Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Baby Makes Six - Finding Out

It's hard to believe that when I wrote my last post on January 1, I was pregnant and didn't know it yet.  And we thought 2013 was challenging!

About a week later, the night before Robb's birthday, I was planning to go out the next day and trying to decide between re-joining the gym or pricing out treadmills.  I had it in my head that I would go out shopping the next day for Robb's birthday presents and would make a decision about the fitness needs of this family.  I'd missed the gym since Robb lost his job back in September, but the kids were begging for a treadmill for here at home, which had some appeal.  I just couldn't think where the best place to put it would be.

For some reason I felt as though I couldn't quite make my decision without answering the nagging question of "Shouldn't I be getting some kind of monthly visitor soon?"  If I had looked at a calendar with any focus at all, I would have realized something was terribly amiss.  But more than a few months ago, Robb had gotten sick of my "frequent" (I say rare) freak outs about being pregnant and had quietly started charting it out for his own mental health, and knowing that he had the information on his little spreadsheet somewhere kept me from bothering to even check for myself.  I mentioned it to him and he breezily mentioned I was due, in the same way he would approximate if we had money in the bank for a pizza.

Looking back, I realize we had gotten very casual indeed on the topic of a pregnancy.  More than five years ago or more, we had decided to try for another baby, but as the months went by, nothing happened. Our lives were too full to chase the dream very hard and as years passed, we came to believe that we were just too old for this sort of thing.  I grieved being "old and dried up"  and Robb made jokes about being much too winded and we simply stopped thinking about it, except for those rare times when it seemed like I might be a whole hour or two "late."  We even had a little stash of pregnancy tests on hand.  One by one, they would turn up negative, we would feel disappointment and then relief.  Followed by the thought that maybe we should do "something permanent"  about all this, which just never seemed right either.  My mom has always said, "When you're done having kids, you know it."  I would puzzle over that, but couldn't quite agree.  I didn't know.  Robb didn't seem to know either.  The kids consistently asked for a little brother or sister, to the point where I asked them to stop because it made me feel badly.   So many times, I would begin to set the table and grab six plates instead of five.  We'd all be sitting in the living-room, watching tv, and I would stifle the urge to call upstairs for "somebody else" to come down and make the circle complete.  I chalked it up to growing up with a family of four kids, but I couldn't shake the feeling that someone was missing.  And all the while, Robb would turn into a squealing little girl whenever we saw a tiny baby out in public.  He would crinkle his eyes into a tight smile over little sleepers and say, "Just one more." And I would reply dryly, not because I was opposed, but because I felt helplessly incapable.  

So as that day turned into night, I waited for the kids to go to bed and then informed Robb that I was going to take that pregnancy test.  It was the last one in the cupboard.  He suggested that I wait until the end of the week.  Or maybe after I had a glass of wine.  I told him I just wanted to get it over with. It would be negative and I would be sad and have some wine and go to sleep and get up and go shopping the next day and forget about it. 

We have a quirky thing in this marriage.  I don't take pregnancy tests alone.  Sorry if that's TMI, but when your husband is flawlessly egalitarian, he says, "You didn't get pregnant alone, so you don't get to find out alone."  I joke back that "It's my body" and he retorts with "It's my baby."  There is no winning this little argument, and so I have long since abandoned my fantasies about how I would break the news to him.  We're in this together.  And having done it so many times, we have a ritual and rules: The chief of which is "No looking until after three minutes, just like the timer says."

But this time, as I handed him the test, he glanced at it in an obvious fracture of the rules. Before I could holler "foul" his face morphed into a facefull of disbelief so aggrandized, I was certain he was joking. And then he held the joke for one millisecond  longer than what was actually funny.  And then the world started spinning a bit and I steadied myself against his sink in the bathroom, while he slid down the glass door of the shower, onto the floor with the test still in his hand, still staring at it, still mouth agape.


One no for disbelief. One no for distance.  One no for surprise. One no for trying to swallow a million changes in one bite. One no to be sure I heard that right.  Curiously missing from all the no's, I realized later, was a no for NO. I don't even know how long that moment of suspension lasted where we separately tried to make sense of what was happening. It seemed like a long time.  

Robb has the amazing ability to feel things in the moment and I generally do not.  I normally hover above and around a shock until I know it's safe to feel whatever I feel.  But this time, we seemed to switch roles completely and I breathed out words of calm and clarity and perfect knowledge as I realized them myself, "I think this is what we always wanted."

And he began to cry big mushy, happy tears.  "Yes. You are right."

He told me later, he was mostly afraid that I would be unhappy. 

Knowing that our uppermost feeling was joy was helpful. But there was still enough shock to completely immobilize us for the next hour.  We sat on the bathroom floor trying to answer all the questions at once. How do we tell the kids? When do we tell the kids?  When do we tell other people?  WHERE is this kid going to fit in this house?  We had been straining to figure out where to put a treadmill...now we were needed to fit in a whole other person!  There are social norms for announcing your first, second, third baby, or even your adoption. But what exactly is protocol for announcing your fourth baby, 10 years removed?   "Let's not tell anyone at all," we giggled.  "Let's not put up anything on Facebook and just show up with a baby!"  What about my work?  What about the stupid cement floors?  There is NOTHING baby-proof in this house!  Why did we get another dog? Why didn't we get a bigger bed when we got the new mattress?   We already need new cars...what kind of car do we even need now?   When does the insurance kick in? CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE what what would have happened if this happened a month ago?  Two months ago?   It would have been a disaster!  But seriously...Who are we going to tell?   This is too huge to keep a secret!  

But we did. For three days.  For three days, we just went around with the silliest grins on our faces, shooting texts back and forth full of exclamation marks, exchanging knowing glances over the kids' heads and frequently pulling that silly pregnancy test out of the drawer just the make sure we read it right.  It was delicious and bonding to have a secret from the kids, our friends and the world. 

Finally Robb could contain himself no longer. The kids all seemed to have later activities on that Friday night, which landed them all on our bed around 10:30 pm, in good moods and a little wound up from their budding social lives.  I got the raised eyebrow "Can't we just tell them?" message over the tops of their heads, and I shrugged back with the "Are you sure? They are going to ask a lot of questions and we don't have a lot of answers?!"  Which was met with the, "I don't care...I want to tell them" lip pursing.  "Let's video it."  I said out loud in common English, which must have seemed like a weird comment to the kids, if they were even listening to me at all.  So phone in hand at the ready, Robb cleared his throat with a "We have something to tell you."  I waited with the camera ready to capture the AFV $10,000 moment, as Robb said the actual words: "Mom is pregnant."

Blank stares.
Blank faces.

And then a simultaneous, "You are lying. This is a joke. Na-uh. We're not falling for that."

It took the production of the almighty pregnancy test and many, many reassurances to convince them, none of which really "worked" on camera.  Finally, Charleigh gave in with a scream and throwing her hands up in the air.  Vin toppled next. And then finally Mattie...ever keeping her emotional cards close to her vest....released her bright, excited smile.  And then it was done.  We all gave ourselves over to just falling in love with the idea.  Some of us naively. Some of only too aware of what was to come.  But all of us, happy and excited for what September would bring us. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 - In Review

What a year it has been. With all that happened, it seems wrong to let the opportunity slip past me to look back and be amazed by the moments- good and bad- that were 2013.

We attended Emergence Christianity: A National Gathering in Memphis and what a time we had.  There we honored Phyllis Tickle and got the crazy idea we should have her come and speak at Vintage Fellowship.  At a dinner the night before the event, we found ourselves at a table with Wendy Grisham, who drew Brian McClaren and Nadia Bolz-Weber to our table (we were just trying to find a table that was far away from the dinner noise so we could hear better.) I kept seeing a girl with an interesting name tag and eventually began following Jerusalem Greer.  I even got to hear Lauren Winner, a long-time favorite writer,  in a panel discussion.

I wrote this blog post. And I haven't really looked back since. Lent began very early and I gave up buying any clothes-new or from thrift stores- for Lent. We had a garage sale at Vintage that funded many Kiva loans.

We went on a book tour for Fundamorphosis over spring break.  Not a raging success as far as book tours go, but we got to spend time with dear friends and family along the way. 

What a month!  I ran my first 5K!  This was a huge accomplishment for me since I never thought of myself as a runner before.  Charleigh turned nine.  I helped local photographer Shu Lan Tang with an amazing photoshoot and realized I have a great love for photostyling! I also started using Instagram more faithfully to capture my daily moments and posting on my facebook work page regularly.  Thanks to friends who were visiting IKEA in Dallas, we were finally able to install the wall to wall bookshelves we had been dreaming of for years.

With the arrival of beautiful weather (after a freak snow storm) I began making custom mosaics at a new level, shipping a large table to New York successfully, creating a headboard for a local client and starting work on an intricate headboard for a client in Boston. I also began experimenting with making jewelry for the first time. The garden began to be beautiful very quickly and it was a bumper year for strawberries. Charleigh joined a soccer team, which was adorable. I made the decision to stop maintaining flea market booths to have more time to devote to making mosaics and my old macbook died, requiring a new MacBook Pro and consequently, new software to learn and improve my business. 

Perhaps the lovely weather throughout this month was some sort of grace as we faced a very challenging month. We were evicted from our former meeting place for Vintage Fellowship and had to move out of our building into a temporary space (where we are still).  We entered therapy as a couple and learned the hard way that things often get worse before they get better when Robb had a major breakdown the weekend we were to move the church.  After setting up an emergency therapy session for us, I was forced to miss the session when an appointment at the vet ran long only to discover our dog of nine years, Sidney, was dying of kidney failure. After taking her home to say goodbye and feeding her a steak, we took her back to the vet to have her put down.  Meanwhile, my dear friend and boss had an ectopic pregnancy and needed help and support to keep her business going, followed closely by a major magazine photo shoot of her home and then the news that her husband had gotten their long-sought-for University teaching job. They moved away in just two weeks. Our community wrapped their arms around us and Vintage granted us a sabbatical for the rest of the summer.

Rest and grieving were our main focus in the month of July.  Calvin turned 12. We made a trip north for a family reunion with my aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom I had not seen in more than ten years. I ran another 5k with my siblings in a truly memory-making morning. We further traveled to Canada, hoping to recapture some of the peace and rest we had experienced the year before, but a phone call before we left the country and a follow up afterward confirmed that Robb would be without a job very soon.  Canada had record-breaking heat while we tent-camped for the first time on the beach with the kids.  A day trip to Niagara Falls was a definite highlight, bringing us a larger-than-life example of God's power and our smallness.  Two other wow-moments greeted us on the return trip to PA: I attended my home church by myself for a lovely morning; and we got a chance to explore an abandoned house with my parents, which was full of all the creepy contents of decades of a family's accumulation. Back at home, the kids attended camp, giving Robb and I a quiet week together. 

Our small raised garden started producing vigorously and we had all the tomatoes and cucumbers we could eat. We celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary.  The weather continued to be mild and easy to live with, which is rare here. The kids started back to school and I began to prepare in earnest for my upcoming fall craft shows. 

We came back to Vintage from our sabbatical and celebrated our seventh birthday as a community.  With Robb fully unemployed, we looked for any and every way to save money and prepare for a long winter, which led to Robb doing a lot of preserving and freezing of garden bounty.  We harvested our first apples from our very own apple tree. Mattie turned 14 and I did nothing but work in preparation for the three shows I signed up for, hoping to help keep our finances together. We were so sad to say goodbye to our good friend, Adam who moved away to a new job in California.  Despite all my worrying, all of our needs were always met, including a generous gift from a friend who paid for our 13 year old van to be repaired. We added a staff member at Vintage to help shoulder the load of ministry and continued to look for a new building for Vintage and a new job for Robb.

Completely dominated by the four day show at War Eagle, this month I added all new logos, stamps, labeling, headers and other marketing materials to both my Etsy shops with Robb's help. I also traded and utilized offers from professional photographers to help bolster my marketing materials.  Robb assumed all the cooking, cleaning and taxiing, which was a lot of work, especially with Mattie's challenging vollyball and football schedule. After a successful craft show, Robb surprised us all with a new member of the family - a dachsund puppy, who was ultimately dubbed Neville Longbottom. Despite his stubborness to be potty-trained, he proved to be a great addition to the crazy. The kids trick-or-treated for what was probably the last time all together.  Bittersweet.

This month started to feel like a marathon as I returned to prepping for another show. I turned 39 while setting up for this event where I landed more than a few custom orders. The next day, we welcomed the amazing Phyllis Tickle to our community and shared both the public events of her speaking to our church and the serene gift of privately visiting over dinner with our family and on the drive to the airport.  What a rare thing to be able to talk with this wonderful lady, so full of knowledge, wisdom, joy and love.  Her gentle, beaming smile and blessing of "Be well"  upon leaving us felt like a prophecy as much as a benediction.  We gathered for a quiet Thanksgiving at home and felt hope again as Robb found employment.  Watching Charleigh run (ie, crush, totally kick butt) her first 5k still gives me a thrill. Amazingly, Robb was hired for a second, even better job, and after only two weeks gave notice.

A freak snow storm made the last show of the season a challenge but ultimately made it wildly successful as buyers came out with intention. I lived out my long-desired dream to dye my hair crazy red and we were able to fill our freezer with a local, grass fed beef. Amazingly, we had the last of our garden's tomatoes on a Friday taco night. We adjusted to the new, strange schedule of having Robb go off to work each day and enjoyed some snow days before the Christmas break. I scrambled to finish the last custom orders of the season and learned valuable lessons about my limits. A truly simple and sweet advent with Vintage Fellowship did good things for the soul. We utilized our Amazon Prime membership to the max in preparing for Christmas just over a week before the holiday and felt a lot of gratitude to be celebrating. 

2013, what a year you have been.  I'm not sorry to see you go, but I am thankful for all that you gave us, both good and bad.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Pink Version - For the Win

This morning, Robb and I were back at Vintage Fellowship for our first Sunday since taking a Sabbatical over the summer.  In seventeen years, this was the first time we have ever had a break from ministry.  Robb shared this morning about what he had learned from the experience and afterwards, some of my friends asked if I had a story to tell too.  And I do.

This summer was an eventful time.  As we celebrate the end of it with our friends this Labor Day weekend, I can say that I am glad that it is over.  I'm ready for a new season. The story picked up with my Macbook exploding. Then our nine year old dog Sidney went into kidney failure and we had to put her down. Then my husband had what we uncomfortably -but accurately- refer to as a nervous breakdown.   We entered therapy; it would have been helpful to know, going into therapy, that things often get worse before they get better.  Robb and I have had some of the most significant, intense arguments of our married life.   Our church was evicted from the building where we met.  My friend, who I worked for, moved away. The van needed expensive repairs.  And then Robb lost his job.

There was a time in my life that I would have written that paragraph and left it with the reader to let it sink in. Beg for your mute sympathy. Crave your comforting words.  But as I read over the paragraph, I feel compelled to write its corollary:  The other side of that paragraph...for the win. 

My macbook exploded. But I had enough money saved up already to buy a new one and get Photoshop with it so that I was able to greatly improve the quality of my photos in my Etsy stores.  For the win.

We lost Sidney.  I still choke up at the loss of our dog.  I probably thought other people were a little silly when they talked about how sad they were when they lost a pet, but now I understand and I am so much more sympathetic.  Robb wrote about it for his column for the local newspaper and received a number of responses from people who needed to hear it. Who found it comforting. Who, like us, know something more about God because of a furry thing with four legs and a giant heart.  It was a galvanizing, bonding experience as a family to grieve her loss. And painfully good to know that we could love and be loved like that. For the win.

Robb had a breakdown. In the middle of those days, I wonder now at my calm. I am thankful for a friend who I trusted to talk things over with who could be a voice outside of the situation for me.  I felt alone in some ways. Robb has always been my rock. My calm. My order in the chaos.  Watching him fly apart into broken pieces was one of those times when you try to absorb that nothing will be the same again.  You don't know if it is good or bad, you just know that it is different.  Sometimes we fear change so much, we resist a good thing.  A breakdown can be very close to a break-through, as it turns out. For the win.

We entered therapy. Through Providential circumstances, we ended up with a therapist we like and trust a great deal.  He has been more helpful than I would have ever dreamed in helping us sort through what had become a very tangled mess of emotions, fears, disappointments and expectations.  It's true that things got harder before they got better when we first began,  but they DID get better.  And now that we know what good therapy can accomplish, we'll be a lot better at helping other people know when they can benefit from it.  For the win.

Our church was evicted from our building.  We had been dragging our feet on moving out that safe space even though we had known for at least a year that we needed to move on.  And while a temporary space immediately became available, there are several possibilities in the very near future for spaces that will enable us to live out dreams we had stifled and ignored on the basis of being "practical."  Getting out of that space means we have access to something we haven't had for a long time:  Possibilities. For the win.

My friend and "boss" moved away.  I learned so much from my time with Stacie.  She is a successful seller on Etsy and is making her way with her business on a scale that is far beyond where I am or where I may ever be.  I miss our time together so much....long talks, laughing and maybe most acutely, the feeling of making a difference.  It was in working for Stacie that I realized how much I like to support from behind the scenes.  I came to understand myself better by the sheer joy I felt in packing up prints and pillows, knowing that I was making things easier for my busy friend.  For the win.

The van needed expensive repairs. Our church rallied with a gift of money and another friend covered the balance of the bill.  In fact, our church supported us in ways that are almost impossible to define:  they gave us a rest by carrying our load.  They gave us time. They gave us space.  They made this sabbatical happen.  I have never heard of any church doing that in any of my past experiences.  They are remarkable people, humble servants, hilarious and true friends who simply were there for us.  I have a hard time imagining how people function without a community to love them. I can't imagine how complicated it must have felt at times for them to be doing our tasks on a Sunday morning, knowing we were home in bed or on a beach somewhere.  But they fully committed to resting us.   They joked with us on Facebook, took us to coffee, brought us lunch, and one precious friend, in an intimate, holy moment, sang me a song. That kind of amazes me. Through all of this, I learned a powerful truth:  I could believe in my church as much as my church believed in me.  I could let them serve.  I have fully committed as a parent to rearing children who are independent and able to care for themselves.  I had never allowed my church the same freedom.  Vintage Fellowship isn't a helpless baby anymore. She's a big seven year old, and like any seven year old, she wants to help.  I had been treating her like a baby and that was a mistake.  For the win.

Robb lost his job.  There's no magic bullet here. Tomorrow morning, he is officially unemployed. In the meantime, he has put his shoulder into helping me get my marketing materials together to make my Etsy stores as profitable and well-run as they can be.  They will not be enough to support us and we'll not likely be on the front page of Etsy with a "How I quit my day-job" feature story.  But so far, things are doing all right.  We've adopted a no-frills budget that will work for now. There's something leaner and meaner to us than we were before; I feel good about that.  We are working together as a family more. Planning better.  Eating out less.  Drinking less alcohol.  Taking our work around the house seriously.  We are focused. Aware.  And speaking just for me...much more thankful.  Thankful for a rosebush that just keeps blooming.  For a cooler summer than ever imaginable here in the steamy south.  For ridiculously huge cucumbers and a plucky tomato patch that keeps on producing.  For the first three big fat apples grown on my very own apple tree.  For lemon balm. For the red stripe on garter snakes so I can see them better and not be quite as traumatized when they squiggle out in front of me.  For zinnias and strawberries and crepe myrtle and butterflies and glorious rainy days. For our other dog, Peggy, who is a well-spring of love and devotion even if she is not the sharpest tool in the shed.

And for my children. My rare, wonderful, hilarious children: 
For Charleigh's un-prompted prayers for "Dad to find a job that he likes that is a good fit."  For Vin's zeal to whip up a batch of something that "will make everyone feel happier."  For Mattie's seemingly overnight transformation to a confident, strong freshman, making her way at school, with friends and at home with grace and enthusiasm.
I could go on and on.  I feel gratitude. Real gratitude that I did not feel before. I knew I should. But I didn't.  Now I do.

For the win.

Yesterday morning dawned hot and sunny.  I had been watching the weather report, dreading the heavy heat we had not been burdened with at all this summer.  I felt cranky about the day, trying to accept a long day at my work table, writing new Etsy listings, avoiding the misery outside.  I woke up with a stomach ache after a night of intermittent insomnia, which has plagued me most of the summer, it seems.  After a small cup of coffee, I wandered outside in my sweats, thinking I would at least water the garden before the sun scorched it.  I found myself pulling some weeds.  Noticing again just how much the rose-bush needed pruning.  Rolling up my pant-legs and puttering around in my bare feet.  I knew it was supposed to be hot, but the grass felt cool enough. I hunted down my pruning sheers. The sweat started to pour down my face and I took off my glasses and set them inside the door...I cut back the iris blades, and trimmed the crepe myrtle so we could get down the sidewalk on a straight path.  I hacked into the unruly rose-bush, getting all kinds of scrapes and cuts.  I bled.  I faced my fears and dug into the lemon balm that had sheltered a snake earlier in the summer.  Stood back and surveyed my work...it was good.  It was trimmed-back and good.  I was afraid of the heat. Afraid of the pain. Afraid of the snake. But facing it and feeling it felt good.  Sweating felt good.  Working hard felt good.

If I knew at the beginning of the summer that it would be like it was, I would have been terrified. I would have wanted to stay inside the house with the air conditioning and try to be comfortable.  But now I know that the pain isn't so bad. Discomfort is not forever.  Change is frightening, but it can be a blessing.  Ever since the garden of Eden, we humans have lost track of what is good and what is bad.  We don't really know how to identify those things very well.  At least, not at the outset.  But looking back over the summer, I am sure of the goodness.  I am sure of God being in it, being with me, my family, my church, my community, my world.
That was the sabbatical.
For the win.