Updated: Jun 30, 2020

He’s asked me since May what we’ll do for our anniversary. Different times, here and there, a short question over Lana Del Rey turned down or maybe the lack-luster tofu stir-fry I thought would be fun. Neither of us would linger over the question. We’d say a deferring “I don’t know” or pad our indecision with an “I’ll think about it.” We navigate cautiously because these light-handed words have historically been catalysts for arguments – our too sensitive natures fingering out the anger in tender wounds. Like on Mackinac Island when we forgot his dress slacks and couldn’t eat at the Grand Hotel, and instead spent an hour managing conflict on a hill overlooking the water because I couldn’t get over an expectation and he had trouble forgiving me. This year I made an itinerary for us. A night in Cincinnati with our favorite things: dinner, dessert, arcade games, and the electric feeling of a city that thrums with people on the weekends, set to the background of some hometown R&B. We’re our easiest selves in this. We smile quicker and look beyond our glasses to the sky, which always seems so big after he’s been tweezering toys at work and I’ve been holed in at home.

Our first year, or even our second, this would have felt like losing. If I had stewed over making detailed plans, it would have been slopped onto a list that would later turn into a shiv on the pretense that “he should have made the plans, not me.” We can be so stubbornly wrong and know it. We can rail against things that our rational minds calmly explain because our emotions just won’t have it – they give with gusto a two-handed shove and hurl all logic off the table.

That’s been me, and occasionally us, and three years has given some aerial view to survey the land beneath our feet. We’ve joked that we’re like The Zax, the Dr. Seuss cartoon with the two little creatures at the intersection, neither willing to move out of the other’s way. We do move, now. What’s more, we scope out intersections where our likes converge and we make camps there. White flag territories that are taking over the land we own. Places where we are both giving and receiving. Sometimes, when Cody knows I’ll need to pump, he’ll wash the bottles while I sing Noah to sleep so we can have some unfettered together time after. We’ll have chili for dinner, because that’s his favorite, and I’m finding I like it more than I thought I did. We found a show we both like, and after dinner we pack up chocolates and drinks and get comfortable on the basement couch for a couple episodes before trekking back up to bed where we’ll pull out our best theories about what will happen next. We love music, and we’re considering investing in a Spotify account so we can gift each other music in a shared space – depositing and withdrawing, transactions that fill us both up.

The morning of our anniversary, Cody heard Noah talking in his crib and got out of bed to get him. He walked back into our room cradling our morning-eyed baby in the curve of his arm. I looked over at the doorway where they were both smiling, and he joked “I got you this for our anniversary.” I responded “It’s a baby!” and lifted up the covers for him to place Noah on the sheets by me. And the rest of the morning looked exactly like it always does. Cody took a shower and I fed Noah, we said I Love You before he left. After three years, I know this kind of a morning is what we both want most.

Three is a quiet number for an anniversary. We’ve settled in. The differences we find between us aren’t torrents, now, and we allow each other more time and quiet and we don’t expect perfection, though we’ll always fight to assume the best. Logic and sanctification will have the winning hand in the long game – and we’re both getting better at playing fair (or apologizing when we don’t).

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

There was a cat in the old biology room. It was splayed out in a shadow box, covered with a cream sheet. I was rarely in the room, but my eyes were always pulled toward the box when I was. I felt like I shouldn’t look. The sheet itself says, “don’t look over here.” But it was uncovered once, and I had a visceral reaction to it, muscles tensing against the picture, my eyes darting to and away, only able to see a few seconds worth at a time, but always looking back again. I had to look. Not for class, just for my own curiosity - the perverse thing that probably killed the cat in the first place. It was what I could have expected: a garble of innards turned brown, stuffed and protruding, arms and legs pinned out like the Vitruvian Man.

Nothing in us cheers at that kind of unswathing, even in the wake of the good it does. We simply bear with it. I can remember giggling awkwardly through a dissection, and really, the laughter is an uneasy expression of our discomfiture. Who, really, loves to touch and explore death? It’s the loop play of our own mortality, the way there’s always one more dead being to pull apart and study. It’s curious the way our preserving bent as humans juxtaposes with our insatiable curiosity, the need we have to know. The way we see and touch, the answer literally pressed against our finger tips, as close as we can get, but that we still can’t understand. We do what we can, chalk dissection up as a necessary evil, and box and ship the things to classes.

I’ve been picturing this cat a lot recently. It was one of those back-of-the-mind memories that I’d forgotten completely until some present thing conjured it back. There’s some serious sickness on both sides of the family, blighting us all under the heavy strain of it. There’s a lot of praying and wondering and asking easy questions to avoid the pointed ones. It’s been hard. And one day, despite me, there was the cat, stretched out in its corner with its unwanted connection. I muddled around it in my quieter moments. I couldn’t care less about the cat itself - the bygone memory of a cat in a box, hopefully in some landfill by now. But I was upset that my mind immediately pared my family circumstances with the thing; it seemed icky and made me uncomfortable.

After a week of punishing my brain over the possibilities, trying badly to let the memory go or else find meaning in all the details, I broke down and brought it to my husband. The ever casual – “I’ve been thinking about a dead cat for a while now, why do you think that is?” We were in the bedroom where I’d been all day sick with the flu, a snowy mountain of tissues on the floor, me sitting under the pile of blankets I’d been nesting in all day. He had been beside me in the bed and nodded as I explained – me trying to cover my bases and not sound overly morbid. He said it made sense and then went quiet, walking over to the closet. From the other side of the door, he said, slightly muffled, “There’s this song by the band Mutemath, and there’s this verse that says, ‘we stare at the sun / But we never see anything there.’” I snorted, the band and the quote taking me off guard, picturing this blind fool gazing up at the sun. I imagined the black spots holing his world as he glances back down, wondering briefly if he’s looked too long and if he’ll ever be able to see again. The quote felt relievedly stupid, but it made a lot of sense. And more than that, what my husband said made me feel like I wasn’t crazy or alone. He got it. And that somehow, this unforeseen connection wasn’t untasteful as much as it was a desperate attempt to understand the horrible curve balls life throws at us. To conjure a vile image against a heartbreaking reality and say, “this explains something. This is connected in some feeble, but revelatory way, and I think I can walk forward with that.”

It’s a funny climax, but that’s the extent of it. No grand revelation from the dead cat, just this confounding mystery that comes from not being God. I often think of how progressive we are, compared to the bleeding and leeching ages past, and the even more horrific things prior. I wonder how we’ll seem to the future, if we find sure-fire cures for cancers and diabetes and a host of other incurables. Maybe we always think, in part, that we’re nearing the top of the mountain. And I’m not dissing all the work people have done to know what we do. It’s just, for all our history, we’ve cut past flesh, broken open bones, seen the marrow, and we still don’t get it. We don’t know every nuance of everything and we lose more cases than we want.

I’d say I’m comfortable with this, but subliminally I’m not – not that we don’t know but that we have zero control to surgically ascertain, for certain, the success story, which is what I want. I don’t want to sit in the waiting room, or wait at home for the text. I want the 100% guaranteed remission rate. Which is to say, frustratingly, that I want to be god – the thing I desperately don’t want to want. We’re complex beings, if we allow ourselves to follow our thoughts one after the other, and God knows this. Because, at the same time, I find our limits comforting, that we don’t know and we can’t know but that He does, and He isn’t unkind. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” starts playing in my head, which is childish, but true. If He spoke out the world, He can heal a couple family members. And I know we’re not promised all the healing and medical miracles, but I will fervently pray until a conclusion comes. So, it all comes to the age old, “why do bad things happen to good people?” And I grant you that I sit in the very presence of that answer, pleading at the feet of the merciful interceder, but I can’t fully understand it.

We live in ellipses, like the hundreds of years between Malachi and Matthew, waiting for Jesus to come. We’re plagued by illnesses with an expiration date, but their future removal doesn’t erase our current suffering. We’re here, trusting Him in the bad diagnoses and with the too small percentage for the outcome we want, sometimes crying out and begging for a cure, mouthing prayers like Hannah. It is a hard living on this side of things, and I wrestle feverishly between faith and fear. Wendell Berry said it best, and I’m with him, looking forward to “[t]he deaths of time and pain, and death’s own death / In full-filled light and song, final Sabbath.”

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

My brain makes a crackling, cellophane sound, like a tv that can’t quite make the connection, every time I go to think. Third trimester is pulling out the baby brain, throwing up walls where I used to make connections. Twice now, driving has been an adventure –mid-route my mind breaking and stalling so that I didn’t know how in the world to get to the place I was going. The well-working home-bound routines are also permeated by a hazy fog that hasn’t lifted in a while, veiling my deep feelings and thoughts, like how I might feel about all this upcoming change, the end of so many normalcies.

Don’t hug me too tight or the waves of emotion might come spurting out, all these mid-process thoughts that won’t be ordered into understanding. For instance, my mind is divided between longing to hold my baby for the first time, see his red tinged skin and draw him into me, and being overwhelmed at the thought of not being able to jump in the car and go, say I just need a day to myself and head to the coffee shop with the friend. The cold, common selfishness that shirks at being needed constantly wildly juxtaposes the warm peace that fills me at knowing he’ll need his momma to draw him from the bassinet and press the nurturing life-food into his ready mouth – me, and not the random woman on the street.

He rolls around like a whale in my stomach and I need to hold him, see him, pat him gently on the bottom while I rock him to sleep in the same chair my momma rocked me, in the same room I grew up in, brought home from the same hospital where my parents met me. If you don’t know, my husband and I temporarily live in my childhood home while we penny and pray our school debt away. It’s a gracious gift that sometimes sits uncomfortable in Cody’s and my stomachs as we long for a home of our own, where we’d nurse our baby in his own nursery, the room he’d grow up in, in a neighborhood full of friends ringing our doorbell begging to play. Sometimes I don’t feel a full mother without this. Which is silly. But it’s there - rooting out my fears and fighting my misplaced hopes out of the dirt.

He’s told me to trust Him a thousand times over. But sometimes the “yes” takes a while to make it all the way into my hopes and dreams, my relentless desire to have the material things and know all the parenting statistics. “Yes” I trust You with all my heart but my mind is still straggling behind.

There are so many fears that a new mother faces. Some are written on our faces, some hidden in our hearts. If I felt confident to tell you that I fear not getting enough skin-to-skin with my baby, of people crowding too close and losing intimacy with him (that crucial time to bond early), then I might hold back telling you I fear someone hurting my son, or worse, of hurting him myself – not knowing every detail of his developmental stages and all the best ways to stimulate his body and mind (because this is where the real insecurity hides). If I tell you that I’m tired and can’t imagine the tiredness coming, then I’d stop short of saying that I’m afraid of losing all my friends – being just outside the beltway of all the places they might drive and being too exhausted to drive myself. Fearing my interests won’t converge with theirs’ and that every time I’ll want to talk about my son I’ll feel guilty, knowing our lives don’t look the same and that I could be burdening or boring them. The lies we tell ourselves are the most convincing feelings.

Maybe it’s all this and more that makes the kindest advice from the kindest momma feel like another rock in my pack, weighing me down even as I think I want to hear you! I want to know what you know.

The new momma, the one with the first babe still warm in her womb, the one with the crackling, cellophane mind – here’s what she might want you to know and to say.

Know her mind is wracked with thoughts and emotions as she works hard to prepare for this new normal. Know she values your input, has a million questions, covets sound counsel – and that some days she’ll have the mental space to listen long to your wisdom (mulling it over well and considering the benefits), and some days she’ll be the one that needs to talk it out, these confounding feelings bearing down on her.

When you meet with her, try not to heap suggestions on a young mother’s head. Don’t take your strongest held parenting dogma and tell her she has to do this because it’s the only way that works. Do look her in the eyes and tell her she’ll do great. You won’t notice the eighth inch her shoulders raise, the way you’ve removed a fraction of the burden she feels. But she will. Don’t tell her all your hard-won, childrearing wisdom in one whirlwind sit. Do ask her what she wants to know, and what she’s looking forward to, checking in with her often with an ear quick to listen. If you’re able, turn back the pages of your mind to when you were in her steps, and empathize and joy with her. Remember the fear and the excitement and the lurch in your stomach every time you realized that this humongous tummy sitting on your legs was a very real human waiting to call you mom. Hold her hand – she’ll need you. She doesn’t know how to read this new map. Be her friend – that might be more than she’s capable of asking.