Saturday, December 27, 2014


I've been around the world but never in my wildest dreams

Would I come running home to you

I've told a million lies

But now I tell a single truth

There's you in everything I do

--Imagine Dragons
"Bet My Life"

"Are you happy?"  he asked me tonight, and it caught me by surprise.  I paused, which he took as a bad sign--but it wasn't, I was just reflecting.  I was thinking about happiness, and my definition of it, seriously considering whether the current state of our lives, and the current state of myself, fit within the realm that I judged the word 'happy.'

I had been staring at sweet, sleeping baby Claire when he asked me this question, listening intently to her breathe.  She is 5 weeks old now and has come down with her first illness, and I had been debating all day whether or not to take her into the doctor.  I'm not in a good place when my small babies are sick, it brings up old feelings of fear that I have to work hard to fight my way out of.  Luckily her breathing was soft and quiet, clear of the mucus-filled cackles I had been concerned of earlier.

I looked up at him, sitting across the room, running his hands through the thick hair he had been begging me to cut for weeks.  The  glow of the lamp next to him cast a soft light on his brown eyes.

"You know, I was thinking about our life this week," I began, "and how I'm really not a very romantic person.  I don't need flowers and gifts and big romantic gestures, though those are nice every now and then.  But what I am, is a sentimental person.  When I step out of my daily life for a few moments, and pretend I'm someone outside of our home, peering in the window and watching us, my perception changes.  When I look back through pictures and think of our memories, I'm overcome with emotion.  I remember when I was younger, picturing what I wanted--writing a list of things most important to the least.  On the top of that list was being married to a good man, and the next one was being a mother to a lot of kids.  I know when I wrote that list, I had no idea what marriage would be like, and knew even less what motherhood would be like.  I was so naive, back then.  But I'm no longer naive.  Marriage and motherhood can be incredibly hard, and most of the time I'm so caught up in the tantrums of our children, what I'm making for dinner, or the never-ending laundry piles, or the constant compromise and teamwork that marriage requires, that I forget to step back and peek into our windows.  Right now, I am living my own dream, with you being the good man you are, and these four incredibly beautiful, amazing children.  So yes, I am happy."

He nodded and sat quietly, soaking in the words I had spoken.   Then came the next question.

"Will you still love me in 10 years?"  This was another that I took time to consider.  It wasn't because I wondered whether or not I would still love him, because I easily knew the answer to that.  I was taking time to remember why I love him now, and how there could not be doubt of the knowledge of my love for him continuing through my life, well past 10 more years.

Memories of us flashed through my mind.  There were so many--of us at our best moments, and of us at our worst--but one was more vivid than all of the others.

5 weeks ago, I was in the middle of the most painful labor I had ever experienced.  I had been dilated to a 9 for four hours, but the baby would not drop down into the birth canal because my water hadn't broken yet and was so big that the baby couldn't move past it.  My midwife was concerned--if they broke my water and the baby's head came down first, I was okay.  But if the umbilical cord came first, I would immediately have an emergency C section.  So they waited, and adjusted my positions, hoping it would help either move the baby or break the water.

In the meantime I could feel every contraction, and my back was in such excruciating pain that there were moments I couldn't focus on anything else except the blackness of it.  I cried and tried to breathe, and visualize the baby moving down, but each time the contraction started up again, the blackness returned.  I felt like I would lose my mind to the pain, and honestly came to the point where I was convinced I would die within it.  The only thing that brought me back from the dark that threatened to consume me was the feeling of Ben's hand gripping mine, and the sound of his voice:

"Okay, here's another one....this one is really big, but you're almost at the top of it....okay, you're at the top, you'll start to go down soon.....breathe, keep breathing, you can do this.....okay!  You did it, you're going back down're almost did it.  (a few moments later)  Alright, here comes another one--I know, I know, it's okay.....It's okay, you can do this, you can do this, keep breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth, okay you're climbing to the top......"

He could not take the pain from me, but he was there inside of it, with me.  I focused on his voice and his hand, and fought the waves of blackness.

As I thought of this memory, it was symbolic to me of our 12 years together--through all of the mountains we have had to climb, we have been each other's constant.  Our voices offering laughter until we cried, words of love and support, sometimes frustration, but continuing to see the best in each other. Our hands gripping tightly, holding on as we faced some of our best accomplishments and biggest demons.  Together we have been the one temporal thing that has stayed the same through the darkness and the light.

I tried to picture replacing his voice with another's, his hand with someone else's, and could not do it.  I knew I loved him now, more than I ever had, and that in 10 years my love for him would hold another decade of memories and depth.

"Yes, of course I will love you in 10 years.  You are not only what I hoped to find, you are more.  I love you, Ben."  

"I love you, too," he replied.

We stared for a few minutes at the newest miracle we had created together, watching her tiny chest rise and fall.  With God as our guide, we had come through another year.

And I knew we would continue through many more.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Claire Edith Strader
Born 11/17/14 at 4:08 pm, 8lbs even, 21 inches

Birth story to follow, for now here are
pictures from Claire's first 24 hours.

We love you, baby girl!  Happy Birth Day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Water balloons.

(What my pregnancy feet look like at 9 am, and then at 9 pm.) 

Every morning when I wake up, I have little to no use of my right hand.  The nights bring a continual loss of circulation in my fingers stretching all the way up to my elbow, and by the time I rise, my fingers are so stiff and swollen and in pain that I have no grip or ability to hold even a knife to butter toast for my children.

I can no longer style Leah's hair--which completely thwarts her plans to look as much like the Fancy Nancy book character as possible.  She cries as she begs for a bun or a braid, and I apologize that the best I can do right now is a haphazard ponytail, or to brush through it and clip in a flower or place a headband.  I allow her to work through her 5 year old emotion without feeling guilty, because I know I'm doing the best I can.  Some mornings I'm more patient with her emotions than others.

At breakfast, I gag down my liquid iron and wait the 30 minutes required before eating while I prepare a protein smoothie and toast for my kids.  I now allow them--once they're completely ready for school--to watch a morning show while they eat, because it diverts their attention to something aside from each other to bother and screech at.

I try to find something acceptable to wear in public, though I really don't care much what others think.  By "acceptable," my standards have lowered extremely, and the most I do is brush my teeth, put on my contacts, deoderant, and grab my sunglasses.  Because of the constant loss of circulation in my right hand, I save makeup-wearing days for Sunday.  And because showers cause severe swelling in my feet, I save showering for just before bedtime.

By this time, the iron has settled in, and my stomach lurches but I know the only way to get through it is to force down food to absorb it.  So I do.  And take some deep breaths to keep the food down.

Their backpacks are on and we figure out whose turn it is to pray, as we fold our arms.  Then we are out the door.

My morning routine used to be coming home with June after dropping off the older kids and letting her watch her favorite movie "Bolt," while I lay next to her on the couch.  But that has become a luxury now instead of routine, due to an increase in visits to the doctor or specialist.

This morning, I packed snacks and a drink as well as our ipad (in case of 3 yr old tantrum emergencies) and drove the 20 minutes with June to my consultation with the hematologist.  Usually we are quickly seen, but this morning the clock ticked loudly as the minutes dragged on.  June ate one snack after another--her string cheese, applesauce, crackers and fruit snacks--while she chatted with me and stared at those coming in an out of the waiting room while we stayed put.

I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, staring down at my feet which had begun to seriously swell during the 38 minutes we had been waiting.  I was feeling apprehensive about this appointment, nervous about the outcome of my current blood draw and iron count, because I had heard the results of them over the phone the day before, and gagging down the liquid iron twice a day had not seemed to make much difference.  I was disappointed at the outcome, because there had been days where the iron had made me so sick I had to make sure I was close to a bathroom for the majority of the morning.  I had changed my diet to include iron-rich foods instead of the carbs I adore so much.  I endured the weeks of stomach discomfort because of a purpose, and now it all seemed to have been for nothing.

I knew this would mean taking more extreme measures, and just the thought of the options discussed at a previous appointment made my forehead break out into a sweat and a wave of nausea overcome me.  I tried to distract my discouraged and nervous thoughts.

Looking up, I noticed a beautiful woman and her good-looking husband walk through the swinging glass doors.  June noticed her as well.  She checked in at the front desk, and they settled into a seat across from ours.  I guessed she was maybe 10 years older than me, wearing grey skinny jeans, a cute sweater, sparkling earrings, her makeup flawless.  She carried a soft, tan and white, chevron-patterned blanket and a large water bottle.  She wore a stylish grey hat that matched her jeans.

Underneath the hat, she was bald.

The hematologist I see works at the Cancer Institute, and the majority of those surrounding us in the waiting room were those who were in different stages of illness and treatment.  But there was something about this lovely woman, whose swollen cheeks from her medication did not match the rest of her thin body.  She did not carry the air of defeat so many others I watched seemed to.  

June continued to stare at her, and I wondered if she was going to blurt out something in 3-year-old fashion about her hair being gone, but instead she said loudly,

"Momma, that pretty lady is so very firsty,"  meaning thirsty, as she watched the woman take another drink from her pale pink water bottle.

The woman turned to us and smiled, waving at June.  June shyly tucked her head behind my arm, but lifted up a small hand to wave back to her.  She giggled as she hid, so I asked her what she thought of the pretty lady's earrings.

"Oh yes, I love hers earrings.  She's so fashion, Mom!"  And she peeked around my arm for another glance at her new friend, who continued to smile at us.  She asked June her name, and a few other questions, and June replied to them from behind my arm, peeking around and smiling as she answered.

Just then, the nurse opened the door and called my name.  I gathered up our belongings and reached for June's hand.  She shyly waved goodbye to the woman in the waiting room, and softly said, "Bye, friend," as we walked around the chairs.  I told her I hoped she would have a good day, and she waved goodbye to us.

The hematologist delivered the news I had been anticipating--iron infusions would begin in two weeks.  Because of a couple of seriously bad experiences with having my blood drawn, I have an extreme aversion to needles and especially IV's, and I gulped as I heard the appointments would take 30 minutes to an hour each time, depending on "how difficult it was to find a good vein."  I knew my veins are not ideal, and thoughts raced as to what "finding a good vein" might entail.

But the face of the woman in the waiting room came to my mind, and I remembered her reason for being there.  That could be me someday, waiting for the appointment to have a chemo infusion instead of iron, praying that the medicine that would make me so sick and exhausted would fight the enemy inside of my own body that was threatening to take my life.  Right now, my story is so much easier than hers.

This doesn't mean right now isn't hard, it is.  And it has been.  I have become a "bare minimum mom," one who yells across the house because the thought of walking on my water-ballooned swollen feet from the kitchen to the bedroom feels like too much of an effort, the one who has fallen behind on helping my kindergartner keep up with her extremely easy homework, because after lunch I am so desperate to lay down that I push quiet time and nap time as quickly as I can instead of taking that time with her.  Baths are skipped, clean laundry piles up, crumbs stay on the floors.  Our nights are a scheduled routine that doesn't leave much time for doing anything fun, and usually end with me laying between the girls on their bunkbed so their nightly shenanigans will end quicker.  I crave peace and quiet and rest, and feel like that's what has been motivating most of my actions and emotions lately.

Perspective is something that I continually search for in my life--not to invalidate my own struggles, but as a reminder to allow them, but not wallow in them.

I rushed from my appointment to pick up Leah from kindergarten, then walked into our home to get lunch ready.  I thought about the woman from the waiting room the entire time as I served strawberries, cheese and turkey to my girls.  I gingerly walked on swollen feet into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.  The speckles on my forehead and around my eyes from the weird "pregnancy mask" that has shown up this time used to bother me.  Now I stared at those speckles and told myself they will fade soon enough, and to stop focusing so much on what doesn't matter, so I could use my energy to focus on what does.  I have hair that isn't falling out, and a body that is not at war with itself, but is instead giving everything it has (especially all of its iron) to grow a new life.

And that is a beautiful, miraculous gift.

This pregnancy is a season, and though it is wearing a times, and I have had to lean on others to do things I am normally capable of doing on my own, it is one I am strong enough to get through.  Water ballooned feet and all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

When men should have bangs--Confronting Anemia--and Naked Windows. (Or, a small and somewhat meaningless update.)

{the morning after we moved.}

I am supposed to be working, while watching one of the two shows I actually sit down for during the week.

No, this isn't true.  I'm supposed to be cutting Ben's hair, which he has been asking me to do for about two weeks now--but he fell asleep on the lower bunk where Leah and June sleep together (vertically, in their full-sized bunk bed) while trying to get June to "calm down and stop pretending to karate chop her Curious George blankie."  Those were my words, not his, that I said to June right before Ben switched me places and I came out to the family room to settle my swollen feet on the ottoman next to the couch to begin my nightly computer work.

However, he fell asleep, so I don't feel guilty that the haircut isn't happening for yet another night.  Besides, I really like his hair long, when it begins to curl.  This is something we've disagreed about for going on 12 years of marriage, and I will admit there have been times when I've avoided those haircuts as long as I possibly can so I can enjoy one more day looking at the dark curls that grow.  "Men should not have bangs!"  Has been his motto.  Sometimes I agree with this--but in his case, I do not.

Anyway, I sat down to work and instead began reading blogs and started wondering if there would be a time when my words would come back to me to write has been a long, long time.  I miss this side of me.  So, I decided to just begin.

The months that have passed so quickly have provided our family with a lot of twists and turns.  Caleb turned 9, June turned 3, I turned 34, Ben turned 35, we went to Utah to visit family, Ben found a new job, we made it through another stifling Arizona summer, the older two kids began school, Ben passed his dissertation defense, and....we have unexpectedly moved (again).

I'm attempting to gain the attitude of expecting the unexpected with our lives, because that is the way it continues to go--thinking that the element of shock and stress and surprise will leave and I can roll with it better.  Or this is my hope.

I could tell I was in a funk when we had been in the house for 3 weeks and not one picture or curtain had been hung yet.  Not one!  This is unheard of, for me.  I worried I was depressed, honestly.  Or just avoiding the unpacking because I'm anticipating another move in our future and leaving everything ready to go at a moment's notice.  It turns out neither of these was true.

About 3 weeks ago, at the doctor's office for my glucose pregnancy blood test (so extremely un-fun), I was told I have a severe case of pregnancy-induced anemia.  How it was caused is unsure and something the midwife/doctor team is still puzzled about, referring me to a hematologist to double-check things next week.  In the mean time, I have been put on a high dose of iron and have been informed to take this matter seriously.

Week one and two of my iron dose seemed relatively the same, but last week--something clicked.  The iron pumping through my system started working and I began to feel human again.  I no longer had to come home from dropping the older two kids off at school and beg June to watch a movie so I could lay like a zombie on the couch or sleep until it was time to pick up Leah from half-day kindergarten.  I no longer lived on Tylenol or Excedrine (the one without aspirin) because of the constant and persistent headache I had been enduring for almost 4 months.  The room no longer spun each time I stood up.  I no longer had bouts of time (sometimes up to 20 minutes or more) where I struggled to breathe and my heart could not slow down.

And, I began hanging pictures on the walls.

I'm now answering phone calls, scheduling play dates, making dinner, and occasionally taking my kids to the park.  Every day no longer feels like I'm crawling my way through it, but actually getting up and walking through, with possibly a small spring in that step, even.  May not sound like a big deal for some, but unfortunately just existing day to day had become my story before the iron supplement.

Though I'm not grateful for the overly and intentionally sweetened glucose drink I had to consume that day in the doctor's office, I am grateful this anemia was discovered through that glucose test, and handled so I can come back to life just before this fourth baby enters our world.

Our new home is beginning to feel like us.  Curtains still need to be hung though.  Why do windows look so naked to me without them??  We will get there.

For now, I will settle with finally writing something, and getting to look at Ben's curly bangs one day longer than planned.

Also?  This is me, just after drinking that nasty sugary drink, before the iron supplement began, at 29 weeks along.  Anyone in the mood for a cupcake?

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Today I lay against the crinkly tissue, which wrinkled and ripped each time I moved--even when the only movement I made was to crane my neck around to the left and steal glimpses of my children watching the screen above us glowing its fluorescent purple.  It was the first ultrasound they have been to, and will most likely be the last.

We were shown the brain, the eyes, the nose with the sinus cavities, the ears, the abdomen, the bladder, ten fingers and ten toes that continued to wiggle and wave as the probe pushed down against the cold, clear jelly on my stomach.

"The baby isth sthooooo cute!"  Leah lisped with excitement, her hands clasped together.

"Dat baby looks like it's gonna eat dat shark,"  June explained, trying to make sense of the images before her.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" was the only thing Caleb continued to ask, until the technician finally answered.


I watched Caleb's face crumple as he brought his knees up to his chest and buried his head down.  Ben reached over and wrapped him in his arms.

"It's okay to be sad, Bud," I said gently, attempting to comfort him while he was out of my arm's reach.   The technician's eyes widened and shifted from my face over to Caleb's tears and I quietly explained, "We knew this would be hard for him, he's wanted a little brother for so long.  The good news is, wanting a little brother has never stopped him from loving his little sisters."

"He's not the first one to cry, it's usually the mom though," was her upbeat response.

We continued the rest of the anatomical exam with a more subdued mood than we had begun, but it was still miraculous to see.  There were so many parts and pieces working, dependent upon each other to connect  and form together.  The femur bones, the four heart chambers, the umbilical cord, the curved spine.  I stared at her perfect little profile and tried to visualize the movements on the screen happening inside of me at the same moment.

I have admittedly been one who stays emotionally unattached--or mentally unattached?-- during my pregnancies, which used to bother me.  I've wondered why I was not the type of woman to talk directly to my unborn child, or sing to them, or read them stories, or be able to associate my protruding stomach to a little baby actually alive inside of me, like I have heard so many do.

I've stopped being concerned with trying to be someone other than who I am, because the moment my child is placed in my arms the overwhelming love is so immediate, so thickly bound, that it feels like the missing piece of a puzzle I have been working on for 10 months is finally put in place.  My brain can suddenly compute and accept the reality of growing another little human, and the disconnected time during pregnancy washes away.

One thing that does connect me during pregnancy, is to decide on a name.   And I have, both a first and a middle name, one that jumped out at me a couple of months ago, and I haven't let go of since.  It is a sweet, peaceful name with the middle one also belonging to two women of strength in my life.  Ben isn't completely convinced yet, and this is the first time out of four that we haven't easily agreed, settling as soon as we heard the gender.

When the ultrasound was over, I met my midwife.  I've always wanted to work with a midwife, and was excited to hear at my last doctor's appointment that our insurance covered them, so I made the switch.  We spoke of what the next few months together looked like, and as she spoke, I felt a familiar feeling creep to the surface of my emotions--one I am currently digging through in therapy to continue to overcome.


More specifically,  Fear of my own abilities and strength.  I have barreled through many other Fears the past few years, and yet somehow as the midwife spoke, I recognized this Fear as one of the most deeply-buried, intrinsically ingrained of all of them.  Working through this one will reach out and cause a shift, changing other areas of my life, I can sense it.  These next few months will be interesting--that I know--and if I can meet the hurdles I for see ahead with faith in God and my abilities, they may also become one of the most challenging and rewarding of my entire life.

My little family went to lunch together after the appointment, all five of us sitting in a rounded booth.  The girls passed the ultrasound pictures back and forth, and Caleb cheered up over his pasta and mandarin oranges.  I found myself wondering how the dynamics of another girl will alter what we have in this moment, and could tell Ben was contemplating the same.

I am almost 20 weeks along, and feel that Halfway is very much a metaphor of my life right now.  There are so many things unsettled, unfinished, unknown, waiting on one thing or another, still in Forming Mode.

Ben's need for full-time work that will make enough to support us continues, his dissertation is set to be finished (finished!  I can hardly understand this concept! ) and defended by August 20th, our house may be sold while we are renting it, beginning any time after August we could be handed a slip of paper and told to find somewhere new, Ben will begin the application for interviews again in October, and---if all goes well--leave again for the majority of December and January while I do my best to juggle a newborn and three tiny people without the support of family close by.

The unknown of all of this can feel suffocating and terrifying, if I let it.

Like the tiny body parts I watched on the screen today, these pieces of our lives are dependent upon each other in order to grow, systematically working together to create what will become Our Future.  Ben and I are doing our best to hang on,  trying not to stress over how it will all come together.

We are trusting the process we are in, trying to believe in our own abilities and strength, waiting patiently while Halfway continues to develop, in both our lives and with our baby.

Monday, May 26, 2014

crawling out.

It feels as if the last almost-four months has been dedicated to sleeping, or laying down wishing I was sleeping.  Also simultaneously wishing my olfactory system no longer worked so I wasn't constantly fighting the feeling of an impending vomit session.  I have really come to believe my highly advanced sense of smell needs to take much of the credit for the non-stop nauseousness as it kicks into overdrive when pregnancy arrives.  Why do I blame my nose?  Because around week 12, I was hit with a nasty sinus infection that lasted a total of around five days.  At that same time, I was tricked into believing the nausea was finally coming to an end.  I couldn't breathe properly whenever I lay down, but I didn't care.  I stuffed tissues up my nose and reveled in the glorious idea I was feeling human again.  Until the sinus infection was over, and suddenly it returned.  It was a mean little trick to play on me, as I felt swept back under into the darkness of exhaustion and nausea that doesn't care if it's morning, afternoon, evening, or waking me in the middle of my sleep as the sun began to rise.

I am slowly crawling out though, with one or two good days each week now.  It isn't consistent, and I can't figure out what causes the temporary relief, but have learned to just take each day as it comes.  {Otherwise I've been found to spend them feeling sorry for myself on those hard days of sickness, asking overly-dramatic and obnoxious questions like, Will this everrrrrrrr ennnnnnnddddd????}

In spite of feeling as though I've lived in a cave, life has carried on.

Before I was sick, there was Valentine's Day:

Beautiful, imaginative, emotional, soft-hearted, constantly singing and dancing Leah turned 5:

We took a real family vacation, with Andrea and her family!

Ben finished his FINAL, LAST EVER class, and celebrated with a nap on the stairs:

I took a quick trip to Vegas and Utah for a siblings weekend:

Then the sickness hit, and the next thing I could remember was my sister and her family visited over Easter weekend.  I was so sick and felt so badly I could barely get out of bed, but did manage one night to get a babysitter, go out to a fancy dinner and REALLY celebrate their company and the end of doctoral classes:

Preschool graduation:

Mother's Day:

Our awesome, energetic Caleb turned 9:

Then finished 3rd grade:

And those are the highlights!  

Ben has been the champion of champions while I've basically checked out of life,
only putting on makeup maybe once per week, and emerging from the house about the same.  

Before he started his new job, he took on kid-duty, grocery shopping,
laundry and cleaning.  Those were a couple of weeks I barely remember, but am so grateful for, 
because I'm sure he remembers them.  

Now he's working in a new job and is gone several nights a week again,
and I say a lot of prayers and honestly?  The kids watch a lot of t.v.  

I'm hoping I'm getting to the end of it though.  First trimesters are rough, what else can I say?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Motherhood, take 4.

“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did - that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that - a parent's heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” 

this Mother's day weekend, 
i'm focusing again on the choice and privilege i have of being their mom,
all four of them.  

due november 27th,
we're trying to wrap our brains around
how one more member of this family will change us.

and can't wait to find out!

Friday, March 28, 2014

living in a Moment.

Yesterday's late March afternoon was unusual for the simple fact that Ben was home.  Most weekdays, it's rare when we are in the same place at the same time before 10 pm.

The girls were playing in the toy room, and I could hear their squeals and screeches as the ponies in their hands danced and jumped.  They had purposely dressed themselves alike today, in matching grey t-shirts and poofy skirts.  In between fighting, they have become very good friends.

I found myself laying stomach-down on the white comforter of our master bed, only feet away from Caleb who was sitting at the desk finishing homework.  In between helping answer his questions, I was reading a sentence here and there, desperately trying to finish the book I had started over the weekend while I was away on vacation.  I was determined to finish it--the pile on my night stand of half-read novels was getting too high.  Besides, I had been swallowed up by the characters and couldn't leave them until I knew what happened in the end.

It was right as I read the sentence when one of the characters in the book died, that Ben joined me on the bed, laying down the same way so the sides of our arms were touching.  He was texting a friend who needed advice about a car their family was buying.

Though I was engrossed in my book, I felt my senses becoming aware of my surroundings--something I usually tune out when enveloped in words on the page.  I heard the soft whirring of the ceiling fan, the light scratching of Caleb's pencil on his paper, the tick-tick-ticking of Ben's phone as he replied in text, and the girls' sometimes shrill but happy noises.  I felt the comfort of skin from my arm touching Ben's, and became aware I had absentmindedly hooked one of my feet around his, bouncing it up and down on the bed as I was reading.  I saw the afternoon sun coming through our bedroom window, softly enhancing shapes and shadows.

As my senses heightened to the moment I was living in, I remembered words from a television show I had once heard,

"You know how people talk about the Good Ole' Days?  I wish you could know they were the Good Ole' Days when you were actually in them."

I closed my book, laying still, focusing.  I thought of taking a picture so I wouldn't forget what was happening, but didn't want to disturb anything.  Instead I climbed on top of Ben, resting my head on his back, my cheek against his shoulder blade, wrapping my arms around him so they were in-between his chest and the bed.

I knew I had been caught up in the story of the dying character, but as I clung to Ben I faced the thought that one day I would not have the opportunity to wrap my arms around him, or help Caleb with his homework, or listen to my girls happily imagine.

"Well this is nice, what is this for?"  Ben asked about my sudden change in position.

"This life, that we've created together," I began, and stopped because I could feel emotion welling inside of me.  "We just have a really good life, and I'm grateful for it."  

I lay there quietly for a few minutes, letting the beauty of our right now consume me.  And then Caleb finished his homework, and the girls chased each other into our bedroom, and life began moving forward again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

swinging and bending, part 7: the Book.

Read the first part of this story, here.  
the second part, here.
the third part, here.
the fourth part, here.
and the fifth part, here.
and the sixth part, here.


"Perhaps the most devastating psychic conflict the all-good child experiences is inauthenticity--feeling as if those who perceive her as good or competent are mistaken.  

The all-good child is the parentified child--trained to parent the parent.  All-good children are typically obedient and loyal, and may function as little therapists in their families.  

All-good children repress awareness of their true feelings and, consequently, are likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Because they are preoccupied with the emotional state of others, they have difficulty experiencing pleasure.  Although they are acutely perceptive, they lack insight into their own psyche, and may be unaware of subtle depression.  

They.....may feel undeserving of a good life.  They feel as though they have already been given too much, and do not feel entitled to having more.  They may compulsively provide for others what they need for themselves.

Consequently, the all-good child is susceptible to emotional depletion because of the compulsive approval-seeking behavior.  They can feel overwhelmed with responsibility for caring for others, yet not deserving of being cared for themselves.  They have difficulty articulating their feelings and needs, and are extremely uncomfortable with recognition and attention.

In adult relationships, they are often overcommitted and emotionally preoccupied because they fear disappointing others.  They simply cannot say no.  Minor mistakes can trigger a catastrophic plunge in self-esteem, and internalized anxiety prevents them from enjoying their accomplishments.  The emotional energy of the all-good child is heavily invested in avoiding mistakes that could shatter the foundation of the self.

If it were possible to x-ray the self of the all-good child, one might find a porcelain soul with tiny fractures.  Although outwardly appearing uninjured, a child with a fractured soul lives with an inner sense of fragility.  All-good children suffer silently, unable to articulate the source of their pain that is too deep and too old to identify.  Although a fractured soul cannot fully mend, the all-good child learns to protect it from further injury.  Defenses such as denial, repression, and sublimation keep awareness of their pain at bay.  

While all-good children need therapy as much as the no-good children, they are unlikely to seek treatment."


Late one night, in the summer of 2008, I shuddered as I read these words.

I knew this "All-Good Child" well.  She had blonde hair, blueish/green eyes and dimples.  She laughed easily and rarely cried.  She was there whenever anyone needed help, but could not ask for support because she could not even recognize her own needs.  She hated being on stage, or celebrating her birthday, or being the new girl, or announcing pregnancies--anything that put her in the center of attention.  Her emotions were based on the emotions of those around her--if they were content, so was she.  If they were sad, she was rushing to comfort, her heart breaking with theirs.  If they were angry, she was afraid, and tried to pacify them with either humor or kindness.  She did not know who she was as an individual, but I knew her.

She was who I looked at in the mirror every day.

I was staying at my dad and stepmom's home for a few weeks on our way from the group home in North Carolina to Arizona, where we would begin Ben's journey of doctoral school.  My brother Tyler had let me borrow the Book, one he'd been recommended by a therapist he'd been seeing for a couple of years.

"She said I might be able to find something that relates to my childhood, but I haven't read it yet.  See what you think and let me know," he said, as he brought it to me.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but started reading.  In less than 48 hours I finished the Book, underlining and highlighting entire sections of it.

I called my brother.  "Holy crap, Ty.  HOLY CRAP.  Have you even started this book?  I'm going to have to buy you another copy, I need to keep this one,"  I said over the phone.

I explained to him the Book had shaken me, in a most unexpected way.  I felt at times like the author had filmed scenes from my childhood and written about them.  In the Book, I read about my parents, about my siblings, about myself.  I read about my grandmother.  I read about who I had become as an adult, my weaknesses and strengths.  I read about my marriage.  I read what I would continue to struggle with as I aged, and I read that I would be the least likely of the entire group to seek therapy--because I viewed myself as a survivor of trauma and doing "just fine," instead of as someone who could not recognize my own needs and emotions due to stuffing them down for so long.

It was both validating and terrifying, to read the words of my life.  Validating to know someone out there really understood; terrifying to realize that now that I knew, I would need to do something about it.  I had never been to therapy before, and had attached the stigma I know so many attach to it:  therapy was for people with real problems, who are a mess, who can't cope, and the list goes on.  I wasn't fitting into any of those categories, yet I knew after reading this, therapy was something I needed to pursue.

This Book altered the course of my life, in many ways.  It continues to alter it, for the better.  Because of this Book, I was brought down a path of self-awareness that eventually helped me to find self-worth, learning to untangle my emotions and needs from those of others around me.  Eventually it is what led me to seek help when my lack of ability to believe I deserved good in my life created situations that threatened to take the things I loved most away.

And when my own self worth was finally planted and I could truly feel it, I finally had the ability to help others, with similar stories, find theirs too.

The Book started me on this journey, but it took years before I could reach the end of it, an ending that led me to much closer to Peace.  But there were much more difficult things I had to face first.....

Thursday, March 6, 2014


It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore

I am sorry

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

You make it hard

Remember what we've said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

--"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

Crosby, Stills & Nash

aside from ben's school, there have been other difficult things going on in the past couple of months.  writing honestly?  my dad is going through his second divorce.  unlike my parents' divorce seven years ago, this one came as a surprise, and (also unlike the first one) was finished swiftly.  i know that how it appears on the outside isn't necessarily the truth of the inside, but my brother, sister and i were very surprised--and devastated.

after years of my childhood spent in an unwanted front row seat of a somewhat fractured and chaotic marriage, i found myself ready to see both of my parents start over--beginning with a new person, hoping this time would be different.  coming from a fragmented family made me peer through leery eyes as to what this new picture would look like, but i was willing to be open, and try.

what i found on the other side was the gift of getting to know some new really amazing people... most importantly, my stepmom.  brenda has this incredible capacity to immediately love and accept others, without judgment, question, or conditions.  because of her,  i was given the ability to heal pieces of my heart broken long ago, ones i thought could never be healed by another.

though i understood that this decision of divorce was made with a lot of thought and prayer, to hear that she and my dad were no longer going to be together terrified me.  truthfully, it still does.  i don't know what a fractured-family-from-a-fractured-family looks like, and i'm worried.  about my dad, about my siblings, about our relationships with those who have become a significant and important part of our lives for several years.

as i was driving caleb to school this morning, a song from my childhood came on ben's classic rock station on the radio.  i turned it up, yelling back to caleb, "i love this song!"  and started singing along.

immediately i was flooded with happy memories as a kid with my dad in the family car, beating his hands on the steering wheel like it was his own personal drum, belting out harmonies with a smile on his face as he sang these same words.

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are

Something inside is telling me that I've got your secret
Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart

And I love you 

in my memory, i could see my young father, probably around the same age as i am now.  he was full of music and corny jokes, even amidst the havoc in his life.  i imagine that he visualized his life in his 60's as a time of stability and calm, watching grandchildren grow as he retired and looked forward to hobbies, traveling, and family barbecues.

right after we learned of the divorce, he spent a couple of weeks with us here.  through him i saw such a strong desire to feel hope again that was palpable.  it was difficult to know how to help or what to say.  i was also working through my own complicated feelings, but because i love him and wanted to be supportive, i tried to put those on the backburner.  i wanted to tell him everything was going to turn out alright for him, but i was no longer sure.  i worried he would sense my hesitancy, so i hugged him and told him how much i loved him, and that he could come back whenever he needed.  as i watched him drive away, i felt hollow.

after dropping caleb off this morning, i sat in the car in our driveway and continued listening to the song that reminded me of my young father.  the tears came, and i let them.  i cried for what has happened, for all he has lost, for his present day that looks so unlike what i'm sure he had idealistically pictured his story to become, for the choices he's made in this life that require him to start over yet again.

Tearing yourself away from me now you are free
And I am crying
This does not mean I don't love you, I do, that's forever
Yes and for always

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
And you make it hard

between this and the roller coaster of ben's school situation, the month of january shook me up, leaving me feeling separated and tossed into the wind to be scattered around.  the month of february helped me find and gather my scattered pieces, and march is already helping me to patch myself back together, preparing for wherever the wind tries to carry me next.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

what matters most.

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again
--"The Cave"
Mumford & Sons

i feel like i closed my eyes to blink, and opened them to realize february has come and gone.

i can finally write freely about the past few months with ben's school, because it is over.  we both did the best we could, and gave it everything we had.

ben's ability to match and leave on internship by this summer has been denied, the process of all of it hitting every angle it possibly could;  mental, physical, emotional and even--maybe especially?-- spiritual.  the hits have not all been delivered negatively however, there has been so much good we have seen and felt, and will not deny that.

we are here another year in arizona, and though there was disappointment about not being where we had hoped when it came to this already-lengthy process of school, prolonging the finish line even further, i was surprised at the amount of peace i felt when the decision was finally made for us.

i have learned many lessons during the past 5 years of ben's doctoral program....but i think the most important lesson for me has come in this last trial of our life in limbo for months, decisions made out of our control, then denial of our hopes, and it is this:

stop waiting for happiness.

i've felt many times through grad school as if i've been enduring some sort of punishment, waiting for it to end so i can finally begin---but begin what?  this is the question i've been asking myself, trying to shift the paradigm that the rest of living my life has to be put on hold.  having babies, traveling, my return to school, taking up yoga, becoming more social--these were all things i've been terrified of or avoided because i was waiting for this period of our lives to be over.  i was waiting for help during dinner and bath times, waiting for someone to sit next to me at monthly boy scout meetings, waiting for date nights, waiting for someone to pack up the picnic i had prepared for the day trip with the kids, waiting for someone to laugh with over late movies under blankets on saturday nights.

to be honest, i've been waiting to get my husband back.

a couple of years ago i realized how lost i felt without ben.  it was at this same time i realized how lost ben was in school.  being an introvert and marrying an extrovert had perks i hadn't understood until they were taken from me and i was left to my own devices.  suddenly i found myself a shy homebody who felt trapped in her own life, sweating in the heat of arizona, caring for two kids with an unexpected third on the way, mostly flying solo in parenting, socializing, taking care of the home, and other areas.

i blamed what i could for this entrapment--the stifling heat, the advisors who viewed ben having children and a wife as a liability, the full-time overnight jobs he worked, being without a car, having no family close by, our extremely limited budget, having friends who had their own lives and didn't need to be bothered....the list went on.

but i learned {the hard way} that i was the cause of my own suffocating.

there are always options.

i just continually chose not to see them.  it has only been the past couple of years when i began to start viewing life differently, realizing i could be whoever i want to be, living however i want to live.  even with these options before me, i purposefully chose this life, with these circumstances.  there is so much good here, so much love, and so much ability to be happy that i hadn't even tapped into.  this was when i started choosing happiness within this life, and stopped waiting.

i stepped out of my comfort zone to a job that has been financially helpful, i started reaching out to others for social things regardless of whether or not ben would be there with me, i got to know a lot of babysitters in the neighborhood so i could set aside a few hours in the week--even if all i did was go grocery shopping on my own.  i began more proactive and intentional parenting, and proactive and intentional time as a couple with ben.  and when i felt myself emotionally carrying more than i could handle, i signed back up into group therapy for an automatic safe place to emotionally release when i needed to without unleashing my often-overwhelmed self on the three innocent little people i adore who didn't deserve it.

i have no idea how long school is going to take for us to be finished with it.  i have no idea if, once it's over, ben will be able to find a normal 8am-5pm job, or will have to take what's offered.  and heaven forbid, what if the time away from his family is even more demanding than school has been??  what then?  i need to know i'm going to be okay, regardless.  not just okay, but happy.

and the good news is, i actually am happy--more so than i have been in my life, ever.  and more fulfilled as a mom and a wife because i'm more fulfilled as an individual.  i'm not waiting anymore.  

so the internship not happening this year, was it disappointing?  sure, it wasn't ideally what i had hoped for.  i'd really love for ben to just be done with school.  but was it devastating?  not even close.  we have a really good life inside the walls of the Pink House, even in the often stifling heat.  what matters most is here.  the rest of it--whether it's a doctoral certificate or all of the other outer layer things that can feel so important sometimes, those are the distractions to take my focus off-kilter.

we find ourselves readjusting, once again.  and although it's our third extra year of graduate school, and the finish line feels further from our reach, this time we're readjusting with smiles on our faces, looking forward to what this extra year has to offer us.