For Now…

In the future, my boys might roll their eyes in embarrassment if I try to kiss them goodbye. For now, Owen clings to me, begging me not to leave and Aiden hugs my neck and whispers in my ear, “When you come back, I want to hold you. And you’re the best Mama in the world.” I will not let the rush of life in the morning rob me of these treasures.

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In the future, I may be able to say goodnight from across the room – may even be lucky enough to get a hug or a kiss, before my boys retire to their rooms to do whatever teenage boys do before finally going to sleep. For now, I will not begrudge the long, loud bubble baths, the need to clip 40 nails that are not my own while making a game of counting the clips, the endless re-readings of the same favorite stories, the stalling for water or covers or deep meaningful questions at the door because they just don’t want me to leave, or the sweet nothings they call out before I go, “I love you! I’ll miss you while I sleep! When I wake up, I wanna hold you! I love you more!”

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In the future, when everyone has their own schedules and responsibilities and friends, I may have a quiet dinner alone. For now, I will happily cook as many meals as possible for us to eat as a family even if it means the cycle of dishes is unending, the process of getting every bite into my two-year-old’s mouth is a battle of wits and wills, the milk is always spilled, my food is always cold and up for grabs, the floor is always sticky, and chaos envelops us. I will long for the chaos later, so I will not wish it away today.

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In the future, my boys may fall down and get right back up because they’re too big to cry over scraped needs or hurt feelings. For now, I will gladly provide the kiss that makes it all better, the snuggle that makes the hurt go away, the reassurance that time heals all wounds. Because when the wounds are far more complicated, I want them to know that I am a safe place to come for comfort.

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In the future, going out with my husband alone, rather than taking an act of congress and a financial benefactor to accomplish, might be as easy as walking out the door. For now, I will cherish the few-and-far-between dates because their scarcity makes them more special and the thought and planning that went into making them happen will be missed when replaced with the casual, “You wanna go out somewhere tonight?”

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In the future, I may have all the time I want or need to write that article that will finally get me noticed or publish that book that’s on my bucket list. For now, the lives I am helping to build that demand so much of my time, are molding me into a person with a perspective worth noticing. I will not resent the delay because, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – John Lennon

An Early Lesson In Loss

I find myself struck, once again, by the profundity with which small children can handle the serious things of life. The most recent example of this in our home was both heart breaking and faith restoring in the same moment.

Little people can form big attachments. Whether it is the lovey they’ve slept with since they were too small to remember, or the footy pj’s they’ve only been wearing since the weather turned chilly, they throw their whole being, without reserve, into loving someone or something because they have no reason to not trust. They are open and vulnerable. Incredibly strong but weak enough to need protection. Their naiveté is both an asset and a liability that can lead to hurt. And each time the end result is hurt, they inch a little closer to adulthood. These early lessons that teach them that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand are key building blocks that determine whether their adulthood will be clouded with cynicism or embraced by hope. What a powerful witness we bear to these extraordinary little lives! What a grave responsibility to guide them well.

My eldest son, Aiden, got his little black cat, Charlie, when he had just turned one. He is four and a half now and doesn’t remember a time when Charlie was not a special part of his life. They grew up together, really, and Charlie would let Aiden drag him around like a rag doll in a way that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. When Aiden was diagnosed with allergies and asthma, Charlie went to live outside (or in the garage on particularly cold nights). But if Aiden was outside, you can be sure that Charlie was not too far away. They were buddies.

When the family went to dinner two days before Christmas, that all changed in the blink of an eye. Charlie had been hiding on top of the open garage door and became entangled on the outside when the door came down. We were called by our neighbor who was working with Animal Control to take care of the situation before we came home to discover it. I cried through most of the dinner but I did my best to hide it until we could decide how and when to tell Aiden. The timing couldn’t be worse, but we decided to trust him with the truth and let the happiness of Christmas follow this sad news rather than the other way around. After putting Owen to bed, we sat down with Aiden and told him that his little friend wasn’t going to be with us any more. That he had died.

He did not lose control or freak out. He was clearly shaken, but he stayed calm and asked lots of questions. “But, where did he go?” The animal control people took his body, but no one knows exactly what happens to the life inside the body when it stops living. “Will he ever come back?” No, baby, he won’t come back. But the time he spent with you will always be part of your life. “What if we got another black cat and named him Charlie?” Another cat would be a new relationship, a new adventure, but it would not be Charlie again even if we gave him the same name. “What did the animal people do with his body?” They will bury it in the ground and, even though his life ended, it will help other things grow. “Do we have a picture of him?” We found a picture and he slept with it and carried it around for days. The next morning he tried to explain the whole thing to his one year old little brother while shoving the picture in his face. “Charlie DIED, Owen! He’s gone, gone. He can’t come back.” Owen ran around squealing, as always, with no idea what his brother was talking about. Aiden desperately wanted him to take the news as seriously as he, himself, felt it. He came back to me and said, “Mama, Owen won’t listen. He doesn’t care.” He didn’t love Charlie the same way you did, baby. You had a special relationship with him, so it’s OK that you care more. And Owen is a too little to really understand.

Now, we can talk about Charlie together without it being sad. We remember the good stuff – like how he was the only cat I’d ever known that would go for walks with his family; or how he liked to stalk and eat cicadas in the summer, no matter how hard Aiden tried to rescue them. Aiden always smiles when we talk about him. He is a brave boy with enough love to withstand even this early lesson in loss. I am so proud of him. I may not be able to shield him from the hurt, but I can help guide him as he weathers it. And he can help me learn to weather it better.

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Disconnected Thoughts On Connection

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If you do not know yourself first, no matter what partner you choose, you will end up living their life along side of them instead of your own life with them.

Don’t fool yourself into living someone else’s life. You’ve only got one. Make it your own.

You can’t mix and match qualities to create the perfect partner. You can, however, mix and match them to create the perfect you – or as close to it as you can muster. That’s the goal.

Rather than searching for the perfect person to make you happy, create yourself to be the person you’d want to be with. Then you may find that this is where happiness comes from, not from outside yourself.

It is fruitless to build yourself up into the person you want to be only to keep it to yourself. Lives are made for sharing. Open yourself up so that others can view the artwork that is you.

Vulnerability is both the hardest and most fulfilling quality you can cultivate. It is the birthplace of connection.

When you do find someone worth sacrificing for, it won’t feel like as much of a sacrifice. (Most of the time.)

If you sacrifice an important part of yourself for someone else, that sacrifice should be made with full awareness and intentionality and should be understood to be temporary. Integral parts of yourself should not be lost, but rather set aside for a time if the needs of another come first.

Falling in love happens too you, staying in love you make happen.

There IS such a thing as love at first sight, although, most of the time, the person in your sights is very, very tiny.

Happily Ever After – Learning to Love the One You’ve Found

This is a blog about finding making your own happiness and learning to appreciate all the little things while they’re happening instead of waiting till they’re gone to fully grasp their worth. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought that I would share something I’ve been pondering lately. Brace yourself, you may not like it. When it comes to relationships, or anything really, there is no such thing “Happily Ever After”. I know this is not a new idea. Most of us outgrow our concept of ‘happily ever after’ very shortly after we think we’ve found it. We believe that we’re mature and self-aware and recognize that relationships take work. But deep down, after so much inundation through fairy-tales and films, self-help books and motivational seminars, billboards and commercials and ads, oh my, we cling to these ideals that breed doubt and plant seeds of resentment. They consistently whisper in our ears, “if this takes so much work, it must not be right.” Or perhaps they cause us to whisper in the ears of our friends who are struggling, in a genuine attempt to encourage or help them, “you just haven’t found the right person yet,” implying that once they do find the love of their life they’ll find happiness… forever after. These latent ideas, stuck deep in our subconscious, lead us to believe that struggle is bad – having to “work at it” is a sign of a problem, rather than a part of the solution. They insinuate that happiness is easy and, by definition, cannot co-exist with pain or struggle. This is poison. And, if it takes root in your thought life, it will lead to bitterness, which, if left to grow unchecked, will turn your relationship doubts into self-fulfilling prophesies. I am convinced that the divorce epidemic in our culture is as least partly due to the fact that people don’t expect happiness to be hard sometimes. Trust me, it is. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s gone. It usually means is growing.

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Too often we expect to find… hope to find… believe we have found (or begin to doubt whether we’ve really found) the “love of our life”, and we hope this discovery leads to remarkable, life-changing feelings of happiness that never take a sabbatical for growth and development. But, more and more, I am discovering that, in all different kinds of relationships, be they significant-others, spouses, or BFFs, it’s not about finding the love of your life. It’s about learning to love the one you’ve found. It’s always easy in the beginning. When everything is new and exciting and every time you turn around you learn something new about this person you’ve come to admire. But what about when everything is old news, surprises are hard to come by, and you know this person so well you can finish their sentences. Or life grows ever-increasingly intense with the addition of kids, a promotion (or job loss) requiring travel or ungodly hours, or the loss of someone close to you? What does love look like then? At this stage of the game, love doesn’t always come easily to you. Sometimes you have to give it for a while before you get it back. You have to study, not what is the most natural way for you to show love, but what is the most natural way for the person you are trying to give it to to receive it. What speaks most strongly to them? As our circumstances change and our lives and beliefs and inner-selves change, we have to re-learn how to love the person we easily loved in the beginning. Yes, we have to be mindful of our own needs and communicate them effectively, but we cannot allow them to be the primary focus of our attention. Self-focus breeds discontent. Other-focus breeds fulfillment. And loving someone who is constantly growing and changing, as healthy people should, requires that the love itself also grow and change to adapt to the person it’s bestowed upon. This is tricky business. And doesn’t always feel happy. But it always builds it.

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And what is the return on all this investment? Why put forth the effort to continually re-learn how to love? Why not just move on when love gets hard or the relationship requires too much work? It will be easy again at the beginning of the next one. I think the answer to that question lies in the immeasurable value of having someone who bears witness to the entirety of the artwork that is your life and having the privilege of being that witness for someone else. Loyalty and commitment afford the unique benefit of having someone who understands YOU not just through the lens of your current life circumstance, but with a broader understanding of who you have been in your weakest moments and how those moments have produced times of shining strength. They see all the layers upon layers of your glorious painting that many who just entered the picture can only see the surface of. They appreciate the light because it’s balanced by the shadow – that they walked through with you. Darkness is where light is born and it’s contrast makes it so much more radiant. I don’t know about you, but for this reward, I am willing to put in the work.

A Trip Down Postpartum Lane

Although I did not fully intend to take a maternity leave from my blog, it seems that scheduling, exhaustion, and emotions have effectively accomplished that for me. The miracle of life continues to be extraordinary for those of us who brought it into being, but for those who did not, I know that reading a daily log of my new son’s eating, pooping, and sleeping schedule may be somewhat less than thrilling. Unfortunately these are the things that consume my days as of late. Combined with an ever-present struggle to maintain my sanity through the fog of postpartum hormones and little to no sleep, it has been hard to find the energy and inspiration (much less time) to sit down and write. But writing is an integral and important part of my fulfillment – and hopefully important to some of you, my readers, as well – so I am making the time. Forgive me if the subject matter is somewhat sub-par. It is where I am now and it is what I have to give.

The involuntary drugs I am constantly hopped up on – otherwise know as postpartum hormones – are a cruel and unusual reality. I know that they are the cause of much of the way that I feel (which makes me feel crazy), but the feelings themselves are real and valid. I cannot simply ignore them. Allow me to give you a tour of what goes on in my head most days lately:

I find it exceptionally difficult to separate myself from my tiny newborn son. Even now, I have his video monitor right next to me as I write and I find myself looking at it at least as much as I look at this screen on which I am typing. For nine months he and I were connected. Two people existing together in the same body but separate. And as much as I hated pregnancy there is an odd and intense separation anxiety that happens when he is no longer part of me. It feels unnatural, in a way, for him to be across the room, even though I know it is, of course, not. I am jealous and possessive of him and feel disconnected from everyone else. Like no one else really understands… or cares. And I don’t blame them. Perhaps my life has changed radically over the last three weeks, but theirs hasn’t. Sooner or later, my new baby is not the center of everyone else’s attention. But most of the time if feel like it should be, darn it!

Everyone treats a pregnant lady, especially a big pregnant lady, special. But almost as soon as the baby is born, all of the special attention transfers to him. And this too feels unfair. I had major abdominal surgery 3 weeks ago and now, for all intents and purposes, am housebound while still trying to care for both of my children. I deserve to be treated special too, right?

And my hubby, whose life has also changed dramatically, has the added privilege of dealing with all of my insanity. This often makes him withdraw, because really, what is there for him to do besides take care of all of our practical needs (which he does superbly)? He can’t even begin to touch everything that’s going on inside me. This, in turn makes me feel distant from him and guilty for making him have to deal with me. He practically had to beg me to go out to dinner with him tonight and let my parents, who are visiting, watch the boys. And yet, it feels so wrong for me to leave the baby, that I almost resent him for insisting we go. Crazy, right? I know.

And you remember those fears I mentioned a while back about whether or not I would be able to love Owen as much as Aiden, who I have adored intensely from the moment he was born? Everyone told me that I would have no trouble. That love multiplies rather than divides. They were, of course, right. I adore Owen every bit as much as I do Aiden. But the irony of it is, I sometimes find myself even resenting Aiden for demanding so much of me at a time when I ought to be able to enjoy my new baby as much as I was able to enjoy him. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve ever shown him these feelings but it’s bad enough that they’re there. Especially since he has been SUCH a wonderful boy since we came home from the hospital and SO tender and loving with his new little brother. It is astonishing and beautiful to watch and makes my heart swell.

Then there are feelings of inadequacy. Like I just can’t handle each new step along the way – leaving the hospital; Jonathan going back to work; visitors coming; those same visitors leaving; returning to work myself… Jonathan is going out of town 3 time in June and I don’t know how I am possibly going to manage the boys by myself while he is gone. I know I will. I have to. I just don’t believe that I can.

And in the middle of all of this, I am having to search for new childcare for when I return to work. This gives me constant and recurring panic attacks. If I have so much trouble leaving my baby with my mom, how in the world will I be able to leave him with a complete stranger in 5 or 6 weeks. I have no idea.

Add to this the fact that this baby, who I am so protective and possessive of, is one giant bundle of need – perpetuating a cycle of nursing, diaper changes, gas pains, fitful and broken sleep, and repeat – and you have the recipe for a perfect storm.

I know that all of this will pass. I had many of the same feelings after I had Aiden, perhaps to a worse degree. But when you are in the midst of them, flooded with emotions and hormones that you can’t control, it is sometimes hard to remember that life will return to normal. A new normal perhaps, but normal nonetheless. So in case any of my friends are planning to come see me anytime soon, bear in mind that this is the me that exists on the inside – even if what you see on the outside is remarkably held together. And if this inside me is too scary, I completely understand. I’ll let you know when the fog clears. If not, come help me weather the lonely craziness and I’ll try to keep the monster at bay. Besides, Owen is so incredible cute and wonderful, that seeing him is worth braving me ;)