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Imperfectly Practicing Compassion

Last year I read the book “Slow” by Brooke McAlary. I was hesitant to pick up the book just because it seems so “trendy” right now to talk about slow living and minimalism and cutting out the clutter. And I haven’t been in the mood for trendy.

But this book was a pleasant surprise, and I’m so glad I finished it. Throughout it, the author poses a number of questions for the reader to answer. Since I’m not really feeling my muse today, I thought I’d take a stab at one of those questions: What is important to me?

There are so many things that are important to me. First on that list is my family and living and loving every single second with them. It is important to me that they know how much they are loved — and how much Mr. B and I love each other.

On top of that, though, I want them to know that even though we love each other, it doesn’t mean we always agree or we always get along. It is important to me that they know that “Love” means loving each other because of our differences, not despite them. I want them to appreciate, embrace and love differences and not just tolerate them.

(That word. “Tolerate.” It’s always been a thorn in my side. But that’s a post for another day.)

What’s more, especially these days, it is so important to me to teach my kids kindness — to themselves and to others. It’s hard because so much of what our kids learn is not in what we tell them but in what we show them. They learn from our examples, so I need to teach them kindness and generosity and openness by being (more) kind, (more) generous and (more) open.

And, quite frankly, some days that’s hard. The world can be an ugly place. And that ugliness has a way of creeping into every crack and crevice of a person. I mean, I like to think of myself as a compassionate, loving, generous person. But some days the routine of just getting through life takes over and I forget that the world is less ugly when I’m more kind.

Practice Compassion Graphic

That’s why I chose “compassion” as my word for the year. (Here I go, being all trendy with a “word of the year” when I just got done telling you I’m not in the mood for trendy. I’m nothing if not consistent. 樂 ) 

Anyway … I wanted a daily reminder to be kinder to the person in the mirror and the rest of the people inhabiting my little corner of the world. It’s worked to have that peeking out at me when I look at my computer screen or look at the word written at the top of my monthly goal tending list (thank you PowerSheets).

It certainly hasn’t been a cure-all, though. I still catch myself thinking unkind things about myself and not being as loving toward others as I know I need to be. I can do better and I plan to keep working at it. I’m still a work in progress in making sure my actions are speaking as loudly as my words and the motivational quotes I’m so drawn to.

I guess, in summary, it is important to me that my kids know that love always remains — that they loved for exactly who they are, exactly as they are. I also want them to know that a little bit of compassion goes a long way.

By watching me, I hope they also learn that we’re all imperfect and we all can do better. And do better we should.

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Thankfully …

Do you guys ever feel like nothing’s going your way? Like no matter what you do, life has something much less enjoyable in store for you?

I’ve kinda been in that slump for a few months. I can’t really explain it, but it sure has felt like it’s just one thing after another after another — starting with getting T-boned on Christmas Day on our way to a family celebration. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Not that you necessarily want to hear about all the “drama,” but I’m sharing it here to get it out of the way — and get it out of my head. Warning: it’s long — turns out I had a lot to say on the matter.

And, let me just put this disclaimer on all of this (I know what some of you are thinking): in the grand scheme of life, what follows is nothing — minuscule — small potatoes — a passing unlucky streak. I know how good we have it. I understand that so many people have it “worse” than we do. But, for this stage in our life, it’s been hard. And stressful. And I’m not complaining, not in the least. I’m just telling this chapter of our story. Because it’s been bumpy and this blog (abandoned though it may seem) has been my way of processing my life. And I need to do some processing right now.

After the accident, we were without our van for three-ish weeks — thankfully we had access to transportation from our Village. That accident seemed to have set off a series of unfortunate events. Shortly after that, Piper got sprayed by a skunk and brought the fresh spray into our house, resulting in us needing to have our house professionally fumigated and carpets cleaned. Thankfully it wasn’t the entire house, and we were able to get it taken care of fairly quickly. Shortly thereafter we heard a little critter (or two??) running around in our walls at night and had to call in an exterminator. Thankfullythey were able to remove the little devil, and we haven’t heard any tiny footsteps since. That same week, we lost power in a bad cold spell that swept through the area — practically icing the entire city over and taking out power to thousands upon thousands. We were out of our house for two days and one night. We lost the entire contents of our fridge, but thankfully it wasn’t worse than that: our freezer kept things frozen for the two days we were without power, our pipes didn’t freeze, and our power (heat!) came back on in two days instead of the estimated five. Because of all of the storms and ice and cold, preschool and daycare we canceled numerous times, making getting to work regularly really difficult. Thankfullywe were able to trade days off work and find people to come over and watch the kids so I could work from home a bit.

And the pièce de résistance: in the middle of all of this, Mr. B was fired from his job quite unexpectedly. It’s a shock when you’re not prepared for it emotionally or financially — when control is taken out of your hands. Thankfully, we have an amazing support system and people who held us up as Mr. B searched for another job and we tried to keep things as normal as possible for our little family. Also thankfullyMr. B found another job pretty quickly and is now employed as a barista — step one on his way to learn the coffee business from the inside out. And, even more thankfully, he’s finally on his way to a career path than can be more soul-filling.

Here it is March 3, and we’re finally feeling like we can breathe again and that the light is starting to shine. (Could it be that spring is finally on its way?!) This hasn’t been an easy chapter in our story, and at times, it wasn’t pretty. There have been arguments and uncertainty and rethinking goals we had set for ourselves for this year — both individually and as a family. At times, tempers were short and tears fell (mostly mine).

But, honestly, two things helped keep us grounded in reality through it all: Dorothy and Hobbes.

Family pictures

Were we happy about the situation we were in? No. Were we a bit stressed out and anxious about how we were going to manage everything? Yes. (Also mostly me.) Did we want to keep things as “normal” as possible for the kids? Yes. So we did what we had to do and kept moving forward. We tried our best to keep the stress and anxiety we were feeling between the two of us — though, we’re not perfect. And we tried our best to remind each other about our Big Picture.

Dorothy is very excited about her dad now working in a coffee shop, and she points out every Starbucks we pass and asks if that’s her dad’s new coffee shop. And Hobbes is happy that his dad still gets to drop him at daycare every morning and pick him up afterward every afternoon.

Another thing that I know helped me through all of this was my gratitude journal. On Jan. 1 I started recording one thing in my planner that I was grateful for each day. Focusing on the good things helped me recenter and re-align my thoughts. Through all of this … chaos, I did find something every single day that filled my heart with gratitude:

  • having access to a babysitter so we could go the the laundromat and wash every item of clothing, bedding and towels we owned to de-skunkify them
  • not taking the time to clean out our freezer all those times I said I should, so it was full to the brim and more protected when the power went out
  • finding out we had a free sub when we checked out at the restaurant one day when we were debating how we were going to pay for dinner but just needing to get out of the house for our sanity
  • being surrounded by so many people who love us and step in to help — whether we ask or they just know

I have something similar for every single day this year, and it has helped me keep myself focused on what really matters — even when it felt like things were somewhat coming apart at the seams around me.

Full disclosure: it was not all “I’m so grateful” and “using this to make a positive change in our lives” and “it could be worse” and “#blessed” … just ask my mom, who was the recipient sobbing, stressed-out phone calls on my way to work a few times. 

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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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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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Talking the Talk

When you have two toddlers, it’s hard to find time to talk — really, really talk — with your partner. I mean, Mr. B and I talk. We talk about our days. We talk about our budget. We talk about our weekend plans. But we don’t really talk about The Big Stuff. You know, the stuff we used to talk about pre-kids. Or, really, pre-marriage.

There’s a special kind of conversation that takes place when you’re in the first chapter of a relationship — The Big Stuff. Hopes. Fears. Dreams. Goals. These kinds of conversations are the stuff relationships and new love are made from. The results of these conversations are, to a certain extent, the reason you fall in love with someone.

At least, that’s how it worked for me.

Mr. B and I used to have the most fantastic conversations. Some of this was due to the way we fell in love with each other — online, through late-night conversations via text, chat, email and, sometimes, even phone calls. Working opposite shifts and living in different cities made conversation a crucial building block in our relationship. Looking at us now, I’m certain you’d never believe we once stayed up until 4 a.m. just walking the streets talking. (Shocking, I know! I mean, just yesterday we called it a night and went to bed at 9:30 after I woke up to the sound of Mr. B snoring on the couch next to me.)

Want further proof we used to young and fun once — staying up until all hours, playing dress up and just being plain silly?

All this to say that Mr. B and I have been talking lately — about more than what’s for dinner. But, to be honest, we do talk about that a lot. And breakfast, too. Because breakfast is really important.

Communication can be tough — marriage can be tough. And I think Mr. B and I have had to work at it harder in the last six months than we ever have. (It certainly doesn’t help that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues of my own.) So much about our life together has been about the kids — what’s going on with them, what they’re currently getting into in the other room, what they need — that, not only have we neglected ourselves as individuals, we’ve neglected ourselves as a couple.

We’re working hard to change that. And part of that is talking more. Real, purposeful talking — setting aside time to actually have a conversation with each other that can’t be interrupted by a needy kid (or one who’s so stinkin’ cute we have to drop everything we’re doing and just marvel at our little creation).

Some of the conversations are ugly — because no matter how much I try to work on my emotional intelligence, all of my feelings look like tears. And some of the conversations are really, really beautiful — how life-giving is it to have someone open his soul wide up and share his biggest, pie-in-the-skyiest dream with you?

We talk about how we can do better as partners, as parents. We talk about where we want to be in five weeks, five months and five years. We talk about our next chapter, our next home. We talk about reindeer and children’s books and coffee and hammocks. We talk about what our future together looks like — and what our future as individuals looks like. And, yes, of course we talk about our kids.

As we spend more time talking — and making real conversation a priority — we’re getting better at it. We’re rediscovering that warm feeling we had in the beginning when we were connecting on a different plane. Communication is starting to flow more smoothly and happen more spontaneously. But, like everything, it’s definitely taking practice and a little patience as we dust the rust off.

I can already tell that things between us are starting to click a little better. We’re reconnecting to the “we” we used to be — with the addition of at least one fun new topic to add to our conversations:

The kids

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