the one that took me a year to write.

pianostory

Everyone has stories they’ve written about themselves based on their life experiences. (At least, that’s what my most recent therapist told me.) Your stories are essentially the narratives that influence the way you see/interact with the world. They build you, the main character, into the hero or heroine of the book of Your Own Life.

Though I’d like to think I’m a pretty complex protagonist, stomping around on this earth under the weight of several way more fun and exciting stories, I’d say the most prevalent narrative in my life has been the story of The Girl With the Absentee Father.

When I was about Dax’s age, my mom gave her then-husband Scott, my father, an ultimatum: us, or booze. Sadly (or, maybe, not so sadly) for us, he chose the bottle over his family, which meant I’d only interact with him via surprise drunken visits or scrawling letters of empty promises with no return address for the rest of my (and his) life.

Looking back on my life as a 30-year-old woman, I can see how growing up like this has influenced me in so many ways. (My first boyfriend was abusive, I have a hard time with the thought of abandonment, I believe my worth depends on my works and if I don’t contribute enough to my loved ones they’ll leave, blahblahblah.) And I figured that being The Girl With the Absentee Father was going to always follow me around.

Until July 2015, when Scott died.

I’ve decided that the events surrounding my father’s death aren’t really blog-friendly, but I’d be happy to share those details with you over coffee. However I will say that it all happened pretty suddenly, and we hadn’t spoken in just over ten years, and it has still taken me a year to process the reality of my new story, The Girl Who Never Really Knew Her Father Before He Died, and grieve what I’d always wanted (a real, healthy, life-giving relationship with my dad) but now will never have.

The last time I laid eyes on Scott, I was nine years old. He was living in Daytona Beach with his new wife, and he’d taken me to get my ears pierced. (They’d eventually become infected and close up, but that’s neither here nor there.) I can barely remember what he looked like, but I know he was very tall and extremely lanky, with a dark, bushy mustache and matching long 70s-esque hair. He smelled like cheap beer. Always.

The last few weeks of Scott’s life, my mom reconnected with him. He was bedridden and unable to speak — he could only communicate by writing on a small dry-erase board — but, according to her, they spent a few weeks catching up and chatting about me, my husband, and our two babies.

His grandbabies. 

She told me that she printed out a picture of my kids, framed it, and gave it to him to hang in his hospital room. She asked me if it was okay, and I said it was (and I guess it was, really) but it still made me nervous. Even though Dax and Case “belong” to him in a biological sense, it still felt a little bit like a stranger was ogling my children.

But the reality is that I am his, I guess. Which means they are his, too. For better or worse.

Sensing he was nearing death, my heart began to soften a bit and I prayed about going with my mom to see him once. I never felt at peace about it for some reason, though. I was so very scared. (Of what? I’m not sure. Being hurt? Feeling guilty? Feeling pressured into feelings I didn’t have or want to have? Still haven’t processed that, I guess.)

One day, after praying about him, I got an email from my mom with no subject. I opened the email on my phone and about fell over.

It was a picture of him. Of Scott. Of my father. The first time I’d seen him in nearly 20 years. My blood turned to ice.

His face looked like mine. His eyes looked like my youngest son’s. 

And the next day, he died.

End of story.

open letter to my second-born son on his first birthday.

Dear Case,

The calendar says it’s June 6, 2016, which is a full year since your birth. I must be mistaken though, because I could have sworn you were born only yesterday; I can remember it so clearly, and your infancy has flashed so quickly before my eyes. But I suppose the stifling heat outside doesn’t lie — it is finally June, and you are a year old today. And the past year has been the most joyous (and most exhausting) year of my life to date.

11427214_10153058369839965_7072771794693969788_n

DISCLAIMER: The curse of the second child means you will hear me compare you to your older brother Dax a lot. I wish I could analyze you and your life without that comparison, but the truth is that parenting Dax is all I knew until you came along, and so now I have to relearn how to do this thing properly. Hope you’ll forgive me for that. 

The first couple days with you in the hospital were much different than the ones we had with your brother when he was born three years earlier. Your dad left me alone with you a lot so he could go home and take care of Dax, so you and I had a lot of time to bond and learn how to nurse. Like your brother, you took to nursing pretty much immediately. You were a champ out the gate. Unlike your brother, however, you would not be quelled with a pacifier. You still can’t be. (You never took bottles, either, which means that the first six months of your life — when you were exclusively breastfed — we spent a LOT of time together. We were practically inseparable. For better or worse.)

You lived up to your nickname (Rainbow Baby) pretty much from the minute you joined us. You barely cried when you were born (it was just a breathy squeak, really) and were just content to be snuggled. I remember your first smile actually happened while we were still in the hospital. It nearly knocked me over. Your brother didn’t smile until he was six weeks old, so getting that flash of sunshine SO EARLY was unexpected and oh so precious.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.07.13 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.06.16 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.01.26 PM

Adjusting to life at home with you was both easy and crazy difficult. It was easy because you drifted into our lives with such little fanfare; you were rarely awake, and when you were awake, you were hardly ever fussy (only when you were obviously hungry or wet). To compete with a rambunctious, potty-training toddler was almost impossible. I remember chasing after Dax for long stretches of time and stopping after several minutes to think to myself, Oh dear, where is Case????, and I would rush to find you exactly where I’d put you (in the pack n’ play, or in your bouncy chair) completely content and quiet. Just happy to be here with us in our chaos. You were so easy.

But life was also crazy difficult. Though you were always so happy, you were also very attached to me. Like I already said, you wouldn’t take a pacifier or bottle, so the first six months of your life I couldn’t leave the house for more than two hours at a time. I also didn’t sleep much, because you wouldn’t sleep unless I was holding you. You wanted me and only me. Dada wouldn’t cut it, and forget a babysitter or other family member. You were a Mama’s boy through and through, which wore me a bit thin.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.04.07 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.04.55 PM

Now that you’re a year old, and I get at least a solid 4 hours of sleep each night, I can say that I loved being so needed by you. I love that I’m your favorite person, your nighttime lovey, your everything. But I remember being in the thick of it, trying to work/parent/survive on just an hour of sleep every day, and it was bizarre and terrifying. I learned to heavily rely on coffee, and I still have to pound a mug or two of it before 9am in order to function. (You’re so worth it, though. I promise. I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

I’m so grateful I was able to give you so much rest because in your waking hours you had enough energy to crush all of your milestones. You rolled over at only two months old, pulled up to standing at 6 months, and were eating solid (not pureed) food by just 7 months, despite having NO TEETH. (You finally popped your first and only tooth to date just a few months ago, though tooth #2 is starting to sprout.) You also eat pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down, but your current favorite foods (besides Mama Milk) are tomatoes (YEAAAAH!), peas, black beans, and… seriously anything else I throw at you.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.02.59 PM.png

Around 7 months you started to talk back to us. Your first word was “Baba,” which has turned into “Bubba” (which is what we call Dax). This doesn’t shock me at all; you are HANDS DOWN Dax’s favorite person on this planet, and so his name being your first word is completely appropriate. After that you said, “Mama” (yay!) and then you learned how to say MILK and MORE in sign language, and finally you spouted “Dada.” At the time of writing you also say, “Kitty,” “Nana,” “GG,” “Uh oh,” and “hi!” You’re working on saying, PLEASE in sign language, but that one is proving to be a bit tricky. Instead of rubbing your own chest, you want to rub the chest of whoever is closest to you at the time. (You’ll get it, bug! I promise!)

At the moment your favorite activities are playing with your brother, getting tickled by your Dada and me, and putting things inside other things. If we need you to be occupied for a while, we will give you a handful of random objects and a bowl or bucket. You’ll be set for a long while. It is not strange for me to go to lace up my running shoes and find tiny toy trains deep inside them, or head to the bathroom for a shower and discover your brother’s clothes floating in the toilet.

You just love to put things inside of other things. And as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I love to find evidence of your exploration all over our apartment.

My dear Case, you’ve heard me call you our Rainbow Baby. This is a term that is given to babies who are born after miscarriages. While you are too little to know what a miscarriage is, just know that my pregnancy with you as well as this first year of life with you has been more precious to me than I can probably ever articulate. Just the fact that you are here and I can squeeze you is a miracle — a rainbow after a storm. But as if that wasn’t enough, your personality is nothing short of a colorful sky. You are always joyous, bright-eyed, and delightfully lovey. You are quite literally a rainbow personified. You are God’s promise of hope and beauty in a world that can sometimes be dark and ugly (despite your blase attitude toward cupcakes).

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 11.08.42 PM

Case Daniel, before you were born I didn’t know how badly we needed you. Now that you’re here, I don’t know how we ever lived without you.

Happy birthday, my sweet Rainbow Baby. I love you so, SO much.

Love,

Mama.

their first love.

A few weeks ago, my son walked in on me doing something he’d evidently never seen before.

“Mama, are you trying to take your eyelashes off?”

My mouth fell open and I broke my gaze from my bathroom mirror in order to meet Dax’s three-year-old baby blues, squinted in confusion. I paused for a second, then acknowledged the mascara wand in my hand.

“Oh no, baby,” I chuckled. “I’m putting mascara on my eyelashes.”

“Why?” he asked, genuinely curious.

And I didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

Because I need to make my eyelashes darker than they naturally are? Because I have this fear that when my eyelashes are naked it makes my face look washed out and tired? Because I am a woman and I need to prove to society that, despite being in a happy marriage and caring for two small children, ONE OF WHOM STILL WAKES SEVERAL TIMES A NIGHT TO NURSE GODBLESSHIM, I’m “not letting myself go”? I am still pretty, right?

“Because that’s what grownups do sometimes,” I half-heartedly offered after a beat.

He glared at me, still confused. Then he shrugged and left the bathroom.

Last night, after Dax and Case were in bed for the night, I turned to Dan with bright, expectant eyes.

“Can we dye my hair now, please? You promised you’d help me do it tonight.”

He shrugged in agreement, not entirely convinced I needed to dye my hair. But I’ve been overwhelmed by the army of grays storming my crown, growing bulkier and more threatening each day, and the box of hair color I picked up from CVS in a panic was burning a hole in my hand.

As soon as I mixed the hair color and began sectioning out portions of my hair, Dax quietly crept out of his bed and into the bathroom.

“I have to go potty,” he announced, shuffling past me.

He sat down on his potty, and Dan sat down on the toilet across from him.

“What is Mama doing?” Dax asked.

I felt a pang in my stomach, the very same kind I felt when he asked about my mascara, as I listened to my husband trying to explain.

“She’s changing the color of her hair,” he said. “You know how you paint? Well, she’s kind of doing that. She’s painting her hair a different color.”

He looked at me and took the whole scene in — me, wearing thin, too-roomy plastic gloves, squirting dark goop onto my scalp and trying to spread it around — and just shrugged. “She needs to do that in the shower.”

My brain flashed backward to when Dax was maybe a little older than a year old, and I did something (can’t remember what, maybe picked him up?) that made him exclaim, “Mama strong! Mama Hulk smash!” and I remember thinking that I wanted him to always think of me that way.

Strong. Confident. Hulk smash.

Not overly concerned about my appearance. Not going to pretty inconvenient lengths to disguise my age.

A while ago I found some weird meme that had a picture of a young mom and her baby boy with text that read, “You’ll always be his first love,” or something, and I kind of rolled my eyes at the time, but I get it now, especially since the birth of Case who has unashamedly claimed me as the love of his life.

The look on Dax’s face as he was trying to figure out why in the world I’d want to change anything about my appearance, for seemingly no real reason, was pretty humbling. And I’m not sure he’ll even remember these instances but I will. And I hope to go forward from this in a different direction, one that brings my kids up knowing their worth does not depend on their looks, nor does the worth of the women around them.

Especially not their first love.

embracing stillness.

This month Case turned 6 months old, which is purely impossible seeing as how I just gave birth to him yesterday. But alas, his first half birthday has come and gone, and we have now entered into the wonderful phase of baby parenting that includes the joys of first solids and the sorrows of navigating sleep routines.

Until recently (like, as recently as this week) Case wouldn’t really sleep unless he was in my arms. He would nurse until he was content, and then slacken and unlatch in a quiet contented slumber. But if I tried to put him down, or even scoot him to be next to me, he would pop wide awake.

That’s how I rang in my 30th birthday, actually — lying on my couch nursing a sleeping Case — which I suppose is pretty appropriate.

It was precious. And lovely. But exhausting for me, because I have never been one to sit still for long periods of time, let alone lie down for long periods of time or nap. (I’ve always been too afraid to miss out on anything, you know? Extroversion be damned!) And sleeping while holding another person isn’t exactly comfortable or easy.

Because of my buzzing disposition coupled with the actual physical pain associated with lying still while holding a tiny person, Case’s little routine was hard to navigate. While my sweet baby snoozed into my ear, my twisted back would ache and I would get antsy and frustrated at these wasted moments that should have been spent organizing piles of laundry or cleaning dishes or writing blog posts but were instead spent in bed.

IMG_2716

IMG_2781

Things didn’t seem to be changing any time soon, so I eventually embraced it; when Case would get tired, I would line up a few of my favorite NPR podcasts on my phone, put in my earbuds, and snuggle in with him for the long haul.

After a while of doing this, I found that even I would doze off for a bit (any length of time between 20 minutes and a whole hour!) presumably because I’d finally let my expectations of anything else go.

It’s amazing how much can change in a week, though. In desperate exhaustion, I finally broke the news to Case that he’d have to learn to sleep on his own. Not only was I tired, but he was overtired as well, only getting in a catnap here or there throughout the day (usually snuggled up against me in my ring sling) and we both needed a change.

IMG_2902

He responded pretty well to sleep training (better than I did, to be honest!) probably because he needed it so badly (even though he didn’t know he needed it) and now he sleeps relatively well by himself in his crib (teething and a gnarly sinus infection notwithstanding).

IMG_2951.JPG

 

Only when I embraced the first frustrating stillness was I able to fall asleep. Only when Case embraced his crib was he truly able to rest. When our expectations changed, we witnessed the stuff of miracles.

Life is funny that way. We can want so badly for it to go one way but it doesn’t, and our expectations leave us downtrodden. But I’m finding that in this messy life, miracles happen more often than not. We just need to embrace them AS they come rather than HOW they come.

the case against the cry room.

I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about this or not, but Dax had a pretty gnarly case of colic when he was born and so for the first several months of his life, if he was awake, he was screaming. Not crying, screaming. And as a relatively young first time mom, this was not only exhausting and frustrating, but also embarrassing and demoralizing.

One time while I was still on maternity leave and absolutely dying from cabin fever, I remember I mustered up the courage to take Sir ScreamyPants out into the open. For once. We went to a local park to take a walk and get some fresh air.

About halfway into it, as I knew would happen, Dax woke up in the stroller and started to scream. I did my best to get him over to a bench as quickly as possible, put on my nursing cover, and wrestle this wriggling, screaming, angry little human into submission for nursing. A lady came up to me while all of this was happening and, instead of offering to help me, just spat out, “GOD are you going to DO something about that baby or WHAT?”

My cheeks burned.

For the majority of the first year of Dax’s life I didn’t think I could leave my house and go anywhere without feeling like my baby and I were just one big inconvenience.

Including church.

During my motherhood hazing period, I didn’t sit through a single sermon, despite being married to a youth pastor and, therefore, going to church (dare I say it) religiously. I spent the time I should have been in worship huddled in the church coffee shop, rocking and shushing my baby, trying so desperately to be seen and not heard. My loneliness was palpable, only exacerbated by the fact that my husband and I were one of the first couples of our friend group to have babies. I obviously didn’t know what I was doing, and it seemed my baby was shouting that fact out to the world, and I felt like he and I were broken, alone, and a nuisance to everyone around us.

When we moved to Naples two and a half years ago for my husband’s (and, at the time, my) ministry career, we discovered that our new church has a room attached to the sanctuary dubbed the “Mommy and Me” room, where moms can take their fussy babies during church services so as not to disturb the other worshippers. It houses a changing table, rocking chairs, and lots of toys, and is pretty sound proof. The audio from inside the sanctuary broadcasts in that room, and upon discovering it I thought, “Oh man, if I would have had this when Dax was born, I would have actually been able to enjoy church!”

Even though there is a sign on the door that clearly reads, “Mommy and Me Room”, I’ve never heard it referred to as such by anyone at our church. Anyone I’ve heard talk about this room refers to it as “The Cry Room”, which has always bothered me for (until recently) an unknown reason.

Why did this room’s nickname tick me off? Was it because I have always been a staunch rule follower, and people are clearly not following the rules by referring to this room by a name it was not originally given? That seems a bit unreasonable, even for me.

It wasn’t until I had my second son that I figured out why I hated “The Cry Room”; this room, as its name suggests, is not just a place where babies go to cry. It is designed to be the place babies go to cry.

After having two of them, I now know one true thing about babies: they cry. A lot. Sometimes, if they have colic like my oldest son did, they cry almost incessantly. Sometimes they only cry if something is obviously wrong, like my second son does. But regardless, they cry. It’s how they communicate. And it’s not wrong or bad or inconvenient.

It just is.

By encouraging moms to separate their babies (and in tandem, themselves) from the rest of the body of Christ — to send them from the living room to the garage of God’s house, essentially — simply because they are crying, we are cultivating a culture in which we can only approach the foot of the cross if we

are silent

are compliant

are orderly

aren’t annoying anyone

are clean

are perfect.

If we only allow babies (and children, for that matter) among the Body when they’re in good spirits, we’re telling them that God only wants part of their whole selves. We’re communicating that since we can’t be bothered with their noise or their innate baby-ness, God can’t be, either.

And that’s extremely frustrating to me as a mother.

After having Dax, I hated feeling like I was an outsider even in my own church just because my baby acted like a baby.

So when Case was first born, I unapologetically brought him everywhere with me, even into the pews with me on Sunday morning. A lot of the time he’d sleep right through the entire service, but if he woke up and started to fuss because he was hungry, I wouldn’t gather him up into a heap and hurry off to “The Cry Room”, frantically shushing him along the way, before annoying anyone in the Sanctuary. Instead, I just snuggled him and nursed him right in the pews.

Sometimes he’d quiet down after he ate. Other times he would start loudly squawking, adding his own baby-commentary to the sermon. Other times he’d continue to wimper and I’d jiggle him and attempt to make him a bit happier.

But unless he needed a diaper change, I didn’t want to take him to “The Cry Room.”

The thing is, Jesus died for that little squirmy, hungry, squawky baby, in all his glorious baby-ness. Just like he died for my colicky first born (who has grown into a way-smarter-than-average three-year-old). I never want either of them to feel like they can’t bring their whole selves to the altar.

Because if my children can’t be welcomed to cry in the House of God, then none of us should be.

12122434_10106843522078743_7347700236897504151_n