Monday, December 15, 2014

a cool cat

I do not like cats.

Now, I realize that I’m alienating about half of my readership when I say this, but people, I have to be real. Your cats creep me out.

All of them.

Even the ones that you tell me are pretty much dogs. That doesn’t help at all.

Why? Because I’m scared of them. I don’t trust them. I think that they might scratch or bite me. Or hiss at me. And in my book, being hissed at is just as bad as being scratched or bitten.

So the other day, a very scary thing happened in our home. I asked Harriet which she liked better – dogs or cats. She answered instantly, pretty much before I even finished my sentence.

Cats.

Okay. After I wrote “If My Child Marries Yours,” lots of people accused me of trying to force my children into a box, of trying to mold them to fit certain ideals. Those accusations were off base. I try to be very open and cognizant of the fact that my children’s lives may look a lot different from mine.

Except when it comes to cats. 

And here’s why…if my kids have cats in their homes, I will be afraid every time I’m there. Those of you who have cats and know me personally are now thinking, “Is she scared when she comes to my house?”

The answer is yes. A little bit, yes.

And you’re probably also wondering, “Does she hate my cat?”

The answer is no. I love that you love your cat. I love that you and your cat are friends. But the positive feelings pretty much stop right there. And for the record, it's totally okay if you don't like my dog. Oftentimes, I'm right there with you.

So when Harriet told me that she liked cats better than dogs, I tried not to panic. Instead, I cocked my head to the side, masked my panic with curiosity and asked her a question, “Why, honey?”

“Dogs have sharp teeth. Cats are nice.”

I thought for a moment, tried to control my bad mom impulses…and then immediately googled “hissing cat” on my phone.

I showed her a picture of a horrid looking cat baring scary (probably poisonous) fangs.

Crisis averted.


But there is one cat that has survived her change of heart. One cat...and a pretty cute one at that...who has stolen her heart, and for the most part, I'm okay with it.

His name is Daniel. Daniel Tiger.

Those of you who don't currently have toddlers may remember the original Daniel Tiger from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. PBS has recently revived this little guy and the rest of the characters from the Land of Make Believe. And this time around, they're supercharged with bright colors, catchy tunes, and lots of valuable life lessons.

Wow. PBS should pay me for that plug.

source
But seriously, Harriet has learned so much from Daniel and his little songs, such as "when you have to go potty, stop and go right away" and "when something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good." Drop offs at Sunday school are a dream because of the trustworthy lyrics, "grown-ups come back." And when Harriet has trouble sharing, I just have to sing the simple tune "You can take a turn, and then I'll get it back" for her to have a change of heart...well, most of the time.

In the beginning, I wasn't a big fan of Daniel Tiger. He and his parents were a bit too perfect for me. It drove me crazy how his friend Katerina throws "meow meow" at the end of every sentence. And I was annoyed by the fact that Miss Elaina's clothes are on backwards. I even googled "Why are Miss Elaina's clothes on backwards?" more than once. I still can't figure that out. But I did really like one character named O the Owl - the anxious, slightly chubby bookworm.

Go figure.

Harriet dressed as Daniel Tiger while watching Daniel Tiger...and eating candy...and apparently drinking coffee?
It didn't take long for the rest of the characters to grow on me either. And when Daniel's mom had a baby around the same time Gus and Louie were born, I found myself incredibly thankful for episodes focused on concepts like "when a baby makes things different, find a way to make things fun" and "there's time for you and baby too."

Harriet has all of these little songs memorized and brings them out when she needs them. Before getting a shot at the doctor's office, she sang, "Close your eyes and think of something happy." And I've used Daniel's tunes too. When I want to help her become more independent in one area or another, I sing, "Try to solve a problem yourself and you'll feel proud." And when I see her getting frustrated, I'll sometimes use, "When you feel so mad and you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."

But then.

All of a sudden my daughter and this cute little tiger started teaming up against me. Now when I tell her I'm feeling frustrated with her behavior, she insists on doing the little song and dance "When you feel frustrated, take a step back and ask for help." And every time she wants me to eat something gross...which is far, far too often...she'll sing "You gotta try new foods cuz it might taste good." On more than one occasion, I've wanted her to wear something specific and she's insisted on her red jeans and red shirt. So she brings out the classic "Dress up any way you choose. Find a way that's right for you."

Well, can't argue with that, right?

Here's one that happens all the time because Harriet is highly skilled at stalling...especially when it comes to bedtime. "Hurry up," I'll say. "I'm not going to wait for you to build that tower...or put that baby to bed...or make a tiny mark on that piece of paper with each of your 165 crayons." And she'll remind me that Daniel says, "When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything." I mean, what am I going to say? "Oh! Well, in that case, I'll just chill right here and imagine you're going to bed."

I don't think so.

Yesterday, she was playing with my mom and I tried to join in. She sang "When a friend doesn't want to play with you, you can find something else to do." Oh...message received.

She wore this to my grandpa's 102nd birthday party.
Sometimes Harriet amazes me with what she learns from Daniel Tiger. The other day she told me I needed to have empathy. I asked what empathy is and she sang "think about how someone else is feeling...maybe you can help them feel better." Wow. My two-year-old understands empathy.

I don't think Harriet watches a crazy amount of TV. But some days I still feel guilty about plopping her in front of the screen so I can feed her brothers, take a shower or whatever. A social worker friend reminded me the other day that no one has ever come to her for counseling stating that they are struggling with the traumatic aftermath of watching too much TV as a child. Good point...and if she's going to be watching something, I suppose Daniel Tiger  isn't such a bad choice. We were going to take her to her first movie at a theater for her birthday, but the only cartoon available had machine guns in it. Machine guns in a kids' movie. Mind boggling. Watching that crazy trailer made me like Daniel even more.

You know what else I like about Daniel Tiger? It brings me back to the days when I was three or four, watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I loved that guy. So many of us did. And why? I mean, it's kind of weird, isn't it? He was an older, kind of boring man with a monotone voice. The show moved at a snail's pace. The colors were muted, the set was dull, and the music was simple. But you know why I think we loved him?

Because he was gentle.

In fact, he embodied gentleness...something that children don't often get enough of. Something that my daughter didn't get enough of from me today, in fact. Is there a time to be tough? Yep. In fact, there are lots of times when we need to be tough. But there are also lots of times when perhaps gentleness would be just as effective...if not more effective...than toughness.

I'm learning that this week. From Mr. Rogers...and his little tiger friend.

Daniel and a few of his buddies hanging out with the fam in front of their new digs. And yes, that is a custom-painted Murphy figurine. 





If you have a few minutes, check out my "Won't you be my neighbor?" board on Pinterest. It's full of fabulous Mr. Rogers quotes that will change the way you interact with the children in your life.











Sunday, November 30, 2014

cooking lessons

My grandma, who’s in her mid-nineties now, always made us chicken noodle soup from scratch when we were sick. She even made the noodles herself, dropping the egg in a flour nest, mixing and mashing, spreading the dough thin and then cutting uniform strips of yellow…a simple soup, just as effective on a cold as any medicine in her cupboard. 


Grandma and her legendary rolls

I never met my great-grandmother Hazel, but I feel that I know this woman well, all because she and I share a favorite recipe, one for sugar cookies. I bet I’ve made her cookies a hundred times now, and every time I flour my pastry board and set my rolling pin into its familiar rhythm and pattern, I think of her. I picture that photo of her in a housedress, standing next to her kind, quiet husband…the man I named my son for. In my mind’s eye, I see her wispy hair and her scratchy sweater…and I love her.


Grandpa Lewis and Grandma Hazel
My great-aunt Nadine never married or had children of her own and yet she mothered well, both as a teacher and by helping to raise her nieces and nephews as her own. She was strict and not especially affectionate, but the best way she loved us was with her cooking. She died almost a year ago, and each time she comes to mind, I picture her at the stove, stirring Thanksgiving gravy and nitpicking me about how slowly I peeled those sweet potatoes. I can’t think of her without smelling oven-roasted turkey and cinnamon-y pumpkin pie.

My mom is my favorite cook. She makes beautiful food. Whether it’s a Midwestern casserole or a delicately frosted cookie, she somehow makes it look lovely…and taste even better. She has such discernment when it comes to choosing recipes and she treats them as though they are God-breathed, never straying from the original instructions. When it comes to cooking and baking, I’d be lost without her.

When I met my husband in college, one of his four jobs was as a cook in the campus grill. He made a mean quesadilla and an even better tuna melt. He is reckless in the kitchen, substituting this ingredient and adding that one. Sometimes, it flops and sometimes it’s fabulous. But I’ll tell you one thing – nobody makes a better pancake. Nobody.




Andrew’s Grandma Fran is the most careful, precise, patient, well-prepared cook I have ever known. Every autumn, she dons her striped apron and headscarf while heating her lefse grill. And if you’re lucky enough to be there when she does, she’ll hand you a piece of lefse straight from that griddle. You’ll generously butter it and sprinkle it with brown sugar, and you might not ever be the same. When you eat her food, you feel cared for.   

Grandma Fran

I don’t know what hobbies my kids will pick up over the years. They may play tennis, guard a hockey net, build mythical creations out of Legos, command the halfpipe, work magic on the piano, or create meaning out of color on canvas. Maybe they’ll volunteer at the humane society, read every book on our shelves, or go hunting with their dad. And I don’t really care. All of that is for them to discover.

But my kids will cook.

Because in our family, cooking isn’t a hobby. Food is life and cooking is love.

I am by no means an exceptional cook. I am absent-minded and unbelievably slow. I start a recipe, assuming I have all of the ingredients, only to realize that I’m missing about half of them. I’ve been known to distractedly pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, forgetting to separate wet from dry, forgetting to sift, forgetting whether I’ve added three tablespoons or four. But I love it. I love every minute of it. I love the choosing of recipes, the mixing of ingredients and the eating of dough. Especially the eating of dough.

When I show up at a get-together with my almost three-year-old, my seven-month-old twins and a plate of cookies, people ask me how I have time to bake. The answer is always that I don’t. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t fit neatly into my day. But I need it. It’s my self care. And when I plug in my Kitchenaid and click the paddle into place, it kind of feels like dialing an old friend.

And on days when my throat is hoarse from being the lion to my daughter’s zookeeper and I can’t possibly handle fashioning another garden out of playdough, I find something for us to cook together. I put one baby in a carrier, sit the other in a laundry basket on the floor, scoot a stool up to the counter for my daughter, and so begin our cooking lessons.

My husband does the same thing, and those moments are among my favorite to watch. “You sure love eggs, don’t ya, Dad?” Harriet says enthusiastically while he flips them masterfully in the pan and explains how to tell when they’re just over easy, the way they both like them.


With me, she is always the dumper. Always the stirrer. Always the chocolate chip taster. And I tell her about doubling batches and why we put salt in our cookies and how any recipe with yellow cake mix in it is worth trying at least once. We talk about what all of the utensils are called, how to be safe around the stove, and why vanilla smells heavenly but tastes awful. She practices leveling cups of flour, cracking eggs and tasting dough. Especially tasting dough.

Sometimes we have eggshells in our batter. So we pick them out. Sometimes eggs fall on the floor. So the dog eats them. Sometimes there is sugar everywhere and we forget to set the timer for the cookies and we learn that margarine is NOT a substitute for butter. And I start to regret tackling this cooking thing with such a small, distractible, fast-moving child. And then I remember that food is life and cooking is love, so we eat some more dough.


I will never be able to teach my children to cook fancy things. No croquembouche, rhubarb foam garnish, or cheese soufflĂ© will ever come into being in my kitchen. I just want them to know the basics. I want them to know that there’s no such thing as a bad cook – only people who haven’t been taught how to choose recipes wisely and how to season liberally. I want them to know that cookies continue to bake after you remove them from the oven, so you must…you must…take them out before they are ready and have faith that the hot pan will complete the task. I want them to know that the only proper place for a stand mixer is right out there on the counter.  And I want them to know that cooking for another person is a sacred thing, whether it’s a four-course feast or a waffle from the toaster.

Mostly, I want them to know the recipes that mean so much to our families. Great-grandma Hazel’s cookies from my side. Grandma Fran’s lefse from Andrew’s side. Because recipes are stories…stories that families tell with their hands and with their hearts over years and decades and even centuries. Stories that are told to all of our senses and come to rest deep in our bellies. Stories that change so much and don’t change at all with each telling, with each generation. Because food is life, my friends. And cooking? Cooking is love.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

right here


I think I could explode. Seriously, right in this moment, I could blow sky high.

It's been a fine morning around here. My husband let me sleep in til my body woke me up at exactly 8:00. All of the kids had baths today. I labeled some more bins in the playroom. I can't remember what else we did. But then it was nap time for all three. Andrew cozied Harriet into her crib and I fed the boys and put them down.

Andrew took Murphy for a run and I sat down at the kitchen table to read my Bible. Not even two minutes later, Louie was fussing. I returned to his room to help him out. Big burp. Wide awake baby. I tried to bounce him, pat him, coax him to sleep, but his eyes just continued to brighten and I knew we weren't getting anywhere. I laid him back in his crib to see if he would put himself to sleep.

Back to my Bible, my journal and my study book - one about the miracles of Jesus. I took a deep breath, picked up my pencil...more crying from the boys' room.


We went through the familiar routine several times, and I was getting more frustrated with each round. I grabbed my phone with my free hand and desperately typed a text to the women from my accountability group:

Ladies, can you please pray for me? This has been a week where all I'm 
asking for is twenty minutes to read my Bible. Not trying to sound pious. 
I'm just seriously needing even fifteen minutes to sit down 
with Jesus and it's not happening. I'm trying  to do my study right now because 
it's supposed to be nap time for all three of them. And I have been interrupted 
four times in ten minutes. I have also had to stop my boiling water 
for the RAMEN NOODLES that I am trying to make myself for lunch THREE 
times so that I can deal with someone who needs me. How pathetic is that?!?! 
I am getting so frustrated with God that I just keep crying to Him - 
"I am trying to spend time with YOU!!!! Throw me a bone here!" 
Please pray that I will have miraculous patience. 
My throat is full of burning tears.

And it was. I wasn't upset with Louie. I was angry with God. Because I keep trying to be with Him and my life keeps getting in the way. And not just today...every day. I could understand if God allowed the demands on my time and attention to be so much that I wasn't able to check Facebook, send emails, clean my house, compose posts for this blog...but when my goal is to spend twenty minutes talking to and hearing from God and He doesn't give me that window, it leaves me confused...with a throat full of burning tears.

It's not just a time thing either. I just got my first real, grown-up study Bible. One with maps, diagrams, a concordance, and commentary that fills up half of every page. I love it. I had been using it for only about a week when Harriet splattered bright orange butternut squash soup on the pages.

And my prayer journal...about every third page is covered with scribbles. Sometimes prayer feels like scribbling. But these scribbles are not of the prayer variety. These are the type of scribbles that happen under the table while the offender "needs privacy." I thought that was code for "I'm trying to poop" but apparently it's code for "I'm trying to do exactly what you told me not to do."

What are you trying to teach me, God? What's the point of this craziness? Why does it sometimes feel like my kids are making it impossible for me to know You well? 

I knew my faithful, faithful sisters were praying, but the situation wasn't changing. So I started over -  nursing Louie again, gingerly placing him back in his bed. 

Silence.

I sat down at the table and not even half a second later, the dog was barking at me, wanting to come inside. How long does it take to let a dog inside? Maybe five seconds. BUT IT WAS THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING! 

I sat down again. Got my marching orders from Kay Arthur. Flipped to Malachi. Then to Isaiah. Tried to wrap my frazzled brain around the prophecies. About three minutes after I let the dog in, Gus was crying. Nap time was over. 

I stood in the kitchen with a talking, happy baby in my arms, trying to breathe through the frustration I was feeling. Andrew, who was finishing up some work in the garage and knew nothing of the battle that was raging in my heart, must have seen my tears through the window, because he came inside and with few words, took Gus into the living room.

I sat down at the kitchen table yet again. My Bible, my journal, my study book, my pencils...it was all there. But all I could do was cry. I pressed hot palms against my eyes and sobbed outloud, wiping tears and snot on the sleeves of my sweatshirt, until I was done.

I opened my book and read the same sentence for the eighth time. I felt a little nudge from God, telling me that maybe I should write instead. So that's what I'm doing, and while I still feel sad and confused, I no longer feel like I'm going to explode.

---------------

It's been nearly a week since that combustible Saturday, and the things I wasn't ready tell you then, I can finally tell you now.

I was holding Louie in that not-dark-enough room, about to set him down for the third time, and I just wanted to scream. And Jesus said quietly...always quietly..."I'm here too, you know?"

My eyes closed slowly. My chin touched my chest. "Yeah...I know. But I don't want to meet you here! I want to meet you there with my tea and my Bible and my colored pencils!"

And again, that same truth, whispered ever patiently into my stubbornness, "But I'm here too."

And He was. He was deeply, deeply there. With me and my boys in that room. He didn't need tea. He didn't need colored pencils.

And over this last week, with the gift of time and perspective, I'm realizing that accepting Jesus' invitation to meet with Him in the midst of life's chaos and constant interruptions...Well, it's kind of like going on a date with the love of your life...to Chuck E. Cheese's. He is still Him. And you are still you. But rather than basking in the candlelight and the violins, you are surrounded by flashing lights, electronic noises, and the combined smell of bad feet and stale pizza. And you just have to work a little harder to focus on the gift of time together, right here.

What's your right here?

Maybe it's a windowless cubicle on the forty-second floor.

Maybe it's an overfull, underfunded classroom.

Maybe it's a cold, sterile hospital room, completely devoid of hope.

Maybe it's the dorm room you share with someone who doesn't respect you.

Maybe it's a home where the conflict never seems to end and the the voices never seem to soften.

Maybe your right here looks a lot like mine - a loud, messy, sleep-starved house where the menial tasks are endless and the little voices always seem to be calling your name.

Can you hear Him whispering to you? Is He telling you the same thing He told me?

I'm here, too. Even here. Seek me, my precious child, and you will find me.

Every day, I make my best attempt at setting aside time to talk to and hear from God. Sometimes He gifts me with a time of quiet stillness...like right now, when I am able to look up from the table to see a big, fat woodpecker outside my window, doing his bizarrely beautiful woodpecker thing, and I'm able to smile at this moment I'm sharing with God alone, and praise Him for his sense of humor and creativity. And other days, I don't get that time. And those are the days that I have to look a little harder for Him...in places that sound like whining toddlers and smell like dirty diapers. But even there...



...even here, He will always, always be found.




Thursday, November 13, 2014

friendship and infertility

Here's the second half of the two-part series about supporting friends through infertility. Enjoy this guest post from my treasured friend Ashlee, one of the dear ones who walked the road of infertility with me. Here's the story from her point of view.


On September 12, 2013 at 12:03pm, I got a text from Em.

I know you are at work. Call when you have a minute.

Em & Andrew had started on the path to pregnancy several months prior, and a text like this does something in the heart of a friend who has felt the ups and downs of infertility. My first thought was strangely hope filled: she’s pregnant. But instead of letting the excited anticipation bubble up in my heart, I held it in with control, excused myself from work, and called her immediately. Keep your voice steady, I tell myself, be ready for whatever the news.

She’s pregnant. And it’s twins.

Even as I write those words, my throat tightens and my heart so quickly goes back to that day of release. When, again, our prayers were answered. I am tempted to say we fought hard for this day, but I think the real fight was within ourselves to find patience and peace in the waiting, and to learn that love is not about commonality as much as it is about commitment. 

That’s why I am writing this piece - to talk about friendship and infertility. Em has taught us all so much about the very intimate, personal experience of infertility, but this story is being told from one supporter to another. To all the friends and sisters who love and hope and cry and feel so helpless right alongside the ones who are waiting and fighting. It can be a tough path to navigate, and I messed up plenty of times. Hopefully my mess ups can somehow translate into encouragement and support for you.

Em and I have been friends for over a decade, meeting our very first year of college. We bonded over the usual topics - shopping, boys and our big dreams for the future. But what really solidified us as friends was our unique ability to process thoughts and life together. We talked about our faith, our families, our trials and the things that got us excited about entering real life. We walked forward on our own unique paths to adulthood, taking different routes but always staying near to one another. 

Graduation brought new experiences. Em and Andrew got married, I went to work. We each found new places to call home and new opportunities for learning and discovery. I remember the day Em told me she was pregnant with Ethan. I’ll admit - it felt strange. She had already been experiencing the mercilessness of infertility and this pregnancy came as a pretty big surprise to all of us. For me it was mostly because I couldn’t understand her determination to have a baby. I would open her car door and watch her push stacks of parenting and pregnancy books into the backseat so I could sit down. We were focusing on such different things at this time in our lives and I had a hard time relating. This is where our story got hard, and where I learned the most about love. I really had to learn how to be a good friend in the midst of the doubt, disappointment, financial stress, and physical pain brought on by infertility. I had to learn that my expectations for those years were not going to be the same as Em’s, and that they didn’t have to be in order for us to love one another.

The day we lost Ethan, I remember the phone call, the tears, the confusion and the pain. I also remember that this once slowly approaching disconnectedness was suddenly coming at us at full speed. It felt like huge wall had come between us. I thought of her constantly, wanting to be with her so badly, but being completely frozen on the other side of that wall. I slowly began to realize that my own fear is what put and kept the wall there. What if I say the wrong thing? She asked about my job, but when I start talking I can see in her face that she wants to talk about Ethan. Should I ask? Or does she want me to distract her? I don’t know how to anticipate her needs. Does she even know what she needs? These insecurities and feelings filled my mind for several months, and if there is anything I can say to the friends who are affected by infertility or loss, it is this: don’t let the wall win. It will come at some point, but you have to be stronger than it is. Some people are able to march right around it, hardly even acknowledging that it is there. I watched some of Em’s strongest supporters do that, but at first I just couldn’t. I felt too afraid. I didn’t want to mess up, say or do the wrong thing, and I ended up dropping the ball for a time. If you need to take time to process, go ahead, but make sure you are always moving forward.

What does moving forward look like exactly? Read Em’s post about secondary infertility. I didn’t have access to such a great resource, so for me it was born of mercy and a lot of trial and error. After one of Em’s miscarriages, we had gone to her in-law’s cabin for the weekend and on Sunday we stood on the driveway saying our goodbyes. She started to cry and I just stood there, totally frozen. In that moment, I let the fear win. (Don’t worry, I eventually hugged her, but it took me WAY too long). A few weeks after Ethan died, I remember Em telling me she was so afraid that no one would remember him. I cleared out a spot in my heart for Ethan at that very moment and he will never leave it. And with that, a part of the wall was gone. There really is a choice in these moments. Choose to be close. And if you are afraid, be honest with your friend. Maybe you are both feeling the same thing.

I will say, there are times when you, the friend, will do a lot of heavy lifting. Every text or happy hour will be about pregnancy, or the lack of it. It might feel draining. You might feel ignored. You might be dying to talk about a terrible first date, or a weird conversation with your boss and you go to your friend and leave feeling discouraged or unheard. You will see the worst side of your friend when the fight gets really hard, but isn’t this exactly when our love should kick into high gear? Don’t jump ship in the face of pain. Stay. Sacrifice. And then do it a hundred more times because one day she will look at you and say, “how are things at work?” with a genuine look in her eyes. It will happen.

And let’s not forget, there will inevitably be times when you need your friend to do the heavy lifting for you. While Em & Andrew were pursuing parenthood, I began to long for a life partner. We found a connection in that and began to pray for each other. There were times when I just couldn’t pray for myself one more time - the burden of loneliness seemed too heavy. So Em prayed for me. And when she felt weary, I prayed for her. To support one another in prayer invested us in each other’s hopes in a such a real way. Being able to pray for each of Em’s children, and then HOLD them as brand new babies in my arms, have been some of the holiest experiences of my life. 

I was able to meet Harriet at the hospital the day after she was born. I didn’t know it then, but I was going to meet my goddaughter! Her mouth was a perfect little rosebud and her skin soft and red with newness. What seemed like a regular moment - holding a baby was something everyone on that hospital unit was doing that night - was supercharged for me. I remember thinking, this is so special and so … normal. It was right and it was a miracle. I suppose that is what redemption is: bringing the things that always should have been back to us in a miraculous way.

Here is a picture of Em, Harriet, and me on my wedding day. Our smiles are looking a little off because as soon as we stepped in front of my photographer, Em & I both started crying. There we were, Harriet between us, me in my wedding dress. The six years leading up to that moment had been complicated and challenging but suddenly all we felt was happiness. Beautiful, gracious, undeserving happiness. I will cherish the gift of this photo, and the beautiful, messy story of friendship that it tells, forever.


c/o Cara Lemmage Photography

Monday, November 10, 2014

another

So you have this friend. And she has a child. Maybe she has a few. Perhaps her kids are a little older. Maybe they're still really young. But here's the thing. She wants another.

And it's just not happening.

Maybe she's been acting kind of strange - withdrawn, sad, distracted. So you asked her how she was doing and she started to cry...explaining that she's afraid her son will never have a sibling or that her dreams of a big family won't come true.

Or maybe she emailed you out of the blue, mentioning that she and her husband are starting fertility treatments and she's wondering if you'll pray for them.

It might have been a quick text - Sorry I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I have an appointment with my reproductive endocrinologist.

So now what? You're a good friend and you want to support her through this trial. But maybe you're not sure how, not certain what she needs from you.

I hope I can help you. Although I don't know what it's like to have secondary infertility (trouble getting pregnant again after having a child without the help of fertility drugs or assisted reproductive technologies), I do know what it's like to pursue fertility treatments when you already have a biological child. Plus, I'm in touch with lots of women who've experienced secondary infertility and have shared their hearts with me. Also, many of you who keep up with my blog have been there or are there right now. So whatever I miss or mess up in this post, I know you'll help me out in the comments section. Thanks in advance, friends.

But back to you - the support person. Here a four things you need to know in order to walk with your friend as she faces into this emotional, financial and physical trial.

One.   Please don't take lightly the fact that she invited you into this journey. She's taking a big risk and showing that she really trusts you. Oftentimes people who haven't been through it themselves really struggle to understand secondary infertility. A lot of people will call her selfish and ungrateful, probably not to her face but definitely behind her back. Many will question why she's willing to spend all kinds of money to have a child when she already has one. Others will judge her for not pursuing adoption.

Maybe that last paragraph has you sweating because you've been thinking those same things and getting all judge-y yourself. You know? It's okay. She's probably judging herself too. I know I was. I had this beautiful, perfect, longed-for child in my arms...but I still wanted more. It made sense and it didn't. I tried to dampen that desire, shut out that voice that was telling me that our family wasn't yet complete...but I failed every time.



The thing about building a family is that it doesn't always take the practical path. It doesn't always make sense. Because families are about love, something that's neither practical nor sensible. Your friend may try to explain why they want another child. She may list reason after reason to assure you (and herself) that the goal they're pursuing is a worthy one. You know what? You have the power to be her lifeboat in a sea of self doubt by saying the one thing she doesn't even know that she needs to hear. Put your hand on her arm and speak these words straight into her heart - "It doesn't even matter. This is your family and you get to pick."

See that look in her eyes? Yeah, she needed that.

Two.   If your friend is like me and has gone through fertility treatments before, know that this time around, it's going to be easier for her...and it's also going to be harder.

It will be easier because she already has a child. When she gets bad news from the doctor or a has another failed cycle, she still gets to tuck her little boy into bed that night or play at the park with her daughter. Probably nothing you can do or say is going to be more healing than snuggling with that child or those children. Kind of a relief, right? Delegate that stuff to the kids.

But it will also be harder because she already has a child. And fertility clinics frown on bringing kids to your appointments. So in addition to timing her cycles around her doctor's surgery schedule, her husband's travel schedule and her body's hormonal schedule, she also has to factor in child care. If she works outside the home, it's probably killing her that she has to spend even more time away from her kids. And fertility treatments are spendy, so paying someone to watch her children might feel like an incredibly heavy burden.

So if you are able to help her out, do it. I had several friends and family members who were more than willing to hang out with Harriet while I attended my frequent appointments. They'll never know how much Andrew and I appreciated their generosity and the kindness they showed our daughter. So if you can, be one of those people.

Three.   Your friend is going to be very, very, very tired. The fertility drugs will exhaust her. The constant appointments will wear her down. The hope/defeat roller coaster will drain her. If she's pursuing adoption, her days are filled with paperwork, home studies, phone calls with social workers, and the sort of waiting that only adoptive parents can understand. And she still has to be a mom to her kids. And probably lots of other things to lots of different people.

So if she doesn't want to join you for girls' night or takes forever to reply to your texts, please give her grace. I'm not saying that she gets a bottomless excuse for being a crappy friend. I'm just saying that for now, she might need you to stretch yourself a little further in her direction. She may prefer movie nights at home to loud parties because most of your friends have lots of kids and she hates that she feels jealous when she sees them. She may prefer conversations via text to in-person lunches so that she can stay in her pajamas. She may not be able to do those Saturday morning walks around the lake that you love so much because her ovaries are really angry with her right now. So again...grace, my friend. Grace.

Four.   You can't be everything to her. She's going to need a team. She has her doctor. Probably a partner (but maybe not). She is going to need people who have firsthand experience with secondary infertility. Encourage her to seek out a support group. Help her start a blog and get plugged into the online infertility community. (If she doesn't know how to find the community, send her my way. I'll hook her up.) Put her in touch with another friend who's fighting a similar battle. If she's having a really tough time, she may need someone to strongly encourage that she see a therapist or talk with a pastor, mentor or spiritual leader of some sort. Do not attempt to be everything to her. You'll end up bitter and your friendship will suffer. Instead, help her brainstorm ways that she can add people to her team.

That's all I have for now. But remember that online infertility community I talked about? They'll comment below and fill you in on everything else you need to know. The fact that you've made it through this whole post tells me that your friend chose wisely when she decided to share her heartache with you. I'm wishing you grace and courage and perseverance as you enter into the sacred heart of true friendship, a place where only trials can take us.

Grab her hand and go there together.


----------


Stay tuned for a guest post from a dear, dear friend of mine who walked this infertility road with me. I'm so excited for all of you to read her perspective on what it's like to be the support person. 

Also, this post is over on Momquery today, titled Four Ways to Support a Friend Through Secondary Infertility. So if you have some ideas about how friends and family can support those going through secondary infertility...or regular ol' infertility...copy and paste your comment there too! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

that imaginary t-shirt

It's silly but true...one of my life's passions is our state fair. The fairgrounds closed not even two months ago and already, I'm itching for August. I can't get enough of the sticky, greasy, sugary, spicy, frosty, salty foods. I love the rickety, loosely bolted rides. I savor the wide variety of smells - from fresh hay in the cattle barns to corn dogs and ketchup on the midway. But most of all, I love that feeling of togetherness...the fact that our whole state seems to come together for ten days just to celebrate the end of summer and have fun. The people-watching from afar is great, but in recent years, I have loved striking up conversations with strangers at the fair. Whether I'm asking what they think of the walleye taco they're sampling or inquiring as to where they're from, when I'm at the fair, everybody's a friend.





So this past August, on my fourth and final fair day, I was sitting on a dusty curb and feeding Gus a bottle when another couple rolled their stroller up next to me and sat down. The dad took a fresh mini donut out of the white paper bag and tossed it from palm to palm while blowing on it. Then he passed it to his wife who seemed excited to give their one-year-old son his first taste of this state fair delicacy. The little boy devoured it...obviously. The parents smiled to each other and just as I was opening my mouth to comment about how much he was loving it, the mom said, "I wish I was wearing a t-shirt that said - we usually feed him kale."

I closed my mouth.

I had thought she'd be relatable. You know, we were both feeding babies. We were both wearing Keens. But her comment was such a turn-off for me. It came off as so snobby and I had zero interest in playing the mom olympics with her. My kids don't eat kale. I don't even eat kale. Kale is a hassle. So I turned back to Gus and the bottle, feeling very proud of having liberated myself from such heavy societal pressures.

And then a gentle voice from heaven reminded me what I'd been thinking not even five minutes earlier...

I wish people knew that I usually nurse him and that this is a bottle of breast milk.

Boom. Just like that, Mrs. Kale and I were one and the same. I had been wishing an imaginary t-shirt on myself the same way she had, a declaration to the world that "I'm a better mother than I seem to be at this particular moment in time because I...fill in the blank." She and I were both making the same assumptions...that feeding our kids certain things a certain way is what makes us good or not-so-good moms. And that the world cares. Both are false.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've worn many, many imaginary t-shirts since becoming a mom.

There's the "I have a masters degree!" t-shirt that I've worn in my mind when interacting with smart, professional women who are getting solid sleep at night and don't struggle to come up with basic words like "tooth" or "television" in conversation.

When Harriet had an absolute meltdown at Target and I had to literally carry her out of the store upside-down, I wished I was wearing a t-shirt that said, "This is the first time she's ever done this...no, seriously, it is."

And then there are the really yucky t-shirts...the ones I wish on my kids. Dumb things, like when I am out with one of the boys, I feel compelled to tell people who comment about him or interact with us that he's a twin. It's like I'm wishing he had a t-shirt that says "I'm a twin" on the front and "I have a two-year-old sister" on the back. Heck, might as well throw in a little baseball cap that says "My mom sure is impressive, huh?"

Ugh.

I wish that last paragraph was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Please like me anyway." Or, "I know this is messed up, but I'm working on it."

When I take my daughter to a playdate or ECFE, I find myself wishing that she was wearing a t-shirt that says, "My parents are doing their darndest to teach me to share." Or, "I'm 98% potty trained." It's like I want to throw a precursor out there in case anything goes wrong...in case kid stuff happens. What's with that? Like I expect people to expect her to be perfect? Plus, let's be real. We're all only about 98% potty trained, right?

Some imaginary t-shirts are less self-involved and more about just trying to survive.

After we lost Ethan, I imagined myself into a t-shirt that said, "I'm a mama."

When I was pregnant with Harriet, I wished I had a maternity shirt with "No, this isn't my first" on it.

And even after Harriet was born, I had an imaginary t-shirt for her that said "I'm an IVF baby" to give other infertile families hope.

I know that lots of you are wearing imaginary t-shirts right now. Some of them say "this isn't a baby bump, it's fertility drugs" or "please stop asking me when we're going to have kids." Others say "I could really use a friend" or "Sometimes I feel like my worst case scenario is starting to play out." Some pretend t-shirts say "I'm not dumb/mean/bitter, I'm just so tired." Those aren't the ones I'm talking about today. Those are really legit. Keep wearing them if you need to, and I really hope that if I see you around, I'll really see you and the words on your imaginary t-shirt.

I've worn lots of those t-shirts. And I've unfortunately also worn a lot of the self-involved ones, too. I have to admit that it matters so much to me what people think. I thought I'd outgrow it but I never did. And I think it got worse after having children. That's the thing about kids - they put all of our garbage out there for the world to see and they don't care one bit, which leaves us with a very important choice...Do we double down and care enough for ourselves and our kids combined? Or do we follow their example, strip off that pretend t-shirt and just dance around in our imaginary nakedness?

I hope that I can learn to choose the latter. Because, as a good friend has been reminding me...I have an audience of One. And He is far less concerned with the meals I'm feeding my kids than with the truths I'm feeding them. He's not worried about the cleanliness of my house but rather the purity of my heart. In fact, I think He cares less about my role as a mother than He does about my role as His daughter. 

An audience of One. The kind of audience that gives a standing ovation and throws roses even when I've forgotten my lines, split my costume or straight-up fallen off that stage. Why? Because of that whole daughter thing. Imaginary t-shirt or not, He sees straight through to my heart.

So...what does your imaginary t-shirt say today? And what would it feel like, just this once, to leave it at home?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

sometimes you're washing rocks in the rain and your blog goes viral

One night in late September, Andrew and I were bouncing the boys to sleep in their room. I don't know if it's the darkness, the whir of that white noise machine, or the sleepy sweet baby in my arms that does it, but that's the time when I often start fashioning blog posts in my head. Most of the time, the good ideas vaporize the second I set that baby down, but prayer was something I'd been thinking about a lot, something I really wanted to write about, so after I put Louie in his crib and tiptoed out of there, I sat down at the computer for about five minutes and outlined a post about praying for the parents of the babies that might someday marry my kids. At 5:00 the next morning, I filled in the missing pieces, and later that morning, I put it up on my blog.

I always post my writing on Facebook for my friends and family to see. My mom always shares it. My husband often shares it. Occasionally another friend or two. But that day, maybe eight people shared it, and from there, it just kept going and going. It was exciting and fun to watch my view counter hit 1,000 then 5,000. I was shocked when it hit the big numbers - 10,000 then 50,000 and eventually 100,000. That's when I started freaking out a bit and considered taking the post down altogether. But I knew that people would ask why and I didn't have a good excuse besides, "It was stressing me out."

Emails started rolling in - from grandpas and grandmas, pregnant mothers, seasoned fathers, new moms struggling with postpartum, other twin parents. People were commenting like crazy. And then ABC contacted me. They wanted to post If My Child Marries Yours on their website. I gave them permission to post it, just as I did for few other websites (including one in Spanish and one in Portuguese) and my favorite - a church bulletin.

That's when it really blew up. The boys were napping and I was in the backyard with Harriet, picking rocks out of the grass and helping her wash them under the drain spout. The rain was soaking my hair and the sweatshirt I was borrowing from my husband. A pink rain slicker with legs was giving me instructions, "More rocks, Mom! Here, can you put them in a pile?" I was on a quiet mission to fill a plastic bucket with backyard rocks and all the while, the world was reading my heart.



At one point that drizzly morning, my post was getting 10,000 views about every four minutes. (Andrew kept me grounded by reminding me that half of those were probably my mom.) I could no longer follow all of the shares, likes and comments on Facebook. It felt bigger than I was, certainly must faster, and it was leaving me dizzy. As my audience broadened, the negative comments started coming in. Some were one hundred percent correct, pointing out the fact that my post promoted gender stereotypes. Some comments were downright mean and unfounded. Most were somewhere in between.

I was struck by the fact that people were judging me as a parent, as a Christian and as a person based solely on this one piece of writing - a simple blog post that was really the electronic equivalent of scrawling something on a napkin, written in an unfiltered manner and for a very small audience.

The most common criticisms I got for the post were often posed in the form of a question - What if your child is gay? What if your child doesn't get married? What if your child marries someone with a background that's different from yours? What if your child doesn't have children? A few even questioned whether I would still love my kids if they didn't follow the path my post seemed to lay out for them. While I will not respond to all of the negative comments I received, I very much want to respond to this one, so please listen carefully...

My ultimate dream for my children is not that they are heterosexual, that they marry or that they have children. My ultimate dream for my children is that they will know God and follow Him. Not because I want them to follow in my steps but because I want them to follow in Christ's. Because I know the hope, freedom and transformation that comes only by trusting Him, and the thought of them living and dying without Jesus is more than I can bear.

My prayers for my babies are not dominated by thoughts of their spouses, but rather by thoughts of their character. My main prayer for them, the one I recite over and over again is that they will seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). That they will stand up for those whose voices aren't heard. That they will be kind down to their core. That humility and selflessness will define them. And that most of all, they will walk with God. This, I'm not budging on. This, I will battle all of hell for.

But like I said, at night when I sometimes feel alone, my thoughts go to those other parents who are perhaps doing the same tasks I am doing and to that larger legacy that we might be building together. That vision is something that helps me see past that mile-high stack of dirty diapers and the seemingly endless string of sleepless nights. It helps me remember that the menial tasks I'm doing right now...are important.

I don't moderate comments. You are all welcome to say whatever you want here. A comment would really have to cross the line in order for me to delete it. But a lot of the comments did sting...more than I thought they would have. Those first few days after the post went viral, I kept telling Andrew that I wished it never would have happened. I felt bruised by unkind words and I felt like so many assumptions were being made about me that weren't true. I also felt like my blog had been overexposed and was struggling to feel welcome in my own space. It is going to be a challenge for me to find my true voice again without examining every word for fear of either offending or being judged. In my last post, I wrote Harriet had been drinking a lot of kool-aid...and then deleted it because I didn't want people to point out the fact that she shouldn't be drinking something so sugary and artificial. That made me sad because if I'm censoring myself all the time, this blog is worthless to all of us.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of my very favorite comments were from people who identified themselves as atheists. They said that although they don't pray or believe in the God I follow, they still loved the heart of my post. They picked out things in my post to celebrate rather than nit-picking things that they didn't agree with. I am so sad that all of these commenters were anonymous because I would love to write to them and thank them for choosing to be so positive. I so wish that more Christians would do that. So, my dear readers, if you are a Christ-follower, can you make me a promise? When you read something online, written from a worldview that's different from yours, can you please look for the good? Can you please choose to encourage rather than argue, to find common ground rather than pointing out differences? A friend of mine recently told me that her husband said that he hopes he's never the type of person who clicks "dislike" on youtube. Amen, Nathan. I hope the same thing for myself and my children.

Having a post go viral was a crazy experience. At times, I felt like I was flying and at other times, I felt like I was sinking. What kept my head up? The comments and emails I got from struggling parents saying that the post was exactly what they needed to help them get through that particular day.

Also, I am humbled and grateful that a string of simple words got so many people dialoging about prayer...prayers for our children. And no matter how big that particular post got on that random Tuesday or how absolutely itsy bitsy it will be in the near future...because that's how the internet works...I hope that our prayers for our kids will stay big...and bold...and uncensored.




Two quick things...

1. If you are a "no reply commenter" or always comment as "anonymous," please consider claiming your comments and giving bloggers an opportunity to respond to you directly. There were so many comments - both positive and negative - that I would have loved to respond to, but I wanted to do it via email to assure that they'd read my response and to avoid a public argument when a private discussion would be more appropriate. It was a bummer to not be able to connect with readers more directly.

2. If you are one of the many who stated that you disagree with letting babies cry it out, know that I'm right there with you. Please read these two posts, not because I'm trying to convince you of anything, but because I want you to know the sleep journey that we've been on (or at least part of it).

lullaby and goodnight

sweet dreams
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