a new year

2014 was a good one, all things considered. A few highlights:

—In January, A had his second surgery to remove his tonsils. Recovery was a bit rough, including an overnight ER visit where we discovered that he has bad reactions to morphine. We also learned how to pin a child to force them to take their pain meds. But his breathing and sleep are SO much better now and the long few weeks of having a child on my lap nonstop were worth it.

A few weeks later, A began developmental preschool through the district. We had to fight a little to get him in, since he was denied at first, but I’ve never been more glad we asked a second time, went to some meetings, sent some emails. School, more than anything else, has been a huge boost for A’s speech and social development. At his parent/teacher conference, his teacher said he’s completely able to interact and communicate with the other kids. He comes home telling me the name of his new friends. And academically, he is already where they like to see kindergarteners by November (and he still has all of next school year in preschool), so he’s definitely thriving.

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Speechwise, he’s come miles from this time last year. Where we still struggled to understand words last year, we’re getting full phrases and sentences. It’s such a joy to be able to know his thoughts and feelings! We still have a long way to go, but he’s doing great. I no longer stay awake at night worrying . . . I know he’s going to be more than okay.

—In February, our beloved Hawks won the Super Bowl. I don’t mind telling you, there were some teary eyes among the menfolk in attendance at our SB Party.

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—In March, I began work on my tattoo over at Seattle Ink & Oil. Two months and roughly 27 hours later, my Bird-by-Bird piece is complete. I still can’t get over how beautiful it turned out, how much meaning it carries for me.

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I also attended a women’s art retreat that helped me connect not only with other women, but also with the benefits of taking time to work with my hands as a way to slow down and encourage myself. I hadn’t been away from the kids for more than an overnight before, and the break was really helpful.

—In May, we began painting the downstairs! It’s going to be awhile before I can get to the upstairs, but in the meantime I have an amazingly bright green kitchen and I LOVE IT. Special thanks to Justin, who allowed me to buy more paint when I had an idiot moment at Home Depot and, in a moment of panic, second-guessed my original choice and bought the wrong green. That’s love, folks.

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We also turned 34 together. One of my favorite weeks of the year.

Justin also took me to my first Symphony — a performance of music from Tim Burton films. It was such a great night — I was teary eyed a few times as I took it all in. What meant the most, I think, was Justin showing me he understands me and wants to cheer me on in the things I enjoy.

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—In June, I threw my back out. The night before our first getaway from both kids. That part was not so much fun — I have never been in so much pain, except maybe after my car accidents — but we managed a good time anyway, complete with long rambly conversations, movies, a Food Odyssey through Bellingham, and trips to our favorite used bookstores. Our bed and breakfast in La Conner was beautiful, and we bought way too many books, many of which, I am sad to say, I have yet to read.

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—In July, we rented a beach cabin in Westport and went on our first family vacation. Justin and I went in with low expectations — worried about how the boys would sleep mostly, but it was a ton of fun and more relaxing than I anticipated. The boys were ecstatic and high on adventure the whole time, and they slept really well after long days spent on the beach.

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—August brought a family reunion on Justin’s side, and we loved having Roger (Justin’s brother) and Jenny and their friends come stay with us! We took in a Mariner’s Game, the menfolk cooked for us, and we enjoyed one of the nicest meals I’ve ever eaten at the Salish Lodge. Can’t wait for them to visit again. I always eat good food and drink good wine when Rog and Jenny are around! 🙂

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—In September, we decided that whole 3rd kid question.

A went back to school with the world’s best preschool teacher.

We also began speech therapy for F, who also has Apraxia of Speech, though he has a much milder case. Working with a therapist was a challenge for him — he fought it hard, but we realized he will work with me — so for now I’m putting all I learned with A into being F’s speech therapist. He’s growing, little by little. I’m excited for six months from now when we’ll be able to understand a lot more of what he’s saying. In the meantime, our playful, strong-willed second-born finds plenty of ways to let his wishes be known.

—In October, this happened (A was Wall-E, F was Buzz Lightyear):

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—November brought us to our 8th anniversary — and I got some special news that day. We found out we are expecting a little girl!

I also went on a writing retreat for 3 days in Port Townsend. Still working on creating the time I need to write, but I’m getting there little by little.

—December was busy and just fun. The boys are at a great age for Christmas, and for the first time we got smiles on Santa’s lap.

Oh, and I said goodbye to my Explorer — my high school dream car — and we joined the mini-vanned masses. I want to get a bumper sticker that says “I used to be cool” but the truth is, I love the thing. We bought it used (but barely) with low miles, and plan to drive it to death. For now, I’m feeling fancy with the bluetooth and power doors. And the travel mugs I demanded of our salesman.

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All in all, 2014 was a good year. Much less of the scary stuff this year — it was less learning about our kids’ challenges and more a matter of continuing to be intentional with the boys on their therapies. We’ve seen tremendous growth and know that good things are ahead. Forget that — good stuff is happening now. They’re smart, funny little boys.

I got a little better at creating some space for myself. Being a stay-at-home-working-mom with kids who have appointments 3 or 4 days each week, it’s easy to let the to-do’s take over. I did projects that were deeply satisfying. I had friends over for Art & Wine nights. I got away for a few days. I got a giant tattoo. And though I felt a little selfish, I also felt parts of me coming back to life that had been dormant since the trauma of A’s early days and the emotional challenges that followed.

Justin made all that happen for me. When I’d bring up retreats, not really knowing if it was feasible, he said “Go!” before he even knew the details. He cheered me on at every turn when I was getting my tattoo done, though it meant long afternoons after work with the kids. He kicks me out of the house if I haven’t been out of the house alone in a few days. He asks me — often these days — if I need a nap when he gets home. Goodness, what a man.

Speaking of him, the other major thing this year: we’re also learning how to be more intentional with each other. Marriage is a whole other game when you’re in the midst of raising littles and I think it’s easy to feel like 2 ships passing, to not appreciate your partner like you should, to feel unappreciated yourself. This year we made time for hard conversations. We had the freedom, thanks to grandparents, friends and a trustworthy nanny, to go out and make good memories together as much as possible. We kept in mind that with #3 on the way, we’ll have less freedom next year, so we’re making the most of this time.

LIfe is messy, imperfect. But I dearly love the people I get to live it with. And in a few months I’ll get to meet the newest (and last) addition to our family. Gratitude isn’t hard to manage these days and I find myself genuinely excited for the year ahead.

Happy 2015, friends. Whether 2014 was an amazing year or a tremendously tough one, I wish you bright days ahead.

A letter to my son

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Dear A,

You can’t yet read this, but someday you will. I don’t want to lose this thought to time and sleep deprivation, so I’m writing you now, sweet four-year-old. I don’t want to forget to say thank you.

About half a minute after I knew I was pregnant, I bought a pile of baby books — as if the act of purchasing these hefty paperbacks would somehow transform me into a good mother, a confident mother who knew what she was doing — the kind of mother you deserved. I admit I never made it to the end of the books, or even very far, but I read far enough to learn that long before you’d ever see me, you’d be able to hear me. So I sang to you — in the shower, in the car, doing the dishes.

When you finally arrived at 2 a.m. New Year’s Day, I had been awake for about 40 hours. I was too blissed-out and exhausted to be aware of what was happening. I didn’t sense anything wrong when, rather than handing you to me, they whisked you to a table across the room instead. More and more people came kept coming, but I saw nothing amiss.

A nurse came to my bedside and slowly and calmly told me they wanted to take you to the NICU. You were not breathing well. Still too tired to be properly worried, I asked — if it wouldn’t be dangerous, of course — if I could see you and hold you before they took you away.

They brought you to me then, an impossibly small pink face tightly packaged in a hospital-issue cotton blanket. Expert hands quickly stretched a gauzey blue and pink striped cap over your head. When they placed you in my arms, I said, “Look at you. I know you.”

I could hear your breathing and I knew what the nurses meant. Each exhale was a choked half-grunt-half-cry. I would come to know that wheezy stridor by heart. I’d lay awake in my bed next to you, hanging on each raspy new breath. We eventually bought a SIDS alarm just so I could sleep.

But as I held you that first time, as I cooed your name, something happened. Your little body relaxed. Your breathing grew quieter. You knew me too — and rather than separate us, the nurses left you there in my arms.

For the moment, this gave me more confidence than any book could. I was a mother. Yours. And already my voice was home to you. You had known it for months.

Before you were born, I tried on quite a few songs as lullabies — nursery standards like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Rock-a-Bye-Baby, but Over the Rainbow quickly became yours.

Once we arrived home, that song became our salvation. Those early months, when you struggled to breathe, when you struggled to eat, when everything was twice as hard as it should have been . . . that song was the only way I knew to soothe you. It was a magic spell.

The first weeks were a blur, but I remember one morning in particular. We were alone in the apartment. Your dad was at work. Rain was falling outside, as it had been for weeks. Our living room was a mess of pump parts and diapers and wipes and pacifiers and further evidence of barely managing.

I was trying to feed you but nothing seemed to work — you were still hungry after every attempt and I was in so much pain I could hardly stand to bring you to my breast.

We’d learn later that your facial muscles were too weak to latch, and that you were constantly getting milk down the wrong pipe, but all I knew in that moment was that I was failing you at this one basic thing. It wasn’t very logical, but it felt real: If I couldn’t even feed you, what good was I?

We completed the cycle that ruled our days together: attempting to nurse, then feeding you formula — rhythmically tipping the bottle up for you to suck, and then down for you to swallow and breathe, up and down, up and down. Then we pumped, and then I changed both your diaper and your clothes for the third time that day.

Have I told you yet that every second diaper was a blowout when you were small? Have I told you that nothing made you cry harder than being naked?

Today was the day it was too much. We were a mess of crying, you and me. We rocked back and forth by the fire in our oversized recliner. I held you the way I’d learned to: upright on my chest, head nestled into the warm spot in my neck. You breathed more easily this way, and we’d spent entire nights in this very position.

As I sang, you eventually soothed and fell to sleep, but my tears kept coming and my voice wavered as I tried to sing the words.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops . . .

Your body was warm and damp as you slept on my chest. But I kept singing because I knew the words might be able to save me too. And they did. More than once.

When you came along, I hadn’t sung in a very long time. I sang for over 20 years in church, but when my faith crumbled and church doors closed behind me, it was as if I’d shut myself off from a lifetime of music, too. The notes rang hollow and my voice fell silent.

All that changed with you.

You may not understand this until much later. But by your very becoming, you are helping me become someone new. Simply by being born, you are bringing things to life in me that didn’t exist before you.

You’ve never known a world without me, but I lived 30 years without you, and I want you to know the years since you came crashing into my world have been the most full, the most exhausting, the most happy and heartbreaking. Nothing is what I thought it would be — and I would do it again.

I love you, my sweet boy. Thank you for giving me new reasons to sing.
Mommy

don’t let me forget . . . #1

This parenting thing is all going so fast. And so slow. Every 3 months these little boys are seemingly new people.

So, in the interests of keeping some of this in my head and heart a little longer (given my poor memory due to sleep deprivation), I’m going to list these off occasionally.

Stuff I don’t ever want to forget:

• A’s current twists on celebratory words: “whoo-FOO!” (whoo-hoo) and “it-TAH!” (ta-da)

• F’s arms wound tight around my neck

• cuddling with the boys in bed before we start our day

• A saying “I’m good” and “I love you too” even when no one asked him how he’s doing or said “I love you” first

• The boys dancing to the piano on demo mode

• F counting to 10

• The way the boys stick their noses in the air when they go to time out, trying to get every bit of themselves into the corner

• F saying his name for the first time: “Ninney!”

• A telling everyone that “my tree fall down” — that tree being the one I painted in his room, about which he had a nightmare over 6 months ago

 

Things I’m glad will fade with time:

• The stress of using a public bathroom and trying to keep the boys from touching all of the things

• F’s current penchant for “NO!” and “STOP IT!”

• orthotics, everything to do with them

• eczema, everything to do with it

• A “looping” — the same questions, ad nauseum, on repeat, forever

• demands for juice, milk, snack, shows, outside, and everything else that makes it tough to sit down for more than 3 1/2 minutes

bearing witness

“Though it may alienate your family/ And blur the lines of your identity/ Let go of what you know and honor what exists/ Daughter, that’s what bearing witness is.” —David Bazan, “Bearing Witness”

The first time I heard this song on my Pandora station, I was in the car, driving my sons to some kind of appointment or another. It was a routine kind of morning, just trying to accomplish that small miracle of getting everyone where they need to be when they need to be there.

Something in those first words — “I’ve clung to miracles I have not seen/ From ancient autographs I cannot read” — had me straining to catch all the lyrics. By the final notes, my eyes were full and my chest was tight with that ache it gets — high and to the left — when I feel like someone else is saying my words for me. I almost had to pull the car over.

I’ve played it repeatedly — sometimes on repeat — ever since.

It’s like a love song you obsess over in high school. You know — the kind of song that somehow perfectly captures the essence of your beloved, or your longing, or your loss, or your hopes for the future. So you listen, and you listen, and you listen.

Except, if this is a love song, it’s an ode to honesty. Or doubt.

Maybe it was reading Cat’s Cradle for the first time. Maybe it was my confusion over bloodthirsty Old Testament God and Jesus being the same Person. Maybe it was the first time I thought about hell as a real percentage instead of only as a real place. Maybe it was the first Sunday I slept in, or that first Sunday, six months later, when I tried to walk back through the doors.

I don’t know when it started, exactly, but it’s been coming on, this doubt, for years and years. It started out as a sincere search for what I felt was a grossly misrepresented Jesus. Clearly, it took me further than I intended.

This last year, something shifted; a line was crossed. I could no longer make the religion of my childhood make sense. Doubt became disbelief, and I realized I wasn’t likely to “find the right church.”

I have grieved. Hard.

I’ve wondered who I am now.

I’ve wondered if it’s possible to retrace my last few steps, find my way back.

It’s not impossible. But thus far, it hasn’t happened, and when I’m fully honest with myself, I admit I’m not sure I want it to. Fundamentalism is safe, but the costs are high.

Anyone who knew me in my teens and early twenties might be surprised by such a radical turn. Or maybe not. Maybe my hangups and pain-in-the-ass question asking and distaste for cliche were early indicators of a heretic’s nature.

But for anyone who knows me now, this admission can’t come as much of a surprise.

Though my mother had her suspicions, both of us were unprepared for the fallout from a recent conversation — in the car, on that same road where I heard my song, it occurs to me now — where she asked, “So . . . what do you believe?” I’m schooled enough in the tenets of our faith to understand exactly why she feels as she does — her disappointment, her questions of where she went wrong, even her anger. But I’m certain my feelings are an enigma. For the life of her, she can’t figure out why I’m “doing” this. At 34. With sons — and their eternities — to consider.

Chances are, if the question wouldn’t have been posed so bluntly, I’d probably have kept my mouth shut several more years. I’m a coward, and I hated — still hate — the idea of hurting or offending anyone, least of all the community that raised me. Decades of putting on a proper church face — flip the switch, keep up appearances, don’t embarrass anyone — don’t just vanish.

But there’s a relief in this, a freedom, that comforts me in the midst of a very real heartbreak.

For the first time in a very long time, I feel able to speak on behalf of my own life, my own heart. I’ve accepted that this will stretch some of my relationships with people who care about me deeply and are deeply devout. I mean to speak kindly. But I’m no longer willing to pretend that wrong things were right, that guilt and fear and indoctrination were somehow idyllic and I’m lucky to have had them in my head all these years.

I often feel like I’m starting from scratch these days. Struggling to find and piece together meaning in new ways, trying to find a more loving path forward for my family and the little boys I’m supposed to protect and guide. I’m sure lots of people have done this before, but for me it feels like completely uncharted territory. It’s all thrilling and terrifying and outrageously beautiful, like someone’s turned up the color saturation levels on my entire life.

I’m not out to convince anyone of anything — I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime, and besides, I haven’t particularly landed on anything I’m certain of myself. But if you’re here in a similar place, or if you find yourself here someday, I hope, at the very least, you won’t feel alone.

2. Head Angel

It was like the circus had come to town. The team arrived with a huge shiny foil backdrop and high-tech lighting effects and a famous script. They handed us a play, and by filling the roles and inviting our friends, we handed them an audience.

I was Teenager #2. My mother was Head Angel.

Scene after scene unfolded, all of them clichéd nods to one of fundamentalism’s favorite calls to the altar: “If you were to die tonight . . .”

Our heroes, of course, chose to accept Jesus into their hearts prior to their varied untimely demises. When their moment came, my mother, Head Angel, consulted the Book of Life, saw their name written there, and with a wave of her arm, welcomed them into Heaven and Jesus’ loving embrace. At that moment, the lights would go up on the foil and the whole church sanctuary shone with His Heavenly glory.

And then there was me, Teenager #2.

Scene: I’d skipped church to go get drunk with three of my friends and — surprising to no one — we all died in a car accident on the way home.

The lights came up. The Head Angel consulted her book, but our names were not written there. She drew her arm across her eyes and hid her face as her finger pointed us away from God and His heaven.

We were lost.

The room went dark, except for flashes of lightning. Thunder clapped. And when the music reached its fevered pitch, the Devil and his demons slunk onto stage, their faces painted black and red. They grabbed us by our arms, began dragging us to our fiery eternal torment. The lights came up, red this time. We screamed and tried to wrestle our way free — we begged for help — but the angels hid their faces. Jesus was nowhere to be found.

After we were dragged off stage and out of sight, the four of us giggled about it in a way that only 14-year-olds who’ve said the Sinner’s Prayer about a thousand times could.

Downstairs in the Fellowship Hall afterward, my mom said that even in a play, sending her own daughter to hell had been very difficult for her. She’d wanted to change the script.

I said something mock rebellious, and she drew her arm up over her eyes one more time for comedic effect. We all laughed. If there was a whiff of irony in the air, I can tell you we never sensed it.