Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Her words were a gift

I want to write something about the differences between my first pregnancy, nearly 10 years ago and my second pregnancy, now. I want to write about the kids my husband and I were when we ventured upon parenthood with all the confidence and arrogance in the world; and we found that it was actually the beginning of a long, exhausting, and troublesome road for our family. 

I want to summarize how my daughter’s birth was the catalyst for the most extreme emotions I have ever felt. The intense love for this perfect little girl, the weariness of mothering a newborn and feeling so alone, pride over thinking I could do it all myself (when I really couldn’t), intense anger over the way life’s circumstances began to move and feeling I deserved better, a deep skepticism and feelings of betrayal in regards to a faith I had been blindly following for many years, doubt and anger that God wasn’t working the way I thought God was supposed to work. 

I want to mention the ways our family has struggled. The many joys and sorrows, the stress of moving - making new friends and then leaving these friends, the arguments my husband and I had and the times it felt like our marriage was being held together by a thread.

I want to talk about how, because of where we are today, I would not change a thing. I am deeply thankful for the family we have grown into and for the people we have become. We are far from perfect, but we recognize that we do not need perfection; we need each other and we are better for knowing that.

I want to express just how different this second pregnancy has been. It was an incredible surprise to our family, and we lingered in a state of shock for a fair amount of time. When we finally told our daughter, she responded in anger. And I could relate because I felt angry too. The three of us experienced extreme heartbreak over my inability to get pregnant and it seemed like a mean prank to randomly end up pregnant after we had finally embraced our perfect little family as it was.

I want to share my reflections on the past 40 weeks. With today being my official “due date,” I’ve spent much of the morning comparing this one to the first. Last time, I didn’t make it to the due date. Instead, I faced the weeks before labor in fear, worry, and misunderstanding. I was induced early and it wasn’t until I went through a birth that would give me a sense of PTSD and take many years to heal from that I got to hold my incredible little daughter in my wavering hands. I have no regrets, but I have lessons learned from the past, and I have the understanding that there is still so much more to learn. These past 40 weeks have been full of life and love, hopes and fears, tears and joys … and because we know that we do not have all the answers, we have faced them with questions and hope, and a family bond that I will treasure throughout my life. I have a confidence in myself and a confidence in the people closest to me that brings tears to my eyes as I type this. I believe we can do this no matter what the future holds, and I feel so lucky to be facing the birth of this new child with this perspective.

I want to tell the story of how my daughter, now a tween, has been talking to this baby for months. She has let go of her anger and she seems to be letting go of her anxiety. For the past few days, she has been telling the baby it’s time to come out. The other day I said, “You know, once this baby comes out, it will always be here. It will be part of our family.” She responded, “It already is a part of our family,” and she gave my belly a kiss. Her words were a gift; they were the final piece of the puzzle of how our family is going to embrace this change. 

Pregnancy #1 was filled with the over-confidence and arrogance of youth, blacks and whites, and lots of certainty. Pregnancy #2 has been filled with questions, humility, and an openness to uncertainty. And through all of that, I feel healthy and confident and full of hope. Here’s to the future, come what may.

Monday, November 16, 2015

This sweater has a story to tell.

And my husband decided to strike a pose for that story ...

It began in the summer of 2012 after R's grueling year of kindergarten. It began with boredom and a little over-confidence. After agreeing on this pattern, I promised my husband it would be finished by Christmas.

Then came my first teaching job and boy, did that take a lot of my time! Around Christmas, I explained that it would probably be more like spring or summer ... he would have it, at least, by the next fall.

The next fall, in my second year of teaching, I made a bit more progress, but not much. I brought it to my annual knitting retreat with high hopes of making the significant progress that I did make, but upon returning home, I was knee-deep in research papers and new lesson plans, and well, I kept putting the sweater off to the side.

Suddenly, Joel and I decided to move out of Wisconsin back to the town in which we grew up. We made some big decisions, took some chances, and I was lucky to find another teaching job near my new home. It was a new grade, a totally different curriculum, and a ton of work. I went to the 2014 knitting retreat STILL working on this sweater, and before I left, I told my girlfriends to throw me in the lake if I brought this project to the next retreat.

At the end of each day, I was tired. Whereas I used to knit on long car-rides, or while watching TV, my teaching job was taking so much from me that I just wanted to be still. I started having visions of a cold dip in the lake in the fall of 2015 ...

This sweater, which took me more than three years to complete has seen so much of our lives. It was there when R overcame her biggest fear upon entering first grade. It was there through some long days and long nights of juggling the teacher life with regular life. It was there when we went through many of our infertility heartaches, and it was there when we went through the utter shock of finding out we were actually expecting. It's been with me through this entire pregnancy, contributing to my hot flashes because I decided this sweater was going to be finished before the baby was born - or it would never be finished. It was there with me during the 2015 knitting retreat, when my gracious friends decided not to throw a pregnant lady into an ice cold lake.

And now, less than a week before my due date, it's finished. Look, my husband even threw it over the railing ... like a real sweater.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Happy and Belated 9th Birthday to My Little Girl

Dear Rosemary - 

You are nearly 9.5 and this letter is a bit late. These past six months have been full and wonderful and difficult, and I will do my best to chronicle the months preceding your 9th birthday instead of the months following it. 

Shortly after your 8th birthday, we packed up and moved once again. I worried, and you worried, that this move would be the most difficult for you. You had created quite a life for yourself in the 3 years we lived in St. Croix Falls and I was sad to make you leave it behind. The best you could, you put on a happy face and you looked for the positive ... wisely stopping now and again to lament all you were leaving behind.

Once we got to our new home, this backyard certainly made the transition easier. The summer felt short and it went fast, but we had such a good time as a family, we spent time with old friends and family whom we now live closer to, and we were fortunate to have St. Croix Falls friends come and visit us. You were nearly always wearing that silly, happy, friendly smile on your face.

Soon, the start of a new school year was upon you and the nerves began. True to your normal back-to-school ways and activities, your stomach aches and sleepless nights began in August. You spent about a month worrying about what life for you would be like at a new school. And then you went on to have what I believe has been the best school year of your life. You made instant friends, you excelled in your classes, and I proudly watched you grow in confidence. It was the least anxious school year you have ever had. You let your silly, anxious self shine and it was such a relief to watch.

As you grow older, I grow in my admiration of you. I admire your bravery - the amusement park rides you are willing to go on astound me, the way you fearlessly cannonball into the pool and swim like a fish impresses me, and the kindness that exudes from you when you're around friends and kids who are different from you humbles me. I admire your courage - while you were nervous about the move and the new school, you held yourself together in an impressive way. It never occurred to you to beg to stay in the old place; you accepted this change in your life in a more mature way than many adults (myself included) might have handled the same thing. And I continue to admire your silliness - the natural jokes you make, the way you find humor in almost every situation, the energy and fun that you bring into our lives.

It is my constant hope and prayer that I encourage and support the incredible person you are as you continue to grow. I know I have my moments of impatience and the more stressed I get, the shorter my temper tends to be. I thank you for having patience with me as I continue to learn how to be your mom. I thank you that you still hold my hand and cuddle in close.

I want to thank you for your gusto, your honesty, your love, and even your support. I am a better person because of YOU. I love you like crazy and I'm so happy you are a part of my life.

The future holds many changes and uncertainties, and I have truly come to believe that, together, we can take whatever comes our way.

“I tell you this

to break your heart,

by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world." 
- Mary Oliver

I love you, kid.

~Your mom

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Come What May

These days the words ruminate in my head and are rarely written down. There are hopes and there are fears. There are worries and there are moments of acceptance and peace. One thing I know for certain is there is so much I do not know.

Learning to let go has been one of the major journeys in my life, and it's brought me to a place I like. A foggy future once terrified me and now when those terrors try to creep their way in, I get to remind myself that uncertainty is good; it keeps me open to possibility; it keeps me patient and occasionally optimistic. Things tend to work out.

And so I sit here on a Wednesday afternoon finally updating the blog that I've been meaning to update for many months. I am behind on many things. My new yard is not beautifully landscaped like I had hoped, my kitchen cabinets and much of the woodwork in my house is only partially painted, I haven't written my daughter's 9-year birthday letter, I still have grubby carpet, and that sweater I've been knitting for three years? Well, at least the end is in sight.

I sit here with my belly literally large in the 3rd trimester of what was the biggest-surprise-ever pregnancy and my teaching career momentarily resting on a shelf. My daughter is at school, the windows are wide open, there are traces of fall in the air, and the air is so still. The only noise I hear is the clicking of my fingers on the keyboard. I feel as still as the air around me. I feel, in this moment with all the worldly uncertainty that surrounds me, that this family is in a good place. Come what may.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There was beauty in the stillness

I've spent a number of years in search of a feeling and I never, ever thought I'd find it in a quiet suburban home in the town of my youth. I've been a bit aimless. I've been wandering through life trying to be important and tall. I've been feeling critical, skeptical. I've made judgments and I've been judged a lot.

My family moved this summer. We bought a house. We fulfilled the permanence part of my Poetry & Permanence plans for 2014. If my count is accurate, we have had 8 addresses in our 13 years of marriage and my daughter has had 5 addresses in her 8 years of life. When I add to that just how much we've changed, learned, unlearned, grown, and outgrown, it's sort of a miracle we are all still in one piece.

But, perhaps we are not in one piece? Perhaps we have left pieces of ourselves in every place we've been.

So we moved this summer and it was the catalyst to another whirlwind in the whirlwind of life. We settled on a house that needed some good old-fashioned love, we rode our bikes, played with our friends, went swimming, and enjoyed the summer as best we could before we settled into new schools (a new district for the child and a new teaching job for me). It felt a bit like sprinting. We were forgetting things, we got tired, the house was - and is - a perpetual mess. And then it was Christmas.

Christmas this year was low-drama and high-excitement. Our new house is so much closer to our family and friends that I felt giddy about the prospect of spending so little of my days in the car and so much more of my days being present. I felt joyful about my home and the memories we will make in it. On Christmas Eve, I am certain that I was more excited about Santa's impending arrival than any of the children in my presence.

And then it was Christmas morning.

I woke up first. (This is the exact opposite of my normal modus operandi.) I tip-toed downstairs and brewed a fresh cup of coffee, took care of the heat and the Christmas tree lights, found myself a blanket, and cozied up in the stillness. And realized at that moment that I got my feeling.

There aren't words. I won't even try to be poetic about it. I gazed at the colorful lights in the quiet house on Christmas morning, I ruminated over the truth and the untruths about all this incredible holiday represents, and I realized I have it. That something that I've been looking for.

I'm sure I'll leave more pieces of myself inside and outside of this place. I believe in acknowledging the messes and facing them head-on. I'm sure it won't always be coming up roses (and even in this current moment, there are so many weeds). But, today, where there has been so much skepticism, I have hope. Where there has been much despair, I have joy. Where nothing - absolutely nothing - has turned out like I had planned, I have laughter and thankfulness. Where I have wanted to slam the door on years past, I would like to give this one a big hug and kiss.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Happy Birthday, 8 Years Old

Happy birthday, Rosemary. 

Today is your 8th birthday and you are currently standing with one foot on the coffee table and one foot on the couch, talking on the phone with your friends Winter and River. The way you move and communicate is remarkable. You almost never sit still. In the time you got on the phone, you’ve been in the kitchen, the bathroom, the family room; and in the time I wrote these sentences, you moved from the couch to the basement door which you are now swinging open and closed, open, closed. Don’t you ever get tired?

This year, of course, you’ve grown a lot. You’ve grown more compassionate and giving. You’ve grown more loving and independent. You’ve grown more sassy and strong-willed. You’ve grown … well, you get the idea.

Some things this year have been hard. We are facing a move out of the house we’ve been renting for the past 3 years and the uncertainty has been a bit much for you (truth be told, it’s been a lot for all of us to face). We’ve noticed in your life that you tend to get some really nervous habits (or as we’ve been trying to call it “extra energy”). Things like consistently clucking your tongue, clearing your throat, going to the bathroom, and chewing on your hair (and pencils, crayons, clothes …) have had an on-again/off-again place in your life. It’s always been that one habit stands out during a particularly stressful time of life - the end or the beginning of a school year, for example. Usually when we’re facing change. Currently all of these habits have come to the limelight at once, because of our impending move and the uncertainty of where that will be.

We’ve been talking with a counselor, reading books, and doing what we can to help you learn to appropriately channel all this extra energy and learn how to best deal with your worries. In the process, your dad and I have learned a lot about ourselves and see that you have managed to get some of those traits from us (surprise, surprise).

Your dad used to gnaw pencils down to the lead and I remember my parents constantly on my case for chewing on my hair. I’m learning that I also get pretty overwhelmed in the face of stress and have a habit of feeding my worries. And your dad, oh your dad, really likes routine. So we try to be the best parents we can. At times, we find that we are either lacking the ability to help you, or more often, that we don’t have much patience in spite of ourselves. It’s hard to stay cool when I notice that you chewed holes in your clothes; but it’s even more difficult to know how big your worries feel and know that, in a lot of ways, I’m powerless to help you feel better. 

I believe that you are a strong, happy, loving, silly, confident girl and that you will continue to grow into all these traits, and even more. Perhaps in some ways it will be because of our parenting and in other ways it will be in spite of it. For now, all I know to say - and I say it over and over again - is that I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you for the things you do - like skiing, reading, playing, singing, and writing. But even more, I’m simply proud of you for who you are. Inside and out.

Your dad and I will never stop trying to do all that we can to give you love, guidance, and support. We will never stop praying for you, and never stop trying to get out of the way and allow you to become who you were meant to become. We will continue to have our good parenting moments and an occasional step or two (or three) into the “bad parenting” section. Because we’re human and it’s the way God made us. 

For now, I’m thankful you’re still holding my hand. I’m thankful you still cuddle with me on the couch and want me to comfort you when you’re sad. I’m thankful for your honesty, thankful you tell me so much and are comfortable with it. You are exactly the person I want you to be. Keep doing such a great job!

Love you forever, *Mom

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Everyone Should Read

I've been meaning to do a book review post for ... are you ready for it? ... the last year and a half. There is simply no way I can write about every book I've read in the last year and a half, so we'll go with some favorites.


Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

This book was a Christmas present to my daughter from a very dear friend. Little did she know that we're big fans of Kate DiCamillo, an author who also hails from Minnesota, and who wrote other greats such as The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie. Flora & Ulysses is the story of a young girl named Flora who is obsessed with comic books, much to her mother's dismay (you see, her mother writes romance novels). Flora happens upon a squirrel who nearly gets killed by an out-of-control vacuum, but emerges a superhero - which is something only Flora recognizes because of her deep affection for the comic book. 

In general, it is a story of true friendship, of having a cynical heart but opening up to the love around you, of dealing with divorce and also with parents who are deeply focused on their own issues, and feeling like your mom actually loves a lamp more than you. Near the end of the book, Flora's mother is overcome with emotion at having found her baby, and it takes Flora a few moments to realize "her baby" is Flora and not the lamp.

This book had our whole family laughing, and I enjoyed seeing all the sub-plots work their ways into our days and our imaginations. At one point I told Rosemary, "I know sometimes you think I'm mean, but I promise I will never, EVER try to kill your superhero squirrel;" and I was pleased to have the opportunity to say such a ridiculous sentence. 

I highly recommend this book, and hope to see more adventure of Flora & Ulysses in the future.

Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Book club chose this book and I wasn't sure I was going to read it (so much to read, so little time), but for some reason the cover pulled me in. This work of historical fiction focuses on the mind-boggling concept of the Orphan Train. A train that took orphans west from New York on a train. The trains would stop in certain cities where hoards of people would be waiting to choose an orphan. The adopters had to promise they would raise the children well and send them to school ... and that was it. The orphans were handed off to their new parents without a background check and with rare follow-ups. As you can imagine, a few children were lucky and others were incredibly unlucky. 

This book was not as good as I wanted it to be. It bounces back and forth between the stories of an older child whose parents died in a fire and a modern child who is stuck in the foster care system. The first child eventually found herself on an orphan train and was bounced around from place to place until she finally found a family who treated her well, and the modern child had a sad story of being in a home where the foster parents were just in it for the money. 

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and it's worth the read for the history. The author clearly does better with historical fiction than plain old fiction because the modern parts seemed trite and poorly thought out. However, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the fascinating phenomenon of the orphan trains and think the idea of two hardened orphans finding peace and comfort in each others stories was, at least, a good idea.


The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

Bonaventure Arrow was "conceived in love and possibility" and he brings healing and wholeness to those in his life who are open to it. It seems futile to write a review of this book. There is so much depth to it that I don't want to minimize any of it. It's one of those stories that makes me marvel at the author's ability to weave so much together with such craft. The many characters were real to me as I read them. I laughed, loved, hated, hurt, and cried with them all.

Read this book.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another book club read, Wonder is The story of a boy named August Pullman who was born with a rare genetic condition that leaves his face misshapen. He's had so many surgeries in his life that his parents have chosen to home-school him until the 5th grade. In reading this book, we get to experience Auggie's reluctance to begin school and journey with him all the way through the last day. The book is told from Auggie's perspective, but also switches to the perspectives of his friends and family. It's truly an eye-opening story that will give many young adult readers a beneficial perspective of what it must be like to be so different. 

I read this book to my 9th grade reading students and appreciated the empathy and compassion that exuded out of them. 


Well, there are 4 books I've read lately. You can rest-assured there have been many more and hopefully I'll sprinkle in some more reviews here and there. This year I've had to take a bit of a break from book club. A phrase I keep saying is "so many books, so little time." You see, by the end of April I will have finished my 3rd semester class in the past year. Add that to teaching, parenting, and the rest of life and sometimes the good books get put on the back burner.

These days I'm reading books, books about the books, books about teaching the books ... and sometimes I don't have the energy to read another book just for fun. I'm currently reading the following books: 100 Essential Modern Poems compiled by Joseph Paris, Saved by a Poem by Kim Rosen (in my future, there is a blog post about what a joy it has been to teach poetry this year), The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket, and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.

There was a time when I was a 1 book at a time kind of reader ... I can barely remember what that was like. 

What are you reading these days?