A daily...meh, weekly dose of babies, reality, and love.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

we labor for inches, we labor for glory.

The story of creation ends with a woman. God spins out light. Night and day separate. Mountains topple the horizon. Oceans deepen, roll with the movements of the newborn moon. Rain forest canopies awaken and stretch to the sky. Beetles scuttle across untouched desert canyons. Then comes Man, fresh and strong. He rules over the animals, most evolved of all, but still: not quite enough. Something is missing. Dust blows upward and out walks Woman. The pinnacle of all things made, all things lovely, all things good. And from Her will continue all life, forever and always after, life from that goodness, life from that dark unknown womb, the center of the human race. But in the fall from perfection came the mandate for pain; the demand for life to be birthed in harrowing battle. Forever and always after would Woman fight this battle for new life, bear the pain of the future, carry within her the life and continuity of every race and people on earth. Woman labors for her children, labors for her community, labors for the extraordinary and for justice. Woman fights the battles with grace and love, proof and proof again that God saved the best for last. 

Finally, as of this week, Clara is potty trained. I say finally because we tried earlier, a few months ago, and it did not go well. In fact, this whole spring has been a trying time with our almost 2 years old daughter. She's a geyser of emotions, with both a steady outpouring of opinions as well as the occasional and shocking burst of FEELINGS. All the feelings all the time, you know what I mean? Some days have felt dark, dark, dark. I just could not get ahead of her demands, could not find my bearings in her sea of emotional waves. Her screaming, thrashing, sobbing fights during that first round of toilet training were an apt picture of all the outbursts that peppered our days together. She fought everything so hard, with a ferocity that belied her slight frame. She looks like a baby but emotes like a teenager, and the balance between allowing her space and being consistent in discipline is a delicate one. Especially these last few months. Especially in this move towards toddler hood for my first born.

Clara was born in late August, my hospital room lit with afternoon sun and the dry heat of a high desert summer. She was born as the afternoon shone bright outside, her birth as blinding as the midday sun.

When my Clara was born, I needed noise. Her birth day was loud and violent and exciting. I threw pillows, I bit a couple of people; it was a hectic clamor of anticipation.

The pain of her birth lodged itself directly in my lower back, a piercing that did not stop. Ever. Since it was my first baby I didn't know any different, but now that I've had a "normal" birth with my second born, I can see that back labor is another beast altogether. It doesn't turn up and down, coming and going like contractions. It just stays and stays and stays and stays.

I needed a full room to birth Clara. My three sisters, my husband, three of my dear friends, and the most amazing nurse gathered around and held me up through those agonizing hours, literally and figuratively. At one point my sister Jamilyn was rolling an ice-cold diet coke up and down my back, while my cousin Jenna let me bite her arm as I writhed around, tilted over hospital bed in desperate cries of prayer.

When it came time to push, I closed my eyes, gripped the bed, and bearing down three times, my body released Clara Noelle into the world. She shrieked, her big eyes dark and furious. Everyone cried with joy, clapping even. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut when I turned to Sam and said, "We gotta do this again." The next days, weeks, and months were the best of my entire life. "Clara" means clear, bright, famous; and she has been all of those to me. She is a sharp light, her eyes a blue both cold and fierce. She is the sort of kid who gets noticed wherever she goes. She is difficult. She is lovely. She is small and incredibly loud. And that pushing, that insistent grip on my heart and body; it did not stop with her birth.

This is perhaps the part of parenthood that most surprised me. I think, from the outside, I assumed that children sort of roll through phases, transitioning seamlessly from baby to toddler to little kid and then one day they graduate high school and you repaint their bedroom after they move out. This has been anything but true for me and Clara. Some days it feels like I fight for every moment, for manners and obedience and creativity and independence and safety all at once, never one along with the other. The labor process that began on that summer afternoon was just that: a beginning. The genesis of a  process that may have ended in my uterus but has expanded on and on into my fingers and my heart and my home.

The longer I'm in this world of motherhood the more I understand that while some miles come quite easily, there are some inches that will nearly kill us.  And it's those inches that get me. It's those days and months when my labor with my children seems too exhausting to bear, those are the ones that leave me wrung out. Wondering why I try at all.

Woman cannot escape her call to labor forth life. Whether she birthed a child or has taken on the children of a mother who could not raise them herself, or she labors for her valued and worthwhile work, or she engages in the act of art or of business or of friendship: She is the seat of humanity, the thread of peace that holds our world together. I truly believe that. I truly believe in the innate power that lies in my daughter, in my mother, in my sisters, in myself; the power to struggle for what is good and to regard the wonders which our anguish produce.

Woman. We continue to labor long after our children gasp their first breath. We continue to suffer the pains, to ride the waves, to beg for mercy, to fear the unknown, to long for the other side and then wonder why we worried in the first place. We wear the scars of growing hard and fast, the scars of emergency decisions, the scars of a stretched and torn heart, made to expand but not without pain. We labor our children through these times of change, from diapers to toilets, from reading groups to locker rooms, from crushes to broken hearts, through scathing friendships and rumors and our precious childrens' own breathtaking, horrifying mistakes. We struggle to breathe evenly, we hunker down inside ourselves when the pain overwhelms, we cry out when it's just too much and the end will never come. And even if we choose not to feel it, to administer some form of delusional epidural, we will feel it all later.

We cannot escape the agony of parenthood.
We cannot escape the habitual act of guiding our children from one world to another.
We cannot escape the strain,

or the glory.

The glory.
The glory that is ours to witness.

For when the birth is over, when the smoke clears and the sweat is wiped off foreheads; there is new life. Glorious, precious new life. And as ridiculous as you might think I sound, that is how potty training felt this week. That is how my entire spring felt. I labored for Clara. I fought with her and beside her. I will always labor for her; because I am her mother. I will push and breathe deeply and let go when it is time to let go because I am mother.

I stand on the other side of this enduring battle of our long spring months with tears in my eyes because I see the pride in hers. I see the light of accomplishment on her face, sense the steps of maturation that gave her such growing pains. I beam with a love born on a hospital bed and expanded with each beat of my wrecked and humbled heart.

I am Woman. And when these moments of glory arise, when they cut like a welcome spring through a parched land after rainfall; when they appear like that moment when you stare long and hard enough at the night heavens and the stars suddenly multiply into millions; when that glory comes, I will pause. I will stop and sit and say thank you to the heavens for delivering yet another jolt of surprising, iridescent, starry skied glory after a night full of blinding, wondrous labor.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dear Summer, I owe you an apology.

Last year around this time I wrote this bitter diatribe concerning the summer months. To be fair, I was 16 weeks pregnant and m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e, but I wasn't talking about the pregnancy yet so I didn't mention it in the post. I was hot, nauseated, and tired all the time. Trying to keep my 11 month old out of the sun while also trying not to throw up all day was, in a word, terrible. I used to love summer. The season of church camp and crushes and freezing lake swims, snow cones and sleep overs and cousins, and then when you're a grown up there's fun every night! Barbecues! Margaritas! Bikinis! Every day is open for a few drinks and laughs, short dresses and tan lines. Summer is party time and it was good.

Then I had kids and now I'm like, yeah, I don't get it. This isn't fun anymore. And the more I talk to parents who have young children, the better I feel about my attitude towards summer. Most of them agree with me: If you have little kids, summer is hard. We live in the high desert of Idaho and while our heat is dry, not humid, most days stretch into the 100 degree range and honestly, you just can't have a baby outside in that for very long. Especially ghost babies like my pale friend who is napping in the room next door, probably sun burned from the park this morning despite her double application of SPF 50 waste of money organic baby sunscreen that makes me feel like a better mom. (Next up: almond milk and kale chips.) Then you have to work around nap times and bed times and potty training and anyways, honestly, it's a lot. It is.

However, you also can't stay inside all day every day. You gotta make concessions. You gotta make it work. Just like every part of parenting, you must take the ingredients you are given and get creative, become a wizard of time and space and make the day worthwhile. No matter what. Lately Sam and I have had a few hard lessons in that very idea; even when everything is falling apart, we have to laugh and keep moving. For one, because there's no time to wish for what could have gone better. This is happening, we always say to each other, and we have to go with it. Getting mad or sad or annoyed isn't helpful in the moment, and it doesn't move us any closer to our goal, whatever that might be.

So ok, it takes me 45 minutes of prep time to go to the splash pad for an hour. That's just how it is this summer. So ok, Clara has incredibly fair skin and Sammy is too young to be out in the sun at all. Let's put on our baseball caps and eat our Popsicles in the shade. So ok, my body isn't exactly in tip top shape, and I've been pregnant the last two summers so I don't own any shorts or dresses that aren't stretched out. I'll run after the kids are asleep, race myself in the lengthening shade of suburban sunsets, and buy new clothes this fall. So ok, it's all different. It's harder to pretend that life is all about me and my happiness; I no longer stare into the face of a new day and imagine all the ways I will take care of ME and my wants. Summer isn't about me anymore. It's not. It never really was, it's just harder to fake it now. Now I

The more open I am to the fact that we have to live this life together, live it taking care of each other no matter what the season, the more fun I'm having. So I decided to make a little list of reasons I currently enjoy summer. For my soul's sake, for reminders' sake, for encouragement's sake.

1. Clara in her ruffle bikini. Her loud sassy mouth makes me forget just how young and delicate she really is, but that tiny porcelain body in a tiny green and blue floral bikini is a shot of happy from across our soaking wet lawn. She's so. damn. cute.

2. Drinks on the front porch with Sam. Sometimes after the kids go to sleep we'll fast forward to our retirement years and set ourselves up at the little bistro table on our front porch. My chilled wine and Sam's cold beer sweat onto the glass-top table as we laugh and talk and share our Instagram feeds with each other, waving at passing neighbors and poking our heads inside every once in awhile to see if anyone is awake or crying. Suddenly it will be 10 p.m. and those nights together are good ones.

3. Sammy's thighs. And arms. And chins. Summer babies equal naked babies, and that boy has rolls on his rolls. All these months of breastfeeding, of sitting up in the dark of night while everyone else slept and he dream nursed in my arms, of attaching baby to mommy every 2 hours for 6 months: the pay off is in the roll on the back of his neck and the chub of his elbow crook. My bony 4lb 7oz newborn is now a healthy happy 6 month old who smiles so hard his eyes disappear. And if you think he ever wears clothes at home, you are as mistaken as the person who thinks it's rude to chew on babies.

4. My girlfriends and their kids. This cannot be understated. To have two of my sisters and so many dear friends a phone call away from coffee visits or picnics in the park or an afternoon of trading kids so we can run errands alone (pure heaven) is a blessing that I will never take for granted. As we all sort of fight our way through this battle of woman/mother/person hood, we need each other more than ever. It's important therapy to gather around a kiddie pool and ignore our kids together; it's life saving work. I love them so.

5. I'm not in summer school. For the last three summers, I've been enrolled in intense summer courses, pushing hard to finish as soon as possible. Not having hours of homework every night is a new kind of wonderful. Having my degree on the desk in our guestroom is a new weird reality; I just can't believe that I'm done. I think because Sam was born two weeks after I graduated, I haven't had time to appreciate the accomplishment. But this summer my heart has a lightness to it that I didn't even know I'd been missing, and even though sometimes I miss school (I'll definitely go back for a masters someday) I can't believe I get to spend every day with my kids instead of stodgy literature professors. Can't think of a worse summer pal than a guy who asks you to dissect and respond to a thirty page Thoreau essay about walking.

6. Summer bounty. That picture on the top of this post is of my kitchen table. Not styled, not just for the picture; just of my summer table. Fruit, flowers, and more fruit. You can basically live like a fairy in the summer and not think twice about it. Yes, please.

Dear Summer,
I'm trying. Thanks for the sunshine and thanks for the cheaper fruit. (And Lord, thank you for knowing that some of us needed all four seasons.)

And thank you most of all for my son's fat arms.

Sammy and his beautiful cousin Elsie Mae