Saturday, January 14, 2017

Leaving the Hospital

First, I suppose, we should write about your birth – what with it being the beginning and all. Only, it wasn’t the beginning really, and the labor experience itself was rather simple and short and easy – just like I’d prayed it would be. It doesn’t beg pages to be properly told; and yet, your story is vast. And beautiful. I just don’t know quite how to tell it. Or even what to tell of the bits and pieces I know. And while it is true that four days ago, at this very time, I was fretting and grumping – certain you would never come at all (at least not on my hoped-for timetable) – when all along you were only hours from earth (and have long since been measured and weighed and announced and named), I am thinking just now not of how you got here, but of a tiny moment . . . near the start, or . . . in the middle? or . . . ? Oh I’m not really sure at all. Just a tiny moment of no real consequence perhaps -- plucked out of the enormousness of everything else.

It was the start of your second night here on earth. I sat on my little hospital bed holding you in my arms. It was quiet – all your little hearing tests and heart tests and heal pricks having been finished hours ago (and the nurses having finally decided to quit checking both of our temperatures and blood pressures now that they knew we were just about to leave them). On the wall in front of me was a clock – ticking itself close to the time dad had said he’d be coming to get us. On a little counter down from the clock sat my hospital bag and camera bag all packed up and ready to head back home – my hospital bag now full of additions like baby wipes, a paper with your foot prints, the results of bilirubin tests and the like.

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I was feeling overwhelmed by all the regular anxiety that hits me each time I prepare to take one of my new ones back home with me. While I don’t love the hospital stay – and am always eager to leave, leaving does feel like the real plunge into life, and it scares me. Sitting there, waiting to go, I always fight frantically to reason my way back from a tidal wave of worries over all the upcoming . . . “how?”s. (How will I ever clean the house or make dinner? How will I get kids ready for school in the morning? How will I teach this baby to sleep through the night? How will I handle a crying baby and a crying toddler [or, in this case, two crying toddlers]?)

I was feeling all those same feelings, but, simultaneously, I was suddenly feeling a frantic need to hold to the moment I was in – to remember it perfectly. Forever. “Remember the flowers sitting on the counter – always from my mother-in-law. Remember the little clear bassinet with the nametag taped to it and the metal cart that they wheel him off in when he needs a test done. Remember the heavy door to my room. And the stiff couch covered in siblings passing around their new baby. Remember my hospital bed and getting the height of the top just right for sleeping with a baby in my arms. And remember toddlers always wanting to push the arrows to raise and lower the head and foot of the bed. And, good heavens! They didn’t use the white receiving blankets with the pink and blue stripe this time? Remember those! (And why why didn’t Hans have those for his little hospital pictures?)

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And suddenly, mixed with all the fear and “this is hard” was a desperate desire not to have it end. None of it. A tiny new baby lifted right out from me and set on my chest. New red impossibly soft skin. Whispering softly as I stare into wide-open new eyes during the quiet of our first night together. Eyes with their characteristically newborn puffy upper and under eyelids. Even the newness and uncertainty. The weeks ahead of juggling with a life that one tiny, slumpy, new being has somehow managed to make enormously unfamiliar and unknown and unpredictable.

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I could hardly understand myself at all as I sat there all bound up in a thousand desperate emotions. This having babies business has been hard and scary for me, but a hard and scary that I’ve always known was bound tightly with beauty and eternity and feelings of love that are so big they’ve threatened to crush me. And could it be that I’d finally done it? Finished all the hugeness and hardness and beauty of bringing my babies here? I wanted to cry out, “Wait! I know I’ve been a wimp and not always properly appreciated it all, but I can do better! I can flip back through it all and do it all with perfectness. I’ll cherish all of it and bravely hold to hope when I feel panic. And remember every bit that I’ve forgotten – each rise of their tiny chests as they’ve slept on mine, each smell, each minute of nursing them.” And then I was crying and wanted to plead, strangely enough -- concerning all of the bigness and hardness of having this family, and, mostly of having these newborns -- “Just please don’t take it away! Not any of it. Don’t let it just be gone and over. Ever.” And I didn’t even know what I meant really. Only I’m crying again and can’t type anymore.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Enter Hans

Hans Hansen Harris. Weds. January 11, 2017. 8:07 am. 8 lbs 5 oz. 20”.

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You sound so impressive what with your eight plus pounds and all, but really you’re just a little scrap of a thing. The pictures don’t properly showcase how little of you there actually is; and it’s quite a wonder that your strong, noble spirit could fit at all into this tiny body with its bowed and meatless legs and extra thin, long feet and toes. Jesse can’t stop telling people how small you really are under your swaddled up blankets; and all the siblings keep exclaiming over the tiny notch in the top of your left ear, and your minute fingers with such new bones that they can bend in startling ways. And yet, something about you is big. So big that you haven’t been set down once since coming home. None of us want to not be holding you. I find myself anxious to get you back to myself when anyone else has you – so much so that I actually get eager for sleepless nighttime simply because it is so quiet and still, and I have you all to myself. I usually make sure there is just enough light on that I can watch your new eyes opened wide and aware, as I whisper little comforting bits of words and rub my cheek against you. When panic over all this newness tried hard to assail me that first night, instead, my mind kept hearing – as if someone was whispering it comfortingly to me – “It’s worth every possible inconvenience. Every possible inconvenience will be worth it.” And, in turn, I would nuzzle your head and whisper it to you and sense again some small bit of the miracle that we did it – we brought ourselves together again – until we’d trail off to sleep with whispers of “ . . . worth it”.

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I Dreamt You

Twice I dreamt you. Here I was – living squarely in mortality – where decisions are based on logic and yes or no to another baby is as simple as counting up check marks on either side of a pros and cons list. Your check marks, I hesitate to tell you, all sat neatly and tidily – like dusted off hands after a job well done – on the cons list. And yet . . . there you were – rippling in and out of my vision like a reflection on water -- none of those check marks quite able to erase your reality. The parts of my soul least tethered to five senses knew you existed -- were waiting – someplace close but separate from here. (Refusing to accept that I might not be brave enough or to acknowledge my fear that it was too much.) And yet, what a frightening thing it felt to dare take you from that place: to say you were mine, wrap you in a body, and set you solidly here – among mortals; mortal yourself. Still, it’s exactly what I have done. For here is where you now are. Clear and certain: little fingers that clench tightly around mine, short little breaths raising your chest. There no longer exists any tenuous rippling, no hesitation about your existence, no argument over our connection. And, . . . it is right. Holding you I finally know it (unquestioningly). All those check marks have erased themselves. Yet . . . somehow, by bringing you here, you have drawn me a little closer to there. And as I hold you – all soft new skin and beating heart – I feel a weight in my chest: an almost painful homesickness; and my soul aches a little to think of the separation I have brought between you and that place.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Nesting? Or “Waiting to Jump”.

This morning I gave the little girls a bath. “There,” I thought with satisfaction. “Now everyone is clean, so, if baby comes . . . everyone will be . . . clean?” With more than a little disappointment (and perhaps a sprinkling of irritation) I realized that children, much like laundry, dishes, and toilets, don’t stay clean. And washing them this morning was no guarantee that they wouldn’t be in dire need of a nose wipe, a diaper change, and a shirt without dinner’s spaghetti down the front by the time their new brother actually does come.

With that disheartening truth staring me full in the face, and a puddle of water and bath toys to clean up next to the tub (as well as a half cleaned-out bathroom drawer that I’d hoped they’d let me finish before clamoring to be out of the bath), I promptly found myself . . . all nested out.

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After all, there has been an enormous amount of nesting going on. Except I don’t even know if it’s actually nesting at all. Proper nesting, it has always seemed to me, has something to do with some hormonal surge or subconscious intuiting that enables you to get showers scrubbed and hospital bags packed . . . and children spic and span just moments before starting in on labor. I don’t know if a forced week or two of panic about bringing order to a house in the midst of major change really counts – no matter how much scrubbing and organizing you’ve set your hands to – if it still doesn’t bring a baby. (And good heavens! Have you ever cleaned a “new” bathroom? I have. Two this very week. It isn’t nearly so dreamy as it sounds. Sawdust and . . . I don’t know . . . regular (?) dust lining the fixtures and cabinet drawers, installation grime stuck to the bathtubs, paint speckles needing scrubbed off the tile.) I feel, with each completed task equal parts utter relief that such an unexpectedly big job is cleared out of the way before I have a newborn in my arms, and betrayal that so much work isn’t being rewarded with a day or two of sitting quietly in the hospital with a new baby and nobody expecting anything of me.

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I realize, of course, that it very well could be two more weeks (with my history) before this little one arrives. Logically I know I shouldn’t get overly anxious and that, even two weeks, is really only a blink of time. Mette could use all the extra cuddles I can give her (she’s been incredibly needy lately and loathe to be out of my arms). Much more can still be accomplished in getting the house settled. Messy children and dirty laundry will be happy to keep obliging any nesting instincts that reawaken within me. And . . . this is most likely the last speck of time I will ever experience pregnancy. I ought to let it be and not rush any of it. I know all of those things.

And yet . . . how can I describe it? It isn’t just that I’m incredibly uncomfortable (and I am – I want to weep nearly every time I have to so much as bend to pick up a toy or a scrap of something-or-other off of the floor). And it isn’t just that I’m anxious to see who on earth this little child is and to hold him in my arms. It also has something to do with . . . the entire culmination of everything – and what it is about to start (or maybe just continue). It has been such a wild few years of unexpected but powerful revelation, doubt and uncertainty, awe and questions. And after all of it . . . here I am! I’ve almost actually arrived (which means, of course, that I’m only just beginning), but I’ve done the part where I had to nervously climb all the ladder rungs to make it to the top of the highest high dive. I’ve even tremulously stepped one foot in front of the other and walked to the very edge of the diving platform. I’m committed enough that all there is left . . . is to jump. I know it will be frightening. And the water might be cold. And deep. (And I very likely will be treading for a long while!) But standing on the edge just looking down – all nerves and disbelief that I’m really doing this?  It’s nearly too much! Surely onlookers everywhere are shouting with me the very thing that my trembling legs and racing heart are most anxious to finally do! “Jump! Just jump!”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Finishing Up December in a Whirlwind

We simply can’t leave December well enough alone around here. Why, just two weeks ago, I was still busily shopping for Christmas presents. Mike and I were still uncertain which children had enough gifts or even what exactly we’d managed to pile in shopping bags and Amazon boxes all over the floor of our walk-in closet. But somehow we pulled it all off. Again. By midnight Christmas Eve the living room was glowing with wrapped and labelled presents and, by 7:00 the following morning, Christmas lights were on in an otherwise still dark house, Christmas music was playing, and eight kids were happily eating stocking treats and exclaiming their thanks and excitement over their overly generous piles of gifts.

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Pulling all of that together at the tail-end of a month full of events and activities, birthdays and parties might have been seen as a perfect climax – one that should have been followed by putting our feet up and refusing to budge for a solid week or two. But . . . no. We’d finally finished our basement – well, mostly. Shower curtains and bathroom mirrors still need hung, and paint cans and tools still need to be cleared out; but, never mind that, we immediately began moving and arranging every single child in our house into new sleeping quarters – taking down and putting up beds and cribs, changing dressers, unearthing piles of toys and clothes from closets and cupboards in rooms where too many kids had kept too many things for too long. It wasn’t a simple or clean (or grump-free) process! And, mixed with it all, we had new Christmas toys and gifts, and the house all cluttered with December’s decorating . . . which is why, while we were in the midst of transferring clothes from this dresser to that, and sorting things to get rid of, it struck me as a perfectly reasonable time to start taking down all our Christmas decorations (to pile on the table and then fit into storage boxes). Mike surprised me with new couches for Christmas, so we also hauled those in and unwrapped them from their giant boxes (which of course had to become forts for the kids), our old couch was squashed in the entryway while we waited for a family member who wanted it to come pick it up, the loveseat was moved to our room while we rearranged further. Mike had to work all week. Yet somehow, miraculously, some semblance of order seems to have landed here now, and, with the tornado-like whirlwind it all came out of, I’m mystified as to how it possibly happened. (Particularly since we also managed to fit in an especially happy birthday for me and a slightly-too-busy 17th wedding anniversary.)

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Anyway, now we can finally do something nice and relaxing to help life take on a predictable, calm pace again. Like . . . have a new baby. (!!!) (In truth, for being slightly against this whole business of forcing room changes all mixed in with Christmas, I am hugely relieved to have gotten the bulk of it done before having a newborn in the mix. [A two-year-old and a one-year–old in the mix was already . . . rather enough.])

Taken Care Of

It was a fall Sunday during our engagement. Mike and I had ridden with my parents down to the old Ogden tabernacle to attend stake conference and were just returning. The weather – gray and cold and drizzly – made our winter wedding seem closer than ever. As we walked up the driveway, just ahead of my parents, Mike took off his suit jacket and put it around my shoulders. It was a small thing. We were only steps from the house. Later however my dad told me that watching the gesture had made him feel very emotional. “That is just the very thing I have done for you before,” he explained. “And watching Mike put that jacket over your shoulders felt symbolic to me – like passing off some mantle of authority.” It had been his duty as a father to care for me – to protect and keep me safe, and suddenly he realized he was passing that responsibility to another. There was no one, he told me, that he trusted more to take over that role for me.

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I’d been married for a number of years – in fact, I had quiet a few of my own children now under my belt – when I was over visiting my parents one day. My dad told me about a dream he’d had just the night before. I was small in his dream. Just a child again. We were at church and I was up on the stand ready to give a little speaking part in the program. As I got closer to the podium however, I became terribly afraid. My dad caught my eyes in his dream. He locked his gaze with mine and nodded -- whispering encouragingly, “You can do it! You can do it!”, but little me started to cry. My dad immediately rushed to my side, knelt next to me and whispered the little speech into my ear. It was so real, he told me, that when he woke, he actually got choked up and teary missing that tiny little girl and missing taking care of her.

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Just this summer, during one of my final visits with my dad, when his mind was fading in and out of this world, I walked into his hospital room, kissed his bald head, and sat next to him on his bed holding his hand. He smiled, but then seemed to become slightly confused and agitated. “Where’s Mike?” he asked me.

“He’s just at home,” I assured him. “He’s taking care of the kids so I can be here with you.”

He nodded, but then, still anxious, added, “Will he be here? To take care of you?”

I hadn’t been sure up to that point if he knew he was dying. I wasn’t even sure if I knew he was dying, but I knew it then, and I knew that part of him knew it as well; and that one of the last things he wanted to be sure of was that his tenth child would be taken care of – that she would be in good hands. For him, knowing I would be OK was equivalent to knowing I had Mike – the same man he’d turned over the duty of putting a jacket ‘round my shoulders to all those years ago.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Details

I seem to recall watching some little news segment on occasion where the news of the world is summed up in 60 seconds of quick headline announcing. Whenever I see it, parts of me want to hold out a hand here and there to shout, “Wait! Hold up! What’s the full story on that? Slow down!” But another part of me enjoys the speedy rundown of so much information. Perhaps I should try something similar here?

Thanksgiving we made our own meal. Mette finally learned to walk. Summer began climbing repeatedly out of her crib. Mike and the older three are off at a late night showing of Star Wars as I type. I discovered Jesse and Anders sleeping in a makeshift tent after I put them to bed tonight. We are down to less than a month ‘til this baby is due. My back is constantly pinched. Abe turned 16. Jesse turned eight. Someone in the family seems to have some pressing obligation every single night this month. Our basement is almost truly finished. Nearly 24 hours of rain has gotten rid of all our snow.

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Hm. Well, it was fairly efficient, but I must admit it felt a bit empty. There is maybe an interesting element of intrigue involved with the questions that linger after such quick statements. But it pained me not to tell the rest. Details are my favorite. I wanted to tell about how poorly our pie crusts turned out (and how terrible and rubbery my banana cream filling was) but how much I loved all the simple Thanksgiving traditions with just Mike and my kids. I wanted to tell how Mette never looked back on crawling once walking became an option – even though it’s meant going markedly slower, and how, a week or two in, she still waddles slightly penguin like with her arms held up and out in squares for balance, and how her favorite thing used to be crawling around the house with shoes on her hands but now, when she puts them on her hands, she just looks slightly lost and sadly disillusioned as shoed hands don’t carry the same appeal for her up in the air as they did thumping along the tile. I wanted to tell how the tent I found the little boys in was made by hanging a blanket down from Jesse’s top bunk to form a cozy enclosure over Anders lower bunk and how startled I was to find them actually sleeping rather than fighting or giggling. I wanted to tell about the wildness of December birthdays for someone who never has even Christmas gifts purchased ahead of time, and about the exhaustion of not being able to put Summer in her crib and know she’ll stay there, and about not being able to fit in even a small portion of the Christmas traditions I have wanted to due to how many other things have come up for everyone this month, and about my feelings of both excitement and stress as I consider all the moving kids to new rooms and shuffling other kids about in the older rooms (and the chaos and mess that will surely be a part of it) landing most-likely right about the same time as this baby boy of ours arrives. 

And I guess . . . I did just tell those things. Was that cheating? Well, never mind. Here are a few other “details”:

Always always this blanket is snuggled directly under Anders’ nose.

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And, before the rains, we really did get a lot of snow.

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And it seems everyone has had a choir concert or a recital (or both) this month. Here Daisy and Penny are just before their piano one.

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And, since our anniversary lands at the end of December, I often reminisce during this month on the excitement of that December just prior to our marriage. We were attending universities 90 minutes away from one another, trying to find our first apartment, studying for finals, sneaking off on the long drive to see each other when we should have been studying for finals, gathering addresses and sending out wedding invitations, and holding still for wedding dress fittings (my mom sewed my wedding dress – it was amazing – I actually had someone ask me if it was a Vera Wang). This photo wasn’t the one in our invitation, but it’s always hung on our fridge. It makes me happy every time I look at it. When I posted this picture on Instagram I speculated that maybe we were laughing so hard because someone had just said, “17 years from now you’ll be about to have your ninth child!”

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All right, well, for details being my “favorite” and all, I’ve managed to detail myself out. Here are a few last detail-less photos and then off to bed with all of you. Or, at least, off to bed with me. (Except probably I’ll stay up and read and wait to hear the verdict on Star Wars from Mike and the kids.)

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OK, one last little detail: that last black and white picture? The one of Summer? It looks exactly like little me. I texted it to my sisters and my younger sister actually thought I’d sent an old photo of me that I’d come across.

All right. Really. The end.

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