my pencil, I was reminding myself - yes, you are a mother, and yes, you are a wife, and those are so, so important, so defining, and yes, you are a daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, but Amanda, you are also you - a person.

I read an article earlier (as a rule I try to avoid books and articles on parenting because, Hello!  They NEVER make me feel better and almost always make me feel worse, but it gets difficult to resist clicking on them now and then in this lovely age of social media) and the last line caught me: “One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.” It caught me because, just recently, I asked myself an interesting question: If someone asked them, would my girls know what Mommy likes to do?  

How do I spend my time?  Based on observation, their answers would most likely be “Read to us” (Yes!) or “Put things away” (No!).  I realized that I just might be on the brink of frittering away a large chunk of my life on straightening up.


So today, in this quiet I don’t know what to do with, I am taking a stab at remembering who I am and what I like to do.  Not just remembering, but relearning.  A lot has happened since Aida and Sophie were tiny, chubby snugglers that napped every now and then.  I’m telling the mom-guilt voice to tone it down a bit and to let me come up for air.  I’m aching to get my hands in the dirt and pull some weeds, real and figurative.  I’m reminding myself to pray.  

And one of the things on my person list is write.  I think I know that I need to find my own voice again, and that maybe I’ll hear it a little better if I can read my own words.  Many of them will be about my children because, well, I really dig this mothering gig. But the words will be mine, for me, and if you enjoy them as well, that’s great.  Maybe they’ll help you grow as a person, too.


meet Emmie

Meet Emmie.
Just a few days after coming home

She has fuzzy dark hair that sticks up in the back and is increasingly disappearing in the front.  She now closely resembles an elderly, balding man.  (But a very cute elderly, balding man.)
Waving her arm and it disappeared!

She has the sweetest little fingers and the cutest little toes.

One month

She grunts in her sleep.  Meaning, almost constantly in her sleep.  Meaning, this Mama is getting very, very tired.

Ok, that is a lot of stripes.

She smiles at her Daddy, and at her sisters, and at Mommy.  Even just the hint of a smile sends us all into fits of joy and brings everyone running to crowd around and see if she’ll do it again.

She loves bathtime, aside from getting her neck washed, which happens to be the most important part of her bath because she also spits up constantly (and with impressive force!), leading to the harboring of crusty milkiness in all those sweet, chubby neck rolls.

She absolutely completes our family and we sure do love her so.

Can I just say how much I love Lucy's outfit here?! Also, the look on her face. And her sisters' faces. So all of it.

I’m not going to lie, this past month has been hard.  Everyone has been sick.  Baby has gotten sick (no one wants to see a fever in a 4 week old).  Sleep deprivation can wreak serious emotional and mental havoc.  I don’t even remember how to talk to my husband in more than 2 sentences at a time.  At times, I struggle with how to care for this precious little bundle as well as the hearts and minds of my big girls, who are good at doing things for themselves but still need their Mama to see them and hear them and love on them.

But.  The weather forecast this week has been multiple days in the 70s. (Hallelujah!) These children of mine are doing just fine, in spite of me and all my worries.  Emmie gets a little stronger each day.  And each day is one day closer to the end of the grunting, whenever that may be. (Please, God, soon!)  With each breath in, I accept what this day brings.  And with each breath out, I give thanks for what it holds.

It holds so much sweetness.


on snow days and awaiting baby

It snowed today, not much, but enough to cancel school and send down satisfyingly puffy white flakes for a short time.  When enough had fallen to coat the street we began the laborious process of getting everyone dressed to go outside - 2 pairs of pants, shirts, fleece, jackets, hats, gloves, rainboots.  The littlest one ranted and raved about how uncomfortable she was.  The older 2 managed fairly well on their own, a newer development this winter for which I am truly grateful.  With final complaints about shrinking boots (or could it be growing feet?) and a mad dash for the camera, we opened the back door and stepped out into the falling flecks of white.
It was, as always, magical.  Faces upturned, tongues outstretched, hair collecting bits of snow.  Aida and Sophie ran to the slide - the place where the most snow had collected - and gathered enough to make a few powdery snowballs.  Daddy went to find the sled.  Lucy joined the snowball “fight.”  I snapped a few photos and fixed mittens and hats and tried to memorize it all, these sweet happy faces and little shouts of joy and bits of ice and snow flying.
Daddy pronounced the street out front sleddable and the party quickly changed course.  I stood with Lucy in the front yard, my sweater and winter coat both on but neither able to button as my large belly amassed its own collection of snowflakes.  I thought about Emmie curled tightly inside, floating and warm and wiggling.  I thought about bringing her into this cold world with its ice and wind and all its heartache.  I thought, maybe she knows what she’s doing, camping out where it’s cozy and refusing to make her appearance.
I glanced over at my Lu sitting directly in the snow on the driveway, scooping small piles of white onto her mittens and stuffing them into her mouth.  She smiled at me, hat slightly askew and nose pink.  Sophie and Elijah rode past, bodies leaning hard to the right in an attempt to avoid prematurely crash-landing in our neighbor’s lawn.  The sled cut through the quarter inch of snow and scraped along the street.  The 2 of them stood, triumphant, and then Aida quickly went to take her turn.  I breathed in the chilly air.  I breathed in the beauty of the bodies around me.
When toes were numb we tracked water and snow inside, removing soaked layers and hustling for warm, dry clothes.  I poured milk into a saucepan, watched as my whisk dissolved flakes of dark chocolate into it, got down the marshmallows and the teacups.  The heater ran, clicked off for a few minutes, and groaned back on again.  The girls stirred until their marshmallows completely dissolved and then drank.  (Lucy spilled all over her dress. Time for outfit #3.)
I thought about Emmie again, and how she’s bound to make her entrance into this cold world soon.  And I thought about pink noses and shouts of wonder and hot chocolate and a heater.  Come on, little girl.  We’re ready to keep you warm.