Come Here Often?

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Date nights. We’ve only had three in the nearly 11 months since Emerson joined our family. And, actually, they have been date days. With Silas, it wasn’t so bad because we gave each other a “night off” once a week where we could do whatever we wished, no matter what. With two, including a snobby eater who won’t take anything but fresh milk from his mama, we are finding nights off are nearly impossible. So we’ve started doing date nights “in.” We try to do something together at least once a week. Even that one paltry evening we find we have little energy to invest. There are bills to go through, chores to do, more work-work to do and there’s just really no more BRAIN left at the end of the day to stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Or think. Or talk.

However, it’s also impossible to talk when you have a three year old and a baby constantly interrupting you in their adorable yet thought halting manner. Seriously, if there is ever a criminal mastermind the government is worried about defeating, just put them in front of a toddler and a baby… Their brainpower for scheming will immediately cease to exist.

So, a grandparent volunteered to watch the boys. Can you believe we actually debated letting her watch the boys while we mulched the yard?!?! The monster pile of mulch has been sitting in my driveway for two weeks. Untouched. I just keep practicing for a defensive driving test, driving around it, every time I come in or out of my garage. But finding something we both WANTED to do was so hard and there was so much we NEEDED to do. Go to the theater? The shows are too far away and/or don’t work with Emerson’s feeding schedule. Go see a movie? What?!?! There was so little we both wanted to see. On top of that, I think it might actually be easier to find the Holy Grail than a movie we were both interested in, which meshed with when a babysitter was available AND Emerson’s feeding schedule. Eating out? Ugh, that is all we ever do for entertainment.

In the end, we chose a movie (my husband took the hit for the team and we saw one I wanted to see) and had an early dinner. The movie was over by 4:30. We jointly decided we were too young to start eating that early and went for a walk. At first it was actually odd. Who was this stranger walking next to me?!?! I know him well. I sleep next to him every night. Yet we haven’t had a real conversation in months. The conversation started out slow but by the end of dinner we were chatting like it was old times. We had so many complete sentences I don’t think I can even count that high. Can I tell you how wonderful it is to have enough time without an interruption that you can finish a thought process?!?! Can I tell you how surprised I was to discover I am still CAPABLE of having a cogent thought?!?! Forget multiple orgasms. I want multiple complete sentences. I want complex thought. Forget tantric sex. I want tantric talk.  It was fantastic. Yes, when you live in a land of abbreviated children’s stories in board books, rhyming songs, toddler vocabulary and baby talk your fantasies get downright kinky. And I don’t mean “Fifty Shades of Grey” kinky. I mean, really crazy things like waking up on your own, sleeping in, eating a whole meal while it is still hot, being able to take a shower AND wash your hair AND shave your legs, going out without looking like Bozo the Clown because you had a baby swinging on you like a monkey in a tree while you were doing your make-up, heading out for a few “quick” errands, and the piece de resistance, a conversation involving multiple complete sentences.

So we did it. We had a date day. It’s awfully easy to think your marriage can get through anything when you have dealt with infertility together. So much heartbreak. So much pain. So much innocent ignorance from others. So much wrangling over values, morals, ethics, religion. So much up and so much down. So much hope and so much fear. And, for us, finally joy.  It was a battle that strengthened us as individuals as well as our marriage. I know we both felt our marriage could survive anything after we survived infertility. But, it only survived because we never stopped working through it together. If we aren’t careful, we could very easily lose what constitutes “us” as we focus all of our energy on the boys.

We started our date feeling a lot like strangers. We ended it the best of friends, yet again. Thad said he felt like we were headed into some very hectic times. I said, “Yes, and we’ll look back on them as the best of our lives. Because it will be like a busy day at work. Busy days are the best days. One day, we’ll wake up and they will be too busy for us. Another day, we’ll wake up and our sons will be gone.” And that is why we need to make room for date days. And date nights. Because after all is said and done, I want my husband to be my best friend. Not a stranger. We both know we are doing important work. We both know we are doing the hardest kind of work: Raising two healthy, secure and happy children. What we can’t lose sight of is the important work of maintaining our marriage. Loving each other, forever, is equally hard work. The rewards of each are soul satisfying.

So, no, we don’t come here often. But, my dear husband, my biggest umbrella of them all, we should and we will.

Our Dinosaur Adventure

We heard the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History was going to close its dinosaur exhibit for FIVE years! Of course, I decided it was essential we make a trip down there before it closed because Silas would be ten years old before it opened again. Lo and behold, our schedule did not match anyone else’s and Daddy couldn’t take off work either. We threw caution to the wind and made the trek down to D.C. It was to be the first such trip for just the boys and myself… A car ride, a train ride, a big city, a highly visited museum, lots of walking, etc. I prefer to head into such scenarios prepared for man-on-man defense. But we had no choice. The exhibit was closing for FIVE years and we absolutely HAD to see the dinosaurs. I knew Silas would love all those ancient dinosaur bones. So off we went. Here’s what I loved about this trip:

Train Station

Here we are at the train station. This means we have successfully left the house, taken a relatively long car ride, nursed a baby and had snacks.

Do you know what I love about this picture? This is the point of no return.

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy.

On the Train & Not Lost

 

I have finally figured out fares and we are on our way. Riding the train and watching the map to make sure we don’t get lost. Only a few more stops to go!

Do you know what I love about this picture? Silas is so curious about every little thing happening.

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy.

ILoveTheCrane

To my sheer and utter amazement, I asked Silas to pose for a picture and he did it right away. Seriously, how could I resist getting a picture of the boys in front of the Washington Monument?!?!

Do you know what I love most about this picture? When Silas turned around to see what all the fuss was about he shouted, “LOOK MOMMY! It’s a CRANE!!!”

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy.

ObligatoryElephantPic

And we’re in! We had to stop and take the obligatory picture with the elephant. Silas was in awe of the elephant. Emerson was in awe of all the people!

Do you know what I love about this picture? Silas asked me if it was a real elephant and I said, “It is a real elephant but it is not alive.” This question and statement sequence was repeated often throughout the day.

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy.

Dinosaur

We merge into the infamous dinosaur exhibit. Our driving factor in taking this adventure. The dinosaurs I just knew Silas had to see because he would absolutely love them and couldn’t get through FIVE years without seeing them.

Do you know what I love about this picture? It’s the only one we could stand still long enough to take. He ended up being very afraid of the dinosaurs so we hightailed it out of there and ventured into Oceans and Mammals.

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy once we leave those big scary things behind us!

ILoveThePangolin

The mammals was far and above his favorite exhibit. He was fascinated by every creature. “Mommy, what’s that?” was uttered at least a hundred times. He begged to be lifted up to see the bats. He was VERY scared of the Grizzly Bear in a threatening pose but we talked about how that was his way of saying, “I need some space.” [Now he walks around the house saying, “I need some space.]

Do you know what I love about this picture? You’d think every kid on the planet would be fascinated by that giant rhinoceros in front of them, right? Not my son. He was enthralled with the pangolin. A little known and nearly extinct creature. That’s my boy!

Noteworthy: Everyone is still happy.

Silasplatypus

It is appropriate to mention that on Silas’ first trip to the Natural History Museum, he was given carte blanche choice on stuffed animal souvenir and he picked the duck-billed platypus. You can see Silas here with that little duck-bill peeking up at him.

Do you know what I love about this picture? He was so happy with his little anomaly.

Noteworthy: Clearly, he was happy even back then!

SoManyThingsToLove

We are nearly toast at this point. Silas has walked the entire day. Emerson has not napped. We have had a great day exploring together and it is time to go. Our last sight upon leaving is this. So I get to talk to Silas (and Emerson) about Native Americans, our government and protesting. I don’t know how much of it will sink in but the seeds have been planted.

Do you know what I love about this picture? You can hardly see it all but it’s the tipis, the Washington Monument, the crane off to the right and all the vastly different people. I have always loved the great diversity found in our country and that our founding fathers insisted there be room for all people, all ways of life.

Noteworthy: Astonishingly, everyone is still happy.

HeadingHome

And here we are on the final leg of our adventure! I don’t have one of us on the train because the boys started to meltdown once we got on-board. I also don’t have pictures of the two umbrellas who sat behind us on the train. It is due to them we were able to make that last stretch without a complete breakdown. The one construction worker, who in spite of being sent home early from his job because of a safety violation, spent the trip entertaining Silas and his T-rex toy. The working mom, who was exhausted from her day and on her way to take her children to piano lessons, spent the whole trip helping me entertain Emerson so I didn’t have to fly him around like an airplane for an hour. A train with thousands of commuters in the Nation’s Capitol during rush hour. Yet just the right umbrellas are sitting right where I need them.

Do you know what I love about this picture? Not just the people in it and their fortitude for such a BIG adventure but also the people NOT in it. All the people who helped me throughout the day. It is amazing how many people appeared throughout the day, opening an umbrella for just a moment to help us out. And we returned the favor too, by helping people with dropped bags, finding tables, giving up seats and helping with directions. If you open your eyes, and take it in, there are so many people out there simply being kind to one another.

Noteworthy: Thanks to several of unknown umbrellas, everyone is still happy!

Headingoff

So, do you know what I loved most about this trip?!?! That I had the courage to step outside my comfort zone and just do it. We had a fabulous adventure and we learned as much about our selves as what we set out to learn.

“It is only in adventure that some people suceed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.” -Andre Gide

The Subsequent Child

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I was chatting with two college-aged siblings while picking up my children from the nursery after church on Sunday. One of them said, “Parents love the first child more.” It reminded me of a discovery I had shortly after the birth of my second child: The love I have for these two boys is different.

We spent four years struggling to conceive. In that time, we had a miscarriage, I had surgery and several treatment regimens with a fertility clinic. Then, when we had success with IVF, the pregnancy itself was complicated, ending at just 33 weeks with a 3 pound baby in the NICU. When Silas finally arrived after such a long and difficult road it was like being rescued after spending weeks on a life raft. Silas was that much needed drink of water which fills you with life again. He was the medicine to restore my happiness.

The possibility of an “Emerson” was a surprise since we never envisioned being able to afford a second IVF treatment. Frankly, we were insanely fortunate to have my insurance cover Silas’ IVF cycle and I no longer held that job. We had the shock of a lifetime when someone left us money to try for another child. So we tried IVF again and it worked on the first try. That was followed by a stunningly healthy pregnancy. As the perinatal doctor said, we had David and were now having Goliath. And there it was again. Love. Instant before you even meet love. (By the way, I am still amazed at how their individual personalities were apparent even before they were born!) Emerson was like a beautiful flower, blooming in a wonderful garden, causing me to slow down to appreciate him and every other gift in my life.

I spent years believing I would never be able to have children. Now, in spite of the challenges and fear of failure I face as the mother of two boys, I can hardly imagine or remember what my life was like without them. This was meant to be. Always.

A note to that subsequent child for when you ask why there are fewer pictures of you:

First, because it is hard to be everything to two people and your mommy is pooped. Some days it is simply impossible and I have to choose whose present need is greater. Other days, you tag team me, hardly leaving me with time to go to the bathroom. Sometimes even going to the bathroom with you on my lap. And that is okay because I know it won’t last forever. Before I know it, your friends, your college, your work, your own family will come before the mommy you so consistently need today.

Second, it’s sort of like the footprints poem where God tells you He was carrying you where you only see one set of footprints. There simply is no more “downtime.” Every moment I could have been behind that camera snapping pictures of all the wonderful, adorable things you do is a moment I chose to leave the camera up on the shelf and just be with you.

Third, I will admit, there are fewer pictures of you but there are some pictures. That is because the days move by with such an astonishing pace that I am afraid I won’t remember these brief and beautiful moments. I know our hearts will remember but I want something our eyes can devour. I want you to have something to look back on to raise your heart’s memory to the surface like a flower bursting through the soil! The memory on your heart is so you will walk out into the world and be prepared to share love no matter what comes your way. The visual memory is to remind you, even when I am gone, that you have received love as well. My hair has gone gray filling you up with all my love. Take it and make the world bright.

Last, but not least, I refuse to concede that I love you any less than your sibling. The subsequent child (or children) has the good fortune of having a wiser mother. She now knows she can not do it all.  She knows she will fail. She knows you will not only survive but will thrive. She knows that, just as each child has a different personality, so is the love she has for them. It is different. Not more. Not less. Simply and elegantly and beautifully different. Look into your hearts, my dear children, it is there and not in my written word or snapshot that you will know I love you.

 

My Umbrellas, My Messy Beautiful Umbrellas

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After a recent weekend of spending time with old and new friends, I was reflecting during our church service about how one’s view of something changes as you mature. As a child, my neighborhood was where I played, lived and went to school. What I remember are the mechanics of our daily routines. There wasn’t much depth to what I saw, just the outer layer of things. -Just the flowers, grass and trees if you will. It was fun but it lacked any depth. As an adult, I see my neighborhood as something much more powerful. I see the quality of the people in it. How they live and work, strive and struggle, play and love. In church, I get to know that neighbor who I used to only see jogging by my house. I learn how he has been fighting cancer. No longer a stranger, I come to celebrate his victory over it. I come to know the other mothers in the neighborhood. Thank God, I have come to know the other mothers in the neighborhood. I come to love them as we share our joys and sorrows, our victories and defeats. We carry casseroles and tissues and laughter to each other through good times and bad. Our children play together. They learn together. They grow together. These people are the soil and air my family will grow among and I know we will thrive. Now, as an adult and mother, I notice not just the flowers, grass and trees but also the water, soil and air. I am fortunate. Very fortunate. And yet, I realize, my growth in awareness is still just a mere droplet compared to what God has in store for me. As I write, this song speaks to me: As It Is In Heaven – Matt Maher. Thank you, my friends and family, for being my water, my air, my soil… My umbrellas through the storms of life. 

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They hold the safety net that catches me when I fall. They hold umbrellas over me when the world seemingly crumbles all around us. They hold my hand and they hold my heart. They are my friends. And I love them. -Celeste McNiesh