She is his émerveillement

“He sweeps her hair back from her ears and he swings her above his head. He says she is his émerveillement, he says he will never leave her, not in a million years.” – Anthony Doerr

It has been seven years since I lost my dad, Roy. While he left us in the present, his presence lives on, lingering in my new daughter’s eyes, torn wool sweaters, and memories of dancing in the kitchen and breakfasts on swirling stools at smelly diners.

It’s easy to feel like we aren’t enough. The demands on our hearts, our worries, and our time distract us and pull us away, at times, from what matters most. Roy was good at seeing people. He practiced intentionality when he could, and believed in the gift of presence. He wouldn’t always say much, but he showed up when he could, in ways I’ll never forget. Texts with jokes from yahoo.com, a card in the mail, and conversations with soapy hands in the sink, doing dishes together. He reminded me, presence, when practiced well, is enough.

This year, you can give the gift of being seen to those who are grieving by supporting The Dinner Party. Your dollars help create community for those of us who are living without someone who shaped us. Their presence is missing, but we can be present. Help me remember Roy hasn’t left us entirely – in his knowing of us, he lingers and lives, for the next million years.

Donate here.

Your giving can be a beautiful thing.

Hands Deep in a Bowl of Dough

In the early years of my grief experience, I recall standing at the granite counter top with my hands deep in a bowl of dough. I was drinking red wine and rain was falling, I had jazz playing on my phone. It had been about six months since my dad passed, and I remember thinking to myself, whispering even, “I think I’m feeling happy again.”

It’s courageous to whisper these words.

Brene Brown reminds us of the risk of foreboding, how we have been trained by movies and culture, and sometimes life itself, to prepare for the next car crash, the next death, the next shoe to drop.

I also recall hearing that we, as humans, are bound to experience a major loss every seven years.

In a recent conversation with my mom, she nodded to that statement, and ticked off major life events that caused disruption in her life, every seven years or so. Was the truth there because she was noticing, or because we are bound to try to repeat our experiences in a flow that’s calculable?

I lost my grandmother six years and nine months after my dad passed. And we had a baby, disrupting my sense of calm and confidence I had worked so hard to cultivate since, just a few months before that. This year has been a blur.

And yet, once again, six months after the disruption, I found myself standing at a counter top in a new kitchen with my hands in a bowl of dough. I was dicing up butter and mixing flour and salt to make a pie crust. As I kneaded the mixture, I had jazz playing on my phone. Rain wasn’t hitting the skylights, but instead, a child cooed with her father on the floor. My child. My husband. The man who helped me to bring life into the world.

I dared again to whisper, “I think I’m feeling happy again.”

There are moments that shake us, shape us, and leave us wondering who we will be next. Like snakes, we step out of shed skin that’s no longer needed and move into bigger versions of ourselves. Do snakes feel pain in the shedding? I believe humans do.

In the transformation, the movement of days into nights, and turning of months into years, we have a brave choice to believe we can be happy again. The process takes a long time, and yet, the formula seems so simple.

Surround myself with people I love, with simple ingredients, with time to stand at the counter. I can focus on the next big disruption, or I can focus on the pie crust and what it will mean for a simple dinner at home.

I’m whispering “I think I’m happy again” and that is a beautiful thing.

Meet Me There?

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There are scenes in movies at the end of a story arc, when the main character has conquered a challenge and they re-emerge in the world. Encouraging music plays. Resolution is found. 

On Friday, I drove over to the plaza near where I live, parked, and locked my car. If I was the heroine of a movie, the uplifting music would have started up. Perhaps “Walking on Sunshine?” 

The sun was shining on an October afternoon, a slight breeze warranted a sweater, but the rays warmed me as I squinted through sunglasses trying to find a friend. Someone was playing a piano nearby and a baby crawled near its mother. The tinkering sound of moving chairs and chatting people reminded me what being among people in-person actually can be like. Breathing in the fresh air, I was filled with gratitude to be in the light.

In many ways, it feels like I have survived the Covid era, and can now emerge. Perhaps, the tension of the last few years has come to a state of resolve. My baby is no longer a newborn. I’ve remembered how to make eye contact. I even got on a plane. Standing in the plaza that day, watching people swirl around me, I was touched by the goodness of ordinary life. I’ve missed being in the flow. 

At the end of the movie JoJo Rabbit, *spoiler alert*, the main character comes out of hiding and dances in the street. Walking down alleys towards a lunch date, I also felt like dancing. 

Many of you may have been dancing for quite some time. But for me, a sensitive person with an active, anxious mind, the last few years felt threatening. The thought of losing someone again, the fear of getting sick while pregnant, and the weight of passing on an illness to someone I don’t know who may be caring for others all felt like too much. I thought if I just stayed home, if we just followed the rules, nothing bad could happen. 

Life has reminded me, again, that self-preservation is not the key to a fulfilled life. People we love still die. Our friends still suffer. Being present with sorrow, in tune with our achings, will remain a choice. 

This denouement bump may be resolved, but my story still continues. It is time to remove the heavy shoes made of pandemic fears, anchoring me to a recent past filled with fear. Instead, I’ll take up my dancing shoes, and head to the square. Whether we’re weeping or laughing, swaying in sadness or spinning in joy, I can choose to be in the flow. Meet me there, where we can be together? What a beautiful thing. 

And a Squirt of Whipped Cream

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Losing someone is rarely easy. While their spirits may seem to evaporate into the liminal space, people we love who move on leave a lot behind. I spent much of this weekend amongst my grandmother’s things. Cups and wooden salad bowls, serving platters made of milk glass, worn handmade blankets and quilts, dishes with the farm scenes painted on ceramic.

While they moved her to assisted living weeks ago, they only took the essentials. Her navy blue, floral couch was gone, but the drapes that hung in her house for my whole childhood stayed. The china cabinet may have been picked over, but the sturdy structure still stood, watching us move through half-empty rooms, selecting what we hoped for and reminiscing at the dining room table. We flipped through photo albums and I saw faded pictures of relatives I’d never met nor heard of. Legends of old uncles with problems during prohibition, or ties to old business, were stuck among crinkly cellophane, protecting both stories and their sepia-toned faces.

As I lay on the floor in the basement, I said “You know what I hate about dead people? They never come walking through the door when you want them to.”

I knew my grandmother was going to pass. She lived a long life, close to ninety years. And yet, when I found out her spirit had moved on, it still felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Maybe that’s what they do when they die – take the air with them into wherever comes next. It takes awhile to catch your breath.

This has been a summer of transition and shifting. We moved. We had a baby. We are growing into new roles and letting go of others. If all of your grandparents have passed, are you still a granddaughter? Or does that role now become my new daughter’s?

We’ll say good-bye in formal ways in a few weeks. And in the meantime, I’ll tuck a juice glass of her’s in my cupboard. In the morning, I’ll remember Lender’s bagels with blocks of cream cheese wrapped in foil, served on a small ceramic plate with a farm scene painted on top. I’ll remember Kraft singles, and dessert with Reddi-Wip out of a can. Because, as Grandma would say, life is better with a little squirt of whipped cream.

Being amongst her things, evoking memories, remembering stories, preparing to say good-bye, even when it hurts – all beautiful things.

That’s Life

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The Queen died. 

I had a heads up as a friend told me about her impending medical watch as we sipped iced coffees in the morning on Thursday. Hours later, Dylan texted me the news that she had passed. While I have no connection to the monarchy besides the odd fascination that Americans seem to have with royals, her passing caused me to inhale. Sadness seeped into my space. 

She was Queen when my parents were born. And now she is no longer. 

In the same day a friend welcomed a new baby girl and texts buzzed in with photos and again, my breath stilled. I flashed back to my own moment when my daughter left my body and entered the world with cries from both of us. 

And still, this morning, upon child care drop off, I learned of the passing of my great-aunt. Yes, she was old. Still, her light extinguished. 

“That’s life, Katie” my mom replied, with tears in her eyes. 

I know people die and are born at astounding rates. If we took pause for everyone, we’d be pausing all of the time. Instead, we focus on email and headlines of war and sickness and economic recession. Some of us choose to devote our energy to where we can make a difference. Why care about the British monarch when distress in America is so high? Why care about one person’s new baby when thousands are born every day?

Because in these moments, in our inhales and our exhales, are where beauty lies. 

I’ve been noodling on a post about the joy baby laundry brings me, but expanding on tiny sleeves and button-backed dresses for five hundred words feels like a bit much. While the Queen was greeting the new British Prime Minister, I was folding tiny onesies and burp clothes. Days later, she passed. This morning, while a relative passed, I was driving too and from, on my way to another day, concerned about to-do lists and arriving on time with a small child. 

In our every days we have choices to see and to notice. We have choices to pause to honor life and those that end. And we have choices to find joy as we rush from one place to the next. Baby clothes, good-byes, and hellos. Beautiful things.  

No Sunscreen

Upon reflecting on the end of the summer, I realized over the last four months I never once got out a tube of sunscreen. My arms remain pasty white, not covered from protective goo, but rather drool and spit up and diaper rash cream.  

Sure, I stepped outside, squinting into the sun with glasses on and dark circles under my eyes, but we didn’t spend time outside. Not really. This was a summer spent navigating the challenging demands of welcoming a new human to our family. We passed a baby between our hands, threw burp clothes across the room, and taped boxes with clear tape at our feet. We saw morning light, not dusk. We emerged slowly, wondering if the threat of Covid lingered, and asked how protective we should be for each other while tending to the care and keeping of our own small family unit. 

We hired movers, packed the kleenex, and remembered growing pains are, at times, just that. Painful. 

But like the sunburns I did not receive this year, the pain points of adding to a family left a tingly glow, freckles of her presence sticking with us as we move into the new chapter of being a family of three. We’ve peeled off sheets of skin of who we were, leaving new, fresh, vulnerable layers underneath. 

Adjusting to parenting hasn’t been easy, and the transformation has been beautiful. 

Recently, upon meeting someone new, I was asked what this blog was about. I shared my philosophy of searching for the good and about my dance with grief. I shared about the pandemic, and living as an anxious person, and trying to find gratitude in times of desperation. The new connection asked, “And what’s beautiful about this season?”

I had to pause, but it didn’t take long to name a few things. 

There’s beauty in the shape of my daughter’s mouth, and the way her hair curls on the sides when she gets sweaty from sleeping in our arms. There’s beauty in the routine forming, her exploration, and in my husband and I trying to move our feet to our faces like she does while keeping our backs on the floor. 

There’s beauty in smiles and coos, and messy buns, and at times, even the 6:30 am wakeup calls. How many years until she begins to sleep in again?

Back at work this afternoon, I took a walk around the park for a quick break. As the sun beat down on my pale arms, I was reminded how much things can change with warmth and a bit of vitamin D. I heard the church bells ring in the distance. I’ve been walking that path for five years now, and yet, the afternoon bells had a different tinkle to them in this season. 

While the paths we walk may remain the same, we as humans aren’t meant to remain stagnant. I’m changing and growing and walking forward, still. 

No sunscreen this summer, what a beautiful thing.

Better Than When We Started

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Motherhood has taught me to speed up.

I push the cart at the grocery store a little faster, and walk briskly through Home Depot for fear of tears or fussiness. I gobble down meals because the baby always seems to need to eat right when we sit down.

Tending to my little one’s needs first requires putting my own rhythms on the back burner. Instead, I find pauses in ten minute intervals to eat a banana, respond to an email, wash my hair, or write a blog post before bed.

We moved this last weekend, and boxes are everywhere. Piles of ‘to be put away’, ‘to be hung on the wall’, and ‘to donate’ muddy the new white carpet. We step around gobs of brown, crumbled packing tape and whisper ‘Hey, where’s the toothpaste?’ when attempting a new bedtime routine.

I want to move quickly to find homes for our belongings, but the sense of urgency here is not serving me. I get interrupted with the need for a bottle, a diaper change, or breathing through a fear of what’s coming next. The desire to organize perfectly cripples me.

One of my to-do’s this week was to clean out the old house. I asked a friend to help, and she graciously said yes. When I dropped the baby at my mom’s, I was in a hurry. I wanted to scrub and vacuum, and turn over the keys. I wanted to be ready to leave behind the home we called ours for the last seven years.

However, when I walked in the door to do drop-off with the baby in her carseat, I burst into tears. The emotions from the last three months came bubbling up, no longer tolerating the stuffing down I’ve been attempting. I could no longer speed up this part of the process.

I texted my friend, ‘late again’, and when I was ready, she was in the driveway with her vacuum to help me suck up and wipe away our last marks in the house. I cried as I cleaned, and my friend nodded as witness. Endings are never easy for me. I have a lot of feelings.

However, I chose not to speed up this good-bye.

I inventoried the changes we had made. We painted every wall, built a laundry room, re-did the kitchen, updated the baseboards, landscaped, gardened, planted, and raked, and built bookshelves. In those walls, we lost a parent, trained a puppy, had over seven jobs between us, survived a pandemic, experienced pregnancy, and brought our baby to her first home. We made that house our home.

Walking from empty room to empty room, I vocalized my thanks for my happy memories, and touched my heart for the painful experiences the walls witnessed. I said thank you for housing us, for our growth, for the opportunity for two to become three.

As my friend swept the front porch before we closed the door, I shared the phrase repeating in my head – “Leave things better than when you found them.”

I can proudly say Dylan and I did just that.

Slowing down to say goodbye to our first home and leaving it better than when we started – beautiful things.

Filling Tiny Holes

In the small bathroom upstairs, Dylan removed the letters “G” “R” “A” “C” and “E” that had been hanging our towels. Grace – a simple phrase that accompanied our daily routines of cleansing, brushing, and wiping up gobs of toothpaste and lotion left behind in a hurry. Each letter left three holes to be filled.

When the spackle had dried, I stood in the bathroom, celebrating the time to shower with an infant in the house. Turning to look for a towel, the now blank wall pushed me back to a weekend in the early weeks after Dad died when we covered the walls with Monterey White. Holding the brush in my hand in the tiny room, I had wept. “I miss my Dad” I said, unsure of how the missing would grow as days turned into years.

It has been six years since we painted, and now, we are getting ready to move.

I don’t believe we ever fully heal from grief. We carry our people forward in our hearts and in our stories, and in the tears that come with transition. I’ve woken up every day for the last few weeks wishing I could call my dad for a pep talk, or have him come with us to drive by the new house. I’ve needed his advice and his expertise about insurance coverage, and his hands to hold my baby.

I am still missing him.

I make do with pictures, talking to his friends, and asking for hugs, and extra support from people who know the pain of progress without a parent.

The moving truck comes in a few days. For today, Dylan and I sit, with laptops on our thighs and a baby between us on the bedspread. The artwork is down, boxes sit waiting for tape, and I can’t find my power cords. I’m not sure what words will be witness to the next chapter of life we are walking towards.

But, the tiny holes we left in the walls where we lived are now filled. We are embracing transition and honoring our marks of progress. What beautiful things.

Under Water

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When I was a kid, I loved laying in the bathtub, under water, with my ears plugged. It sounded different under there. With wooshes of water, I was closer to my pounding heart. The world above me was muted. With my head submerged, I was safe.

Temporarily.

I’d have to come up to breathe.

Life with a newborn submerges you. A baby’s demands are all encompassing. This water, while not necessarily safe, did mute the outside world. I was so focused on my own survival and on hers, that I missed a few things. I stopped looking at dashboards, and while I skimmed headlines, I couldn’t take in the immense weight of what our country is going through.

Family members have COVID. Unexpected medical bills arrive in the mail. The Supreme Court appalls me. I’m fearful for transition and lack of quality daycare spots available. I’ve spent hours spiraling, returning in circles to the what-ifs and what-may-bes. It’s a scary time to be alive.

I told my mom last night I feel like I’m sitting up a little bit, my nose right above the water pouring over of our new tiny family. As my eyes look around, less darting, hopefully a bit less baggy from lack of sleep, I remember I can choose what to focus on.

I wrap my arms, growing stronger from the continuous lifting of a small human, around myself for a hug.

Shadows flicker across my kitchen walls as my baby sleeps again, in her basket on the table. It won’t be long before her tiny body outgrows this solution. I folded up newborn clothes last night to give to a friend. I’ve been so fearful for her little body to grow, I forgot it would actually happen. I’m here with her everyday, and still, I’m missing things.

When we get submerged, noise mutes. We must tune in to our beating hearts. I’ve started asking, “Who am I now, in this new space? And when I come to the surface, what will remain of me and of us?”

But I don’t want to live under water.

I want community. I want light, and tiny toes growing, and a writing break during nap time.

I want water wings. I want to swim.

Remember swimming pools?

Lifting your head above water, no matter how deep, is a beautiful thing.

Grace upon grace

My baby is sleeping in a basket on the table. In between sentences, I try to shovel rice into my mouth – a later lunch taken while afternoon rest fill these quiet days. Baby grunts and coos are new background noises. Slurps and sucks and suction, recent sounds of sustenance and frustration.

I did a lot of reading to prepare for pregnancy and delivery. I learned about guarding postpartum spaces, and prepped meals for the first forty days. What the cookbooks don’t tell you is if you forget to thaw the meals, dinner before six is a pipe dream. Crockpots do combat freezer burn. You need eight arms to get a meal on the table, a diaper changed, a bottle made.

I wasn’t prepared for the tears that would come, the feelings of inadequacy, the fears of is my child getting enough?

They say there are no manuals for parenting – much like grief there are no right ways to do things. There sure as heck are a lot of wrong ways to do it though. I’m learning to lean into forgiveness and trial and error. Not my favorite things.

At week two, my husband and I found ourselves sitting in the NICU, watching our new baby get poked for an IV. As a trained compassion professional, I wish I could have drawn upon learnings, and remembered that I, too, am worthy of grace.

In that moment, though, fear and shame washed over me in waves. Kind nurses and doctors reminded us this is hard. We arranged to sleep in rooms away from the beeping monitors – not how I envisioned my first nights away from my baby. We said prayers for healing and hope and luckily, were released after just a few days. The shame has lingered for weeks.

I’m still getting to know my daughter – I imagine this is now lifelong work. While her cries cue me for different needs, something is stirring within me. A becoming.

I told Dylan if we were learning to play the cello, we wouldn’t expect ourselves to pick up the instrument and play a symphony right away. Yet, in America, with lack of paternity leave, pieced together maternity leave, and fears of what will insurance cover, we are expected to be masterful musicians right from the start. Or maybe, that’s just what I thought reading the books would equip me to do.

The night we went home from Children’s hospital, I took this picture and texted ‘Grace upon grace upon grace.’ I want that to be my mantra for motherhood.

And in the meantime, bring over some tissues, come for a visit, or call up a new mother. This is hard and holy work. There’s no bouncing back. There’s only becoming. And that is a beautiful thing.