Friday, November 8, 2013

about this time...

baby J, brand new.
Four years ago about this time I was writing this post and putting myself to bed for my first night as a mother.  I can still remember the car ride, the Georgia sunshine, and the sound of my heart rattling around inside my chest in the interminable minute between ringing the doorbell at J's care home and the moment Granny Moon opened the door and ushered us in to the light filled room where Melvin sat holding the baby. Our baby.

I didn't cry that day - it was too bewildering and fast and bizarre and full of feeling for me to even touch my brain to my heart to figure out what was happening.

Tonight, four years later, I sat next to Andrew in the cafeteria of our local elementary school, S on my lap, and watched that same person, the tiny baby we held for the first time in 2009, perform a little play and some songs with the other preschoolers in her class. She stood tall and took it very seriously. She fills up my heart, every day, that magical beautiful life-changing child of mine.
we still got it. photo by JennyJ, more here if you are interested.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So we've had a couple kids for almost a couple years now...

In a little over a month my little S will be the same age as J was when our baby was born. Which is nuts to me. We didn't start saving J's clothes until S arrived, because we have other kids in the building to pass them on to and we didn't know if we'd have another kid, or when that kid would arrive. When the baby arrived, of course we stopped passing things down and started saving them for S. She's wearing those clothes now. Almost every day S is in an outfit that was pioneered by my oldest, especially now that summer is almost upon us and the weather is starting to overlap.

S is more of a climber than J and as a result has been graduated to a big kid bed far sooner than big sis. Keeping a 21 month old in a toddler bed is a bit of a challenge, but it's working. What's harder to wrap my mind around is the lack of a crib in their room. When I'm not being driven insane by bedtime I'm reveling in the sounds of sisterly conversations (they have conversations! with each other!!) that collapse into giggles as soon as a parent sternly opens the door.

So. Almost two years into having two kiddos, what I have learned?  Here's some stuff that so far has been true for us.

The second kid does not get as much attention as the first one did. This was my big fear, one of the top things I fretted about before baby S arrived and in the weeks after we brought her home.  I remembered so clearly the many nights when J was a new baby that Andrew and I stood, stunned by the miraculous beauty of her presence, and watched her sleep. I remember how every time she cried I felt as if my heart was being ripped bodily from me and how I could do nothing except for abandon whatever I was doing and go make it better for her. It wasn't like this with S, in part because I was quicker to remember what different cries were about and how to respond and in part because it is just hard to spend a lot of time staring at one sleeping child when there is a toddler screaming "MOMMY C'MERE!" at you. However, the end result of this was not what I feared. S as a baby was more sociable, independent and content than her bigger sister was - a combination of nature and nurture, but still. Now as a toddler she can easily out-charm big sis to get the attention she wants from anyone, something I try to keep my eye on. Turns out babies don't need all that worship and adoration. (and she still got and gets plenty, just not to the degree only-child baby J did)

The first kid doesn't get as much attention as before either. This is a pretty good thing. The first time J hit her baby sister I was full of conflicting emotions.  J was my baby, and I'd never been as furious with her as I was when she baby. But as she learned appropriate ways to interact with her new sib and I learned appropriate ways to set boundaries I observed some pretty awesome stuff from my toddler that I never would have discovered if she remained an only child. J was actually a great help during the early months of baby S. She was willing to spend time alone looking at books or watching a tv show while I helped baby sleep. Her social skills skyrocketed as she realized that Mommy and Daddy were not the only people who could meet her needs for social interaction - she became adept at commandeering any visitors to our home as her special guests within moments of them stepping inside.  She welcomed her baby sister into her bedroom and learned how to go back to sleep when woken up without any help from us. She's grew up a lot and having a sister has been a big part of the how and why of that.

It's good to have a sister.
Now that S gives as good as she gets J has someone to learn how to fight with who is always around and never gives up. They're learning how to play and conspire together - well enough that I now know to find them immediately if things have been quiet for more than five minutes. It's a sure sign that they're up to something they both know is not Mama-approved. They're a powerful pair when they decide to team up. Yes, sometimes I despair of the squabbles and frequent tears.  My daughters are physical people and we're working on using words not bodies to express ourselves. But if I ever doubt their attachment all it takes is some other kid on a playground or over to visit giving S trouble. J is fiercely protective of her baby sister.

It's also good to get a break from your sister sometimes.
At Seattle's Comic-con this year it just so happened that one day Andrew was there for part of the day with S while I did some things with J and another day he took J without the other two of us. Both days we each had a fantastic time with the kiddo we were one-on-one with. It's a no-brainer probably but that's when I realized that the girls were ALWAYS together - either home with me, Andrew or both of us or at daycare together or off to grandma's house together or being babysat together. They sleep and nap at the same time. With the exception of church where J is in Godly Play and the baby's in the nursery they never get a break.  We've been making a bigger effort since then at giving them breaks from each other and having some quality one-on-one parent time and it pays off with happier kiddos the rest of the time.

We're getting better at this.
We don't waffle around as much. We have clearer ideas about what to do and when to be flexible. We understand that this too, whatever this is, will pass and sometimes that's a relief and sometimes it's sort of sad. Relearning all this with S has reinforced our faith in it being true for J, if that makes sense. Right now, for example, S wakes up every day between 5 and 5:30. No matter what time she goes to bed.  When J was her age and had sleep issues it felt like THIS WILL NEVER END. Now, with S, I'm not happy about the situation but I'm very aware that it will eventually pass. She'll sleep later and better when she's gotten through whatever developmental milestone she's working on. And knowing that about her reminds me that the same is true with J, even though when she hits a rough patch it's likely something we haven't seen yet.

So yeah, I'm stunned to think that in a few weeks J will have had a little sister for as long as she didn't have one. And that from here on out I'll be more experienced parenting two kids than I was with just one. Experience isn't everything but heck, it's not nothing either.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

these are a few of my favorite things

I've been feeling like an extra lucky bug lately, and especially today waking up to a Mother's Day collection of my favorite things - orchids (which I inevitably kill but love nonetheless), coffee, peppermint+chocolate and all the TOS Star Trek movies on Blue Ray.  Spoiled. Rotten.

Mother's Day is complicated for many of us, not that important for some, dreamy for others and just awful for a few. We don't all have our mothers, we didn't all feel loved by our mothers or get to know them, and not everyone who wants to become a mother gets to. And not every mother gets to keep her children close - children are lost to adoption, death, miscarriage, and if we are lucky then someday we lose them to adulthood and all the risks and trials and separations that come along with that.

My brother and I always try to go big on Mother's Day with our moms and grandmother.  Mostly this is because I'm the organizer and I'm crap at remembering birthdays - if only I could arrange for Hallmark to declare my parents' birthdays a holiday and bombard me with emails and billboards reminding me they were coming maybe I'd do better at it. So I want to win at something. But we are overly, richly blessed with motherhood, Ben and I, and I don't want my mother, stepmother, or my Gran to ever think we don't know it.  I lucked out with my Mother-in-law as well.  Not everyone marries into mother-in-law relationship as easy and fun as what I've got. So in the middle of all the complicated stuff I have no problem celebrating all my mamas.

And there is one more mother for whom I am grateful and want to celebrate today, whose motherhood is complicated by a loss I can't imagine, a loss that ultimately made me a mother. The girls and I will sit down every Mother's day and talk about their first mom, make her cards, send her something. And as much as I love my girls with a fierceness and depth that shakes me to my core at times I will continue to pray that someday nobody will have to face the choice, and loss, that Z did.

Wherever you are - mother or not, with your child or without her, with your mother or without her - I hope you find peace, and that you are able to give and receive love today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


 A couple of weeks ago I got an email from my professor/collaborator/friend Mark, letting me know that a paper we wrote together last year had finally reached publication. It's a rather long piece with lots of things to say about the father of existentialism, Christology, and the experience of children in Godly Play and how the former and latter can converse with each other about the middle thing.

Anyway - it's up at The Journal of Childhood and Religion site here. I certainly don't expect anyone to read the whole thing (unless you have a particular passion for Kierkegaard, Christology, or childhood and kids as theological meaning makers) but I'm a wee bit proud of it and wanted you to know.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Rilke poem for the day after an unspeakable thing (which could be any day, depending on where/who you are in the world)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
 then walks with us silently out of the night.

 These are words we dimly hear:

 You, sent out beyond your recall,
 go to the limits of your longing.
 Embody me.

 Flare up like flame
 and make big shadows I can move in.

 Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
 Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
 Don't let yourself lose me.

 Nearby is the country they call life.
 You will know it by its seriousness.

 Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finding words

Birthdaversary cakes
A few weeks ago at a gathering of many friends who are rarely together one of the people in my life who I don't see in person often mentioned that I've "seemed pretty quiet lately."  As someone whose main interactions with me are virtual, she had a point. "I'm doing well," I told her, truthfully. "I'm just processing my hospital experiences differently than I usually process stuff. I've been left without words, at least so far."

Date night - one way we kept our birthdaversary this year
When I last wrote, at the turn of the year, I had the assumption that I would process for a little bit and then have many many things to reflect on here. What I didn't count on was just how full of words my life would be as I shifted into high gear academically. The last quarter of school held the final weeks of my hospital chaplaincy work, my introduction to Biblical Hebrew (hard!!), and my first try at taking three classes without downshifting my two jobs or failing my family. There were a lot of words coming in, and my capacity for turning around and reflecting back out was severely diminished on all fronts. We made it, it went okay. I decided not to take Hebrew for a second quarter.

I'm now a good three months out from my CPE experience, and a lovely spring break full of old and new lady friends, long talks with beloveds, time spent with neighbors eating and laughing, several fantasy novels and plenty of family time away from winter quarter. I turned 35, Andrew turned 33 and our marriage turned 8.  It feels like a good time to write here again.

One of the unexpected consequences of living in a world where CPE is behind instead of ahead of me is that suddenly my future as an ordained person seems close enough to almost touch. I am realizing that after this quarter all my lasts will begin - my last summer as a postulant, my last year in school, my last stretch of time without a weekly Sunday commitment, the last time in my life where I can belong to a congregation the way a layperson does and, as a priest, I will never again be able to. I thought a lot about this as I sat with J in the darkness of the 5am Easter Vigil, about how special it was to sit with her holding candles and how someday it will seem more normal for my children to watch me up front than to sit with me during mass.  All to say, I think the coming year will be a sweet time and for the first time in my postulancy (the period of time I have been in formal training as a future priest) I don't feel like rushing through. I want to enjoy every minute, looking eagerly forward but not in a rush because all of it, perhaps especially the longing and anticipation, deserved to be lived into and experienced fully.
Fire and Water,  near sundown on the first day of Easter

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

That thou canst never once reflect

Last night at around 11:30 pm I got a text from Andrew. Come on up to 9-- in 15 minutes or so.  I smiled and picked up my pager. It was the last night of 2012 and also the last time my husband and I will work simultaneous shifts at the hospital. Normally when I'm working overnight I head to the stiff cot in the chaplain sleep room by 9:30 or 10pm if the pager has been quiet.  It's anyone's guess how many times I'll be woken up throughout the night to answer pages or go to codes, so it's a good idea to start trying to sleep early. Some nights it doesn't go off at all.  I think the record for me is five pages between bedtime and end of shift at 8am.

First pic of 2013
But last night was special, and so I ended up ringing in the new year in an empty ninth floor hospital room, standing on tiptoe to see the peekaboo view of the Space Needle and its fireworks. Andrew was next to me and we stood with each other and the many residents, nurses, and medical personnel crowded into the room. Somebody passed around sparkling cider and another person found a youtube version of Auld Lang Syne to play from their phone. We all tried to be both jubilant and quiet, because new year or not it was midnight in an ICU and there are quiet hours and whatnot, you know.

I usually write a goodbye letter to the  year that has just passed. It's one of my favorite rituals. This year I'm finding it hard to do. Maybe it's that just in the past four months 2012 kicked my butt hard enough that I have no idea what to say about it. Or maybe I need to find a different way to mark the passage from one year to the next.  I have a hunch that perhaps in a week or two - or maybe a month or two - I'll have a much better perspective from which to memorialize this past calendar year.

For now let me simply say this: 2012 didn't have one big moment that changed everything forever but the experiences I have had this past year will reverberate throughout my life, for the rest of my life, in powerful and permanent ways. I have learned so much about my family, my faith, and myself.  A lot of that learning is ongoing, and it still smarts a little.

They say that whatever you are doing at midnight on New Year's Eve sets the tone for your whole new year. If that's true it's okay with me. There was something fitting about beginning my 2013 in a hospital, way up high, holding hands and looking out to fireworks in the sky.