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Hard Candy Christmas

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The phrase “hard candy Christmas” has been running through my head for the last several days. If you’re not familiar with the term, as my husband wasn’t, it refers to a Christmas when parents can’t afford to get their children anything but hard penny candy.

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While the phrase implies lean financial years, I feel it may be applicable to this year another way as well. It’s a very different kind of year for a society that’s used to running itself ragged with Christmas gatherings–immediate family, extended family, extended extended family, friends, Sunday Schools, gym friends, church programs–well, the list could keep going, I’m sure.

Maybe we’re feeling like it’s a bit of a hard candy Christmas because the traditions we’re accustomed to can’t be executed in the same way.

But candy is still candy.

One of the ornaments on my tree.

One of the books we’ve been reading with Peter this week is Angel Pig and the Hidden Christmas by Jan L. Waldron. My dad gifted it to me back in, well, honestly, I don’t know because I can’t read the date he wrote in the front. Here’s one of my favorite parts:

“Giving and sharing and just helping out, That is what Christmas is really about. Look all around you, that’s where you should start. You’ll find the best giving is done with your heart.”

We may not be travelling and gathering in big groups this year. But we have what is right around us. We have neighbors who may enjoy a homemade treat; we have stamps that mail letters to those we love. . .perhaps a hand written note expressing their value is exactly what they need in this very different year. We have the people who live in our household with whom we can celebrate the accomplishments and the victories of this year and maybe start some new traditions.

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Yes, Christmas this year will look different. We may need to mourn a bit for what was, but in that mourning, I pray we don’t neglect what we do have.

I pray we don’t miss the opportunity to savor some hard candy.

Cause the thing about hard candy?

It lasts.

Pet peeves

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Why do we call them that? It’s not like they’re fluffy and cuddly and fun to have.

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  1. People who don’t put the mask over their noses. Seriously, why wear it if you don’t cover your nose?
  2. Thinking that it’s always “I” when in combination with someone else. It’s not. Sometimes the right word is “me.”
  3. The 12 days of Christmas are actually the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, not the 12 days before Christmas; that’s part of Advent.
  4. Using apostrophes incorrectly. They don’t show plural. They only form contractions and show ownership. {There’s [see, a contraction] a car wash close to us that uses “Clean’s”–bugs me every time I see it.}
  5. Not using a turn signal {interestingly, I used to be in this group. . .now, I get annoyed when people don’t [a contraction!] signal–age causing wisdom?}
  6. And, finally, that apparently there is only one space after end punctuation instead of two when you type. I still use two. I can’t [look, another contraction] change, and you can’t [my goodness, another one] make me!
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Thank you for joining me for this airing of my grievances. I can continue my day with a lighter heart!

His Timing

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Our first pregnancy, Nugget

Yesterday, December 3, 2020, marked the anniversary of mine and Steven’s journey to parenthood. It was four years ago that we discovered we were pregnant for the first time, and our lives were forever changed.

I wanted to write something yesterday, but I didn’t know how to formulate my thoughts. Then, tonight, we did our Advent devotion. We use the devotional I wrote called God’s Gift. I posted it here last year. I can’t lie. It was strange to be on this side of that penning. To know, with realness, the joy that Sarah references.

I’ve talked about our journey on multiple occasions. The pain and confusion. The grief. The little moments of joy that we found through it. The desire for it to be used for something greater than ourselves. And while we were prepared for our story to have a much different ending, here we are in the midst of a parenting adventure with Peter.

And it’s His timing that has brought it about. Numerous examples exist explaining why His timing is better than anything Steven and I could have orchestrated. I was able to retire from my job and am home. Steven had accumulated enough time to have paid leave for an extended period. A promotion was a possibility–with it a change in schedule that we were able to “test drive” before a decision had to be made. And, frankly, a pandemic.

Meeting my son for the first time having to wear a mask.

I don’t know if I can explain that last one to my, or anyone else’s, satisfaction. It’s about more than Peter giving us something good to focus on in a difficult year. We are familiar with difficult years–this one was just a different difficult. The pandemic has sharpened our focus on our family unit. Honestly, I’m grateful for the unique backdrop that is Peter’s birth year. The masks, the social distancing, the learning new ways to be community. The world that we brought Peter into is markedly different than the world we left behind December 31, 2019. It’s a new opportunity, more starkly apparent than ever before. I often feel that too many people are too eager to throw out the blessings of this year because they came wrapped in disappointments, heartaches, and raindrops.

I read recently in Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired something said by Ellen Davis: “From [Job] above all others in scripture, we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority. . .qualified to speak of God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak” (97). Job has resonated with me over the last four years already. {Peter’s life verse actually comes from Job–chapter 5, verse 9} Reading this helped illuminate what I have felt glimmering in the depths of my soul.

My relationship with God has changed over this journey. It has deepened, become more solid, become more honest. I have learned to go to Him with it all, no matter what that all is.

Peter’s dedication service where we announced his life verse: “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Job 5:9 NIV

So, it is in His timing that the birth of our son came and the journey parameters change.

True Confessions

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I don’t like to call to order food for take out or delivery.

It’s not that I can’t. I lived alone for 18 years and enjoyed many types of food long before online ordering became ubiquitous.

I just don’t like to.

I can call doctor’s offices. Handymen. Insurance agents. Lawyers.

But, food ordering. . . nope.

I can make announcements over PA systems.

Getting myself nourishment. . .I’ll just make a sandwich.

Reading scripture or doing a monologue at church? No problem.

Having pizza brought to my door? Is there a website I can click?

Talking to a customer rep about a problem with my purchase? I’m polite and delightful.

Getting my orange chicken fix. . .

Honey, I’m hungry!

This boring life

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Are we boring?

“What do y’all do for fun?”

An innocent enough question.

As we drove home from that dinner we realized we never really answered it.

Which, of course, lead to a discussion on, “are we boring?”

Neither of us is a spring chicken. We had done a lot of living by the time we started dating. Steven had done college and Marines, complete with two tours to Afghanistan. I had been teaching for nigh on twenty years, taking students on European tours for the last ten of it. We had seen things. We had done things.

Philadelphia, 2019

Now, we are completely content to sit at home and stream a movie or play a few rounds of mahjong or take a bike ride on the greenway. Every once in a while we take a trip. . .San Antonio, Savannah, Williamsburg, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia over the course of our marriage. . .some of those long weekends, others “traditional” vacations.

All of those were great trips, but we were happy to come home and land.

A rare out of the ordinary date swing dancing.

After contemplating all of this we tried to recall what kind of dates we did before marriage. The truth is, it was mostly the same. We rented movies. Went out to eat some (we actually had a pretty regular date at the local burger joint). Sometimes, when Steven lived in Boone, we’d hop in the car and see where we ended up. . .once it was Tennessee. We walked trails.

Mostly, we just enjoyed each other.

It’s what we still do.

So, society may label us as boring. We’re ok with that. We’ll be boring together and have an exciting life.

Messages

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Peter’s birth has given me much that I could say. I can say a lot about how incredibly weird C-sections are. I can talk about how wonderful our nurse anesthetist was. Or share how amazed our doctor was with the size of Peter’s head. Oh, and how popular Peter was in the hospital.

Meeting Peter at last!

But what really wants to be said starts several months before we were even pregnant with him.

Our journey to parenthood is not something I have been private about. You can find our experience throughout my blog. I feel strongly about lifting the stigma and silence that is associated with miscarriage. I’m not sure how else to do it except to continue to share in my small world.

I think I’ve mentioned before that shortly after our fourth loss my OB/GYN declared quite matter-of-factly that he would deliver my baby. I smiled and thanked him for his positivity, but I didn’t believe him. Not any more. His confidence wasn’t something that imbued me with the same.

Around six weeks later I woke from a dream that I actually remembered and shared with Steven. I was changing a baby boy’s diaper in what would be the nursery if we had one. He was kicking his legs, and I laughed saying, “We really need to come up with a name for you.” The baby looked at me and very clearly said, “My name is Peter.” I confirmed, “Peter?” and he said, “yes”. That was it. I woke up. The name Peter, before this, didn’t hold any real significance for me. But I knew from the moment I woke that if we did have a son, his name would be Peter.

Perhaps strongly because of this dream when we found out we were pregnant at the end of January 2020, we both said boy. We never really questioned it or wavered, despite the baby’s heart rate being above 140bpm. I think we busted every old wives’ tale, actually.

Early in our pregnancy, Steven had an encounter with a street person who shared the Gospel with him and assured him our baby would be fine. The man even gifted Steven with a cross necklace as a reminder of the encounter. I remember Steven came in from that experience with a sense of calm and peace about him. We do not doubt that he had a God moment with that gentleman.

I reminded my doctor at seven months pregnant that he had told me he was going to deliver my baby. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Sometimes I just get a sense like that.”

In the hospital, Steven and I were amazed that exactly the nurse I needed for the moment was the nurse I had. When Peter wasn’t getting milk from me and lost over 10% of his birth weight, the nurse who knew how to suggest formula to a tired and worried new mom was there. She took Peter and worked with him and the bottle to teach him to suck, not chomp. And she told that tired mom her tears were normal.

Feeling better after getting some food in his belly and his mama got some sleep.

The next day when the lactation consultants didn’t seem to want to accept that the decision was to not put Peter back to the breast, the next nurse knew to tell that new mom that fed is best. She reminded me that what’s best for the baby is a happy and rested mom. It would be the greatest gift I could give my son. She, her name was Kris, said, “At the end of the day, this is your child for a reason.”

I don’t know if she knew our history. How much is in my chart that she has access to is a mystery to me. But in that one moment, I felt like God was reminding me that Peter was His gift to Steven and me. That He had been waiting to give it at this exact time.

Family.

God shows up. We can miss it. But His messengers and messages are there. He prepared us, gave us a name, and reassured us. May we be wise enough as we continue this journey to recognize Him.

Grasshopper is a. . .

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That head has been hanging out under my right ribs for months now!

BOY!

Peter Ebenezer joined us via c-section on September 19 at 10:39am. He weighed in at 11 pounds 1.6 ounces! (I usually round up to 2 ounces. . .) He was 21.5 inches long with a 16 cm head. His first order of business was to pee.

We are over the moon for our little (BIG) Grasshopper. He was very popular in the hospital. Our doctor declared it was the biggest head any of the surgical team had ever seen. He also stated that it just help confirm that a c-section was the right way to go even if Peter had turned.

It was decided to deliver at 37 weeks 5 days because I had developed gestational hypertension. The morning of the delivery my blood pressure was astronomical. . .at least for me. But once Peter was out my BP wasn’t the only reason every one, especially my doctor, felt better about the early delivery.

We had a bit of an extended stay in the hospital, but now we’re home settling into a new way of life.

Let the adventures begin!

Just needs to be buckled in for the ride home. His going home outfit was a gift from his Nana.

Pregnancy Growth

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Not long ago my dad asked me if pregnancy was everything I thought it would be. . .or something along those lines.

I hesitated to answer him because my first thought was “well, I could have done without the anxiety.” So, my simple answer was yes, overall, and I’ve enjoyed experience. And I have. . .there’s no way to convey the wonder of feeling life inside of you, even as you look forward to having your feet return to normal.

But the exchange did cause me to reflect on the last nine months.

The summer of 2019, when people would ask if I left my job to have children, I would explain that we chose a new lifestyle regardless of our parent status future. I’ve mentioned before that we were actually far into the process of accepting that children weren’t part of our future. To find out we were pregnant in January 2020 was both exciting and terrifying.

Anxiety can rob one of joy if you let it. My anxiety, while it came from honest and heartbreaking experience, threatened to do just that. I’m aware that even had I been capable of avoiding the impact of four pregnancy losses, I very likely would have had other fears and concerns with which to struggle.

For much of the first trimester, very few people knew we were pregnant. It was a conscious decision, one we agonized over. On one hand, we’re excited. On the other, what if we lose this one. On one hand, we want support. On the other, we want to protect ourselves and others. Slowly, the circle widened. . .some on purpose, some by accident.

First trimester was largely Steven and I wrapping our heads around making it one week further than before. And then making it another week more than that. While anxiety and fear were still there, hope began to shine stronger. I began to appreciate all the physical signs, perhaps a bit more gratefully than I would have otherwise.

Grasshopper’s anatomy scan, 19 weeks 4 days.

We had to address my anxiety on several occasions throughout the pregnancy. In the beginning, it was closely tied to the losses. That actually may have been the easiest to deal with. I simply quit looking things up. Turns out I don’t need to know about all things pregnant. I just need to experience them. And if it’s something that really had me concerned, I called my provider. Some people are quite the opposite. However, once I accepted that A) knowing wasn’t going to change the outcome, B) women have been giving birth without Google and WebMD for centuries, and C) I really do trust my medical team, things got way easier.

The anxiety that has been more difficult to conquer has been of the emotional, relationship kind. I am naturally an introvert. I am naturally independent. Pregnancy, in my experience, causes those core traits to be jeopardized by the expectations of others. I struggled finding balance for what I needed and what I felt people around me wanted. It caused stress for me because I also like for people to be pleased. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. Interestingly, pregnancy inspired in me a desire to be even more introverted. I wanted to guard myself in my own house. I feared it came across as selfish, which wasn’t my intention, only my emotional response to what I was experiencing. I also struggled with people wanting to be “involved.” I couldn’t really figure out how or what they wanted to be involved in though I did understand their desire came from a place of excitement. I appreciated when people asked how I was doing, and I was happy to share, but I was unlikely to just offer information, even to my family.

This was the stress and anxiety that proved the most difficult to handle for our pregnancy. Because while pregnancy is very personal, it is far from private. Navigating this part of the experience is what came as the biggest surprise to me. . .not the physical changes. Suddenly, it felt as if our core personalities and tendencies were being challenged and requested to change.

So, yes, I could have done without the anxiety. But in the end, perhaps these trials have shown us both things about who we are as individuals and as a couple. We worked through all of this together. Coming up with plans, examining root causes, and practicing communication skills. Maybe, in the end, this part of the experience will greatly benefit us as parents as we navigate the definite anxieties that will come bringing up Grasshopper.

Grasshopper 37 weeks. . .weighing in at over 10 pounds.

Overall, pregnancy has been a blessing. Not necessarily easy 100% of the time. But a period of our lives that I will be able to look back on and say that was an amazing 40 weeks (or the current 37 weeks and 3 days. . .that would be fine with me). Steven and I grew in so many ways (not just our waistlines. . .yes, his too!). It helped shape us and prepare us to continue through this journey, anxiety and all, together.

“Yesterday was plain awful”

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To quote a song from Annie.

It seemed so in the moment.  The mundane of home ownership and the unexpected expected troubles that pop up threatened to overtake me.

Steven and I discovered a leak in our laundry room the other day.  We were bumfuzzled about where it was coming from.  The washer being our first guess proved to be wrong.  Then it was the hot water heater, but it was bone dry around that.  It rained recently. . .maybe there was a leak? However, there was no evidence in our ceiling or walls of water running down. There is a mysterious pipe that comes out of the floor and goes back into it next to the water heater.  But it looks like the water is coming out of the wall. . . .taking off an access panel we found nothing.  Literally, nothing.  There was nothing behind the access panel.  Well, what about this mysterious pipe?  Indeed, that is where the water is coming from.  It’s misting out of the pipe with occasional spurts.  My brother says it’s a $5 fix.

While searching for the water leak, I happened to also put some things in the freezer and noticed that ice seems to be accumulating on the back.  Uh-oh.  This happened in January.  We have a freezer on bottom fridge.  So, the fridge part is cooled by air coming up from the freezer.  If the freezer doesn’t defrost, then the air doesn’t go up in the fridge, therefore, essentially, making the fridge pointless.  I thought maybe I’d just caught it between cycles and determined to check it again later.  Hours later, still icy.  With more ice.  We had it serviced and fixed with genuine parts by a certified appliance repairman in January.  I think we just have a lemon.

A baby bird was stuck in our chimney.  We’re pretty sure that even though we rescued it from the chimney, it was too young to make it on its own.  The wing feathers were mostly in, but there was still quite a bit of downy.  My mama heart hurts.

And I’m nine months pregnant. . . so, things ache and are swollen.

BUT. . .

GrasshoppercheekyAug17

I mean, look at those cheeks! 

I’m nine months pregnant! As I sit here and type all these woes, Grasshopper is doing somersaults.  It’s an amazing feeling. . .experiencing these evidences of life inside of you.  I’m so incredibly blessed to be able to have this experience.  A little over a year ago my OB/GYN told me he was going to deliver my baby.  It was shortly after our fourth loss and frankly, Steven and I were coming to terms with the idea that a “rainbow” baby wasn’t our story.  That I was going to be advocating for those whose stories go no further than loss.  And I still feel very strongly about that advocacy.  I’m very aware that not all stories get what we’re getting.

Today, I have a picture of the child within me and its totally squishy cheeks and I’m eager to meet it face-to-face. And I wonder if my doctor is a bit prophetic.  We talked about that day at a recent appointment.  He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Sometimes, I just get that feeling about a patient.”

Also, yesterday, I got my hair cut.  It’s a little thing, but having someone pamper you and style your hair a bit different from the every day can lift your spirits.  Plus, I really like my “beauty shop.” It’s full of energized women who are having a good time.  It’s a happy place.

I thought that might be the highlight of my day, but as I left, a car rolled up to me.  I glanced at the driver and thought, “I think I taught her.” And suddenly, she was waving out the window yelling my name.  Yep, I taught her.  She told me about her life (she has a 14 year old!! How did she get so old and I’ve stayed the same?). She mentioned having some copyrighted stories and looking for an agent. Then she told me thank you. I won’t share all she said in that thank you, but needless to say, it was better than having my hair done.

And to end the day, Steven took my to get some fries and an orange soda. . .my current craving.

So, yesterday was plain good.

Shout-out to 2020

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I want to be clear that I fully understand that my generation and those younger than me have never had to live through such a year as this in our country.  Not even 9/11 truly compares to the challenges 2020 has presented.  9/11 was a different kind of challenge and more singular than the multitude of difficulties 2020 has thrown.

BUT, to use a good old idiom, why are we throwing the baby out with the dishwater?

baby inside white bathtub with water

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I have grown weary of the negative attitude with which people talk about this year.  It has become banal all the ways we have decided to disregard 2020 and say it needs to be over and to highlight how it isn’t meeting our expectations.

What year really does though?  Have we become so accustomed to our life of privilege that we are thin skinned when faced with challenge and change? Even good change is a challenge (I think of when I got married. . .good change, wanted change, but boy howdy living with a boy after 18 years on my own!!).

Throw out the dishwater. . .it’s nasty, contaminated.  Keep the baby.  Expectations of what a year should be like are only going to disappoint.  Perhaps it’s good to have things shaken up a bit.  When we become accustomed to the routine, we often fail to recognize opportunities and beauty and goodness.  Detours have a way of introducing us to new possibilities. 2020 is such a detour.

2020, in and of itself, is not a bad year.  It’s different.  Different does not equate to bad.  It’s just different.  It’s our attitudes and our approach that can determine the good and bad of any situation.  2020 is just 365 days (oh, wait, this was a leap year, wasn’t it? 366) where we get to decide on what we will focus.  It doesn’t mean bad things aren’t going to happen.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be faced with tough decisions about conversations ignited by the world around us.  But we still get to choose our outlook.  (Ok, and it also doesn’t mean that sometimes we aren’t going to just throw up our hands and want to scream that this year sucks–just don’t get stuck there.)

2020 doesn’t have a bad reputation in our home. And we don’t want to fast forward to 2021.  We want to relax in the present, on this detour, and see what good there is to see. . .and, if we’re smart enough, participate in, or even create, that good.

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