By This Time Next Year…

Her chubby fingers worked with a surprising amount of speed and dexterity as she ripped open the seal on the bag. Chocolate chips poured out of the brown and white plastic, like fat, heavy raindrops from low-lying clouds. She looked around, then up at me, with a mixed expression of guilt and wonder on her too-quickly changing face. With both hands open, she reached down and filled her pudgy little fists with the sweet chocolate drops, then crammed them into her mouth. Something a lot like bliss spread across her face, alighting her dimples, then her snapping brown eyes, completely ablaze.

I watched this, feeling the Mommy mix of love, amusement, and a slight exasperation at yet another mess I would have to clean up today. And then it came to me, by this time next year, she will be at a totally different stage. When I am making cookies, she will want to help. She will still make lots of messes, but she’ll be able to talk more, and to help clean those messes up. Well, maybe a tiny bit. But, all my kids will be completely done with diapers! I am actually close enough to see the light at the end of the Huggies Tunnel.

The excitement of those thoughts were quickly overshadowed by a pulling at the very base of my chest. My children are, respectively, 10, 7, 7, 3, and 21 months. By this time next year, they will be so different. The little faces that beam up at me when I walk in the door will be less little. The chubby fingers that grasp so eagerly around my own, will be longer and less babyish. Their tiny voices will be deeper and sound closer to their forever voice. The voice they will use to soothe their own children someday.

By this time next year, none of my babies will technically be babies. That sentence hurts my heart even as I write it. I know they will always be my babies, but still, they will be farther from fitting in the crook of my arms than ever before. Farther from my trying to teach them how to walk, and closer to walking out of what I have taught them. They will range in age from toddler to tween. One year is so much more than 365 days. It is a leap on a steep staircase, with only 18 stairs, and a very big landing. The handrail of my parenting only goes up so far. In moments like these, it doesn’t seem far enough.

As I changed the baby into another outfit, these thoughts were pushed to the side by the blinking of my phone. My children’s school, again. Yet another day of picking up one of my children early because they were not feeling well. Which is mostly their code for missing Mommy or feeling badly about how the day has gone and needing to return to the safety of home again. One of the three seems to go to the office for this reason at least every other week. They must put on a good show, because the secretary has not caught on and is very insistent about their ailments. The monsoon of chocolate chips would have to wait a few minutes.

Finally home, I was getting the kids settled into our routine of snack and homework, when my husband returned from his work. He took the chair next to me and listened to all the ins and outs of my day. I talked until his throat went dry. Which is when he went to the kitchen for water, or more likely, silence. What followed him to the sink was a scat-like trail that would have thrown Hansel and Gretel off course. He had been sitting in the chair. The entire time I talked, the chocolate chips were being melted by the warmth of his, um, heart.

As I howled with laughter, my three-year old explained to her daddy that the baby had made a mess. A mess that he had just cleaned up with an unusual sponge. We laughed and laughed as we cleaned up the now even bigger mess of our impromptu fondue. And I felt it again, the peace that comes from knowing you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Next year will come soon enough, but it isn’t here yet. Today I have everything I need; my husband, my children, laughter, and even a little bit of chocolate.

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The Hardest Day…

It’s amazing what goes through your head when someone says to write about the hardest day. For me, it was like one hundred flashbulbs going off, at once. All the worst parts of my life making uninvited cameo appearances in my thoughts. It felt a bit like simultaneously ripping off 99 Band-Aids at varying speeds.

There were, of course, the deaths of family members and friends. Painful break-ups, rejections, and profound hurt. The times people have thought things about me that were not true, the times that I thought things of others, followed by moments that revealed a much sadder truth. There have been days that filled me to the brim with shame, or embarrassment, or rage. There have been things lost that can never again be found. Times when I have cried from some secret place so deep inside of myself, that I could not close my mouth to stop the feral sounds of mourning coming from me. I consider myself somewhat of an ugly crier anyway, but I’ll take a run-of-the-mill ugly cry over anguish any day.

Some of these memories gave only a hint of hurt, while others pulled and ached, still impossibly full of pain and a lack of healing. But, here’s the thing. Those days are gone. While there is some residual pain from their goings on, their sun has set. No matter how sleepless the nights following those hardest days, eventually the sun rose and chased away the shadows that lurked in even the darkest of places.

I am here. After everything that I have gone through, I am still standing. Longfellow said that “Into each life a little rain must fall”. My life has definitely had its share of rainfall, like the emotional equivalent of Seattle, or Ireland, but less green. And honestly, there could be clouds gathering that I am blissfully unaware of, even now.

Today however, the sun is shining. I have just planted the first installment of our vegetable garden, with help from some of the cutest kids God ever made. Outside, I heard the birds chirping, and watched as little fingers that share my DNA made the tiniest impressions in the soil, then carefully counted exact numbers of little seeds, and placed them delicately into the darkness of the dirt. I heard my children’s little voices rising and falling with excitement and a hushed awe that we are actually growing something. I felt it, too; got swept up in the hopeful current that they live in, and let myself be washed away with them. Then our minds swam with the possibilities, as we reveled in the knowledge that we are looking forward to something together.

Since I have just come inside from those golden shores, I don’t have it in me to write about a hard day, and certainly not the hardest, though there have been so many. Today, my heart has found a reprieve. I need to enjoy this place of rest. It is, after all, exactly where I have wished I could be, on those hardest of days, when joy feels completely out of my reach. Boring can be good. Happiness is even better.

The hardest days will come and go. May life find me here in between, dirt-smudged and content, holding on to the ones that matter.

A Love Letter to My Most Hated Body Part…

Last week my Weight Watcher’s Leader talked to us about writing a love letter to our most hated body part. She encouraged us to do so, saying that it will help us to let go of negativity and free us to go forward. Skeptically, as I frequently agree to do most things, I agreed to write the letter. To my amazement, the moment it was finished, I felt purged of some secret rock that had been sitting quietly in some dark corner in the pit of my stomach. I do feel more free. And while this is a deeply personal letter, and I am putting it on the great wide open of a conflicted internet, I will do so with abandon. It actually made me appreciate my stomach in a way that only someone in the middle of the ocean can appreciate a life preserver. While this letter may not help my weekly weigh in, there is something to be said of letting go of emotional weight as well. So, here’s to all of us, may we let go of whatever holds us back, and have the courage to grab the hand of what will move us forward. My letter follows:

Dear Stomach,

I have taken you for granted for so long, that I feel unsure of where to start. I will attempt to use my words to give you the appreciation that you deserve. After all, love and gratitude walk hand in hand, where you find one, you will most certainly find the other. So, let’s begin.

Thank you for carrying my five beautiful babies for the first long months of their time on this earth. You used all of your strength to grow, stretch yourself, and protect what matters to me most. Two of my most meaningful memories happened because of you, and literally could not have happened without you.

First, when I was three months pregnant with my oldest child, it was you who saved his life. I remember the accident clearly. The feeling of being pushed, in an SUV, sideways across four lanes of traffic and over a curb. I remember how even before the crash I wrapped my arms around my middle and begged for God to save my baby, even as I saw the car speeding towards me. I remember the incredibly loud silence that filled the space, how everything was in slow motion, but still happened so incredibly fast. I was awake and watching as a fireman named Kelly used the Jaws of Life to cut me out, then asked me questions and told me to stay with him, and the whole time the only thing I could say was, “I’m pregnant.” I remember the neck brace, the stretcher, and the ambulance ride; the looks that the paramedics exchanged over my head. I remember the intern coming in to tell me that I had ruptured my placenta and that my son would be lost, then things going hazy as I went into shock. But then, I remember hope. It came bursting like the sun into the darkened room where they performed a “just to be sure” ultrasound. How the technician left and the doctor came in. I remember how he said that he didn’t know how, but that I was still pregnant. My baby was still alive, and that it must have been the cushioning of my large stomach that absorbed the blow and allowed him to survive. That was the first time that I wept out of gratitude for you.

Almost four years later, I was recovering from the surgery that had delivered my twins. Sitting in the shower, I noticed how loose and empty my middle looked. It was there my husband found me, crying. I was too weak to wash my exhausted body, shaking from medicine and major surgery. It was then that my husband took the coarse white washcloth that was hanging limply from my hand. I felt like a self-conscious baby, weeping at the tender way he took care of me. I watched through tear-blurred eyes as this man’s clothes changed from dry to sopping, saw how this didn’t seem to affect his mothering of me. As I sat there, feeling the first sneaking tendrils of postpartum depression, I said aloud that my stomach was no longer good for anything. It was then that he corrected me, my thin, toned husband spoke the truth about you. He reminded me that you had given us three beautiful babies. He told me that you were beautiful and that he loved every part of you. Again, I was overwhelmed. This time, by what you had done, and by the heart of this man that I married.

Since then you have ushered two more children safely into this world. You have served as my babies first home. You have shown me the truest of hearts. You have revealed the vanity and shallowness of others. But most importantly, you have remained mine. I am so sorry that it has taken me this long to appreciate you, but I do. My eyes are open, and I finally see your beauty.

With Gratitude,

Jess

Awakening (A Poem)

I am walking

Because

I am a dreamer

I have

The courage to imagine

My life could be

Different

To think that

My family will not

Have to bury me

In a piano box

So that the music

Of my life

Can sound much sweeter.

I am walking past

My fears

And hurts

Outpacing shame

And reckless words

My gait is slow

And a bit unsure

Like the buds on the ground

Breaking through

Layers of dirt

I feel like that

As my muscles warm

And the ache that held me back

unravels it’s cold grip

On my chest

Something broken

Long ago, begins to

Come back together

As I sweat

Turning this gray,

Cracked  sidewalk

Into an altar of sorts.

So This Is Love….

The sunlight is trying desperately to break through the clouds on this cool spring morning. The pale cream colored curtains that line our window are still, but glowing with the arrival of a new day. Beyond them, the trees that surround our house are swaying in a magnificent dance, to the almost unheard rhythm of the wind. Birds are singing, a winged choir, turning earth into the grandest of cathedrals.

We are home. You are with me. In this moment, I have everything I need. Our children’s voices rise and fall in excitement over what the day holds, and everything in me joins them. It is Saturday, but not just any Saturday. Today is Easter Egg Hunt Day, but it is also our anniversary. In two hours we will be witnesses to a fine frenzy of children swarming the green covered hills, happy little bumble bees in search of colored dots of nectar. Their little faces alighting with each new egg they acquire, then quickly settling back into determination as they search for the next prize. Later, there will be joyful exclamations at what they have been given, as they open each egg, and see all their treasure of the day pile up, filling the hollow of their brightly decorated baskets.

It is fitting then, that today should mark the day that we stood up, in front of friends and family and vowed to love no other. That today is the day we are purposeful in our remembering the details of our coming together as man and wife, and saying that the hunt is over, we have found what we are looking for. Knowing the greenness of our own grass, and trusting that we have what we were meant to have.

We have spent the last 11 years opening ourselves to each other. Revealing our joy and pain, our hurts and our deepest truths. We have talked and talked until our dreams spill out of us like a secret geyser. We have stayed awake, laughing together in the night, like schoolgirls at a slumber party. We have experienced the joy of holding little babies so new to the earth, knowing that we brought them here. We have fought for this, trudged through the mud and muck of our pasts to make this different.  We have loved enough to change a million small things for each other. We have wept on each other in a sea of grief, clinging to the lifeboat of the other’s arms. We have walked in the sun together and let it dry the rain. We have danced. We have sung. We have continued to do what it takes to build each other into a place that we know as Forever.

Today, we will remember how my Uncle Charlie played Erykah Badu instead of Etta James at our wedding, how we met barefoot at the alter to John Denver, and how we howled with laughter in our hotel at the astounding amount of birdseed that made it’s way into our garments. We will reflect on how we met, and what it felt like to see your destiny for the first time. We will laugh at our younger selves, and invite them along to witness the completeness of  this thing that we have built. And we will remember to look into the basket of our lives and truly appreciate the ways its emptiness has been filled by each other.

Because sometimes Home is another person. Today I celebrate that my heart has found it’s home, in you.