I spent my afternoon listening to Leigh Nash’s Hymns and Sacred Songs, sipping espresso, and hanging up all of Madeline’s artwork from our beach week. The rainy days yielded lots of drawing, plus Brooke was there, or as Madeline calls her, The Best Artist In The World.
I can’t argue.
I started to Instagram this picture, but there was too much I wanted to say about it. Then I was all, “Wait, I HAVE A BLOG.”
Here are my 5 would-be Instagram captions:
1. When Madeline was 4 months old, I could not have imagined this glory. Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know. Vision loss, hearing loss, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism – whatever the diagnosis, whatever the life-changing, dream-changing, scary unknown, do not assume what your child will not be able to do. Just wait and see. If there are things they cannot do – that’s okay. Who they are is enough. But what they can do – WHAT THEY CAN DO – will surprise you every day. Kids are brilliant, resilient, spectacular little people. Dear special needs parent, do not fear what you don’t really know. Madeline the hope-giver wants to be an artist and and astronaut. Who ever would have thought. There is so much hope.
2. I need a new phone, STAT. Here’s a game: let’s pretend this is really bright and clear and happy and gorgeous!
3. It is so important to display kids’ artwork in their home. I remember the wall above my parents’ headboard, filled with pictures from my brother and I, and I remember how proud it made me feel. There were some really beautiful ideas of how to display kids’ art at apartment therapy a few months ago.
4. I am rich. When my heart fails within me, I only have to look at this wall to remember. I am rich. Parenting matters SO MUCH. If I only ever get two things right in life, I want those things to be loving Jesus, and raising Madeline, Sam, and Henry Conner.
5. I will sing its praises again – y’all, $2 for a roll of washi tape is worth it times a billion. (I loved this ode to washi tape on the walk in love. blog.)
(This one isn’t on Madeline’s wall. It’s going in my room:)
When my mom left the beach yesterday, she said, “I wanted more.”
It rained from Saturday to Wednesday, which was okay, since we are pretty good at hanging around and just being with one another, but it was okay in a “choose to be happy because the alternative sucks worse” kind of way. And we both knew it.
We took this picture, in our own words, to prove we were there.
When my mom and brother pulled out of the driveway, it was like the clouds hitched a ride in their back seat. They drove west, and immediately, gloriously, from the east came the sun – right on their heels. In just a few hours the island warmed up by 20 degrees. Sorry, guys.
And today. Today was everything we could have dreamed. It was the More.
Today there were sand castles; both bucket and dribble style. We dug giant holes, so deep that I looked down the beach once and panicked – where’s Madeline?!? Then she popped up like a prairie dog and we laughed. We saw bottlenose seal blah blah blah’s playing in the surf – diving slowly, lolling over the breakers – only waist-deep in the water. We made sand cakes, decorated with shells and reed-candles, OBVIOUSLY. We drew in the sand. We inspected dead crabs.
At one point, Henry was sleeping in a mass of patterned blankets, the kids were playing afar off in the giant hole, and I was able to lay so still that the little conch snail we found eased his way out of his shell right in front of me. Straight-up magical.
We snacked on granola bars and healthy amounts of sand. Sam terrorized sea gulls.
And I have not one single picture of this perfect day.
My phone did a weird thing, as ancient-artifact phones tend to do, and right before we stepped outside it was like, “Oh wait, did you need me to work today? MY BAD.”
And listen. Before you think that this is going to be a holier-than-thou “I was liberated from technology and lived in the moment!” post – it’s not.
I did not feel even a little bit enlightened. I wish I’d had my phone. If I could change that part, I would. My heart does an achy thing when I think about all the sandy, happy freeze-frames I don’t have.
I had to add this day to my mind bank.
I have a treasure box in my mind full of perfect moments uncaptured by film. They’ll only last as long as my mind does; when I’m gone, I’ll take them with me.
-In my mind bank is a day in the Tuileries Garden in Paris with my little cousins, pushing sailboats around that iconic fountain with a stick. I’d used up all 13 rolls of 35mm film, and since digital cameras only existed in a think tank somewhere and not in the possession of 13-year-old girls, I was out of luck.
-There is also an endangered red hawk, perched feet from me on a fence post, as we were driving home from horseback riding.
-There is the night I felt mother-love for the first time. It wasn’t in the hospital, for me. It was at home a week later, at 2:30 am. I didn’t want to put Madeline down, and I didn’t understand why. I should have wanted to sleep, but I didn’t; I wanted to be awake with her. I can still see everything about that moment.
And now there is a perfect beach day with my three children. It was everything a beach day should be, and it’s our secret. It is safe in my treasure box with the other moments I’ve preserved on mind-film.
Do you have a mind bank? What is a moment that’s inside? Do you wish you’d had a camera, or are you glad it will only ever be your secret?
Sam fell asleep in the car this afternoon, and I opted to try to transfer him to his bed instead of following my traditional course of action, which is to listen to music and text and generally avoid responsibilities in my car until he wakes up.
Bringing a sleeping child inside is a risk – the parental version of Russian Roulette. There are so many factors working against you:
-Seat belt maneuvering
-Car door noises
-The darn birds
Each obstacle that doesn’t yield a screaming baby is a Russian-Roulette-caliber sigh of relief; it is hope and life and an hour of nap time to accomplish things.
I lifted Sam onto my shoulder without incident; he was exhausted, and all 30 lbs of his two year old self pressed heavy into my chest. I laid his blanket over his back to shield him from the elements – one of my hands tenderly, protectively on the back of his head, and the other bearing his weight under his thighs.
Halfway between the car and the house, I felt Sam stir. I felt him flexing and releasing his legs, his butt, over and over, fighting for sleep.
Now here is the delicate balance, the dangerous dance: You must get to the bed ASAP, but without increasing your heart rate enough for the child to sense it. You have to move quickly, fluidly, and silently with a little bit of a waddle, so that your bent knees absorb all the bumps and jostles.
When Sam started to squirm, I picked up the pace and whispered, “Shh, shh, shh, don’t wiggle.”
He kept on flexing and squirming, trying to carve out a warm, safe space in the crook of my arm. ”Shh, shh, shh. Relax your little butt. I’ve got you.”
Then I said, ” Trust my arms. Trust my strength. Trust my love.”
And I felt a familiar surge in my chest. The God-speaking-surge.
How many times has He whispered those words to me TODAY?
“Kate, stop wiggling. Relax your little butt. (How glorious that in relation to all the cosmos in the hollow of His hand my butt is very, very small.) Trust my arms. Trust my strength. Trust my love.”
I am a strategist and an energy-preserver and I work really well within structure and flounder outside of it – and that makes me a wiggler. That makes me want to know what’s going on and why – not so that I can control it (I tell myself), but so that I can prepare for it. I’m very flexible as long as I know exactly what is going on. (So, about as flexible as an anvil.) I say, “Jesus, your will be done. But give me a heads up as to exactly what your will is, so that I can adjust my attitude and my expectations and generally get on board.” I get agitated when God does not consult me about His plans, or at least update me. A little common courtesy is all I ask.
But that’s not how faith works. For who has known the mind of the Lord? And who has been his counselor? Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out. (Romans 11:34 & 33) Faith is not for the faint of heart. And God tells me, every day, some days more patiently than others, every time I stop for long enough to listen:
Stop wiggling. Relax your butt. Trust my arms. Trust my strength. Trust my love. I can carry you.
In case you missed it, I wrote a post over at the walk in love. blog earlier this week. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and something for which I’m desperately grateful: the good stuff sticks.
Because, if not bad days, then at least blah days, right? Or side-tracked days, or I Yelled At My Kids Again days.
But remarkably, even with all the blah, frustrating, and downright awful days, people keep on doing extraordinary things. Dreams stay alive. Hard work – creative work – keeps happening. Marriages hold fast.
People keep climbing Everest and keep having babies EVEN AFTER THEY KNOW HOW HARD IT IS. Like, they know about running out of oxygen, and excruciating cramps, and pushing bodies past their physical limits, and wondering why they thought this was such a good idea in the first place – and I’ve heard Everest is tough too.
Last month I took my daughter to Snow Mountain for her birthday. It was 58° outside. Y’all, don’t hate, that fake snow was magical. There was tubing and sledding and snowman-building. There were Christmas tree s, lights, snowballs, train rides, and hot chocolate. It was straight out of a freaking postcard …until…”
It has been almost six years since a doctor told me that Madeline was blind.
I remember everything. What I was wearing. What he said, exactly. The 6,704,870 thoughts I had on the drive home. Some traumas turn into blurs; this one is emblazoned on my memory.
In my wildest hopes I would not have dared to image Madeline as she is today.
This is what I would tell six-years-ago-me, if I could.
Everything is going to be okay.
Right now, in the future, Madeline is watching The Magic School Bus episode about outer space. That’s right – she can watch TV. She sits really close on her little red footstool, and she has two younger brothers, with perfect vision, who also sit close because that’s how their big sister taught them to do it. (They also took their first steps with a white cane, which was adorable.)
Here is what I want you to know, young, scared Kate.
Madeline is going to have friends. She is going to run - fast and hard and fearless. She knows braille. You know braille. It is hard, and you’re going to cry and quit for a little while, but when Madeline is in kindergarten, you help her with her homework and you both read it pretty effortlessly and everything is okay. (Incidentally, Madeline is going to surprise you all the time with the things she can see. Even when she is six, she will still be surprising you – and every doctor and teacher she has.)
You’ve never cried in an IEP meeting, or after one. Only before – because fear of a thing is almost always worse than reality. Try not to worry.
Madeline is incredibly bright. Her vocabulary is enormous – annoyingly so. But she’s not just smart-bright; she’s a sparkle. Everything in her whole life is over-the-top big. She says things like:
“I know I have a lot of days left to live, but I know that no day could possibly be better than this day.”
“I will listen to you, I will listen to daddy, I will listen to anyone, even after I DIE I WILL LISTEN.”
“The only thing better than your painting is GOD.”
And “Pluto is the most important planet in my life.”
She is some kind of special; people are drawn to her.
There are so many bright, happy things about your life, and I won’t spoil the surprises. Here is the most important thing:
Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know. Do not grieve for things you haven’t lost yet; you may not end up losing them at all.
Madeline’s middle name is Hope – you had no way of knowing how perfect a christening that was for her, but I am here to tell you she has lived up to it in every way. She has been spreading hope, warm in the hearts everyone who has the privilege to watch her, for six years now. For six years, just sparkling and hope-spreading: hope to families touched by ONH, hope to teachers, hope to doctors, hope to friends – hope to everyone.
Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. It gets better. You get better. You are carried on rhythms of grace, on the backs of friends, and on prayers of the faithful the whole way – every step. Every hard-fought step, every uncertain step, every hail-mary, God-save-us step, you are carried.
Life is brutal and it is beautiful; Glennon Melton calls it brutiful. And, God, is it ever.
But you can do this. You are doing it, and you are doing a good job.
Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know.
P.S. She does eventually learn to buckle her seat belt and put on her own socks, so don’t sell her; she pulls through.
My two best friends from high school both had babies this month, just a few days apart.
I’ve been thinking about my friends and their babies, wishing I could hop a flight. I wish I could go cook and clean and do the grocery shopping and the laundry. I wish I could come bearing lots of lavender soap and a dozen new, clean tank tops. I wish I could sit on their couches with them, sleepy and happy and staring at babies. I wish I could rock fussy babies to sleep, walking laps around the living room, while my friends max out their 2-hour between-feeding sleep window. I’ve been the tired mom; now I want to be the helper.
But I can’t; not yet. Not this time.
If I were sitting on the happy, sleepy couches this week, this is what I would tell my friends:
We are in a season of life that is marked by small goals, little benchmarks that indicate survival.
Your baby will force you to stop measuring yourself by your to-do list. You may be an idealist; you may not think that you find your identity in your work, in what you accomplish, but you do. We all do. That baby will force you to stop calculating your value by how much you do, how chic your house is, how you look, and how many people are impressed with you. You will adapt or die. You’ll find your value somewhere deeper, truer, or the insecurity will kill you. You either give up your long to-do lists, or you’ll drown in a sea of unmet expectations.
The secret is small goals.
Make a list of tiny things you want to accomplish today. Things that, before you had kids, didn’t even seem like things. Things like:
1. Text Mom
2. Unload and reload dishwasher
4. Do jumping jacks
5. Get the mail
Those are your goals for the next 24 hours. Your little list grounds you. It puts you in control instead of at the mercy of the wiggly little dictator that needs to be held and fed and changed and cleaned around the clock. You’ll feel progress instead of powerless. When you meet your goals, you’ll feel like you have your crap together. And on the days you take a shower you’ll be like,
“I DID ALL THE THINGS!” *drops mic*
When my babies were new and squishy dictators, I tried to set a realistic, achievable goal in each category: physically, relationally, spiritually, professionally, and housework-ily. I still have a note on my phone where I jotted down my goals for a day in May – Henry was 2 months old. It says:
-Make green smoothie for breakfast
-email David (my agent)
-Fold 1 load of laundry
-Post something, anything, to FB author page
-Go to Madeline’s teacher meeting @2:30
New Mom, you can’t go to the gym now, but you can do 50 jumping jacks every time you change a diaper.
You can’t go out for coffee yet, but you can text one friend every day, while you’re nursing the baby, just to connect to another person.
You can’t do a Beth Moore bible study, but you can leave your bible open on the kitchen counter all day.
Super-mom isn’t found in accomplishing everything; it’s found in living well.
For me, super-mom just means having a Kindergartener, a toddler, a baby, and liking it.
Women who appear to have it all together never have it all together, they just have the right things together. They have just enough together to to enjoy this season instead of merely surviving it, though there is some of that.
Of course you’ll keep moving towards your big plans and dreams and your creative work, but in this sweet season you will move inch-by-inch, not stride-by-stride.
Inch by inch. Kiss by kiss. Nap by nap. Chinese take-out by Chinese take-out.
And send me lots of baby pictures. Every day. Just keep ‘em coming. Megan, if you’re reading this, stop right now and go take a picture of your baby and text it to me.
Last week, Dan and I sent in the last of our 3 manuscripts. The last 45,000 word-batch of our thoughts.
We don’t pull out all the stops for birthdays or anniversaries or Christmases, but this was an accomplishment that we wanted to celebrate. To be clear, we are not celebrating writing books; we are celebrating surviving this year.
8,760 hours have passed; Henry slept for 6 of them.
There was the catastrophic week Henry came home from the hospital, when everyone in the house had a stomach virus for 2 weeks. When I was breastfeeding a two-day-old infant, jealous Sam was screaming at my feet, and Madeline was throwing up in the corner. And then Sam busted his face open on a chair and we had to put him in his STILL COVERED IN VOMIT car seat and drive him to the emergency room. We survived that.
There was the two-week period the last book was due, when the kids got chicken pox. And our babysitter broke her foot. And Madeline had fall break and was home with all her effervescence and her words. And Dan had a fall retreat with the college students and was gone for a million billion years, which is what four days feels like to a mom of three tiny humans. We survived that.
We survived other stuff too, so we celebrated.
My handsome, hero-husband of mine and I left the tiny humans in the care of their grandmother and we peaced out to the beach. Dan’s grandparents sent a package for the kids, which we stole on our way out the door, elbowing each other and giggling maniacally, like drunk hamburglars. His saintly, saintly grandparents took an empty mini-muffin package and stuffed each muffin-hole with good Halloween candy; they then layered M&Ms on top of them, then layered three nutter butter packets on top of the M&Ms and snapped it shut. YOU KNOW WE TOOK THAT BIZ TO THE BEACH.
We were drunk with freedom and delirious by the time we hit the highway. When we went through a drive-thru for dinner, Dan was all, “I’ll have the six-pound triple-bacon burger,” and I was all, “ME TOO.”
We slept in, we ate out, we walked, we shopped, I got my nose pierced. It was the best.
This week I gave away my kids’ baby clothes. 12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and approximately 1 million memories worth of baby clothes.
I used to dream about MAKING BANK at a yard sale. My little first-born, type-A heart wanted to WIN at yard-saling. I wanted to plan and organize to infinity and beyond: outfits washed and pressed and hanging by size. Or folded neatly into Zip-Lock bags, labeled and organized by season. The cutest clothes, the best prices, the best signage. Lord knows that between Madeline’s wardrobe and our Thomas the Train collection we could fund our retirement.
But then I remembered what it felt like to be twenty-two with a surprise baby and no money and a tiny apartment states away from every single person I knew except for my husband.
What it felt like was numb everywhere, all the time, with a heaping side of Crippling Fear and a tall glass of If I Stop Moving I Will Die. I remembered the faces of the people who gave me storage tubs and trash bags full of little girl clothes, and of how many seasons I didn’t have to buy winter coats. I remembered how it felt to be carried along.
It felt like a sisterhood, like hope.
Suddenly making bank at a yard sale didn’t sound so rewarding.
Last month I began to pray for a family. I asked God to send me a family to bless, to whom I could say, “Here. You don’t have to buy winter coats this year – or next year – or the year after that.”
Through my friends and some of you lovely readers I found a 16-year-old expecting a baby girl this December. I found an adoptive mother of 2 baby girls, one of whom is in chemotherapy. I found a Ukrainian couple, too far from family, expecting a little boy in November. I found a single mom, a brand new mom in grad school, and a mother of 5 under 7.
I folded and packed 12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and 1 million memories worth of baby clothes, and I shipped off every last onesie – every last dress and little pair of moccasins.
I believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I also believe that giving hurts sometimes, and I think it’s glorious how often blessing and hurt coexist. That the things that hurt you can bless your socks off.
Giving away my babies’ clothes didn’t sting, like I was losing something I needed, but it ached, like I was losing something I loved.
The evening after I shipped the first box, I was sitting on the couch feeling achy and nostalgic when I got a message from a blog reader titled “ONH.”
Mercy. These are my favorite emails, even though they are always fraught with fear and sadness. This reader told me about her baby, eight months old, who doesn’t see like other babies see. She asked me about crawling and about introducing solid foods and about how we made it – how we are making it.
I wrote answers that seemed to come from a lifetime ago – things I would have forgotten had I not taken the time and discipline to remember.
I wrote about physical therapy and introducing textures and early intervention. I remembered how it felt to be twenty-two and to learn that my surprise baby had a surprise diagnosis - how it felt to go from knowing precious little about mothering to knowing Absolutely Nothing.
I remembered the faces of the people that told me they were sorry. The people that told me I was brave, and that everything was going to be okay. I remember the people who introduced me to their surprise babies with surprise diagnoses, and the people who carried us.
Friends, we carry each other. People carried me. People carry me still. I carry people, too, which makes my heart feel fuller than about anything else I do on the earth. (Except for maybe kissing my kids’ dimples and stroking their cornsilky blonde hair.) I could have consigned all those Ralph Lauren rompers for money, but I would have been poorer for it.
What I’m saying is this: if you have tubs of clothes sitting in your attic or your basement or in the tops of all your closets waiting for an eventual yard sale, maybe start praying for a family to carry. Then just ask – the need is everywhere and it is great.
If you have a story, tell it.
If you have wisdom, share it.
If you have experience, lend it.
We carry each other along.
I’m blogging over at Middle Places today, about wishing I had a reset button, and how exactly one goes about recalibrating her life.
“I wish I had a reset button, like those microscopic rubber buttons on the backs of alarm clocks and internet routers. I wish my belly button worked that way, that someone could poke me with a toothpick or the end of a bobby pin that’s missing the plastic bubble that keeps it from drawing blood on your scalp, and I’d default back to ground zero, fresh and shiny.
But I don’t have a reset button, so I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way…
This year I tried to tweak my habits, adjust my schedule, to function in this new life, but what I know is that you can’t build a brand new picture with the same old pieces. Tweaking and adding and shifting gave me juggling, balancing, and multi-tasking. And while juggling, balancing, and multi-tasking is a great way to survive, it’s no way to live. I am crafting a brand new picture that includes a beautiful, surprise baby and a beautiful, surprise writing career; I need new pieces. I need a reset button.
A vacation won’t do. Neither will new apps, a new deadline, or more coffee. Those are tweaks; I need a fundamental change, a shift in the tectonic plates.
And the ancient secret to shifting one’s tectonic plates is radical self-discipline…”
Today I drug out the big box full of my and Madeline’s baby books. It was all sugar and spice and everything nice until I came across a manila folder full of some elementary school work that my mom saved. YOU GUYS. I HAVE NOT LAUGHED THIS HARD IN WEEKS. Maybe months. Maybe ever.
As it turns out, I wrote quite a few books in my younger years.
First, this ode to my mother.
She’s okay, I guess.
Then this one.
At the time I was using Kathryn as my pen name. In my defense, this was before anyone introduced me to the concept of “plagiarism.”
I was also doing all of my own illustrations.
Just to be clear, not everything is a vegetable. (MOM.)
I wrote some fiction, fairy tales in particular. Probably because I could not resist trying my hand at the “castle-inside-the-first-letter” technique.
Also, it seems my mother used to scream at me when I barged in on her in the shower. This is a universal and timeless part of parenting.
In my early works I experimented with some creative spelling.
And it is xspeshalee clear that my excellent self-esteem was already in tact.
My longest work to date is a short story titled, “A STORY OF AN UNICORN” [sic.] It turns out my parents were ruthless editors who did not feel that young unicorn romance and baking witches into cakes were wise plot choices for me at this point in my writing career.
Neither was young unicorn polygamy.
They did, however, encourage me to keep writing books, to which I responded: