Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Fine Line

We live 90 minutes from our church. No, it's not because we couldn't find something suitable within our own zip code. We just never looked because when we found out we were moving "home" for 2-3 years, it seemed obvious that we would re-join the church I grew up in. It has morphed over the years into a place where I personally feel love and support, lead by a man who leads by example. Love everyone. The end. Everyone. No caveats. He conducted the memorial service for Shepherd and he has preached to my heart more times than I even care to count.

One Sunday, he preached about loss. I think there may have been more to it, but I remember one very specific story (he likes to tell stories...I think it's how he keeps us awake...or determines who he's lost along the way). While chatting with a stranger one day, an elderly woman was asked how many children she had. She answered, but was also flooded with emotion as she silently remembered the one she lost. Yes, I nodded...that's exactly how it happens. One moment you are fine...playing peek a boo with your toddler...placing eggs in the grocery cart...writing a check...and the next moment, you are decidedly not fine. The not fines get further apart, but they never completely disappear. Not fine is like a tornado...lands with little warning and leaves a path of grief a mile wide. And then you re-build and somehow, life picks back up where it left off and there is only a tiny reminder of the destruction. One tiny not fine scar overlapping thousands of fine that make up the heart of a survivor.

When I found out I was pregnant with Shep, I was vacationing at my sister's house for the week. I calmly carried the test into the bathroom, followed the directions, waited 1 endless minute, and then screamed for my sister as 1 pink line turned to 2. She hugged me and said, "Welcome to the club, sis!" The Mom Club. And oh what a club that is turning out to be! But with Shep, I joined another club...Moms of Angel Babies. And what a club that is, too. Last week, we opened our arms to another mom. It's a terrible initiation and in any other circumstance, would be considered torture. We don't meet. We hardly ever talk. And by someone outside of the club, we can be hard to spot. But we know each other by touch, by the devastation that is always there, just under the skin. Over time, we get better at controlling it, at not leaking sadness. But sometimes it's too much and a question, a comment, an event can bring it all to the surface.

I hugged that mama and daddy tonight. I leaked grief all over them. I leaned on the grandparents and maybe, for a moment, they leaned on me. I gave them the only words of hope I had...that they will survive. And that people....hundreds of people...were praying them through it. But I didn't promise that it would get better. I didn't mention God's healing love or how if he brings 'ya to it, he will bring 'ya through it. Because, to be very honest, as we approach Shep's 5th "birth" day in a few months, I still don't know how God fits into all of this. As someone who was raised in a church that taught that everything is God's plan...the good, the bad, the tragically's hard to find a place for the death of a child. It's impossible for me to wrap my mind around a master plan that involves the shocking passing of a newborn. What good can possibly come from that? Was Shep pulled from me so that I could stand beside this mama tonight and tell her that someday she isn't going to have to remind herself to breathe? Or to be a friendly face, a representative of The Club? To remind them they are not alone? When I tell our story, oddly, it isn't the ones who stand in shock and instantly express their sympathy that make me feel better. It's the moms who hug me and say, "I hope our babies are playing together up there. We will get to hold them again." that bring me the deepest comfort. They know my tears because they've cried them, too. We have sobbed a damn ocean. And I simply cannot accept a God that puts that into His master plan. So, I'm changing my view on God, but I don't have any answers yet. I just know that it will take sleep to heal tonight's not fine and it will take a canyon of prayers and a hurricane of tears to heal this brokenhearted and devastated family. Please pray for them. Please send them love. It will be a long time before they are fine again.

Friday, April 25, 2014

It Takes a Village

On the day of my baby shower, approximately 20 minutes into opening gifts, I had a brief moment of shock and awe.

Babies take a lot of stuff.

I mean...a LOT.

Yes, you could throw tradition and convenience straight out the window, vow to raise your child in the ways of the African tribes and start collecting rocks and sticks for him or her to play with...OR you can embrace the American madness of car seat toys, swings, bouncy seats, play yards, crib mirrors, and, above all, V-TECH.

And this is all after you have actually conceived the child. What if you can't after the first try...second try...17th try...4 years? What if you've taken the fertility drugs, scientifically timed the sex, made all of your doctors appointments, gotten the ultrasounds, taken more drugs, had more people working down there than you ever dreamed medically necessary and still...nothing? It happens. It takes both hands for me to count the number of couples that I know personally who have been down or are currently on this path. They didn't know this about themselves when they walked across the stage to collect their college diplomas...or when they took the first job...or nervously dressed for that first date with their eventual spouse. They didn't know it as they signed the marriage license and the mortgage. They didn't usually even know it during the first 4 or 5 months of trying for a aunts and nosy neighbors poked them in the ribs and whispered, "when are you going to have a baby?"

Although I've never been through it, I know enough friends who have that I imagine it's like being tied to the train tracks. That ticking clock of a train is nothing but a faint whistle. There is plenty of time. Closer it comes and you get to work. You methodically follow the steps to break free. Nothing. You get frustrated, you regroup, and try again. Nothing. You struggle. Nothing. You fight like hell. Nothing. You feel utterly and completely helpless as it barrels toward you and you are no closer to getting what you want.

Maybe it's not like that at all.

But it sure is disappointing, frustrating, and heartbreaking to watch so I can only imagine what it's like to live it.

I have friends who are coming to peace with their child-free life. I have friends who are just realizing that may be their life. I have friends who have successfully grown their family through the help of fertility treatments. And I have friends pursuing treatment right now. (Sometimes I text love letters to my friend's ovaries because she said they feel abused and unloved. I tell them they are simply ravishing and youthful. It makes her laugh and reminds her that the whole of her is beautiful and that, although she knows better, she is not a failure as a woman.) I also have friends pursuing or completing adoption, with its own rollercoaster ride of emotions and outcomes.

Today concludes National Infertility Awareness Week. I give a lot of credit to the 30-something women who are gathering the courage to publicly share their stories. It IS difficult to not feel like you've failed yourself, your spouse, your family. It's challenging to feel successful when your body won't do the one thing it's supposed to do as a woman (or man). (To this day, I feel like I failed me, Neal, our family, but most of all Shepherd. I was his home for 9 months and I couldn't pull that off. It's not a debilitating thought, but it's always just kind of there.) I know that women for decades have struggled with infertility and that many have tried to support others by sharing their own stories. And perhaps it's because I now fall into the prime-babymaking-age-bracket, but it seems as though more and more women and couples are saying "This is us. We are the face of Infertility and this is our experience. What you are saying to us, about us, is insensitive and hurtful. We've chosen to pursue medical options/live child-free/adopt and we expect you to respect our family, regardless of what it looks like." Our families are our most intimate support group and I applaud anyone who can bring theirs to the spotlight with the intention of bringing hope to others.

To that end, is creating a support structure for couples and families experiencing infertility all over the world. Their homepage lists links for infertility overview, diagnosis and management, family building options, support and services, and well as a way to give back. This year, they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. I am so proud to recognize my brave and beautiful friend, Brooke, as a spokesperson for RESOLVE and for infertility, in general. She is a tireless representative of the strength we can garner from tackling life with others in the same situation. Her bond of 75, 75Strong, represents women in all phases of life, with and without children. And today through Sunday, 75Strong Supporting RESOLVE is hosting a Facebook silent auction to benefit her fundraising efforts for RESOLVE and infertility research. Here are just a few of the items up for auction:

The winner of the professional photo will choose between the first photo, of Grand Central Station in NYC and the second, of Radio City Music Hall in NYC. I'm particularly fond of the photos because the photographer, Michael of MRB Photography (aka "matchdrum" on Etsy) has decided to donate 100% of his Etsy sales to his friends who are in the process of adopting. takes a village. Often just as expensive as rounds of infertility medications, adoption can get costly before it even begins. I'm so supportive of Michael, his mission, and the couple he is helping that I purchased this one for our personal collection:
As there is almost nothing to do at Ft. Knox (aside from Mayberry Days, which just happens to be this weekend and on our agenda for Saturday), we find ourselves in Louisville a lot. We spent one entire day celebrating Christmas at The Galt House (the twin spires) and we spent Easter afternoon last weekend aboard The Belle of Louisville (the triple-decker boat docked on the river). We also giggled at an enchanted Blue as he watched truckers whiz by the mammoth windows of the Muhammad Ali museum (far left). Louisville is becoming our home away from home and it's never more beautiful than at Christmas - as evidenced by the red and green lights glowing from the dome of the Humana Building. I will probably own several more prints before it's all said and done. This one, an impeccable capture of the Eastern Kentucky University library (Neal's alma mater),
and this one, a sliver of a mosaic depicting a prince and princess and the fairy godmother (in a park in Nashville),
have been tugging at me for almost 3 days now. And knowing that the money is helping to bring a baby home to the most perfect and loving home...I wish I could buy 100 copies of them all.

It takes a have a baby, bring home a baby, raise a baby. Whether it's our own children or our best friend's, we are now raising the next generation and it's on us to make it successful. We can donate, adopt, pray, support, shower, love, cry, laugh, pay and a thousand other verbs, but it takes all of us. We must do what we can.

Please stop by 75Strong Supporting RESOLVE to bid on the auction this weekend. But if you outbid me on the cookies or the custom silhouette, I will go to the mattresses. I have a semi-deep ziploc baggy of dollars and I'm not afraid to use it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Has Sprung: Weekend in Review

A couple of things have happened around here.

1. My hair is growing like crazy and while there seems to be more gray than blonde popping through, I'm just grateful to have a layer of fuzz covering the bald. If you know someone who is shaving their head or is losing their hair during the winter months, the absolute best gift you can give is a super cute toboggan. I seriously wore mine almost the entire time we were on our Staycation a couple of weeks ago.

2. Neal graduated with his master's degree in management. He started in 2009, taking one class at a time. His graduation was postponed due to 1 deployment, the birth of 1 baby, and the shutdown of 1 government, but persistence and patience paid off and now he's a GRADYEEATE! One word: plastics. Oh, no wait. One word: HALLELUJAH! Now life can return to normal around here. I'm not sure what normal looks like but I guess we're going to be in it up to our elbows.

So, we Staycated to celebrate his graduation and we've managed to jam-pack the once-filled-with-homework weekends once again. I hope to share all of our weekend adventures with you on Monday mornings. But, of course, sometimes you need a vacation from your weekend.

Friday night, we loaded Blue, his jogging stroller (which really should have a trailer all unto itself), and a few clothes and headed north to the hometown. Being so close to "home" for 3 years really has its advantages. Door to door is only 2 hours, max. That's a huge improvement over the 8+ we've been driving for the last 4 years.

My Kentucky Monthly magazine arrived last Thursday and one of the weekend events was an Easter egg hunt at Buffalo Trace Distillery. (Also, if you are a Kentuckian and do not receive or read the Kentucky Monthly, you are truly missing out. Even if you don't live here but really like Kentucky, you should have a  subscription. Each edition is loaded with Kentucky fabulosity.) An Easter egg hunt on the grounds of a bourbon distillery? Yes, please! That's something for everyone.

Gates opened at 1 PM for this free event and when we strolled through around 1:15, someone asked the gate staff what her count was so far. 1624. So, there we were...with 1621 of our closest friends. The Easter egg "hunt" (which was less of a hunt and more of a free-for-all as the eggs were scattered in a grassy area, which was roped off to be about 50 square yards) for ages 0-4 years kicked off at 1:20. Parents were allowed to accompany their children into the egg-hunting area. Neal walked Blue through the hoards and bent down to demonstrate how to collect an Easter egg. In the meantime, parents of kids were grabbing eggs in both hands and shoving them into their kids' awaiting baskets. Neal, disgusted with the entire process, helped Blue pick up 2, then turned to me and, exasperated, said, "Let's get out of here!" I couldn't agree more.
 Neal in the bottom left corner, trying to help our 20 month old compete with the 4 year olds.

Within about 3 minutes, the entire area was clean of eggs. Not a single straggler on the field. And we looked. Twice. But Blue found 2 eggs and he was ecstatic to have that. 
We discovered later as we were wandering around, that apparently Buffalo Trace buys their eggs pre-filled....which is absolute genius.

Next up was a photo with the Easter Bunny. Somehow we missed this guy last year. We managed to squeeze in Santa, but with Neal's graduation from Captains Career Course and our move to Kentucky, there was just no time for anything fuzzy and floppy-eared. We observed Mr. Bunny from a distance and let Blue watch as kids of all ages took a turn sitting next to the big guy. Then both boys in front of us ran screaming in the opposite direction...before a single photo could be snapped. It was either going to be fine or a complete disaster.

As it turned out, it was totally fine. Blue rubbed on his white "fur" for a minute, turned to wave at the camera, and probably whispered his Easter basket wishes before we whisked him away to the next thing. The smartest thing Buffalo Trace did was to place multiple Easter bunnies throughout the park so the line for a picture was manageable. We only waited about 20 minutes. I counted 4 bunnies. That was a stellar idea and I congratulate whomever came up with it.

After a couple of minutes on the playground, where Blue was mowed over by kids bigger, older,and meaner than him, we meandered through part of the distillery.

Buffalo Trace is on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky and plays such an important role in the town and the industry. When I was a child, my parents brought me to visit Santa here. No one seemed to mind that I was relaying my Christmas wish list on the grounds of a bourbon distillery. It was just where Santa could be found. Now they've incorporated tours, a ghost walk, a Valentine's dinner, a 5K run, Christmas lights, and an Easter egg hunt into their business model. It's breathtakingly beautiful and, quite simply, the people couldn't possibly be nicer. If I had it do over again, though, I would skip the "hunt" and go straight for the picture line! Then, perhaps, stick around for a tour and a tasting.

Sunday was church with the fam, followed up by KiteFest in Georgetown. Again, I found the information for the afternoon's festivities in Kentucky Monthly. Neal has been to KiteFest several times. I had never been, but since Big Mama purchased Mary Poppins for Blue (post-Saving Mr. Banks), we've had the lyrics "let's go fly a kite, up to the highest height" rolling around our house, getting stuck in heads and throats for days. Indeed, it was time to go fly a kite.

80 degrees and gusting wind (with a storm blowing in as I type this) is, in case you were wondering, perfect kite-flying weather. All manner and designs of kites flew overhead for several hours...catching wind and sailing off before falling into a quiet spot and sinking to the grass.
Our friends, Mr. Larry and Ms. Martha came out for fun and flying. And also to hold the string when Blue decided to let go.
Our friends Mr. Ranjit, Ms. Rekah (about to burst with the newest family addition), and Miss A are great kite-fliers! I don't know what I was doing at 8 months pregnant but I don't think I was at any festivals. Cheers to you, Ms. Rekah! With this light-wind kite, I had great success keeping it in the air, even when it crossed lines with other kites (which I'm sure is poor kite-flying etiquette but everyone was too nice to mention it). However,  I kept a firm grip on this one since, when the wind blew, it really responded. I needed Blue to try very hard not to float away today.

 Daddy says, "Time to see what this dragon can do!"
Although Neal managed to keep it soaring for about 5 minutes, the heavy nature of the kite needed more wind. Our dragon dive-crashed near some fellow kite-flyers. It was time to return the dragon to his lair. Neal's last challenge was to assemble a tri-plane kite...and find a spot to fly it.
 Up, up, and away!

 Never stop moving with a tri-plane. Keep moving, keep flying.
Boys admiring their handiwork. Yes, you masters of kite-flying, show us how it's done!
 It's so hard to say goodbye, but Blue got a farewell kiss from Lady A. What a perfect end to the day!

Proof that I was actually at the KiteFest this year. I handed the camera to Neal. Apparently, he got distracted and forgot to take a single one of my front. The others were rear shots which, I'm sorry, should be illegal. Also, 3-way mirrors have no place in American society. No one wants to see back there. It's like the Arizona desert...flat and wide. End of story.

Regardless if you have have a tri-plane or a handmade or no kite at all, everyone is welcome to the KiteFest and Culture Festival in Geogetown!
If you go next year:
1. Parking is $6 and cash only. 
2. Bathrooms are porta-potties. Plan accordingly. 
3. There is also facepainting, food, and a pretty fabulous bouncy house. 
4. Food for purchase is available. 

It's hard to screw up KiteFest. Add 3 cups of gorgeous weather, 2 tsps of gusting breezes and a sprinkle of effort and you've got yourself a sky full of dancing color. But the good people of Cardome have made it nearly flawless. I can't wait until next year!