Goggles, a Strainer, and a Glorious Lounge Chair

“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.  

Adventures in Growing a Human 

Best Of All

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.  

Baby bump

Ocean Treasures

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. 

4 + 1 = Life’s Next Big Adventure

I sat in a familiar waiting room while my foot bounced up and down, releasing nervous energy out into the quiet air. The lab results were taking way too long, and I sensed it. There was no way I’d be on time to my next appointment. What could possibly be taking so long?  

My mind walked through my current to-do list:
1. Visit my endocrinologist’s office to run a few lab tests. Check.
2. Drive to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
3. Ingest tracer dose of radioactive iodine.
4. Isolate at my parents’ house for two days.
5. Whole body scan to compare current radioactive iodine uptake to last year’s results. Hopefully, it would be low, meaning all thyroid cells, cancerous and not, had been destroyed.

I would never make it past the first item on my list.

The nurse came to the doorway and called my name, “Sarah?”  

I grabbed my purse and walked toward her. If I drove like a maniac, I might still make it on time. She leaned against the wall in the hallway while she explained, “Your test came back positive.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Look, right here,” she pointed at some words on the paper in her hand. Meanwhile, I stared dumbfounded.

“You’re pregnant. Congratulations! I guess you won’t be taking the radioactive iodine this morning.”

“You’re joking,” I stammered. 

“No, I’m really not. You’re pregnant.”  

Life can be so utterly fascinating. I thought I would be taking a radioactive pill that morning, but instead, drove home with a different variety of pills – a bottle of prenatal vitamins. This is how I know that God has one hell of a sense of humor!

I wish I could say that in those first moments, I was struck with overwhelming joy, but the truth of the matter is I was absolutely scared to death. My whole world changed in an instant and I was working to make sense of what it all meant. I had finally come up for air after spending years suffocating below the surface. My mind replayed one thought over and over again: what if I go back under?

It wouldn’t take long for the wave to find me. My thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was purposefully sent over 100 in preparation for the radioactive iodine, and it took weeks to bring it back into the normal range (for me, as close to zero as possible). Additionally, on my doctor’s advice I stopped my antidepressant cold turkey, which I realize in hindsight was not the best strategy. Discontinuation syndrome took over as the increased supply of serotonin in my brain was shut off too quickly. I spent weeks right back in the dark place I had just escaped. Slowly, serotonin levels began to rise on their own, but the waiting game was unbearable. Add all this to the regular pregnancy woes and here’s what you are left with: a crumbling, exhausted mess that once resembled a person.  

However, as the end of the first trimester draws closer, I’m feeling much better. I’ve come back up for air. My thyroid hormone levels are closer to normal; I survived the discontinuation syndrome, and I am almost out of the hardships that characterize the first trimester. I spent weeks uncertain if I would actually be able to stay off the antidepressant. I still worry about postpartum. But the good news is that I know what to look for. I’m not so foolish as to think I don’t need to take care of myself, and I’m learning how to ask for help when I need it.  

For many years, Jamie and I have talked about the possibility of having a third child. We are third children ourselves, and I’ve long suspected the third child born from third children would certainly be one amazing child. However, we were leaning toward being content as a family of four. I’d only recently begun to feel like myself again, our kids were getting older and less needy, and I simply wasn’t feeling all that brave in the Grow Your Family Department.

This little one is helping us to reconsider.  

Each new day, I close the door on all the expectations I have for how my life “should” be and instead, commit myself to all that is real and true. I laugh right along with God. I decide that my mantra for 2017 is without a doubt, “Trust the timing of your life.”  

I’m trusting something bigger than myself. I’m seeing the gift I have been blessed with. And the timing of it all was indeed, miraculous. Had my doctor’s appointment been any earlier in the month, it’s unlikely that my pregnancy would have been detected. I would have taken the radioactive iodine, and I’m sure our baby would not have survived.  

So we are carving out space in our hearts and in our home for this new little one. We are also carving out space in my body. I’m sporting a round pooch that makes you wonder how many times I over indulged at Chipotle this week. I may have already gained 12 pounds. Pants are my enemy. I’m exhausted. I’m starving. Holy moly, I’m growing a baby! 

Jackson wants to go ahead and bring all the infant stuff out of the basement so we’ll be ready. He tells anyone who will listen that we are having a baby. With eyes opened wide in amazement he confides, “It’s the size of a blueberry!”  

At day’s end, I follow behind four feet marching up the stairs. There are books and songs and whispers as I tuck two little boys into warm beds. Kisses are exchanged and then one small voice says, “I need to kiss the baby goodnight.”  

It makes me smile as I reply, “That’s a great idea, Jackson. Our baby is so lucky to have a big brother like you.” He scoots close on the bed and bends down, placing his puckered lips on my growing belly. “Mwah!”  

And just like that, love overshadows all of my worries, all of my doubts and every single last one of my fears.  

No, Libby!

A tribute to our wild, spirited, Libby; modeled after David Shannon’s “No, David!”

“No, Libby!”

“Bad girl!”

“No, Libby, no! Don’t pee in the house!”

“Drop it, Libby!”

“No, not my lunch!”

“Don’t jump the fence!!”  !#%@

“Come back here, Libby! Treats! Treats!”

“Good girl, Libby! Yes, of course we love you!”

The Best Words To Wake Up To

I was awake, but still in bed. The first rays of light were peaking through the blinds on a cold December morning. Both Parker and Jackson were still cozy in their beds and I decided it was a luxury I’d grant myself as well. The radiant heat of full night’s rest was trapped beneath my heavy comforter and I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind.

My mind wandered through the day before – it had been both fast paced and productive. I had driven up to Christiansburg early in the morning to get Libby spayed, embarked on a trail run at Pandapas, and then shopped excessively for Christmas before picking Libby up after surgery and heading back down the mountain. I had barely seen my boys in all the hustle of a full day’s worth of errands.

Suddenly, the high pitched screech of a creaky door knob broke the silence. I heard the crash of an old door being thrown open just down the hallway. Two small bare feet pounded across the wood floor. They turned the corner and headed downstairs. I smiled when I heard the words that accompanied those two marching feet. The words were soft, breathless, and filled with anticipation.  

“Ma – ma, Ma – ma, Ma – ma,” Parker whispered to himself.

As my ears soaked up his sweet song, I realized that I was the first person he thought of when he woke up. Me! Of all the amazing people in the world, he couldn’t wait to see me, his Ma – ma.

I climbed out of bed and noticed the air wasn’t nearly as cold as I thought it would be outside the warmth of my covers. I suspected that this had everything to do with the sweet voice I’d just heard outside my doorway.  

I retraced his foot steps down the stairs as my heart sang, “Par – ker, Par – ker, Par – ker,” the whole way. 

“Good morning, Monkey!” I smiled as I hugged his tiny frame.  

It certainly was, all because I was a little boy’s Mama.

Meet Libby

Our family has grown again. First there were dogs, then there were kids, then there were chickens. Now we are back to adding a sweet dog, Libby Jane. Here’s what we have learned about her in the short week she has been with us.

1. She’s already Jamie’s girl. He learned about Libby when a friend sent him her picture and information from an animal shelter in Montgomery County. He drove up there to meet her and, of course, fell in love immediately. She came home with him that afternoon and has followed him around ever since. When he leaves for work, she paces through the house frantically searching for him. Already, there’s a whole lot of love. 

2. She’s a snuggler. Despite her 60+ pounds, she thinks she’s a lap dog and will lay on top of you while you relax on the sofa.  

3. Which reminds me, I had planned to keep her off the sofa completely. You know that dog smell that gets in the cushions and the way the fabric rips with time? I was hoping to avoid that all together and train her that the sofa was off limits. This is how that is going:

4. She loves to be outside. We spent our first evening watching her fetch tennis balls and race through the yard with the boys.

 Then she took an interest in the chickens, running round and round the coop. Eventually she pawed at the chicken wire and very quickly pushed the caging up enough to get into the coop. Mayhem erupted. Feathers flew. Screams echoed. Libby cornered and pinned one of the chickens, but Jamie got into the coop to grab her just as I opened the door so the chickens could all escape. In the end, the chickens survived unscathed. But they have lost some freedom until we Libby proof their run.  

5. She’s an expert at sneaking food off the table. Recently, I left my toast unattended for a few seconds. When I returned, the plate was empty and she was gobbling down my breakfast.  

6. There’s a lot of puppy still in her. Our house is the perfect treasure trove of random plastic bite-sized toys. She has found fifty percent of them and chewed them into a plastic pulp. In a few more days, my house should be less cluttered as we lose the other fifty percent to her teeth. 

7. I’ve always heard that dogs will not poop in their crates. I just want to clarify that this is a falsehood, folks.  I’ll spare you the picture. 

8. The last week has brought an intense wave of poop and pee into my life. A lot of it is not exactly her fault. We had to take her to the vet for an ear infection and learned that she has probably had a severe infection for most of her life. She’s on a host of medicines to resolve this issue, one of them being prednisone, which makes her have to potty quite frequently. Hopefully her ears will be healed up soon and she’ll progress toward peeing in the grass instead of the basement floor.  

9. Life just got a whole lot more messy and crazy at our house. I didn’t think that was even possible. Yet, I’m fairly certain it will all be worth it, for we are quite smitten with our Libby.