That’s Our Story Now

Two years ago, I watched my husband make one of the hardest decisions of his life. Say goodbye to his best friend, in favor of giving her relief from her ailing body. It was a decision that wrecked him over a period of weeks, as he sat and waited for someone else to make it so he didn’t have to. When it finally came down to it, he knew what was right all along; it just wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

So we laid our pup to rest. We sat in the hard season of grief. We looked long and hard for the silver lining that holiday season. Weeks passed. Months passed. It didn’t show up.

Now, we’re parents to an 8-month-old baby boy, and he loves to climb the step in our family room. Like Grace, he slides on the wood floor on all fours, moving faster than he should. Like Grace, his whole face lights up when James walks in the room. He loves his dada more than anything in the world.

That’s our story now. We get to give this boy all the love in the world. I get to hold him on one hip and point at the picture of the silly little curly-haired dog licking his mama’s face. I get to show him that someone, somewhere, a long time ago, knew just how special she was to have his dada and I as parents.

These last two years have taught me a lot about love.

Love is simultaneously seeing a moment for all that it is and all that it could have been.

Love is making hard decisions when no one else can, when you are the one for the job.

Love is taking risks even after heartbreak.

Love is the small moment at the end of the long day. The tickles and giggles when it’s supposed to be bedtime. The extra forehead kiss. The one last goodnight.

Love is passing along the magic of simple pleasures. Pointing to Christmas lights on the trees. Laughing at the little ducks’ rainboots in the video. Riding on top of dada’s shoulders.

Love is rising before the sun because being awake is that much better with the other person in your life.

Love is all of that and all the things you don’t even realize you’re doing unless you step outside yourself and watch.

It’s all the things you’ll someday do without even planning on it.

It’s looking forward to everything you have yet to pass along, all the times your child doesn’t yet know they’ll come to cherish, but you do. That’s love.

Grief Comes in Many Forms

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for at least two weeks, but I kept stopping because I couldn’t find the right words to tie together all the things I’m feeling right now. But the losses in my life are mounting, so I’ll press on.

My son Jameson was born the week before the country shut down for what we thought would only be two weeks. He’s almost 4 and a half months now, and for the first time, we used his stroller for something other than a walk around the neighborhood or an empty paved path.

People in my family have suffered a lot of loss in the last month. Some of it because of COVID, some of it not. They’ve lost jobs, buried family members, said goodbye to pets, held memorials for friends—moments that are hard to face any day. But now, what feels like a never-ending sentence of social distancing and wearing masks is making it that much harder to face. No hugging. No shoulder pats. No handholding. No indoor funerals. No “let’s go to the bar and drink for an hour so we can forget about how bad it all hurts.”

It’s been in the 90s lately but I keep wearing a mask because I don’t want anyone else I care about to suffer loss, but I especially don’t want them to have to do it alone. I don’t want COVID to continue wrecking us endlessly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these days. We’re all grieving right now. It takes many forms. We’re grieving lost time with the people we’re used to seeing. Big Sunday dinners with extended family. Friday night concerts on the lawn. Weekend getaways by the community pool. Annual picnics and reunions by the lake. Shopping in a store and making an actual impulse buy.

Kids are grieving proms and last days of school and graduation ceremonies. Summer camps they look forward to all year. Sleepovers with friends. Family summer nights where everyone isn’t huddled around their laptops working because they didn’t have enough time to work during the day and keep the kids occupied.

My brother-in-law’s kids are much older than Jameson. And he said something to me weeks ago about how lucky I am that my son’s too young to remember COVID. But the trauma is real no matter the age. it’s just different.

I got to spend a few months learning to be a mom, watching him grow, and then one day, we just stopped playing during the day. I stayed home, but i started spending hours at a computer, stopping every so often to look over and check on him, only to turn back to my screen or my phone or my notepad. He hated it. I hated it. It was miserable.

He’s growing up in a world where he’s barely met anyone, where he’s barely seen anything, where a mask is scary but normal. We went to the pediatrician the other week and the look on his face while I sat next to his stroller wearing my mask was so sad. He looked so scared and unsure. Was that mama? What was on her face?

Now, he gets to spend the day with a few other kids at daycare, and I get to focus on my work, but that time we spent piecing together childcare hurt my heart. He won’t remember it, but I will.

Everyone’s grieving something during this time. Whether it’s a person, a place, a memory, an expectation of what this spring and summer (and soon fall) would bring and didn’t. All our experiences are incredibly similar and yet vastly different. We’re suffering losses in all shapes and sizes. And the neighbor next to us has no idea what we’re facing. Extend some grace. Check on your people. Remember you’re not alone. Someone, somewhere, is thinking of you and itching to reach out. Pick up the phone. We may not be able to stand side by side, but we haven’t forgotten how to care about the people in our lives. I know that much is true.

Community, Genuine Happiness, and Motherhood in the Midst of a Pandemic

Someone I’ve known for a long time shared some good news with me the other day. You know the thing you do when you say, “I’m happy for you!” or “That’s awesome. Congratulations!” but it’s half-hearted? Like you’re scrolling through your phone and you don’t even look up? 

Maybe this only happens to me, but I catch myself doing that often and I hate it. Social media has made it easier to know everything about everyone and often not feel moved by any of it.

This time, that’s not at all how I felt. I felt deeply happy for the person. To the point where I catch myself thinking about what they said and my reaction here and there over the last few days. I had become so accustomed to feeling numb to what I was learning about people’s lives. I was used to feeling on the fringes of this giant community, of knowing so much about strangers and old friends alike, but never really feeling most of it.

This global pandemic we’re in is terrible. Truly. But if there’s one thing we’re getting out of it, it’s community. Which I knew. You can watch all the sappy commercials and read all the articles and hear all the people talk about how we’re alone together. But I didn’t know if I felt it in my life. I didn’t know if it had reached out and grabbed me. 

I’m about a month postpartum. I’m learning there’s nothing like raising a child in the middle of this pandemic. But there’s really nothing like first learning to raise a child in the middle of this pandemic. 

When babies are born, people are so excited to help. Never has community felt more present in my life than in pregnancy. I saw all these people show up for me in that season of preparing for motherhood. Friends, family, coworkers. People who gave their time, their energy, their talents, their hard-earned dollars. People who knitted or crocheted blankets. Who helped decorate for my showers. Who carried gifts out to the car and stayed around longer to pitch in. People who called to check in over the months. People who genuinely wanted to know how I was doing as the weeks ticked away.

When Jameson was born, we were fortunate to have my mom help for a week. When she left, that’s when things really hit the fan with COVID-19. States went on lockdown. Stores shut. Schools closed for not just weeks, but months. Cases went from the hundreds to the thousands to the tens of thousands to now the hundreds of thousands.

For the last few weeks, it’s been just us. No one can come by when we’re exhausted and haven’t slept and just want someone to hold him while we nap. People who wanted to come share a meal and just catch up can’t do that. Family members who wanted to take a trip to meet him for the first time can’t do that. My mother-in-law jokes that he’ll be walking by the time she can see him again, and it’s true. We’re all wondering when it’s over.

And yet. I’ve spent more time on video chats and exchanging messages with people than I can remember. Some, yes, because I have time on my hands to just be (and also no time to breathe at all, it feels like). But also because I know something big they’re going through. I know they might need a check-in. It’s hard to check in with people who you miss when you stop checking in. You run out of knowing what’s going on in their life so you feel like you don’t know what to talk about. But we are all having cyclical conversations here about how life as we know it is different. And it’s never been easier, in some ways, to just show up for people.

I’m really glad to feel like that. I’m really glad to see people showing up—albeit virtually—for the people in their lives who they may or may not have talked to much in recent years. Maybe this is a reset for genuine community. Not just tapping the like button on Instagram and scrolling past. But sending the message. Having the conversation. Making plans. I’m hopeful it continues.

When to Say When

One day back in the spring, driving home from work, Carrie Underwood’s “Starts With Goodbye” came on shuffle on my phone. It’s an old song and I hadn’t listened to the words in years, but that day, I caught myself listening and really hearing the words.

“It’s sad but sometimes moving on with the rest of your life / starts with goodbye.”

And I couldn’t help but think how true they’d been already that year. How true they are for any big moment in life. Whenever you step forward into something new, you’re stepping away from something old.

For me, this year, that something new has been the journey into parenting. I don’t think enough people talk about that journey, unless theirs was riddled with infertility or miscarriage. And so as someone who couldn’t even take that first step forward, much as I saw the joys of raising a child, I felt alone over those few years I wrestled with the concept. I hadn’t tried and failed; I hadn’t even tried.

But last year, a chain events set off the push I needed to step forward.

Knowing when to say “when” is hard. And it doesn’t get easier with age or wisdom or hindsight. I’ve had a couple crossroads moments in my life and each of those decisions were hard for different reasons. But for the first time, last November I found myself experiencing an all new kind of “knowing when to say ‘when’.” My husband and I had to actively decide when it was time to say “when” regarding our dog’s health.

When someone you love is dying, in all the days and weeks leading up to the end, you never know it’s going to be the last time that memory will be happy. The last time you’ll see them healthy. Until, of course, it is. You expect one more glimpse of their old ways, one more relapse, one more good day.

With Grace, our dog, I’d been preparing to lose her almost since the day I met her. Over the years, I caught myself crying over the thought of losing her, even when she was at her most vibrant and healthy. She’d stand aloof wagging her tail while James reminded me that it wasn’t her time. Not yet.

I’d tell him I already loved her too much, that I was scared how much it’d hurt to lose her. Maybe that’s what those of us do who’ve suffered great losses. We brace ourselves for a pain we’ve felt a few times before. We know how bad it’s going to hurt when everything crashes down.

When she stopped eating everything, no matter what James laid out on the floor, she lost weight dramatically. We were so focused on keeping her alive at all costs that we couldn’t see we were heading straight for a cliff where we’d be forced to make a quick decision: put her to sleep peacefully or risk waking up to find her dead one day.

I was right, of course. Few other losses have hurt as bad as losing her. For a few months, I’d be carrying about my day and feel this unshakeable sadness creep up. And then, exactly 3 months later, thinking about how we wanted to become a family of three again, I got a FaceTime call.

When I answered it, my mother-in-law was sitting on the couch next to my sister-in-law, holding a baby. I knew my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who’d been married a decade, were in the process of an adoption, but there was no “tell us when you have a baby,” so even they wouldn’t know if and when they’d become parents. And after years watching them walk through an incredibly long season of infertility, I couldn’t bring myself to process what I was seeing on screen. But that’s what it was. They’d been handed a baby boy, unbeknownst to them, hours earlier. They were at a friend’s house playing cards and eating snacks, the friends well aware of what was about to be a life-changing moment for them, when the adoption agent showed up with their little bundle of joy.

We drove across town that night to meet our new nephew. And as we walked into the friends’ bedroom and I saw that baby boy wrapped up tight, my throat closed. I was overcome with gratitude for their story. A story they’d almost given up on, I later learned.

I stood on the sidelines in awe as they called supervisors and put emergency plans in place. They had had classes to teach, meetings to attend, and medical procedures scheduled. All of it was turned upside down.

In the weeks that followed, I watched them learn the basics of caring for a baby: swaddling, feeding, calming him down. I helped screw the crib together. I brought over a container of homemade meatballs and pasta sauce. I asked how I could help. And I felt my heart open up to a goal I’d written down in my planner just a few months before.

I just kept thinking, “What am I worrying about? They had no time to prepare. We would have 9 months. They couldn’t bear to read baby books or websites beforehand. We could learn as much as we wanted. They hadn’t bought anything. We could build a registry and shop on our own, too.”

But my fear hadn’t been about any of that. It was about all the phases of pregnancy. About morning sickness and the risk of miscarriage and the pain of labor. It was about how tenderly you have to carry a baby through 9 months and hope everything goes just right so you get to hold him at the end.

Seeing them, I knew I’d never have complete reassurance about any of that. And I couldn’t help but feel guilty to worry when I was sitting in their family room, watching them like deer in headlights, learning how to keep their child alive from hour to hour. I knew that if I wanted to take the leap, the only thing standing in the way was myself. I’d never really be ready (who is?!) but I had people around me to help figure it out along the way. No matter what, we’d get through.

Here we are. Grace will be gone a year on November 16. And we still miss her fiercely. My throat’s closing up just thinking about it. But we are learning that without losing her, we might never push ourselves into this new season of three. Even though we ached to grow our family. We would’ve kept saying, “Not yet. Soon. Not yet. Soon.”

And why? We wouldn’t have had a good answer for that.

Now, we’re over halfway through the journey. And we’re filled with overwhelming gratitude to think about how close we are to meeting our son. And in the meantime, we’ll read as much as we want and take classes and prepare because we can. For that, my heart is full.