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It Takes a Village

I had the joy of talking with my friend Bri Luginbill today for her Compassionately Yours podcast, which focuses on self love, compassion and body image. When she first reached out to me to be on the podcast, my initial response was a little hesitant.

Why in the world would she want me to talk about body image self compassion. So many times I’m hard on myself and feel at my weakest — mentally and physically. I am a work in progress. 

But I decided to do it — to share my weaknesses, my struggles, as well as the things I’ve learned about being hard on ourselves and giving ourselves the same grace we’d give to others.

I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest for me — showing myself the same flexibility, compassion and grace that I give to other people. I feel like all the advice I’d offer someone else about giving themselves room to be human is advice I should really give myself in the mirror every single day.

Another bit of advice I need someone to send back to me is that I need to learn to let people in. Ask one of my closest friends, and she’ll tell you that it’s hard to get me to open up about certain things — and she’s known me for almost 15 years. This fact may be hard to believe since I share so much of myself on this blog, but I promise you there is a lot beneath the surface. I hold some of my stuff close.

And talking with Bri during the podcast and after, it made me think a bit. It helped me realize something that’s not all that shocking or surprising: we need our “people.” People who get “it” and who get us. Whether it’s through shared experiences or shared history, we need people around us. I need people in my village, even if I’m more comfortable spending my free time in a quiet corner with my nose in a book.

As I sit writing this post while Dorothy is in ballet class, I’m feeling contemplative and thinking about ways to build my village, to build my family’s village. Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ve been known to look at the wall for a bit while the thoughts find their way to my fingertips. When I looked up a bit ago, I saw a picture that makes me think the universe is trying to tell me something.

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Isn’t that always the way with the universe?

Bri and I talked about so much during the podcast and after that has made me think — and rethink. It’s so nice chatting with another mom who’s going through many of the same things I am and who knows my story.

I won’t go into detail about what else Bri and I talked about — because I want to save that for you to hear when the podcast airs. But I will say this: after the podcast, I kept thinking about all sorts of additional things I wanted to share. That means I’ll have to share those thoughts in a post after the podcast comes out — a sort of addendum, I suppose. Stay tuned.

And, in the meantime, I urge you to check out what Bri’s doing. It’s pretty great.

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5 years, a beach and a cupcake

Yesterday, we celebrated what would have been Penelope Joy’s 5th birthday.

Penelope Joy on her birthday

One of our first family photos with Penelope Joy.

For some reason, we always find ourselves headed to the water on Sept. 9 — whether it be the lake or the river — to honor our precious girl’s memory. There’s just something about the water that always calls us back for her birthday, and yesterday it was exactly what our souls needed.

Family Photo on 9:9:18

On the way to pick up our traditional Penelope Joy birthday cupcakes, Dorothy asked us when she’d get to see Penelope: “I just really miss my sister Penelope and I want to see her and eat a cupcake with her.”

We talked, then, about how sometimes the people we love and miss the most live in our hearts and in the stars. And, if we want to talk to them, we don’t even have to see them — we can just look up or hold our hand on our heart and talk to them whenever we want. And we can feel them when we think about them because our hearts will get warm.

And Mr. B and I assured her that we missed Penelope Joy very much, too. We want Dorothy and Hobbes to know how much their sister was loved — and will always be loved, just as they are.  What’s more, we want them to know it’s OK to be sad and feel emotional when we think about people we miss.

After picking up the cupcakes and a deep, emotional conversation with our 3-year-old rainbow, we headed out to the lakeshore. On the way there, Mr. B got quiet and thoughtful and said, “You know, it’s not just Penelope’s birthday; it’s the anniversary of the day we became parents.”

So, on the shore of Lake Michigan on a blustery-but-beautiful Michigan morning, we celebrated our parent-iversary as well as the birthday of our beautiful star.

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You won’t see a lot of tears or sad faces in these pictures. Now, don’t get me wrong: Mr. B and I each took some time yesterday morning to cry our tears. Mine were particularly ugly. But once we got to the beach, we spent the time filling each other up with love and enjoying the antics of our wild and wonderful kids, grateful for every mouthful of sand and shriek of laughter — for they were reminders of the gifts we’ve been given.

I’d been particularly nervous about this birthday — this 5th birthday. In my mind, since she died, Penelope Joy has always been 5 — skipping around, pigtails bouncing, wide smile grinning back at me from a face full of freckles and a pair of laughing emerald eyes sparkling in the sun. What would happen when she actually would have been 5? Would my thoughts and dreams and visions of her disappear? Would I no longer be able to call her to mind? Would she suddenly be 10 or 18 or 30? Would I lose my little girl all over again?

Leading up to this birthday, my nerves have been shot and I’ve been preoccupied with the what-ifs and what-nows. I am happy to report that I woke up this morning, Penelope Joy still a joyful 5-year-old skipping around in my mind.

Penelope Joy’s death still hurts, and my heart grieves daily for her. But, living in the light with those who love us most dulls the pain and brightens the sky.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re a West Michigan local, definitely check out The Salted Cupcake in Grand Rapids — as Dorothy told me, “the cupcakes are deeeee-licious!”

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A Grief Story

My “grief story” starts in May 2013 — just about six months after Mr. B and I got married. I was three months pregnant and the ultrasound tech walked out of the room and a maternal fetal medicine specialist walked in with the words “I have some bad news.”

All they could tell me is that my precious daughter would be born with a severe heart defect. They didn’t know how bad it would be — only that it would require surgery and long-term hospitalization and care.

I suppose that was the day my grieving began.

Click here to read more of my grief story at For Our Grieving.


About F.O.G. (For Our Grieving)

Grief is a universal emotion, one that can overwhelm children as well as adults. When we lose a loved one, there are many feelings that may need to be processed — feelings of sorrow, loneliness, and even anger.

F.O.G. is a nonprofit 501(c) 3 that provides a safe, friendly and professional environment where bereaved individuals of all ages and their families can find uplifting, encouragement, support, resources, education and strength while dealing with all types of loss.

Tamesha Rouse the founder of F.O.G. started this nonprofit 501 (c) (3) in 2011 to provide support for adults, teens and children grieving the loss of a loved one. After the loss of Tamesha’s sister Talaya in 2010, and the loss of her own children shortly thereafter, Tamesha felt that this cold world was turning on her and that there was no turning back. “Nothing was clear to me anymore, it felt as if the fog never let up, it was just one thing after the other; I went to a dark place and wasn’t sure how I was going to get out!” stated Tamesha. One day when she woke up from her fog, she said things became clear and she knew what she wanted to do, and it was to help others heal, find hope, and embrace their “here and now.” From there F.O.G. was born.

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Oh, to be a river

Last weekend I went on a mini retreat with one of my oldest — and dearest — friends while Mr. B stayed home with the kids for an adventure only two toddlers can provide. Saturday morning my friend and I packed our computers, books, music and wine and spent a glorious 24 hours in the company of a river at a small cabin in the heart of The Mitten.

Chippewa River View

It was quiet and peaceful and everything my soul had been needing for some time. I have talked before about how bad I am at making time for myself, but I’m trying to do better. I recognized my need to get away and have a night to myself to focus on things I enjoy doing: reading, writing, thinking, dreaming and planning. And what better place for this annoyingly stereotypical Pisces to do that than by the water.

My goal for the retreat was to just focus on things I enjoy that fill my soul. I read two novels, wrote a blog post and spent a lot of time sketching out my dreams for my future — for my family’s future. And, I spent some time thinking about rivers, up to my ankles in the flowing water.

Feet in the river

There’s so much I love about rivers. The peace of the smooth, flowing water. The whispery sounds as wind slides through the trees on the shore and the water snakes past. The chirping birds and splashing fish. The waving grasses and plants on the banks. The coolness of the water on my unsteady feet as the sand and rocks massage my achy arches.

But there’s so much more to rivers than all their beauty and peace, though. And I wonder: is it possible to love and fear and envy rivers all at the same time?

Rivers — even more than bodies of water — scare me. I’m never so intrigued and nervous as I am in the spring when the rivers swell, flooding roads and homes as they wash away what remains of our cold, Michigan winters. And those who aren’t careful very easily could get swept along with the river. Rushing spring river waters carry with them danger for the people and property that get in their way.

But, oh the way they flow — not taking no for an answer, cutting new paths with a fierce stubbornness and conviction only a river can know. There’s a special kind of patience in a river, too, knowing their path won’t be cut immediately. If there’s something in their way, they push through it. It might take years, or decades, or eons, but the river holds firm in its goal. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in this world were cut by a river — earth never the same after a river’s run through it.

There are days I wish I could be more like a river — to have that peace and patience with a fierce streak of determination running through me. Perhaps that should be my goal — perhaps I should focus on finding peace with my path while knowing it’s within my power to cut a new one as I go. Because it is, after all, my path. It is my story.

A view of the river

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Breastfeeding a Biter

I’ve written before about breastfeeding and what it’s been like for me. I’ve been feeling the need to update that story, now that I’ve provided breastmilk for three kiddos. Each of my experiences breastfeeding has been unique, as I imagine they are for every mom. And what better time to update my story than during World Breastfeeding Week?

Images of each kid breastfeeding

Did you catch what I said in the second sentence above? The words “… provided breastmilk for three kiddos …” were carefully chosen because Penelope Joy never actually fed at the breast. But I did, indeed, get to provide her with my milk for a very limited time.

And Dorothy? She nursed until she was 21 months old and I was well into my second trimester of pregnancy with Hobbes. Nursing Hobbes, though, has been … let’s just say … an adventure. And not one of those comedic ones, either.

I didn’t have nearly the issues with supply for Hobbes as I did for Dorothy. And my body responded so much better to the pump — leaving me with a nice little cushion of a freezer stash from the beginning. My pumping experience with Hobbes was so much less stressful than it was the first two times around, and I cried way fewer tears. I stopped pumping when he was about a year old, though he’s still nursing.

At 16 months old, he’s still nursing to sleep — for naps and at bedtime. And he’s still nursing in the night as well, some nights multiple times. Let’s not forget the just-before-we-head-out-the-door nursing, either, when he runs up to me, pulls my shirt down — or lifts my dress up — joyfully yelling “night night milk!” Oh, and then there are the run-by nursings where he literally runs up to me, puts his hand down my shirt, pulls my nursing bra down, takes a quick sip and resumes chasing after his sister or the dog or a shadow.

But probably my favorite — /sarcasm/ — thing about nursing Hobbes is when he shoves his foot in my face, picks my nose or repeatedly pinches my opposite nipple while nursing. Oh, yeah, and he bites. Often — but always with a sly little grin on his face.

There have been so many times when I looked at Mr. B and told him, “I’m so ready to be done with breastfeeding.” And he looks at me back, with knowing eyes.

images of Hobbes breastfeedingBecause he’s well aware that as soon as Hobbes climbs up on my lap, pushes up my shirt, snuggles in and looks at me with his big brown eyes, my heart will melt and I’ll have forgotten all the bites and bruises and annoying rush-around mornings. Because time is fleeting and breastfeeding this little man isn’t going to last forever. I know I’ll miss it when this stage has passed.

 

 

End note: I’d like to end this post by saying that I realize that breastfeeding can be a sensitive topic — one that’s so personal that a lot of moms feel judged based on if they chose to breastfeed, how long they chose to breastfeed, how they react to other women breastfeeding, etc. So every time I write about it I find it necessary to add caveats and explanations in fear of people feeling like me talking about my experience some way reflects on their experience or offers some kind of judgment for those experiences that are different from my own. 

But, here’s the thing, I can only write what I know. I can only write what I’ve experienced. So, please take this post as that — simply another story into my life with no expectation or judgment reflecting on anyone else’s choices or experiences. 

 

 

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Back to School Blues

Back to school is my favorite time of year. Seriously, Christmas and Halloween have nothing on this most wonderful time of year for me. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and even though I’ve not been to school for many moons I still celebrate in my own small way each year with new pens, markers or and notebooks.

I’ve always looked forward to the back-to-school sales and smell of fresh Crayolas lining the aisles at the stores. But this year, it’s different.

Since Penelope Joy was conceived, I looked forward to September 2018 when she would head to kindergarten. I thought about shopping for her first-day-of-school outfit and picking out her backpack. What would she want on her lunchbox? What sorts of friends would she make? Where would she catch the bus?

Then, Penelope Joy died. And I’ve looked forward to September 2018 with dread and fear rather than joy and excitement, knowing that this would have been my precious girl’s year. For quite some time I’ve been preparing for this day, knowing that I’d be a wreck as friends posted their 5-year-olds’ first day of school pictures and talked about their mixed emotions of joy and sadness as they sent their little ones off to school. I had every intention to stay off of social media for the week before and after Labor Day because my heart cannot handle it.

But now things are different as we prepare to send our rainbow baby off to preschool in September. While it’s not kindergarten, it’s her first school experience — and it’s my first mom experience with school.

We received Dorothy’s supply list in the mail the other day, as well as her child information sheet and request for vaccination records. And it hurt my heart — not just because Dorothy’s growing up (way too fast, I might add) but also because of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.

I think most of these milestones will always be bittersweet for me — both celebrating my kids’ experiences while internally mourning everything we missed out on with Penelope Joy. I try so hard not to let my grief — my lifelong grief — get in the way of our celebrations and joy. But some milestones are harder than others. Back to school, it seems, is going to be one of them.

So please be gentle with my tender heart as I experience more than the normal I-can’t-believe-my-little-girl-is-going-to-preschool sadness. And know that when I hop briefly on social media to share my shining rainbow’s first-day-of-school picture, it is because I am the proudest mom ever of a child who deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance we can muster for Back to School 2018.

I wonder what she’ll want on her lunchbox …

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Before and After

I was working on an article earlier as a submission to my friend’s nonprofit organization, which seeks to help others heal, find hope and try to be happy again after someone they love dies. She asked me to contribute a piece about grief and, as my story flowed, about living with grief.

As I was looking for photos to share with the story, I came across two family photos. The first one is from 2013 and is the last family photo we ever took with Penelope Joy. The second one is from April this year.

So many striking differences between the two photos — and not just in the amount of hair on Mr. B’s face or the color of my glasses. I don’t think I noticed before quite how much fear and sadness were living behind our eyes in that photo. Mr. B’s eyes, I think, say it best — though my blotchy face and misty eyes give it away as well. We were terrified. We were devastated. We were holding on to a very thin rope of hope. We were, in the instant this photo was taken, preparing to say good-bye.

Sometimes I feel like I have two families: my “before” family and my “after” family. So, in a way, these are my before and after pictures.

It’s not that Penelope Joy isn’t an important part of who we are now — because she’s written into every word of our story. It’s more that who we were then is so entirely different from who we are now — as individuals and together. So much of where we are in life could never have existed in the version of our story where Penelope Joy lives. Who we are now would never be if we didn’t have this very specific “before.” Hobbes and Dorothy wouldn’t be part of our story if our “once upon a time” didn’t start with Penelope Joy’s way-too-short chapter.

I miss that little girl with such fierceness, so much force of heart. Even as I celebrate the life and light Dorothy and Hobbes bring into our tale, I can’t help but think about our before. And how it’s directed our ever-after.

I’ll be sure to share the link to the full story about grief — Grief — once it’s posted on my friend’s site.

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