Four is parading to the curb in a rainstorm with a red pillow perched atop your head as a makeshift umbrella. It’s catching salamanders at the lake and picking your nose first thing each and every morning. It’s rocking on the front porch without a stitch of clothing and laughing about poops and toots and burps at every opportunity granted.
Four is a nasally “whhhhy?” expelled after nearly every statement made.
Go put some clothes on. Whhhhhyy?
We don’t pee off the front porch. Whhhhhy?
Dinner is ready. Whhhhhhy?
Help put all the dinosaurs away. Whhhhhy? Whhhhy? Whhhhhy?
Four is cheeks that turn fiery red on summer days. It’s sweat soaked blonde hair and the musk of earth in your clothes. It’s long, lean legs racing down the sidewalk trying to keep up with big brother on a scooter. It’s playing so hard you fall asleep at 4:30 in the afternoon and don’t wake up until the next day.
Four is an absence of the the letter “l.” It’s “wook at me” and “I wove you.” It’s cleaning the storm door while wearing a pair of swim goggles, and looking pretty darn cute as you go about your work. So what if most of the glass is still smudged. You gave it a hearty effort.
Four is loving peanut butter sandwiches, applesauce, and ketchup. It’s sneaking into kitchen cabinets for cinnamon and baking soda so that you can do your own science “spearmint.” It’s spending time each day in a whirlwind of adventure, mischief and curiosity.
Four years ago, our eyes fell upon Parker James for the the very first time. It was just after one in the morning when his tiny frame was wrapped snugly into a blanket burrito and placed into my tired arms. He was soft and fresh and miraculous. Four years later, he is still quite soft, not nearly so fresh, but every bit as miraculous.
In the last few months we’ve made some progress around the house as I’ve gone full tilt into nesting mode. We’ve purged a great deal of random stuff, organized cabinets and closets throughout the house, cleaned out the fridge for the first time since moving, and prepared a small room for our little one.
But despite all this effort, it seems that every morning I awaken to a minefield of mess. It’s scattered across the floor and glaring at me from cups and dishes that haven’t yet made it to the dishwasher. I try to remember that yes, we do LIVE in this house, which means our house will look lived in. However, there’s a part of me that craves order and functional space.
Presently, exhaustion is my biggest enemy. I don’t recall this level of tiredness with either of my other pregnancies, though I was much younger and generally, a bit more pleasant back then. It’s a bone tired. A vacuuming-the-living-room-has-left-me-spent kind of tired. An I could fall asleep at a red light sort of exhaustion. A tired that makes taking a shower feel as difficult as running a marathon.
So today, I needed to shower AND I needed the house cleaned up – a double whammy. I dragged myself off the sofa and explained to the boys that after I took my shower, we would all be cleaning up the downstairs. Then I had an epiphany. If they were good helpers, I’d let them spend a little bit of time playing some games on my iPad.
I felt like a rockstar as I trudged upstairs. This is how amazing moms function at 37 weeks pregnant, I told myself. I got this. Bribery has some very real benefits and I planned to make use of them all during these final weeks.
I showered and dried my hair and not surprisingly, felt unwell after such an undertaking. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the energy required to move 35 extra pounds everywhere I go, but it leaves me quite miserable. I came downstairs completely out of breath.
As I rounded the corner I heard feet stomping out of the kitchen and two voices whispering, “Here she comes! Here she comes!”
This usually means a disaster has occurred. I braced myself for the mess that usually accompanies one of their science “spearmints” gone bad. Cinnamon and baking soda would be scattered across the countertops. Or maybe instead, a weeks worth of applesauce pouches were consumed in thirty minutes. I walked into the living room and saw rug fibers unobscured by Mario figures, game cards and pieces picked up, blocks put away and two little boys smiling sheepishly.
I collapsed on the sofa in joy. “Ohhhhh! You cleaned up! Thank you, boys.” I pulled them close and gave them each a bear hug.
The room was certainly not Pinterest worthy. But it was good enough for today. And like life, the best of it isn’t often nestled in being perfect, but in being present. And presently, my three and five year old had given their exhausted, pregnant mother a room she could easily walk through, and they’d done it without requiring a hint of nagging on my part. Hallelujah!
“Can we get on the iPad now, Mama?”
“Yes, yes you can, boys.” I spent the next twenty minutes plopped uncomfortably in a chair, still waiting for my breathing to return to normal. The boys took turns playing Subway Surfers, trading every 7 minutes, and as I watched them sitting hip to hip on the sofa, I knew I had much to be thankful for.
“Can I wear them, Mommy? Can I?” Jackson asked as he held up a pair of neon green goggles. They didn’t belong to us, but we were alone on the shore of Loch Haven and I didn’t see the harm in borrowing them for the afternoon. “Just be sure you take really good care of them,” I replied.
I adjusted the straps and we worked together to pull them tightly over his head. A little bug-eyed five-year-old grinned back at me. Then his feet splashed quickly away from the shore.
His first investigation was rooted in exploring the world below the surface of the water. “Do you think I should put my head under water?” he called across the lake. I nodded my approval from shore, and surprisingly that was all it took. For the very first time he held his breath and tilted his face down into the murky water. He looked for salamanders hiding in the sand for a while, and then Parker placed different objects down below for him to spy. An afternoon was spent exploring a completely new world below the surface of the water, a world Jackson had never seen before.
Sometimes, it’s the littlest thing that is holding us back. Forget the giant walls, the sweeping chasms. Sometimes gaining access to the simplest tool has the ability to transform the world as we know it. It turns out, a great adventure can even be hidden in someone else’s neon green goggles.
Parker, too, uncovered a small jewel that day in the form of a plastic strainer. Last summer, we spent a great deal of time pursuing salamanders, though I was the only one who ever managed to snag one. Not anymore. Parker was transformed into a steadfast salamander catcher with the help of his strainer.
He waded through the water until he spied one resting on the sand below. Then he plunged the strainer underwater and as the salamander tried to flee, he’d scoop it below the belly and bring it quickly to the surface. Sometimes, the salamander got away, but a great many times the strainer would rise supporting a shiny creature. His new tool offered him access to a newfound ability.
I joined the boys in making a discovery as well. While they were engaged in unrelenting action, I found a bit of stillness. I plopped by pregnant body down on a weathered throne, also known as a lounge chair, and watched the day unfold from the sidelines. In years to come, I imagine this summer will be fondly remembered as “my lounge chair summer.” It is the first one in a long time that doesn’t require me to chase little people around. And perhaps it’s especially sweet because I am supremely aware of all the change that will soon be upon us. Next year, I’ll leave the lounge chair behind once again and return to the sacred act of corralling tiny feet.
But not on that day.
That day, I stretched out long in the sunshine and watched the beauty around me – the birds calling from shaded branches, the shimmering lake surface, the grins on two little boys’ faces as they explored their newfound worlds and I basked in the joy that a pair of goggles, a strainer and a lounge chair can bring to those who behold them.
1. Food. My whole day revolves around eating and goes something like this: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack. Coffee ice cream every night? Sure. Cherry pie before breakfast? Why not! Other favorites are french fries, watermelon, and macaroni and cheese. It is no wonder I’ve gained as much weight to date as I did during my entire pregnancy with Parker. The feast is in full effect.
2. Nesting. My house hasn’t been this clean since…well, since I was pregnant with Parker. I am deep into clearing out the clutter, throwing away all the junk we’ve acquired, and organizing all of my life into tidy boxes with labels. Cue the chorus of angels singing. You may be wondering if I’m purging any of my boys’ clothing to make way for pink. The answer is no. Not yet. The theme for this pregnancy will be “surprise” from the beginning all the way until we meet this sweet little one.
3. Quickening. I’m fairly certain I’ve felt acrobatics for months. With each passing week the movements grow in strength and now the jabs and kicks can be felt by a hand resting on my belly. Stirs and whirls flutter within. I am amazed each and every time. Each movement is a small reminder of how miraculous it is to grow a life.
Worst Of All
1. Food. By the end of the day, there is no more space inside my torso. It’s jam packed with organs, a baby, and several pounds of food. But ice cream is my favorite, so I help myself to one more bowl after dinner. That last serving is what pushes me over the edge toward unrelenting discomfort. The rest of the evening I have the distinct feeling that must accompany a sausage as it’s stuffed into the casing.
2. Veins. It’s warmed up enough for me to consider wearing shorts. However, when I looked down and saw a 75-year-old leg attached to my body, it was a bit horrifying. The arachnids responsible for my spider veins are certainly working overtime. My right calf is splayed with fine purple webs that make me suited and ready for Halloween festivities. Not to be out done, varicose veins are throbbing their way through the same calf. I’ve been informed I should wear stockings to combat these little boogers. We shall see how that goes in the summer heat.
3. Peeing. Not just frequently, but also on my clothing. When I was a kid, a friend and I used to laugh hysterically when our conversation turned to her mother’s incontinence. Now, I realize that karma really does come around. I tend to get a cough each spring, but it’s always worse when I’m pregnant. This year, I get the added bonus of sometimes peeing on myself when a coughing fit seizes my body. Cough, cough, gusssshhh. Hello, extra laundry!
Most Important Of All
This is the first pregnancy I’ve been able to maintain a consistent exercise routine. As I’ve mentioned before, during my other pregnancies I mostly laid on the couch Homer Simpson style while eating ice cream and watching “The Biggest Loser.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was the place I needed to be all those years ago.
Now, I’m in a different place.
Weeks ago, I drove up to Blacksburg through a rainstorm to meet my Tuesday morning running group at Pandapas Pond. As the rain fell in spurts across my windshield, I couldn’t help but notice my growing belly extending toward the steering wheel. “Who runs in the rain while they are pregnant?” I asked myself. “This is crazy.”
I sat with the weight of my question and then I did something important. I gave it away. Instead, I thought of all the good it does me to get outside, to move my body, and to see good friends. The answer to my question was right in my rear view mirror. “Me. I run in the rain.” I decided there is basically only one set of rules that really matter to me, and they are my own. As long as I live by them, I shall live well.
The world is full of walls, some real and some imagined. The walls that are hardest to break through are the ones that we have unknowingly built around ourselves. Instead of doubting myself for being a pregnant woman who plans to run in the rain, I decided pull out the wrecking ball. I have the ability to change my rules, to alter my mindset, to reexamine the framework I operate under. I have a responsiblity to seek and follow my personal truths.
I’ve been reading “The Joy Diet” by Martha Beck and have fallen in love with her idea of pairing seemingly dissimilar interests together in our lives. We shatter imaginary boundaries when we learn to weave together unique components within our life story. We become intententional, we get creative, we seek out fulfillment. I don’t have to be pregnant OR a runner. I can, in fact, be both. I suspect that this concept was a driving force when we took small children on a trip overseas. Somewhere deep down I knew that I could be a parent AND travel across the world. I didn’t have to choose one or the other.
Though I was certainly ready to face the rain that day, I ended up missing it entirely. As I drew closer to Pandapas, the drops became intermittent. Before my running group started down the trail, the rain had ceased all together.
I waddled through the greening woods with one of my favorite running partners resting right on top of my bladder. Then I said a silent prayer to the pee Gods that I’d make it to the bathroom with enough time to spare.
On the first day of spring, I stood at our back door and noted the curtain of fabric bulging from the wall-mounted coat rack in our kitchen. This solid fortress of extra clothing exposed winter’s fierce and unpredictable temperament.
The wall was overflowing with coats for every option of weather, for each member of our family. It held my black down coat for the coldest days, Jamie’s rain jacket, a hooded winter coat for both boys, a fleece jacket for me, a fleece jacket for Jamie, Jackson’s hunter green hoodie, a lightweight coat for Parker, and quite a few more. So many, many coats.
My eyes had grown tired of looking upon this jumbled mess, and I decided the excess of scarves and hats and coats was no longer needed. After all, spring had officially arrived.
I lifted each winter coat off its metal hanger and draped it over my left forearm, where the heaping stack grew and grew and grew. Then I delivered them to a bedroom closet for safekeeping until next winter.
When I returned to the kitchen I glanced in the corner and noticed the newfound space unveiled. The hangers were no longer overburdened with layers of fabric. A lightness had returned and I sensed the space could once again breathe easy.
I had felt the same lightness earlier that morning when I awoke to the sound of little boys squealing with laughter. The feeling persisted as Parker chased rowdy birds and squirrels on the front lawn before preschool. No coats were needed as we raced out the door and climbed into our champagne minivan. Jackson pleaded with me to crank up Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” so that not a soul we passed on the road could possibly doubt all the sunshine in his pocket.
Lightness was riding proudly through the spring air and nestled in the empty spaces around my coat rack. It was pulsing out our van windows and soaring within me. Where had it come from?
In short, everywhere.
It is in the collective blooms of lavender phlox and in three-year-olds who utter “Mama” every sixth word they speak. It is there as we eat peanut butter sandwiches on the front porch and in the vibrant trills and calls of birds just before daybreak. It is in music and motion and the sun as it warms my aging skin. It is there when I write, when I give a voice to my own truths. It is there as our heaviest coats fall away, as our shoulders and our hearts are set free from the weight they have carried.
Farewell long winter!
Farewell heavy, heavy coats!
Both Jackson and Parker shed their shoes and socks by a wooden staircase connecting our hotel to the ocean. Then, two barefoot boys race toward the rolling waves. They bound across soft fine sand, tiptoe over a narrow layer of coarse broken shells, and finally sink into the cold wet sand by the sea. The wind upends their golden hair as the orange sun sinks lower in the horizon.
Neither boy has any memory of the ocean. Parker has not ventured to the seaside until now, and Jackson is far too young to recall the days he spent on the shore as an infant, feasting on fistfuls of wet sand.
A stranger approaches Parker and kindly gives him a plastic baggie to collect shells and other treasures. He scours the landscape with gusto, placing any shell that strikes his fancy into the bag – cockle shells, fragments of grey and white and deep purple, some showcasing tiny holes throughout, large and sturdy chunks, some that are thin and delicate.
Next, pant legs are rolled up, exposing knobby knees as the boys walk out into the frigid water. They stomp and splash and dance in circles. A wave crashes and they jump the layer of sprawling water as it glides toward us.
I now know there is no saving a boy’s pants once he walks into the ocean. First the cuffs grow wet, and with each passing wave, the water creeps upward through the darkening fabric. Eventually, fleeing an extra large wave, they kick copious amounts of water through the air and find their pants completely drenched. They don’t seem to mind.
I smile as I watch their elation before the vast Atlantic. I call to them, “Come back this way, boys! You’re out too far!” Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, I wade out into the water to retrieve a stubborn three-year-old.
Eventually, Parker jumps a wave and loses his balance. He topples into the ocean fully clothed; only his head remains dry. I run toward him and pull him back up to his feet. His face is both surprised and joyful. He stands tall in the receding water, more resolved than ever to jump the next wave.
Then, two ladies walking along the shore holler to me, “Your shoe! Your shoe!” I turn around to see my running shoe riding out to sea as the ocean retreats. I bolt toward it, soaking the bottom of my pants as I retrieve the wayward shoe. I have now joined the ranks of those wearing wet clothes in the ocean and decide I’m in excellent company. The good in life resides right here in the water, in the waves, in the action, as two little boys must already know.
Eventually, the boys bid farewell to the ocean through chattering teeth. Their clothes are soaked with salt water and sand clings to the sides of their reddened feet. Slowly, they wander back toward the staircase, toting the baggie full of treasures they’ve found along the shoreline.
My own hands rest empty at my side as I shuffle along behind two shivering forms. Yet, I am certain that I, too, now carry the treasures of the ocean with me.
Sometimes, life keeps sending the same lesson my way over and over again. I suppose it’s the world’s way of casually mentioning that I haven’t been paying attention too well. Maybe I think that I’m learning and growing, but the reality is that I’m quick to fall back into old habits. So, life answers my resistance by again presenting a situation that asks me to rethink what I know, to question the person I am or the person I hope to be.
Months ago, my friend Mike and I were running through town comparing notes on our thyroid-less lives when he suggested I write about how it is okay to walk. I knew exactly what he meant – we have an expectation for what we should be able to accomplish, for how it should look as we go about our business. It’s easy to cling to that notion instead of offering ourselves much needed grace in the face of hardship. When our lungs are achey and our muscles are tired, it’s fine to slow down and start walking. The same rule applies to life. Some days, some circumstances warrant a pace that seems less than desirable.
I struggle to accept this, and perhaps that is exactly why the concept keeps showing up in my life.
I saw the coming year as a chance for a little comeback. After running with Mike on and off for six years, we had made plans to take on a marathon together. Not only do we share a love for running, but we are also connected by being diagnosed with thyroid cancer within six months of each other. The marathon was a way to reclaim our old selves, while claiming victory over the cancer that has challenged us.
But the world had other plans for me. Pregnancy has asked me to get more comfortable walking in my running shoes. My distances have decreased and my pace has slowed significantly. These days, I’m doing more walking than running.
I was asked to walk again when I stopped taking my antidepressant. The very first thing I noticed was that if I were going to stay off it, I was going to have to reshape my expectations for myself. I watched the rush around me; the minutes filled to the brim with constant activity, endless commitments, and it left me feeling overwhelmed by the hustle of life. I could keep up with it all when I took my daily dose of Celexa, but off it, I yearn for a slower pace.
Thus, I consider all the things I value in this life. I turn each over carefully in my heart and make a decision. Some things stay and some things I leave behind for now. I simply cannot do everything I think I should be able to accomplish. I keep those that revitalize; those that bring joy; those that offer love. I have to accept my limits and know that today, a little slower, a little less to do, is the best gift I can offer myself. I keep walking.
Weeks ago, I was out with our black lab Libby when I wrapped my finger in her leash the wrong way. She lunged forward with full force, crunching one bone into four. If you’re going to break a finger, the middle finger is definitely the best one to break. I get a free pass at flipping the bird for the next few months, which has offered extensive comic relief. I was pissed and slightly amused as I considered that the same lesson was once again revealing itself.
This is gonna slow you down even more, but keep on walking, my mind whispered.
It seems we are acutely aware of what we are missing, and the truth is that we are always missing something. But even in the absence of one longing, we are in the presence of another. It’s a battle of the mind. Seeing what we have, instead of lamenting that which is just out of reach.
I remember how the earth slows down during the winter months. She seems to know that going full speed is an unsustainable venture and so in the quiet of winter she rests. She, too, takes up walking in her running shoes. The cold air moves through empty branches. Darkness falls early. Flurries glide through grey skies and settle on the frozen ground. Winter is a season rooted in dormancy. Winter knows me well.
I still type at my keyboard with my nine working fingers. I still sneak out to Pandapas every Tuesday morning and wander through the forest with some of my favorite people. I still smile and read and laugh and cry.
Still I walk.
I walk down uneven sidewalks, over the coarse yellowed lawn, on a soft trail of pine needles, along the lakeshore, uphill and downhill, through an alcove of rhododendron, over stones in a creek. I breath in slowly, deeply, and think to myself, What a lucky, lucky fool am I!
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -MLK