A Constructed Life

Dear Kiddos, I Like You.

Addy and Crosby,

We spend so much time together. I am with you two more than I am with any other person on Earth, and it has been that way for years. This will prove to be a good or unfortunate thing, but I’m guessing more likely a mix of both, with an emphasis on the good and you two someday blaming me and your dad for all of your issues until you grow up a little more and realize that despite our flaws, we did our best and it was pretty darn good, and you had a pretty sweet life. So you’re welcome, and I forgive you in advance for all the moments you hate us.


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For me, the hardest part of being a mom is knowing how much I matter – the pivotal role I play in your lives as a primary care-taker, love-giver and example-setter and the importance of doing these things well. You also have a collection of amazing people to enhance our parenting efforts and give you variety in love, lifestyle and beliefs. Thankfully, I get better and better at this gig each year, and to be blunt and honest, the loss of unborn babies has improved my mothering skills as I spend much time in a space of complete gratitude for your lives and health. So there’s a silver lining.

I still have moments that aren’t so great, but they’re really not so bad. Mostly I just lose my mind a little when you take 25 minutes to put on a pair of socks or decide you need a dozen different things when I so desperately just want you to go to sleep because there is wine and shitty T.V. shows that really need my attention and you’ve been asking me for things all day long and I just can’t anymore cause I’ve already kept you alive and mostly happy for like, 16 hours, so get your own water and take yourself to the bathroom cause you got this. Mommy is tapping out.


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But really, the point I want to make is that I hope, when we all reflect back on your upbringing and our time together, you will have gotten the best of me. That you felt seen, heard, loved and understood for whoever you were at any given moment. I know you have caught me at some rough moments – times when, for various reasons, my patience and rationality were exhausted or my heart was too broken to pretend otherwise. And I hope that you will one day recall  those moments as lessons in the honesty of being alive rather than mistakes I made. Maybe I hope to one day see it that way, too.

I feel certain that you will grow up knowing you two are my entire heart, and no matter what it may seem like when you are 13, 17, or 23, that I was always striving to get it right. We have so much left ahead of us. So much fun, so many adventures, so many things to discover and so many talks to have, so many more great memories to make and love to share.

I love you both so much. You are two of my most favorite people to be with and definitely the most fascinating creatures I’ve ever encountered.

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I’ve been saying this for years since I started writing you letters here – I love you, I love you, I love you, my sweet, sweet baby girl and sweet, sweet baby boy. Here’s to all that we have been and all that we will be, together and on our own.

Love,

Mama


On the Edge

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Standing on the wet muddy ground, I never felt so connected to what was within it. It felt like a cord was still tying us together, even though it had physically been cut weeks ago.

No one ever imagines standing over their baby’s grave. And there I was, feet at the edge of it, knowing that someone I intimately loved was within it.

I cried for hours the night before visiting her grave and hours more while standing beside it with my mom. I felt such a mix of sadness and anger, like I wanted to reach into the ground and rip her little body from it because “this is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not what was supposed to happen.”

After that day, the heaviness of losing our baby lifted a bit, like I had set down some of my sadness at the grave site and left it there.

Happiness comes frequently now, the tears less. But they still bubble up. I still wish this story had a different ending, but now I know I am able to move on.

She is buried in a section of the cemetery devoted to infants and children. So many of the grave markers only had one date, because the child never lived longer than one day. There is so much loss and grief marked by those stones, so many stories like mine and ones even more devastating. Seeing them created an undercurrent of gratitude that I wasn’t there burying Addy or Crosby.

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Death is hard. I don’t like how many times it’s already infringed on my life, and I hate knowing that it could reappear again at any moment. It makes me hesitate to get too comfortable or settled into my life.

I always believed that God controlled when we arrived and departed Earth, that it was his choosing. I don’t believe that anymore. I think most (but not all) births and deaths are chance occurrences, lucky or unlucky events. Sometimes people’s organs stop working, sometimes babies die, sometimes bad things happen and people get pulled out of our lives or a miracle occurs and new life gets pushed in. I don’t think God chooses to extract the people we love from our lives (usually). I think he’s just there to welcome them to another place when their bodies stop working.

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This sounds weird, and I hesitate to share it, but a few weeks ago I swear I heard God answer me when I asked, for the hundredth time, “Why did you take her?”

“She was never yours,” he said. “But now she is ours.”

It came with an understanding that her life never belonged to me, and also a clear feeling that he loved her like I did, that we shared that.

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I’m not stuck in sadness anymore. I’ve moved on from that place. My questions haven’t been answered, but they seem less pressing now. I am turned in the direction of healing, but never truly will let go.

 

 


Trying to Let Go

It’s been almost 4 weeks since I miscarried our baby girl at 17 weeks. I have watched myself slam through so many levels of emotions – shock and sadness; anger at God, which morphed into questioning His very existence; then floating back to my faith and grabbing hold of it tightly, hoping it will help me heal and lessen the frequency with which I fall into a dark rabbit hole flush with loss and what-ifs.

Most of the time, I am fine and can even be happy. I play with my kids, chat aimlessly with friends, joke with my husband. But all of that “okayness” is wrapped around an emptiness and sadness that almost daily bleeds through, and before I know it, I am overcome with tears. I picture her little face, imagine her full-term infant body clutched to mine and wish so badly that this could’ve been different.

This journey is hard. It sucks. I hate that I am on it and wish I could undo it all. But I am here, and all that I can do is accept it and live here in this shitty space until it somehow turns into something with beauty and peace. And all the while that I am cursing this experience, I am saying “thank you,” as it has so completely magnified all the good that’s in my life. I am only blessed.

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All the test results are in, and everything with the baby and me came back normal and fine, just like it had with all our ultrasounds and early genetic testing. Like with most miscarriages, the reason behind this one will remain a mystery.

Of course, I am glad there’s nothing wrong with me. But right now I want an answer, something to point my finger at, an explanation for why this happened. What causes a seemingly healthy baby to suddenly die? Turns out, a wide variety of things – a multitude of health issues undetected with ultrasound, a twisted umbilical cord, a slight change in my body’s delicate internal balance. There are so many reasons why this could have happened. I have spent hours thinking through each of them, desperately studying and Googling every line of the test results. And doing so just underscored that everything was fine. So now, along with letting go of this little life that I thought would be ours, I also have to let go of why it was taken.

My dad, one of the most insightful people I know, sent me a card with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, and I read it about 10 times a day.

“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

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On the inside of the card, my dad wrote, “Unanswered questions are mysteries that may or may not be solved. Allowing the questions to be unanswered and the mysteries to be mysteries may be the only way to answers. Discipline and faith are necessary; discipline to not push, not press for solutions or answers; while faith, replete with doubts, provides patience and resilience as you live into surprising solutions.” He’s a pretty smart guy when it comes to stuff like this.

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A friend of mine told me about a book called Heaven is Real, where a little boy briefly dies and returns to the world describing all he saw. He told his parents he had met his little sister while in heaven, though he only had a brother. The parents last pregnancy ended in a miscarriage they had never discussed with their children. Part of me believes my baby’s little spirit has become part of everything around me. But maybe she’s waiting for me. Maybe one day I do get to hold her and understand why she was taken.

I will never completely let go of this little girl. I will wonder about and think of her as long as I live, and my heart will be a little different from now on.

 


To My Fourth Child

Dear Baby Number Four,

You were another surprise, just like the child that preceded you. We were even more shocked this time, but instead of fretting over your existence, like we did last time, we immediately embraced it, deciding your life was meant to be if it was coming to us again despite our best efforts to prevent it.

Every ultrasound I went to brought anxiety and fears. After coming off a miscarriage, I was so aware of how fragile and uncertain your existence was. Once we hit the 12 week ultrasound and everything was great – you were so active! – I breathed a sigh of relief and we started sharing the news and planning for your arrival. It was so fun telling the kids about you, to see their surprise and excitement. We had genetic tests run via my blood, and learned that everything looked good and that you were a girl. Another sweet baby girl, just what I wanted. That way Addy would be excited to have another girl in the family and Crosby, our soon-to-be middle child, would stand out from the trio as the only boy. And you, my youngest, were destined to be the baby of the family forever.

We started planning your room, listing the projects to complete before your arrival. I instantly began nesting, my every to-do somehow related to your arrival, thinking about your care while I carried you or easing the transition for your siblings. We were so very excited for your arrival, as was everyone who knew about you. My months with you were not the easiest, as I had horrible nausea, insomnia and a very mildly overactive thyroid (I was being monitored by an endocrinologist who determined the hyperthyroidism was so minor there was no need for treatment).

I felt you move for the one and only time on the afternoon of Sunday, February 28th. I took Addy to the local high school production of Beauty and the Beast and was so happy to finally feel the tiny, delicate bumps of you moving around. It was very early – just near the 15-week mark and I was surprised to be feeling so much movement so early, not just flutters but actual kicks. I eagerly awaited more movement, but it never came again in such an obvious way. But it was still so early, and so I patiently waited, anticipating the day when I could place Addy and Crosby’s hands on my big growing belly and let them feel their baby sister kicking them.

Your brother and sister loved inspecting the growth of my belly and loved yelling into my belly button in hopes that you would hear them. Crosby named you Butterfly. Addy frequently changed her mind, for awhile suggesting Ramona or Beezus after her favorite book and most recently thinking Jessica would be a good fit. She was very focused on finding you a name. We were completely undecided and had not a single name on our list yet.

On Friday, March 11th, after dropping your siblings off at school, I headed for my 17-week check up. I was filled with anxiety and hope that they would find a heartbeat. A few days before, a very small whisper started floating through my mind, planting the idea that maybe something had happened to you. Why were you moving around so much that one day and why hadn’t I felt that movement again? Why were my maternity pants still not quite fitting? Why had I resisted taking belly pictures and telling the last few people about your existence?

The doctor scanned my belly looking for a heartbeat. I held onto hope as hard as I could and prayed to hear that familiar muffled beating. But after a moment of her not finding one, I knew. I knew you were gone. And I knew that quiet voice in my head had been right. The doctor told me not to worry, that babies this small are hard to find. I prayed for your life all the way to the ultrasound room, as I pulled my shirt up and they started to scan. In a split second I knew. It was devastating to see your lifeless body on the screen. The ultrasound proved you died around 15 weeks. The last time I had laid in that spot, you were bumping and moving around like a wonderfully healthy baby, and your dad and I held hands, thinking, “Wow, this is actually going to happen. We are going to have another baby.” Here’s a picture of you at 12-weeks old.

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The doctor explained to me that due to the baby’s size, I had to deliver the baby rather than get a D&C like I did for the last miscarriage. She assured me over and over that I did not cause the miscarriage. There was no way to know what happened and about 100 different things could’ve caused it, none of which I could control. I called Joey, who had assured me that morning that everything would be fine, and I could feel his shock through the phone. It was happening again. We had another dead baby. I would be admitted to St. Josephs Hospital in Milwaukee at 4:00 that day to begin inducing labor.

We told the kids before we left, explaining that sometimes babies don’t always grow how they’re supposed to in the mommy’s belly and sometimes they die. And that’s what happened to our baby. There isn’t any way to know why it happened, it just happens, and I needed to go to the hospital so the doctors could help me get the baby out. I told them that I was sad, and that it’s okay to be sad, but everything would be fine, including me, and that we loved them so very much. There would be no baby sister, but we are so lucky to have this wonderful family of ours. The kiddos left with my parents for their house and we headed for the hospital.

On the drive there, I fought against the image of what this trip was supposed to be like – my parents happily getting the kids as we quickly drove off to bring a baby into the world. This drive had always been filled with excitement before, and now it was thick with loss.

I stepped into the hospital, down the hall from where I had delivered two healthy babies, and began crying. The staff was beyond amazing, just like they always have been. These women had been through this same scenario so many times before, with so many other women, some in even more devastating circumstances. They knew just what to say and what to do.

They explained my labor would be induced, much like it was with Addy, with two tablets being inserted into my cervix every 3 hours until labor began. With Addy, labor began within 2 hours. It would not be so easy this time.

After 2 doses of the medication, and finding it wasn’t dissolving well, the doctor had me take the medication orally, the next best method, letting each tablet dissolve in my cheeks. I tried sleeping that night, but between people coming into the room every 3 hours and the events of the day, it didn’t happen. I looked over at Joey, stretched out on the same crappy pull-out couch he’s had to use for every delivery, and remembered the last two times we had done this. It was so similar, but so very different.

At 7:00 on Saturday morning, after 4-5 doses of the chalky tablets sitting in my mouth, I began contracting. The nurses and doctors had explained that it would be a long waiting game and then all of a sudden, my body would kick into gear and things would move very quickly. And that’s exactly what happened. Because I was contracting and dilating, I was in a lot of pain. But since I was just delivering a tiny baby, there was no epidural. I had an IV for pain medication, I don’t even know what it was. It took the edge off, but this was hands-down the most pain I’d been in for any of my labors. Ironic that the tiniest baby was the hardest to get out.

I pushed briefly, a tiny bag of waters coming out. But mentally it was so hard to be going through the real delivery process. The nurse and doctor explained that sometimes just standing up or sitting down over a toilet could quickly make the baby come out. I stood, they put a special pan in the toilet, and before I could even sit down she fell right out of my body into the pan. They cut the no-bigger-than-a-string-of-yarn umbilical cord right in the bathroom. I fought the urge to look at you. The nurses and doctors had explained that we could see you if we wanted to, but because you had been in my body, dead, for about 2 weeks, your tissue would be very soft. We asked them to look at you first and if you looked good, like an image that would bring comfort, we would see you. I headed back to bed to try to deliver the placenta while they cleaned you up.

The nurse brought you in in a small little bassinet-type basket, filled with bunting and blankets and little pillows. Your tiny head was covered in a hat, your body hidden beneath a small pink blanket. And as I looked at you, I saw your sister’s cute little nose and mouth, your brother’s big eyes and my check bones. I saw the girl you could’ve been. The girl you were trying to be. I saw the girl who would’ve been the perfect addition to our family. You were 6 1/2 inches long and weighted 3 oz. Born at 8:52 on Saturday March 12th. The chaplain come in and we said a prayer, but I barely heard her words because a huge amount of physical pain was rolling in.

My body was fighting something – maybe the placenta? – but couldn’t get it out. The pain medication seemed to do nothing. It was, without-a-doubt, the most pain I have ever felt. The doctor checked to see what was going on. It was not the placenta, but a huge amount of blood and blood cots. She began pulling the clots out and Joey said there was a tremendous amount of blood. She finished, the pain was gone, but they still couldn’t get the placenta out because it was so small and fragile. Because of the amount of blood loss, they decided to move me to the operating room and begin a D&C to remove the placenta. At this point, I couldn’t stand without blacking out. Joey said goodbye to me and they wheeled me through the halls of the hospital. The anesthesiologist looked just like Christoph Walz, the actor, and talked to me in a voice so soothing it made me cringe. And then I woke up, with Christoph Waltz sitting next to me, soothingly asking me what we last talked about – “where we went to high school,” I said.

It was done. My labor and delivery of my third child was over around 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. I was wheeled back to our room, my throat killing me from being intubated, but relieved it was all done. The delivery story of my third baby was written. Now came the struggle to move on.

I was pale and dizzy. I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours and scarfed down my second turkey sandwich since arriving at the hospital. After 17 weeks of no lunch meat, it was the only thing that sounded good. We had to make burial plans for you. A traditional funeral service seemed too much to bear and too much to put anyone else through. We opted to have you buried in a cemetery near our house, in a large space the hospital maintains. You won’t have your own marker, but I’ll be able to visit you if I feel I need to.

Once my blood levels approached a safe zone, we were discharged.

The nurse wheeled me toward the exit, just like they always had done in the past. Except this time instead of having a new, precious baby in my arms, I carried a pink box filled with tiny, miniature mementos that you had never touched or needed. Little pink blankets, an itty bitty hat and booties. And all I could think was how cruel this was. How horrible for a woman to have to endure this. How could God do this to anyone? Why would God give me a baby – again – just to take it away, again? I couldn’t stop seeing your little face or desperately wishing I could go back in time to change the outcome. My heart broke apart more than I ever knew it could.

This has been a devastating loss. I can’t even put into words how sad I feel, how much I wish things could be different. How hard it is to go from having a growing pregnant belly that everyone asked about to an empty one that is mourned. No more baby left to care for while she grows. No more baby to plan and prepare for. Back to trying to remember what life was like before she ever entered it.

I keep reminding myself that this could have been worse. Some women lose their babies at 28 weeks, have stillbirths, have 5 miscarriages and still don’t have a child. I have two healthy children. As far as tragedies go, this could have been so much worse. I look at my life and know and feel that I am blessed. So so lucky to have what I have. And all to familiar with how quickly it can change.

We ordered an autopsy on the baby and had extra blood work done to try to figure out what happened, why this keeps happening. The doctors and nurses prepared me for disappointment, explaining there rarely is an answer. My thyroid has been checked again to see if maybe my levels changed during the pregnancy, which could cause a miscarriage, and while they did get worse, they were still within normal levels. Chances are, I will not ever know, and that’s hard to accept. But I know there are so many women who have been through this. So many women who have lost babies, even further along than I, and just like me, go on with their lives.

I know I will be okay. I do not mourn the loss of a baby or wish for another baby to take this one’s place. I didn’t go into this needing another baby. I mourn the loss of this little girl, this specific child, who was almost mine. She was so well cared for while she was with me and she would’ve been so deeply loved.

Our friends and family have been incredible, sending flowers, food and love and support. It makes this loss so much more real than the last one. Everyone is behaving like an actual person died. And I guess when life gets this far along, when everyone sees and celebrates its expected arrival, the potential of that life becomes so real, gives it weight and makes it something that should be mourned and honored.

Addy and Crosby talk about the baby. Addy asks how she got out of my body, how she died, will there be another baby? I tell her no, our family is complete just as it is. Our family will be Mommy, Daddy, Addy and Crosby. And she seems relieved. I feel like now I finally see how she really felt about a baby coming. That although she never said it, she may have been nervous about how it would change our family and her life. A few of Addy’s friends at school have asked her what happened to the baby. I feel bad that she has to field questions like this, but am so impressed by her ability to answer – she died and we don’t know why. Crosby is still trying to understand that there is not a baby coming. He talked about it so much, reminding me daily that the baby will put everything in her mouth so we’ll have to be careful. He has asked why this baby in my belly did not grow right, but he did. And that amazing question is one I will never be able to answer. I simply said sometimes that’s just what happens, and I am so so happy he got to be my little boy.

This little girl, our little Butterfly/Jessica/Ramona/Beezus, will always be with me. She will always be loved. She will always be my third child (not my fourth. I’m convinced my last miscarriage was this same little girl). I know my mourning will last a long time, that I will move on with my life and my family, but sadness for her loss may spring up at any moment, no matter how much time has passed. I will love this child I never knew forever.

I had a dream two days before learning of the miscarriage. I always have these amazing, vibrant, trippy dreams while pregnant – one of my favorite parts of the experience. The dream ended with Joey and I in a huge, deep lake or ocean, an image that usually brings fear in my dreams, but this time there was peace. We were swimming, working together to pull a boat behind us, and in the boat sat Addy and Crosby. I can’t help but think the universe was telling me something. Showing me what my life was to be. I find comfort in that image, trust it and see the truth in it. See our future in it. This little girl does not get to go on a journey with us, but is part of us now. And while we’ll let her go, she’ll always be part of this family’s story.


They Get Holiday Magic, I Momentarily Get Blinded by Stress

Sometimes I can muster the energy, enthusiasm and creativity to earn a You Are Awesome! sticker as a mom. Christmas is one of those times when I max myself out trying to create holiday wonder and merriment. Last year, I created a daily advent calendar for the kids filled with fun activities and adventures, from basic things like watching Christmas movies to the more elaborate, like driving around town blaring holiday music and wearing Santa hats and dumping change into every Salvation Army bell ringer bucket we could find.

Adeline and Crosby started getting excited for this year’s advent calendar the moment we concluded last year’s calendar. We are on Day Three of the 2015 Advent Calendar and I am already cursing myself for starting this tradition that I will likely have to produce for at least another decade.

I started out strong this year, fired up to get our Christmas on and merry the crap out of December. I spent almost 2 of the 7 precious hours I have to myself setting up an artificial Christmas tree in the kids’ bedroom because what kid doesn’t want their very own illuminated tree to fall asleep to? And they’re finally old enough to be trusted with a fake Christmas tree adorned in child-safe ornaments. Any other year, Crosby someone surely would have been electrocuted or attempted climbing it.

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And it was magical. Seeing their smiling faces in the soft glow of the tree as they excitedly hung every ornament laid out for them made it so worth the effort and time.
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And then they started discussing what could be next. What other wonderful things had Mommy dreamed up for them? Because if the very first day brought their own personal Christmas tree, then certainly things will only get more impressive as the advent calendar enchanted all the days leading to Christmas Eve.

“They’re probably going to be pretty disappointed by the $1 pair of Christmas socks they get tomorrow,” I thought to myself. But so be it. If they can’t see the magic in cheap socks covered in gingerbread men, that’s their problem.

On the days leading up to the blessed advent calendar, I spent hours planning and scheduling Christmas-themed science experiments, scavenger hunts, games, crafts and holiday activities for my kids, all while cursing the Elf on the Shelf that lurked in our basement, waiting to be presented as a gift from St. Nick, who would require additional brainstorming and clever and zany shenanigans for it to get into. I was irritated by a holiday that turned me into a Pinterest-aholic overachiever.

And that’s when I realized Christmas is only as hard and stressful and work-filled as I allow and that the warm fuzzy memories I was intent on creating didn’t need much coaxing this time of year. And that what my kids really wanted was a happy, even-keeled mom, not a stressed-out, grumpy mom, even if that means their weird, creepy elf doesn’t participate in all the kooky antics of its peers. Maybe Addy and Crosby’s elf is just really mellow. Maybe he’s the type of elf that likes to chill on the mantel by the fire with a glass of wine and not move around much at all. I mean, after all, there is still a goddamn elf in their house sent by Santa. That’s pretty friggin magical in itself.

Here are 3 Elf on the Shelf ideas I feel I can accomplish without becoming overwhelmed.

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Whatever these next couple of weeks hold for you, I hope your holiday season brings a few special moments and that a small, weird elf does not suddenly appear in your home hanging from a fan in your underwear.
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The First Grader

First Grade. It just sounds older. No more pre- or kinder-  attached to anything. Just first grade. And in many ways, it still sounds so young. After all, there are many more grades to come. But now school is all school. There is no more rest time, no more play centers. It’s academics and math homework and spelling tests and Spanish class and ohmygoodness – when did she turn into a student who has to study? She’s only 6-years-old.

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But her brain seems ready for it, as she flings Spanish words around and my I-learned-Spanish-twentysome-years-ago brain tries desperately to remember a language it knew so long ago. We spell p-r-e-v-e-n-t and e-x-p-e-c-t and they are tricky, those bigger words, but l-e-g and m-a-n are a piece of cake for her fluently-reading mind.

So far, math is smooth sailing and I hope it continues that way, because for most of my life it was mental torture. And she tells me how clouds are formed, teaches me about dinosaurs and I realize this is just the start – or rather the continuation – of my daughter teaching me things and reminding of things that have been buried under piles in my brain.

It’s amazing to watch what she is absorbing. Academically. Emotionally. Socially. Adeline is a very young first grader, having turned 6 two weeks before school started. The majority of her peers tower over her and are already turning 7. But she seems to be holding her own. So far so good.

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Her teacher didn’t have to drag her in on the first day this year. She willingly and excitedly ventured forth. I see her growing up more and more quickly. She wants to be everyones friend. Tries to be. From what I can tell, she’s succeeding.

But I know so little about her days because so little is shared. How was your day, who did you sit with at lunch, play with at recess? What game did you play in gym? Masterpiece create in art? What’s one new thing you learned? What was the funnest part of your day? It’s the litany of questions we run through after school and I keep firing them off while only a handful get more than a 2-word answer.

“I can’t help it,” I tell her in my mind. “I don’t know what you do in that big building all day. I just want to know what your world is like, what you think of it, how you see it. How you feel about it. Or just how you feel.”

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And we return the next day, and the day after that and after that with the same lunch in hand – salami sandwich, fruit, yogurt, 1/2 a Nutty Bar – and will continue to do so for another 12 years (hopefully the lunch changes). This is just the beginning. The foundation for the years yet to come. And I peer down the road, your little hand still holding mine, wondering what’s in store for my sweet baby girl. Those big things are sure to get here soon. Because the one thing I’m learning, day after day, is that you will always be growing up faster than I can comprehend. That all those next things arrive sooner than I expect and before I know it, those 12 years will have gone. So we’ll joy ride through first grade as long as it lasts, before being catapulted into whatever comes next.

Like purple hair and interesting outfits. At least this time it was just for Halloween.

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Summertimin’

Summer was the best, wasn’t it? It’s the flowers-everywhere, grass-underfoot, warm-breezes, no-coats, kids-on-the-looseness of it all that I relish. It means no more early wake-ups, no packed lunches (unless it’s a picnic), relaxed mornings, bedtime comes when fun is done and a general sense of freedom.

This summer’s strategy was to ditch organized activities in favor of doing all the fun things. It started horrendously, as my school-aged child went from a rigorously scheduled day filled with routine, teachers and friends to “Let’s be free and loose and float in the breezes of summer’s good times.” The first two weeks involved Addy and Crosby hating each other, hating me and then hating everything in the world. So I started making plans, and it turned into an epic 8 weeks of happiness (with the occasional hatred returning from over tiredness and too much fun having).

The best part of summer lives at our family cabin in northern Wisconsin. I love it there when the tiny house is bursting with family and it’s hard to find space to sleep…

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…and I love it there when I get brave and venture up just me and the kiddos and realize that not only can I handle it there by myself, the kids and I can have a blast.

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Yes, I took them to bar. We were there for the food. And I needed a drink.

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See that little sliver of space  next to Addy? That’s where I got to sleep when the kiddos felt too scared in their own beds.

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Their first trip to one of my favorite childhood spots – the drive in, complete with 3 feet of cherry licorice.

 

We did so much, and it was the compilation of all the little adventures (and a few biggies) that made it so special.

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Went “hiking,” which involved me getting us lost in the woods and giving the kids piggy back rides for the last mile. A man and his son with down syndrome helped us find our way out. I melted when the boy, out of the blue, turned to me and said, “You’re a really good mom.” But I did have a 6-year-old on my back, so that probably helped.

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Discovered a beautiful beach on a crappy day. 

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And another one with mysteriously blue water (it was a man-made lagoon. I was assured it was safe for swimming).

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Learned that bikes take you places faster than feet.

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Found secret hideouts beneath gigantic trees.

 

The summer was great and loaded with family and friends. I’m bummed that it’s over and our lives are now dictated by an early-to-bed routine, so we can get up early for school, then cram in some fun, homework and eating before starting it all over the next day.

But then summer comes again. And my kiddos are mine again. And there are more adventures, more discoveries and so many more memories to make. For as long as they will let me, I will run along with them, delighting in the magic they make.

 


Baby Number Three

The kids are back in school, which means I can actually update this blog again!

I want to dive right in to a subject that’s consumed my brain space for months, ever since I miscarried our third child in March – are we having more babies or not? It’s only in the last month that I finally found the answer to that question. It’s come after so much deliberation, endless conversations and analysis of feelings and the pros and cons of adding another child to our family of four.

The answer is no. We are not having any more babies. And in all honesty, there’s a lot of sadness behind that answer, knowing I will never again experience a life growing inside me, snuggle a tiny newborn, watch an infant explore the world or save a toddler’s life every five minute as they encounter choking hazards, electrical outlets and anything climbable.

The miscarriage is one of the hardest things I’ve gone through, and I could never quite explain all the emotions and challenges associated with it, especially when there’s not another new baby coming to offer healing and distraction. I never understood how difficult it could be until going through it myself.

For months, I felt pretty certain I wanted another baby, but I didn’t trust what was driving those feelings. I knew I felt extreme guilt over losing the baby and motivated to rectify the loss of a life by creating another one. I thought if I didn’t get pregnant again, I was giving up on that little life I almost created, cause where does that little spirit go if I don’t give it a home? And I hated that my last pregnancy – the period on my pregnancy story – ended with a death.

I prayed a lot. A lot. A lot. I don’t talk about spirituality much here, but God and I talk all the time, especially lately. I prayed for clarity. For a sign. For the ability to just “be,” so that maybe in the moments when I stopped obsessing about a baby, my brain could hear my heart’s answer.

And finally, I found a mental release. My brain went from a boil to a simmer, and I stopped thinking about a child that didn’t even exist and seeped into the moments I had with my two amazing, living children. I stopped my internal debate and jumped into the present moment with the babies I already had and that is when I finally heard it – my entire being whispering “no one is missing from this family. We are already complete.”

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I will, until the day I die, have moments where I wonder what life would be like if that third pregnancy had worked out. That baby was supposed to be here by now, it’s due date was September 26th. I will always feel some degree of sadness over losing a potential life and huge empathy to anyone who experiences miscarriage.

All that being said, the miscarriage also helped me fall in love with my kids all over again and gave me a deeper appreciation for them, their lives and their health. I am so blessed and so grateful and so much more present these days. And I am so relieved to have finally found the answer that feels right for our family. Now I can truly move on.
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Addy, you’re moving too fast.

Adeline,

I packed the last lunch of your kindergarten year tonight. I have packed 180-some lunches for you this year, not a single one of them including an actual sandwich because about a year ago you decided you no longer like bread. You have eaten almost the exact same thing all year. It started with homemade strawberry jelly and crackers, moved on to salami and crackers, changed to pretzels and peanut butter and then, after an unfortunate, very pukey incident of eating peanut butter while having the flu, went back to salami. You also get a yogurt, apples or strawberries and 1/2 a nutty bar. You have been a selective eater since birth.

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Your first day of kindergarten. Your teacher basically had to drag you in.

I find myself trying to remember what it was like when you literally were my baby girl or a little toddler or preschooler. Somehow, inexplicably, it all seems fuzzy to me, and the images I keep reaching for are ones I’ve seen in pictures and videos, not ones embedded into my brain. However, there are more than a few unforgettable  moments – some of our best and worst moments together as mother and daughter; first child and fumbling, newbie mom.
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Unfortunately, I will always be fumbling a bit with you simply because all of your firsts will also be my firsts as a mother. I question and critique myself daily, relentlessly learning minute and monumental parenting lessons from you. Sometimes I’m awesome, sometimes I suck.

In the last nine months you have gone from knowing individual letters and their sounds to being able to read entire books yourself. You’ve learned to add, subtract, multiple and solve story problems. You chat with me about different art techniques, identify warm, cool and neutral colors and have gained a huge step up on making friends and how to interact with other kids. Saving face is hugely important to you, and I already see you becoming concerned about what others think of you. That’s hard to see. Because I know it’s just the beginning and could easily interfere with you becoming your true self. Self consciousness is the worst feeling. And while I hear you standing up for yourself often, I continue to focus on ways to boost your confidence and feel good in your own skin.

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You are an intricate, complex girl that I can see is already trying to piece herself into the world and find where she fits in alongside all the other people and stuff around her. You are smart and beautiful and funny and clever and imaginative and quietly diligent and strong. You are very persuasive, stubborn and a deep thinker and don’t readily share those deep thoughts or the inner workings of your mind and emotions. I keep trying to find non-invasive ways to draw those things out, to bolster our relationship now cause I assume it’s only going to get harder as you get older.

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You also learned to ride a bike without training wheels, but you hesitated to try it (to try anything) because of concerns about what others would think as they watched you learn a completely knew skill. I used to be the same way, and I want to scream to you, “Who cares what they think?!!! You are too young to care this much about how you appear to others. Stop it!!! Just have fun. Just be you. It is safe to just be you. You will be so much happier if you accept yourself.” But ultimately, you’ll have to learn these things on your own. I try to be the best example I can.

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I keep waiting for the moment when you will stop growing up so fast. And it’s not amazingly fast, it’s painfully fast. You are quickly bounding forwards into your future as I stare, bewildered, reaching out to hold on tighter as I see you running towards everything that lies ahead.

I want to protect you from everything. I haven’t been able to. And I’ll never be able to. And that’s tough to swallow.

I love you so much. You are joy, happiness, complexity, craziness and peacefulness all in one. You are capable of so much – of anything – and while I’d like to block your rapid progression to adulthood, I am already trying to connect us in a way where you will always welcome me (or at least not cringe too much at my presence) in your life and experiences and trust me with them…with you.

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Your first dance recital. You had a blast but told me you never wanted to do dance again.

I take it as a good sign that you will still hold my hand – that you seek it out – when we’re at school, at the store, with your friends. You still want to be close to me, be silly with me and play with me. About a month ago you told me the only thing you didn’t like about school is that I’m not there with you. I love that I am still one of your safe spots. I plan to be for the rest of your life.

I love you, I love you, I love you, my sweet, sweet baby girl.

Love,

Mama


Dear Crosby. You might be a little crazy. Love, Mommy.

Crosby,

Today is your last day of preschool. I remember sitting at my desk 8 months ago, writing about how you were barely making it through the 2.5 hours you spent there – you’d pass the time crying for me. But you adjusted months ago and learned to play with a variety of personalities and children who had either mastered or were still learning the art of sharing and being kind. You’ve gained so much confidence these last months, made new friends and found new passions (move over trains and cars; basketball, baseball and bike riding now rule your world).

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Your first day of preschool

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Cruising the playground after dropping Addy off at school and before biking to your school.

You are so…not subtle. In everything you do, you are 100% you, not caring if you’re too loud, totally obnoxious, no one wants to play, you’re being a punk or wearing girls’ clothing. You follow a strict rule of not giving a shit (which is equally respectable and infuriating), until you completely do give a shit. Underneath your “I’m Crosby. Deal with it.” demeanor is a very sensitive boy, which means when you feel wronged or misunderstood, you storm off, kick and yell or burst into tears. You don’t understand why some people/kids aren’t always nice to you, don’t always want to play or sometimes get frustrated. When someone you love gets upset with you – be it parents, sibling or grandparent – you really take it to heart. I’ve learned to stretch my patience miles longer, adapt to your insane stubbornness and pay close attention to my tone of voice. But I’m trying to teach you that you simply cannot always get your way, that playing by yourself can be a good thing, and that just because someone gets mad at you, doesn’t mean they don’t still love you or want to be friends.

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Your big sister loves to dress you up.

Sports are your new obsession, with basketball being the love of your life. You shoot hoops on and off all day, every day, even impressing the big kids at Addy’s school when you make more baskets than they do on the playground. Strangers will stop and watch you, commenting on how well you play.

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And you don’t give up. You will keep practicing (basketball, writing letters – only ‘A’ and ‘C’ so far, getting dressed) until you can do it well and emphatically insist I not help you. You’re also really into Nerf guns and playing “bad guys,” which I blame on the movies Wreck It Ralph and Mega Mind, two cartoon movies other parent friends recommended, but also happened to have a fair amount of fighting. Of course, you and your sister adore them.

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A creative attempt to get you interested in learning the alphabet – shooting at the letters as we screamed out what they were in our best tough guy voices.

I have embraced all of your interests, but don’t know how to handle the gun stuff. While numerous moms-of-boys have told me it’s completely natural, I play down your interest in guns and fighting. Maybe it’s because of the time when we were in Target and you started yelling, “I want the guns! Take me to the guns!” and I felt every mom there stare with concern, or maybe it’s because a few other moms-of-boys don’t allow Nerf guns or forbid their sons to play “bad guys.” Admittedly, other parents’ opinions of my parenting choices have influenced my unenthusiastic reaction to combat play and toys. But mostly, I just want you to be safe. I want you to understand that real guns and swords are not toys – they’re deadly. And that fighting, even playfully, can lead to injuries and feel scary for other kids. My solution for the time being is to attempt accepting your curiosity about guns and good vs. bad guys, but to also put these things into the context of real life, mostly so that if you ever encounter an actual gun, you treat it with safety and respect, not like a toy. The way parents view acceptable and unacceptable play could be a whole different post. So back to you at 3.5…

You seem to have scraps of an old soul in you. You’ve said some pretty mind-blowing things, like “I used to like peanuts before, when I was a bigger, but this time I don’t like them.” Or, for awhile, when I’d say your name, you’d say, “I’m not Crosby. I’m just a boy.” Occasionally you remind me of a 40-year-old man with the words you choose (“Yes, Mommy, I sure would like a drink. Thank you very much.”).

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You just recently learned all your letters. I tried for months to get you interested in them, but in true Crosby fashion, you didn’t give a shit about them until finally…you did. And you learned them all, practicing over and over, in 2 weeks.

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You’ve had imaginary friends for almost a year now. The first one was Queen Elsa from the movie Frozen, but she faded out quickly and was replaced by your “Baby.” You often talk with your Baby throughout the day, teaching him how to play basketball or ride bikes with you. Honestly, I think you so love being around people that even when you’re on your own, you just want someone to talk to, and that’s what your Baby is for. You only really talk to your Baby when you’re by yourself. It’s been a neat little insight into what you would’ve been like as a big brother, and my best guess is you would’ve been awesome, but pissed to have to share attention.

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You were talking to your Baby about helmet safety when I took this picture.

You want to play all. the. time. Your eyes pop open around 6:00 every single morning, no matter when you go to bed, and you immediately start playing – talking to yourself and your stuffed animals until I enter your room. You are a morning person – the only such person in our household. I pull you out of bed quickly so you don’t wake up your sister, because you have no sense of what being quiet means. Once downstairs, you start asking to go for a bike ride or play basketball. I wearily pour myself a cup of coffee and explain that it’s too early because almost everyone else in the world is still sleeping or wishes they were still sleeping and wouldn’t it be so nice to still be sleeping???

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In Grandma’s motorcycle helmet.

You give big, huge hugs; have the greatest, biggest belly laugh; love being tickled and chased and generally just want people – anyone – to play, have fun with you and be nice to you. You genuinely love other people. You are a quirky little kid but mostly because you completely do not care or have a sense of being any different from anyone else.

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You ran around the playground of Addy’s school hoisting your pants up because…I have no idea.

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You wanted your hair in a ponytail (“Addy had one!!”) and your pants rolled up (“I want to see my entire shoe, Mommy.”) Maybe the home remodeling was getting to you on this day.

You are a wonderful boy, but also a relentless boy. Just as you relentlessly practice until you master a skill, you relentlessly demand attention and to get what you want. Here’s an example: In March, you made the connection that basketball players never wear long sleeves on the court. So you began refusing to wear anything but short sleeves, even outside in the 25 degree weather. This still continues today, but thankfully, it’s now above freezing. For a while I opted to conserve my energy and not fight with you about this – “Go ahead and be cold, Buddy.” I’d bring a coat and sometimes you’d relent and finally agree to put it on. Other times, when temperatures were dangerously cold, I’d “discuss” with you the benefits of coat wearing, like not losing your limbs to frostbite cause how do you play basketball without arms?

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How to get a non-coat-wearing boy to school on a cold day? Bundled in blankets.

Now that it’s gotten warmer, the only thing you’ll wear are shorts and t-shirts, like the basketball players and cause “they make me faster, Mommy.” Even to your school graduation ceremony today. No khaki pants or button down for you. And finally, I’m the one who doesn’t give a shit, because I am so tired of trying to get you wear anything other than what you want. You win, Dude. But that’s been your plan all along.

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Last day of preschool.

You are such a delight. I love your “you-ness.” You’re a little bit different and that makes you so awesome. You are such a tough guy with a soft, smooshy heart who just wants to love, be loved and have so so so much fun all the time. It is such gift to see the kind, goofy, brave things you do and to have the best seat in the house to watch you grow into yourself. Thank you for being my son. Thank you for being you.

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I love you, I love you, I love you, my sweet sweet baby boy.

Love,

Mommy