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Monday, February 1, 2010

Nella Cordelia: A Birth Story

This post has been imported from our personal blog.
Our second daughter, Nella, was born last Friday, January 22, 2010.
We were told when she was born that she has Down Syndrome.
This is the story of her birth.

Nella Fantasia (translated from Italian)

In my fantasy I see a just world,
Where everyone lives in peace and honesty.
I dream of souls that are always free
Like the clouds that float
Full of humanity in the depths of the soul.

In my fantasy I see a bright world,
Where each night there is less darkness.
I dream of spirits that are always free,
Like the clouds that float.

In my fantasy exists a warm wind,
That blows into the city, like a friend.
I dream of souls that are always free,
Like the clouds that float
Full of humanity in the depths of the soul

Cordelia: Dorothy Cordelia, my dear loving grandma, who taught me more about life than she could have ever known.

This is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to write in my entire life. The hardest and yet the most beautiful. As I even just begin to type here, late, in the dark in my room alone with my girls sleeping next to me, their little faces barely visible from the glow of the the same candles that flickered in a very special room one week ago, my heart starts aching thinking of where I was at exactly this moment last week.

A week. How can it already have been a week? I've thought a million times what I'm going to write here and how I'm going to begin and what order I'll put it in and I think I've been so afraid to come back afraid of not doing justice this very precious night...of leaving something out...of attaching simple words to an event that is so far from simple, it might just not be possible. But I need to get it out. I don't know how it's going to come or if it will make sense, but I'm just going to write. And when I get stuck, I will pick up this tiny blessed life beside me and hold her tight. I will breathe her in and remember...

Oh, here it goes.
The story of our daughter's birth.

This is Nella's Story.

I turned 31 on December 29...exactly a month ago. We went to dinner with friends the evening before and as we left, we saw the new bookstore nearby welcomingly lit up. I had told Brett I didn't need anything this year for my birthday as Christmas had just passed, but at the sight of the bookstore, I remembered a book I had read about from another photographer. As we walked by, I told Brett I changed my mind. I wanted a book, and I wanted it...tonight. So we ventured in, and he played with Lainey downstairs while I wandered up in the self-help section, thumbing through titles until I landed on the only copy of the book...A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.

Later at home, we put Lainey to bed and I drew a bath and climbed in with my big pregnant belly, my new book and a highlighter. And I read. And read. And read. Underlining, highlighting, starring paragraphs and quotes and words that moved me hard. I warmed the water about a trillion times and pruned my skin to raisins, but I could not stop reading. It turned into a three hour bath followed by another hour or so of reading in my bed. By the end of the book, I was inspired. Inspired to write a new story for our life...inspired to face challenges and leave my comfort zone and go through hard things because that is what turns the screenplays of our lives from boring to Oscar-worthy. And, to be honest, in my mind, our uncomfortable challenge was the changes in our life with Brett's job and having him away from home. Little did I know.

Fast forward.

Last Thursday, Brett & I teased all day that we were so ready for this baby, she had to either come Thursday or Friday. Every time he called me from work, he told me I should be out jogging. I didn't jog, but I did walk like crazy, trailing Lainey through the streets of our neighborhood in a stroller, thinking, "These might be the last moments with my only daughter alone." And Thursday night, the pains started coming...nothing horribly uncomfortable but some significant cramps that were semi-regular and popped up several times through the night. By morning, I had several that were 15-20 minutes apart, and my doctor, convinced I would go fast once I was in full swing, suggested I go to the hospital within a few hours. I remember getting off the phone and it hit me. Today was going to be the day. It was surreal. I texted my friends. Called my family. And began the last steps in the ever long process of saying goodbye to my 'only child.' She wanted her face painted like a kitty and, although I was excited to pack up and head to the hospital, I savored every brush stroke of those last moments with my big girl.

I called my friend, Katie, in Fort Lauderdale. I met Katie the night Lainey was born as she was the delivery nurse...and we have since been forever friends. She promised me she wanted to be present for all my babies' births, so she high-tailed it over I-75 after my call to get there in time.

It was strange. It seemed so real and yet I had dreamed of this moment for so long, it seemed a bit like a dream as well. It all just hit me...we had waited for this. Wanting a second child. Losing a pregnancy. Getting pregnant. The horrible night I thought it was all ending and the trip to the E.R. where we saw that little heartbeat. Waiting and preparing and finally, these last weeks, having everything just...perfect. The birth music ready to go, the blankets I had made packed and ready, the coming home outfit, the big sister crown for Lainey, the nightgown I had bought just for the occasion...what I would wear holding my daughter the first night I rocked her to sleep. Even the favors I hand-designed and tied every ribbon on were lined and stacked in a box, ready to pass out the moment the room flooded with visitors. My heart could hardly hold the excitement, and I will never ever forget what it feels like to long for your baby being handed in your arms the last few days of your's so real, you can touch it.

We said goodbye to Lainey as we left her with Grandma and headed to the hospital where I was quickly instructed to drop trou and gown up. I slipped the white ruffled skirt and black shirt I wore into a plastic belongings bag. Days later, just the sight of these clothes--the ones I wore during my excitement and happiness...during those last 'happy' moments before my life was changed--would bring pain. I think Heidi finally hid the bag because it made me cry every time.

The early stages of labor were perfectly beautiful. Nothing hurt that bad, I had the anticipation of this eutopian experience ahead of me, Brett was chill, and my girlfriends started trickling in the room. We actually played a game...the "if you could..." cards I had packed in my bag for this very purpose. I had it perfectly planned, and it was going just as I had imagined...but better.

By 2:00, my water had been broken and my contractions were in full force. The room was full of excitement and laughter. I chatted with my girlfriends until a contraction came on where I shifted gears, "ow-ow-ow-ow-ow'd" my way through it (and cursed), and came out of it as fast as I went in, picking up the conversation where we left off. I checked to make sure Brett was okay. Several of my girlfriends were headed out for a birthday party but, with news of my status, they all huddled into the room, dressed to the nines, before their night out to check on me. I liked the commotion...I loved the anticipation. I loved the feeling of people waiting anxiously for our baby. It felt special. ...and we were so ready.

Two hours went by and I was off the wall in pain, begging for anesthesia to get in with an epidural. They were tied up, and so I cursed them too. Little did I know, I was a 9. This is where things begin to get hazy. It all just happened so fast. I remember anesthesia walking in to give me an epidural, Brett getting uneasy, girlfriends talking me through it, my pediatrician stopping in to say 'hi' during her rounds, and my obstetrician walking in and gowning up. This was it. With Lainey, it took forever and here I was, just hours after walking in this place, and they were going to tell me to push. They were going to tell me 'just one more' and then suddenly my life was going to change.

I couldn't grasp it even then. It was all just happening so fast and I wanted to savor it. I looked around the room and tried to take it in...the candles, the music, the lavender oil I brought that wafted through the room and calmed the tension. And then I remember just speaking to myself. You are about to meet your daughter. You are about to be changed for good.
At this moment, I heard the sounds of our birth song begin to fill the room...When You Love Someone.
And I began to cry.
My husband, my friends, my dad, my nurses...all of them smiling...cameras flashing...
One more push.
Oh, this is so hard...
I pushed. I pushed and watched as the tiniest little body came out of me, arms flailing, lungs wailing...and then, they put her in my arms.
...and I knew.

I knew the minute I saw her that she had Down Syndrome and nobody else did. I held her and cried. Cried and panned the room to meet eyes with anyone that would tell me she didn't have it. I held her and looked at her like she wasn't my baby and tried to take it in. And all I can remember of these moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over...she locked eyes with mine and stared...bore holes into my soul.
Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.

That was the most defining moment of my life. That was the beginning of my story.
I don't remember a lot here. My friends have filled me in, but I feel like I was in a black hole. I know I held her. I know I kissed her. I know I begged every power in the world that this wasn't happening...that she was normal, but I knew in my soul exactly what this was.
She was scooped off my chest and taken to the warming bed where nurses nervously smiled as they checked her over. I wanted someone to tell me what was going on...I kept asking if she was okay, and they told me she was fine. She was crying and pink and just perfectly healthy. I wanted to say the words, but couldn't. So, I asked why her nose was smooshed...why she looked funny. And because she came out posterior and so quickly, many people in the room honestly thought she'd look a little different in an hour or so. But I knew. I cried and cried while everyone smiled and took pictures of her, like nothing was wrong. I kept crying and asking, "Is there something you aren't telling me?" ...and they just kept smiling.

At this point, I have believed until recently that the pediatrician came in right away and told me the news. But because I was so confused and emotional and haven't slept much in a week, I am told it wasn't right away. The nurses apparently called my pediatrician in for 'D.S. suspicions.' And during this hour, I was handed back my daughter as if everything was okay.
When I think about this time later, I have cried and cried wondering what I did. Did she feel love? Did I kiss her? Did I hold her and tell her 'happy birthday' and smother her with happy tears? My friends in the room smile when I ask this and promise me I did. They said I couldn't stop kissing her. And while I held her, the room went on. Someone popped champagne and poured glasses and a toast was raised..."To Nella!" while I sat, confused, trying to take it in.
...and I am so very blessed my beautiful photographer friends, Laura and Heidi, were there to capture every single moment. They never stopped shooting...there are over 2000 images from the delivery and they have helped me relive the beauty. This photo is so beautiful to me...because it speaks with emotion. This is how I felt while everyone carried on for me.

I remember feeling....nothing. As if I literally left my body for a bit.
But they said I kissed her. They said I loved her. They said I was a mama.

I remember my pediatrician suddenly walking in and my heart sank a bit...I knew. "Why is she here?" I asked. And they told me she was just checking the baby out. Which she did. And then the room grew quiet and everyone was asked to leave. I started shaking. I knew it was coming. The tears. The twisting in my stomach that they were about to rock my world.
Brett stood behind me, stroking my hair and my nurse friends, Dot and Katie, stayed on either side of the bed. And it happened.
My pediatrician snuggled Nella up in a blanket and handed her to me...and she knelt down next to my bed so that she could look up at me...not down. She smiled so warmly and held my hand so tight. And she never took her eyes off mine. We had been through a lot together with Lainey's jaundice and I have spent many tearful conversations with her over the course of these two and a half years. She is an amazing pediatrician. But at this moment, she became more than that. She was our friend as she beautifully shared the news.
I need to tell you something.
...and I cried hard... "I know what you're going to say."
She smiled again and squeezed my hand a little tighter.
The first thing I'm going to tell you is that your daughter is beautiful and perfect.
...and I cried harder.
...but there are some features that lead me to believe she may have Down Syndrome.
Finally, someone said it.
I felt hot tears stream down and fall on my baby's face. My beautiful, perfect daughter. I was scared to look up at Brett, so I didn't. I just kissed her.
And then, Dr. Foley added...
...but, Kelle....she is beautiful. and perfect.

I asked for my dad to be let back in the room. And when he walked in, I cried again. They think she has Down Syndrome.
And he smiled as his eyes welled up with tears and he said, "That's okay. We love her." He scooped her up and I asked him to say a prayer. And there, in the delivery room where moments earlier she entered the world, we huddled around my bed...Brett still stroking my hair, Katie crying on one side, Dot on the other and Dr. Foley kneeled down beside my bed. He prayed and thanked God for giving us Nella and thanked him for the wonderful things he had planned for us. For our family. For Nella. Amen.
Dr. Foley hugged me and told me she got to hold her for her examination, but now she wanted to hold her just for some snuggles. And she did. I will always remember her compassion and know there is no one else that could do a better job sharing this challenging journey with us.
Katie asked if I wanted to nurse Nella, and I did. Another dreamy moment I had always anticipated and yet it felt so different this time. But I remember her latching right on and sucking away with no hesitation and looking at her, completely accepting me as her mama and snuggling in to the only one she's ever known and I felt so completley guilty that I didn't feel the same. I felt love, yes. I just kept envisioning this other baby...the one that I felt died the moment I realized it wasn't what I expected. But the nursing...oh, the incredibly bonding it's been. The single most beautiful link I've had to falling in love with this blessed angel. And, look...I smiled. I don't remember smiling, but...I smiled.

The hallway was still filled with everyone who was waiting...and there are stories from our other wonderful friends and family of what happened behind those walls while they waited. All I know is that there was more love in that birthing center than the place could hold. As anxious eyes re-entered the room, I held my baby and told them all, crying, what we had been told. I knew there was a stream of friends ready to come and celebrate and I wanted them all to be told before they came in. I couldn't emotionally handle telling anyone and yet, strangely, I wanted people to know as soon as possible because I knew I needed the troops...I was falling, sliding, tunneling into a black hole and I needed as much love as possible to keep me up.
I just remember happiness. From everyone. All of the blessed souls in that room celebrated as if there was nothing but joy. Everyone knew...and there were a few puffy eyes, but mostly, it was pure happiness. More friends trickled in. More smiles. More toasts. And hugs with no words...hugs like I've never felt. Ones that spoke volumes...arms pulled tightly around my neck, lips pressed against my forehead and bodies that shook with sobs...sobs that told me they felt it too...they felt my pain and they wanted to take it away.

And Brett...well, he never left our girl's side. He was quiet through this all, and I'm not sure I'll ever know what he felt, but I know the daddy of our babies, and I know he knows nothing but to love them with all his heart. And he did from the very start.

As soon as the epidural wore off, I wanted my own nightgown. They were going to take me to our new room upstairs, and I was ready for a new start. Everyone carried our stuff up and waited for us. And then...the moment I always talk about...the moment they put you in that wheelchair and place the baby in your arms...and stroll you through the hallways to your room while onlookers smile and wish they were you. It's so strange, but I barely remember it.

I remember arriving to our room and being told Lainey was on her way. And I cried new tears...I hadn't even thought about how this would impact Lainey...what she would her life would be every beautiful vision I had of two sisters growing up together, grown-up phone calls, advice-giving, cooking together, shopping...everything would be different. Numbness started leaving my heart and sheer pain started settling in.
Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry when Lainey gets here.
...and then I'll never forget her face...her cute outfit someone put her in...her eyes when she walked into that room, and the way she tried to hide her excitement with her shy smile.
I will never forget the day my girl became a big sister.

I will never forget the moment her little sister was placed in her arms. I watched in admiration as my little girl taught me how to love. She showed me what unconditional love looks like...what the absence of stereotypes feels like...she was...

...and that was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I needed that.
As darkness set in that night and people started trickling out, I felt paranoid. So completely afraid because I knew with darkness...with the absence of everyone celebrating...the grief would come. I could feel it coming...and it hurt so, so, so very bad.
I wanted Lainey to go home with Brett. My heart was in a million pieces and wanted to be with her, and if I couldn't, I wanted him there. And so he left...with the little girl that completed my world, and I was left in the hospital with my two amazing, wonderful friends who will never ever know how special they are because of what they did for me that night. And they heard and saw things no one else will ever know, but I could have never made it through the night without them.
I think I cried for seven hours straight. It was gut-wrenching pain. I held Nella and I kissed her but I literally writhed in emotional pain on that bed in the dark with our candles and my friends by my side until the sun came up. I remember trying to sleep and then feeling it come on again...and I'd start shaking, and they'd both jump up and hug me from either side, Nella smooshed between the four of us. I begged for morning, even once mistaking a street light for sunlight and turning on the lights only to find it was 3 a.m. and I still had to make it through the night.

I can't explain that evening. And I suppose it's horrible to say you spent the first night your daughter was born in that state of agony, but I know it was necessary for me to move on to where I am today. And, knowing where I am today and how much I love this soul, how much I know she was meant for me and I am meant for her, knowing the crazy way our souls have intertwined and grown into each other, I can say all this now. It's hard, but it's real, and we all have feelings. We live them, we breathe them, we go through them and soon they dissolve into new feelings. So, here I go.
I cried out that I wanted to leave her and run away. I wanted to take Lainey and my perfect world and this perfect love I had built with my two-year old and our cupcake-baking days and our art projects and our beautiful bond and I wanted to run like hell. I wanted to be pregnant again. I wanted to be pregnant so bad. I wanted it to be the morning she was born again...when I was happy and excited and when I wore the white ruffled skirt and black shirt and put it in the belongings bag knowing joy was to come. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back.
I moaned in pain and through it all, this little breath of heaven needed me. I cried while I nursed her. I cried while I held her. I cried while I pulled my nightgown off just so I could lie her body on my naked skin and pray that I felt a bond. I literally writhed in emotional pain for hours. And Heidi and Katie saw parts of me no one else have seen. My eyes were so swollen, Heidi said I looked like someone beat the hell out of my face and then cut little slits for eyes. It was that bad.
...and then morning came. ...and with it, hope.
There is so much more I could write...and I chapters of our book.
My sister arrived the next day and revolutionized the place with her "I Have a Dream" speech. She told me I swallowed the blue pill. She told me I could never go back. But that I held a key to a door that no one else does. And, with tears in her eyes, she excitedly and passionately told me how lucky I was. She told me that I was chosen and that it is the most special thing in the world. She told me it was going to be just fine.

And she was so right.
The day after Nella was born, I fell in love hard. I knew she was mine. I knew we were destined to be together. I knew she was the baby all along that grew in my beautiful round tummy...the one I thought I almost lost...the one that I proudly rubbed when people told me how beautiful that belly was. It was. It was Nella all along.

A huge turning point for me was when my sister published my blog entry and an outpouring of love turned on. I had no idea. None. I had no idea you all were out there. And the words you all said...I believed them. And maybe I believed them all along, but to hear them when I needed all empowered me. And my friends and family...oh, they'll never ever know how special they are to me. I've never felt so loved. You all truly gave me your hearts to borrow while mine was breaking. And you loved my baby. You loved her so good. You're not her mama and yet you washed her with tears when you held her. You kissed her. When she cried in the middle of the night and I needed some blessed sleep, you rigged up the jaundice lights against the nurse's orders, put your sunglasses on and took turns sleeping in a chair just to hold her.

You promised to be there on this journey and that alone means more than we can ever tell you. To be the greatest feeling one can ever feel.
Over the course of the next several days, things just became beautiful. I cried, yes...but they soon turned to tears of joy. I felt lucky. I felt happy. And I felt that I didn't want to run away with Lainey anymore...and if I did, I was taking my bunny with me.
When Lainey was in the hospital with jaundice, I remember hugging Brett and crying. I told him if God would make her better, I'd do anything. I'd live in a box, I'd sell everything we had, I'd be happy with nothing...just make her better. When she did get better, that feeling of raw gratitude was real, but it wasn't long before real life set in and I was complaning once again about the dirty grout in our cheap tile and how much I wanted wood floors.
I've often thought about how quickly that feeling left because we have a perfect, healthy little girl running around that erases all the painful memories of when we thought something might be seriously wrong.
I felt that feeling again last week. And as the pain has slowly disipated, I've realized...I will always be reminded. My Nella, my special little bunny, my beautiful perfect yet unique girl will be my constant reminder in life. That it's not about wood floors. No, life is about love and truly experiencing the beauty we are meant to know.
And so, we came home...happy. In fact, walking out of the hospital with our new baby girl and our proud new big girl, all crowned up, gripping the handle of the carseat with was just how I had imagined it.

Life moves on. And there have been lots of tears since. There will be. But, there is us. Our Family. We will embrace this beauty and make something of it. We will hold our precious gift and know that we are lucky. I feel lucky. I feel privileged. I feel there is a story so beautiful in store...and we get to live it. Wow.
The story has begun...

Page by Page...

(First "Well Baby" Visit...Dr. Foley, we love you.)

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love her. I wouldn't trade her for the world, and y'all can have that heart you let me borrow back. My broken heart has been healed...and if you held her, you'd know what I mean.

photographed by my dear friend, heidi
My Girls. I am complete.

There's been so much wonder I've wanted to share...but I knew I had to tell her story first. More to come...we've been taking lots of pictures and loving the beauty of life...and the funny...and the's been crazy.
...but beautiful.

I did it. I told our bunny's story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Southern Cold.

I own twelve bathing suits. That's eleven more than I owned up north. Despite the fact I picked up more than half of them on sale and I don't love how I look in all of them (note to self: good support is worth the money), twelve is a big number for a small article of clothing that only gets worn on special occasions. Disbarring the assumption, of course, that we southerners spend most of our time lounging in string bikinis and enjoying perpetual sunsine on tropic beaches.

This week begs to differ, and I must admit...I am loving it. Freeze warnings and record lows. Empty shelves in grocery stores where rows of Duralogs used to lonesomely sit and the smoky scent of heater dust from an unused furnace that's finally been kicked on.

We don't own mittens, but we have socks to boot, and with a little ingenuity we've set out for evening wagon walks with tiny fingers encased in foot-stretched cotton, ears hibernated into layers of furry hats pulled from packed-up boxes in the attic and snuggled blankets wrapping up little bodies more accustomed to sand and swimsuits than this out-of-character January chill.

However, it is in these moments I am reminded of the joys of home hibernation; memories of huddling around a cozy living room fire in Michigan while blustery winds barracaded the door outside. While we hardly have it that bad (despite the response of anyone asked to take the dogs out in the morning cold), it is a welcome pleasure for something a little out-of-the-ordinary. Northerners would indeed guffaw at our exaggerated attempts to stay warm (most noteworthy being the runner who jogged by my house yesterday in a triple-goose-down puffer coat and full face mask...oh, come on), but I am taking this blessed chill as an opportunity to nest and enjoy little pleasures of home.

Like crackling fires in the fireplace and chili and cornbread Saturdays. My favorite fashionable trench-coat I scored a half-off steal on before I moved down here and hardly have had the opportunity to wear. Her footy jammies that scuff across the cold tile floors in the morning and steam that dances off the surface of my coffee.

And hot cocoa afternoons...when the nap gets delayed and we instead make a memory of sitting on the cold lanai, huddled under blanket tents drinking marshmallow-peppered cocoa out of tiny tin cups.

While my twelve bathing suits may be temporarily banished to the bottom drawer and we search local stores for a toddler coat thicker than a wind-breaker, we are enjoying every opportunity this weather brings to nestle and drink in the great moments of life...even if they are a little colder.

Regardless...the sun still shines.

Vignettes from a Florida Sunday

Setting out for the long drive there, I settle familiarly into the passenger seat with a writing book, two novels and a pile of magazines. Three miles in and I've been updated on what Kourtney Kardashian is craving, how long US readers predict Renee and Bradley will stick together and who wore Armani's latest the best. I ditch the magazine and opt for the writing book.

The ride is quiet but for the sounds of the DVD in the back and the boys' random laughter at all the funny parts...cueing Lainey to interject her own laughter with a precise two-second delay. She doesn't exactly know what she's laughing at, but if her brothers think it's must be.

A monster truck with scantily-clad-women mudflaps rolls along two cars ahead of us. Pulled behind is a rusted twin engine boat, sloppily painted with Team Nauti Boys. I imagine they are headed out for some Sunday fun for sure.

I notice for the first time all the panther traffic signs along the way. Official yellow road signs with panther silhouettes as if their crossing is as ordinary as the common pedestrian. I've never seen a panther cross these streets.

The trees get lusher and thicker as stores and gas stations grow more sparse. Of course there is the oddly-placed outlet mall in the middle of nowhere that suddenly appears. I always expect it to be closed, but miraculously, it goes on...a few random cars parked in its old parking lot. I wonder exactly how many outdated suitcases the Samsonite store sells each month. I imagine there are many a days when not a one customer shows up at this place. I also imagine that hell might be waking up employed at this very outlet mall...banished to the dingy walls of the Dress Barn selling frumpy green paisley sack dresses here on the most God-forsaken stretch of 951.

The green sign finally appears. Isles of Capri and a single arrow, pointing you far away from the Dress Barn...past the magroves, the bait store, the impressive marina for such a tiny island.

And we arrive.
And unload.
And settle under shady umbrellas.

The tide is low.
The seagrapes droop.
The sea foam recedes, pulling with it broken shells and 'beach pencils'.

It's hot and my hair sticks to the sunscreen on the back of my neck.
But she's happy.

Transporting shovels of sand from the beach to the large blue bucket ready to float away at the edge of the tide...until finally, she's piled enough sand into it to weight it steadily into the mud.

We spend most of our time partially submerged in the gulf today, its salty water stinging the shaving cuts I apparently acquired this morning. She floats and splashes as I eat cold cantelope from the chair I have half buried in the shallow water.

And later, we venture back to the hot sand to watch the boys dig deep tunnels. Take a crab walk with Mama. Finish off a grouper basket. And smile every time one of our Fish House friends comments on the growing belly.

It's another girl, we exclaim.
Another baby to tote along for Sunday memories...
to sleep in the moses basket on the old wood floor under the palm-thatched roof of the tiki bar.

And then, before the sun sets, we head home...

The drive home is always cozy as we huddle under beach towels, the air seeming a little cooler against salty, damp suits. It's quiet again but for the random laughter...and two-second delayed laughter. I close my eyes and prop my sandy feet on Brett's dashboard. I take them down when he frowns at me.

And when we pull into the driveway, the herd exits wildly, running toward the pool where everyone jumps in to clean off sweaty, sandy, sunscreened bodies. I hear them all from our bathroom as I always opt instead for the more refreshing waters of a real shower. A long shower with a clay mint mask and deep conditioner. And after donning a warm nightgown straight from the dryer, I join them at the edge of the pool where we watch the sun set behind the woods...

And now the house is calm. Quiet...but for Brett's football game in the other room and the dryer tossing a load of beach towels.
And the tea is finished.

Thoreau may have wandered into the woods to live deliberately and suck the marrow out of life...
Us? Well, we have enough marrow right here.

Sucking it, breathing it, sharing it...

Motherhood and "This is It" Moments.

The great Chinese philosopy of yin and yang describes how opposing forces are, in effect, interconnected and give rise to each other. Complementary opposites constantly interacting yet part of a greater, beautiful whole.

I couldn't describe the last couple days any better. And yet, if I look back at every era in our life, it's always the same way.

Good and beautiful moments followed by trying and sad. Complex hurdles and challenges balanced perfectly with simple happy days. Intricate layers of learning and knowing, feeling and being, moving forward and being content to simply reside in the moment.

And i don't think I'd have it any other way. I love the simple, the good, the happy. But without the trying, the complex, the sad, the good just wouldn't seem as good and there would be no propeling the better us we will be every day.

Yes, we've had our good...enjoying a week with Grandma here, losing ourselves in yarn stores and coffee shops mid-afternoon, sunsets on the beach, lingering in our jammies, wagon walks and mastering the art of homemade cherry pie.

But then there are the trying...

We had our big half-way point ultrasound the other day and, even with all this funky stuff we've dealt with this time, I always look forward to ultrasounds. Even if they are to monitor that stupid blood clot. Because, right above that stupid blood clot is this little thing called our child. And getting to see know her take her in just gets me.

And yes, again, it's not the perfect ultrasound we'd hoped for. At least it didn't seem like that when I kept questioning the poor ultrasound tech every time she got quiet and moved the wand a little slower...and then I'd dig for all the what-could-that-mean-s and nearly fall apart after.
But, after a long thoughtful day yesterday, a chat with the doctor, a chat with the nurse, a call to ldr-friend-nurse, lots of huggy-kissy family e-mails, a follow-up call with nurse and her final words of--I think verbatim--'Stop worrying and go write a blog post or something,' I've come to this complete peace that, for the most part, everything is out of my hands and will be just fine. The baby is perfect. Brett says we don't knock on the cockpit when the plane's sit back and relax.
And so i will.
I've never ever been a worrier...ever. To the point of I didn't worry about things I should have worried about. But, I think my grandma's passed-on worry genes were just lying dormant all these years until babies entered my world. And now...all this love...well, the genes have erupted like Vesuvius.

And if that wasn't enough, after a somewhat emotional day yesterday, my girl woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. And clingy. And needy. And I did that give-her-tylenol thing again which made her throw up. And so we cleaned off stinky jammies and freshened up with new ones. And we rocked. And loved. And she was quiet and happy and soon fell asleep in my arms. And today, she just wasn't herself. Her eyes said 'sick,' and her bubbly personality was absent...replaced by this sweet, clingy babe who couldn't leave my side. She needed us a lot today...

So we read a lot of books, her legs all intertwined in mine and her hot little head nested as close to me as possible.

And, at one point when her drowsy eyes closed and her hand curled around my arm, I just couldn't hold it. I cried. Not because it was hard and trying. Maybe because I'm emotional and pregnant. But mostly? Mostly because I felt like a mama (and talk about yin and I am lying there in the quiet of the room and my big girl is falling asleep outside my tummy while my tiny girl is waking up inside. Hello. Profound.)

It dawned on me...all these times we look forward to before we're mothers. The moments we think we'll feel like a mom--like park dates or proudly 'showing off' that wrapped little bundle, birthday parties and art projects...yes, they all define motherhood. And while I feel every bit of mamahood during those happy days, it's the not-so-right times that truly pull out of me the primal mama within. Checking temperatures half-awake holding a warm head close. Sweeping back tendrils of wispy hair from a hot cheek and kissing sad, heavy eyelids. Feeling that painful pull on my heart when the ultrasound tech takes a second look at a questionable area. Kissing her tiny helpless body under blue lights in the hospital. Comforting her sickness. Being needed. Sacrificing anything and everything to make them both okay...these are the moments I feel my soul has been matched with its calling. Where I know I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. For a doctor, it might be the day they are published in The New England Journal of Medicine. A struggling politician, perhaps the moment they celebrate their election to office. But for 'this is it' moments...they are witnessed by none and felt in the dark...when we're rocking quietly together and our souls are synched. In the middle of the day when everyone's at work, but I am happily glued to the couch, intertwined with my feverish girl. When I don't have all the answers and I don't know what to do...but I sure know how to love. That's when I feel it most. This mom thing. I don't know why or how or when...but I know so deeply how to be a mom because my soul was carved to be one and these littles fit in the hollow of those carved grooves...right in the place of my being that says 'mama.'
The rest, we'll figure out.

I may or may not be a great many things...but today, I was so incredibly happy to be a mama.

The Sky was Vibrant.

The sky was vibrant today. So blue, in fact, God could roll it up, wrap a Crayola paper on it and sell it in a crayon box for heavenly bodies to color with. That vibrant. And when the sky is vibrant, I want to do vibrant things. Like plant a garden. Paint the house. Write a book. Adopt a couple orphans. Cure cancer. You know, normal things.

But being that I hate disheartenment from unachieved lofty goals, I settled for alternate vibrancy...a bike ride.

A bike ride where I vibrantly cranked the pedals on my not-so-vibrant piece-of-crap bike. Well, it's not really mine. It's Brandyn's old one, and it's very small. And I know I look like this riding it, but it's okay because I'm getting fantastic exercise. Fantastic because the gears are kinda broken and it's stuck on the one that feels like the chains are attached to two lead bricks.

So I pedaled, exhaustively cycling through the lead brick rotations until my thighs twitched and stung and sweat soaked my dyed hair past its already Cleopatran blackness. It was a mess. But Lainey was content, pulled behind the rickety clown bike in her new little cart my dad found on Craigslist. In fact, now that I think of it, the cart I'm sure only added to the clownishness of it all, and when I had to stop in the back of the neighborhood to take a rest and lay the bike down in the middle of the street (broken kickstand, you know) with the cart all cock-eyed and Lainey crying...well, now I'm just laughing hard.

If our life was the cover of a book, it would so not be glossy. It would be torn and pasted with old food and lost somewhere in the back of the library.

...but it would be funny. And real. And ours. Oh, and vibrant.

*Note: Soon after this post was written, the daddy was so kind to buy the mama a new pink, vintage Schwinn bike for Mother's Day. So, don't feel too bad for me. I made out alright.

This is how we do it.


Despite the sighs of pity some may offer at the mention of it, I embrace it for the gift it is and have absolutely no problem answering the what-exactly-do-you do question with just that: I stay at home with my baby. I feel no need to further explain I used to teach. Or I have hobbies. Or I do business out of my home. Or there are some days I think I work so hard I would surely take the I-did-more-than-you-today prize from any 9 to 5er. Because for me, it is the most beautiful job in the world, and based on my own memories of spending afternoons sitting on the worn shag blue carpet in our family room, making my way through the lollipop woods and molasses swamp in a rip-roaring game of Candyland with my mom or trailing behind her through a fabric store while she thumbed through Butterick patterns knowing a trip to the ice cream store--just her and i--was sure to follow...well, I can't say enough just how sweet those times were or how good it feels to be able to mimic as much of that goodness as I can.

And I don't take it for granted. I really don't. And I know so many mamas that would love to stay home but can't and I wish I could share the gift a little more. But I also know that there are all sorts of mamas...good mamas...and some need time away, love their work environments and have these flawless set-ups where their babies are loved and nurtured during the day and they come home and balance it all the same. Because they choose to work. And they're just as good.

And I guess the point I'm trying to get to is that yes...this staying home thing is just purely beautiful...but it's not always perfect. I would love nothing more but to bake and craft and read Goodnight Moon a trillion times to her while we spooned under cold sheets and planned our breakfast menu. But it's hardly like that.
I do work. I work at home...a lot. And while I think it is the coolest thing in the history of mankind that I get to both work and be with her, it presents its difficulties. I can't always read. I can't always craft. And there are many a times when i'm on a call, typing at the computer, answering e-mails, scraping burned scrambled eggs off a hot pan while holding her all at once.

But you know what? We rock it out. We really do. She's this super-cool toddler who finds things to do and with a little set-up can easily entertain herself with a pile of crayons, a cup of water, a drawer full of clothes to try on...while my presence is near. There are days where we bake, and days where we eat chicken nuggets. Days where three loads of laundry miraculously make their way through the entire line of command (traditionally stopping, of course, at that wrinkled standstill between Dryertown and Foldedland), and days where the dirty pile grows ominously on the bathroom floor.

Hold it.
Perhaps I should mention the shakedown. Oh, the shakedown, a term invented by sister which, by definition, is the 45 minute blitz you frantically set out on right before your husband comes home which magically transforms your home into looking like you've been June-Cleaver-in' the place all day. Can't tell you how many times I've been gabbing with my sister at six o'clock only to wildly cut the call short with a "--Crap, I have to go...Shakedown time!" which is always met with empathy and a 'you'll-get-it-done' on her part. And I always do. In fact, if I don't say so myself, I've been known to turn a pit-gone-mad into Martha Stewart's living room, spit-shine the kitchen, throw something into the crockpot, turn the dryer on, light some candles, crank some Diana Krall, dispose of my pajamas, and smear some lipstick on in thirty-seven minutes flat. And he'll be all like wow when he comes home. And I'll be all like, if-only-you-knew.

But, all that aside...
Sometimes there are days like these.

Days when magically...we do it all. Like there were 72 hours in this one little day.
I mothered. The good-kind of mothered.
Instead of looking like one of the boxcar children, all oatmeal-covered and half-naked, we were cutely dressed and tightly pony-tailed by 7:30...right when the morning light streamed its welcome into her room for some early reading.

We crafted...and not just crayons and cheap coloring books. No, we're talkin' gluesticks and sequins.

We escaped to the park where the mid-morning breeze swished her pony-tails while she gasped and grinned on high-flying swings.

We picked up tuna subs and ate them on the ground, right there on dirt and grass with nothin' but nature...and headed home where she napped and I painted her nursery rocker a rich fallish shade of bordeaux to make its debut in our living room where new baby girl will be rocked and nursed and snuggled come January.

And afternoon had us winding through aisles at the grocery where she kindly helped me pick out bananas and tote bratwurst and peppers in her basket.

So there. Not to pat myself on the back--but oh, who am I kidding--totally patting myself on the back. Because, for all the times it doesn't work out. For all the times I've gone to bed thinking I could have done more. For all the piles of laundry that don't get washed or the Goodnight Moons that don't get read...there are days like these. When everything goes just right.

And that, my how we do it.