Newborn standard time

These are the days of
his small head nestled
against my chest
skin — velvet smooth, unmarred by time —
to
skin — a soft place
to
dream,
drink,
rest,
grow (some days,
I swear, I can see
him thickening
in the shelter of my arms)
and some days blur into nights
cradling him close
feeding
and being fed
by his warmth
our two hearts
beating in sync
his slate blue eyes
searching for mine,
which of course, are bloodshot
and glad (some nights, I swear, holding him
feels like heaven on earth)
some nights
I feel suffocated
by all he needs
and these are the nights that blend into days
when golden light lingers
at the edge of the crib
each day becoming a little longer
as if to say,
“Take heart,
change is coming,
so be sure to
treasure these days.”

A prayer for my son after his fifth birthday

Dear Jack,

The morning you turned five, you rocketed out of your bed first thing and crawled into ours. I held you close and wished you a happy birthday. I asked, “Are you excited to be five?” You squealed “Yes!” and woke up your father.

The night before I’d baked you a chocolate birthday cake with blue buttercream frosting and a Superman cake topper, just like you requested. You love blue, and Superman is your favorite hero. At bedtime, you always ask for “a little superhero story” featuring him, you and our dog, “Super Gussy.”

I’m not sure how or when you decided Superman was your favorite hero. All I know is after you were born, your grandmother gave me a stuffed bear dressed in a Superman shirt and cape. I think she meant it to represent me, though I felt anything but heroic. Nothing about your birthday had gone according to plan — and I love a good plan —  resulting in an emergency c-section for me and your stay in the NICU. Honestly, I thought I’d failed you. 

Yet five years later, I can see the strength in both of us. You bravely scale trees and the heights of playgrounds. You’re sounding out phonics so well and on the verge of reading. You love science experiments and going to swim lessons. I’m proud of the super boy you’ve become, with your kind heart, generous spirit and boundless imagination. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned by mothering you.

My prayer for you at five is that, when faced with conflict, you’ll make a heroic choice. That you’ll voice your values and strive for peaceful resolution. 

I pray you keep noticing the beauty of creation and urging me to join you. 

I pray you continue loving and learning from stories — from your children’s Bible, favorite shows and books that inspire you. I trust you’ll glean empathy and wisdom from grappling with difficult stories.

I pray you see yourself and everyone you meet as a beloved child of God, including those who think, pray or look differently than you.

Most of all, I pray you know how deeply Dad and I love you and how deeply your Creator loves you. That you keep sharing that love with your neighbors near and far.

Love,
Mom

Scenes from a pregnancy

nursery

Anxiety loop 

My stomach feels too tight. I shift in my desk chair and place one hand on my pregnant belly, feeling for movement. The pressure remains, so strong I could bounce a penny off of it. The kick never comes; my baby is likely sleeping.

Is this Braxton Hicks? The start of real contractions? Something scary? These questions circle like vultures, eating away at my peace. 

At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve felt this way before. I know I need to up my water intake and possibly lie down. The problem is, I’m supposed to be working. A full Outlook calendar stares at me from the screen of my laptop. Can I make my 11 a.m. call? Will I have to cancel my 1:30 p.m. interview?

I feel my belly again. No, the answer is obviously no. I guzzle the rest of my water bottle, message my coworkers that I’ll be offline for a bit and waddle over to the couch. 

Smartphone in hand, I summon a message my nurse sent weeks ago after I sent her a frantic note about third trimester belly tightening. On that awful day, I feared I’d missed an important signal from my body. I feared early labor. I feared the worst: damage. Perhaps this is lingering trauma from miscarriage — the inability to trust one’s own womb to carry life. 

The nurse wrote back quickly: “as your uterus continues to grow, the strain will increase, which may bring on Braxton Hicks contractions. No need to be alarmed just make sure you are getting enough rest and water. Pay attention to frequency and if they become painful.” I scanned her words a dozen times until I felt better.

Today I read the message again: No need to be alarmed. The vultures dissipate. I drop my phone on my chest and succumb to a nap.

Joyful bucket list 

I’m not one who enjoys being pregnant. To clarify: I’m deeply grateful to be pregnant, but I don’t love the associated bodily changes. Not the severe nausea nor the  pregnancy insomnia. Neither the back pain nor the sweats (in the middle of winter, no less!). And don’t even get me started on the weight gain. 

From another angle, I see this parade of pregnancy pains telling me that my body is doing a miraculous thing: creating life. 

At the moment, my chest is simmering. Is this the roasted cauliflower I ate for dinner? I dig around in the cabinet for the chalky tablets I take to relieve heartburn, another side effect of pregnancy. I throw back two and remind myself to be grateful that my stomach is no longer tight and the countdown to baby is less than a week away. 

Flipping open the pages of my journal, I make a post-pregnancy bucket list of all things I hope to enjoy once baby has arrived:

An ice cold glass of Riesling
Sushi and sashimi
Turkey sandwiches
NOT having to pee constantly
Soft cheeses
Saunas and hot tubs
Hot yoga class
NOT feeling like a beached whale
Breathing easier
Less worry (maybe?)
Baby snuggles!!

The list does its job. And so has the heartburn medicine. I put down the pen and picture myself holding and nursing our new little boy. I can’t help but smile like crazy. 

How does it feel?

One evening after our son’s asleep, my husband Jay and I cozy up on our leather couch to watch Station Eleven. Here’s a show that projects the future after a deadly pandemic, cast through the eyes of individuals who are inextricably linked by a graphic novel of the same name. Given our current context, we find it both haunting and hopeful.

Tonight’s episode centers on Jeevan, our favorite character. We wince when a crippling accident separates him from the girl he’s been parenting, landing him in a makeshift hospital filled with pregnant ladies. Jeevan’s so sick with worry for the girl he abandoned he looks physically ill. When a patient embraces him, he holds on hard and asks her, “How does it feel to be pregnant?”

I grimace. Countless times throughout this pregnancy I’ve been asked “How are you feeling?” Most of the time I’ve responded with “Fine,” peppered with a physical shift: “Fine, but I’m not sleeping.” “Fine! The baby’s really kicking.” “Fine, but my back aches.”

“How does it feel to be pregnant?” is an entirely different question.

The mama-to-be rests her head on Jeevan’s shoulder and answers honestly: “Scary.” 

Tears arrive unbidden. Never would I ever expect to feel so seen by this show. I turn toward Jay and remark, “That’s it. Sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel being pregnant — scared.”

The promise

When I met my dear friend at Starbucks last summer, we had a lot to catch up on. She told me she’d changed jobs and moved to a different home. We traded updates on our writing. I shared about my miscarriage. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Erin,” she said, setting down her coffee. “How are you doing?” 

“Honestly? I’m up and down. I’m still devastated, but I’m also pregnant again…”

She let out a little shriek. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you!” I answered, beaming. “I feel a little guilty for how happy that makes me.” I took a sip of my chai tea latte. “I’m also pretty terrified.”

My friend nodded and furrowed her brow. She asked, “Can I give you some advice?” 

“Yeah, I’ll absolutely take it.” She rarely doles out advice so I knew this was important.

“After I miscarried, then got pregnant again, I felt the same way as you. Actually, I was so anxious I struggled to enjoy it,” she said, her eyes growing a little misty. I clutched my chai, hanging onto her words. “Please don’t forget to enjoy it,” she continued. “Eat the ice cream, buy cute new pregnancy clothes, take pictures of your belly bump. Don’t let worry steal your joy.”

Now my eyes had begun to mist. “I promise,” I said, meeting her gaze. “I promise to enjoy it.”

Nesting   

My task for this weekend is to pack my hospital bag. I’ve been telling everyone who asks that we have everything we need for our new baby, however, once I start packing, I realize there are some things we can’t find in the storage bins from our firstborn’s baby days. 

I pull up my Target app and start searching for the missing items: one new bottle brush for baby — click. New Lansinoh cream for nursing — click. A soft crib sheet studded with stars, a new nursing cover, extra deodorant for my hospital stay. Click, click, click. 

I hit one final click to confirm my purchases and announce to Jay in the kitchen, “That’s the last of it!” 

“The last of what?” he asks, looking up from the dishes. 

“The last of our baby list,” I say, striding to the refrigerator to cross “pack hospital bag” off our baby to-do list. “I just need you to pick up this Target order and we’ll be set.” 

“Sure babe,” Jay replies, turning a dish over in a stream of water.

“This is exciting! Thank you for all your help,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’m lucky to have you.”

I turn on my heel and enter our nearby bedroom, which will also serve as a nursery for our newborn. My son’s old crib sits against the far wall by the windows. Kitty-corner stands our maplewood dresser, once covered with picture frames, now donning a changing pad, baby monitor and sound machine. My eyes land on our newest addition: a dove gray glider, a gift from Jay to replace the old rocking chair I used to nurse our son Jack. I settle into the glider and issue a little exhale. It is so comfortable. 

Just then Jack ambles around the corner and leaps into my lap. “Hey buddy,” I say, folding my arms around him and readjusting him so he isn’t pressing on my belly. 

“What are you doing, Mom?”

“Oh just getting some things ready for baby brother,” I say, combing my fingers through his straight blond hair. “Are you ready to be a big brother?”

“Uh-huh… uh, Mom?” he asks, looking up at me. 

“What’s up buddy?”

“Does the baby already know how to swim?”

I giggle and pat my stomach. Jack’s learning to swim himself right now and making good progress in his lessons, that must be where this question came from. “Your little brother’s swimming in my tummy, I suppose. But can he swim like you in the pool? No. Maybe when he’s old enough — closer to your age — you can help teach him?”

“I’m so excited for the baby to come!” he replies, leaning into my arms and gently pressing his arm around my belly.

 “Me too, buddy,” I say, relishing his closeness. “You’re going to be a great big brother.”

Counting kicks  

I’m at my final doctor’s appointment before my scheduled C-section. Two straps belt my belly, one holding a circular device that monitors the baby’s heartbeat. The other holds a piece that monitors my contractions. In my left hand is a clicker I’m using to count baby kicks while I take this non-stress test.

Bah-thump-bah-thump-bah-thump goes the baby’s heartbeat, intermixed with the fake laughter of the daytime talk show playing on the television in this room. I press my clicker on occasion, hearing a delayed beep.

After 25 minutes, my OB arrives to check the monitor. “I want to keep you here a little longer,” he says, eyes still on the screen. “The baby’s heartbeat slowed for a bit. We need some more time to watch him.”

With that, he leaves. My heart pounds in my chest, drowning out the bah-thumps of baby’s heartbeat. The talk show hosts’ chatter grows more annoying by the minute. Time slows to a trickle. The vultures return, nibbling away at my once calm demeanor.

Just when I think I can no longer take it, my OB returns. Suddenly he’s saying, “You’re good to go!” and I’m releasing the breath I didn’t even know I was holding. 

Later, in the exam room, he asks if I have any questions. “Just one,” I answer, gripping the edges of the exam table. “How do I deal with all this anxiety? I’m so nervous for the baby to come . . . Honestly I’ve felt this way a lot while expecting.” I can’t bring myself to add “because of the miscarriage.” He knows though. He has my chart in front of him. 

My OB stands and places one hand on mine and squeezes it. “This baby is healthy and beautiful,” he says, holding eye contact. “You’re going to be fine.” 

I float out of the office, my steps a little lighter.

Cartwheels in the dark 

At 3 a.m., I wake with a string of words in my head. Darkness floods the bedroom. I fling my arm out and scrounge inside my nightstand for a pen and sticky note to scribble the words before I forget them. I’m not sure where this sentence is going, but I know I need to capture it, however illegibly, so I can go back to sleep. 

Finished writing, I reposition myself on my left side, one hand resting over my belly. Mercifully, my baby’s moving. First I feel a flutter, then a jiggle. Next comes the cartwheeling, a pleasant rolling in my womb. 

I recall the promise I made to my friend and my OB’s words about this healthy, beautiful baby. I realize what I’m feeling is joy, pure joy, alongside an ever present twinge of worry. While I can’t extinguish fear completely, I believe I can carry both. I want to savor these magic days before everything changes.

I can’t wait to meet you, I think, imagining some sort of telepathy between me and my baby. “I love you,” I whisper aloud, including his full name, all six syllables of it. His presence is a gift. A miracle. Our hope in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. With every cartwheel in the dark, my joy increases.

Because one day . . .

Lately my desire to document the days has felt stronger than usual.

Maybe it’s because my due date is rapidly approaching. And that our firstborn turns five at the end of January, which means kindergarten’s on the horizon for him.

The days of big belly kicks and no diapers will be ending soon, and I want to remember what life looked like before our family expands.

Because one day Jack won’t fit in my lap when it’s “time for watching.”

One day he won’t dash into our bed upon waking and shimmy next to me under the warm covers.

One day he won’t scatter Hot Wheels like breadcrumbs near the baseboards, in the bookshelves or across the coffee table.

One day he won’t subsist on Cheez-Its, hot dogs and small gulps of air.

One day he won’t want to wear “cozy pants” with his favorite Superman shirt, worn soft from overuse.

One day he won’t say, “Wanna hear some rock-n-roll?” and plink the keys on his tiny piano. (Actually, I’m fine losing the tiny piano.)

One day he won’t race around the yard in circles, breathless at the sight of stars.

One day he won’t craft jewelry out of pipe cleaners and beads and present it to me proudly.

One day he won’t ask his dad to build him a race car from a giant cardboard box.

One day he won’t make snow angels and sand angels and leaf angels with glee.

One day he won’t cup my face in his hands and kiss my lips before he falls asleep.

One day his habits will change and his whole perspective will widen.

Because one day soon he’ll be a big brother. What a gift to see him grow.

// Inspired by Joy Becker’s “Because one day you won’t” series.

36 truths for my 36th year

Today is my 36th birthday. 

It’s also the fifth birthday of this humble little blog. This is the place where I share truths that cannot remain contained within my notebooks but don’t fit another publication. My blog is a memory book, an escape, a means of connection, my attempt to document beauty. To borrow a friend’s metaphor, this is also where I “practice my scales” and play around with the craft of writing.

Another writer I admire tells the story of a Facebook post she wrote titled “25 Things About Me” and how doing so helped her grow. I thought it might be fun to try something similar here, but instead of starting from scratch, I’ve culled 36 truths from some favorite reflections I’ve written.

Piecing this list together helped me appreciate how much I’ve matured in my understanding of motherhood, faith, relationships and more. I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom here to take with you on *your* journey (if something really resonates, find the full piece to which it belongs by clicking on the number above). Cheers to chapter 36 of a crazy, beautiful, grace-filled life!

(1)

The truth is, I’ve always ached to love and be loved, but I wrestle with loving myself. Hearing my own melody helped me see my innate holiness — made in God’s image, blessed and broken, sinner and saint.

(2

If my life could be divided into a “before” and “after,” motherhood would be the defining moment. Motherhood has broken, healed and shaped me into the person I am today, and it is often the subject of the stories I share here, along with my faith. Becoming a mother has both pushed me to wrestle with my faith and given me a lens for noticing the sacredness in the mundane.

(3)

This is what I need to pay attention to: my shining son, the leaves, his laughter, the gift of this day. Surely the Spirit is here. 

(4

[My son] is scaling a sand dune,
chasing the tide,
pointing me to beauty.
He is the bubble bath, the fuzzy robe,
the last kiss before lights out.
He is not the seeker nor the one who hides but
the feeling of being found.

(5)

I loved being a mother, but it was also the hardest thing I’d ever done. I wondered if I’d ever look or feel like my old self again. I wondered why all the parenting books I read and mommy bloggers I followed failed to fully communicate this tension. My feelings on motherhood were, surprisingly, mixed.

(6)

On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer.

(7)

Occasionally I wake up angry at God. Most days I don’t. Lately I’ve been finding rest in this passage: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). I want to teach this to my son over and over: the love we share is a gift from God. And God is Love.

(8)

How often have I denied the gifts of love and rest, thinking I must work to be deemed worthy? It takes several hundred meters, but swimming finally becomes a moving meditation. I come to the end of my thoughts and release my worries. I trust in my body, my breath, these waters, this moment.

(9)

Sometimes it takes traveling halfway across the country to a remote retreat center to stare at a 260-year-old stump to see the truth you hadn’t noticed — that you’d been running away from your fear and pain rather than accepting it. 

(10)

Everyone I meet [here] is searching for something. Some are carrying heartaches far heavier than mine. Others are engaged in vocational discernment. One doctor struggles to see his worth in retirement. A widow bravely embarks on a new chapter of life without her husband. I meet a harpist who recently lost her father, and I hold space for her grief while sharing my fears about my father. That evening her performance of “Ave Maria” makes me weep. She later tells me the harp is “heart music.”

(11)

Something miraculous and mysterious happens when we voice our stories — we give others permission to claim theirs too.

(12)

I wonder how society would change if we looked beyond our own families and started seeing everyone in our world as beloved children. What tender care we could give each other. Just imagine.

(13)

I watch you squint at the draft and think how hard it must be to love a writer. You’ve been loving me like this — seeing me as I want to be seen, cheering me on — since we met in college. I’ve watched with awe as you achieved your goals, never quitting. In 15 years, we’ve seen each other through illness, health, hardship and ease. Isn’t that love, a kind of seeing?

(14)

In a year that often feels like a giant kitchen debacle, in a year that’s separated us from our loved ones or deepened divides between those with whom we disagree, in a year that’s defied all plans and expectations, how do we taste and see goodness in all circumstances? We slow down. We look. We grow eyes for gratitude. We savor the gifts in our midst.

(15)

…we could linger in bed on a Tuesday morning and discuss our dreams. Stay in our pajamas. Savor juicy blueberry pancakes and the view outside our bay window. Beyond the glass is a tree I never used to notice — red pinpricks fleck its branches in early spring before becoming pale green buds that unfurl into cream-colored blossoms. … I witnessed it all. Miracle.

(16)

I didn’t want to go in, but in that moment I knew I could either be the mom who played in the mud or killed the fun. I had only 10 minutes left for this walk and zero supplies for clean up. This would surely dirty my car, delay our daily agenda and screw up Jack’s nap schedule. Plus I was wearing white-soled shoes. No matter what, this was going to be a mess.

“Mommy! Mommy!” my son called again, grinning. Gus let out a little bark.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. I stepped out into the mud to play.

(17)

Sheltering my child and dwelling in his love is the most important work I’ve been called to do.

(18)

I want him to know that there’s a time to be strong and a time to be still, and that grief can find you no matter how hard you attempt to outswim it. Grief is not an enemy to ignore but a friend leading me out of darkness, reminding me that my love was real, my love persists and my baby’s short life mattered. 

(19)

Life is brief and storms are to be expected.

It’s also undeniably dazzling, this joyous race toward home.

(21)

While shedding my coat in preparation for shoveling out the alley, I thought to myself perhaps there’s a metaphor here — something about our lives’ unseen work being uncomfortable but important? Yes, that’s it, I resolved, clearing the way, pressing onward in the winter sun, watching our kids slide and giggle and scale the growing mounds of snow. I am developing grit here, I thought. This unseen, back-breaking work matters. 

(22)

Half of my life I spent running
trying to make myself small.
These days I stand tall
and sing:
this is how I was created —
with whole symphonies inside
praising.

(23)

A well-written kiss is, as Stephen King puts it, “telepathy, of course.” I keep trying to capture life with language the way great authors have for me, for all of us. I still have much to learn, but I continue to practice because writing is the best means of expressing love I know — other than kissing. Good stories sweep us off our feet, make us weak in the knees and kiss our souls with their deep understanding of our secret aches and glories. I want to bless you with that kind of knowing.

(24)

She needs to remember what it means to claim the role of heroine. She’s learning sometimes the bravest thing she can do is ask for help, or be still and sit with her emotions. Other times it means choosing the bigger life or speaking up for her values.

(25)

While I’m still learning to live with my hunger, of this, I’m certain: it no longer scares me. 

(26)

I wanted to tell her I liked her damaged wing. I wanted to whisper, “There’s beauty in your brokenness, butterfly. You’ll soar again.” I wanted to say all this, then I realized she already knows. She’s been through metamorphosis before. 

(27)

She can twirl too, this soft, strong, aging body of mine. She still runs on occasion — mostly after her son. She is still afraid of everything and nothing. She isn’t done changing. Not even close. I wonder, what will she do next?

(28)

I used to think there wasn’t a place for the carefree girl in motherhood. Now I’m starting to believe I was wrong. Who better to teach my son what it feels like to run barefoot in the grass on a summer day? Who better to take him to water parks and on rollercoasters and white water rafting? Who better to show him there’s no shame in pursuing audacious dreams and simple delights? Who better to show him there’s strength in independence?

(29)

What we model, our children inherit. Children soak up the words we speak and the actions we take and reflect them back to us like a mirror.

(30)

On “grumpy gray” days, I remind my son that light is still present, it’s just hidden behind the clouds. (I need this reminder, too.) Even at night, stars sparkle in the velvet sky and the moon reflects the light of our closest star. “You can find the light of God everywhere,” I say to him, “if you look closely.”

(31)

Perhaps God also speaks to us in our darkest moments. In the silence. In the doubt.

(32)

God formed Adam out of dust. Bodies laid to rest turn into dust when they decompose in the earth. Dust, invisible, yet everywhere, clings to the ceiling fan, the baseboards, the window panes. It twists in the wind, tumbles across the streets. Ice latches onto dust to create something entirely new — sparkling snowflakes, each a tiny marvel, raining from the heavens like manna. Jesus rose from the dust so that we might leave our dusty bodies behind and join him in heaven. What does our Creator hope for us at Lent? I think that we might pause and confront our dustiness, and live differently because of it.

(33)

I know it’s easy to cast myself in the role of hero, rather than admit my faults. I know the story we read is missing repentance and reconciliation, true justice and mercy, grace and healing. It’s missing a hero who modeled the way of love. What will it take for us to write a new story? What will it take for us to create a just society?

(34)

You were created with gifts, passions and a unique capacity for serving others. Maybe you had a mentor like Mrs. Jackson who noticed your talents and encouraged you to shine. Perhaps you have a dream hidden away beneath the surface. Only you know what kindles joy inside, what it takes to say “yes” to your dreams, a call that I believe comes from the Holy Spirit.

(35)

She wasn’t sure how high she’d go
or if she’d ever reach the summit.
What mattered more was
the view
the climb
& all it’s teaching her.

(36)

…maybe light wasn’t something she needed to catch. Maybe it was inside her all along. 

A few things I love

pink clouds

I love sunsets,
I love words,
I love paying attention to the movements of birds,
I love the warmth of a fire
and hearty conversation,
I love taking long vacations,

I love my husband’s strong embrace
and our son’s melodious laugh,
I love piping hot coffee with half-and-half,
I love fresh-cut hydrangeas
and a candle on my desk,
I love having really good sex,
I love minestrone and Aperol Spritz and fresh-baked baguette,
I love a Bad Day ice cream sundae to help me forget,

I love it when the clouds are painted cotton candy pink,
I love reading writers whose work makes me think,
I love practicing yoga
and walks in the woods,
I love seeing people collaborate for the common good,

I love the mountains,
I love to sing,
I love pushing my son on a tire swing,
I love MagnaTiles and Hot Wheels cars strewn across our carpet,
I love using drive-up order service at our local Target,
I love the smell of fabric softener wafting in the breeze,
I love how my dog’s presence puts me at ease,

I love being with friends who feel like home,
I love and crave more time alone,
I love baby announcements and heartfelt letters,
I love chunky and soft oversized sweaters,
I love rainbows, the first snow, calming waters, blazing leaves,
I love watching Hallmark Christmas movies,
I love feeling the wind tickling my hair,
I love how protests and petitions can be a form of prayer,

I love faith that makes space for questions,
the grace that sets me free,
a church that affirms each person’s dignity,
I love hearing my preschooler’s silly jokes,
I love listening to the stories of ordinary folks
I love art that’s beautiful and bold,
I love how writing invites me
to behold.


artist inspiration: Courtney Martin, Lemn Sissay, Ashlee Gadd + the Exhale Creativity writing community

To my husband of nine years

10/13/12 | It drizzled this morning. So much so we unleashed the dotted umbrellas purchased last minute for our wedding. I worried about my hair, the guests, our pictures. Did you know some say rain on your wedding day is good luck?

Standing across from you in our college chapel, I feel more than luck. I feel fluttering in my chest — not fear or nerves, rather, an awakening. Love six years in the making shifts in its cocoon, ready to fly. Your sky-blue eyes twinkle back at mine. Our hope is palpable.

My childhood pastor stands across from us reciting, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” I want to savor everything — light flooding the altar, my gardenia perfume mingling with my roses, your hand in mine, firm yet gentle. At 26, we have big goals, you for your business, me with my writing. One day, we’d like to get a dog. We hope to own a home and start a family. Become a new creation.

//

10/18/21 | We marked nine years of marriage last week. On our anniversary, a repairman was supposed to fix our long-broken oven. You laughed and called year nine “the oven anniversary.” I promised to bake celebratory banana bread. That weekend, we’d visit your folks’ place, where they’d watch our son, and we’d have a proper date night. Then the repairman cancelled. Our trip was postponed. And I wanted to say something here about our love, but I didn’t.

Tonight, before you leave for another business trip, you snuggle next to me on our couch and read one of my essays. I watch you squint at the draft and think how hard it must be to love a writer. You’ve been loving me like this — seeing me as I want to be seen, cheering me on — since we met in college. I’ve watched with awe as you achieved your goals, never quitting. In 15 years, we’ve seen each other through illness, health, hardship and ease. Isn’t that love, a kind of seeing?

Yet seeing you here, in the glow of our living room, I know the best part of these years hasn’t been observing each other grow. It’s been emerging together: traveling the world, cultivating a home, raising our son, making memories. We’ve been made new, over and over, through love and God’s grace.

Why I write

Why do cicadas hum?
Why do chickadees whistle?
Why do coyotes cock their heads and howl
in the vast darkness?

Because words are oxygen.

Because last summer you were playing
in the bathtub with your cars,
I let the faucet run too long —
I was nearby, absorbed in a story —
warm water sloshed higher and higher,
when I looked up, I laughed,
put down my book and asked,
“Honey, do you want to try floating?”
Kneeling on tile, I cradled your head in my hands
told you to “puff up your chest like a starfish,”
couldn’t stop thinking about that stolen summer
all we’d lost
all that needed mending
and then you floated,
fingers grazing the edges of the bathtub,
you beamed, and how else would I remember?

And how else would I remember
the warmth of my grandfather’s voice,
indigo mountains cresting over the horizon,
my first taste of watermelon, juicy-sweet wonder?

I sift words like grains of sand,
craft castles from memory,
some days, shaping it all is like trying to contain the ocean
— impossible.
Hands caked with salt water and sand
I build anyway,
each story
an offering.

A writer I admire once called writing
“a miserable, awful business”
and also “better than anything
in the world.”

She’s right.

Writing is the cure
and the sickness.

It feeds me
and empties
and fills me again.
It’s like confession
or communion
and perhaps that’s sacrilegious?
Mostly, I think it’s prayer.

Someone in a church I no longer know,
he said something like,
“Women’s voices don’t belong in the pulpit.”

He’s wrong.

When I set my pen to the empty page,
I only want to tell the truth:
half of my life I spent running
trying to make myself small.
These days I stand tall
and sing:
this is how I was created —
with whole symphonies inside
praising.

I know what the coyotes know:
my voice is my power.

My body, a wonder

She used to race, Nikes flashing across worn asphalt, Lakefront wind slicing against her, heart pounding, flying free.

She swam, limbs threading Lake Michigan’s rough, cool waters, gulping air, rocketing herself forward, weightless. Back then, she measured her worth with numbers: pounds, pace, calories. Afraid of everything and nothing.

She once saved two men from drowning.

Nearly drowned herself in tears when she labored for hours, failing to deliver, landing in the OR, waiting with bated breath for her baby’s first whimper. For 20 months, she nourished his small body with her breasts.

Sometimes, I am astonished by her power.

Other times I’ve felt trapped by her, my body: too flat-too heavy-too blotchy-too lumpy. Wished I could shed her like a second skin, my body. The times she’s attracted honks, heckles, stares, touch without permission? Wished she wasn’t so dangerous, my body.

But there was also this: her standing in the dusty infield, mit held high, mit finding the ball again and again and whipping it through the air to the tune of cheers. “You’re out!”

She traded her cleats for tap shoes, dancing across the stage, singing and smiling. Oh how she danced — once at a swanky, smoky club in Madrid with seven levels, dressed in blue jeans, black top, very American, eyes laughing. She was thirsty for pleasure, and drank of it joyfully.

Shape-shifter, she’s spun and curved and stretched her limbs on the mat into a dog, a crow, a cobra.

She’s softer than she was last spring. New creases and curves grace her form, stubborn weight sits at her once taut middle.

Yesterday morning I took her for a walk in the neighborhood. The sun was out, and whirligigs sprinkled down from the Maple trees, twirling lazily in the sunshine, scattering across the pavement like confetti. She can twirl too, this soft, strong, aging body of mine. She still runs on occasion — mostly after her son. She is still afraid of everything and nothing.

She isn’t done changing. Not even close.

I wonder, what will she do next?

At home together (a tiny love story)

photo: Rachel Liv Photography

I.

The first notable thing about Jay was his hair: shockingly blonde and spiky.

The second: He was late to class on day one, strolling in during introductions. The only open seat was next to me, so he took it. His very presence shifted the air from stale to charged.

On our first date, we talked for hours about school, Greek life and growing up. He was my foil: analytical, relaxed, naturally gifted. Yet we worked. Being together felt like home.

II.

I spent the following semester in Cambridge, England. When a classmate’s boyfriend booked a flight to visit over Thanksgiving, Jay did too. 

Under the glow of fluorescent lights, I scanned the crowd at Heathrow Airport. Jay’s hair caught my eye first: blonde spikes gliding across arrivals. When he saw me, his gait quickened. He dropped his backpack and wrapped me in an embrace. A stream of travelers flowed around us, rushing to their destinations, but us? We’d arrived. 

We saw several sights that week. Yet the memory that stays is Heathrow — his hands around my waist, my head against his chest. Being held. 

III.

We are eight years married, with a home in Chicago. Over this pandemic, we’ve spent most of our time here with our son Jack, a preschooler. 

Recently, Jay left for his first work trip in nearly a year. Without him, these walls feel hollow.

One night over video chat, Jay reads Jack I’ll Love You Forever. After Jay closes the book, Jack circles his arms around the phone. Jay “hugs” him back, blowing kisses.

What is home? Not a place, but a feeling inside. It’s the joy that he brings when we’re wrapped in his love.

image: Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy

I wrote this post as part of a Blog Hop with Exhale — an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in the “280 words” series.