I guess that's what you call it, though that finish line really just means the start of another journey, phase, segment of life that has a finish line of it's own leading to another beginning....
And the sadness crossing this particular finish line is new to me. So much of my life has been looking forward to the next phase.
Did I miss Jr. High when I was in High School? Heck NO!
Did I miss High School while in college? HELLZ NO! (sorry Mom)
Did I miss being single being a newly wed? H to the ELL NO... again.
But here I am, having spent the last 10+ years either wanting to grow or growing our family, nursing and diapering, planning and hoping...and then starting over again times 3 - and my heart cannot fathom the reality of the end of this growing season nor can my mind and body fathom growing more.
So many of my friends talk about having their last baby and just knowing they were done. Not a question in their mind not an inkling of doubt. They or their husbands took the step to make it permanent and now all are happily enjoying the "raising their children" phase by going to movies sans diaper bags and with their kids even, play dates that don't revolve around nap times and feedings, and they vacation without pack n plays. Hasten that day!
I'm looking around at my family room knee deep in toys they love and I loathe while watching my 8th episode of Bubble Guppies. So much of me and us are soooo over carting around baby hoopla and are ready to take on new big kid adventures.
That "raising phase" sounds dreamy to me. You, too, right?
But then the "more the merrier I FREAKING LOVE MY BABIES Rachel" kicks in. I do. My worst day with my children is 100x's better than my best day any where else. They are funny and they are stinkers and they teach me more about God and myself than 30 years worth of sermons. Every reason not to make more of these delightful creatures seems so shallow when considering the incredible joy they each bring to our family and, I 100% believe, the world. Yeah, I know they are expensive - but they are priceless. I know I lose sleep and energy, but snuggling them and playing their goofy games is worth every second spent. They are so messy! But isn't life?
So I suppose, after writing this all out (which has been very therapeutic BTW), we may be here - or I think we should be here: If God decides to ambush (and I mean shock and awe ambush) us with more, I know we'd be thrilled - scared, exhausted, broke - but thrilled. Then, if He doesn't....We are so grateful for the gifts He's given and for vacations without 250lbs of baby gear.....
a gorgeous memoir of the days leading up to and the year after the birth of her second daughter, Nella, who was born with Down Syndrome. The diagnosis after Nella was born was a complete shock and Kelle holds nothing back in telling us the deep, dark pain she felt that day and even more so that first night. It's painful, yet beautiful. It's brutal and honest. It's heart wrenching and healing.
There's a part in the book where she's packing up her belongings to go home and she sees the clothes she wore to the hospital. She laments how they represented all her happiness while pregnant and while blissfully ignorant of what was coming. To her, that bag of maternity clothes was her life before truth was unleashed.
Today, April 13, I feel a tiny glimpse of what she was talking about. April 13, to me, represents a last day of "happy and oblivious" before my little was rocked.
Two years ago today, I was 31 weeks and 4 days pregnant. After story time at our church, I stopped at a consignment shop and found a rose petal cottage playhouse to give to Julia. She had a mini-field trip to the Sugarcreek Reserve that I had volunteered to chaperone, so after loading the house into the van, Joshua and I went to the school to pick her up. While at the reserve, Julia was....being Julia. She wasn't into what the class was doing and several times I had to corral her back to the group. Thank God, it was only a 45 min ordeal. Afterwards, hoping to wear them out even more for the day, I took them to the Bellbrook park to play while I sat swollen in the sun. I was so tired, but waddled my way to the benches to sit while Julia and Joshua ran around for a bit.
We hit the Ice Cream Shack for cones and a chocolate malt after playtime and then headed home.
I remember putting my feet up on the loveseat amazed at how puffy they were. I knew I didn't feel good, but was well aware from my two babies before, the third trimester doesn't feel good.
It's funny how so many details of the day before being sent to the hospital are engrained into my memory and most of Seth's birth is hazy to me (thank you, Magnesium Sulfate). I truly remember more of the day before my plans for this baby changed than I do of the day he was born.
So, maybe I recall that day so well because in my mind, April 13 sets the stage for a great story...Because we all know great stories begin with the calm before the storm. The peace before the conflict. The coming struggle a character doesn't see, but will hopefully be better and stronger for it....hopefully....I know in my case, more thankful than ever.
As my sweet baby Seth's 2nd birthday approaches, I am completely overwhelmed with gratitude for his life and progress. That 3 lb 8.6 oz preemie has turned into a bright, curious, chatty, busy toddler who loves his toys, books, family and friends.
I look at him and hold him so proud of his story and as I have said before, so incredibly honored to be in the front row of his beautiful life.
Sometimes, when I'm putting Julia to bed I ask her how I know God is real. Sucking her thumb, she'll ask me how and I tell her it's because He put the two of us together. She smiles and snuggles in more. I silently thank Him for the millionth time for letting me have her.
She is a gift.
She is a lot of things right now, some of which she won't be forever - but she will always be a gift.
Raising this gift brings out a lot of critics - moreso than I've ever experienced with my boys. From clothes to discipline to activities to diet, I'm learning to dismiss the microscopes of idle observers and clueless opiners. I'm learning to celebrate her uniqueness - to guide it and not snuff it. I'm learning to investigate her quirks that I used to dismiss as her just being a pain difficult that may perhaps just be a symptom of a deeper fear/hurt/insecurity that we can work on together.
Yesterday morning while getting ready for school, she told me that she sees white dots. All of the time. All over the place. That float. That make it hard for her to read. And that scared the bejeebes out of me.
I got her into our beloved pediatrician in the morning and my heart melted and cringed and cried as she fumbled through a vision test. If the half-smiley glances from the nurse giving the test didn't clue me in to the fact the test wasn't going well, Julia's tiny little shakey voice as she tried so hard to give the right answers knowing she was just guessing sure did.
I had never heard Julia struggle so humbly. Normally, if she doesn't "get" something it leads to frustration....and then a grumpy little fit...and then she maybe throws whatever is frustrating her into the garbage can.
This was so different. It was so sad. I watched her looking into the vision screening machine while listening to her fish for the right answers. Each answer sounded like a prayer or a frail Hail Mary pleading to be right - and maybe embarrassed because she knew it wasn't. I get that it was just a vision test, but she just seemed so alone in her efforts. I couldn't help her. I couldn't cheer her on or give her hints. I know it's one of the many times in life I can't fix it for her. Funny how something so simple as this brings out the Mamma Bear in us.
Days like yesterday remind me to be slow to anger and slow to react to what Julia does or any of my children do. Too many times, I am so quick to judge dumb behavior as kids being defiant or stubborn, when really they just need a hug or food or a nap or in this case - glasses.
She is a gift. A challenging gift, but maybe the challenge is more about me growing with her than just raising her.
It's a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon to still be in my pajamas.
Seth is napping.
Jason and Josh are watching football in the basement.
Julia is doodle-bopping around like only she can do.
I'm on the couch having just started episode 1 of Downton Abbey to see what all the fuss is about.
As I write, 200+ miles away in Beckley, WV, services are going on celebrating one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. A dear friend from college who walked with me during some of my life's greatest uncertainties, whose love assured me of my worth when I couldn't see it, and who carried herself with grace and dignity in the midst of the unimaginable, passed away on Wednesday. She leaves behind a husband and 3 young children - and holes in the hearts of anyone and everyone she ever met.
Heidi was a gift. I've spent the last few days begging my mind to remember every detail of our friendship. Truth is, I can't recall when we met, but I know I was instantly drawn to her. Her honesty and almost awkward bluntness created a safe place for me to find truth. Her quick wit and bubbly laughter were perfect entertainment while cooped up on campus with little money and no car. Later, when we both were married with children, her peaceful, practical style of keeping order in chaos - or just enjoying the chaos was fresh and inviting. When Seth was born, she sent me a Facebook note letting me know she was praying for me. She had quite a bit of NICU experience before having to give one of her babies back to Jesus and she offered just to be there for me however I needed. Reading her words gave me strength and peace in such a scary circumstance. Her worst fears had come true years earlier, and here she was on the other side still trusting God - and I knew I needed to do the same.
God, in His goodness, had our paths cross in real life this past summer. Her grandmother lives near me and she had come to visit with her parents and children. We set a date to catch up face to face for the first time in many years.
We met up at Caribou Coffee at the Greene. I was over-the-top excited to see my friend. She had told me about her sickness and the toll it had taken on her physically - how her bright red hair was now a sandy brown and how her weight had dropped significantly - but when I saw her, I knew immediately, it was my dear friend Heidi. Beautiful inside and outside Heidi.
We hugged as long lost friends hug and relished in the details of our lives that you just can't relay on-line or even by phone. She spoke of her little Ainsley who went back to Jesus so young and then how Addison's disease had affected her. She was so matter-of-fact like she always had been accepting this is what God laid out before her and she was going to use it all for good. Typical Heidi style - trusting God and serving others...
We could've talked for hours...and oh, how I wish we could still.
I found she had passed away on my way to work. Since our coffee date, my company had moved its offices to the Greene, and after pulling myself together from sobbing in my car, I walked by that Caribou Coffee glancing blurry-eyed at the two comfy leather chairs in front of the stone fire place where we had our now more precious than ever get together...Thankful for that one last visit and devastated there would be no more visits this side of Heaven.
Her death has hit me hard. I think of this horrible loss I feel not knowing how to begin to comprehend the loss felt by her family and friends close by. I pray for comfort. I pray for the peace and strength she found in God to be poured over her husband, her children, her parents and all those mourning right now. My pastor has said several times over the years that death is life's harshest reality. How true that is for those left behind.
Godspeed, sweet Heidi Peterson Brown, and thank you for everything....I have to believe you fulfilled your God-given purpose more quickly than most and that you'll be waiting, fire red hair and all, for the rest of us....'til then....
I do love Santa. I promise I love Jesus more, but I won't lie and say that the magic of Santa isn't fun for me now that I have kids of my own. I love seeing little minds dreaming up ways he gets to every house in one night. I love tracking him on the NORAD website Christmas Eve. I love the smiles and giggles of my children when they pass him at the mall. I love the movies and songs and stories and snowglobes and lights... I love it all.
Jason and I have been on the same page, though, that we would never lie about him. We know people who refuse to play Santa because it's "deceitful" and I know people who will lie through their teeth so their children learn the truth from their own spouse. So, our middle-of-the-road game plan was to answer honestly. Is Santa real? Why, yes he is (leaving out the part that he's your daddy and my daddy and all the daddies before them). It worked for us. Kind of a grey area, but my conscience felt clean enough.
Until Julia, a few months ago, pinned me.
"Mom, is Dad Santa Claus?"
The question we couldn't deny... "Yes," I answered nervous to what her response would be, proud she figured it out and completely oblivious to the implications.
"So what about the Easter Bunny? Is he Dad? Is he fake, too?" Yep.
"The Tooth Fairy? Fake? Huh, Mom, huh?" Yep. Fake.
"And then what about JESUS?" My jaw dropped. Heart stopped. Soul cringed.
"Jesus. Mom, is He fake, too?"
Did we just spend the past 7 years setting our baby up to question the existence of sweet Baby Jesus just so we could get a cute picture of her on the lap of a strange fat man with a beard? Damn those secular books and songs and lights that I loved so much!
But it dawned on me quickly that this question was a good one - one we all need to ask at one point or another regardless of Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. Is Jesus real?
I got to anwer her who Jesus is at a point where she not only wanted/needed to know - she was demanding to know. It was a rare opportunity, to say the least, with my busy little lady.
My Christian school upbringing paid off in 4 minutes or less in a mini-sermon filled with Truth I've been taught and Truth I have seen and lived. Her dear life being one of them. It was precious -not perfect - but precious just the same.
Yes, Julia, there is a Jesus. He came as a baby to love you more than you can ever imagine bringing a gift Santa could never give worth more than a Tooth Fairy will ever leave and sweeter than the Easter Bunny, for sure. :)
Nineteen months ago, I'm pretty sure I related the word "preemie" mostly to Cabbage Patch Babies and I associated the March of Dimes with helping at-risk mothers get off drugs and alcohol - having no idea the roller coaster of a birth experience I was in for....and how uninformed I really was....
When he was born via c-section at 32 weeks due to my diagnosis of severe pre-eclampsia and weighing only 3 lbs. 8 oz., I was convinced he would never be "normal" and in my drug induced physical/mental state, I was convinced I was never going to be able to be the mom he needed me to be. My family read so many congratulations coming in from Facebook and I honestly was so confused as to why people were congratulating me. I was scared and swollen. I hurt. I couldn't lift my head to see, let alone stretch out my hand to touch, my tiny newborn baby. Who celebrates that?
What I didn't know at the time that I truly believe would have relieved at least some of my fears, was the amazing work March of Dimes had been doing for years to not only prevent pre-maturity, but also to develop life-saving and quality of life-enhancing protocols that touch virtually every baby born in the United States. They are so much more than working to prevent birth defects....so much more.
They have dedicated a website to connect parents who are going through life in the NICU - a site I wish I had known about during Seth's 26 days in the NICU and a site I try to promote whenever I can. It was such a lonely time for me emotionally. I have an amazing family who was there for us the entire time. My parents even took our kids on their anniversary trip to Charleston, SC so Jason and I could be with Seth more while I was healing. Still, having no one to relate to was hard. I didn't know my fears were normal. I didn't know what questions to ask or even what to google (ha!). Since finding this site, I've made it a point to check in regularly to reach out to anyone who shares that their baby is still in the hospital. I want everyone to know that they are not alone and that amazing people they will never know are working around the clock to help their babies come home as healthy as possible.
Those of you who know our Seth, know how thankful we are that at almost 19 months old, he has caught up to his actual age in all areas. It's a gift we will never take for granted. His broad smile like his daddy's and bright blue Estepp-side eyes shine joy and love in my life everyday - and most nights, too! (Please sleep soon, baby boy!)
Tomorrow is World Prematurity Day. I'm celebrating by holding my sweet Seth a little tighter, if he'll sit still long enough, and by saying a prayer for families and babies everywhere who are walking the path my family walked - that they will be blessed with good health, strength and support.