Wednesday, May 24, 2017


We were ready this time.  The crib was set up with fresh, clean sheets. The tiniest clothes had tumbled through the laundry machines and lay folded in pretty white baskets that lined the closet shelves. New blankets of the softest material and in every shade of pink smelled sweetly of laundry detergent and lay on the shelf closest to the crib. The carseat and stroller shined after their good scrub down. A brand new baby swing waited in the corner of the living room. My hospital bag sat packed and ready.

And we waited.

Any day now, I told the children when they asked.  Any day now, the children repeated to their teachers and friends.

I had reason to believe she would come early.  All the other babies had.  Some by one week, another by two, and little Timothy had arrived four and a half weeks before his expected time. However, the days on my calendar kept flipping by and we found ourselves coming closer and closer to that little square with the 11 in the corner and the little red box inside of it that read Baby Due!!!

Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he called from work. Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he saw me pause. Any contractions? Brian would ask any time he saw my face. Any contractions? Brian would ask every time he took a breath. And each time, for days that turned into weeks, I would either shake my head or tell him, again, that he really needed to stop asking that question.  She'll come when she comes, I thought, though it was rather disheartening to be reminded over and over that absolutely nothing seemed to be happening.  Most days and in the good moments I was able to find his question rather endearing because it gave beautiful illustration to the fact that he was just. so. excited.

Really, it could change in a moment, Brian said one day as we were driving along the road in our minivan, right?

Yep, I said.  Any moment. He knew that answer of course, but somehow saying it out loud made us both feel better. Just because I'm not having many contractions doesn't mean all that much. My water could still break any second... progressive contractions could start any time... maybe we'll find ourselves driving to the hospital in an hour...?

And so it went. For days upon days. Always ready, always attentive, always waiting for the Moment of Change.

Here and there pockets of Bad Timing lurked. Some were little things, such as the evening Brian attended the temple with the youth, or each day he had to drive out to the furthest clinic for work.  Some were bigger things, such as the few operating days on Brian's calendar where he had a schedule full of patients who had been waiting for weeks to have their eye surgeries.

Some of the Bad Timing pockets lasted an entire day, such as my birthday. You don't want to have to share a birthday with your mother your whole childhood, I whispered to her early that morning before I got out of bed, so stay comfy in there for today, sweetheart. Or April Fools Day.  It's not a big deal, but if you want your very own day then you should wait this one out, love. Or the weekend of General Conference. Your brothers and sister looked so very frightened when I mentioned that if you came this weekend we would not be watching conference as a family this time around.

Speaking of General Conference, the whole idea of the baby's birthday mixing with it was very worrisome to McKenzie. You see, our church holds a General Conference twice a year where our prophet and his apostles and other inspiring leaders give incredible, inspired talks that are delivered in a giant assembly hall and broadcast worldwide, and it always falls on the weekend that contains the first Sunday in April (and then again in October).  We make it a big deal in this house. We block off the days and cook and bake all sorts of delicious foods and have several small bowls filled with different kinds of candy that the kids eat largely unregulated. We pull out the picnic blanket and spread it in front of the TV and it is the only time during the whole year that food is allowed in the family room. The kids print out all sorts of coloring pages and pull out creative, quiet toys such as magnets or legos, and then we sit together as a family to eat and create and watch and listen for four hours on Saturday, and for another four hours on Sunday. Some of us take notes on the ideas and feelings that meant the most to us, and now that the kids are getting older we have some great conversations afterwards about the lessons we learned.  It's a special weekend and we look forward to it with great excitement. McKenzie loves it the most out of all the kids currently, and was disheartened when she learned that the baby might have to share her birthday with such an important and special weekend on any occasion her birthday happened to fall on a Saturday or a Sunday. Which in McKenzie's mind put the Very Bad Timing stamp on all of the dates from April 1st through the 7th.

Timothy's biggest timing concern came with the presence of a Ferris Wheel that had appeared overnight and stood towering above our town.  The traveling fair was almost ready to open during that first week in April, and the Ferris Wheel was almost ready to ride, almost... It was all lit up at nights and looked so incredibly fun that he wanted nothing more in his whole life than to ride it. So we promised him that we would take him as soon as possible after it opened - as long as the baby didn't come before then.

Thankfully, almost all of Bad Timing pockets had melted away into the past by the time Friday the 7th rolled around. Brian was home by 10am with an entire work-free week ahead of him and we started to get serious about doing all we could to get something, anything, moving.  We should go for a long walk, I suggested as he came through the door.  So with tennis shoes and a stroller we walked briskly down to the local airport to watch the airplanes and helicopters take off, we walked briskly through the park and stopped for a minute to push Timothy on the swings, we walked briskly around the duck ponds and pointed at the brand new baby ducklings swimming along behind their mother, we walked briskly to the local burger place to grab some burgers to fuel more walking and, eventually, out of necessity, we walked briskly back home when the schools got out and Miles came riding his bike up our road at 3pm.  Five hours after our walk had begun. And by midnight our final two Bad Timing pockets had melted away as Timothy's dream had come true on the Ferris Wheel and McKenzie's worry about her baby sister ever having to share her birthday with General Conference was laid to rest.

That night I felt really good. Comfortable. Restful. And slept peacefully right through the night.


Saturday the 8th I awoke and started in on the Saturday chores. Slowly, the dust bunnies disappeared and the house started to smell of citrus, though it wasn't long before I realized that I was not contributing much. Brian and even the children were cleaning in circles around my aimless wanderings and pitiful efforts to tidy and scrub. My spirits were down, and my logical self was making it worse by telling me that I was acting silly and reminding me that the due date wasn't even for three more days. My grumpy self knew this, of course, and tried to tell my logical self that even so, I had never been this close to my due date before and besides, feelings aren't always logical so butt out please.

What is it that makes Waiting so emotionally tiring? I knew I needed to get out of the house to take my mind off the Wait so we decided to go on a family walk, the long way, up to my favorite lunch spot 3 miles away. Of course, we knew the little legs in our family would not last for a brisk 6 mile round trip adventure, so bikes and strollers were allowed to join.

Sitting around the lunch table we all made guesses down to the minute as to when our food would come (I won), and around dessert the guesses were made down to the minute as to when the baby would come. That one I refused to play, mostly because the thought fed my grumpy self (she'll come when she comes) but everyone else joined in.

"We need to be clear," Brian specified, "that the time you are guessing is the day and minute mom and I decide to go to the hospital, or the day and minute her water breaks. Whichever comes first."
"Tonight at 9:00," McKenzie guessed, and I rolled my internal eyes that her guess was so soon because surely I was going to be the first woman to be pregnant forever.
"Tuesday at 1:45am," was Timothy's, and I rolled my internal eyes that his guess was so far away because surely the baby must be coming sooner than that.
And on and on it went with me feeling grumpy and frustrated and illogically responsible for the outcome.

When we returned from lunch I still felt grumpy (even grumpier?) and Brian suggested that I head out to Starbucks with my computer to write and to relax and to grab a hot chocolate. Often when I write I'm able to separate my current feelings from the feelings of the piece on which I'm working, and I had been wanting to blog about the overall sweetness and beauty of my pregnancy for a long time which, I figured, might be a good place for my brain to go. So I took him up on the offer and by 4:00 I was sitting comfortably in one of the soft leather chairs, typing away in my happy place. But by 5:30 I had had a couple of harder-than-normal contractions (though far apart and only 2) and by 6 I couldn't shake the thought of my water breaking right there in such a public space and on such a comfy chair. So the grumpiness returned and I packed everything up to come home.

When I walked in the door, Brian raised his eyebrows and drew a breath to ask any contractions?, but I put my hand up to stop him and said, "I just decided I feel more comfortable waiting here than I do waiting there."
"Still feeling down?" he observed.
"Yeah, I guess," I said, blinking back tears.  The truth was that my feelings were all twisted up. I was feeling tired of waiting to be sure, but I had noticed that I also felt a little nervous about the labor and delivery this time around. Which made little sense to me because it's not as if I hadn't done it before.  But I'd never done it here before, and I hadn't put much time and effort into researching all of the fine print regarding How They Do Things here. There were question marks... and question marks make me nervous.

Maybe a warm bath will help my mood, I thought. So after dinner I disappeared upstairs to try and soak away all the negativity. I read my book and watched a show and listened to Brian wrestle all the kids into bed (he's so amazing) before letting my wrinkly fingers convince me that it was time to get out. I felt a little better and had let my logical self gently remind me as I soaked that I really wouldn't be pregnant forever... even though it seemed that I might. I had worked to harness the faith I have that things have a way of working themselves out, and I had (for the moment) laid my nervousness aside by reminding myself that my body would do what it needed to do. I knew I'd probably have to give myself those little pep talks frequently in order for them to keep working, but for that moment, I felt better.

Which felt good. And rather ironic, because as I stood to reach for my towel the Moment of Change arrived with a gush of warm water.  I stood there for a few seconds processing the situation - after all, I'd just been sitting in a giant tub full of warm water so it was kind of hard to tell... did I really just feel extra water, or was it all just the same water.  Either way, I grabbed my phone and shot off a text to Brian.

"I'm pretty sure my water just broke," I typed. "Come."

Less than 30 seconds later, Brian came rushing into the bathroom, "Really?!"

"I think so.  What's the kid situation?"

"All the boys are asleep.  McKenzie is reading in her room and just about ready to turn out her lights."

"Okay, let's give it a little bit to make sure... maybe go tell McKenzie that she can keep reading until we make a decision?"

I got dressed quickly and, taking necessary precautions, lay on the bed for a few minutes to see if I could induce any more gushing. Sure enough, when I stood a few minutes later it was unmistakable; my membranes had ruptured and it was time to go to the hospital.

We had had several plans in place for the other children depending on what time of day this moment arrived, and the plan for the All Children in Bed and Asleep scenario was that McKenzie, bless her sweet little responsible and mature heart, would be left in charge through the night.

"I cannot believe how perfect this timing is," I said to Brian as we placed the last of the items in our hospital bag. To have hit that sweet spot between when all the boys were asleep and before McKenzie was asleep felt divinely orchestrated. It was late enough that she didn't have to worry about putting excited kids to bed, and it was early enough that we didn't have to worry about waking her up.  "Why don't you go tell her the news," I said, "and invite her to come sleep in our bed for the night just in case Teek comes in here looking for us."

Moments later she came bouncing into the room with wide open arms just for me.  "Mom!" she exclaimed with nothing else to say.
After a moment of hugging she pulled away and said, "Man, I was so close!"
"Close to what?" Brian asked.
"Guessing the right time!  I guessed it would be tonight at 9:00, remember?!  It's 9:20."
"...McKenzie, wait..." Brian said as he pulled out his phone. "You were closer than you think!" He opened his text messages. "Mom sent a message to me right after her water broke - let's see what time..."

9:01pm.  And it feasibly took me a minute to get the text off.

Coincidence? Probably. But even so, something about her perfect guess seemed so fitting to my heart and it filled me with warmth and joy. The joy was in the connection, I think, the connection I felt flowing from big sister to little sister, little sister to big sister... a connection planted in the richest soil of family, of sisterhood, that could grow and fill them both with a sense of belonging, of comfort, of love throughout their entire lives. How beautiful it is that it was this sweet moment, the moment at nine o'clock on a Saturday night, the Moment of Change, that was the very first thing they shared.

Before we left we asked, again and again, to make sure that McKenzie felt comfortable staying the night on her own, "It would not be a big deal to pack you all up and take you to the Calverts," I offered.  But she reassured me that she wanted to stay home and that she was excited about getting the boys up and dressed for church the following morning. So we hugged her and kissed her and double-checked all the doors, and as we pulled out of the driveway I knew that the next time I pulled back in things would be so beautifully different.

I took one deep breath in the car to connect with myself and then reached for my phone to send a message to my friend, Alycia.  The Calvert family has four children who are all remarkably close to the same ages as my own kids, and Alycia was graciously excited to be on stand-by to help with any of the child needs when this moment came. She was thrilled to hear we were on our way to the hospital, and I asked if she would please sleep with her ringer turned up just in case McKenzie needed anything in the middle of the night.  I also explained that my kids would get themselves all ready for church the following morning and were planning to walk the short distance to the chapel, but asked if Alycia wouldn't mind saving a seat on their bench for my children to join them.  Alycia responded quickly with all the reassuring answers I needed and then asked if McKenzie might feel better if Emma, her own 13-year-old daughter, came to stay the night with her.  Generally we don't do sleepovers (and neither do the Calverts), but the thought of having the two of them together felt very comfortable and good to my heart (even though it seemed rather ironic that our No Sleepovers rule was about to be bent for two 13-year-old girls to stay in a big house with absolutely no parental supervision at all (which, I suppose, is a great mark of their goodness)).

Meanwhile, Brian and I were almost to the hospital. I felt all sorts of calm as we drove around in search of the front entrance.  No pain, no contractions.  This was significant because the idea of managing pain and racing against time while trying to navigate to and through a hospital we had never seen before had been one of the biggest stressors in the back of my mind for months.  A silly stressor, really, because it was one that could have easily been soothed by one car ride into the city to become familiar with the route and to locate the correct entrance. I'm not entirely sure why I never made it a priority to do that, it certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity, but I think it had something to do with the thought that maybe I wouldn't like what I saw if we drove around the hospital. Due to a mid-pregnancy insurance change (coupled with the lousy coverage of said insurance), delivering in this hospital was the only choice I had and I think there was a little fear in the back of my mind that if I didn't like what I saw I would worry about it for the rest of the pregnancy.  So I exchanged that worry for the worry that we would be rushing the clock or fighting the pains while we searched for the correct entrance. Turns out, as is usually the case, I needn't have worried about either.  The hospital was wonderful and well marked and we drove right up to the maternity center with no wrong turns, no confused searching, no hassle.  We parked close to the front doors in a big, quiet parking lot and the whole experience was pleasant and 438 times less stressful than parking at Costco.

Oh boy, I thought as we approached the big sliding glass doors.  "We're going to need to make this check-in quick or I'm going to start making a biiiiiiiiiig mess," I whispered to Brian from the corner of my mouth.  Every couple of minutes as we stood waiting for the nurse to come and take us back, more fluid would gush and it wasn't long before all the protection I'd taken had become quite insufficient. "I hope they don't make me sit in a wheelchair," I mumbled to Brian, "because I'm pretty sure sitting down at this point would be a really bad idea."  So I was relieved to see the nurse come through the doors with no wheelchair in sight; however, she was not so relieved and with a frustrated, "Oh dear, there is no wheelchair out here," turned around to go back through the doors to retrieve one.

"Actually!" I said, holding up my hand.  "I'd much rather walk if that's okay... I am leaking quite a bit and if I sat down I'm pretty sure I'd squish all over the place."

"Oh," she said, pausing to think for a minute. "Great. Okay. Follow me." As she led us through the doors she turned over her shoulder and asked, "Are you sure your membranes have ruptured?"

"I'm very sure," I responded feeling the wetness seeping down my pants.  "In a few more seconds I fear I'm going to start leaving a trail behind me."

"Alright, then we'll skip the assessment room and just take you straight back to labor and delivery."

An hour later I was propped up in bed contemplating three things: number one, how does every single hospital I've ever been to have the exact same blue print hospital gown? Don't they know there are thousands of fabrics out there? Wouldn't it be rather delightful to be surprised with the color and print of your hospital gown once in a while?  Number two, I wonder how common it is that other women leave such giant messes in the bathroom while they're changing into these (remarkably boring) hospital gowns. Because dang, I left a big mess in there. Also, turns out meconium in the fluid makes the mess way grosser. Number three: I do believe that this is the most uncomfortable bed I have ever had the misfortune to meet. My feet are actually dangling uselessly several inches off the edge, which is terribly unfortunate because the tilt of the bed seems to have me sliding, ever so slowly, right off the end of it. And it sure would be nice to use those feet to slide me back up... was this built for a toddler?

But no matter. It's amazing how something as abstract as your mood can change the whole way you perceive things.  If I had met any of those three things in my morning grumpy mood, they would be frustrating, but now that I was in a good mood, the whole situation was rather funny. As was the situation with my nurse.

"What do you think of your nurse?" Brian asked when we finally had a minute to ourselves, and I confessed my true feelings, "Sheeeeee's kind of nuts!"

"I'm glad your vein didn't burst!" he laughed.  "Were you worried about it?"

"Um, YES!" I said, and we both laughed thinking back to the moments before the needle pierced my skin.

"Okay," the nurse had said as she positioned the needle over my vein, "Oh wow, that's a giant vein. Good! I like giant veins! Usually... though... sometimes those are easier to burst. Okay, whew, I've gotta calm my muscles down a bit." At this, she shook her hands by her side for a second. "My husband and I always watch UFC fights on TV, we just love it and we've always done it, and tonight there was a big match - that's why I was late and the other nurse checked you in - so because I was coming in to work afterwards I didn't have any beer, but I had, like, four Red Bulls so my muscles are so jumpy!  Okay, let's hope I don't burst this vein..."

And with that measure of confidence she had lowered her head to start the IV.

Thankfully my vein had cooperated, so it was easy for Brian and I to laugh about it after she was gone.

The doctor wanted to start pitocin since I wasn't having regular contractions, but I asked to wait for a while to see if things started on their own.  "I'm not in any hurry," he said, "so if you're not either I say that's just fine." I wasn't either.

My body knew exactly what to do, and by 1:30 in the morning the contractions were hard enough that I had to remind myself to breathe and frequent enough that I was ready for the epidural.  Which was a giant relief and took the edge off of the pain. I rested for a little while after that (as much as I could in that ridiculous toddler-sized bed), and Brian fell fast asleep until about 3:05 am when things changed instantly. The extreme pressure paralyzed me and I knew it was time.  I was on my left side and the nurses call button seemed miles away behind my shoulder.

"Bri?" I whispered to wake him gently.  Nothing.  "Brian?" I whispered a little louder. Still nothing.  The pressure was so intense that it seemed that the baby was pushing and shoving and elbowing her way out right that very moment.  "Hey! BRIAN!" He jolted awake and looked over in my direction.  "It's time... I need you to come push the call button."  He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes slowly and blinked again trying to clear away the daze. "Bri! I need you NOW!"

"Right!" he jumped up from the couch and started stumbling around in unproductive circles, still half awake, knowing he was looking for something but not sure what it was. "The CALL button!" I reminded him. "It's on the bed right next to my shoulder... I can't move, and I can't reach it... I need you to push it!" By the time he got to the button, he had regained his full consciousness and soon the whole room was buzzing with activity and life.

"Here comes another one..." I said as the pressure started to mount.  I wasn't sure if the doctor was ready, but I was, and felt to inform him of that fact.
"Yes, would you like to push?" the doctor asked, finishing up his preparations.

I didn't answer verbally, but the green light from him was enough and four pushes later, at 3:09am our little lady arrived - screaming and healthy.

I hope to never forget what it feels like to have the weight of my own baby placed on my stomach just a second after birth.  It's an incredible feeling really - for months her weight was part of my own and in that one beautiful moment it became all her own, separate from me, lying on top of me, subject to the gravity that pulled her body in softly for that first real hug.  It's so beautiful.  And the warmth of that moment... the warmth of her soft, new skin filled me almost as completely as the warmth that originated from my heart.

The cord was wrapped all around her, tangled in her limbs and grasped in her little fist. We unwove and unwound before Brian cut the cord, and just like that, she was entirely separate from me.  But even as the physical bonds became a thing of the past, the emotional bonds grabbed hold of us and soared forever into the future.

The nurses wiped her off and put a hat on her head without even taking her from me, and I stared at her little face.  "Brian!" I said, so full of emotion, "Look at her!  She is so, so beautiful."  Indeed, she was.  Her big, dark eyes were open and alert as she tried to make sense of her new surroundings, and her head was covered in beautiful, dark hair.  Her cheeks were so soft and smooth, and her nose turned slightly upwards in a dainty softness.  Her fingers were long and straight and her fingernail beds were tiny and perfect.  Her lips formed a perfect pout and her little ears lay straight back on her head.  She was beautiful.

"Oh, Linds," Brian said as he peered over the top of her head to get a better look, "she is so cute."  Cute, beautiful, perfect, we couldn't stop saying over and over just how lovely she was.  "Look how sweet she is."  "Her face is just so beautiful." "Oh, she is so cute..."  "Look how beautiful her eyes are." "She is perfect." I kept expecting the nurses to come along and take her to the nursery to bathe her and check her and do whatever else they do when they take the new babies away.  But they never did.  Eventually I asked when they were going to take her and was pleasantly surprised when the answer was, "We're not. She's all yours."

And so we held her and snuggled her and talked to her and fed her for all the quiet, earliest hours of the morning. I didn't think much of sleep because how could I possibly sleep when I had such a beautiful, brand new face to look at? But eventually sleep did come for all three of us with the happiest of feelings in our hearts.

I even forgot how uncomfortable the bed was for a while.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Unique Love

*This post was written on April 8th at around 6pm... 
just three hours before my water broke.  
It's taken a few days to finish it and get the pictures up.

Well, we made it to spring break.  Brian is home for a whole week, and the children are underfoot asking every few hours whether or not I've had any contractions.

It seems a little surreal to me that this blog, this happy space that represents the corner of my mind where words capture memories and help me explore my innermost thoughts, doesn't even know that in just a few short days (hours?) our family will get to meet and hold and snuggle the brand new baby girl we've all be so passionately excited about.

But recorded here or not, it's happening.  And, recorded here or not, we are simply thrilled.

There has been something so beautiful about this pregnancy, something different than in the past, and I've spent a lot of time inspecting and pondering and digging to find the root of it. It's been hard to nail down and has taken me months and months to prune out all the tangential reasons and find that, I think, the difference all boils down to Love.

It's kind of tricky to explain what I mean, though... because I obviously want it to be clear that each of my children are loved with such an intensity, and that there are no favorites or differences in the levels of love they pull from my heart.  But it also is true that, aside from being loved for simply just existing, each child is loved for different reasons and that the love I feel for each one is very unique and tailored personally because of the differences in his or her own beautiful heart.  I've often wished that in our language the word Love was split into dozens of words that each capture one of the slight variations of its meaning.  Shouldn't there be different words, for example, to describe how I feel about peanut butter M&M's, and how I feel about my husband?  Yet 'love' is all we have, and if there is a better way to describe it I cannot find it.

So, working within the deficiencies of language, I will say that the love throughout the last nine months for this little girl has been preciously priceless and beautifully unique, and that that has made the difference.

One way in which this love has been unique is in the sweet Love Sparkles that come from the eyes of my kids as they talk about and ask about and dream about who their little sister will be. They are all invested so deeply in this future. I think this investment is largely fueled by McKenzie's and Carson's maturity and it has been so delightful to have older kids through this whole thing. Their minds understand well what it all means and their hearts took no time at all to grow and adapt to the new love that filled them. Their excitement is absolutely contagious both for their two younger siblings and for their parents, and I believe it's out of that excitement that those sweet Love Sparkles appear.  I see them when we study the ultrasound pictures together, and when we fold the new tiny clothes straight from the dryer, and hold the warm, soft blankets to our cheeks.  I see the Love Sparkles in their eyes when they feel the baby softly bump with her hiccups, when they feel her tiny kicks, and when they watch my belly as she rolls to a new position.  And the Love Sparkles shine bright when we talk about the future - where she will sleep, what we will call her, who will teach her all the things...

Another way the love has been unique is that so many friends and neighbors have shared in the excitement this time. Babies are in short supply around here as a large majority of the people in my daily circles finished adding to their families years ago, and because of that there has been an excitement that has followed me wherever I have gone.  I feel so grateful for all the people around me who have been so generous in sharing their love for this baby with our family.

Along the same lines as the ones above, but slightly different, is the simple idea that love added to love equals more love. I know, it sounds too simple, but for me it's not quite as intuitive as it seems.  I remember feeling concerned when I was expecting my second child that I'd have to split my love between McKenzie and the new baby once he arrived (and I've found out since it's a pretty common feeling). But I found that the magic of love is that it's not finite.  When that second baby came there was no split or divide of love like there was on time. My heart simply stretched and filled with more love than it originally had to begin with. And it happened again with the third, and the fourth, and the fifth... Now, of course, big families are not for everyone, but for me I am so grateful to have experienced so many love growth spurts in this way.  And holding six children, including Jess, in my heart feels rich and beautiful.

This idea of love growing is true in my own heart as described above, and it also can be expanded to include my whole home. It's been my experience that love feels bigger when there are more people sharing it (which may not be true universally, but for whatever reason feels true for me in this case). Having four children and two parents loving this little girl has exploded our home with love!  The love seems to snowball from one person to the next to the next and back to the first again, getting bigger and stronger with each day until it has filled us to bursting.

Maybe the biggest way this love has been unique, however, is in the ways my own perspective has changed and matured throughout the last years.  I'm not quite sure how it happened exactly, but my first baby has somehow gone and grown right up into a teenager, and my other babies are all functioning and thriving with personalities all their own. They bike through our small town taking such great care of their increasing list of responsibilities and contribute to the family dynamic in beautiful, unique, and often surprising ways... this growing up is happening so quickly, and it has given me new light to see that this little one we are expecting any minute is so much more than a baby.  She is a person, with her own individual spark who will add life and light and something special to our family. A newborn baby is something to love, yes yes yes, but the promise of a future for that baby? Of a child? Of a teen? Of an adult? How much greater is the love in that.

Come soon, little one... we simply can't wait to meet you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Scrambled Thoughts XVII - End of School Style

1 - He's a heart-melter, this one.

And he knows it.  Just today this conversation went down,
"Hey Teek, guess what?"
"You love me."
"How did you know I was going to say that?!"
"Because you say dat all duh time.  And you say I'm duh k-YOU-tist."
"Well, you are the cutest!"
"Yeah.  I know dat cause you say dat all duh time."

Ego. fed.

2 - Miles is a competitor.  Also, his hair is amazing.

Sometimes my mind flashes back to one experience when Miles was in the transition phase between baby and toddler. My parents know the day because they were there, too, watching with amazement as little Miles, completely wrapped up in his own thoughts and determination, worked to master stepping up and down an inch-deep step where the porch turned to gravel.  He fell and fell and fell, and turned around to hit it again, again, again.  I remember my dad leaning slightly over to my mom and pointing his finger to pull her attention to the sheer grit that was coming from Miles.  We watched him work in that one spot with an attention span much longer than was appropriate for his age, and we knew that we were seeing one of his core personality traits.

Miles is amazing.  His mind is quick, his coordination is good, and we've stopped giving him any sort of handicap advantage when playing games with his older siblings.  Card games, basketball games, board games, soccer games... he has an innate ability to grasp the rules, strategize, and compete.

This is his game face.  Notice the kids in the background?  How relaxed and non-competitive they look?  It was a purely non-competitive field day... no points, no races, just fun.  But Miles was there to compete anyway.  It was fascinating to see him switch his game face on and off, on and off, on and off, when he was about to run, and when he was laughing and playing with his friends.

3 - Carson goes through shoes like band-aids.

Which is a small problem when you're trying to do the water limbo in a ditch.  During the school year, he wore through four pairs of tennis shoes (and we even bought expensive ones once to see if that helped... it didn't).  And so far this summer he's gone through three pairs of flip flops.  That's an average of 10 summer days a pair, people.

So, if you see him walking around with the soles literally falling off the bottoms of his feet, don't worry.  He is loved and fed and well cared for and will have new shoes eventually.  In the meantime, good thing it doesn't rain much here.

And if you see me coming out of the store with a cart filled with 48 pairs of flip flops all the same size, you'll know why.

4 - What would I say to someone who says they've met the Energizer Bunny?

Me too!  Seriously.  Carson's teacher has more energy than the kids in her classroom every. single. day.  She jumps and runs and plays their games.  She dances and cheers and pumps her fists in the air... you could make a movie about her, she's that unique and wonderful. She wasted no time during field day and jumped right into the games while all the parents and other teachers stood around and smiled.

5 - Carson has good friends and a good heart

Carson became responsible this year. Weird to say, maybe, because how do you really pinpoint the moment that you become something like responsible?  But he did.  He started taking responsibility for his school work, he started wearing matching clothes to school, he started remembering to brush his teeth every night, he started doing his morning chores without seventy six reminders... It's fantastic.  He's fantastic.

Plus, his caring heart spent a week in agony trying to decide which of the people in his class he should invite to the pizza party he earned.  The kids were rewarded for things like good behavior with Honey Bucks, and one of the thing they could buy with their accumulated Bucks was a pizza party with two friends during lunch time.  Several of the kids had earned this prize throughout the year, and Carson was one of them.  He had been invited to others pizza parties in the past, and had already bought one for himself several months before, and now that he had enough money to buy another one he was charged with the responsibility of picking two friends to eat with him.  It was near the end of the school year, and he told me one night that there were several kids in his class that had never been invited to a pizza party, or who never earned enough money to buy one for themselves, and he wanted to invite all of them (five-ish, I believe).  So I sent a text to his teacher, and she made it happen.  He has such a beautiful heart.

6 - Middle school band concerts can actually be amazing

Maybe it's because my expectations were so low at the beginning of the year, but I was blown away by the sound that came from our middle school band.  They were awesome!  And if it hadn't been for the fact that we were sitting on hard, backless bleachers, I could have sat and listened to them for quite a bit longer than they actually played.

Kenz worked hard at mastering her instruments this year.  She wanted to play the oboe, so her band instructor started her with a clarinet for the first half of the year (because, apparently, they are quite similar to the oboe and much easier to play), and then switched her when she was ready.  McKenzie brought the oboe home and practiced frequently, and I was so proud of her hard work.

It feels good to accomplish something.

7 - TK looks cute in pigtails

Also, how awesome is it that the K-2nd grade school has little paintings like this up all over their hallways? This school is amazing, and I just loved being there every week.  They encourage the children to be good students, of course, but way more than that, they encourage the children to be good people.  I felt like everyone was on the same page over there... the office staff, the teaching staff, the principle - I just loved being there every week, and I was happy to have Miles there every single day.

8 - It's a delicate balance trying to find music for the car that pleases both TK and me.

TK's music class CD was not one.  I put him in a little music class this year and, let me tell you, it was the highlight of his life.  Every single morning he would wake up and ask, "Is it my moozik cass today?!"  And every single morning except for Mondays I would have to say, "Not today, bud.  Your music class is on Monday." He loved it, of course, and I loved most of it, too.  The teacher was spunky, the songs were fun, but the CD of all the songs made me want to rip my ears off.

Seeing him up on that (tiny) stage was so fun - he loved it and felt so proud to be there.

9 - This girl is stealing my heart lately

She is turning into such an incredible young woman.

Of course, I suppose that she's been turning into an incredible young woman from the day she was born, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she's continuing to turn into an incredible adult.

She has landed in a great group of girls.  Drama and fun.  Kenz doesn't do the drama very much.  She mostly stays out of it, but the challenge has been to help her feel sympathetic towards those that do feel the drama.  I get it, because I was quite anti-drama when I was her age, too. I ended up settling with one best girl friend, and tons of boys because, less drama.

But, drama or not, she sure has fun with her wonderful friends.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Remembering Jess

I put the flowers in the center of the table and stood back to admire the way the sun was shining through their colors.  My headphones were in my ears and connected to the phone in my pocket, but all was silent. The podcast had been paused in response to the text I had received a few minutes earlier from my friend, Brandy.

"Hey" it said, "I put a surprise for u by your front door."

I had been cleaning all morning while the kids and Brian were playing at the water park - a Move Fast And Scrub Hard cleaning that felt both refreshing and rejuvenating - but I had put the scrubber down to open the front door, and there the flowers had greeted me.

And now here they were, casting their beauty as a finishing touch to my freshly scrubbed kitchen. And it was quiet.  So quiet.  Even unnaturally quiet because of the silent headphones that plugged out the sounds of a living world.  Quiet enough for me to hear my own thoughts and feel my own heart as I stood and admired.  I re-read the handwritten note tied to the vase and when I reached the last phrase, something inside of me broke.

I thought you might need some cheer today.

Standing there alone in my kitchen the tears started to flow, and I wondered how she knew.  How did she know that I would need a little extra cheer this day?  This day of all days on the anniversary of Jess's birth. My heart stirred with gratitude for the gesture of a friend who cared. This one perfectly timed vase of flowers made me feel loved, and after all these moves and all the little friendships that were promising but simply never had enough time to grow, it meant something beautiful to my heart. I did need some cheer.

And I felt grateful that someone knew.

Eventually the house was clean and Brian and the kids came home from their day at the water park, so we piled into the van and made our way to the grounds of the temple.  An annual tradition that has become a happy part of my life.

"Do you know why we come to the temple on Jess's birthday?" I asked my children.
"To celebrate that he is sealed to us forever," Carson and McKenzie understood.  Miles was confused, however, and it provided a beautiful chance to talk to him and explain exactly what that means.

Teek was uninterested in having any sort of a quiet, spiritual conversation, so he made things a little difficult, but he was so darn cute that we forgave him pretty darn quick.

Halfway through our Taco Bell picnic on the temple lawn, a security officer hiked down the rocks behind us to inform us that, while we were welcome to sit on the lawn and enjoy the spirit of the temple grounds, we were actually not allowed to picnic. He was sorry, he said, about that.  And so sorry, he said, to interrupt our family time. So we packed up the food and set it by a tree next to us.

Fifteen minutes later, the same security guard hiked back down the same hill and, after asking if he could take a family picture for us, told us the exact same thing: we were not allowed to picnic on the lawns.  We explained that we had packed up our food and were not eating anymore, but we could tell that something about us being there with a bag of food and a picnic blanket made him uncomfortable.  So we thanked him for the picture and then packed ourselves up to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the temple from other vantage points.

Notice McKenzie's smile above?  She's rather excited about it. After these pictures, she exclaimed, "Hey mom! I learned a new way to smile that is so easy I don't even have to think about it!  All I have to do is curl my top lip underneath itself... like this... and prop it up on my braces.  So easy!"  I looked back through the pictures on my phone and gently remarked that, while it certainly did look easy, it wasn't a very becoming look and maybe she could muster the strength every once in a while to smile normally?

This next picture is one of my new favorites.  They are getting so big, and I can't even believe how much I love them.  They are wise beyond their years and we have Jess to thank for much of that.  They have learned from a young age what it feels like to have a tie into the heavens - and how lucky they are for that.

I do wonder, occasionally, about how our family would be different if Jess had survived, but I have no doubts that this is the way God intended for him to be in our family. And just like the flowers from Brandy brightened my kitchen with love and color, Jess colors our family with a bright and beautiful love. He is a final touch in my life that brings loose ends together, that whispers to me that I am not alone, that reminds me that I am loved.  And though sometimes I ache to hold him and to know him the way I know my other kids, I see and know that the way I love him now is so extraordinarily beautiful just the way it is.

And someday when I am able to hold him and know him the way I know my other kids, I'm sure I'll not be surprised to find that he is extraordinarily beautiful.  So beautiful that he changed my life - in many beautiful ways - without even taking a breath.

Just by simply existing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Man

Me, my handsome man, and my giant bug glasses heading into Lowe's for a bit of a birthday shopping spree.  Which, really, was not a spree at all since we didn't actually buy anything (except a refill of floor cleaner) but felt like a spree because we were looking at carpet and glancing at kitchen cupboards and thinking about paint colors and shelving and molding and fireplace tile and power tools and patio furniture and all the other things a magical place like Lowe's makes one think about.

Once upon a month or two ago it was my birthday, and also March Madness.

So we got all dressed up (Alder style of course) and headed out for a night out on the town.  Brian and his phone took me to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, which I had been eyeing for a year and a half.

It did not disappoint.  Currently, it's featuring an artist by the name of Yousuf Karsh who, if you're like me and not super familiar with things of this nature, is an incredibly accomplished and famous portrait photographer.  He has taken hundreds of portraits of the most famous men and women in the last century.  I wasn't sure how I was going to like the exhibit, to be honest, but it was absolutely incredible.  I don't know how he did it, but his pictures show life and passion.  60 of them are hanging in the Bellagio right this minute.  Pictures of people including Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Fidel Castro, Helen Keller... it was inspiring.

Then we hung around downtown and ate the "Best Burger in Vegas" which was, I'll admit, a pretty dang good burger.  The best though?  Arguable.

I got lucky, you know.  Of course, at 20 years old I thought I was making a good choice.  I loved him and the future looked bright.  But how could I have known just how well this man would stay by my side and help actively lead our family to Today?  I love you, Bri.  You are a great man.  A great father, an incredible husband, a hard worker, a forgiving partner, and handsome all the way from the inside out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Because: Friendship

A girl needs friends, you know.
Real friends.
The kind that laugh at your Totally Not Funny jokes,
And cry with your hurting heart.

The kind that can stand with you in comfortable silence as you watch the sea lions on the pier.
Or lie awake with you in the dark of the night to tell you her stories and listen to yours, engaging easily in conversation that finds minutes ticking into hours and more hours until the clock shows a time on its face that you haven't seen in a while.  Those conversations can be life-changing, you know.
Especially if your friend is inspirational.
Or understanding.
Or both.

A girl needs a friend who will get out of the car into the freezing rain with you just to see the ocean.

Or who patiently waits while you stop to capture the beauty of that rain, because she understands deeply enough to know that your desert eyes crave this water.

I miss these ladies with a deep part of my soul.  These are the ladies I met in North Carolina, and many of us built our habits of mothering together.  They were my examples during those crucial, early years when everything about motherhood and running my own family was new and nothing was set.  These are the women who came with suggestions and advice. Strong women who love God and respect people and speak lovingly of their husbands and children even when they admit that times are tough.

Between the countless informal gatherings throughout my nine years in North Carolina, we always met formally, once a month, in what we called Book Club. It was a book club, to be sure... but it was so much more.  It was a night that was so fun and enlightening and therapeutic and deep and rich that we would look forward to it all month, and then stay well after midnight once we were there.

We knew even then that it couldn't last forever... eventually, Time came along and started breaking us apart.  Husbands finished their schooling and relocated all across the country, taking the pieces of our book club with them.

We missed it.  We missed each other and we missed the strength that came when we were together and we couldn't bear the thought of our book club disbanding even though we were scattering across the country.  So, we started a new tradition.

A biennial, destination book club.

Santa Rosa, California was the destination this year. The date was chosen, flights were booked, and dear friends from all around the country began their journeys to a single home.  The green, garden home of Martha.

Five of us (me, along with Melissa, Amy, Cami, and Kim) met in San Francisco a day early and toured the city together.  It was wet.

But we didn't mind. We held our umbrellas and rung our socks at the end of the day.

The five of us booked a small apartment on a steep hill and somehow managed to cram two queen sized blow up mattresses into the cozy living area. They took the entire floor so that there was no path to the bathroom, but pregnant Amy promised that she would try her best not to step on any heads in the middle of the night. We talked and talked and talked that night. The kind that changes you.

The following morning we awoke and got ready for our day while blasting Adele songs from Melissa's phone. It felt like college, but better.  Better because we are better and stronger and wiser than we were then.

It was wet still, but after our morning brunch we walked anyway.  The Golden Gate Bridge still stands in the rain, you know.  Eventually, the four women I was with were ready to travel north up to Santa Rosa, so I stayed behind by myself for an hour to wait for two different friends who were on their own way to Santa Rosa and would soon pass through San Francisco.  I loved the time alone as I often do.

But was thrilled to jump (quickly) into the car when Katie and Cindy arrived (pulled over on the side of a busy road in an area that was obviously not meant for passenger pick up).  We had much catching up to do ourselves, and wasted no time diving into a heart bearing conversation.  The kind that changes you.

We made it to Martha's and spent a delightful day on the rainy, wet beach.

But, as you know, any day on the beach is a great one for me.  Even rainy ones.

And days on rocky beaches?  Even better.

There was one scare when, just after I took the following picture, a wave came barreling in and completely covered the rock I was standing on.  Rocky beaches are beautiful, but they can be a bit scary if you're worried about being carried away into those rocks.  The picture ended up being worth soggy shoes, though.

Part of me wished I had brought my big camera along, but the other part of me was so darn thrilled at the easiness of carrying my camera phone right in my pocket and not worrying about the lenses hitting the jagged rocks, or getting sprayed with ocean water.

Plus, I do love the wide angle my camera phone has. 

I don't have a wide-angle lens, and couldn't really get a shot like this one anyway with my big camera.

I think my favorite scenic part of this vacation was watching the wind spray the water off the crests of the waves.  Apparently that's called spindrift.  

It was a vacation full of beauty.  Beautiful people, beautiful conversations, beautiful scenery, beautiful love.  We spent two nights at Martha's discussing the books we had chosen (Okay, for Now and Boys in the Boat and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and all other things that came to our minds.  And towards the end of the second evening, Melissa pipped up: "I'm not going to bed until someone cries."  We laughed, but it shined a beautiful light into the friendships that we have with each other.  We want to know the good, we want to know the fun and the excitement and the daily events of each others lives... but we also want to know the sad.  The real.  The messy.  We want to know because we care.  "Tell us the last thing you cried about," Melissa continued.

The night did end with some tears.  Some real.

I didn't sleep much for those three days. There was too much to listen to.  Too much to learn, too much to talk about.  Consequently, I came home exhausted. 

But so, so happy.

Until next time Durham Diaspora!

Diaspora: (n) a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time.