Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Waiting for Cardinals

95 days separated the deaths of two people who were instrumental in making me who I am. One was completely unexpected, the death of a friend who probably never knew how much she influenced me. Gone, at 31 from an aortic dissection. I spoke at her funeral (click here). The other I was in denial about, although I could have read the signs of my grandfather’s days coming to an end. In and out of the hospital for months, and a little less “him” every time I saw him. I spoke at his funeral, too, recalling memories that made me feel so special, and the certain way he always smelled of coffee when you hugged him. 
            Both deaths stung in the way that grief does – utter sadness just for the plain fact that you will miss them. Denial in the fact that you won’t see their smile or hear their laugh. But like a river, life rolls on. My daughter is growing more and more aware of my subtly expressed grief. She recognizes when I am sad and pats my back and wipes my tears and tells me, “Don’t cry mama, it’ll be okay.” She and my husband keep me busy and keep me from melting down on days when the grief is too real to bear. I suppose in some ways my family is simply a distraction from the truth.
            The truth is, I’m incredibly sad. When I am alone it is palpable…coursing through my heart so hard I get sick to my stomach and find it hard to function. (I am not alone very often, which I am grateful for. My daughter keeps my spirits high and my heart and mind busy most of the time.) It is still unbelievable that I will never see these two people’s faces again. When the realization hits, mourning comes full force. It comes at work when I’m shutting off the lights of the shop where I work, or in the mornings when I’m alone doing my paperwork in the spring sunlight. I feel their loss so plainly.
Some nights I wake from dreams of memories, or worse, plans that will never come to pass and weep in the darkness. Sleep comes irregularly after those dreams and I find myself desperately hoping to see their faces again in slumber. But when I long to see them in dreams, just as I long to see them in real life, they do not come.
Instead I look for their signs, subtle and probably completely erroneous. But it helps me get through my days of grief. I talk about my loved ones and their signs constantly. My daughter does too, probably because I have introduced her to the signs each person holds for me.
For my friend Lindsey, signs are songs we shared together. Pink clouds. Sour candy, especially when I just find the wrappers. Anything Lord of the Rings, and our random early 2000's pop culture favorites. I was gifted some of her clothing and when I’m feeling particularly needful of her courage and closeness, I wear them. I dream of her constantly.
For my grandfather, the main sign is cardinals. Red birds that dotted his yard when I was a child, appearing there even on cold winter days. His other reminders are fruit trees, hymns he loved (they are sometimes in my head when I wake from dreams), piano music, and the smell of coffee. His vegetable garden is close in my memory as I run black dirt through my hands planting with my daughter. I hear his voice distinctly when I do something for or with my grandmother. In a breeze or through the wind, I hear him thanking me.
 I find myself waiting for cardinals and pink clouds, searching my pockets for sour candy wrappers and scanning the radio for something that tells me they’re nearby. Clinging to something that will help me remember what it was like when I had them both fully. Waiting for signs of their existence as now all proof lies in photographs and memories. Waiting for a laugh that echoes through my head. Waiting for someone to tell me they understand, but the truth is, no one possibly could. My relationship with both Lindsey and my grandfather were my own, and no else knew what it was like exactly. That is why I have chosen to write about them. In some way it is to help me figure out what I do now with all of these feelings. In other ways it is to just simply tell everyone that I’m still hurting, and I don’t know if I will ever be completely the same.
I am beginning to define my own meanings of birth, life, death, and the afterward. I hope my afterward is a place where it is always June. Where, when the occasional thunderstorm rolls in, I can turn on my memories like I'm in a movie theater, in perfect clarity. The rolling thunder becomes words of those I loved. The lightning flashes of laughter. Memories I had forgotten play – perfect, alive.
And maybe if I’m lucky, the ones I loved can find me after I’m gone, wandering in my summerland full of clover meadows, waiting for the next passing storm. Or perhaps my spirit will choose to come back some day, whisper a message, leave a sign for someone who loved me, watch a little, or become a wind in their hair. I don’t fear death for myself. I only fear it for those around me. I love my people, and when death comes again, I know the burden of the sadness that will come with it. That is the only thing I fear.
Out of my open window I can hear the redbird in my yard. The thing about signs is that when I need them, they’re always there for me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dear Lindsey, I spoke at your funeral

Lindsey Louise Lewis

I wanted to write about you today. About how I spoke at your funeral.

And it was exactly what I needed to feel like the Lindsey I loved was represented. 

I hesitated, after your sisters invited people up to the microphones. No one moved. And I heard this voice say, cmon, you know I’d do this for you. (Sorry Lindsey, how could I have hesitated?)

So I got up, and grabbed the mic and talked about you; introduced myself as your best friend in high school, which was strange because I never thought of myself that way. You had a few other girls who you spent time with, and a lot of people in your large social group. But after a few days of reflection after your passing, I realized that I was most myself around you, even into adulthood. That’s rare. I’ll claim best friend. 

You wrote me letters, thanking me for my influence. Ha! If only you knew how crucially important you were to me. To my life and my beliefs, my ability to stand firm on what I saw as important. It was all because you taught me to be myself unabashedly. You were very firmly yourself, and by and by I became that way too.

I told the story about how I leapt off the cliff of a rock quarry with you- I can still smell the water dripping from our hair, feel the freckles on my shoulders emerging in the midsummer Kansas sun. It was one of those days that I felt infinitely young. No worries. No responsibilities. Leaping into oblivion with my friend.

I told of how you kept me sane during my wedding, and how I will always remember the dance you choreographed with my bridesmaids. You danced around me in a circle, your obnoxious purple dress floating about. You danced and sang to me and calmed my nerves - it was impossible to be nervous when I was hysterically laughing.

I told of how you came to my baby shower. You drove for hours to come, and I did not expect to see you. I opened the door of our little house and you walked in with a smirk and immediately rubbed my belly. Smiled so big and said “Jill!!!” Like only you could. You wrote me a card, gave us a high chair. You were there when I didn’t expect you, and when I needed you most.

Then I did something I think you would have loved...
I asked the packed audience who knew the last scene of The Breakfast Club? When that fist goes in the air while Don’t You Forget About Me plays- and I made us put our fists up for you.

You are unforgettable. Your life was LIVED. You saw the world and fell in love and made friends and saw your favorite bands play. You loved to dance and sing and eat and drink. You loved to stay up late and make bad decisions. You loved to give gifts and make people feel special and important. You loved to fight and argue and make your point known. You loved life! You loved those who few others could love - the basketcases, the jocks, the criminals, the brains, and the princesses.

You would have loved your funeral. Sour candy, open bar, 100 chicken nuggets made special for you by the owner of McDonalds, your best friends talking about your, the playlist your sister made, the Obama and Legolas cardboard cutouts, the pink flowers, the Love Spell perfume I brought for you (which one of your sisters immediately sprayed all over herself), the packed house, the awkward reunions. The tears, the laughter, the slideshow. I won’t ever forget how utterly Lindsey it was. 

And I could have sat there, afraid to say anything at my best friends funeral. But I hopped up and knew you would guide me. Knew you would let me know what to say and I was right - it was easy. I shook afterward and our friends held my hands to get me through it. And I cried and cried. And I got in my car afterward and drove home to the soundtrack of our youth and wondered what it was like where you are now. 

I can’t say I’m ok now, but I’m better. Thanks for the nudge, Lindsey. I’m glad I got up and talked. I’m glad I knew you. I’m so sad you’re gone.

The truth is, I won’t ever be the same because you made me different to start with. Thank you. Send your messages, send the signs, like the pink clouds on my walk last night and the songs on the radio. Rest. Enjoy the weird afterlife that no one is sure of. I’ll miss you. I’ll see you again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Happened When I Let My Toddler Do Everything Herself

The Big Girl Moment

“Mama let me do it!!” My two year old yelled, wrenching her shorts from my hands. I got up and left, frustrated beyond belief of the past few weeks of the terrible twos.

I couldn’t seem to get through a day without frustrating my child and myself. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, we just couldn’t find a groove lately. We clicked so well during her baby hood. She and I were like peas in a pod, reading each other’s cues and blending like water and soil. 

But toddlerhood... she just wanted to do everything herself. 

My husband and I sat down together during her nap that afternoon. He said, “Why don’t we just let her do everything herself when she wakes up?”

“What?!” I replied.

“She sees you get dressed, alone. She sees you shower and go to the bathroom, alone. She sees you put on your shoes and comb your hair and get a snack and pour your drink. She wants to be just like you.”

Just like me? The lady who walked away in frustration just hours earlier, tears in my eyes from feeling clueless as a mom?

Just like me. Something clicked. She was no longer my baby. She is almost three. We have taught her from the beginning to do things on her own. Told her how to do it so she can be big. Is this the moment when we need to just let her do it?

That evening we ate dinner on our back deck. We used the China my grandmother bought us for our wedding- around $40 a plate. Phoebe was done eating and hopped down from her chair. She grabbed the plate off the table and I made a move to stop her.

My husband held his hand out- “Let’s just see what she does.”

I paused and watched. She put the plate on the deck, let the dogs lick it clean (yes we are those people), picked it up, opened the sliding glass door, walked into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher, put the plate in, and closed it back up.

I was speechless.

At that moment, I let go. No more babies in our house. We had a big girl. I let her do more and now she is capable of so much more than I thought:

She gets both mine and hers toothbrushes ready in the morning

She dresses herself and asks which feet her shoes go on

She washes herself with a purple bath poof and puts her own soap on

She combs her hair 

She pours juice and milk for herself

She walks the dog and holds on to his leash pretty well

She picks out her bedtime books

And the biggest one... she’s officially potty trained, two weeks after we let her be big.

Are things done perfectly? Nope!
Are things done fast? Nope!
Are we frustrated? Nope!

She has to be a person someday. We chose that day to let her just be herself. Two months shy of three, and she’s more independent than I could ever dream. But guess what... we don’t fight anymore, and neither one of us are in tears. 

I let go. She stepped up. What a wonderful child- I’m so happy my husband told me to just let her do it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Baby No More

I won’t ever see my baby again.

This was made clear to me yesterday, as my toddler kicked me in the face as I loaded her into her car seat and fought me while I tried to brush her teeth, sending her toothbrush flying.

I told her I was very sad. That I wanted her to be nice to me, and that I didn’t want to sleep with her that night. My exhaustion level was so high, after a few super physical days at work, and Phoebe in the care of others, which meant she just wanted me (and to nurse all night; some reason I have lost the ability to sleep as she does so). I was burnt out and touched out and so, so tired.

I put her in her toddler bed next to our big family bed and put her soft blanket over her and turned out the light. Her gentle crying was so sad. She had been such a toddler, and I just needed a break.

It occurred to me then: I won’t ever see my baby again. Her soft full baby cheeks are gone.

Her toothless smile is gone.

The rolls on her ankles and elbows and wrists and thighs have lengthened out.

She no longer needs me to move about the house. She sprints.

She can feed herself and requests specific foods.

The snuggles are fewer, and harder with her long legs.

She nurses still, but not the soft baby nursing. It’s comfort for her still, but it’s different and she sighs loudly, “no milk, mama.”

I lay there in bed thinking of how fast these three years have gone and wept. I could not stop the tears. And Phoebe cried too, mostly because she didn’t get what she wanted. 

I invited her into our bed after about 10 minutes, longer than I ever would have separated from her in infancy. 

She said, “Don’t cry mama. It’s ok, sweetheart. Let me wipe your tears.”

And she took her little hand and wiped my wet cheeks. 

Hugged and kissed me. 

Offered me a pickle to make me happy. 

Comforted me for mourning the loss of the baby I once knew.

I let her nurse and she hummed a lullaby I sing to her, one my mama sang to me.

And I realized then... I will feel this loss my whole life, as each new phase comes. I will (maybe) mourn her toddlerhood.

Cry when my little girl becomes a young lady.

Mourn her childhood at her graduations, and wedding, and someday if she becomes a mama, I’ll really cry and say with absolute truth: “Where did my baby go?”

I needed that cry, I now know. And hope to get a good nap in today to revive myself. But I think of the things that I did that made her who she is today... they all stem back to her baby hood.

I comforted her, saying “Don’t cry, baby. Mama’s got you. It’s ok sweetheart. Let me dry your tears. Do you need something?” And snuggled her, nursed her, let her into my bed...sang her an old family lullaby. 

It’s funny how I turned into the baby who needed some love. I have a feeling she’ll keep surprising me, loving me when I need it most, even if it’s her orneriness that made me grumpy in the first place.

Cycles of life. Circles of remembrance. I hope I can remember this phase... I’ll likely be sad when I realize I’ll never see my toddler again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Our Bed

It's the first cold day of autumn, and as I woke to a 60 degree house I found myself grateful for (yet another) controversial parenting choice. My warm, snuggly toddler was cozily snoring wrapped in my arms.

The window was partially open last night, and our attic bedroom got chilly. Phoebe's soft purple blanket enveloped the two of us. We woke up to cloudy breath but warm toes. 

Yes, she still sleeps with me. I say me because my husband works nights, and so Phoebe and I, like a mother rabbit and her kit, snuggle up in our big bed and sleep. She sleeps with me touching her, and often I wake with her head on my shoulder, her little body fitted against mine, like she remembers being part of me once.

Phoebe around 18mo, and me.

And now, I write this on my phone while we nap. She naps with me, too, and always has. When I'm at work my husband naps with her. Since she was little I took the advice to "sleep when the baby sleeps" very seriously. And I developed a habit of curling her up in my arms, laying flat on my back, and letting my newborn sleep on my chest. Now as a two year old, she sleeps with my arm as a pillow.

Even her first night out of the womb, she has only slept contentedly with me. And rightfully so... she was never alone before she was born. Why should she be alone in the big dark cold world? She can be with mama.

Cosleeping... the stories of tragic infant deaths are not to be taken lightly. I did all my research and follow all the guidelines. (See them here: If it doesn't work for you, or you want to sleep alone, or you want to sleep train (I never have and don't think I could, it's too traumatic for me) then you do you!

She has never slept at night in a crib. I tried a bassinet and failed there too. Cody got her to nap a few times in her crib but I never could. When we moved we got rid of her toddler bed- her bed is our bed.

I go to sleep with her every night at 8-9pm, missing those sweet parenting freedom hours that I've only ever heard about and never experienced. Did you catch that new Netflix series...? Rented a RedBox that's R rated and watched it when your kids went to bed? Maybe I will, too, in 5-9 years. Am I sad about it? Nope. I work full time, remember? And need these hours to reconnect with this baby.

My life has slowed significantly, and attachment parenting is not for the faint of heart. But I won't get this time back with her, and I'm hyper conscious of how fast she is growing up. I'm desperate to be part of every moment possible; the times she's deep asleep, dreaming, in the place between sleep and awake, or drowsily welcoming the cold fresh dawn with me by her side. Her bed is our bed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What it's REALLY like to Breastfeed a Toddler

If you're reading this, you probably have one of two mindsets about the title of this post:

1) Ew what the heck?! She's still breastfeeding?! I'm gonna read this post and see how weird she is.

2) Preach mama, I'm (secretly) right there with you.

This lovely tasteful portrait of us nursing was taken by T.Marie Photography. I chose the black and white version so it's milder for those of who are still SHOCKED that we're still nursing.

 Here is my disclaimer: It is not my choice to breastfeed, it is my daughter's choice. She is a person who is allowed to make decisions, too. I am supportive of my daughter and her positive choice to continue to nurse.

If you'd like to explain to a 21 month-old about how she should wean because it's "weird" and she's "too old," go for it. Expect a wildly flinging tantrum and perhaps a smack in the leg.

Go ahead though, tell her about how it's not "normal," or how she's using her mama as a "pacifier." Try it. See what happens if you tell her she can't nurse. It's literally her favorite thing in the world.

Phoebe nurses 4-10 times a day. She nurses during her nap, she nurses to go to sleep at night and during the night while we share our big bed together, she wakes up  and nurses and goes back to sleep. She nurses before I leave for work. She nurses when I come home from work. She nurses while we watch Frozen (Let it FLOW, let it floooow!) and she nurses at the zoo while I'm wearing her in our Beco carrier.

She has no qualms about it. She asks in her own special way - signing for milk, or this funny little noise "Hoo-hoo? Poo-hoo-hoo?" or just pulls at my shirt until I oblige. I don't mind. Here's why...

 She rarely gets sick. She's had maybe 6 illnesses in her 21 months of life. Yay! Breastmilk morphs to what your child needs. Get ready to have your mind blown: Her saliva tells my milk what germs she's fighting and my milk changes to include antibodies that fight those germs. What...Yeah. Rad.
(And in case you were wondering: no breastfeeding does not cause tooth decay. Sorry haters.)

 She's starting to be a picky eater, and I want to keep those little baby rolls as long as possible. It's a MYTH, folks, that breastmilk has no nutritional value after a year. Does cows milk still have nutritional value regardless of how old a person is? Yeah. No difference. She will nurse before she will eat new foods most of the time. That's cool. Lots of calories (and antibodies, remember?).

 It's one of the few times she's calm and collected. She settles down into my lap, gets all comfy, pulls my shirt and unhooks(!) my bra, then she starts nursing and hormones release that calm her, and she's soothed. I have literally nursed bumps and bruises away. Tears fall a lot less when she's able to nurse. Her calm-down hormone is important at this stage, too, and her lack of tantrum throwing is a testament to that.

 I believe that she needs to nurse to reconnect with me because I work full time. I spend 40 hours away from her during the week. To me, her nursing says "Mama, I'm still here, I just wanted to you know. I still need you, even when you're gone all day. Are you still mine, even though you've been away? Prove it, Mama, let me nurse." I love those quiet, still moments with her when I'm off and we both need to relax together. It's priceless and I can't replace it.

So those are the sweet and good things...

But breastfeeding a toddler is lonely and nerve wracking. Think you had it bad when you were a newbie-nurser and you had to go in public with your newborn? Guess what - people are usually much more accepting of newborns. Try being in public with a toddler who's saying "Poo-hoo?" and pulling your shirt down. I try to discreetly nurse her, but I still get some looks.

Plus sometimes she kicks me... but usually by accident.

No one has said anything to me about nursing her - neither positive or negative - in public. Maybe I'm just a master and no one can tell, or maybe people are too surprised to say anything. Regardless, the nerves get me sometimes. And the loneliness is so strong. I don't know another mom with a child my age who is still nursing. I don't know another mom with a child my age who nursed past a year, actually.
(If you're reading this and you're hiding your breastfeeding toddler, come out of the woodwork so we can chat!)

I still have to pump. I get some anxiety about it. Past 18 months, I can't donate to the milk bank anymore. I do have a lovely donor who takes my pumped milk for her little, and that makes me feel really good about being able to pump. But it sucks. Seriously. I hate taking my lunch to do it, I hate the parts and the noise and cleaning and storage. It's gotten old. But if I don't pump, I hurt. And if it don't pump, I lose my supply, and I will not do anything to jeopardize our nursing relationship. I'd love to quit (which is why I'm going to see a lactation specialist next week. Even nursing vets need help!).

Mostly I feel like people who don't say anything but know I'm still nursing Phoebe have a few things in their brains, like...
"How strange." or "That's just too much." or "That child is spoiled."

Y'all... please remember, Phoebe is more baby than she is grown up. She's not even two. She knows a few things are certain and true in her life: Mama and Dada love her, and her Mama will nurse her no matter what. I'd like to think it's establishing a relationship that we will cherish for the remainder of our days.

So what's it REALLY like to breastfeed a toddler? It's wild and weird and unexpected and wonderful. Did I expect to nurse this long? Nope. Do I mind? Nope. Do I love it? Sure - I love her, and she loves to nurse, and those two things go together so I shall embrace it.

Will I wean her? No. I won't. But I'll let you know when she's done, as I'm sure that will be another beautiful story to tell.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Liberal Mother's Thoughts on the Next Four Years

The next four years I have work to do. But it won't just be signing petitions or marching or voting. I have a woman to raise. And a strong set of ideas to help me do that.

I heard an 11 year old boy on NPR on Inauguration Day. His mother introduced him and he talked briefly about why he was a fan of Donald Trump. I couldn't help but wonder how that mama told her son about the Access Hollywood tape of Trump belittling and blatantly disrespecting a woman. Did she ignore it? Did she sit him down and say, even though you like this man, what he said is not okay?

I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. We will have many moments like this over the next four years; when our judgement is tested and our children look to us for answers. If the highest ranking person in our country is cruel or rude or nasty, how do we tell them that it is not okay?

Answer: we simply tell them. People are not perfect and neither are our elected officials. My family is preparing to explain tough topics of race, class, and religion to someone who can't even form a sentence yet. But it is vital to explain these things to her young in order to raise a strong proud woman who leans left.

What a privilege to have the vital years of my adolescence spent under a president who represented a large majority of my political ideals. I am grateful to be alive for such a time when I felt secure and happy about the leader of our country.

As I grow and mature, so do my politics. I now realize that each regime change will cause turmoil and I have a 50/50 shot of being confident in our leader or not, and that will not change my entire life. How exhausting.

Under Barack Obama I had four major things happen that personally made my life better: federal student loans allowed me to go to college and Obama's policies allow me to pay those back based on my income; I was able to buy a home with little down payment and tax breaks as a first time home buyer; insurance paid for a breast pump so I could feed my child when I am away from her; and a federal mandate makes it illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers and made it mandatory for me to have breaks to pump at work. A sincere thank you to the administration for those things.

I am liberal. And for me the next four years will not be so fun, as I'm sure the past eight weren't so fun for a lot of conservatives. But I'm also a mom to a little girl who will be going into kindergarten at the next election cycle.

And I've realized something.

The president or whichever political party is officially in charge of our country isn't officially in charge of how I live or what I believe.

I am a liberal. And my daughter will be raised with the politics that I believe in, and that means teaching her that while we respect our elected officials, we do not have to agree with them.

I have a duty to her to uphold the principles and beliefs I hold very dear.

It is a parent's job to teach their children the values and morals of either political fence. Our children are individuals who, when the time is right, will decide for themselves what they believe. For now I will raise her with my beliefs and politics. When she gets older, she can decide for herself what she'd like to believe. In our family, we are strong in our convictions.

Here are five things she will know, regardless of who is president, about our world and our family:

1. Every person is valuable. Regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, class, rank, or religion. In our family, everyone is treated with kindness and respect.
2. People love who they love. We are LBGT friendly. Everyone deserves to love who they wish. In our family, people are allowed to be who they are.
3. Women can do whatever they dream to do. Want to be president? Let's make it happen, baby girl. In our family, there are no limits.
4. My religious views and relationship with whatever deity I believe created this universe are my own. We respect the views of everyone because those ideals are sacred. We are too small to determine who is right and who is wrong. In our family, we embrace diversity and ideas because they're important to grow.
5. If we don't like the ideas of a person in power, it's okay to let them know. It's not okay to disrespect anyone for their views, but telling them we disagree is just fine. In our family, it's okay to say, "My opinion is different than yours."

Work over the next four years? Sure. But guess what... my work with this little girl and raising her right are more important. She and I can change the world if we continue this path of liberal unity. I believe we can. In our family, my immediate world is most important.