People are always wanting to stop or slow time. They forget that that’s what slow dancing is for. I’ve danced with Noella since the day I knew she was there, tucked inside my belly. I’d put the headphones on my belly and sway. When she was a little pink bundle, we’d cuddle-sway-dance, if you will, on the couch after nursing, her head on my shoulder as we rocked side to side. She’d dance in the evenings with Shawn after a long fussy day, needing a place to rest her head.
Nowadays she’s in my bathroom with me every morning as I get ready, her entourage of toys and stuffed animals scattered on the floor. I’m usually trying to rush-blend my eye shadow and finish getting ready while baby sister’s napping and I have a window to look slightly more human again. I ask Noella if she wants music and she says, “Yeah!” and we listen to whatever the mood plays for us. Lately she’ll grab her blanket, and her baby doll, and her water bottle and say, “Nance?” trying to lift her arms for me to pick her up, but since her arms are so full, it’s a cute awkward chicken wing flap kind of move. I am reminded that the days are going quickly, so I stop whatever stage of the face game I’m in and I pick her up. I hold her tight and we dance. Her two years flash before my eyes, a flip book of a million little memories, and I think of her future at the same time. In the sweet moment I’m also reminded of yesterday. It wasn’t a good moment. It’s not one I want flashing before my eyes as we dance. I got so frustrated with her about something I yelled at her and made her cry. How could I? She was in the way when I was trying to clean out the fridge (the last thing any human wants to do) and she kept closing the fridge doors when the produce drawer was open, and it was about to break as she slammed the door against it, the new dog was yapping, Shilo was waking up too early from her nap, I kept running into Noella, nearly stepping on her, she wasn’t listening, she wasn’t moving, and finally it was the selfish straw that broke the overwhelmed camel’s back. And I yelled at her. It wasn’t an upbeat little, “Mooove, please!” like a warning signal, it was an angry sister yelling at her little sister to get out of her room kind of yell. “MOOVE!” Of course this was far from the first time I’ve overreacted and instantly regretted it. How could I?! She’s little. She’s learning. She’s only two. She ran out of the room and it broke my heart. I called her to me, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to come at first. I got down on my knees and hugged her. I asked her to forgive me. And I cried, ashamed of how quickly my selfish nature can take over, ashamed that this wasn’t the first or last time I’ll react without thinking. I told her that I didn’t make a good choice, and that I was so sorry. She was over it faster than I could get back up off the floor. Oh, the grace of toddlers. Oh, the grace of God when we least deserve it. That is, after all, the definition of grace. Something offered that we do not deserve. She smiled and said shyly, “Mama. Sorry.” And I was. I told her that we can ask God to help us to be kind, to be patient, that he can help us forgive, and that he can help us make a better choice next time.
The next morning when we danced together, it was a dance of forgiveness, a dance of second chances, a dance to celebrate a new day, new mercies, a dance to begin again (because we can!), a dance to revel in the reality that we’re all human, but that God’s grace and power are there for us when we reach out for them, a dance to freeze time and enjoy that she can still fit in my arms, her little head on my shoulder, loving me anyway.
These past 10 days: we flew with a baby on each lap, and because of the oxygen mask setup we couldn’t sit together on any of our four flights. We shared a Coke and a sandwich and traded girls back and forth at our gate during the four-hour delay. We glared at any kid that made a peep at the breakfast buffet the next morning, leading others to believe it was “that kid” that screamed at the top of their lungs at 4am in their hotel room. We marveled at the greenery and the trees and the lush rainforest appearance that southern Ohio had on display as we drove the two hours to Shawn’s childhood home. We ate at Skyline Chili, introducing Noella to the Cincinnati classic. We reminisced about the time we lived down the road and up the hill as newlyweds during the most colorful and spectacular fall I can remember. We introduced the girls to their great grandparents, some family members they hadn’t met yet, and friends who prayed for many years that they would one day join our lives. We had pizza night with the DeAtley brothers, cousins played in the grass, and picked apples. Noella came home with two skinned knees, a true mark of a summer spent outdoors. She was extra bashful and clingy around the handfuls of new people she would meet each day. We stayed up late talking with friends while they made grilled pizza, we caught up with those we missed, and made plans to hopefully meet up next summer in Texas or Mexico. Either or. We listened to bluegrass in the park and agreed that these desert-dwellers are no longer interested in handling the humidity. We packed up the pack-n-plays, waved and hugged goodbye, and drove back to the airport with two cuties, sound asleep in their car seats from an adventure in Ohio. After our trip, Shawn still had three days off, allowing us to slowly crawl out of the trip haze, put the suitcases away, go to the grocery store, relax on the couch watching the morning news, and taking a few catnaps. These past 10 days were full, and fun, and completely exhausting at the same time. And now Shawn is tying his tie, confirming his return to work. But these 10 days were ours, and we were together, and we got to show our girls Ohio, and where daddy came from. And that was pretty cool.
When the stars align and the girls nap at the same time, I quickly pour the morning’s leftover coffee over ice, and try to work on my book. Did you know I’ve been working on a book? It’s been something I’ve been working on here and there (and then three months go by and I don’t touch it) and then here and there again for about the past three years. It’s a book in (slow, slow) progress. But hey, at least I’ve started! Right? I’m proud of myself for at least doing that much. I’ll give you a little sneak peek. Here are the first two sentences: I will never forget the first time I saw him. He was wearing work boots, a cowboy shirt complete with pearl buttons, and he was sitting in the corner of the room. Are you hooked now? Are you? Are you? The book’s about our lives. Or maybe I should say that it’s going to be. It’s a memoir of sorts. Man, it’s hard work. It’s hard because blogging is a sprint. You write it out, hit publish, and you’re done. A book is a marathon (say it slowly with me: m a r a t h o n). I’ve never been a marathon kind of girl (I’ve also never been one to use running analogies) because marathons take consistency and dedication. Perhaps those aren’t my strong suits. But this is something that I wanted to do. It’s also hard work because it’s mentally draining to go back in time and paint a word picture that helps you and me both relive details that happened many years ago. I’m currently writing about our military escort to the airport when we evacuated from Guinea. It’s been good and painful to go back into full detail to that time. It amazes me how many things I’ve completely forgotten about until I’ve stopped and let my mind wander back there. I’m at 33,012 words and am still at the very beginning of the story that makes us Shawn & Jenn. Maybe I’ll finish it one day, when I’m 90. Who knows. Until then, it’s a project that means something to me, so when the stars do align and the house is quiet, I’ll sit cuddled up in my fuzzy white blanket (because it’s 104 degrees outside and America has AC), and write. Even if I only write three sentences a day, I’ll write. I’ll let my mind wander back there, because it’s all part of the story. And it’s a story I don’t want to forget.
If you want an excerpt from my book, Venmo me $2 (hey, someone’s gotta pay for this iced coffee fuel!) j/k, just send me your email address.
Married love looks different from other kinds of love. Hopefully it looks like sacrifice and forgiveness and thinking of ways to encourage, and serve, and compliment the other, even when that’s the last thing you might feel like doing.
This week, it looked like Shawn surprising me with a pink ace bandage from the dollar store (sorry ladies, he’s ALL MINE). Forget flowers and cards, that ace bandage was everything to me. I somehow slammed my wrist into a door frame (least graceful ballet teacher of all time) and then lifting and holding an 18lb baby all day (oh, and a 26lb toddler at times) wasn’t helping matters. After working over 95 hours this week, and being on his feet all day, he still found time to stop and get me not only an ace bandage, a stunning color-of-the-year pink flamingo colored ace bandage. And not only that, he also picked up one of the finer things this life has to offer: Rice Krispie treats.
Have you ever tried to photograph an ace bandage? YOU HAVEN’T? I’m shocked. No, stunned. I thought that was something everyone had done. Please make it a priority to do at least once in your lifetime. My tips on how to photograph an ace bandage: don’t try too hard. Just find a place mat or pretty surface near a window, and “CLICK”, you’ve nailed it. And always remember, art is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be surprised if Ace Bandage of Love is on display this summer at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A few days later, before Shawn headed back for another 11 days in a row at work (he’s working extra days because he promoted his assistant manager to a store in North Dakota – yay!), he went above and beyond by sending me off on a quiet trip for one to urgent care to x-ray my wrist. I brought a coconut La Croix and read magazines in the waiting room. It really was like a mini vacay. He rocked Shilo to sleep and put Noella in her pjs, all while slicing mangos to dehydrate. Thankfully my wrist wasn’t broken, just a bad sprain coupled with some tendinitis. I have to wear a lovely black Velcro arm brace. It’s so summer ’19 and I bet you wish you had one too. We had a La Maison date night and meal prepped in our kitchen while listening to The Messengers station on Pandora. We were both tired, me a gimp in the kitchen trying to sauté spinach and garlic with my good hand, and Shawn wrapping bacon around chicken breasts. We were both dreading him not having a day off for 11 more days. We miss him, he misses us, and caring for the girls with a hurt hand isn’t easy. But taking a quick detour towards gratitude and we just couldn’t be more thankful for Shawn’s good job, one he enjoys, our lovely home, our two daughters, having the opportunity to stay home to raise them, amazing neighbors and friends here, and a chance to live life together.
Married love is making fun of him for wearing old man slippers in the house, and making fun of her for, well, slamming her wrist into the door frame. It’s texting each other throughout the day, it’s *trying not to make a big deal out of the little things, the quirks and habits that just are, it’s learning to think of others more than ourselves, it’s saying thank you all day long, over and over, for the big and the little things: for stirring the collard greens, putting baby in her pjs, and for the lovely flamingo pink ace bandage.
(I’m currently reading What did you Expect – Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp and it’s so good. “We don’t really have time to love our spouse, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. What we actually want is for our spouse to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if our spouse is willing to do that, we will have a wonderful relationship. So we try to co-opt our spouse into a willing submission to the plans and purposes of our claustrophobic kingdom of one.” Dang, Paul! It’s so true. What marriage book do you recommend, or are currently reading?)
If you have a baby, or baby news, and your friend doesn’t, and wishes she did, here are some thoughts / ideas / tips to help your relationship arrive safely on the other side:
Know that she IS happy for you and your news. Know also that she will cry so hard into her husband’s shoulder that her whole body will shake. But do know that she IS happy for you and your news. At this time you will want to feel many layers of guilt and possibly avoid this friend. Don’t. “It will be for her own good, I don’t want to make it worse for her, I don’t want to rub it in.” You will tell yourself. Don’t let guilt cloud the situation. That makes it all about you, and you already get to have a baby when she would do anything to be in your shoes. Instead, just understand that she IS happy for you, and that this is also very hard for her. I always appreciated when friends told me ahead of the public, or online extravaganza that they were having a baby. I thought it was nice to receive the news via text (or email or some messenger app du jour), so that I could cry it out (as infertility is a cycle of grief, little monthly deaths where you wish there was life), take a deep breath, and respond sincerely, telling my friend how overjoyed I truly was for them.
Know that it may take her a minute, or a few days to respond. You’re going to be pacing the living room with your phone in hand, wondering if you did the right thing by telling her that you’re pregnant. You did. I want you to hear this: you shouldn’t have to apologize for your joy any more than she should have to apologize for her grief. Just know, too, that it’s her deepest and most painful desire to get pregnant, to hold their baby, to not need to endure one more shot, so when someone is presenting her with this sweet news, it’s hard for her to not look down at her own belly and wonder why not her. It’s not just the momentary announcement that stings either. It’s everything: she’ll soon get to go shopping for maternity pants and experience the phenomenon of a growing and soon to be kicking fetus, she’ll soon get to act surprised when her husband brings her chocolate cake because he caught on to her (not-so-subtle) hints that that’s what she’s been craving. She’ll soon get to know the gender, scribble down name ideas, decide how to decorate a nursery, experience the surreal experience of childbirth, look at a face they created, and hold and raise their own. It’s all of that. It’s everything she wishes she could have, and experience. So if it takes her a minute to see past all of that, and respond by saying how happy she IS, that’s okay. She’s earned it.
Know that maybe the baby shower will be too much for her, so she’ll choose to sit it out. Please, please still invite her. Know that even when she stays home she’ll wish she were there. She’ll want to be there for you, not home crying into the crook of her arm on the couch. She’ll know that everyone’s dressed up and laughing over an assortment of little donuts and “momosas”, having fun while she’s not. Normally she’s the social one, but this social circle comes with the warning of a sharp pain that starts in her stomach, right where she wishes a baby would grow.
Know that not only is Mother’s Day hard, the weeks leading up to it are hard. There’s so much hype. Women are honored, they get little pasta necklaces made by little hands, and they get to pick where they want to go for lunch. They get showered with confetti and cards for something she’d feel special enough just to call her own, even without the celebration. They carry a title and a child that she dreams of carrying. Know that she feels isolated on a day like this. She stays home from church to avoid having to face what has happened for others and not for her. It’s hard to stand in a room full of mothers at church on any given Sunday, singing of the goodness and faithfulness of God, let alone on a day where the beauty of motherhood is center stage. And for the record, struggling to sing of the goodness and faithfulness of God does not mean that she doesn’t believe it. It just means that her faith is growing and it hurts. Maybe it will be stronger than it ever was. Trials tend to have that reputation, if we allow God to use them.
I was blessed more than I even realized at the time, to have a friend like Kari (5,418 miles apart) who didn’t push, beg, or plead for me to come to her baby shower. She understood that it would have been too hard for me to be there, surrounded by the hope and excitement of a baby, and unable to fake or hide how I felt. She cared about what made me cringe, what made me feel left out, and what made me cry over and over again. She wanted to understand the place of grief we were in, having gone through many years of infertility and failed embryo transfers. She and her husband weren’t shy about asking how we were doing, or to inquire about what was next for us in our treatment plan. That meant the world to us.
It’s okay to not understand someone else’s grief. There are people who hold scars and who are in places of pain that I can’t imagine. And I don’t have to pretend to understand. In fact, too many words can sometimes cloud good intentions. Sometimes just saying, “Thinking of you” or “I’m so sorry”, or sending yellow daisies goes a really long way.
Maybe those daisies are for a friend who wishes she had a baby, or maybe they’re for a friend who just took the risk and told you, even in your own season of pain, that one is coming for her. Let’s work hard and go above and beyond to love one another in our grief, and in our joy, and even when we can’t even imagine what that must be like.
The storm is raging outside my window. Or at least, that’s how it feels. It feels and sounds intense, when really it’s just now starting to pick up. There’s talk of hail. There’s talk of a tornado. All I hear is some heavy rain on the window, and beating down on those giant roof fans.
I remember the very first night with Noella, just the two of us in our hospital room. It rained on a hot summer night, and I saw it from fresh eyes. The eyes of a new tender mom holding her baby, whispering quietly that it’s God who sends the rain. And little blessings wrapped in pink and white striped blankets.
21 months later, and here we are in room 321 with our second daughter. She’s 14 weeks old and she’s struggling. The nurses are concerned. When someone who is in charge of caring for and helping your daughter, someone who has more answers and experience and knowledge than you, looks concerned, you panic. It’s that deep pain and nausea mixed together in the pit of your stomach. It’s raw fear and worry is what it is.
It’s 3am and I stand at the window, pacing back and forth, back and forth, in my pajamas, watching the rain, unsure of what else to do. I feel so helpless seeing Shilo in her baby jail crib, in a very deep sleep, not wanting to move or wake. The little orange and white striped pjs with the pineapple on the front, that she was wearing when we came into the ER the night before, are now tossed aside and she’s wearing nothing but a diaper and lots of wires taped to her body. “A baby should be in comfy soft pjs”, I think to myself, trying to get out of the way as nurses come in and out.
I watch the rain pick up, and I plead with God to help her. One of her airways is blocked and her numbers blink orange on the screen. I learn that ICU is also monitoring her, and they call from a different floor. “Open her airways, God!” I beg. Her oxygen just keeps dropping, and her breathing is very labored.
I begin to pace even faster, expanding my circle 8 path so I can cover more ground in my state of anxiousness. I hear the nurses talk as they try different things. I start to cry but I try not to let them see. Now is not the time to distract them. Shilo needs help right now. I’m aware how fast things can turn, and I’m vividly aware of how bad things can get when little lungs struggle. I pray. I cry. I text Shawn who’s at home with Noella, and I wonder how they’re both doing in this storm. Did they lose power too? Is Noella afraid? I know I am right now.
Because of the storm, and not knowing how bad it could get, there’s talk of trying any and all necessary manipulations on Shilo in case they need to send her to Cook’s Children’s hospital. My mind really starts to spin, because to me this is them preparing for the worst case scenario. Cook’s is 3 hours and 38 min away from here. What would that mean? How would we get her there? What would they do there that can’t be done here? Pace. Cry. Beg. Text Shawn. Pace. Cry. Beg. Text Shawn. Someone mentions the word ventilator and I feel like my throat is closing.
It’s now 4:30am. I wish morning would come. Things seem less scary in the daylight somehow. Concern is still there. Shilo is still struggling. I have a long talk with Shawn on the phone once the team of nurses leaves the room. Her doctor has been called, surely awaken from deep sleep.
Shawn’s scared too. He wishes he was with us. We pray together. He has asked me this before in scary situations, “Can God be trusted?” and while the answer is always “YES”, it’s a hard, hard question to answer when you’re in the middle of it. Whatever “it” is at the time. Yes he can be trusted, but the deeper question comes to the surface of my mind, “What if I trust him and he still allows my greatest fear to come to pass?! WHAT IF.”
How do I trust? How do I occupy my mind? How do I not obsess over the low and lowering numbers on the screen? It was a long night. But God was gracious and Shilo’s home now and doing really well. She’s wearing fleece zip up pjs again (as babies should), and trying so hard to roll over for the first time.
I realize I’ll probably spend much of my life knowing that “YES!” I trust God, but still, in my humanity, I’ll go back and forth battling the “WHAT IF?!” he allows the unthinkable to happen.
He’s still faithful, and that’s what we will cling to.
The storm is over, Shilo’s home, and we’re so very thankful.
Even though I’m still new at this gig, I’ve found that every day motherhood is a clash of realities, and a battle of the flesh. One minute I’m so blown away by the love I have for these girls that I could just sit on the kitchen floor and happy sob for the rest of my life. I look at the dimples on their little hands, I hear the unique rhythm in their laughter, I see Shawn slow dance with them, and I’m overwhelmed at the sheer joy of what is. I am overwhelmed that the dream came true, and that this is our life. Five-seven minutes later, I’m surprised by my own frustration and my impatience. My flesh is having to choose to keep my cool or respond the way that makes sense when someone smears peanut butter in their freshly Johnson & Johnson-ed hair and practices saying “NO”, whining, and rolling their eyes. Choosing to respond well, walk by the spirit, AND set an example for two girls that are future adults, can be mentally and physically exhausting when you’re only human. (Shawn loves to say, “Excuse me for being human. It’s a great ice breaker in many a’ situation.)
When there are days that stretch me, challenge me, make me doubt, and wonder if bedtime is near, I am reminded that miracles and hope are alive in this household. And that God is with me. Shawn and I are not alone in this feat of raising little girls, this clash of realities, or this battle of the flesh.
The other night at church we were all asked to silently say to God, “You are wonderful because _____ “. My instant response was, “Because you never fail us.” The response was so quick, so clear, and so real, that I knew that it didn’t come from me. It was like the spirit of God brushed past me ever so gently, whispering in my (sometimes-exhausted-still-a-new-mom, but-two-under-two-and-in-the-game) ear, that it almost made me cry. The goosebumps were a vivid reminder that I’m not alone, and that a faithful God is on my side, cheering for me, and giving me everything I need… if I just look to him, and stop striving in my own efforts.
Through it all – infertility, loss, heartache, adjustment, doubt, fear, failure to love like we want to, learning the hard way, God is with us. He’s there to offer comfort when needed. He’s there to offer wisdom when needed. He’s there to offer guidance when needed. He’s there to offer grace, so that we can offer grace.
And THAT is what makes motherhood, and long days with these two beautiful girls all the more lovely. Because it’s not all up to me. It’s me walking with a wonderful, powerful, live, active, real God who has never once failed.
And ps- God’s also wonderful for giving us these two girls. We asked and we asked, and he responded. How faithful he is.
They asked about when we got evacuated from Guinea. Nobody ever asks about that. I forgot to mention that the shooting continued every night for a few days. I forgot to mention how I wanted to hide but I also wanted to see the hundreds of people running for their lives on the railroad tracks below our building, being herded like cattle, the military shooting their guns into the air. It was hard to look away. Shawn stayed on the balcony and watched. I hid in the bathroom and occasionally looked out the little rectangular window when my curiosity got the best of me. Nobody talks much about how the culture in West Africa is so different from here, and how for six years our lives were so different. But last night they did. Last night my friends asked about Africa, and IVF, and what brought us to San Angelo as we ate nachos and guacamole and queso and little shrimp appetizers at one house, and tacos at another, and dessert at another. (Progressive Dinners just may be my love language. Food and seeing people’s houses, and riding together and visiting, and more food… yea to the yea.)
I asked about her rainbow babies. She told me about the blood transfusion. There were tears over tacos.
She told me about how she moved here knowing nobody. Not one soul. I told her I could 100% relate. And remembering those first few months and how hard they were, not knowing a soul, and now looking around and seeing friends and community just made me so thankful for the tangible answer to many prayers.
I say let’s have more parties and dinners with people, but while we’re at it, let’s ask the deeper question. Maybe ask about the loss because everyone else is afraid to. And because even though there may be tears, talking about it validates the heartbeats that were. Ask about their marriage and how they met. Ask about how their military career has been, and would they do it again if given the chance to have a do-over?
I was so, “Mehhhhhhh, idk.” About joining mops because I’m new to this mom gig, and I’m definitely not the “Wife, Mom, Boss” or “Chaos Coordinator” t-shirt wearing kind of person. And I feel like there’s more to life than talking about kids and kid stuff, so the last thing I wanted to do was talk nap schedules and weaning timeframes. Hard pass. But then I realized that it’s helpful to know what other people are doing, and what works and doesn’t. (Since we’re all just giving this our best shot anyway…) And with time I learned that all these “moms” are cool people who happen to have kids and backgrounds and that this was a community that I needed.
And when you can provide community and food: I’m all in.
I have lots of journals, but I’ve never really been a big “journaler”. It’s too much pressure to try and think back on the day, and sum up the good and the bad, and spell things right (not even kidding, I just spelled that “write” – case in point), to find the time, and not get a hand cramp because who even writes any more anyway. And to be a “journaler” just felt a little too dorky and a little too rule follower for my personality. Although somehow being a blogger isn’t. Perplexing, I know.
But I saw a quote recently that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. “Eat Cake for Breakfast”. Nope, that wasn’t it. Well, that was one of them I guess. That quote, that life motto, I should say, always seems to cross my mind. Because I love cake and I want it always. No, the quote I’m talking about here in this
I feel like I’ve been more aware than ever that life is one million Tuesdays that pile up. I say Tuesday because it’s kind of the blah whatever day to me for some reason. It’s a million comments (the good, the bad, the regrettable, and the ones that make you fall in love all over again), it’s a million “want to try that new taco place?” (<--- file under "make you fall in love all over again, amiright.), it's lots of "made baked beans for small group", "felt anxious bringing the baby out in flu season", "got a Redbox", "Shilo starting to smile", "our picky eater just wants cheese", "fed Shilo at 3am and 7am", "Shawn grilled chicken", "Noella drug a pile of toys and clean laundry around the house in a laundry basket", "apologized for being critical", "Shilo with her baby fists by her face", "Pee on the couch", "Walked with the neighbor", "Shawn playing Euchre", "Shilo hanging onto my shirt while nursing", "Shawn's day off", "beef stroganoff for dinner", and so many other little things that become big because they're your life. And those are the kind of things I'm trying to remember to jot down. Nothing seemingly big. And yet they're everything. And it's up to me if I want to jot down three sentences about the day, or write two pages. Do it because you want to remember, not because you have to. Do it because you probably won't remember Shawn smelling so good in his green dress shirt as he heads off to work and how now your pj shirt smells like his cologne, or Noella saying "down please" when she wants up, or the way Shilo has hair and cheeks for days and is the biggest snuggle bug in her 3 month hand-me-down pjs at seven weeks of age. Write about the hectic evening hour before bed, how Noella thinks she has to say a word 6500 times in a row to be heard (dear baby Jesus OKAY! HONEY! I HEAR YOU!) and how you did, in fact slay the day by doing all the laundry, but oops... no dinner. Write it down. Or blog about it. Whatever. Either way, you'll be glad you did.