I wish I could give you the memory I have of you tonight. My wild, tiny three-year old girl. It was one of those nights that I would relive forever if I could. Your hair was hanging in two messy braids, whipping around as you ran barefoot across the weedy grass. The sun was big and low, a giant peach sitting on top of the pasture. The air was perfectly warm. Perfectly cool. That temperature that is so perfect that you can't tell where your skin stops and the air begins. Like you could just reach out and swim in it.
We were out watering the raspberry bushes. You always want to help. You shimmied your fat little thumb down over the end of the hose and water sprayed up everywhere and you laughed and laughed and laughed, your face dripping wet. Before I knew it you had stripped down to nothing but a baggy pair of underwear and you were running under the hose, hooping and screeching, so pleased with life.
Soon it was time to put the chickens up. You kicked your dirty little foot in their direction and said, shoo! shoo! while they sauntered back into the coop. You ran in real fast behind them, tippy-toeing around the mud to check the box for eggs.
I stared down at you as we walked back to the house. Like a faithful pup right by my side, face plastered with the most contented smile. The orange light was climbing the trees. Your hair laid down in the wind and then stood back up again. Leaves fell from the old sycamore tree. And I felt so full. Full to the brim.
The realization often strikes me of how fleeting this all is, and when it does it stops me dead in my tracks. And I just marvel. Marvel at how adorable you are, those big words coming from your tiny mouth. Marvel at the amount of love my heart is able to manufacture. Marvel at the way your bright soul illuminates mine every single day. Marvel how through you, my sweet girl, I have felt God's love over and over again.
Here's to another year of that.
(Parts two and one, here and here.)
It's been three weeks since you came. Three weeks full of yawns and cuddles and shuffling around the house half blissed-out, half delirious. Any coherent thoughts that form rise and then burst like bubbles just before I can get them out of my mouth. Sleep deprivation is in full swing. It's the reason I washed Stella's Cinderella dress with our towels and now we all look like we've been glitter-bombed after we dry off. And the reason I walk around and forget where I'm going and why. And how I managed to misplace no less than ten things before noon today. But girl, you have been so worth it. Your silly faces are sweeter than sleep. And somehow the memory of your birth has remained unscathed in my postpartum fog brain. It was a day I hope I will never forget as long as I live.
My eyes shot open around 5:30am. I felt different in my body somehow. Like something had shifted. Like something was starting. And then I felt that first contraction. It was unmistakable. A feeling that I had forgotten about but remembered as soon as I felt it again. I laid so still, heart pumping fast, instantly energized thinking please let this be it. PLEASE LET THIS BE IT. Not only was I so excited to meet you but you were getting so heavy and strong and I was ready to get you out of my belly. (That is a gross understatement. I think I could write a book on submitting to the Lord's will and timing after surviving those last few weeks of pregnancy. They were not very fun. Not very fun, ha. Understatement.)
I watched the sky go from black to orange behind the blinds. I let an hour pass and six or seven good contractions before I sat up and woke your daddy saying, PRAISE THE LORD! I'M FINALLY IN LABOR! We spent the next hour in bed giggling like little school girls all wrapped up in blankets guessing how long this was going to take, and if you were going to look like me or him, and if you'd be a girl or a boy like we were all convinced of. (Right now as I type this you are laying on a pillow in my lap wearing pajamas that say "mommy's little man"...if that tells you how convinced I was. Sorry about that. And about the pajamas. Everything else is dirty and hey, you can't read yet.)
When Stella woke up we went downstairs and made waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, a favorite around here. We didn't want her to know that today was the day (anxiety makes her wet her pants and get clingy) which wasn't hard to conceal because I wasn't in very much pain. The contractions were starting to get closer together though so I snuck upstairs to make some phone calls. First I called Diane the midwife whose excitement made me feel giddy all over again. She said to call her back when they were coming every 3 - 4 minutes and lasting at least 45 seconds. Then I called Aunt Erin who had offered to come and pick Stella up when I went into labor. She said she'd be there around 10 to take her on a little play date with all of the cousins. Then I called NE and papa to tell them the good news. NE was sick with the flu and showed up a little bit later sporting a surgical mask. She said she wouldn't miss it for the world and I felt so much safer having her here. Papa was really nervous about us having you at home instead of at the hospital, but he came over too to show us support and to help your dad give me a Priesthood blessing. Your dad was cool as a cucumber and gave us a very Spirit-filled blessing of comfort and protection. I felt so much peace. Not an ounce of fear. Which was an answer to my many, many repeated prayers.
Once Erin and Stella were gone we got to work washing the sheets and getting the bed ready. First our good sheets, then a waterproof cover, then the cheap sheets. We cleaned up the dishes and got in the shower. Whenever a contraction would come I would yell "START!" and your daddy would time it using an app on his phone. They were about a minute long now and coming every three minutes. I got out of the shower and called Diane again. She said she'd leave right away and I remember thinking, I hope she takes her time, because even though the contractions were long and frequent they didn't hurt as much as I'd remembered.
Diane showed up around 12:30 with Shannon, her nurse, and Michaela, the midwife-in-training. They got to work setting up equipment, checking heart-rates, blood pressure, temperature, and checking my progress - 7cm at that point. Everyone (including me) seemed surprised that I was that far along and still feeling so good. When I was 7cm in labor with Stella I was huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf. This was going so much more smoothly already.
It was a cold, windy afternoon and your dad made a fire downstairs for us to lounge around while we ate lunch. My water hadn't broken yet so I was kneeling on some folded up towels, just in case. I had my back to the fire and NE was holding hot washcloths dipped in lavender oil on my lower back, which felt like heaven. We all talked and ate and told stories and laughed. I was starting to feel things intensifying so we decided to move the party upstairs. The sun was coming through the back windows of the bedroom casting large, rectangular patches of light onto the floor. I picked a sunny spot near the window and dug my toes into the warm carpet. I held onto the side of the crib and swayed my hips back and forth during each contraction, trying to relax myself completely. First my forehead and jaw, then my neck and shoulders, then my chest and arms, and finally my lower belly and hips. I could feel myself tensing up in response to the pain, but as I consciously released my muscles I felt the most incredible surges of endorphins swimming through my body. It became so intoxicating. I found myself wanting more contractions because I knew they'd be followed by another wave of endorphins. I watched the sunlight through my eyelids and swayed back and forth and smiled.
I couldn't tell you how long I stayed like that, but at some point Diane asked if I wanted to be checked again. I did, and climbed onto the bed. She said I was 10cm and 100% effaced. My water still hadn't broken, but she asked if I wanted to try to push you out. I said, sure, I guess. This was new for me. The last time I went through this, my body pushed the baby out all on its own. The only way I can describe it is a "reverse vomit" where it felt like all of my muscles pushed downward violently at the same time and I couldn't have stopped them if I tried. But this time I was laying on my back and when a contraction came I would push as hard as I could. I could feel you coming down as I did, but as soon as the contraction was over I could feel you get sucked back up into my belly. I kept at it for a while and started to get really tired. I decided to have Diane break my water so we could get this show on the road. She did, and immediately I felt that crazy urge to reverse vomit. I flipped over onto my hands and knees and holding your daddy's hands really tight I let my body take over. And when I say take over, I mean TAKE OVER. The sounds that came out of my mouth were akin to a wild jungle animal. Maybe like a lion roaring as he rips into a gazelle, or something. It was completely involuntary and hilarious and if I wasn't otherwise occupied I think I would have stopped to have a good fat laugh. Every contraction made my body squeeze you out a little further, like a tube of toothpaste. After a few pushes I heard Diane say, "one more and your baby will be here!" I waited what seemed like an hour for the next contraction to come and felt you slide right out. That feeling! It is the mother of all sweet relief! I wanted to collapse into the pillows and cry for joy. But before I could they passed you like a little football right up through my legs and I was staring down at your tiny face while you cried and cried and cried. Your daddy pressed his forehead against mine and said, "IT'S A GIRL!" and I said, "NO. WAY." and we laughed and cried and laughed some more.
You were here. Maggie Jane.
In a crazed effort to turn her into the woman I wish I was, I signed Stella up for ballet classes. And although she undeniably prefers dragons, cowboys, witches and the like to the typical little girl obsessions, she loves it.
On Tuesday mornings her smile is a little bigger and her morning chatter is dripping with extra exuberance. She lets me wet and brush her hair with unusual compliance. She recites her "ballet rules" from her car seat. Don't be a shy girl. Be a super good listener. Do everything my teacher says. She skips her way up the stairs and greets everyone with the obnoxious salutation, "HI GUYS!! I LOOK SO PRETTY!!!!" From the observer's window I watch her enthusiasm quickly turn to brow-furrowing focus the moment class begins.
Watching a two-year old learning how to do ballet bears a striking resemblance to a baby animal teetering on its legs for the first time. There is an element of sublime cuteness in the which you find yourself making involuntary cooing noises, coupled with that almost uncontrollable urge to rush out and lend a steadying hand.
The child looking around puzzled at all of these adults, wondering for the first time how in the world everybody got so coordinated. Sticking her little tongue out in fierce concentration as she searches her brain for the control switch to move a certain limb in that certain way. And beaming with pride when she gets it all figured out.
I can't help but see myself in the bewildered face of my little girl. A young mom navigating these waters of early parenthood. Looking around at everyone else thinking, I'm going to have the only kid that still wets her pants in high school. Relentlessly second-guessing my intuition, my mothering abilities, my reactions to things.
Instead of wishing it were otherwise, I'm trying to relish these moments of raw insecurity. Enjoying this slice of humble pie. Knowing that confidence will someday replace bewilderment, the pie will eventually be eaten. These feelings of complete vulnerability never last very long. But today...wobbly as ever.
This morning I was dreaming of my husband in 9 minute increments. Compulsively hitting the snooze, forcing my eyelids closed and summoning all of my brain power to bring his face back into focus. These business trips of his are killing me slowly and the short weekends home are finishing me off. Another Monday. I will survive.
Our baby is kicking hard now, making my whole belly move. I sat and watched it for a while before getting out of bed and marveled at the prospect of a new life. At how life begins. At how this little person, unknown to us now, will soon have us completely captivated and utterly in love without even trying.
And how that fact alone gives me hope in the human condition. We may be slaughtering each other in Syria and dragging each other down like ruthless animals in the political arena...but people all around the world today are having babies and loving them.
Hallelujah for that. And for all of the other people around the world who are overflowing with love and who wish to have babies to shower it upon but can't for one reason or another. Hallelujah for that, too. That love still exists. The pure and selfless kind that people freely give and never get back.
Two precious little babies joined our family this past week. And for reasons only God can explain, one was allowed to live and one was called back home after just two short days. It's got me thinking a lot about hope. About how underneath all of the religious controversy, the who's right and who's wrong, the political incorrectness of it all, lies the real reason religion exists: to give people hope. There is a tangible strength that comes with belief, real feelings of comfort and an abiding peace that comes from trusting that there are reasons, even if we aren't privy to them yet. That there is indeed a loving Father up there orchestrating this whole life experience. Someone who has our best interests in mind. Someone who gives love freely. And we can feel it if we just believe.
Many prayers going up for my cousin Annie and her family as she buries her sweet little man tomorrow. And many prayers of gratitude for another healthy girl born to my sister Kami and her husband. Another Monday. We are so blessed.
I was well into my 20th hour of labor when I heard this voice for the first time. It was my own voice, but much older, more confident, calm and self-assured. The type of voice that you don't question, just trust. It came at a point when the escalating pain had begun to pop the seams of my concentration. I could feel myself on the brink of unraveling completely. It said, BREATHE AND COUNT. So I did. And then it said, IF YOU CAN JUST MAKE IT TO 20, YOU'LL BE FINE. And when I made it to 20 the pain started to dissipate. And with each contraction it would pipe in, OK, 25 THIS TIME, with the authority of a football coach and the gentleness of a mother. And off I'd go a counting...on and on for hours. Until finally, FINALLY I heard the cry of a baby and buried my face in my arm and thought, holy crap, I just survived that.
I had a similar sentiment pulling into the driveway a couple of weeks ago. It was late. The end of a Summer-long road trip across the country and back. Me, my cranky, pregnant self and my hyper little two-year old stuffed into the back seat of a Chevy Suburban for days upon days. This was completely voluntary and self-inflicted and let me tell you what...If you would like to know the exact length of your patience rope, as they say, you should totally give this a try.
So many hours spent in that back seat thinking, I would rather scratch my eyeballs out than play with these dress-up doll stickers for one more second. And then holding her chubby fingers between mine while she fell asleep thinking, what a beautiful, vibrant little soul packed into that perfect little body. And waking up in a hotel room to the sound of her rummaging through the lollipop bag and I'd say, Stella, not right now, and then watch the proud look melt off of her face and a loud, ugly cry take its place. And I'd think, this is exactly how I wanted to start my day. And waking up in another hotel room to the sound of shoes being clapped together inches from my nose. I'd open one eye and say, What in the world are you doing? And she'd say, I just killing a spider or something mom. It's freaky. And I'd roll over and laugh and think, thank you God for a two-year old in my life.
It was the ultimate exodus from the warm, boring little comfort zone I had nestled myself into. And this is what I'm all about. Pushing my limits. Taking myself to the brink of unraveling, breathing through it, and emerging a stronger, more confident person. Someday to become that older, more self-assured version of myself that graciously shows up periodically to help me limp along until I get there.
Our dear friend Erik just completed an exodus of his own. Racing wild horses across the Mongolian Steppe for 10 days. You can read more about his journey here. Beautiful promo video made by Nathan.
Speaking of videos by Nathan...the night we got home he showed me this little number he'd made while we were gone. There's something about a man who has so much creative talent, who can fix a lawn mower, work a tractor AND bake better cookies than I do. All I can say is, I lucked out.
I drove to Grammie's house this morning a little earlier than usual. She had carpet cleaners coming and wanted me to stand in as her bodyguard since her trusty watchdog passed away last week (15 year old Yorkie, 8" tall. Terrifying if you're scared of bad breath) and since I am obviously bodyguard material. The woman is 92 and has way more sass than I do. And she has a cane. All I could do to defend myself at this point is put someone in time-out.
All of this to say I was in the car early enough to catch Morning Edition on NPR, instead of the usual dreaded Diane Rehm show, whose voice I can only stomach for a minute or two before I start grinding my teeth and banging my head against the window. How that lady got her job I will never know.
Today they were reporting on two national health issues - an outbreak of whooping cough in Washington state, and a drastic increase of allergy cases in children born within the last 5 years. The first they explained is from people not getting vaccinated, and then they went on to say that getting vaccinated doesn't prevent you from contracting the disease, nor does the booster shot that they're strongly recommending everyone rush out to get. The cure? Antibiotics. Five day's worth. Although that doesn't help the symptoms or cure you, necessarily, they explained. Next up, the allergy epidemic. Cause? The verdict is still out, but the expert they interviewed said it is due to our "sanitation-crazed" lifestyle. Too much time spent indoors, too much washing with anti-bacterial soaps, and yes, too many antibiotics. He mentioned how the Amish people have virtually no cases of allergies, and said it's because their kids play outside around animals and they drink raw milk...promptly followed by a warning to never drink nor serve your children raw milk due to the bacteria contained therein.
The segment finished and I sat there thinking, WHAT THE?
Is this the best we've got, people? Our doctors and researchers are starting to sound like our politicians. Scared to commit to one answer. Unable to find solutions. Endless finger-pointing. Arguing circles around each other while getting NO WHERE. Meanwhile we, the obedient robots, unquestioningly follow the vanishing whims of their latest "findings".
I was listening to The Shins while painting Stella's room the other day and heard this line:
Since then it's been a book you read in reverse, so you understand less as the pages turn.
Needless to say we are continuing to tediously plan the details of our future Walden-esque life. Adding: one milk cow.