Where did November go?

You guys…..this month!  Its been the kind of month that seems like it should be over by now but it just isn’t. There are still four days left! The weeks have been so full.  Full of highs and lows. Have you guys ever done that at the dinner table? We used to do that with Isaac when he was younger, we would sit at the table and go around and each talk about our high’s and low’s of the day.  It was one of my favorite times as a family.   Maybe I will pick that up again at dinner. There is something unique about that question that opens up the conversation about your day.  All of that to say, we are going to do some high’s and low’s to catch up. 

High:  We bought a car.  A second car to be more specific. When we moved we decided we would go as a single car family and then buy a second one when we got to Georgia.  That was almost three years ago.  The first year and a half were not too bad. I actually enjoyed it a little bit.  Our life as a whole had slowed down so not having a car wasn’t as big of a deal.  Also, Charles worked close enough that if I ever wanted to take the car for the day I could. With the job change his office was farther away and taking the car for the day became a deal.   Getting a second car became more of a priority.  Wish I could tell you I was so fun to car shop with but I am not. I simply get too wrapped up in making the RIGHT choice, instead of just getting what works for us.  It’s a thing I have to consistently work through. WE MADE IT THOUGH.  We bought a car. I am so HAPPY. I forgot what life was like with the ease to grocery shop whenever, or take Isaac out during school breaks, or just go grab coffee at a shop and write.  It’s truly GLORIOUS! 

Low: This one is hard to write because it is tender still and will be for a while.  This was the month that we said goodbye to Charles mom, Gail. She had been battling cancer for years, beating it once, for it only to come back.  When it returned it came with a timeline, one I would like to note, she beat living longer then they expected. With that timeline in mind, we have purposely spent every holiday and as much time as we could in Charlotte with her.   Gail was a fierce lover of her family, there was nothing outside of the Lord that she loved more than Jack (her husband) and her children. Well, maybe the beach but only if Jack and her kids were there. And a good adventure, if Jack and her kids were there.  She was something else and we will greatly miss her.  

There is our high and low like I said it was quite the month.  We opted out of another drive to Charlotte for Thanksgiving, deciding instead to stay home and be. Just the three of us and we did.  It was about as low key as you can get.  I didn’t even cook a turkey but I loaded up on the snacks. Which as a side note I have recently discovered are what I live for, SNACKS. They are the best thing ever, I will pass on Thanksgiving spread every time if I could gorge myself on snacks.  So it was just us, snuggled up, eating snacks, binge-watching football, and Fringe.   I did do something brave though. Well at least brave for me. I wrote a post and submitted it for an online community to possibly publish. Somewhere in my rational brain, I understand its not that big of a deal, however, the confidence to write and submit something has been such a journey for me. It felt good to step outside of the box I put myself in and just do something that made my palms sweat a little. 

This week we are getting back into our groove. Charles is off to the trenches at work, Isaac is gutting out the harsh school life of a 4th grader (I am joking….he loves it) and I am home (or sometimes not because I have a CAR) trying to find my pace with writing again. I hope your November and Thanksgiving found you surrounded by those you are grateful for and who are grateful for you.  

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy

It was the next thing I did after I pushed the start button on our coffee pot. It wasn’t your normal end of the season shirt. Generally, I pass those ones on to Goodwill. It wasn’t even one of those I am so much smaller now I can’t wear this shirt kind of shirt. It wasn’t even a shirt, it was an undershirt. One of those skinny strapped tank tops that you wear for layering purposes. I have had it for almost 9 years. Yeah, I know…too long. I couldn’t get myself to the place where I parted with it. It’s not like it was any good anymore. The elastic on the bottom was stretched out. There were holes, the fabric so thin it was see through. I had gotten all the use out of this shirt, I was going to get. Yet still, I couldn’t seem to let it go.

Until this morning.

I have been sitting in this place emotionally where I am just letting the heartbreak of having a child who died, be. I am allowing my heart to take this journey and process however that may need to happen. I have no time frame, no clue as what to think or feel, I just am where I am. Open, present, and engaged with my heart for whatever it may need. Last night I decided to do what I call hibernate. It’s basically where I ditch the boys, snuggle up in the back, and just breathe. Sometimes I write, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I watch tv. I don’t know what is so life-giving about that for me. There is just something about not having to be responsible for anybody. When I hibernate, Charles and Isaac run the house. They navigate meals, bedtime, or whatever is in the schedule. It isn’t always Isaac’s favorite, he loves it when everybody is together. He also gets it and always finds a way to sneak back at least 3 or 4 times for a quick kiss and snuggle. Don’t even know who I would be without that kid! So last night, hibernating, I end up watching some tv. It was Thursday, or course, Thursday. Grey’s Anatomy was on. Now I have not been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy for many years. I like the old school Grey’s, like McSteamy and McDreamy days. Matter of fact when Katie Grace was born, I went back and binged watched the older shows. There was something incredibly therapeutic about it; it was as if I could release my pain through Meredith Grey. The ache in my own life was too much but I could feel it through the dark and twisty life these writers gave her.

It’s been a hot minute since I have tuned in. Until last night in my hibernation. In the episode, they were showing a scene between Owen and Amelia. It’s a long twisted story I don’t want to get into and isn’t relevant to this story. Here is the part that is, Amelia was talking about a child she had that had died. Apparently, when she and Owen were married, he wanted kids and she wasn’t ready, part of the reason was facing the death of her son. As they were talking, she said something about finally being able to say his name, the freedom that it brings and the fact that the memory of him isn’t lost when more children are born. I can tell you 100% that is not what I expected to watch on Grey’s Anatomy. I just cried. I sat in my bed and let the tears fall. Somehow, someway, this fictional character on this fictional show gave my heart permission in a way my mind has not been able to.

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy.

That undershirt I threw away this morning, is the last article of clothing I own that I wore when I was pregnant with Katie Grace. It seems so nonsensical to feel so connected to an inanimate object. It’s not like I don’t have things of her’s stored away in storage. Items I thin out each time we move or in each new season. I have at least 3 boxes of her. This undershirt though, I could wear it. I could put it on and remember her. I can remember being so massively pregnant with her. I can be in shock that this shirt, was able to cover her in my belly. Somehow this shirt became a connection to not just my pregnancy but also her.

I have tried to throw it away before. I just couldn’t get ever get close enough to the trash can to let it go. This hitch would happen within my heart, and I would go, awe there is no harm holding onto it. My mind would be speaking another story, reminding me how trashed it is. How there are holes and barely any fabric left. Yet still, I would put it back in my drawer and keep it in my rotation of undershirts. My heart unable to follow with the logic of my mind.

Things are changing though. This healing process, the timing that life has given, change is here, my heart is finally catching up to the logic of my mind. The more I stay in this place of heartbreak, sitting freely, safely, and fighting the impulse to be anything but present; my heart is fully feeling and healing. It is also releasing. It is letting go. Gah! It still makes me cry to write it. I don’t want to let go. That momma in me, that bear that fights, I want to hold onto what I know with her. I want to keep what life gave me. Life already took her, it can’t have anything else.

Yet in true Katie Grace form, doing what isn’t natural as a parent has been the only way to do life and death with her. Fighting to keep your children alive, healthy and well rounded, that is the intuitive drive. Not with her. It was almost always about letting that intuitive drive go, finding who she was, and following her lead. Here she is again, leading me into life, just as much as she led me into death.

Seven or so years ago, I was a new mom with a brain damage baby, weeping through Grey’s Anatomy because it was the only way to release the overwhelming pain of what my world was. Here I am today weeping through Grey’s Anatomy on a Thursday because of the overwhelming pain of letting go was too much for my heart to bear on its own. It’s a full circle. The embracing and the releasing of life and what it holds, the good and the bad.

Leave it to life.

Leave it to Katie Grace.

Leave it to Grey’s Anatomy.

P.S For my die hard Grey’s fan, I wrote this two weeks ago so it was not last Thursday episode. Just clarifying 😉

 

Brokenhearted

“That’s really the question you are going to ask here….at Zaxby’s?” Isaac said his opinion apparent in his tone.

“Uh yeah,” was my only response. I didn’t see anything wrong with the question I asked. Yet again I also didn’t realize what emotional door I was opening or the conversation it would lead to.

Before I get into that I have to tell you I have been pondering this question my friend T asked me almost two months ago. We were on our six-hour drive to Kentucky, we started talking about kids and babies. She just said, “I know what your boys want but you know I don’t ever hear much from you about what you want. Do you want another baby?” I guess I knew that I hadn’t really talked about my own thoughts about it, I just kind of went along with, “What, yeah of course I do”. Her question made my heart sit up inside and look around though. What I saw was this spot that I don’t really actually talk about. I have talked around it, discussed aspects of it, but I haven’t verbally revealed that spot. That’s curious for me, we all know I talk about everything. I analyze everything. I find the smallest emotional issues and I dig into it, pushing it around, feeling it, doing everything to understand and come to a place of resolve. This though. I have just left alone.

Now that I am aware though, I have been looking at that spot for two months. I have talked about not talking about it. I have poked it a little bit, pushed the outside of it to see how tough the skin is, but I haven’t dug in.

Well until that moment at Zaxby’s.

We were just sitting there, the three of us, as it usually is. This question just popped into my mind out of my mouth: “Would you guys be okay if it is just the three of us? Can you be content if this was just our family?”. I didn’t expect my voice to crack or my eyes to well up with tears but they did.

They both responded with a resounding yes. Then Isaac asked his, “Really, here.” question. Then Charles paused and said “Wow, wait, I think yes. It just hits me in this spot to think that we wouldn’t have anymore.” (Did I swoon? Or course. I love a man who can identify his feelings and communicate them). We finished up lunch, hopped in the car to finish our drive to see his family in North Carolina.

The next hour was filled with the emotional banter of two parents trying to figure out where their hearts are. Charles kept asking me “What do you want? Do want another baby?” I kept replying “This isn’t about whether I want another baby. Of course, I want another baby. I wanted 4 babies. I wanted to have more than one right now. I wanted to keep both of the ones I had. This isn’t about wanting another. This is about can I accept how life is playing out with regards to our children.”

You see if I ran the world. I would have 4 kids, living in a house somewhere in the country. They would play outside all day and we would have family dinners at night. I would be spending my day’s navigating emotional conversations between them giving space and guidance, to help shape them into the phenomenal beings I know they were made to be.

I don’t run the world though. I don’t have 4 kids and a house in the country. Nobody is playing outside all day to only come in for family dinner at night. I am not spending my days navigating conversation between amazing little people we have been entrusted with. I am a mom of a 10-year-old, trying to figure out how to not be too much most days, and too little the other days. As Charles and I processed, I realized I am a mom who is having to figure out if it is okay to bring another life into the world who doesn’t know the life who left early. If a baby joins us, they won’t know Katie Grace. They won’t have the opportunity to hold her hand or kiss her cheeks or be in her presence. They will come into our family and never know this precious soul who changed who we were. It aches my heart in a way I don’t have words for.

In all honesty, when I first started writing this post I had to stop. Grief showed up in a deeper way than I had expected. I thought I had grasped something during that conversation with Charles, and I did, it’s just that there was more. As the words of the story left my mind and heart, this space opened inside me, and I realized….it isn’t just about can I accept how my life is playing out in regards to children.

It’s about my heart being broken.

We see professional athletes run on injuries or people in stressful situations whose mind pushes the pain of broken limbs or sprained joints out of the way to get them to safety. Our hearts are no different. I was dedicated to living life with Katie Grace, committed to loving her with all that I had even when I knew it was going to hurt at the end. For her entire life, I wrestled with the consequences of loving her thoroughly. Always seeing death looming around, letting the expanse of the impending pain known. Relentlessly I battled back somehow discovering the grit to keep pace with my girl, making sure that when she crossed the finish line of her life, she wasn’t alone. Her race is over though, and rightfully so, my place beside her is also over. All the injuries I suppressed, all the pain I pushed to the side, they have slowly made their presence known. I just didn’t realize how broken my heart is. I think because I processed so much to be so strong beside her, I just figured I was okay, my leg wasn’t that broken.

It is though, I gave that girl all of me. I fought self-preservation to stay wholeheartedly present and madly in love with her unto death. I went against norms to embrace new normals to make space for who she was. I raged against sterile environments to make memories with her, knowing they were going deepen our connection, hurting more when she left this world. I did what parents do, I did the hard things so that she had the best of what this world offered her.

Katie Grace was still with us when I made the decision in my mind that I would have more. I actually blogged about it because it was one of those I won’t live in a sterile world because I know something painful is coming moments. I just decided the trauma of her life wouldn’t stop me from bringing new life. So we stopped preventing and just decided what will be will be. That is where we have stayed for the last five years. It has been easy to write off the lack of pregnancy as life was stressful, or busy, or my body just not being ready.

Now here I am, finally realizing how broken my heart is. It cringes at the thought of loving a new child, not because they are not wanted but because it knows fully the depth of “what if something” happened. It is awakened the vastness of pain that comes with saying goodbye to a child too early. I think also, having another, is truly letting go. Bringing new life into this world, growing our family, is a huge step of moving forward. Right now we are this unit, this tight family of 3 who knew her, loved her, held her, and in a way it keeps her with us. This tender broken heart might just need time to let pain breathe now that it has been brought to light. Maybe all these years it hasn’t been a deficiency in my body but I simply needed time and space for my broken heart to heal

Time is simply something you cannot rush. I know we like to, especially in our culture these days. Yet you can’t rush it. Time is what gives us the space for our memories, our hurts, our victories, our failures.

Right now, I am breathing. I am let the tears fall. I am looking at this broken heart and letting it breathe. I am giving it permission to fully grieve and although it hurts my fingers to type, I am giving myself permission to move on.

I am leaving this post with a song I listen to strategically. It’s a song Isaac and I played almost every day after Katie Grace died. I would pick him up from school and when we hit our neighborhood, I would open the sunroof on our blue van, let him stick his head out the window, and play this song as loud as I could. Take a minute, listen to the words, they will tell you why.

Man Child and the Double Digits

The look on his face when he saw me standing there in the kitchen; saltines in one hand, small butter knife with butter on it in the other, was the dead giveaway.

“What are you eating?” he asked

“Saltines and butter! Why are you judging?” I sourly retorted

“Why are you eating that?” his tone giving way to disgust

“What do you mean?” I replied appalled. “Why wouldn’t you eat that?”

“Mom, that’s gross,”

“Well, it doesn’t taste gross to my emotions, okay,” I replied still a little bitter.

He just stared.

“I think I am sad that you are turning 10 tomorrow,” my voice cracking with the tears. “I just wasn’t ready for the emotions of you getting older. So these are helping.”

Smiling he leans into me, wraps his arms around my waist, and just stays. We chat a bit more about my favorite age so far, his laugh, his sister, how he should stop growing, and how it’s really okay he is getting older.

Today I am 10 years into parenting this guy. I am 10 years into discovering who he is, and today it seems as if we have turned a corner. This corner of grown-up and I can’t even. My heart is playing the movies of his toddler days on quiet repeat, reminiscing sub-consciously of goldfish, Wild Kratts, afternoon naps, Cars movie marathons, chubby baby cheeks, sweet innocent laughter, babyhood and being his favorite. He hasn’t been a baby for a long time, he hasn’t been a toddler for a long time, and technically I have this year and next left in elementary school, yet today, saying goodbye to that single digit age carries a significance my heart is trying to grasp.

Maybe it’s because we only have him. There is no one else in our house who will be nine after him. He is it. Embracing his age as an only child is like celebrating your oldest and grieving your youngest getting older all at the same time, apparently. What do I know though? Last night I was just a mom eating saltines and butter in my kitchen ignoring my feelings about my son turning 10.

To Isaac- Happy Birthday buddy!

You’re taller then anybody in this house prefers. Your shoulders are getting broader foretelling of the manhood that is coming. Your heart carries a wisdom that life granted you early and I can see your age catching you up. I joke that your dad and I are either saving for college or therapy, we aren’t sure yet because how easily I peak into this season and see the places I believe I am failing. I can helicopter parent like best of them sometimes demanding more then you have to give. I can also lean to the opposite extreme where I leave you to your own devices. My drive always is to find that middle ground where I helicopter far enough away. You son though. You are a treasure. This beautiful soul that I get to wake up to every day and discover. Although not a fan of school, you love your friends there. You are kind and considerate. You still love a good joke, and we are constantly navigating the seas of appropriate and simply too far. I can see you pushing for more independence, stretching for our family to make room for a new older version of you. You still love family movie night, game night, and pizza every Friday. Although my heart is processing today all that this double-digit holds, I am excited to see what is to come for you. To see more of God’s master design in you. I have called you man-child for as long as I can remember and it dawned on me today that now sooner than later, that phrase won’t apply. You will no longer be a man-child, you will simply be a man. Until then though….

Happy Birthday, Man-Child!

Fear of Flying

The plane landed and I was stunned.

My heart rate was not elevated.
My palms were not sweaty.
I hadn’t taken a deep breathing session to calm my body.
Music wasn’t hammering into my ears to drown out the sound of the panic inside.
My normal hypervigilance was nowhere to be found.

I was 22 when a crushing fear of flying hit me. I use the word hit on purpose. It literally hit me. I had flown for years with no issues. It was innocently a flight, people do it every day like they make a career out of it and never die, kind of innocent. It just wasn’t a big deal. Then 22. I took a trip to the East Coast with my mom. I really went to spend time with her and get lost in the colors of fall. Not one other single place in America does Fall like the East Coast. The reds, yellows, greens, browns, even Crayola doesn’t make colors like that. It is a wonder to behold and a treasure. It wasn’t the flight out that got me, that was a breeze. That flight back though, it was when the hit came. I had a two-leg flight back to Southern California, first stop was PA for a short layover, no plane change. Somewhere in the air between where I took off and PA, the fist of anxiety deeply embedded itself into my skin with such a force it left me reeling. This knowing just spread over me from the pit of my stomach, and I knew this plane was going to crash and I was going to have no control. It was going to plummet out of the sky like an out of control roller coaster and death was going to be the end. I froze in my seat, unsure as to what to do with the feelings that were continuously slamming into me. When we landed in PA, all I knew was to get off the plane. I needed to just step outside and breathe, try to get my bearings. So I did. I got out and paced by the gate, trying to get myself under control. An agent catches my eye and informs me it is time to board. I just stare at her. She smiles and just stays with me. Finally, I say, “I don’t know that I can get back on that plane. I need to know that I am going to be okay.” She takes a minute, grabs my hands and says “Oh. You didn’t see, this is a new plane. This is one of the newest planes our company has. Also, the pilots are new. Fresh, alert and some of the best in the field. If there is any plane to be on with any pilots, it’s this one with these guys.”
She is the only reason I got back on the plane. I knew in my rational brain she was lying through her teeth, I also knew I wasn’t about to rent a car and drive to Southern California from PA, although before she said any of those things to me I was strongly considering it. So I got back on the plane.

That is where and how it all began. There has never been a rhyme or reason that I could find. People often tried to talk me out of being afraid of death, yet death never really scared me. It was more the feeling of dropping out of the sky. It was more not being able to take care of myself if something were to happen. If you think about it flying is incredibly vulnerable. You can’t run anywhere, you can’t grab the wheel of anything, you can’t move out of the way…you can’t…you can’t…you can’t. I refused to stop flying though. I wouldn’t let fear stop me from living. There is too much life to be had, adventure to be held, and people to see to stop traveling.

So I made myself fly anyway. Four months after that flight to the East Coast, my mom and I flew the 8 hours to Europe. I had small panic attacks for two months before that flight. My mind would play out the sensation my body would feel when the plane was no longer supported by the ground and the panic would hit causing my cheeks to go flush, my hands start to sweat, and my heart rate elevated. I would have to take deep breaths and allow myself a minute to recalibrate. Just thinking about it flying! I got on the plane anyway.

My senior year of college I flew out to see some friends in Atlanta. One month before I got on that flight, the same. I flew anyway.

I have white knuckled through almost every flight I have taken since that flight. I have grabbed onto the arms of strangers during turbulence. I have engrained myself in conversations in which I had no interest to simply distract from the panic on the inside. I have read my bible and listened to worship music in hopes to find my peace and calm in my faith. I have learned how to breath deep, lean my head back, close my eyes and embrace the panic. My body has learned how to take the hits that flying lays upon me.

I gave up hope long ago that flying would be anything other than what it had become. I just stopped caring whether or not I was going to be afraid and settled with I was afraid. It was okay to be afraid. My job wasn’t to make the fear go away, it was simply to embrace the fear/pain and manage it. It became my job to manage me when the fear hit, not manage whether or not the fear came. Fear wasn’t my enemy, how I reacted to the fear was my enemy. So I started to manage that and you know what happened. Over the years the symptoms have become less cruel. I learned how to embrace the window seat with the window up. I picked up a conversation between the Lord and me that starts once I get to the airport. It’s this quiet banter between him and me, that I am not even sure how we got it started but it carries me from beginning to end. I accepted that non-stop flights are my jam. I learned how to measure flights through movies and not minutes. I have loyally kept up the deep breaths, head back, eye closed, panic embracing poses in my seat. And when I fly with Isaac, I manage even more because of the concern that I would teach him to fear flying scares me more than flying itself.

That day 6 days ago was my second plane of the day because for the first time in almost 10 years I didn’t book a non-stop flight. I had two take-offs and two landings. I had two sets of pilots and two different airplanes. One was quiet and smooth and one was loud and turbulent. I had peace on both planes. I giggled when the pilot slowed down in the sky instead of sucking breath in between my teeth and then holding it until it I felt safe. I smiled when I heard the whine of the engine or when the air shifted the plane without warning.

It. Was. Surreal.

I don’t know what the winning ticket was though. I am still mid-process as to what changed. I have been boarding and de-boarding with the same anxiety for years. I have created a lifestyle of facing the pain and anxiety with flight, almost just resolved that this is my plight. What changed? I don’t know. I wonder though. I wonder if it wasn’t simple resolve. If it was that at some point of the journey I stopped getting into a power struggle with fear. That decision I made to no longer fight fear but instead become powerful in how I manage it, I wonder if that wasn’t a course changer for me. Although the change wasn’t immediate. The anxiety/ fear didn’t immediately go away, I was still depositing into my life the belief that I was in control of me no matter what happened. Every time I stepped foot on a plane and embraced my tools to manage what I knew was coming, I said “It’s okay fear. I got this. I am not afraid of you. I know how to handle myself when you appear. When you hit against my body, I know how to handle me. My fight isn’t with you.”

Not too long ago the Lord told me: “The heart of pain is the breeding ground of redemption.”

Pain has a purpose. We get to decide how we interact with that pain. We get to decide if we let it control us or not. Labor is the best analogy for this. A woman has no control over pain when she is in natural labor. The contractions are going to come on their terms, at their time, with their own force. She can’t control any of that. She can though control how she interacts with the contractions. She can manage whether or not she fears them, or embraces them. She can control how she breathes through them or how she doesn’t breathe through them. Her power lies in how she interacts with the pain that hits her body until that child is born. Matter of fact if she fights the pain of contractions they hurt more, they slow labor and in some cases can make more problems. Woman are instructed to lean into their contractions, to embrace them and let them do their job, that contraction is pushing the baby into where it needs to be to be born. Is that not the same with us in life?

We don’t have control over whether or not pain hits us. Or how it hits. Or how long it stays around hitting us. What we have control over is our ability to interact with that pain. What we have is the capacity to embrace the pain, figure out how we are going to breathe through it and let it do its job. We don’t stay in the pain, we don’t call out for pain, we don’t live a life of pain. That isn’t what this is. Pain will come. Fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, crummy life events, hurt, all of this stuff will at some point land on our doorstep. If we are living life, loving people, embracing this world, all of those things will eventually find their way to us. So the question isn’t how do I stop the pain. The question is who am I going to be when pain shows up. How am I going to embrace it when it hits?

For me with the fear of flying……I just got on the plane. I laid my fist of fighting the fear down, and put my hands on figuring out how to embrace it. How to manage me in it? I picked tools and used them every time my feet stepped onto a plane. I breathed into the fear, embraced it. I said yes when my insides screamed no. I parented myself into each flight and held my ground, held the belief that I know how to manage me when fear hits. I flew anyway, and 6 days ago my redemption came.
How are you breathing into pain today?

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