Author: Katie Huey

Better Than When We Started

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

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.

We Keep on Waiting (waiting)

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What a week to be 40 weeks pregnant. With recent news about Roe vs. Wade, and a growing child in my belly, I’m startled by jarring way America continues to treat women and children. We think we’ve come so far, and then we are yanked back to reality. I should stop scrolling headlines.

After a good doom scroll, this morning I googled “waiting song lyrics.” A few hits came up with songs that I knew. A few others had me turning over to Spotify to listen and see if the words resonated with where my spirit is these days.

In his song Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer offers,
“Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change.”

In my reflections this morning, I recalled an African prayer shared at a recent ceremony I went to.

“Let us take care of our children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of our elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those of us in between, for we are doing the work.” – African prayer

In carrying the next generation, I wonder what waiting on the world to change will look like for her. And if she, too, will have to carry signs that say, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” I hope not.

This time last week I was sharing that we were on the slow road to childbirth, trusting and allowing baby to make a choice on when she will come in to the world. This week, I’m feeling a bit more antsy. Not yet annoyed, but instead surrendering to the mystery of waiting on a child. People keep texting me … “Any day now” and “You’re so close.” True, but any day could be two weeks, and close to the end, yes, but also, so close to a new beginning.

In his song The Waiting, Tom Petty offers,

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.”

I’m relying on Tom to remember to take this experience on faith – there are greater forces at play than what I have control over when we let nature take over. As if nature needs me to let it do anything at all.

The third song writer to show up in my search results was The Rolling Stones. In their song, I Am Waiting, they share,

“I am waiting, I am waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
I am waiting, I am waiting,
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

See it come along and
Don’t know where it’s from
Oh, yes you will find out.”

Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere is precisely what we’re waiting for. Spiritually, I have to have a bit of faith. Physically, we know where that somewhere is. And, I wonder who the little someone will be.

It’s odd waking up and wondering could today be the day our lives change forever? And then we go about making coffee and a peanut butter sandwich like any other Thursday. We sit down to work and we wait. This week, I’m seeking the beauty in the wondering, beauty in the mundane, and the beauty in a smudge of protein on a bit of bread. Beauty in waiting as the leaves green up, and rain soaks the ground, and ballads fill in the background noise that occupies this liminal space.

Waiting for someone ….

Waiting in Doorways

The night before I left for college, I sat in my parent’s basement and cried. I had said my good-byes to high school friends and found myself in the dark weeping. The next morning, while excited, I stuffed my belongings into the trunk and cried half-way across the country as my parents drove us through Idaho and Montana and into a small town in Washington where I thought my dreams would come true. I didn’t stop crying for four months.

Fast-forward to after college graduation. I was packing again to move out of my childhood bedroom and into a two-bedroom appointment with a boy I loved, but wasn’t yet ready to marry. I cried as I packed boxes and my mom sat on the floor with me while an eager young partner waited in the doorway to load my clothes up in his trunk, driving us an hour away.

When Dylan asked me to marry him, after saying yes, I was quiet for an hour. Not quite stunned. Perhaps unsure of what I committed to, ready to take steps forward and I buoyed myself in silence. Introspection suits me.

Tears tend to accompany transition. Grief of what was lingers in the shadows as I’ve walked through doors into each chapter of new unknowns. For years I beat myself up about those tears. I compared myself to the others who bounded into dorm rooms with confidence, or those who said yes to moving across the country without hesitation. I was enamored by young women ready to fully embrace walking down the aisle without a smidge of doubt.

Today, I’m 38 weeks pregnant. I question the women fully ready to embrace motherhood without fear of what they’d be giving up along the way. I’ve kept this change, this growing of life, quiet here. In transition, I tend to go inwards. What compassion training has taught me however, is that any gap between what we wish things to be and what is is a space for loving kindness to ourselves and others.

And I as I look around, at one of the deepest seasons of anticipation in my life so far, I’m realizing it’s ok to expect the tears. I’ll likely sit on floors and weep. I know I have people here to help me stand – trust me, hoisting a pregnant belly off the floor requires lots of grunting these days.

I’m not devastated. I’m overwhelmed in the goodness of all that will come.

I nod to the young woman who packed boxes in silence as people who love her watched and waited, perhaps already having stepped through the doorway a few steps ahead of her. I, however, get to do the work of bringing this baby into the world.

Grief taught me to be wary. At times, standing in doorways, clinging to what was, is a response of fear and self-preservation. I know what this room looks like, with its familiar carpet and the window that squeaks when you open the latch. Now there sits a bassinet, a rocking chair, and blankets, waiting to welcome a little soul with tiny toes and the power to expand our hearts in ways I’m sure I can’t quite yet understand.

Two weeks to go and I’m getting quiet. Our baby classes are done. We’ve made the lists, been gifted the things, created our birth preferences. I’m winding down at work. The to-do’s have been checked. And now, I wait. I’m wondering who I will become in this transition, and when baby will arrive. I’m saying hello to the tears and the fears, knowing they don’t get to drive.

I can’t control much. But, I can look back, embracing the woman who has learned how to sit, allowing emotion and wondering to wash over her. This time, I’m not pushing away the tears. Instead, I’m lingering in doorways, waiting for baby to pull me forward into motherhood. Anticipation can be a beautiful thing.

Mind the Gap

I read these words following a trigger warning last week – “Save to read when you have the emotional space.” I put my phone aside, saving for later the words not meant for working hours.

As the sun dipped at seven pm, evening light lingering longer than winter allows, I opened up the message and read.

“I don’t remember the exact date, but I know he passed in March. And every time my calendar flips to March I remember him and the loss of him.” In this cold month, my dad’s legacy still warms her heart. She lost him too.

She went on to offer to bring me his favorite shortbread cookies this week. With a porch delivery, and a beautiful text thread, my dad’s presence was brought back to life in the spaces in-between. I’ll dunk the cookies in coffee tomorrow, letting the crumbs sink down to a soggy bottom of a mug, swirling in leftover grounds.

There are so many gaps in grief. Gaps in memory. Gaps in conversation. Gaps in relationship. Gaps in wishing things were one way when they most certainly can not be. Gaps in growth. Gaps in healing.

Her words helped me remember there are people and stories and experiences of him that can sew us back together again. Another friend texted, ‘Thinking of you. Can I buy you dinner this week to lighten the load?” Dollars showed up in my Venmo account – the gift of take-out a beautiful thing.

The days leading up to a grief anniversary are often worse than the day of the anniversary itself. On March first, I cried knowing the day would soon approach. At grief group this week, I told my friends, ‘I don’t want to be sad on Friday. I just want to honor him in new ways.’

That was cocky. It’s Thursday. I’m sad. And I’m dreading tomorrow.

But what I’ve learned, as the sixth anniversary approaches, is this death day need not hold so much power. I can be sad and I can fill the gap with happy memories. I can allow the triggering thoughts a brief hello, but they don’t get to stay. I can find my routines and my rituals to honor him, and I can choose to try something new. Or, I can choose to sit on the couch and weep. Only tomorrow will tell.

It’s foolish to think the day will pass without thought of the milestone. I lost my dad, Roy Christman, when I was 27 years old. His absence, this gap, is forever a part of me. I how I choose to tend to the spaces now empty, a life-long beautiful thing. For those still walking with me, minding the gap, thank you.

Like Ingrid Sings

There’s been a Christmas song rolling around in my head this week. In the song “Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter” Ingrid Michaelson sings,

“Looks like a cold, cold winter
Plenty of ice and snow
But we’ll keep the love light in our hearts aglow
Looks like a long, long winter,
Baby what do we care
As long as we have this love of ours to share.”

I want to tap Ingrid on the shoulder and say, “You have no idea.” It has been a long, long winter.

I know everyone is exhausted by the threat of Covid. Masks are coming off and numbers are dropping, and still, situations in my life give me pause. The constant negotiating of assessment and risk wipes me out weekly. Rather than comfort me with numbers and statistics in an attempt to emerge, I wish people would call me and say, “This isolation must be hard. You aren’t alone. You are making good choices for your family.”

I wish I could adopt more of a ‘Baby what do we care’ attitude?’

I still care.

Ingrid goes on to sing,

“It’s gonna be cold outside
It’s gonna be warm inside
So we’ll cuddle up by a cozy fire side by side
Looks like a cold, cold winter
Summer is far away
But until then I’ll love you more and more each day.”

A friend reminded me that we have seventeen days until the start of spring. Between now and then, I’ll celebrate family birthdays and shuffle towards another grief anniversary. Spring feels far away.

Heat, we’ve learned, comes from friction, an ignition, a burning of a source of something. What fuel has sustained these days with cold temperatures, dark nights, and lack of connection?

The old standbys still hold true. A batch of cookies in the oven, a pair of warm socks, a book to read at the end of the day, someone to kiss good-night. While most of the world seems to want to move on, and the next crisis is replacing Covid numbers in the headlines, I’m still here, growing and easing tentatively in to a new season of life. Hope whispers. Fear screams. I’ve always been soft spoken.

For now, nurturing means choosing solitude and all of the friction that comes with it. The hope that this warmth leads to comfort, rather than pain, is a beautiful thing. Say hello to the outside world for me. And until then, I’ll work on loving more and more each day.

Old Linoleum

I received a text with the words “Here we go!” yesterday morning. The photo attached caused my heart to dip.

My mom’s having the downstairs bathroom remodeled in the house I grew up in. Gone are the blue vanity and wood-rimmed mirror I stood at each morning, curling my hair to get ready for high school. The traces of eye glitter from middle school swept away into a dumpster I imagined a contractor put in the driveway.

In the dip, I had the irrational thought, “Hey, Dad used that toilet! Now it’s gone!” Grief, ever present, is a constant saying of good-byes. Even to toilets.

While I wallowed the minimal loss linked to a bathroom remodel, threads started binding together from several recent conversations I’ve had with friends. One is contemplating a job change. The other, preparing to say good-bye to a co-worker who taught them valuable lessons about themselves. In both conversations, we came to a point of agreement – knowing familiar chaos is less scary than saying hello to something new and the accompanied uncertainties. We can handle the worn and tolerate the sloping floors. We’ve learned where to step so the boards don’t squeak and how to jiggle the faucet to make sure the drips stop.

As I look at the aged, patterned linoleum in the photo above, I’m reminded how we hang on to the old and grimy, for fear of what saying good-bye could cause us to feel.

When the pandemic started, I tried encouraging people to share their beautiful experiences with me each day. I probably made it 30 days in a row before the search got repetitive. Motivation to participate waned. Now, here we are, approaching year three, and many of us have been forced to say so many good-byes. To routines, to feelings of comfort, to jobs, and to people we love. But what of the good-byes we have a say in?

Where are you holding on to the grime, the grit, and bits of life that are ready for a refresh? What are you holding onto for fear of what unknowns could come next?

I remind myself, again, to let go of the idea that we have to keep everything, simply because someone we love used to use that toilet.

At the end of the day, Mom sent another photo of orange sub-floor going in. Whether the contractor ripped up the linoleum, or instead covered the old floor, the stage is set for shiny new tile to take its place. Memories of linoleum are better than the real thing.

Sometimes, beauty comes in the removal, the tossing into dumpsters, and the saying good-bye to worn familiarity no longer serving us. And sometimes, beauty comes in the hello; the brave choice to keep moving forward, one design choice at a time.

Wake and Witness

I woke up early this morning to do some extra work before logging on to Zoom. Padding downstairs in the dark, I chose to leave the lights off and pull up the blinds, hoping to watch as darkness turned to light. As I sat with a laptop perched on my thighs, I finished my work and turned toward my regular click-through rotation. Email. New York Times. Facebook.

When I got to Facebook’s homepage, I paused, noticing the light against the wall turning pink. Rather than reflexively log in, I shut my computer and looked out the window instead. Streaks of pink and orange brushed against blue. Winter light reflected off snow yet to melt.

In this stage of the Pandemic it’s really easy to feel exhausted. With constant risk assessment, and chronic fear of the air we breathe, I find myself again hunkering down at home. Computer mornings turn into computer days turn into computer evenings. I miss restaurants, coffee dates, and not wondering how much possible exposure I might have at the grocery store versus the post office, or the library.

Here I sit again, laptop perched on my lap, lights waiting to be turned on. I haven’t been writing much, not because there aren’t beautiful things to see, but rather because I fear I’ve said it all before. Two years of appreciating beauty from my house feels a little repetitive.

Regardless, this morning I woke early, padded downstairs, and chose to watch the sunrise instead. I fear this is going to be another long winter with COVID darkness and continued uncertainty. And still, the sun greets us each day with a paintbrush of color. I have to ask myself, “Are you ready to wake and witness?”

Today, I said yes. And that’s a beautiful thing.