Day 14: The First Month

Two weeks after getting married, Tom and I moved 600 miles from everything and everyone we’d ever known. One day we were living a life full of friends and family and jobs. The next we were driving a U-Haul, stuffed with every single one of our possessions and towing our tiny red Yaris, toward a place we’d never been to, only knew one person, and had no jobs lined up. I’d been very resistant to the idea, doing everything I could to convince Tom and myself that we should stay put. A mixture of wise counsel, prayer, and gut told us that wasn’t the best option. So away we went, with no money, no real plans, and just enough blind optimism to push us forward.

After my mom and best friend helped us unpack our hand me down furniture and find the nearest Target, they got on a plane to fly back to the home we’d left behind. We had a month before Tom started school. We planned to spend the time finding jobs and exploring our new city. In reality we both ended up finding jobs miraculously fast that wouldn’t start until the following month, and we realized that our Florida blood was way too thin to do much exploring in a North Carolina December. That month that once seemed like it was destined to be packed full with applications, interviews, and exciting nights out as a newly married couple was turning into something very different.

In my memory those days are marked by the gloomy cold weather that turned our windows gray and seeped in the cracks of our door frames. More importantly though, my memories from that month are dripping with the sweetness of being still with my new husband. We spent our days eating turkey sandwiches and soup, both drenched in hot sauce. We huddled under my purple heated blanket and watched hours of Grey’s Anatomy. Mornings were slow and lazy as we looked at each other with the complete amazement that a couple of clueless fifteen year olds had somehow grown up and gotten married.

It was before work consumed our schedules or friends were a reality. There were no babies needing our attention or money to be stressed over (because we just didn’t  have any). Fights hadn’t been had yet, hurtful words hadn’t clouded our views of each other. It was one sweet month in our newly wed bubble before the reality of stress and responsibility forced its way in. I fought against moving away, but looking back I know it was the best possible thing we could have done. That time, wrapped up in the warmth of blankets and soup and our brand new marriage was exactly what we needed to unite us against all the pressures that were headed our way.

Day 13: Our Right Decision

It was a complete surprise that I enjoyed breastfeeding the first time around. It was just as much of a surprise when I hated it the second time.

I nursed Lana until she was thirteen months. Even when I went back to work, I made whatever sacrifice necessary to provide milk for her. I spent every single break sitting alone in my car or a bathroom stall pumping and tracking every single ounce I was able to produce. Still, it was a joy to hold her close as she peacefully are or to watch her grow and know that my body was producing everything she needed. I nursed her for the last time on a flight from Florida to North Carolina, and i cried when we landed and I knew that part of our journey together was over.

With Jude it was different from the start. He had a series of colds and ear infections early on that made nursing miserable for him. He was easily distracted and wouldn’t finish a feeding if anyone else was in the room. Terrible reflux meant that he threw up on me at least once a day, and his inclination toward grazing meant he needed to eat every two hours. After four months of giving every drop of my mental, emotional, and physical every to trying to make it work, I broke down in tears and asked Tom how he would feel about me stopping.

I struggled with the decision for another two months. I felt guilty, like I had failed at the most basic part of being a mom. I felt selfish–it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was the I didn’t want to. Imaging telling other moms made me feel small and afraid. I felt like I wasn’t loving my son enough, sacrificing enough for him. The only thing more painful was imaging living like that for another six months. It felt like sentencing that I would never be able to withstand. I didn’t want to resent holding my baby like I did when him laying in my arms was just the position in which we did battle. I didn’t want to feel like I was disappearing like I did when I couldn’t be apart from him for more than two hours. I didn’t want to have to constantly banish Lana to be alone in another room so Jude could focus on eating. I knew none of us could survive on the half life we were living.

The weekend we made the transition to formula was one of the most clear turning points in my life. Suddenly this baby that I’d labeled fussy and needy was happy and content. Before I’d longed to be able to put him down, to release the weigh of his all consuming need from my tired arms. Now I loved to hold him close, kissing his soft cheeks and chubby hands. The feedings that I dreaded were now sweet moments where I starred at him in complete amazement.

Sometimes, when I see the glint of judgement or disappointment in someone’s eye, I still feel guilty. Then I remember the way my relationship with my son clicked into place when I removed the stress and painful pressure of having to nurse, and I knew we made the exact right decision.

Day 12: Long Drives

One of the best things about growing up in Florida was that the weather was always perfect for driving around with the windows down. On my darkest days, overwhelmed by depression and wanting nothing more than escape, I could always find refuge there–windows down, music up, sun shining the way it only shines in Florida.

In high school I had a friend that was always game for a drive. We spent hours driving all over Orlando. We were seventeen and we were hurting and confused, but we could sit side by side in her green Cabriolet and find peace in the mixture of sunshine and melody. Every adventure we went on together ended there, in the safety of that tiny car with the sagging ceiling.

I have so many pictures of us in that car. After a school dance I’d dragged her to because Tom was taking another girl and I couldn’t face it alone. On the way home from countless movies that I’d snuck her into because I turned seventeen first. One hot afternoon we spent learning our way around a laundromat. Eating custard on our way to the church that offered us a place when we felt we didn’t belong. We grew up in that car. We found healing in those long drives with her carefully crafted playlists washing over us as the wind whipped our hair into our faces.

I look back on those sun soaked days sitting next to my very best friend, and I’m heartbroken by how it all ended. When you’re seventeen everything, the good and bad, seems infinite. The pain feels like it will crush you, but the miracle of friendship can always pull you back from the edge. The inside of that car, with blankets piled in the back seat to keep us warm in the colder months when the heat didn’t work, felt like that safest place in the world. But the searing pain of those years didn’t last, and neither did the magic we found inside that car.

When we started college it began to become clear that we were headed down different paths. By the time I got married and moved away the healing power of our friendship had fractured into shards too painful to hold on to. She doesn’t know my babies, I don’t know about her new life in a new state. We don’t know each other at all anymore.

As I’ve gotten older that’s been one of the hardest things for me to make sense of. How can a person who feels like an extension of yourself just not be around anymore? Two nights ago I sat down to begin the final season of a show she and I started together seven years ago. For years we watched it together every single week. Eating Pei Wei takeout and painting our nails. We discussed the characters and mysteries endlessly on those long drives. Just like the process of figuring out who I was and where I wanted to go, it was a journey that we started together but I will finish without her.

No matter how many years pour into the gap between us, I will always miss her and those aimless drives where we found rest in the mingling of sunshine, friendship, and the perfect song.

Day 11: Becoming a Mom

I never wanted to be a mom. I’ve never been good with kids. I’ve never swooned over babies. It’s just something I always knew I would be OK without. I was miserable through my entire first pregnancy. I was sick every single day for sixteen weeks. I couldn’t eat or drink what I wanted, and my body was going haywire. I never called my baby by name or felt attached to her. I worried I never would. I spent the entire third trimester crying. I mourned the loss of my youth, my independence, my very young marriage. I cried for all the adventures I wouldn’t have, for all the freedom that was lost. Up until the minute my daughter was placed in my arms, I absolutely dreaded motherhood.

I didn’t dread it because I wasn’t grateful for the tiny life kicking inside of me. I was grateful. I’d witnessed enough longing and loss to know what an enormous blessing my baby was. No, gratitude was not the problem–fear was.

I was terrified that I couldn’t do it, that something in me didn’t function properly and I would never be that mom. I hadn’t dreamed of being a mom. I never played house with my dolls; I didn’t even have dolls. I hadn’t spent my pregnancy counting kicks or dreamily gazing at babies in public. I didn’t know how to care for a baby. I didn’t know how to be a mom. Then the moment came when the nurse placed my daughter on my chest, and when I looked at her for the first time my entire being shattered.

Everything that I’d been clinging so tightly to, all my ideas of who I was and what freedoms I needed to be happy, cracked into a million pieces. In that moment all I knew was that I knew so much less about myself and the world than I thought. That tiny little baby broke me down in every way imaginable, and she’s spent every day of the last three years building me back up. That’s the thing about motherhood, it will wreck you. It will take everything you thought you needed to be happy, but it will make and give you so much more.

If you should love that which makes you stronger, that which challenges you to be the best version of yourselves, then motherhood is at the top of my list. I was afraid being a mom would just be putting a parade of my inadequacies. Instead, it is the thing that makes me show up everyday and be better than I think I’m capable of. I was afraid being a mom would rob me of the chance to chase my dreams. What I’ve learned is that my babies give those dreams so much more significance. I was afraid that my shortcomings would make me kids resent me. In reality they show me every minute of every day exactly what unconditional love looks like.

I’ve loved a lot of things in my life, but nothing has taken my heart and soul by surprise like being a mom. Loving my babies has worked its way into every crevice of my being. Loving my babies has taught me what love is. It’s showing up. It’s meeting someone where they are. It’s being faithful to challenge and push. It’s wiping away tears and clapping for victories.

Day 10: My Grandma

It had already been a bad night. I’d had to sit through a school board meeting. On the way home I got a flat tire. I had a mountain of AP Environmental Science homework waiting for me. I was sitting alone in the front room watching Law & Order and pretending my homework didn’t exist when I heard my mom’s scream coming from my grandma’s room.

She’d been getting sicker and weaker for awhile. She was on oxygen all the time. She hadn’t been able to make it to the table for Thanksgiving dinner just a few months before. I’d been avoiding her room, because I didn’t know how to show her love through my fear of her mortality. I don’t think I’ll ever regret anything more.

I sat in my little sister’s room with her as the EMTs filed in. They asked questions, counted her pills, and rolled her away. I couldn’t think of a single word to say. Tears rolled slowly down my cheeks, landing in two puddles in my lap.

My grandma was the first person close to me to die. She’d lived with us most of my life and in many ways helped raise me. She loved collecting movies and always had dozens of colorful pens. She was constantly drinking Pepsi and was boldly defiant. She taught me fierce independence and to not give a damn. She adored her tiny Chihuahua and Long John Silver’s. She’d picked herself up after her husband left her, and sacrificed years of her life to care for her own mother before losing her to Alzheimer’s. She loved her grandchildren and wanted to give us the world. She cussed when I was too young to hear it, and she tenderly gave me the space to process my first heartbreak while still assuring me that she saw my pain. She was broken and she was strong, and I will always be sorry that I didn’t tell her so.

I wish I could go back and sit with her, watch movies and drink Pepsi and love her little dog. I wish I would have been brave enough to lay next to her when she was weak, to listen to her stories and hungrily store them away, to tell her I loved her and that her legacy would be a beautiful one.

I wish she could meet my kids–one as much of a firecracker as she was, and the other with her bold red hair. I wish they were going to grow up knowing her unbreakable spirit and her gentle love. I wish she could touch their baby soft cheeks and hear the unadulterated joy in their giggles. I pray I can raise them to be people who don’t cower from the pain they see in another’s soul. I pray they will be bolder than I was. I want them to hear her story so that they know what it is to be resilient but still need to be cared for. I want to teach them to love well because eventually time will run out.

Day 9: Chipping Away

The simple way to explain our history is to say that Tom and I started dating when we were fifteen. The full story is a lot more complicated.

Tom asked me to be his girlfriend on his fifteenth birthday. It was the very beginning of our freshman year. We had no idea what path we had just started down. The next two and a half years were full of constant whiplash from blissful infatuation to utter dysfunction. The highs were magical and the lows were devastating. We’d started dating so young, our whole lives were wrapped up in one another. Ending things seemed impossible, so we just kept going.

I honestly can’t even remember what finally ended things. I know it was mutual. We both reached the point where we needed it to be over more than we were afraid to find out what waited on the other side of this relationship that had defined so much our teenage years. One night we sat on the over-sized corduroy chair in my bedroom that just a few months before we’d spent a weekend painting the most perfect shade of eggplant. Every inch of that room had his stamp on it. The Breakfast Club poster on the wall, the tiny gray and white kitten nuzzled on the bed, the dresses hanging in the closet from three years of school dances, everywhere I looked I saw him. The problem was that when I actually looked at him, I didn’t see the boy I’d fallen in love with. I saw all the pain we’d caused each other, all the ways our words and actions had damaged the other.

The words we said that night have long since faded from my memory, but the hollow feeling that swallowed me when I woke up the next morning is something I’ll never forget. I didn’t have a single memory from high school that didn’t involve him, a single friend that I didn’t share with him. I couldn’t see where to even begin disentangling our lives. Ultimately I decided that was impossible.

Over the next six months I slowly shed almost all vestiges of the life we’d built together. I quit the golf team, because he’d taught me how to play. I stopped hanging out with most of the friends who had been fixtures in our shared existence. I found a church that wasn’t full of people who’d watched us grow up together. The further I got from that world, the one we’d built together, the less I could make sense of myself. I’d seen myself through one lens for so long, but now it was shattered and everything around me was filtered through those jagged shards of glass.

The year that followed was painful. I slowly chipped away at everything I’d thought to true about myself until I truly was as empty as I’d felt on that very first morning. I chipped and chipped until that January morning when my dad saw just how empty I was written in bloody scars all over my arms.

Day 8: Through the Waves

Lana is named after a beach. It’s just a small 1/2 mile strip on the windward side of Oahu, but experts and I agree that it is one of the best beaches in the world. Tom and I spent an afternoon there a few days into our honeymoon. We took a bus from Waikiki to Kailua, and as it wound through mountains and forests we could not stop marveling at the beauty surrounding us. It was overcast and drizzling, but somehow that only made it more beautiful. We got off the bus on a random street in the tiny community and had to walk a few blocks to find the beach. I remember all the mailboxes were covered in the most colorful flowers. We talked endlessly about how amazing it would be to live in one of those little bungalows nestled between the trees and the ocean.

We wound our way through the streets in search of the address where we’d reserved a kayak. As we passed shops adorned with signs boasting about their deals on rentals we wondered if maybe we had the address wrong. Then we arrived at our destination–a red house that backed right up to the beach–and we were sure something was off. We stood there debating in hushed tones about what to do, but before we could make a decision a man bounded out of the house and hurried us around the side and to the gate leading to hsi backyard. Ten minutes later we were standing on the beach, with a red kayak between us, watching the rain gently fall on the waves crashing at our feet.

All around us pairs of people were trying to climb into their kayaks, and all around us those people were failing. Everywhere we looked little yellow kayaks were tipping over and dumping their occupants into the choppy waves. We looked at each other nervously as we pushed ours out past the first few waves breaks. I climbed in, and Tom pushed us out a bit farther before attempting what seemed impossible. I should have known when he hopped in on the first try that that day was going to be something magical.

The people we’d stood on the beach next to were left in our wake as we effortlessly found a rhythm and paddled confidently out to the little rocky island where we planned to eat lunch. Left, right, left, right, we paddled through the waves. The water sprayed up into Tom’s face as he guided us toward our destination. Rain fell softly, muting the world around us, making it feel like we were the only two on the water. Unity had never come easily to us. We started dating when we were fifteen. We’d grown up together, knew all of each other’s buttons and weak spots. We’d held on tight and fought hard to get where we were, but it hadn’t been easy. In that moment though, in a giant red kayak looking back on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it felt easy. As we reached the rocky island and settled in for a lunch of tuna fish and crackers I couldn’t help but be amazed that we’d actually made it.

What we learned that day has held true throughout or marriage. The day to day things may not always flow easily, but when the waves come we make a great team.

Day 7: I Do & Thank You

I woke up feeling so sick. Maybe it was one too many apple pie moonshine shots the night before. Maybe it was the fact that I was getting married that day. I drove right over to Tom’s house to get started on the dozens of donuts we had to make for the reception, but I didn’t even make it inside. He came out to the driveway to meet me, and as soon as I saw him I burst into tears. We stood there as I cried without understanding why, and he quietly held me without needing to know. We decided he would make the donuts so I could go home and regroup.

I don’t remember much of what came next. I know I loaded up the dozens and dozens of DIY projects I’d poured myself into over the previous four months. My family ate a box of tacos from Taco Bell; I still wanted to throw up. I gathered my wedding dress, purple suede shoes, cowboy boots, and the suitcase I’d frantically packed the evening before. (Somehow in all the wedding craziness I’d forgotten I needed to also pack for our honeymoon.) I shoved it all into my car and started the half hour drive to the venue.

Two frenzied and stressful hours later we’d gotten the whole wedding party dressed, had our first look in front of the store where I’d bought my dress for our sophomore homecoming, taken pictures, and changed out of our wedding attire so we could finish setting up for the ceremony and reception.

Some people build a balloon wall, some set up the popcorn and dessert bars, someone went to buy the coffee I’d forgotten. I wandered from spot to spot answering questions and feeling numb. So much love and sacrificial service swirled around me. So many people that had shaped Tom and I individually and as a couple were now working together to perfect every detail of our big day. There had been a lot of drama and tension leading up to it, but that day, in those moments of insane activity I felt more loved, cared for, and supported than ever before. In that moment I knew we would be OK, because for all our flaws and shortcoming there was one thing we knew how to do–find and pour ourselves into a community that would take care of us.

That night was, of course, a celebration of our new life together. More than that, though, it was a pouring out of thanks for and a celebration of all the people who had carried us to that point. As the dust settled, and we found ourselves on a hotel balcony overlooking Waikiki Beach, I was excited and terrified, alive in a brand new way, but binding that all together was a heart wrenching gratitude that I felt deep in my bones. We didn’t start this journey alone, and the single greatest blessing along the way has been that we haven’t had to travel it alone either.

Day 6: Sequins

That night I was going dancing with all my friends to celebrate my twenty-first birthday.  I wore my gold cowboy boots and a new shirt I’d bought for the occasion, it was covered in sequins.

Months before that moment I’d had a dream about how it would happen. When I woke up the details were hazy, but I did remember that the box was completely covered in sequins. It seemed fitting, everything about me back then was flashy and sparkly. I was twenty and I mixed patterns and painted my nails three times a week. I was going to be a writer and buy expensive shoes and go dancing every Friday night. Of course the box holding my engagement ring would be covered in sequins, I wanted a life that demanded sequins.

When I opened my eyes and saw Tom down on one knee holding a ring box covered in sequins, I knew. I knew we were going to have that life I’d always imagined. I knew that everything might not always be perfect, but we were going to be happy.

I spent the majority of that night fighting with a friend and crying in various public bathrooms.

The next morning my future father-in-law sat down with Tom and I to tell us we hadn’t thought our future through and he could not support our decision.

My blissful optimism was fading fast. I spent my entire engagement alienated from my best friend and refusing to be in the same room as my future in-laws. I spent months refusing to plan the wedding, booked a house in Savannah so we could just elope, and spent a lot of late nights questioning whether we should even be getting married. That year was hard. Every day I was walking closer and closer to making the biggest commitment of my life. All the while chaos and discord swirled around me so furiously that I couldn’t see anything clearly. None of it was playing out the way I’d been led to believe it would. We fought often, there was a chunk of time I thought my in-laws might not even attend the wedding, and we were planning to move three states away and didn’t have jobs. Nothing was shiny and fun, it was all just hard.

Still, fourteen months after that night with a sequined ring box and bathroom stall tears, I slipped on a dress covered entirely with gold sequins and held hands with Tom as friends and family took turns giving toasts at our rehearsal dinner. I sat surrounded by all the people who had made my engagement painful and all the people who had held my hand and wiped away my tears through it all. I sat hand in hand with the person who had done a little of both. That night I knew that not only would things not always be easy, but we wouldn’t always be happy. That night I also knew that despite it all, I didn’t have to change–that no matter what life looked like, I could still be the kind of person that always made room for sequins.

Day 5: It Was Time

When I got pregnant for the third time I knew it would be the last time. It started with twenty solid weeks of miserable nausea, and it didn’t end until after I’d endured a long summer of hundred degree days. The night before I was due we had friends over for a game night, and I bemoaned that fact that I had probably another week of waddling around and constantly peeing. We stayed up too late that night, but it didn’t matter because I was too pregnant to sleep anyway.

Two hours later I dragged myself out of bed and knew immediately that something felt different. I peed and then crawled back under the covers. I laid perfectly still trying to be one of those women who can sense everything little cellular movement in her body. I’ve never achieved that level of being in tune, but when it happened just a few minutes later I knew exactly what it was. My water had broken. It was time.

Unexpectedly, I stayed extremely calm as I woke up Tom, called my parents to come watch Lana, and put our bag in the car. I cried when we went in to see Lana, soundly sleeping, unaware that everything would be different when she woke up. Other than those quiet tears, I didn’t feel much of anything as we headed to the hospital to meet our baby. When we walked into the emergency room someone brought over a wheelchair and insisted I sit. Tom checked us in, and then they wheeled us upstairs to labor and delivery. It was time.

After a string of doctors, nurses, exams, room changes, and words I couldn’t pay attention to, I was settled into the sterile safety of beeping machines and looking forward to my visit from the anesthesiologist. We sent all the necessary texts to update friends, and nervously laughed when the doctor said we’d probably have a baby by dinner time. As the pain started to increase I withdrew into myself. Tom asked the nurse again when I’d be able to get the epidural. She said I was third in line. I knew things were progressing, but I was determined not to say anything until I’d had my shot. I watched Sandlot through gritted teeth and squeezed Tom’s hand until it turned that bloodless white.

It all started to happen very quickly. I got the epidural, told the nurse I thought I might be ready, and the room flooded with doctors. The medicine didn’t even have time to kick in before I was looking around with pure bewilderment and horror saying over and over again, “You don’t understand. I really hurts.” It took a few minutes for it to settle in: it didn’t matter how much it hurt, my son was coming. It was time.