Five

I never understood why parents made such a big deal about turning five. Or ten or eighteen for that matter.

“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown! Just yesterday I held you in my arms!”

As if the passage of time were somehow a shock. Of course he was going to turn five. He was always going to turn five. And I’m not surprised at how quickly it came because I have lived each and every one of those sleepless nights, unending tantrums, and days that we just simply had to survive. And I know they equal five years. Not one day more, not one day less.

I remember holding him when he was a baby, as I did for almost every single hour of my maternity leave. For months we sat on the couch, nursing, watching tv, and getting used to the idea of each other. I studied his hand, the curve of your ear, and thinking that no one on earth knew him as well as I did.

Now he surprises me. He tells me facts about dinosaurs I did not know. I look them up and find out he is correct. He has preferences and opinions that I do not know, and frankly, do not always understand. His interests blossom and we connect, and diverge. He has grown into his own person.

Occasionally when I think to, I check his wrists to see if the little line between forearm and hand, the hallmark of baby chubbies, is still there. It’s been a while since I last looked, seeing as how I’ve come to the realization he is no longer a baby. I don’t believe it is.

I see his hand, and wonder when he became.

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I had a baby and everything went to hell

Having a baby sucks.

To be clear, the baby doesn’t suck. Well, actually, the baby does suck – all night and all day. But that’s not what I’m referring to. The actual having of the baby is not a fun process.

For the first six weeks after birth, you are basically wet.

Sweat. Tears. Milk. Blood (yes, of course there’s blood. You didn’t know that? Neither did I until I had a baby). Spit up. You rock the baby and read sweet articles about letting laundry slide and cherishing this time, then you go do three thousand loads of laundry because everything you own is wet.

And that’s how I expected everything to go with this last baby, number three. A couple months of misery mixed with joy and then you know, you get on with your life. But of course that’s not how it went down.

For one, I had a really slow recovery. My OB basically put me on bed rest after delivery. (“Modified couch potato status” she called it.) I couldn’t unload the dishwasher without starting to bleed again.

Sorry, is that too much information? I’ve got a few things I need to get off my chest today. Moving on.

I had a hernia and a torn muscle in my stomach. I couldn’t walk across the room without holding everything together.

Then I got an ear infection. Because I’m four years old, apparently. I don’t even think I had one when I was four, but I got one, one week postpartum.

Then I got a stomach bug which is just one heck of a post-baby diet plan. “HOW TO LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT: Don’t keep anything down for 24 hours.” Not exactly what you typically see advertised. Also, it doesn’t work. I still can’t wear pants.

The next morning I shattered my iPhone.

Luckily, my mom was here for all that. And we did a lot of sitting around and talking about what an unlucky month it’s been and thank goodness everything was on the upswing now before she left.

And then she left.

And I decided that was a good time to go back to “work.” And I say “work” because I only work like 5 hours a week, so I need to emphasize it’s not like I’m punching in 9-5. I also say “work” because I’m self-conscious and self-deprecating and I don’t want anyone to think I think too highly of myself.

The next week my ear infection came back.

Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you’ve had an ear infection that you’ve been treating incorrectly for two weeks go haywire. I believe the doctor’s words were “horrible infection” and that was before a week of using the incorrect medication. Pro tip: if you ever want to get in to see a doctor right away, sobbing so hard on the phone that you can’t make an appointment helps.

So that came and went and things were finally on the upswing!

Until we totaled our brand new-to-us-minivan.

While driving it home for the first time.

Obviously this is a bigger deal than an ear infection and warrants more space in this essay but I don’t know what else to say other than WE TOTALED OUR MINIVAN BEFORE EVEN BRINGING IT HOME.

(Everyone is OK by the way).

And everything is fine, except my ear infection then came back and I got another stomach bug. This time I had to go to the hospital for fluids which is a fun way to get much needed away time with your husband except that I couldn’t stand up or see straight.

And everything really is fine. My husband bought a lottery ticket because just what are the damn chances.

On the bright side, we have a baby. And a fun fact about parenting is that no matter how many babies there are in the world, and no matter how many you personally have had, every single one is the cutest in the whole wide world. It’s a scientific marvel I tell you. Mathematical improbability. Schroedinger’s parable or something. That’s not a thing. I don’t know, I haven’t slept in five years and had two cups of coffee like a wild woman this morning so I’m not liable for anything I say.

But the baby really is awesome, and occasionally, in spite of everything else going on, we remember to change and feed her. Also the other two kids are around here somewhere.

She started smiling recently which is basically a baby’s way of saying, “I know everything is awful and I’m partly to blame but isn’t life AMAZING?”

And she’s right. Because yes, yes it is.

Easy Postpartum Halloween Costumes


The internet abounds with ideas for cute Halloween costumes – for pregnant ladies. But if you’re due just before the big costume party, a little more creativity is required.Here are nine costumes you can rock immediately postpartum with little to no effort.

1. Zombie

No makeup required! You already have the gray skin, bloodshot eyes, and dark circles to pull it off. The stained, ill-fitting clothing that you are already wearing will really finish off the look. Stumble (or limp) around aimlessly with a vacant look in your eyes to truly scare those around you.

2. Stripper

If you can time it so that your milk comes in right as it’s time to party, you might be able to pull this costume off like never before. And you don’t even have to get dressed! Like you were planning on it anyway. Of course, once those super-grande knockers make their debut, you will be too sore to cover them up with anything that would make it legal for you to go out in public. And wearing pasties will leave at least one person in your life sorely disappointed.

3. Shadow

Aww, would you look at the baby! So beautiful! So sweet! So picture perfect! Um, but what is that dark figure hovering in the background? It’s The Shadow (dun dun dunnnn!). Where the baby goes, the shadow goes. No matter where innocent bystanders (or not-so-innocent great aunts who haven’t washed their hands since coming into the house) are standing – its gaze follows. Quick, someone try to snatch the baby away so we can snap a picture without it in the background.

4. Water Fountain

Think a plump and curvy Roman Goddess fountain in an Italian piazza. You’re already mostly naked, with just a sheet covering half your breasts in case your mother-in-law walks in. Without that pregnancy glow, your skin looks stony-gray already. And to really finish off the look, you’re leaking fluids all over the place! From your eyes to your boobs, you’ve got the waterworks down.

5. Throw Pillow

You spend so much time on the couch feeding the little one that you might as well become part of it. Plus, you’re pleasantly soft and squishy, a fact any older children you might have are constantly reminding you of. So just fade back into the décor, and hopefully close your eyes for a minute or two.

6. Frankenstein’s Monster

Have you recently been torn apart and stitched back together? Do you feel vaguely undead? Are you not quite sure if any of your body parts are actually where they are supposed to be anymore? Are you a sickly shade of green? Perfect! You’ve already got all the makings of Frankenstein’s Monster, no bolts-in-the-neck required. Please delegate handing out any Halloween candy to someone who can formulate full sentences easily, lest you start scaring the villagers.

7. Pregnant Lady

Well, you’ve still got the belly. And for whatever reason, people think that bump is way cuter the day before you deliver than they do the day after. There’s no reason to stop flaunting it. Proudly get a little extra use out of those maternity clothes you are wearing anyway. So slap on some makeup (remember when you cared about that?), brush your hair, and tell people that the baby you’re carrying around is one you are just borrowing for practice.

8. Nothing

Let’s be honest – you’re turning off the lights and cursing anyone who rings your doorbell Halloween night. Maybe you’ll make it to a costume party next year.

Before you begin


Little one, I have a few things I would like to tell you before you begin. 

You will happen soon, I know. I don’t much understand, or probably believe in, fatalism or determinism or pre-ordination or other fancy terms I vaguely remember from philosophy classes. But at some point, the future will become the past. And then, there will have been a finite number of days between this one and the one you were born. 

I will go through a certain number of contractions before you enter this world. I will remind myself of that as they pass. Each pain is one I can check off and never have to live through again. 

And there will be a number of breaths you take on this earth. Millions of billions of trillions I assume. I’m sure there’s a way to calculate an estimate but the thought is too painful and so I won’t. 

I do have a few hopes for those breaths you take. And for the ones your brothers are taking now. They are only a few steps ahead of you. 

I hope you fall in love. I personally have enjoyed the marriage-and-babies path, but the world is large and there is much to fall in love with. So find a passion – art, earth, music, beauty – and love it. But I will caution you – true love is born in service. Whether it be to your spouse or children or cause, you must give yourself over if you want to fall in love.

I hope you know that there are things I want to do in addition to being your mother. I’m not saying besides, or other than. And when you find someone or something you wish to serve and love completely, I hope you stay yourself as well.

I don’t just want you to be happy. I hear it all the time, “I just want my kids to be happy.” I certainly hope that you experience happiness, an abundance of it. But happiness is too often brief and shallow. 

Instead, I hope you are fulfilled.

I hope you are passionate.

I hope you are good, and kind, and just. 

I hope you leave me one day. Your oldest brother likes to tell me he never wants to leave me and that when I’m old, he will take care of me just like Grandma takes care of Great-Grandma. And I love it and it makes me smile, but I hope he is wrong. The world is wonderful and it is large and I can’t wait to hear your stories of adventures I could have only ever dreamed of. 

I hope you are wrong. One of the best things I have ever been in my life is wrong. Of course, we are all wrong many times over, but it is in realizing that we grow. Relatedly, I hope you forgive me for the many times I will be wrong. It is inevitable, my dear, and I hope my mistakes will only serve to make you a better and stronger person. 

I hope you know how much I love you. It is an impossible ask, because you won’t know until you find something to love as deeply as I love you. And even then, you will be looking ahead and not behind. So I suppose it will just be my little secret, a secret you may share one day. 

These are things I hope you know, before you even begin. 

Pins and Needles


I’m 38 weeks pregnant, and sitting on pins and needles.

I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made last time, when my son showed up a month before he was due. I wasn’t ready, and was left scrambling when we brought him home. 

This time came with additional complications that could have resulted in another premature birth. I figured it would be best to avoid a repeat performance. So the bag has been packed for over a month now. The box of newborn clothes retrieved from the basement, washed, and put away. Diapers purchased and tucked in a corner.

And I’m just here, sitting on pins and needles. 

Every time my back aches, I wonder, “Is this it?” Every time I feel a tad off, or a little more tired than usual, I convince myself that it must be time. Week after week ticks by – 35, 36, 37. I know I’m supposed to be happy to still be pregnant.

But I thought I’d have my baby by now.

Pins and needles.

My hands keep finding something to do. I finish sewing a baby blanket. The boys need new winter hats. Baby will need a Christmas stocking, too.  The kids should get some new pillowcases. My husband finds sewing pins sticking out of the carpet. This is not ideal when we have young children, he reminds me. He buys me new knitting needles.  I cast on a new project, wondering if I will finish before the baby comes. 

I hope not. 

Pins and needles.

I wonder how many pins and needles of my own I’m going to need to get through this. My OB celebrated each milestone with me. The “you won’t need to get life-flighted to another city if you go into labor” milestone. The “we won’t try to stop your labor” milestone. The “baby is full-term” milestone. I know how lucky I am.

And I know that the whole thing is mostly safe, mostly uneventful, mostly routine. 

Mostly.

I also know I’m about to walk through death in order to bring new life into the world.

Pins and needles.

I know life is about to get a whole lot harder, which makes me wonder why I am rushing to get there. I can’t sleep now, and I won’t sleep then. I worry now, and I’ll worry then. Right now, life is quiet for a beat. 

But I’m sitting on pins and needles. 

Superheroes


Another day. 

Another day when tragedy pours from my phone and the radio and the TV and I have to try and silence it all so they don’t hear. 

Because I’ve spent the day with two superheroes who have no idea about the real-life villains wrecking havoc in Gotham today. They wear capes made out of blankets I swaddled them in as babies and underwear imprinted with their own heroes and jump off the couch. I keep telling them to stop jumping off the couch but they say they have to save people and I know we all need saving so I let them. 

They still fight, of course. They fight because neither of them wants to play the bad guy and of course they both want there to be a bad guy to fight so they can win. 

I wonder when we stop worrying about whether or not we get to be the hero and when we start worrying about whether or not we will be the victim. 

All they want to do is save someone.  I throw their stuffed animals around the living room and tell the super heroes to go save that monkey balanced precariously on the back of the rocking chair. After that game ends they come to me for more, expecting me to produce more real comic book life scenarios. All I know from comic books is trains frequently speed off towards broken bridges and cable cars are apt to dangle over rivers, but those are two situations that are hard to re-create in a living room. 

Because what might be harder than actually saving someone is figuring out how to do it. We don’t know if it has to do with better legislation or just being better people to each other. But either way we decide that it would be too hard to try and so we just keep doing nothing. 

It snowed all day and I kept thinking what a lovely day it would be to go in to labor. I think I just wanted an excuse to stare at the snow as it fell, instead of staring at my phone as the death toll rose. A little distraction.

But no. Another day. 

Superheroes are brave. They have to be to wear their underwear on the outside of their pants. They have to be brave once they figure out the truth about Gotham city. They have to be, if they want to save the world. 

Tootsie Rolls and the Big Question

The other day, I told my four year old he couldn’t have a tootsie pop and so he asked me the big question in life.

The barber had just offered him the lollipop for sitting still during his hair cut. With big eyes, he turned to ask me if he could have it.

“No, honey, I’m sorry.” I replied as gently as I could. “It has dairy in it.”

Not gently enough to ward off the following monsoon of tears. He cuddled on my lap, his body racked with sobs. Meanwhile, his brother got his curls clipped, announcing occasionally, “I can have dairy.”

So he asked me the big question. The one we all wonder about.

“Why did God want me to have allergies?”

Okay, so maybe that’s not the big one. But at the heart of it lies the thing we all wonder about. The thing that keeps us up at night. The thing that we wonder when we watch the nightly news.

“Why does God allow suffering?”

It’s a pretty basic question. It’s haunted us since we first conceptualized of not just a God, but a good God. If there is an all-powerful being – and one that supposedly has the best interests of humanity at heart – why do terrible things happen? Why are fear, disappointment, and pain part of our daily existence?

I don’t know.

I don’t fucking know.

If we extrapolate from this logic, we can easily conclude that if there is suffering, then there all-powerful being must either be a) dispassionate to the suffering of the world, or b) a fictious construction. Unfortunately, this conclusion also does little to answer the question of why we suffer. We could figure that if the world is governed by randomness, and then make the assumption that randomness has an inherently destructive bent. We don’t have to wonder why if the answer is, “That’s just the way things are.” 

But we still don’t know why.

I do know that my faith doesn’t run from the issue of suffering, even if it does little to answer it. We are invited into life’s deepest mystery. We aren’t asked to push it away, but to own it, to feel it, to live it. And to fix it where we can. I take comfort in this invitation, but no answers.

I didn’t know what to say when my son asked me why God wanted him to have allergies. I told him I didn’t think God did want him to have allergies. I told him I think sometimes nature makes mistakes, and God hates that and feels sorry for us. 

It didn’t help. He still wanted to know why. Fair question.

I told him that sometimes yes, bad things happen, but they can help make us better people. I told him about my own allergies and intolerances, and how I was pretty mad when God gave me those. But maybe he gave me them because he knew one day I would have a little boy with his own allergies, and that my struggles would make me a better mom.

It’s such a B.S. answer. He doesn’t want to be a marginally better father one day 30 years from now. He just wants a tootsie pop.

All our Sunday School answers for why bad things happen to good people are pretty weak. “Trials and tribulations make you a better person!” “Suffering makes you appreciate the good things in life more!”

Are we really going to stand on the shores of Caribbean islands and tell people that they are now better people because a hurricane just flattened their homes?

I mean sure, when it finally rains here in Montana after months of fires and weeks of smoke choking our valleys, I will probably be more appreciative the gray skies than I would have otherwise. And having a healthy pregnancy after a miscarriage will give me an added sense of gratitude when I finally hold my baby in my arms. But let’s not pretend those are equal trade offs.

“Without suffering, there would be no hope,” we opine to hurting people who now want to kick us in the teeth. 

In fact, I think the opposite is true. Without hope, I think there would be no suffering.

Without hope, we would just have to accept the random, awful churn of the universe. We would be unaware that there could have been a better life. We would be ignorant to the fact that our loved one should have lived, our bodies should be without pain, our loneliness should be replaced with belonging.  We wouldn’t know that life should be better.

But we do. And that hunger eats away at us. 

Because hope exists. Hope reminds us continually that this is not the way the world is meant to be. It nags at the back of our mind when we hear about famine and violence, “This is not the way things are supposed to happen.” It irks us when we watch winds, fire, and water blow through communities, “This is wrong.” Hope irritates us as much as it comforts us. We suffer because we know pain and poverty are not facts, but failures, of our world.

Logical or not, I believe in that hope behind the suffering. Hope is the knowledge, the belief, in a better life and it is as real as our pain. It is as good as it is painful. But I know that hope exists.