The balcony was a dream. The doorway was arched, and there were tiny red stain glass windows in each corner. We chose to have a mountain view over an ocean view, because coming from flat and dry west Texas, any view’s a view. We’d be seeing the ocean up close all day, so the mountain view was perfect (and cheaper, too). The view was so strikingly green it almost hurt to look at. Like when we met a group of Hebrew women at our resort. I kept staring at them because they were so beautiful. So different. The balcony was this ongoing reminder that we were on vacation, just the two of us! There were only two chairs. One for him. One for me. No booster seats or high chairs. Room service came with mimosas. And bacon. And anything else you could think to ask for. We stared off into that green mural and talked about the lush blanket of greenery, the smoke coming from the hills, and who must live out there and what they must be cooking. Jerk chicken, perhaps. Or curried goat. (It’s not “goat curry”, its “curried goat”, and it’s amazing.)
We had a balcony attached to our room at the guesthouse we managed in Dakar. The view was a dusty screen, laundry hanging to dry (ours and our neighbor’s), and if the Mosque wasn’t making noise, there were riots and tear gas blowing in, and if not that, there was traffic. And by traffic I mean people hanging off of buses tapping to tell them when to go, people yelling, taxis honking, you name it. Needless to say, it was a balcony we didn’t use for the peaceful view.
Everyone needs a trip for two, a second or third honeymoon of sorts. A break from talks of budgets, insurance, and sweeping the garage. A time for crisp white sheets and swim up bars. A second or third honeymoon of sorts is an entirely different trip from a honeymoon, though, because you’re traveling with a seasoned friend who is still hanging in there with you, and you them. There’s life between you now.
There’s no half-pretending-to-be-someone-I’m-not anymore. No need to put concealer on first thing in the morning. They’ve seen it all, and now you can just kick back and enjoy. Want to go have pizza by the pool at 2pm? Sure man.
Marriage is fun.
Make it more than just a date night, but a whole week for two. If you can. When you can. Imagine a week of waking up and wondering what you should get into that day. Beach or pool, take a taxi shopping, or swim with dolphins. Or! Just sit on the balcony and enjoy the view.
Both girls were in bed (Check!), and it was time to call the birthday girl. I put her on speaker and went back to the laundry which seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes. “So how old are you”, I asked, draping Shawn’s been-dried-twice-to-get-the-wrinkles-out dress pants over a hanger. Should kids ask that, I wondered, as I went ahead and asked it anyway.
“63!” she announced as if she had reached a level in a video game or something that required a lot of time and dedication. Reaching 63 certainly does take time and dedication. At least when the years matter and you’re someone who cares about your life, and the way it’s lived.
“63! Wow!” I say, and before there was any old age banter or jokes, she moved right along, talking about how she can’t believe she’s 63. Truly. She remembers when her mom couldn’t believe when she was such-and-such age, with kids in their 30s. And now it’s her.
Then she said without even being asked, how she’d love to go back in time, even if just for one day, to see what her days were like when she had babies at home. I was standing there, folding a little white onesie, and seeing both sides: yes, it goes by so fast. Noella’s only two, and it feels like two decades ago she was swaddled in my arms as a fresh new little thing. And I also can’t even see past 2pm on some days. My mom was saying how she’d love to go back for a day and see what she was like as a mom in those days, or better yet, to bring with her the wisdom she’s gained since then, and mom us kids again, from a new and seasoned perspective. It almost made me cry to think of ‘future me’ wanting to be with ‘present me’, the one rocking the baby and dishing out Cheerio’s. Future, ‘clean house, time for 45 min at the coffee shop, a stop at the grocery store for only three ingredients, peace in the restaurant, no wipes and bows and toothpaste smeared on the bathroom counter’ me, longing for what I have now. I think that’s what people really mean when they say to “enjoy every minute”. No Janet, I’m not going to enjoy every minute of this meltdown leaving the church nursery because she wants ice cream in her car seat on the way home.
It was just inspiring to hear a nostalgic mom of five, now in her 60s, remember so vividly how hard and long the days were. But to also want just one day back. Just one more day to see what her now-grown kids were like as newborns, as toddlers, as 8 yr olds. The memories are there, but what did they look like, how were the days spent, what did they feel like when asleep on your shoulder? She wanted just one day to go back and of course hold her babies again, but to also give herself the pep talk and the grace to take it all in not because it’s easy, but because it’s work that MATTERS. To take it in because it’s your life, and one day it will be over.
Happy birthday, mom. And even though it’s your birthday, I appreciate the gift you gave me tonight, to tell present day me to soak it all in, not because it’s easy, but because one day the memory of what is now won’t be as clear and as vivid. One day, Lord willing, 63 year old me will remember, and smile.
Cheers to you… the mom you were, the mom you are.
I hope you like your balloons.
At around 4pm things are usually pretty chaotic, and come 5pm, I’m ready to strap at least one tornado into her high chair. I make Noella’s ‘pb on tortilla’ (recipe copyrighted by yours truly), get her a bowl of applesauce (she’s still a big fan of that stuff), I set it on her tray, ready to run around and tidy up as much as I can while she’s contained in one place, and distracted as anyone is with food before them. I’m running around, tossing books back into the basket, putting the sour cream from lunch back into the fridge, and making Shilo’s bottle. In the blur of movement Noella asks, “Sit down, mama?” She loves it when I sit with her while she eats. The question always makes me a little sad. Even though this is prime time tidy time (I’m sorry but I think I just named your next #1 album), it’s also prime time you’re only this age for today. Yesterday you were younger, and tomorrow you will be older. And somehow, wiser. And your hands will be less baby and your feet will be bigger. Sob. So I pull up a chair, toss the sponge across the room and into the sink, and I stare right at her and smile as big as I can. She loves the attention. I ask, “So, how was your day?” She smiles, taking an insanely large bite of applesauce for such a small person with a little mouth. I ask, “What did you do today?” I pull my chair right in front of her high chair, her tray is the only thing blocking me from being any closer. She rolls her eyes and smiles at the sudden attention. She tells me about her day in choppy sentences. “Daddy. (We went to see him at work.) Puppy. (A customer had one with them in the store, just a head sticking out of her purse. It was a hit.) Cookie. (Our neighbor brought some by.)” I love talking to her like she’s 24. “So, why do you think that lady had a puppy in her purse? What do you think she named it?” And she rambles on about this and that, puppy this, puppy that.
One of the best memories I have of my grandparents (Ben and Joan) and one of the ways they made me feel loved was to have me over by myself (as the oldest of five, a night away was heaven on earth) and just hang out with me. They’d slide me a bowl of ice cream and just listen to whatever 10-year-old Jenn had to say. So I think of that, whenever Noella asks me to sit. I think of my grandparents, I think of how much it still means to me that they took the time to talk to me and listen to me, and I think of Noella being one day older tomorrow. We sit and chat while she shovels in the applesauce. And then, to make the night extra special, and since sister’s already in bed, and because Noella loves to be outside, we strap on her shoes (even though she’s already in her dino pjs), and we run around the driveway before she goes to bed. Maybe she’ll talk about that tomorrow while she eats her dinner and I sit and listen.
Well, I guess this is it. 15 years of marriage comes down to us posing in front of a camel poster. Shouldn’t it, though? If you’re not posing in front of a camel poster, ARE YOU EVEN IN LOVE?
It’s hard to sum up 15 years, 5,475 days together. That’s a lot of meals together. It’s a lot of, “Hey, can you grab the Siracha while you’re up?”. It’s a lot of “I hope you feel better” Saltines and Sprite by the table next to your recliner. That’s a lot of choosing to show up at the door with a smile and a “welcome home, babe!” even though it’s been a long day and your energy is at 3%. 15 years is a lot of agreeing to try again tomorrow. It’s a lot of Redbox date nights, a lot of eye rolling, a lot of hugs, a lot of cheerleading, a lot of grateful that God picked you for me.
The valleys in our marriage: battling infertility, so many painful shots (you administering them), and complicated treatments, lonely days in the village, and so many moves and transitions, we were together.
The high points in our marriage: adventures, friends, parties, promotions, a new house, and oh! The birth of our two miracle daughters, we were together.
15 years is a lot of together. And it’s right where I want to be. (With the camel in the background, obviously.)
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.