Back To The Beginning

Our first glimpse of our firstborn

Our first glimpse of our firstborn

I counted down to the moment of our 20-week ultrasound with so much trepidation and excitement. I wanted nothing more than to see our baby and know that everything was okay. But I also wanted my husband to be able to see him/her, too. I knew it would help him feel like he was more a part of what was to come. 

The road to that grainy snapshot of our firstborn was not an easy one to travel. Or at least it didn't look the way we thought it would. It was much longer than we had imagined, and it was scary with all its unexpected interventions. Still, we knew we were among the lucky ones. 

Each symptom and change to my physical body took me on a wild ride from elation (that I was having symptoms) to terror (that something might be wrong). I had to use a lot of self-restraint to avoid calling my midwife every time I felt a twinge, and many times I called her anyway. I peppered her with questions when I did see her, and I scoured the internet between appointments — I don't know what I would have done without the pregnancy boards I found online. 

Lately, I've been trying to reach a goal of organizing all the photos and other sentimental scraps I've been collecting since the beginning of our story. There are bins of loose photos and papers tucked into different hiding spots in our home. These beautiful reminders have followed us to five different houses, and I want them to be carefully preserved.

Last week, I found this photo of the guy who held me up through all my worries (never getting frustrated with any of them), and I cried. I felt all those emotions again, and it reminded me about something he wrote to our baby-to-be. I had been writing in a journal once a week throughout the pregnancy, and sometimes he would surprise me by leaving a note there. 

It has been a few days since we saw you for the first time. It has taken some time for me to fully take in those beautiful, grainy black-and-white images. The first thing I saw were your tiny little legs kicking and then your fingers dancing and reaching across your perfect, little face. My eyes couldn't leave the screen, as the technician scanned quickly back and forth taking her measurements of your petite frame. It was such a relief and such a wonder. I still can't believe you're in there. Part of me thinks you're just going to show up at our front door; a package brought by the stork! Now that I have seen you, I can't wait to hold you. I love you, baby. 

We didn't know we were having a daughter. We wanted to be surprised. But so much about what he wrote that day is a perfect description of who she is, and I must have read it at least 10 times while I cried some more. Those days were magical and they changed us in so many ways. We often joke with each other about the ageing and worrying that comes with parenting, but there is nothing we would change about the gifts we've been given. We are always grateful. 

When I was asked to contribute to a pregnancy by the week feature for Today's Parent magazine, it was such a wonderful chance to experience those early days again. I contributed weeks four to 10, which are often the ones that bring a lot of worry. But, parents-to-be, those days bring a lot of wonder, too.

You can explore the newly launched feature here: Pregnancy By Week

 

I Knew I Loved You Then

Young kids in love

Young kids in love

He's in the driver seat, and I turn my head just in time to see his shoulders lift and his face shift to annoyance — but I'm not fooled. Even though I'm breaking the driver-gets-to-choose rule, he doesn't touch the dial. 

My sentimental attachment to things is something he accepts about me. It's everything he dislikes about pop music, but he lets the song play itself out and keeps the groaning to a minimum, while I belt out the words.

It's the words in the uber-saccharine song that have captured my heart, after all. And I remind him every time it comes on. The story of two young people caught off guard by a meeting and dancing the night away. It's simple and predictable and the kind of song a very young version of me would have played on repeat. I know better than to be wooed by a cliché, but I feel an affection for its lyrics anyway. It reminds me of a memorable night at the beginning of our own story. 

At our wedding, my sister told that story. It was about a huge party we all attended the night she met him for the first time. For our group of friends, it was the party of the year and I was nervous about how our new relationship would play itself out in front of everyone. I was also young, inexperienced and had too much to drink before we even arrived. She told our wedding guests that it was a funny story, but also a special one. She said watching how he cared for me that night showed her that nothing mattered more to him than making sure I was okay. 

We had only known each other a month or so by then. He led me out of the party, got me home safely, made sure there was someone there to stay with me, and told me he'd see me the next day when I was feeling better. I cried as I said goodnight and apologized for ruining his night, before it had even begun. I was still learning about love then and was sure I'd shown him a side of myself that would make it easy for him to walk away. He leaned into me and whispered, "When you love someone, you have to take care of them." I already knew I loved him, but I hadn't known he felt the same.

It's been decades since that night and he has never wavered in the words he shared with me — even though years of marriage and all the challenges that come with sharing a life have given us both ample reasons to forget

We're like any other family; there's no such thing as perfect. We've each had heartaches and disappointments. And we've also been through experiences together that we dealt with in our own and often differing ways. All of it has changed who we are, because that's what life does.

But I believe the heart of our relationship is still as simple as the song. We are older and wiser, but have never let the picture of who we were at the beginning get too blurry: two kids with a pure and simple understanding of what it means to take care of someone you love. It's not grandiose; it's not complicated; it's not too much to ask. 

The song is coming to a merciful end, and I watch his hand move towards the dial before another syrupy song has a chance to assault his ears. He'll probably put on some shouty rock song that will make me want to cover mine. 

"Thank you," I tell him. And I know he understands — it's for so much more than the song. 

 

Repeater: Bird Of Sorrow

glen-hansard

Grief came first like an earthquake. Shaking and tossing everything we knew and leaving us shattered. But we did the work you are supposed to when things are broken. We picked up the debris and did our best to put everything back in place

But grief hides and waits. And it came back. First with aftershocks that we walked over and around until the tsunami swept over us and left devastation, despair and a landscape that was unrecognizable. 

We stood in the place we once held sacred and strained our eyes trying to find familiarity. We watched helplessly as bold and dark brushstrokes crisscrossed the painting we wanted to fill with light. But we keep painting anyway, each of us taking turns at the easel. Until finally, finally we stood back and saw the final masterpiece was no less beautiful. 

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This song helped me. 

It played on repeat while I stood in place.

It played on repeat while I kept painting the landscape of our life together. 

It played on repeat while I loved and loved even when I was scared. 

It plays now and reminds me of sorrow.

It plays now and reminds me of vulnerability.

It plays now and reminds me of us. 

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Even if a day feels too long
You feel like you can't wait another one
You're slowly giving up on everything
Love is gonna find you again

Love is gonna find you, you better be ready then

You've been kneeling in the dark for far too long
You've been waiting for that spark, but it hasn't come
Well I'm calling to you, please, get off the floor
A good heart will find you again

A good heart will find you, just be ready then

Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that's buried in the hollow
You've given over to self-deceiving
You're prostrate, bowed, but not believing.
You've squandered more than you could borrow
You've bet your joys on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returning
While everything around you is burning

Come on, we gotta get out, get out of this mess we made
And still for all our talk, we're both so afraid
Will we leave this up to chance, like we do everything?
Love is gonna find us again

Love is gonna find us, we gotta be ready then

Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that's buried in the hollow
You've given over to self-deceiving
Your prostrate bowed would not be leaving
You've squandered more than you could borrow
You've bet your joys on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returning
While everything around you's burning

But I'm not leaving you
I'm not leaving you
I'm not leaving
I'm not leaving, yeah, yeah
I'm not leaving
I'm not leaving, yeah, yeah
I'm hanging on
Hanging on
What's gonna come?
I'm hanging on now
Hanging on, hanging on, hanging on
Hanging on, hanging on, hanging on

With the faithful
With the faithful
I'm hanging on
What's gonna come?
What's gonna come?
Hanging on
Hanging on

~Glen Hansard "Bird of Sorrow"

The Weight of Secrets

postsecret-show

Every few nights, after a bath and brushing of teeth, she climbs onto my bed. Just her and me. 

Mama, I'm ready for some questions.

It was such a thoughtful gift for a five-year-old to receive for her birthday. And it suits her nature to have a book that asks open-ended questions: she has a habit of firing an endless steam of them at us each day. She loves this new ritual and having the roles reversed.

On this particular night, we were on our fifth question. It was more than we usually get through, but she had asked me to turn the page and ask one more with the promise she would slide of the bed and join her sister for a bedtime story without a fuss.

I felt awful when _______.

I expected something simple like not getting dessert or not being allowed to go to the park after dark. She normally has an answer ready for me, before I've finished asking the question.

But it was quiet.

I looked up from the page to see her sitting across from me in her footed pajamas. Her hands were laced on her lap, dimples peeking out between her fingers. I couldn't find her eyes through her lashes, because she was looking down. 

I knew I had to stay quiet, that something was coming. She raised her eyes slowly. 

Mama, it's a secret.

There is a child in her class who struggles with boundaries and respecting personal space. But we talk a lot about inclusivity in our home and she's still in that beautiful phase of life, when anyone she spends time with is called a friend. 

I was playing with my friends and she wouldn't stop chasing me and catching me, Mama. And I didn't like it, and I didn't want her to do that anymore. And I'm supposed to say, "Please stop it." But I didn't. I got mad and said, "Go away." 

She looked at me with tears in her eyes — afraid of hearing disappointment in my voice or being told that I thought she was wrong, too.

I started slowly by asking her when it had happened.

It was a long time ago. But it still makes me feel awful. I hurt my friend. 

Tears filled my eyes then. I told her I was so proud of her for telling me. And that it must have been hard for her to carry that secret around so long. I told her that I've hurt my friends, too. We talked about how she could have handled it differently, by going to her teacher for some support. And we came up with the idea of inviting her friend to play. 

Secrets can create such a weight. I've experienced that burden myself and ached with compassion for people I care about as I watch them struggle under the weight of their own secrets. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Frank Warren, creator and curator of PostSecret. Along with a small group of other bloggers and writers, we discussed secrets and the power we feel when we let them go. We talked about how painful it can be to hold onto them. 

It's enough to bear witness to someone's story, without fixing it ~ Frank Warren

My daughter's story — which she called a secret — had been sitting in her heart waiting for an opportunity to be released. Our ritual of question-asking had created the conversation she needed to do that, and I could see she was lighter after sharing it with me.

It was a good reminder for me. We need to do that for each other: create conversations, leave spaces, and listen. And as a parent, I was reminded that it's never to early to give our children those tools and that fearlessness. 

Tomorrow night, I'll be attending the innovative live theatre performance of PostSecret and I'm hoping it will open my heart and teach me more. I have an important role to play as the catcher of secrets in my family. And I have some teaching to do, as I help my children learn to be a safe and compassionate place for others' secrets to land. 

To learn more about this beautiful and innovative initiative, you can find PostSecret on their website, on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram. To buy tickets to the Toronto show, click here

My gratitude to Eric and Candace and #HALLer for including me in this experience.