365 days (and then some)

Time does, indeed, keep going by.  A whole year, in fact, since I’ve laid eyes on this space or given it much thought.  I remember back when the boys were little – maybe two in diapers – and the carrot at the end of my frazzled stick was some vague notion that it would eventually to get “easier.”  My sister, the veteran mama I turned to for all sage advice, was somewhat hesitant to reveal the truth that it doesn’t really get easier so much as it gets different.  I’m no longer worried about keeping the bathroom door shut so the toddler de jour doesn’t play in the toilet but I DO lay awake at night re-playing battles with my argumentative pre-preteen about showering frequency and whether my decisions are “reasonable.”  I wave my white flag and admit that yes, it’s gotten different, but oh boy it’s not any easier.  We’ve moved from the battle of keeping them alive and happy to the battle of making sure they grow into respectable adults.  Which – turns out – is far more difficult.

All of this is to say that while Max starting full-time Kindergarten and kids growing more responsible (sometimes) and self-reliant (again, sometimes) has certainly changed the dynamic of our lives, it has not necessarily resulted in more leisure time or a cleaner house (ha!).  Time being the vacuum that it is, I’ve filled up my days with some additional consulting work, a new position as treasurer of the school board, regular exercise (perhaps the most “selfish” change I’ve committed to) and am trying as best I can to clear the decks so that I can meet the school bus at 3:00 and be totally with the boys for those now precious afternoon/evening hours.  It doesn’t always work quite so idyllically (we are balancing the very distinct needs and personalities and interests of five distinct humans, after all) but oh, when it is good it is very, very good.

Holding to the belief that “the way you spend your days is, of course, the way you spend your life,” an incomplete list of our 2013:

We mined for garnets, we camped out in the backyard, we cut firewood, we threw water balloons.  We sobbed when a brother threw the water balloon too hard, too close to our face.  We flew to California to buy a VW camper, scraped knees, made duct tape catapults and match rockets, ate ice cream cones, hiked to the top of buttes, pretended the forests were Narnia, watched YouTube videos to learn how to make the most realistic zombie wounds to complete the Halloween costume, climbed too-high trees to retrieve winter-abandoned wasps nests, studied scat, opened savings accounts.  We lost keys and lost our tempers.  We caught frogs and snakes and crabs and “pet” worms.  We cut ourselves with brand-new pocket knives and texted pictures to dad to see whether we might need stitches.  We did lots of laundry and made lots of lunches.  We ran our first marathon, battled over homework, snuck away to San Diego for a sister’s weekend in the  sun, cross-county skied, learned to swim, had friends over for home-made pizza and let the kids get away with anarchy so we could enjoy 20 more minutes as adults around a table.  We had a really hard time getting out of bed (and maybe we yelled about brushing teeth and finding socks and “three minutes til the bus comes!!”).  We slept in the pop-top, in a tent beside a roaring river, beside the foggy Puget Sound with ferries floating quietly by, in a lookout, in our sleeping bags under the stars, in a snowy cabin, in hotels with the requisite pools (and sugar cereal dispensers).  We played tennis, we played chess, we played Marco Polo.  We built blanket forts and elaborate block cities.  We went to Quickcare, to the library, to the pond, to parades, to Sun River, to the zoo, to the rock climbing wall, to Tacoma and Spokane for time with so-adored cousins and grandparents.  We set the table and lit the candles and tried to eat a “nice” meal without bodily functions or wiping our mouths on our sleeves.  We re-decorated the living room and painted a turquoise wall.  We got a TV and (gasp!) cable and watched perhaps too many episodes of Mythbusters.  We played hooky and ate lunch together, just the two of us.  We got braces.  We started kindergarten(!).   We wrestled, slammed doors, spilled drinks, fell off the top bunk, got stung by bees.  We picked huckleberries and drew lots of maps.  We got a piano and learned to play.  We found Nerf darts in the dishwasher, a hacksaw in the snow fort, Legos in the van door slider.  We spent five nights floating the lower Salmon River.  We raced cyclocross.  We celebrated 10 years of marriage with a big ol’ Oktoberfest party.  We ate lots of s’mores.  We started to care about pop music.  We screwed up.  We said we were sorry and moved forward.  We read “The Bridge to Tarabithia” and cried (ok, I cried).  We became obsessed with soccer.  We went to our first Sounders game.  We read Calvin and Hobbes on the heater vent in our underwear.  We made pies, put the beer in the river to keep it cold, we told munchkin stories.  We called sisters and friends and moms when we feared we might be screwing it all up.  We lost teeth, fixed bikes, got the flu, jumped off high rocks into cold rivers, caught fish, grew half-hearted gardens, made bike jumps, went to the principal’s office, made ice skating rinks on the patio.  We learned to read, learned the multiplication tables, learned to design websites, learned to start a load of laundry.  We traveled to Germany and Colorado and Utah and North Carolina for work.  We made a Chicago work trip into a long-overdue sans kids getaway.  We went to Wrigley Field and ate Chicago-style pizza and drank $15 cocktails at the top of the John Hancock building.  We settled oh so many disputes, keeping in mind that siblings are just random people forced to live together.  We jumped off the diving board, had sleepovers, played Bird Bingo in front of the fire.   We joined the school board, made birthday cakes, walked the dog (without parents), ice skated on the creek behind the house when it froze.  We dyed eggs and lit sparklers and carved pumpkins and cut down the Christmas tree.  In short, we lived.  Pretty damn well.

And so that someday (maybe when Max leaves for college?) I can turn this blog into the scrapbook I never took the time to make, the “best of” 2013, in photos and quotes jotted on my phone “notes”:

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If I’m gonna make a match rocket I need a lighter that works IMG_3386 IMG_3470 I wish our car was a swan and the butt shot fireworksIMG_3527IMG_3558 IMG_3563Fat little guys are really funny! IMG_3593 Mo: ” I kinda forget to do my homework kinda often”IMG_3763 Henry: “I can fart the lyrics to ‘lean on me” Me: “not right now. ” H: “aww – you and dad don’t appreciate my special talents”IMG_3791 IMG_3797 IMG_3864 Morgan: “Is there stuff in the real world that makes things be invisible?” Me: “Nope.”  “Well that stinks!”IMG_3957Morgan, on his birthday: “A survival kit! Just what I need!” IMG_4017IMG_4040If a bear swallowed someone with the flu, would they get it, too? IMG_4116 IMG_4143 Is Minnesota in the same time zone as Rio de Jenaro?IMG_4278 IMG_3220IMG_3888 IMG_3897Morgan: “<Groooooan> – they’re going to kiss! Like in every other movie.” Max: “not in Tom and Jerry!” IMG_4303 Mo: “If the tax collector came to my house, I’d give em an ol’ thunder cookie up the hooter!”IMG_4401 IMG_4415 IMG_4436 IMG_4493 IMG_4513 That turn didn’t count – I didn’t get to catch anything on fire!IMG_4514Max: “If you fell off of Godzilla’s head you would definitely die.” IMG_4526 IMG_4559 IMG_4627 IMG_4639 IMG_4658 IMG_3937Henry, to Max: “When you sense that your buttcrack is showing, please pull your pants up!”IMG_3962 IMG_3987 Morgan: “Mom! Mom! We time-traveled into the future! I was a race car driver! And Max was a karate teacher. Henry had a mustache. I think he was an historian. Or maybe a mathematician.” IMG_4115 IMG_4153Max: “Next summer I’ll have a pocket knife and I’ll be able to swim in the deep end!” IMG_4156 IMG_4173 If you burp in space, everything comes out of your mouth – like your guts and stuff. IMG_4215 IMG_4228Henry and his friend trying to decide what to do this afternoon. “Let’s take a vote: make clay poop or launch peanut shells into the creek?”IMG_4258 World’s shortest game of 20 questions

Henry: “Is it brown?”

Mo: “Yup”

Henry: “Is it poop?”

Mo: “Yup!”

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IMG_4732 IMG_4733 Morgan, to me: “What are you so stressed out about?” IMG_5151 IMG_4867IMG_4453 IMG_4459 IMG_4470 IMG_4526 Drove past “The Man Shop” in Pullman and Morgan exclaimed: “Awesome! A shop just for men?! Is it full of shotguns and lighters?” “And motorcycles?” Max adds. IMG_4614 IMG_4665 IMG_5293 IMG_5350 IMG_5357 IMG_5504 IMG_5553 Max’s friend asked him who he was going to marry. He answered: “I don’t know. I might not even get married. I might just be a ninja.”969656_10100952033574153_1141530916_n IMG_4735 IMG_4736 IMG_4800 IMG_4849 IMG_4923 IMG_4966 IMG_4910 IMG_4961 IMG_5071-001 IMG_5109 IMG_5183The thing about Star Wars is that it’s hard to understand if you don’t know about politics. Because that’s the cause of most of the stuff

IMG_5118 IMG_5176 IMG_5191 IMG_5202 IMG_5289 IMG_5304 IMG_5343 “You go take a bath!”IMG_5378 IMG_5396 IMG_5404 IMG_5425 IMG_5430 IMG_5498 IMG_5532 Morgan: “No one is good *all* the time…except maybe people with no brothers.”IMG_5600 IMG_5725 IMG_5732IMG_5298Overheard from the pillow fight: “I can’t breathe!!” Older brother, in response: “If you can talk you can breathe.” IMG_5302 IMG_5363IMG_5758Henry, after being reminded to unset his plate: “Sometimes I wish we had a house elf.” IMG_5773Is there stuff in the real world that makes things be invisible? Well that stinks. IMG_5790Max: “Mom!  Something has changed about me!  I don’t need a stool to cook the eggs anymore!”

IMG_5807At dinner, after the umpteenth manners correction, Mark says: “You know why we teach you these things, right?” Henry replies: “Yeah, so we can get girlfriends and carry on the family name.” IMG_5862 IMG_5891 Max: “A cow would be handy to have.”IMG_5911IMG_5916 Some people in my class just can’t handle Macklemore          

Where we’ve come from

There is no better place to start, I suppose, than right here in this moment.  5:08 on an uncommonly lazy fall Saturday.  Two boys are sword-fighting in the backyard with inappropriately large sticks.  Thing #3 is building “Hero Factory” creations in his birthday suit, having recently emerged from a bath (but apparently without parents who make him get dressed).  Mark is playing guitar in the bedroom and I – true to my ADD-personality – have abandoned my plum jam-making adventure midway through to look up oven drying plums which lead me, somehow, back to here – this monstrous catch-up I’ve been trying and re-trying to embark upon.

But I’m realizing that it’s easier than I feared to mark for posterity’s sake (for what else is this blog at this point, besides a “someday I’ll print this out into a book to remember this chunk of years that whizzed by”?) the last many many months since I’ve written anything meaningful.  It goes something like this:

Fall 2011: Things are good.  Busy, but not the frantic “just trying to keep our heads above water” thing we’d grown so accustomed to. Kids happy, work stable, Moscow feels like a cozy home.  Life is – daresay – easy.  Get cocky.  Start trying for #4.

Winter 2011/12: I tear my meniscus, have surgery, get pregnant sometime in the midst of recovery.  I am sick sick sick and it is snowy and I am still hobbling around.  Wonder what we’ve done.

Spring 2012: Consumed entirely by pregnancy and a steady stream of things going wrong.  We all know how this ends – badly. Deliver a dead baby just as school lets out for the summer.   Wrecked with grief.  Consumed by grief.

Summer: Feeling acutely that if I put even a little space between myself and the boys that I’ll fall down the rabbit hole and possibly never emerge as a fit mother again (this sounds melodramatic now but in the trenches seemed perfectly reasonable), I forgo childcare for the summer and commit myself to getting out of bed (how long I’d been in bed from meniscus tear to surgery to bedrest to convalescence/recovery!) and savoring these monkeys.

And whooo boy, am I glad I did.  Slowly, but even faster than I’d imagined possible, grief gave way to gratitude.  It was still months before I could shower without at least a quick boo-hoo, yes, but I argue that there is a “fake it til you make it” side of grief as well.  Three happy boys are a good audience to fake it to, and summer in Moscow is an easy venue in which to do so.  We sucked every ounce of goodness out of this summer.  We *rocked* summer.  And in doing so, there was less faking it required.

First trip, as per tradition – Tacoma.  Zoo and beach and more beach and Nonna reading cozy time and Baba iphone zombie-killing time and cousin-romping time.

Then to the “Petrzelka estate,” where we assuaged our sadness at not quite making pool weather by spazing out on the trampoline (side note: women who have given birth so many times need to exercise caution on these things!).

Back to Moscow, and many an afternoon at the pool.  While I’m not yet the lady reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” poolside, only having one drowning risk (and a cautious one at that) felt pretty darn indulgent.  Big accomplishment of the summer?  Max voluntarily getting his face wet! (The little victories.) Also, Morgan discovering that if he mussed up his hair, he was that much closer to the height requirement for the big slide and could usually slip right on through (though he also noted that “girl” lifeguards were “way more picky”).

Fishing!  We started out at Spring Creek, let the boys go nuts with the nasty neon superbait in a stocked “lake” just to teach them the basics and get them comfortable tying lures, removing hooks, etc.  A wee bit disturbing how much Morgan seemed to enjoy banging them against the dock to kill them, but it certainly lit the fire for later adventures (and we only killed what we’d eat, of course).

Exploring Philips Farm with our resident biologist (photo courtesy of Max).

Camp #1, with the Koenigs, just a wee bit outside of town so Mark could partake mid-week. How we miss these (quickly growing *huge* boys)!

Another day out at Spring Valley – Joe forded the creek in their Dodge caravan (winning the respect and admiration of all six on-looking boys and many “what in the hell is he thinking?!”s from his wife and sister-in-law).  His heroics snagged us a prime spot and we spent a fantastic day fishing, kayaking, swimming, and reading in the sun…

While we did spend many-a-day at/in lakes, rivers, pools, mountains, there were interspersed days of absolute do-nothingness, too.  Days where I plugged in and tried to pretend I’d been working all along (ha!).  While unsupervised boys devised games like this (there was a giant sand pile for the patio-to-be just below):

We were again invited to Kevin’s family’s epic Fourth-of-July party in Colfax – now the highlight of Morgan’s year.  The storm broke just as we finished our brats and baked beans, but a downpour didn’t stop the pyromania (we just watched from under a Coug pop-up tent).  (Side note: this was the last rain we’d see until late October.)

More explosives on the actual Fourth-of-July with the DeHart clan (helmets were from earlier bike-riding and not inany way related to the fireworks – although watching Morgan and Asher dance around the fire-shooting fountains, helmets were probably a good idea…)

Onto Sunriver, Oregon, where we rented the house of my boss’ family for a song and took our first legitimate (aka: week-long) family vacation (non-camping, that is) in six years. Ahhh, that pool….

The Petrzelka clan joined us first, and fêted me so thoroughly in celebration of decade #3 that I failed to document anything more than the delicious strawberry shortcake and a late-night bike ride (those pictures – shockingly – didn’t turn out, but I’ll remember downloading the flashlight app and iphone-blasting what Pandora station was that again? and lifting bikes over the fence and “people would pay to go on this ride!” forever).  Mostly we swam and ate and drank – none of those activities especially photo-worthy.

Matt and Milissa and Kate came later in the week, and while we still did a respectable amount of swimming and eating and drinking with them as well, we also did a little spelunking, some hiking and biking (both Matt and Henry had inaugural mt. bike rides), as well as lots of Uno-playing and lazing around.  We’re already assuming we’re going again next year.

Dorkily happy to have finally snuck away for a ladies ride along the Deschutes

Pee stop on the “scenic” (= waaaay longer) drive home

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.  We just this spring were let in on a semi-hidden little shady-wooded area, “Idler’s Rest,” just 10 minutes from our house and perfect for outside play on scorching hot days.  We spent a *lot* of time amidst these trees.  Sometimes I’d meet up with a friend and we’d chat while kids made dams or played hide and seek or searched for animals or pretended they were in Narnia.  Other times I’d grab an extra kid or two (there is something magical about adding a few of the right kids to the mix that greatly reduces sibling disharmony) and come up solo, a blanket to lay in the sun (moving every 15 minutes or so as the sun made it way across the sky and the shadows changed accordingly) and a good book – loving the lack of cell service.

Back to Tacoma for a legitimate summer visit – the zoo, warm temps, lots and lots of beach time (I miss waves in land-locked ID), the “mom camp” at Penrose Point (can you believe how many children are in the below picture?)…

While Morgan generally loves the destinations of all these to and fro trips, he is not super keen on the coming and going and struggles when days don’t contain enough down time.  This might well have been the highlight of his summer – Legos in the sun.

Another new spot – Boyer Park on the Clearwater River.  Perfect little “lagoon” for swimming and lots of sand to create with.  Also – blackberries!

My dad came over in August with Mr. Zach, whose brothers were at scout camp for the week.  The bond between he and Henry – just exactly two years apart – is something special.  I love that this photo somehow captures it.

I nearly killed my dad hiking him up to Elk Creek Falls, but he forgave me after I introduced him to huckleberry soft serve.

Dad hits to road to continue his MT road trip, and we all head up to camp on the Lochsa (and hopefully catch some fish.)

With an extra passenger, the van was even more packed-to-the-gills than usual.  Suburban next year, we vowed.

Mission Accomplished!

Sometimes I am jealous of my children’s childhoods.

More camping – this time at my favorite spot in the world, the Selway River

Morgan was so so excited to skinny dip

It is now late August and we’re starting to wind-down.  Mama is getting tired of the pack-unpack-pack thing and applying sunscreen (what feels like) twenty times a day and sand *everywhere* and no routine/no rhythm and never having a moment in an empty house.  But rather than allow the remaining week or two amble along, we sprint to the finish line and soak in every last drop – starting with the 2nd Annual Deming Family Campout at Farragut State Park (aka “The Dude Convention).

We got smart and reserved a group site, after not-so-subtle signs that our neighbors last time failed to appreciate the awesome-ness of our 20+ crew (someone in a nearby camp literally laid on their car horn one morning, presumably to complain about bright-eyed kids running amok at 8am).

So. much. fun.  Growing up without close cousins, I am so immensely grateful for these relationships my boys are creating with theirs.  Not to mention the army of grandparents and aunts and uncles who really take the time to get to know them, and have fun with them.

The SUP board Mark brought from work was a big hit

We made a list of all the “last things” we wanted to do before school started again – swimming hole, swimming pool and hiking to the top of Kamiak Butte won.

“But time went by, as time will do…” and though it still very much felt like summer, summer was undeniably over.  All three were excited to start school this year, and we settled into the new routine smoothly.  Especially mama.  How I loved our summer but oh how I love walking Henry and Morgan to the bus stop in the morning and coming back to a pot of coffee in a quiet house – time enough to get my work done and maybe meet a friend for a run, time to volunteer in the boys’ classes, actually plan dinners, actually fold laundry… There is a whole other post waiting in the wings on re-learning selfishness, but suffice to say here that some balance has been restored.  Amen.

Fall 2012:

Requisite 1st day of school shot

Morgan and his buddy Benjamin walking home for a playdate (they’re going to stop holding hands very soon, I fear, but how adorable is this?)

Lazy Sunday morning

Priest Lake “bonus” weekend (hello, Indian summer!)

The Fair! 

Soccer!

Love notes!

Bike jumps! (In bat costume and vampire fangs, of course)

A finished patio!

Firewood-cutting and their first grouse (and thus we legitimized our ID residence)!

Nearly 2,000 words and five days later, that about sums it up.  Phew.  More dispatches soon from the land of wild rumpusing.

And now you are FOUR (and a half)!

(Six months of tumultuous life has passed since I first composed- and damn near finished! – this post.  So much has changed.  And yet, you remain the same sweet little dude that I’ve waxed poetically about here.  If it’s even possible (and I don’t know how it could be), I’m even more in love with you today than I was six months ago.)

Oh Maxy, Max-a-doodle, Maximus, Maxer, Mr. Max… what a road it’s been. Four feels a bit like an arrival – like we’ve crossed the bridge to KID.  It was really an uphill battle with you from three til, well, just a few months ago, really.  You are strong of personality, and when that strong personality runs into things it can’t do, it gets pissed.  For what felt like months you would wake up starving, and throw an epic tantrum about something or another that was wrong with the breakfast we’d hastily prepared for you.  Seriously.  Like sitting at the table sobbing into a bowl of cereal that you’d suddenly decided you wanted without milk (although 4 seconds earlier you were adamant about milk).  Some mornings we literally spoon-fed (force-fed?) you a bite or two just to get the process going, and then you’d devour the bowl (often two or three) and change to seeming just honky dory happy.  It was exhausting and infuriating but also hilarious, once you looked at it from the other side.

And in that one little snippet lies a whole lot of truth about you, and about your place in this family.  For one thing, every emotion you experience could be punctuated by an exclamation point – good or bad.  You are either 100% ecstatic about everything you approach or 100% furious that it’s not just the way you want it.  There isn’t a lot of in-between with you.  Thankfully it’s mostly the former, but when it’s the latter – oh boy, get outta your way!  Because you’re the baby, though, and because dad and I have been around the block, so to speak, with the lunatic three year-old stage, we’re far more equipped to just let the tantrum rip without worrying (too much) that it’s indicative of some larger character flaw or inferior parenting.  Which means you get a fraction of the attention for those fits.  Which means they are pretty fleeting.  Sometime around January the switch turned, and suddenly I wasn’t grumbling on the phone to Kathleen and repeating this too shall pass every thirty minutes.  Phases are like that.  Thank God.

For now, you are a sweetheart.  Well, you’ve always been a sweetheart at heart, but now it’s so much easier to see that sweet heart.  You give soul-quenching hugs and are hands-down the best companion for errands (these days it’s mostly just you and me on errands, while big brothers are in school).  There is pretty much always a smile on your face.

You have hit so many milestones of independence in the past year – riding a two-wheeler and pumping on the swings and wiping your own butt and getting yourself completely dressed and undressed (though rarely without ten promptings throughout the process).  You are proud of yourself and want to be given the same responsibilities (and privileges) as your brothers.  You no longer go to bed so much earlier than them, and because you’ve grown out of so many of your fears, you’ve started joining us for “real” movie night movies.  Showing you all “E.T’ for the first time, cuddled together on Baba and Nonna’s couch, was a highlight of this parenting gig for me.

You really blossomed in school this year.  You had a pair of great teachers in the “Green Room” and your friendships became extremely important to you.  At times you can be quite a bossy-britches (speaking from experience, I think this is what youngest kids do once they’re released from the confines of their oppressive older siblings), but I also started hearing things like: “which guy do you want to be?” and “Can I have a turn with that when you’re done?”

For your birthday this year you requested a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party.  Which blew my mind just a bit, considering I grew up loving those movies.  (Not sure if I should feel old or young…)

Nonna came to town to help (and to celebrate with you, of course) and together we threw a Piterest-worthy part, if I do say so myself.  We make a good team, your Nonna and I.  We met at a nearby park and you and your buddies (Owen, Kelton, Seth, Acer) decked yourselves out in TMNT garb and assumed menacing ninja poses and ate pizza and blew bubbles and had a good ol’ time.

We celebrated at home, too – the stand-by chocolate cake, a scooter to match your brothers’, a Lego set, a dragon puppet from neighbor Betty – and you were just thrilled (see above-mentioned note about emotions and exclamation points).

How I love that smile!

Added a few months after this draft was initially composed:

In the wake of losing our baby Andrew, your position as the baby of the family has become decidedly more poignant.  We are done and you are it.  I see now why women keep having babies.  Your dad and talk almost daily about wanting to freeze you at just this age, retain your mis-pronounced words and all the other fleeting vestiges of baby that remain.  When you ask, almost nightly, for someone to come back in and “snuggle with me?” after we’ve already read and sung to and tucked you in, it is difficult to refuse.  Yes this is how youngest kids get spoiled but so what?  You fill us up, Maxwell.  I hope you never question how cherished you are. Even more love six months later,

Mama

What works

Nearly everything everybody says about grief holds true – from the five stages to the fact that it’s much like a bear-hunt: “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, must go through it!”  You can’t skip a stage, can’t control the way the sadness washes over you at inopportune moments, can’t anticipate what might help and what might be harder than you can bear (for what helps and hinders changes from day-to-day).

Rather than think myself a cliche I find comfort in the fact so many have experienced it, and learned from it, and shared their process.  I find comfort in the stories of friends who have also walked this path, and I’ve found much truth to the suggestion that it doesn’t really go away, but rather the good moments slowly begin to outnumber the bad.  After nearly two weeks filled with family and friends and endless support, my bad moments are more confined to the (few) bits of solitude I find: in bed before succumbing to sleep, first thing in the morning, the shower.  And the good moments?  Well, plugging in my phone for the first time tonight, I scrolled through the photos I’ve snapped from the past two weeks and found lots of bits of happiness amidst the undocumented sadness.  So much of which revolves around these little boys who are indispensable to my well-being, to the deep-down realization that this will all, eventually, be better.

What has helped:

Reading Peter and the Starcatchers out-loud in the sun

So many kind words pouring in on beautiful cards.  Oftentimes saying nothing more than “I don’t know what to say.  But I am so so sorry.”

Hot breakfasts (and the school’s-out luxury of eating leisurely in pjs)

A project for this one to pour his energies into

Digging in the dirt – planting starts in lieu of seeds that I never got around to sowing

Play-dates for brothers that allow for one-on-one Zip’s dates with this guy.  (Staring at those miraculous eyelashes and those adorable freckles.)

Long games of Uno

Getting out-of-doors, even in the rain

Coffee table forts (and a stack of books inside) to occupy #3 during said Uno game

Soccer in the rain (or more accurately: kicking kids outside to expel their energy somewhere other than the living room or directly onto each other)

250 feet of craft paper + new Ed Emberly drawing book + new markers

Make your own fro-yo (yes, there is a theme of sugar here)

Also, Tracy Chapman, long, hot showers (with the fan on so your kids can’t hear you boo-hooing), delivered meals, meandering talks with friends who know how to listen (alternated with turning the phone off when I can’t fathom talking), rib-eye steaks arriving on dry ice, organizing closets, delivered gin and tonic fixings, walks with friends, coffee with friends, lunch with friends, cut flowers, gourmet meals cooked by a cute husband, and two blissful days of a kid-free house (thanks to generous family) to really dig into it with Mark (over beers and dinner out and anytime it struck, without censoring for over-hearing little ears).  So grateful for all of these people, and all of these things.

The house of cards

And just like that, it all comes tumbling down.  I’m sitting in the orange chair.  At 4:23, the sky is just changing to the dawn grey of a cloudy spring morning.  The birds are awake and my boys are all asleep and my belly is achingly empty.  Just like that.

The blood came as it has been coming for the last ten weeks, making me gasp and hold my breath and fight the instinct that “this is it.”  Because so many times it *hasn’t* been it, the blood a mind-trick to deal with and an exhausting nuisance but never the sign of the end.  When it happened first, at eight weeks, it was an assumed miscarriage.  We grieved. When an ultrasound three days later revealed the thumping heart, the alien-slash-lima bean form, we were elated.  Diagnosis: subchorionic hematoma. HematomaS.  Two of them.  Pockets of blood pooled up in the chorion-lining from a wound somewhere in the uterus.  Likely where a bit of placenta pulled away.   Another bleed at twelve weeks, and then again at fifteen, but always that heartbeat horse-racing at 150+ beats a minute, seemingly oblivious to the hell the rest of my body was going through.  I Wikipedia-d and Googled and spent more time than is probably healthy on internet forums.  The prognosis isn’t too scary if they aren’t too big or if they start resolving by the second trimester, but I had neither of those factors on my side.  “Large hematomas, which strip at least 30-40% of placenta away from endometrium, may enlarge further, compressing the gestational sac and leading to premature rupture of membranes with consequent spontaneous abortion.” One of mine was large – 10 cm.  I struggled constantly with how much to embrace the pregnancy, how many people we should share the news with, how “easy” I should take it (medical recommendations vary from complete bed rest to no restrictions at all, for “there’s not really anything you can do.”)  Then last week contractions began.  We went to the ER, sure (again) we faced the beginning of the end.  But again the thumping heart, and the somersaults on the ultrasound screen.  Blood is an irritant, and it was making my uterus contract.  But the baby seemed oblivious, growing right on track with lots of movements.  The whole process made me deny my instincts, fight the fear that I’d blink my eyes and it’d be over.

And then yesterday, it was.  The contractions were strong, but they had been strong before.  I writhed in bed, no position comfortable, no way to escape the clenching pain.  One after another with a breath-catching moment in-between.  A metronome of pain. I realize now that I was in a complete labor fog, Mark sleeping a foot away, in my own universe of simply surviving each wave.  And then I needed to breath through them.  And then my teeth clenched.  And then I stood up, swayed hips while hunched over the side of the bed, my body knowing what it was doing so far before my mind could grasp (or admit) it.  And then that most unmistakable pop – and that unmistakable gush.  From there it became the cheesy movie scene labor – waking Mark, figuring out who to call to come stay with the boys, throwing clothes on and driving too fast to the hospital, writhing in discomfort and now groaning that deep primal growl of laboring women.  The frantic dad trying to get a wheelchair, the puddle in the parking lot, the three agonizing minutes in triage where you actually want to punch the lady at the computer for asking  “are you a smoker?” with so little emotion while you’re so obviously in another land, so close to losing it all.

Everything took too long, but I dreaded every next step, clinging to the fleeting presumption that everything was still ok.  But then the ultrasound wand circled and circled my belly and it no longer looked like the fishbowl it should be.  It didn’t make any sense, what I was seeing on the screen.  The tech zoomed in at one point and typed “head?” over a vague mass.  And then it all clicked – there was no water to cradle my baby, no water to provide that perfect backdrop to see the wiggly toes and the strong spine we’d seen just a few days before.  I asked if there was a  heartbeat, and somewhere in the mess of tissues he found it.  I think I saw a moment of relief on Mark’s face, but I knew that just meant our dear little baby – Andrew Michael, we’d decided to name him – was being suffocated by the very vessel – me – whose job was to sustain him.  And he’d already descended down into the birth canal.  And he was nowhere near big enough to live once outside of this body which had betrayed him. Though of course these facts changed nothing about what my body was doing, my mind shut down and I wanted to just climb off the table and walk away from all of it.  I think I may have repeated “I don’t want to do this!” more than once.  I think I shouted: “I just want you to put me to sleep and get him out of me!” It hurt so badly – they’d just started the morphine and somehow it didn’t touch the griping pain – and the thought of hurting to produce the kind of emotional pain I faced was too much.  It was all too much.  But my body cared not about what I was or was not willing to do. (Looking back, this was so classically the “transition” phase, when everything peaks in intensity and women have been known to say really inappropriately mean things to their husbands – that last push up the roller coaster before you’re at the very tip top, with no choice of where to go next.)  Before I could dread too much, my body did it all for me.  A huge contraction and a few involuntary pushes and his tiny, perfect, purple body slipped painlessly from mine.  I recoiled from it at first – didn’t want to look at him, just wanted to throw up and curl in a ball and go to sleep.  But my instincts knew better.  I needed to cradle my eight ounce baby, admire every delicate feature – the miniature fingers, a button nose, impossibly tiny ears.  I needed to see how peaceful he seemed.

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I dreaded telling the boys, but mostly because I didn’t think I’d be able to hold it together enough to get the words right.  I was completely unprepared for their depth of their own sadness.  Morgan burst immediately into tears, followed by Henry.  Max wandered off to play Legos, the message obviously not making sense to him, but the four of us sat weeping on the bed for a good long while.  I have never felt closer to any of them.

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The first five minutes of waking are the worst.  There, in the sleep-fog, I forget what has happened.   I feel the echos of his movement – those twinges of motion that had assured me these past few weeks that we were still in this. I lay and wonder whether he’ll be fair-complected like Henry, or dark like Morgan.  Whether he’ll be mellow or feisty or inquisitive or ornery.  And as I emerge – remember – it all gets taken away from me, from us, again.  His tiny footprints on the card the hospital made stare back at me and I’m snapped back to the painful reality.  The whole loss condensed into five minutes.

********

The decision to try for a fourth child was so heavily weighed, and we went back and forth for more than a year before agreeing to “go for it.”  In the last few weeks of uncertainty my mind has gone through all the worst-case scenarios (that the hematomas presented as risk) – the worst of which was the 27-week premature labor, life flight to Spokane, maybe a few days of struggling in the NICU before having to make decisions about quality of life.  Compared to that, I know this way was better.  With three young kids we already operate within a small margin of error – just a slight buffer between holding it all together and *not* holding it all together.  Even the weekends of being bed-ridden from a bleed felt at times like more than we could take.  But there’s really no way to convince myself that this path holds any advantages.  I snuggle my three living, loving boys and rejoice in all the blessings we already have, how rich our life is, but I’m incapable of shaking the knowledge that it would have been that much richer, and more blessed, with Andrew Michael in our family.  I grieve that empty space, knowing strongly that we won’t again embark on another pregnancy.

*****

My breasts are tingling with milk that will never nourish my baby.  A friend who has also suffered a second-trimester loss put it perfectly: salt in the wounds.  As if it’s not enough to experience this magnitude of loss, you also must deal with hormone swings and engorgement and after pains.  And telling people who haven’t heard through the grapevine.

But we march slowly onward.  We allow our village to feed us, our mothers to come and play two-hour games of Uno, mop our floors and take the kids out to lunch (while we weep in the corner).  We learn to say “yes” to almost every offer of help.  We acknowledge that this might well be the hardest thing we’ve ever done.  And we know that there is no right way to do it, that some days we might feel almost normal, drinking a gin and tonic in the kitchen with a best friend, and that other days it might feel like you’ll never feel quite right again.  And so we hug the boys more often, and tighter, and we hug each other more often, and tighter.  And can imagine that as the good days begin outnumbering the bad, this will remain a part of our family story but not the whole of it.

For now, though, we’re living right here, in this wrenching part.

Easter on the Salmon

I daresay we started a new tradition: camping on the Salmon over Easter weekend.  Realistically speaking, it’ll probably be only once every five years that the weather cooperates enough to allow for it, but we’re glad we risked the cold and overcame the hurdle of the first-camp-of-the-season “stuff” sort.  (“Where the hell are the sleeping pads??”)

It took repeated explanations that it’d be quite different from our late-August camp in the same spot last year – no swimming, most importantly, and also camping in the campground across the road from the beach rather than on the beach (adding 10 degrees of warmth).  But friends + sand + CANDY + parents too busy enjoying themselves to worry too much about things like nitrates and supervision = a good time had by all.

365 days in 822 words

Tap, tap, tap… is this thing on? Ahem. Well hello there.  It’s been awhile.  Just about a year, to be exact.  I lost hold of this blog as I worked to stay on top of One Dandelion, but I’ve been missing the personal chronicling and the opportunity down the road to look back on stages of our life that really did fly by so fast (even if they seemed interminably long while struggling through them).

As far as years to “skip,” this last one has been a good one, major life changes-wise.  That is, not all that much is new.  We’re still here in Moscow, living the good life.  Kids are growing like weeds and happy as clams, biking and reading and climbing fences and catching frogs.  Work is going great for Mark, and plods along uneventfully for me (just as I like it).  We’ve found a network of great, dear friends to share dinners with and swap kids with and spend meandering days playing on rivers with.  It feels amazing.  Except for the set-back of a torn meniscus and ensuing knee surgery early this year, I dare say things are – gasp – mellow.

But of course we couldn’t stand to keep it that way for long.  Mere weeks after Max has learned to pump on the swing, wipe his own butt and ride a two-wheeler, we find out we’re adding #4.  Yup.  Gulp.  We’re both over the moon and terrified, but mostly the former.  (Except when I remember just how long a road it is to  pumping on the swings and wiping their butts and, well, you get the idea…)

I convinced myself that I could indeed reignite the blog by refusing to try to “catch-up” in any meaningful way.  Instead, I’ve spent an evening scrolling though the photo archives of the past year and pulling out my favorites.  And then transcribing all of the “notes” from my iphone that I’ve jotted down as one or another kid said something hilarious that I didn’t want to forget.  What follows is a mash-up of April 2011 to April 2012, with (hopefully) more steady (and cohesive) posts to follow.  It’s good to be back!

Morgan: “I wonder how many thumbs and fingers there are in the world if you mixed them all up?”

Henry: “Do you know three reasons why I’m not good at playing dead?  One: I can’t hold my breath that long.  Two: I can’t stop my heartbeat.  Three: I can’t stop my pulse.  Other than that, I’m pretty good at playing dead.”

Morgan: “….That’s why I don’t want to be a pirate – ’cause you have to poop in the sea and you never see your family.”

Henry: “Morgan lacks embarrassment.”

Max, in a bad fit of eczema itchiness: “Maybe buying toys will make me feel better?”

Morgan: “The movie had a terrible ending! They married, and it was over!”

Max: “Some of the taking-toys people (in his class) don’t help clean up, either.”

Morgan: “When the backs of my knees sweat it smells like burning crackers.”

Henry: “I hope that evolution leads to birds being able to talk in English.”

Goofballs

I’m pulling Morgan and Max in the bike trailer and we’re approaching a big hill.  I ask if I look strong enough to make it up and Morgan replies: “Well, you’re not looking very skinny, so I guess you have enough muscle.”

Henry, to Morgan: “Don’t you think there would have been way cooler people and animals if *we* were Prometheus?”

Mo: “Do you want to hear my version of ‘the guns on the army truck’?” (Sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”)

Morgan asks Mark for “gears, screws, and machine parts to fiddle with.”

Morgan told us he’d learned about the difference between fiction and non-fiction books at school. When I asked which type he preferred, he replied: “fiction – cause a fiction book can be like about a bunny with moose legs, a beard, a diaper and a petrifying laser gun.”

Morgan asked me if it was against the law to ride on the roof of a car. When I told him yes, he asked: “Are there any places in the world without laws, or Presidents?” Henry chimed in that there probably weren’t either in the Amazon rain forest, to which Mo replied: “So you could throw poop at people there, AND ride on the roof of a car?!”

After singing “Angels Watching Over Me” (his favorite goodnight song) to Mo, he says: “I don’t even know if I believe in angels.” After explaining that some people like to think there is something good watching out for them he replies: “I think maybe moms are angels. <pause> But I DO believe in Santa Claus.”

Henry, after I’d asked him to grab me something or other: “I’m kinda being your servant right now!” Then, perhaps thinking better of what he’d said: “Now I know what it feels like to be you!”