On the Lookout for Blessing

There are certain spheres in which I am very reluctant to give advice. Saintly, I know. Most of them are related to pouring more, specific responsibility on women and mothers: not interested. Post a click-baity article on the evils of yoga pants or screen time, or tell me all the wrong things about all the food non-wealthy or non-white kids eat, and I’m pushing mute. There’re just too many cooks in the kitchen, all with the same [lack of] experience levels, not all with the same contexts and privileges, and the moms I know don’t need another apocalyptic guideline.

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Me as me when my kids try to wake me/people tell grown women what to wear.

At high risk of overlapping with that incredibly common genre, I’m writing today about something I’ve never said a thing about: a video game. I don’t hardly know anything about this subject (impressive start, I know) except that I am the absolute worst in actually playing them. My coordination on the button thingies rivals my dance moves for Most Compelling Reason I may be a different species than most people. But nevertheless, this is my blog.

A friend asked me to help research and bring awareness to a game that’s pretty popular right now because she is a teacher and a leader and communal to her core; I’ll try because I love her so. The game is called Fortnite, specifically the Battle Royale mode (rated 13+), which is free. 40 million people play some version of it. Championed by conscientious adults for its lack of blood, the cartoony-violence, and humor, there is the social intensity of online strangers, one life, and urgent perils at every turn. It is inspired by The Hunger Games type plot, and teams (of real players) are encouraged in the race to kill in order to be the last survivor. While the game does not require in-app purchases to progress (a merit-badge in marketed-to-kids free games), there are cosmetic improvements frequently pushed, to update one’s appearance in the alternate, deteriorating world.

Some things I read made this game sound pretty harmless–the building and strategy aspects, being a teammate, and the unrealistic violence. Some things I read made this game sound very dangerous because of its addictive, real-time quality mixed with the survivor intensity. It’s hard for kids to unplug or stop playing, and in essence, commit suicide and hurt their team. Reading or listening to other people’s in-game advice or reactions can make for a very charged, profane, uncontrollable and polarizing environment—kind of like real life middle school. This was a helpful article I found about Fortnite-related kid rage and some practical advice.

In one friend’s experience, her child started showing more severe mood swings, a fear of being alone, anxiety, and few words to explain said feelings. Some of the behaviors that she later found in the game and related YouTube videos were things he, in his upset, threatened to do to himself. Obviously, no video game is experienced in a test tube environment, and no child is only affected by one video game. But this one seemed to have an especially piercing effect that was noticeable and destructive to this underaged, sensitive player right away. I too have a kid who is markedly sensitive in some regards and has to work extra hard in social arenas; in both cases, we moms would like them to learn how to manage their sensitivity without forfeiting or devaluing it. Adding another layer of social weight to their shoulders in this form of game is the equivalent of asking me to go on So You Think You Can Dance; it’s just not the right time.

I came across this quote from one of my favorite writers: “It is a quotidian master that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation…We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are…We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places” (Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries, 11).

I like this framework for being parents, mentors and teachers: Lookers for Blessings. It is such a poignant quote for we who wear the biggest hats of the Daily, in our own search for fulfillment, but in tonight’s case, what a help in creating a palatable, big-enough rubric for our influence on children, for the rules we’re willing to set and the environment we strive to create. Is it a blessing? Will it help them find more for themselves?

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Not in the flimsy prize toy kind of way, or the competitive, affluence snobby way or the Netflix binge type of gift we’ve all given ourselves…but the blessing that turns out to bloom salvific, meaningful, healing. What in their daily could be the core of their salvation? For my young friend, the recreation and entertainment of this particular video game offers distraction, but none of the above bouquet. In the ways we try to unpack the feelings, give vocabulary to the nuances, and give guidance to the social maneuvers our young ones are sorting out each day at school…in all those ways, with added stakes and voices, he engaged in another world no one could even begin to ask about or retrace because it doesn’t exist. And yet it did. And does for about 40 million other people.

I’m not attempting to make anyone’s mind up about this year’s game or video games in general. But I find myself, in all of this wading, wanting to recommission moms and dads and aunties and teachers and mentors to be in charge; I want to affirm their role of setting boundaries and seeking blessings. Adults are affirmed to set up blessing-dispensing systems and say, “People have different rules and these are our rules” which can be code for “This is how I am establishing daily salvation and meaning in your world.” The children cannot become well adults without their adults first insisting that they are the kids.

The daily is so slippery and relentless. Like a bedtime routine with a toddler, one step can suddenly become 12 and after saying the right thing, feeding the right thing, setting up the right thing, and reading the right thing, the kid still has a 13th idea. And then they get big enough to climb out of the crib. Moving targets abound and there is grace upon grace for us caretakers. Otherwise we would just all quit and shrivel in a snivel and no one would have kids and in the first place, God would probably have not set it up like this.

It doesn’t all have to be catechism; it can’t. It can be bubbles and paint and brownies and solitaire and guitar. One person suggested a family Fortnite night. It’s your world to make, and it’s doused in grace. A hundred little things fill the space of the daily. All we can do is start just where we are. Pluck something that hasn’t fit the bill, and pick a replacement for the young soul. They are beginning their meaning-making, in need of salvation, and we are an adult, tasked as a look out for their blessing. It’s our watch.

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Looking Again

Sometimes our kids require a double take. What at first presented as misbehavior, hyperactivity, or whining over nothing can often, in our case, turn out to be a symptom of earlier hurt feelings, hunger, or the need for an introduction or some extra explanation.

With each subsequent kid, we have realized we are less and less expert when it comes to parenting but also more and more here for it. Parenting is baptism by fire, every time! We know that we don’t know (whereas after the first one ate his veggies and went to bed so easily, we thought we likely KNEW), and that seems to be the key to keeping our sanity, give or take.

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As the kids grow up and sadly don insecurities and defense mechanisms, vegetable intake has taken a back seat in the world of things calling my attention. Their emotional languages couldn’t be more different and in a world of male privilege and emotional unintelligence, it’s so deeply important to me to raise these guys with some wherewithal when it comes to caring for others and knowing themselves. To me, emotions are not the bad guy. I’ve heard endless sermons and read enough that the modernist alienation of the heart and emotions is resilient and damaging, especially amongst Christians. I’ve told my kids, and my self, that feelings aren’t the boss. But they also aren’t the enemy.

When people experience personal grief for the first time, or are hurt in an abusive way, what does the message of alienating the heart and emotions do to us? It isolates and shames. It invalidates a real and true indicator light on the dash of our designed personhood. Some people have a great heart read on situations, and their memory is feeling-based AND accurate; some people are more oriented out of their heart and function best when there is no requirement for them to translate their wisdom into knowledge. Emotions aren’t the boss, but neither is rationality. Because while “being rational” seems like a trump card, it can be as laden with cultural blindspots and sinful motivations as any old heart. It is intertwined with a toxic masculinity that has hurt women and men. It’s not no nor or; it’s yes and both. In my beliefs and experience, Jesus shows concern for feelings and the heart; His redemption and example have as much to do with seeing and renewing our emotions as much as our minds. Western society likes to differentiate and categorize but I haven’t seen many lasting examples of that being for our good. Shalom is wholeness. Integrity is integration.

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In my line of work, it’s important to validate the heart. I know their assertiveness, intelligence and physical strength will be affirmed; I don’t know their sensitivity and emotional awareness will be valued.

When one of my kids mentions something he would like, for the next week, or the next year, he often says, “…but it’s okay if it doesn’t happen” in the same breath. He so rarely asserts a particular opinion, that when he does, he seems to at once try to bulwark against the disappointment of that opinion not being heard, or that hope not being fulfilled. While some part of this is a gift for gratefulness and adaptability, another part of this has alerted me to his disassociation with some of his feelings and need for emotional safety. He’s hardly ever said the words, “I feel…” so we have to hear them in other ways. And in a raucous household with a lot of needs, it’s easy to miss his particular feeling voice.

The other night he mentioned softly that he would like to dye his hair for Wacky Wednesday…followed of course by a quick forgiveness. We are run-of-the-mill people when it comes to these “holidays” that seem quite frequent to us old-fogies. It’s always about finding stuff around the house, making do, and celebrating that we even remembered the occasion. But that night it was different. We didn’t have anywhere we had to be. I asked him more about this hair dye, and he lit up talking about some ideas. I quick cleaned up dinner. And he and I stole away for a rare and special hunt for spray hair dye, just the two of us. At our second stop, we found the last can of red spray; he was elated. The specialness of going out and buying something was not lost on him. He said he’d share it with his brother. He couldn’t WAIT for tomorrow.

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It gives us such joy to see and respond to a child’s need or desire. This story is one of a silly wish that wasn’t formative to his emotional intelligence, but it sure meant something to him. It helped me too, to join his spontaneity, to say yes, your opinion is something we want to hear. I could’ve easily missed it.

This same kiddo mentions every couple of days a new piece of information surrounding the same subject: our dear next door neighbors are leaving town this month for a faraway state. He isn’t sharing feelings or emotional, but just mentioning, in the middle of homework or right before bed, “It will be before Easter,” or “It’s 20 more days after we do that.” I’m feeling this particular loss hard too, so it is helping me be more sensitive to his signals. I’m wrestling with how to help each of my kids on this countdown journey to saying goodbye to some lifetime friends. Sometimes it’s only in bed at night that I realize they’ve said something, or shown their grief. Each mention is an opening for a couple minutes before dancing to the next topic; each fact a window into the things on their young hearts and minds.

The double takes of our kids is a rhythm of parenting; these little creatures come coded and skinned in all sorts of maneuvers and languages and take on more because of us. It’s never too late to look again.

With each child, and each stage that goes by, the lesson of double-takes has been worthwhile and ever-evolving. It instructs me in grace towards other people’s kids, and other adults, and myself even. We all show these windows. And our reactions are interpretation. There’s more than what meets the eye, and what a gift to our hearts when someone looks again.

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I Invite Myself to My Own Dinner

Preemptive parenting is my strategy. I have a running schedule and clock in my mind at almost all times because either it’s how God made me, or I’m a catastrophizer. I dislike being late, being complained to, and being under pressure so much, I will put the 6-year-old down for a nap, I will start Operation Shoes and Socks 15 minutes before we actually need to leave, and I will pack back-up Goldfish, gum, diapers and wipes in the car because so often in Los Angeles, we are without access to food, other people and stores.

Preemptive work in relationships requires a lot more vigilance and gumption. While a Christian woman might be affirmed for being prepared with a kids travel game or for bringing snacks, she is not usually applauded for boundaries, saying no, or sharing her expectations for an event in advance. Those are typically assigned negative hues of guardedness, selfishness, being a control-freak, anal retentive or other suspect characterizations (I have heard…).  We are trained to defer, accommodate, submit, overlook, and serve. While at times these actions can be great strengths and hold within themselves a powerful freedom and love when chosen, they can also enable the entitlement of other people to the diminishment of our own personhood. We are not destined to become smaller; it is not our job to disappear. 

Going into the weekend, my spouse and I often have expectations for the precious 48 hours. They are generally competing.  Going into the holidays, we may all be facing the same dilemma, only with the added help of multiple-day road trips, long-distance family suddenly sleeping in the next room, candied children, and, if we’re lucky, bacterial infections. Nothing says joy and peace like spilled juice in the car, sliding around snowy passes next to semis, mysterious and constant appearances of glitter and snot, and off-colored jokes from the uncles, ammiright?

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I’m just here to say, if you can pack a diaper bag in your sleep, or have thus far managed to feed, clothe, and bandaid actual living people, including your self, you are allowed to say “no,” or “I want,” or “we will.” Merry Christmas. The safety and intimacy of our relationships relies upon our exercising agency and boundaries. Particularly for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction.

It’s not about controlling others or being rigidly closed off. It’s about self-awareness and working from the best part of your self and not the worst, or fastest, or most sensitive. Preemptively making a plan to cut off chaos at the pass.

This may look like extending a request along with an invitation: would you be willing to not discuss ______, or isolate anyone in conversation regarding that topic? (And if this does happen, my family and I will be taking a walk.) It may mean saying ahead of time that you will be leaving by 9, when things really get boozy. It may look like staying at a hotel instead of your childhood bedroom, with the nephews and the giftwrap. It may mean scheduling alone time, and letting your host know you won’t be around Friday afternoon. It may mean using paper plates no matter what your mom thinks.

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What are your expectations for the rest of this year, which, for the most part, has been really challenging? What concerns do you have going into group gatherings and which of them are valid, addressable, and likely shared (ie: managing uncle bob’s anger, not addressable; making a plan for when it is triggered, absolutely)? What would it mean to experience the holidays with freedom and presence rather than anxiety and reactions? (“While we love traditions, we won’t be squeezing in the movie this year between presents and dinner; we’ll see you when you get back!”) What preparation and communication would help these times be building rather than destructive? Who are the safe people who can help you stick with the plan?

I encourage you in your preemptive policies. I cheer you on as you exercise agency, take your heart and brain seriously, and invite others to do the same. It will be a gift to the people ready for better relationships; it will be a model for our sons and daughters.

When I think about it, my relationships and the way I enter 2018 are at least as important as how many snacks I’ve packed. It’s time to get planning.

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To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

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You Had Me Before I Had You

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And by times, I mean, all the times since April 26, 2009.

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There’s nothing like a child to magnify your vices and hang-ups, melt your heart so its more human, and muster a prayer-life filled with long pauses and questions. There’s nothing like the delight of how funny they are, how clever they are…how much wonder they bring to all the mundane they’ve brought. There’s nothing like painstakingly raising a strong-willed child to give you the holy opportunity to reframe things in grace that were once set in judgment, or remember things in gratefulness that still support you today.

Dante Kamau was a miracle. Strong in the womb, and stronger still on the outside, he has had us from the moment we knew we were having him.

In times of big change and big crisis, he has been remarkably, as his name implies, steadfast. Though a man of routine armed with a killer memory, he can somehow adapt to change and walk in confidence through the things we thought could rattle him—that rattled us. He is an excellent traveler and sleeper, having spent time in D.C., the Midwest, the Northwest, Amsterdam and Kenya in his first 2 years of life. He is brave and has faced many an adventure, head on, the past 7 years, giving us so much joy and new delight. He has done much for our arm muscles, and not much for our backs.

In the times of small upsets and tough social nuances, the tenderness and fragility of still being a young child, with too-big emotions, in a too-big body, with too many thoughts, all create a windstorm of fury and collapsing and we are caught off guard, new to this creature, all over again. He wears his heart on his sleeve and there is nothing discreet, like, ever. His straightforward manner of talking can seem rude and his analytical questions can make me want to hide. In a battle of an NF parent and an SF child, I just can’t sometimes, and he just can’t sometimes, and so we pat each other’s J’s and do our best. Sometimes his best response is “I don’t really want to talk.” and again, new, fretting like first-time parents of a newborn—how to maneuver with this miracle son.

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He’s the one to first show us what it’s like to physically hurt for your kid and how wonderful it is to read for the first time and how you learn to read them better than you read yourself. What it’s like to hold yourself back from a violent urge to protect, interfere, speak for, defend, and, in general, smother, your offspring FOR THEIR OWN GOOD I’M SURE. He’s the one to first push every single button and make us feel insecure or embarrassed or loveydovey or playful from the tips of our toes. He’s the one to show me the tangible process of differentiating and letting go, slowly, barely, but surely, of your kid. He’s the one to show us the power of sin passed on through generations and to cause us to take more seriously our own repentance and rely more heavily on God’s grace. He’s the one to lead me to that desperate prayer at night, Lord save this kid from us. From my own blindspots, insensitivities, oversensitivies, and poverty.

We have never been here before, sweet Dante, wherever we are with you now. You are our first, and we feel like kids, and we love you so much it hurts. As you begin a new year, grow another foot, and take another step away from us, may your heart grow bigger, your identity in Love and Grace and Jesus surer, and your sharp mind stronger. You are His and you are ours, and we are so, so blessed by you.

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Life Unfurled

** Childbirth is an amazing situation I’ve found myself in 3 times. With each son, I’ve written out my account of their birth and shared it with sincere disclaimers. Like the first two, this is long, personal and likely boring to the vast majority of people. It is not important to our friendship. It does not encapsulate the theme of this blog. Consider yourself excused, or warned, whichever strikes your fancy. **

 

// There Is A Time for Everything //

Our trusted doctor, who seems like a friend that we’ve never managed to have over for dinner in 7 years (Ryan says I have too many friends…), showed slight concern about how big he was. The baby that is. The third baby I was blessed to grow; the third son to rock my world of order and organization, predictability and pretty.

After giving birth to two large-craniumed, 9 pound, 14 ouncers already I was surprised by the doctor’s mention of size and needing to interfere at all with nature’s timing. He wasn’t one to over-plan, or worry, and just how big could this kid be?… I mean, in comparison to the others. I didn’t ask too many questions, biding my time, mulling over the options. Week by week, we measured, I grew, we talked in incrementally more detail about breaking water, a date, not being precious about letting him come late. I tracked but I wasn’t sold. I prayed that the conversations would be less relevant and my birth plan more. We waited.

On February 10th, a check-up revealed that my body had started showing signs of preparing for labor 2 weeks early. My mom wasn’t arriving for another 4 days. My doctor-friend said to be a couch potato, and wait until my mom came. Meanwhile I held an appointment at the hospital for the 19th, at 6am, to break my water, and maybe have “a whiff” of Pitocin should the baby wait that long to come, the start of the 40th week. I mostly obeyed doctor’s orders except for, well, still being a mom, and a compulsive night of mopping our laminate floors; I have completely reasonable priorities.

Every night we thought we might meet our son. Our son who we were hoping for, then didn’t expect after months, then learned of the week we were due to finish recertifying for fostering. Our son who was so big and so strong, I felt him move clearly and repeatedly in the first trimester. Our son whose name we couldn’t decide for months, with agonizing discussions, transporting us back to our last naming process—whom we had finally come to peace with as Lucas, light-giver. Related to the Luke who penned the Gospel, and Acts, which has driven our adult life. Luke, a doctor and healer—the detailed writer. Lucas, a sure light to our family we didn’t fully anticipate but so treasured once we knew of his joining.

The nights went on. Mom arrived. The hospital check-in I thought was irrelevant a week ago neared and I kept praying, kept walking, kept waking up in the night to listen to my body—am I in labor? Or was that just a wishful interpretation of a normal ache? Strangers wished me well as though we were at the threshold of the hospital. I received a couple pointing amused gestures, which I’ve come to expect. People asked about twins. It’s all very glamorous and flattering, my last trimesters. This one I was even bigger. Only a few shirts finished the race with me. I was tired of all the comments. My stomach felt so cumbersome. I was ready. But I didn’t want to check-in and evict the kid at 6am on Friday.

In the meantime a family crisis arose up north. It was good to be with my mom while news broke, though hard for her to be far. As we waited for new life, we all grieved what had happened and where it could lead together. I watched the dissonance of a mother’s love again, something I had watched all my life and had felt now as a mother too—the responsibility, the disappointment, the anguish, and the fierce protectiveness, the love, the physical response to your child’s pain. We recalled a different but a related experience—in which we were unprotected, we were sick, and our story was convoluted and complicated and we felt so vulnerable and at the mercy. A mistake had been made and it was serious, wrong, and upsetting, but not, we believe, worthy of a too-serious, life-derailing sentencing. The flippancy of people’s judgments, of the difference between 17 and 18, of minimum sentencing laws, of racist comments and prejudice, of the struggle for identity and the significance of what is not reported—all of it became personal in new ways, and we ached and held our breath and took it a day, an hour, at a time. And still are, though the first harrowing ones are over.

After this, after our brother and uncle and son was back in his own bed, and Grandpa had had one or two good night’s sleep, Lucas came. At 2am on February 19th, I knew I was in labor. We woke up the doctor, the Sho Sho, the neighbor for a sleepover with the boys, my friend who would come witness his arrival—and by 3 we were walking into the emergency entrance.

I am a quiet sufferer. I’m not one to yell, or sweat, and Ryan blames this for the nursing staff’s lack of urgency in getting us into a room and checking my labor progress. I said I was an 8 on the pain scale but maybe I should have said 9? In any case, by the time they checked, I was an 8 in more ways than one and I was starting to really, truly regret the whole birth scenario again. It was like the last four years of recovering mentally from Asher’s birth was enveloped in a wormhole and the exhaustion and fear found me again, quickly, and there was no where to hide. CRAP.

A few contractions passed and I was a 10. For pain and dilation. Thankfully, doctor-friend arrived just in time. “Push whenever you feel like it. Push through the pain.” The damned shaking had started and I hated the thought of holding onto my legs with my shaking, floppy arms. Seriously, I have to use upper and lower body muscles? But I remembered to curl forward, instead of the leaning away approach I had accidentally with Asher—an unconscious and feeble attempt to get far, far away from my own body. Something about opening my pelvis…lying down…sit-ups…and then…when I was really scared about not getting through it he said, “Okay, one more contraction—push through one more and you’ll meet your baby.” That’s what I needed. With the support of Ryan, my mom, and Tammy, praying and cheering me on, I could face one more contraction’s worth of pushing to get this thing out of my body. Yes, our baby, that’s it.

At 4:10am, Lucas Tyndale was on my chest. The doctor immediately commented on his size, another difference in his reaction to this baby versus the others. He suspected he would be the biggest and he was right. Lucas was a dark, handsome, 10 pounds and 5.6 ounces, and he came at the perfect time. No breaking my water, no whiff necessary; cancel my 6am appointment—we’re already headed to post-partum. I was so thankful and relieved. Thanks, God and thanks, Lucas. Impeccable timing.

Post-birth is such a nuisance without an epidural when a new baby’s on your chest; it isn’t fun and games just because the watermelon is out. As per my request, the doctor showed us the placenta and amniotic sac. Our inner biology nerds (well, for my mom, hers is very apparent as a nurse and bio teacher…) were satiated as we saw a magic piece of a baby’s internal world and growth. Wonders.

With each of his older brothers, we checked in to the hospital at 6am, after a good night’s sleep. Checking in at 3am was quite different. Birth announcement texts were sent to sleeping people. By 7am, Ryan was toast. Our first visitor came bearing coffee. Already, the cloudy perception of time and day and night had started…and I suspect it won’t be over any time soon.

Lucas is a rudy, beautiful kid with a set of lungs. He’s battling some newborn ailments right now that are keeping mom busy online and during her feeding breaks. He needs sun time, naked time, open shirt time and various ointments. It’s quite the regimen he has me on! Just in case we parents start feeling too secure or relaxed about starting over again. My body is steadily recovering and remembering nursing and changing yet again. In two days, it was suddenly without 19 pounds and I literally heard groaning and strange sounds coming from within (organ resettling??)–what a brutal and beautiful thing, this body we women bear.

In the midst of it all, I am trying to soak it up. Soak up the sweet smell of his newborn breath and skin, the soft cushiony hair and head and those heart-warming newborn stretches and reflexes—oh those faces! As Asher noticed, he’s squishy all over, and we are all pretty pleased around here.

Everything isn’t sorted out and easy yet. Sho Sho had to leave two days later and Ryan is in high demand at work. The boys keep going to bed late and I’m pretty sure the floors need to be mopped. Juxtaposed with Lucas’ newborn innocence and mystery is the reality of what my family is walking through and the daunting task of raising boys. And yet, it is a sweet reminder too of love and connection and the steady marathon of parenting. My love for my brother, the first baby in my life, is no less poignant now than it was when I was changing his diapers when I was 13. My confidence in his gifts and future is not less than before; I’m sure of his long game and God’s relentless grace upon him.

As I am forced to sit and nurse, watching the mess grow in my house, as I wait for sunning to happen and skin to heal and the night to become day, I must remember there is time for the other things. We must be patient because this time, won’t be again and we can only do and solve so much. For better or for worse, it is all fleeting. More than anything, I’m thankful and I’m watching. I’m praying and waiting, so glad that I have this story to tell of Lucas’ timely arrival and the light he is already bringing to all of us.

Beauty and Ashes and Forward

There is so much of me that craves beauty.

It is almost a tangible deficiency somedays, when my smile is lagging, when my breaths are pulled taut, when my attention is scattered like my son’s die cast cars across the carpet. The endless ocean of die cast cars…

I cannot even begin to name that hunger when physical hunger often is missed while I am running between diapers, doctors, and dirty clothes. Without real effort, I cannot even begin to identify that what I really want is to see the Beauty Between. In all the crevices of Normal and Sub-par. The super in the natural. That is what I really need. But my senses get dull so easily.

And then I watch a short video about unexpected love and a pulling, exhausting attachment. Or I hear a song that reminds me of Pretty and of the sunshines I keep company with. I witness my oldest speaking to my youngest in a compassionate and tender tone, moments after I consider a day-long time-out. Or I suddenly miss a beautiful friend who passed away two short, long weeks ago. I think about her and the beauty of her generosity, her sassy style, her beautifully-crafted story of resilience and healing.

And these things strike a chord, a reverberating deep chord of the Sacred. Of the Beauty I miss, not because it is not around me but because I am slow and too fast and I think I need to be in the woods to have it. To participate.

It has been a relief-less run lately. Asher’s 6th febrile seizure and his terrible rendition of the flu took me off guard. I couldn’t stop crying one night when his diaper and the day’s events took me back to Guatemala and a particularly desperate time of not knowing what to do about his health. I stared at the Maytag downstairs, telling myself he was okay, it was okay, and I tried to focus on the amazing thing of a washing machine and an extra sheet and ER this time around. Ryan and I are having tough discussions in an effort of discernment and dreams are scary to name and disappointments hurt and distractions demand. We have been thrown into a “child welfare” system and a process and scenario no amount of classes could foreshadow and we are helpless. It is all waiting and responsibility and confusion. Losing Lily has left a hole, even for me on the peripheral. I expect her to drop by and then my heart drops. And her children, no matter how many – and there are many – loving aunties and motherly neighbors they have, have lost their mom. Their motivator, their fan, their hero. And other children will talk and complain about their moms and be sent to school with Valentine’s Day doo-dads from their moms and will not have had to find the perfect size 6 girls dress for their mom’s memorial service. We can mother them but we cannot be their mother. His wife. Their rock.

Beauty, bullets to my ignored heart from the unexpected sources, in the midst of this cloud of welling and numbing, hits me hard and sudden. Fleeting, but reminding me of True and Noble and Praiseworthy and Excellent. And I am crying not because of fear, or even of grief, but just craving. Of recognition and longing.

The pilgriming is hard, isn’t it?

In these days, beauty reminds me that the promise is still coming. That nothing is wasted. That something in me is still alive and creative and wanting more is part of the journey forward. That now is all we have and nothing I am cleaning or fretting over is for keeps.

In these days, with disguised beauty and bulleted beauty and coming beauty, I am trying to remember to stop. To look. I am trying to believe that the heaviest things are not the truest things necessarily. That crying over a Chinese commercial isn’t just crying over a Chinese commercial. That pausing to peer at a die cast car with a four-year-old is worthwhile. That beauty knocks and sneaks in and beauty is even within this fidgeting, weary frame. Because this frame is part of Creation and humanity and there is good and beauty because He makes it so.

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She

The words fail when I am asked what this is like. When I turn to the One we call Father–a familial term–to ask, to believe, for my family–to ask what? to believe what? The words fail when I describe her and this and I wish it were that easy.

My home is sprinkled with signs of a baby girl. We are attached and attaching. We have known of her as long as we have held her, which is to say, not long at all. We do not know how long we will be able to smell her and dress her. How long the honor of comforting her and bathing her is ours. We do not know.

Like most of life, this process of adoption is entering without knowing the location. Without knowing what you are about to do and how much you can handle. Without guarantees.

I know that this could be the beginning of a very long road of finding our daughter. I hope that this is the beginning of a long story together. I know that the labor pains are in the future, rather than the past. I know that the painful contractions of something yet to come and trying to be are going to be ongoing, going to hurt, and may not produce what we think. I know that things will become more intense before we are discharged from this stay. This undefined mysterious stay of Unknown.

It is a beautiful and tender time, vulnerability included. We may not have the words, but we are so thankful. We may not have any answers, but we believe for her good. We have her, for now, right now, and it is our pleasure and a grace. She reminds us that today must be enough and must be significant. That we are not masters of our own lives. That to love fully is to grieve and to risk. And that is life. She reminds me that some of the most sacred parts of life are the ones least accommodating to words, security and definition.

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