Love and Wine and Difficult Times

Love born of complete necessity and vulnerability, either your own or someone else’s, is rich and full and robust. If it sounds like I’m describing a really good wine, that might be because in some ways they are quite similar. It is the squishing of the grapes that creates the juice. It is the age worn barrels that enhance the flavor. It is the patience required by time that helps it mature. So it is with love. It is the difficult moments when we feel squished to our limits that new fodder for appreciation and respect and care – the building blocks of love – are born. It is through the wear and tear of stressful times that love develops and learns how to survive outside of the realm of romance. And it is definitely through patience and endurance that love gains it maturity and grows to new depths.

Making Wine Island Capri Bay Naples Grape Gathering Men - Part Page From The Illustrated London News. C1842-1900.

One of my most poignant experiences of this truth occurred after the birth of our first son. I had a difficult and complicated 22-hour labor that turned into an emergency C-section. Giving birth, under normal circumstances, is a harrowing experience, but under these circumstances was nearly unbearable. During the two hours in which I tried to push out my fully crowned baby, I burst many of the blood vessels in my face and most of them in my eyes, leaving very little white visible. When I expressed later to my husband that I was pretty sure I got hemorrhoids in the whole ordeal, he simply said, “I know.” There was a whole collection of people that saw all my business and experienced me at my most wretched and most vulnerable. And to finish it all off, I had major abdominal surgery that made it extremely difficult to move, much less accomplish the basic necessities of myself or my new-born baby. I could not use the bathroom by myself or dress myself. I could not bathe unassisted. I couldn’t lift our new baby or even walk without trying to hold my own abdomen together. I felt like I had lost all dignity, beauty, and respectability. But this was a time that my husband looked at me with AWE. He was so tender and attentive and amazed at what I had been through and accomplished in order to bring our new family into being. Rather than losing respectability, his respect for me multiplied in those days, as did mine for him. The love we had for each other in that time, born of my need and his care, was immense and unmatched. I am both terrified and excited to experience it again in a few months.

Just moments after he was born.

More recently, and somewhat less potently, we experienced another example of this type of love birthed from vulnerability. This past weekend (and on into the week) my whole family caught a terrible stomach bug that had all of us, but perhaps most pathetically my sweet little boy, in need of some extra TLC. Although this is not the first time that this has occurred, it is obviously freshest in my memory. And it is truly amazing how much you can push yourself to manage when your loved ones need you. Being five months pregnant, running on very little sleep at the tail end of the holidays, and suffering from the same bug myself, I found, somewhere deep within me, the ability to continue to get up and care for my baby who could not care for himself. And because of that care, even though he is better now, he has been positively glued to my side in a bittersweet appreciation. I cannot even tell you how many times today he hugged my legs and said, “You are a beautiful mama!” “I love you, Mama!” He feels that same gratitude and respect that we as adults feel in these circumstances and this is how he expresses it. It makes the dire reality of the week we’ve just experienced seem a little less terrible. If only it were easier to see the beauty while still in the struggle. Perhaps the more we remind ourselves of these truths the more we will begin to see them as they are happening, through the pain . . . savoring the harsh tannins as part of the flavor that makes the wine great!

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Teardrop Prisms

The last several days have been quite the cocktail of difficulties, stresses, joys, sorrows, and everything in between. They contained such momentous things as discovering that we are having our second little boy, monotonous things as spending 17 hours in the car for a 4 day weekend, magical things as Christmas morning (a week early with family) through the eyes of our son, mournful things as the loss of my grandmother, maddening things as dealing with a toddler who ever-increasingly loves to throw fits, melancholy things as watching our little man have to fight off ear and bronchial infections at the same time, and mind-numbing things as self-doubt about parenting skills, family, success, and life in general. Oh, and did I mention I’m pregnant? I am so physically and emotionally drained as of late that I have been putting off writing in the hopes that circumstances would improve and I’d be more inclined to write something positive and fulfilling. But the truth of the matter is, it is not our circumstances that enable us to be positive people or obtain fulfillment. They are merely the scenery along the path we take to get there. Happiness is a choice we all must make daily, whether our circumstances aid us in the endeavor or not. I say this as much to myself as to anyone else who may be reading and need to hear it. I assure you, I have spent more time crying in the last few days than I have spent laughing and I have not even made much of an effort to the contrary. But it is this acknowledgement, this reminder, that puts my eyes back in focus, and helps me to remember that the tears are prism lenses which, when looked through, can make the world either distorted and ugly or vibrant and beautiful depending on our perspective.

Rather than feeling only the loss of my grandmother and the aching void my grandfather must feel after 60+ years together, I MUST remember the beauty of her life and the peace that is attained through her passing and the end of her pain. Rather than getting bogged down in every fit Aiden throws and sometimes behaving just as badly, I MUST remember that my son is TWO and this is normal and I am teaching him by my reactions how to handle frustration and anger. Rather than worrying incessantly about my little boy’s health, I MUST take advantage of a day at home with him that contains no prior agenda and just play away the pain. Rather than seeing the news about our new baby being a boy as a disappointment because, most likely, I will never have a daughter, I MUST remember all the glorious ways that I adore my son and how amazing it will be to experience that again. If I don’t opt for these brighter perspectives, I will wallow in self-pity and pain and fail to see the radiance of life. Tomorrow, I will wake up, I will adjust my focus through my teardrop prisms, see the wild array of colors all around me, and actively decide to be happy. Goodnight.

Fighting For Fulfillment

A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?”  That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.

But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.