Breath

Yesterday, I was reminded that our friends who lost their little girl to cancer started her chemotherapy 8 years ago. Just two months later, their precious baby went into the arms of Jesus. Seeing the picture of the brown-eyed two-year-old sitting on her mama’s lap sent me doubled over and tears poured. Neither one of them knew how little time they had left together. Last night, my husband spoke with our next-door neighbor who’d just found out his 49-year-old son died of a heart attack.

Squeeze your babies tight. Call your parents and grandparents. Disconnect and log out. Look at your life through your own eyes, not through a camera. Forget about what’s so shallow and temporary. Focus on the blessings in your life who are real and right in front of you. And cling to the Lord Jesus with your life, because without Him, nothing that happens in this world makes sense.

Our lives are an exhale of breath
visible on a frigid day.
A wisp that floats up and out
then evaporates into the surrounding air
as quickly as it escaped.
How shortsighted I am
to know this and pretend
that Death is blind to me
or that it has reason.
As a child, light and worry-free,
days passed like dominoes
stacking behind me, unnoticed.
Sickness, death, and decay never a flicker
on my mind.
I was invincible.
But now, with babies of my own
I am no longer oblivious
to the cold, unfeeling selections Death makes.
Parents bury their children
Old age can be relied upon
no longer, a fickle friend.
Open your eyes and know the truth!
Tomorrow is not promised.
Each heartbeat and each breath
while repetitive, are so only in hindsight
Held in fragile suspension
like spun sugar.

Mama Bear

Up until I was thirty, I would never have described myself as a “kid person.”  To be honest, I just didn’t like anybody else’s kids besides those in my own family- and even then, it was only if they were behaving.  After I turned thirty, I actually had the desire to become a mother, which probably shocked my family.  After becoming a mother, my sentiments about other people’s kids haven’t changed much, with a few exceptions. I fiercely love my two daughters, but dang, sometimes it’s hard to like them when they aren’t acting the way I want them to. It’s a good thing they’re cute, I half-jokingly tell myself.

Now that I’m out of the dark postpartum period, I absolutely love being a mom. Most days. I’m full of joy, laughter, energy, and fun. My girls, in return, smile, laugh belly laughs, play sweetly together, and have fun. All of this happens with minimal crying, whining, back talking, or yelling. The same is true for my one and three-year-olds. A few months ago, there were some mornings when I’d woken up to the sound of my baby Autumn, crying, instead of to my alarm clock thirty minutes early. Instead of being able to get ready, drink coffee, and read my Bible and journal alone, I was brushing my teeth while Autumn played at my feet, and my older daughter, Noelle, was rummaging through my bathroom drawers, pulling out all my makeup or high heels, or playing on the toilet that was borderline clean. I couldn’t seem to balance my attention bestowed on my girls to either of their satisfaction. I felt behind all day, and Noelle could feel my weakness and frustration, and seemed to pounce on it. She did exactly what I told her not to do. I would feel ashamed at how I’d flipped out and yelled, which did nothing but lose any credibility of in-control-parenting. A few neighbors walked by as they took their well-behaved dogs for walks and witnessed such dramatic scenes outside.  My face got hot and I became angry with Noelle for “making me” yell and act a fool, embarrassed that my sparkling eyed, ginger-haired cherub was actually a spicy, sassy, and stubborn nearly three-year-old. 

By the time my husband came home from work, I wanted to pass Noelle off to him so that I could be done with her for the day, and keep my docile Autumn for myself.  Noelle and I had spent too much time together, and we needed a break. There were some nights I broke down and cried at the utter lack of patience, control, and/or discipline I exerted that day, as my pediatrician husband explained that she was just trying to get my attention. Hearing that actually broke my heart.  I didn’t want this constant struggle to be normal.  I really felt like there was a battle raging for my relationship with my daughter.  So I prayed. Hard. And clung to the truths in the Bible that confirmed that my identity was in my Creator. Not in how well (or how badly) I felt I parented.

Noelle started going to preschool two days a week, which was a huge blessing that an opening came up in March. Since then, my postpartum has disappeared and Noelle has grown up. So has baby Autumn. All three of us are now starting the summer off a little older and wiser (and I’m so much more stable emotionally) than we were six months ago. While there have been (and still are) times Noelle has made me so frustrated, she is my heart, my girl.  Her excitement can’t be contained inside her tiny chest.  She still nearly cries with joy at seeing her 11-year-old friend playing outside, Katelyn’s name choked out between happy sobs.  It makes me want to swell up and cry at her precious heart.  That pure, unjaded, excitement for people is such a gift that only innocent children carry. As her momma, I hope and pray that she keeps it forever.  It breaks my heart knowing that my girls will inevitably be disappointed and hurt by others, intentional or not.  But my prayer is that they won’t allow their sweet spirits to become broken and shut down. I pray for their hearts, that they would be immune to the taste of the carelessness of others, the first of many inevitable arrows to come.  My prayer is this: Please, dear Jesus, do not ever let my words or actions be arrows, but salve.

Five Minute Friday: Is there a REWARD for this?

This time of year, grocery stores sell mini Cadbury eggs. They’re little chocolate egg shaped treats with a crunchy candy shell in pastel colors, and my husband and I find them irresistible. Our oldest daughter, Noelle, loves them too, so my husband lately has been using them as bribes to get her to stay in her seat at dinner, or to play sweetly with her sister while I finish dinner, or in other instances we require obedience. However, disciplining a two-and-a-half-year-old while simultaneously trying to raise (and keep safe) a one-year-old is hard. Like trying on a new pair of tights, my oldest’s will is stretching its legs, testing its limits, and pushing against my levels of control and patience. Big time. Plus, she has gorgeous ginger curls, which makes her a totally adorable, yet totally spicy, sassy, and stubborn two-year-old. There are some nights, I break down and cry into my husband at the utter lack of patience, control, and/or discipline I exerted that day. No amount of mini eggs can coerce my girl into obedience. I have to trust that one day, what we have tried to instill in her does stick, and that our reward is within her.

Post-Partum Take Two

A few weeks ago, I woke up to get ready for my bi-weekly get-together of a bunch of moms spanning all ages. Something was different when I opened my eyes. I was excited to be awake. The day seemed clearer. This invisible pressure that had formed over my head and shoulders since having my second baby had dissipated. I’ve finally walked out of my postpartum fog. For ten months, it felt like the air surrounding me had been heavier, more dense, as if I was walking around on a planet with higher gravity. Everything felt slower and harder, like more work. I was constantly exhausted, overly sensitive, impatient, and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I’d flit around the house like a moth cleaning, doing laundry, cooking dinner, changing diapers, breast feeding, and playing with and reading to the girls. I bitterly laughed at the suggestion of sitting down and relaxing. Now that nearly a year has passed since having my second baby girl, I am so thankful to be on the other side.

I was a total emotional wreck just before having my second daughter, and for months afterwards, worried about how I was going to balance my time between a newborn and a then 21-month-old.  My worries down to my gut were twofold. First, how do I get Noelle, my oldest, to understand that I love them both more than anything?  And secondly, how do I get Noelle to love her sister, Autumn, and for them to not be jealous of each other? I had no idea how or if Noelle would tell me she needed my attention. I wondered if it would be nearly as difficult for her to adjust to having a baby sister as it would be for me to adjust to having two babies.  My pint-sized ginger haired girl used to be so easy before her baby sister came along.  I was congratulating myself, while pregnant with Autumn, that I had such an easy toddler. Over this past year, most of her jealousy has been in the form of retaliation towards me, and blessedly not at her baby sister.  Not that that makes me any less frazzled, but I’m thankful my sturdy Autumn was no fragile baby bird between Noelle’s overzealous hugs that looked more like headlocks, being pushed over from a seated position, and Noelle’s general lack of understanding the meaning of “gentle.” Noelle will let me know when she is jealous of Autumn. She will tell me, “Momma, put her down,” if she feels I’ve held her sister for just a bit too long.  While I was giving Autumn a taste of banana a few months ago, Noelle dumped out her smoothie onto the hardwood kitchen floor.  While I’ve nursed Autumn, Noelle has ripped out pages from her books.  All of these events were done WHILE SHE WAS LOOKING AT ME.   When she’s done these intentionally destructive things or has done exactly the opposite of what I’ve told her to do, I’ve wanted to flip out and scream, “What are you thinking?”  I’ve had to stop, pause, pray, and then realize she is two years old, and doesn’t know how to maturely express to me her feelings.  She acts out to get my attention.  Even if it’s negative attention, it’s still attention in her mind.  

Now that Autumn is crawling, laughing, and interacting, my girls love to PLAY with each other. I love seeing Noelle kiss her baby sister every chance she gets. They laugh when Noelle gets Autumn to crawl after her in their version of chase. I don’t worry about what Noelle is doing to her sister if they’re on the floor playing together. When Autumn was only two months old, I remember she was in the car with Noelle and me. Autumn was crying inconsolably, and Noelle in exasperation, stated, “Baby Autumn! I can’t hear myself!” That stabbed me in the heart as both funny, because it came from the mouth of a not-quite-two-year-old, but also sad because she was already annoyed by her sister. Now, when Noelle complains about Autumn being loud, it’s because Autumn is a loud talker. She’s totally happy and content. Just super loud. Nursing Autumn is winding down to a close. This makes me both relieved, but also a bit nostalgic, knowing she is my last baby. It’s amazing considering at six weeks sometime around 2am, I was ready to quit. Looking back at this year, I’ve grown and stretched so much. So have my girls. We all have assimilated as a family of now four. I’m so excited to watch my girls grow up and become best of friends, no matter how different their personalities, interests, and/or talents develop.

Five Minute Friday: Home SEARCH

My husband and I decided that we wanted to buy a second home in the mountains of North Carolina. We met while we both lived in Denver, and we were doing a bike ride fund raiser in the mountains. We got married in the mountains of Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. Now that we live in Charlotte, we both love the idea of having a retreat away from the heat in the summer and a location convenient to skiing and hiking. For months, we looked online at the real estate listings, and we actually went searching with a real estate agent couple twice to see our online favorites in person. We at last found the place. As soon as we came through the front door, it was as if all the stress from the week had melted away. The bedrooms are all downstairs and the open kitchen and living room are upstairs. It couldn’t be a more perfect layout for us and our two little girls, both under the ages of three. Now that we’ve put in our offer and it’s been accepted, we’re going through the due diligence period and waiting to hear what the seller is willing to fix after the results of the inspection. It’s strange for my husband and I to stop looking at what else is coming on the market. Our search is more than likely over, but we’ve so gotten in the habit of seeing what is out there. Once we officially close on the place, we will for sure be done…I hope?

Uncontrollable Parenting

My baby girl was diagnosed with RSV at her pediatrician nearly two weeks ago. I took her to the doctor because, while we all had green snotty noses, she seemed to be laboring to breathe. When the doc walked in to our room, his typical smiley demeanor immediately changed, and he asked me, “How long as she been like this?” She had started sounding wheezy and crackly the night before, when my pediatrician husband noticed her breathing hard, and suggested that I call and make her an appointment. After checking her lungs and ears, he hypothesized that Autumn had RSV, a respiratory virus that essentially clogs the bronchioles with snot. In came two nurses. One did a nasal swab to confirm RSV, and the other brought a nebulizer so we could see if a breathing treatment of albuterol would help my baby’s lungs. After 15 minutes of her sitting in my lap and letting me hold the mask to her face, the wheezes and labor of breathing didn’t subside. The rapid test result confirmed RSV, but there wasn’t anything to do but wait it out. That was around Day 2 or 3, and generally, the doc explained, the worst of RSV happens on Days 4-6. He warned me that we would need to take her to the Emergency room if her breathing got worse. Mike and I had her sleep in our room that night so we could monitor her all night. The next morning, she was no better, but not worse. Throughout the day, I could tell her energy and oxygen levels were draining. She started getting dark circles under her eyes. We had in our room again that night. Around 3am, she woke us up in a coughing fit. It was time. Mike took her to the ER and I stayed home while our two year old, Noelle, slept. I called my mom who lives a few hours away in Wilmington. The emotion fell out of me when she answered. “I’m getting in the car and leaving as soon as I can,” she said as soon as I told her that Autumn was in the hospital. After the call disconnected, I could barely speak. I allowed myself to break down and cry until no more tears would come. Then, I washed my face and got dressed. I knew it would be at least four hours before my mom would arrive, so I woke up Noelle, we ate breakfast, and we headed to the hospital.

Autumn was so tired, she could barely pick up her head when we walked in. Every breath, in and out, was work for her. Her cries for me were pitiful whimpers. She had tubes in each nostril forcing oxygen into her little body. Three dice-sized electrodes were stuck to her chest to monitor her heart rate and her breathing rate. I could tell she wanted to nurse, but she barely had the energy. I was clumsy with all the wires. Mike had to hand her to me. An hour after we arrived, Autumn’s room up on the pediatric floor was ready. Mike held both our girls in his lap on the hospital bed and I followed, as they were rolled through the meandering hallways and gaping elevators. We were ushered into Autumn’s room at the end of a hall with one big window overlooking the fountain in front of the hospital and the rooftops of homes nearby.

The next day, it was clear she was not drinking or feeding enough, so an IV was placed in her left arm. Her thumb was taped to a foam board along her forearm to prevent that IV line coming out, so we called it her “club hand.” With all the wires and tubes connected to her, it was so hard to pick her up to hold and snuggle her. We were tethered to her monitors, and couldn’t walk with her farther than just a few feet from her crib. She would sit in her tiny hospital gown tugging angrily at her tubes with that useless club hand. She also had a “Rudolph toe” that was a red light taped around her big toe to monitor her oxygen saturation. Child life specialists dropped in and offered her toys that kept her occupied when she had the energy to be awake and play. Mike stayed the nights with her and I came during the day so that I could attempt to nurse. My mom was such a blessing, taking care of Noelle while we were gone and/or asleep, and making meals.

Physically, we were all taken care of. I was emotionally numb. I did what I needed to do each day in kind of a mechanical trance. I had zero energy left over to pray. I let others do that for me, which upset me that I was that shakeable. Admittedly though, my main reason for not praying was that I was so angry at God for letting my baby get this sick, I didn’t feel like talking to him.

Helpless. My arms tied back behind me.
Watching you struggle all alone and frail 
in that too-big hospital bed.
I can't comfort you with my arms like I want.
Your tubes connecting your body to machines and IVs
hold back my ability to hug and squeeze you tight.
Your lips are dry since you can't nurse or drink.
Your cheeks and lashes are salt-encrusted
since I can't wipe away your tears.
Your hospital gown makes you look even more exposed.
Your feeble cries wring out my heart.
My days in your hospital room and nights alone in my bed
transform me into an emotionless machine;
doing the next step to get you well.
Expecting others to do the praying.
I can't do it all.

We came home from the hospital on Monday afternoon, and my mom went back home to Wilmington. Tuesday morning I had both girls to myself as Mike had gone back to work. I was still treating Autumn like a wounded cub, but Noelle wanted attention from me too, since I’d been gone during her waking hours for the past few days. That was a long, hard day. I know in my head that my children are sweet blessings from God. That no matter how painful life on earth becomes, God is still God. That God loves me and each of my girls more than I can fathom. And that it is up to Him how long we are each on this earth, before he scoops us up and takes us back home. It’s our job on earth during this wisp of a life to display God’s love to each other and to the world so that more people can know God’s love for themselves. It is my prayer that my girls radiate God’s love to the earth in mighty and powerful ways, more than I could ever dream. And from my very aching soul, I pray that they would carry out their mission long after Mike and I are watching them from God’s lap in Heaven.

Five Minute Friday: Living ONE Moment at a Time

Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is the word, ONE.  You can link up or read other writers’ thoughts on this word here.

A few days ago, I went in to my oldest daughter Noelle’s bedroom to get her out of bed.  When I held her to my chest, I could hear little wheezes and pops deep in her lungs.  I knew her snotty-nosed cold got pushed down overnight.  As I collected the tubing and the medicine for her nebulizer, my baby, Autumn, woke up.  After a strong quiet time with God that morning, I was ready for this.  I had read an encouraging chapter in Colossians and had a great time journaling and praying.  I scooped up my baby and brought her into Noelle’s room.  I sat on the floor nursing Autumn while Noelle sat in her rocking chair next to me, and I held Noelle’s mask during her breathing treatment.  I felt like Wonder Woman.  Serene and strong.  Fast forward ten hours.  My husband and I had been downstairs for about an hour when I decided to go upstairs and check on Noelle since she’d been bouncing in her bed for the last fifteen minutes.  I opened the door and it reeked of poop.  I flicked on the light.  My nose wasn’t wrong.  Poop was smeared everywhere.  All down her legs.  All up her arms.  All over her bed sheets.  On the neck straps and the leg openings of the swimming suit that she’d pulled on over her diaper.  I flipped out.  No longer was I Wonder Woman.  I was a raving mad, barking Chihuahua.  As I laid in bed that night next to my husband, our girls were both tucked in to clean beds, and all was right, for that one moment.

Five Minute Friday: Life on REPEAT

This week, I’m joining the Five Minute Friday writing community in writing on the word Repeat, for five minutes flat.  Click here to read other great writers, and/or to join us!

Having two little ones under 2.5 years old requires a routine.  Wake up, feed baby, put her back to sleep, sneak in a few more minutes of sleep, then go downstairs to make coffee and oatmeal, get toddler out of her room, eat breakfast.  My morning would be a blur and all of a sudden, it would be lunchtime and then naps, then I’d make dinner while both girls slept.  Then they’d wake up, my husband would come home from work, we’d all eat dinner, then the bedtime routine for the girls, then my husband and I would relax and watch tv until bedtime for us.  With this schedule on repeat five days a week (or more if my husband was on call over the weekend), I was dragging.  I was giving and going nonstop with nothing filling me.  Until two Sundays ago.  We were at church and our pastor and his wife invited us to join them on their 21 day fast.  As a nursing mama, skipping out on food that long is not even a consideration.  So I wondered what else I could give up.  And then I realized that instead of sneaking in those extra minutes of sleep, I could read my Bible and journal.  What a huge difference that has made in my whole countenance!  I’m not on autopilot anymore.  Starting the day off with my Creator and reading truth into my soul has filled me with such joy and peace that I find my days fun and exciting.  No longer drudgery or boring routine.  Every outing or even playtime at home is an opportunity for me to share Jesus with my girls and with whoever we meet.

Day 31/31 Five Minute Free Writes: Close

Day 31

As the month of October draws to a close, with it brings the colors of Fall and crunchy leaves on the sidewalk.  Tomorrow, non-stop Christmas radio stations will begin, and the holiday season will be uncorked.  The spooky graveyards and orange lights will be replaced by white strings of happy, welcoming light.  The squishy carved pumpkins that as of late have become squirrel (and fly) treats will be tossed out and replaced by wreaths and trees.  Sheer fabric ghosts hanging on tree limbs will be swapped out for ornaments.  Fall is my favorite season, although it is fleeting.

Day 30/31 Five Minute Free Writes: Voice

Day 30

My mom, my sister, and my aunts (my mom’s sisters) all have the same voice.  I can remember having both aunts visit us one summer, and they were all in the kitchen downstairs while I was upstairs getting ready.  I couldn’t tell them apart.  When one spoke, I couldn’t tell who was speaking.  I know my daughters’ voices.  I can distinguish their cries from other kids’ on a playground or in their Sunday school classes.  My husband has a deep, bellowing voice with a hint of a Boston accent.  We know the voices of those we know the best, even with our eyes closed.