Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year Once More

I answer these questions on my blog each year.  2009, 2010, 2011.  Here we go again...

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?
Brought home a baby from the hospital.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year I resolved to walk the dog more often, spend less time on the computer, work more during the day to have more free time in the evenings, do more yoga, and give proofs of love.  I was better at keeping some of these than others...  Poor Cooper's walks definitely diminished in frequency these past six months (but I'm going to resolve to do better next year!).  I definitely spent less time on the computer than I did in 2011 (the computer was my lifeline in many ways in 2011--it's just that too much of a good thing is not good for me).  I tried to give proofs of love (especially thank you notes), and will make that resolution again.  I did pretty well at working during the day--the big challenge will come when I go back to teaching in January.  Yes, I will be making more resolutions for 2013.  I'll keep you posted.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me and many of my online besties, including Brandy, Laura, Molly, Keleen, and several others who read here (xoxo).  It has been wonderful to be able to have such a community of support not only after Eliza's loss, but also after Zuzu's birth.  My heart goes out to bereaved parents who are expecting in 2013, those who are struggling to get pregnant again, and especially to those who experienced a second heartbreaking loss in 2012.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
David's grandpa died in January of 2012, about six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  My friend Brad died the week of Thanksgiving after fighting a battle with leukemia. He was 33 years old.  #fuckcancer

5. What countries did you visit?
We did not do much traveling this year--first year since David and I have been together that we didn't fly somewhere on vacation.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A house big enough to accommodate visitors and a better system for organizing digital photos.

7. What dates from 2012 will remained etched upon your memory?
June 29, 2012.  Caroline Audrey's birthday and the best day of my life.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
The first thing that came to mind was Zuzu's birth, but that doesn't seem like an achievement so much as a moment in which we got really, really lucky.  I'm also glad I've been able to breastfeed for 6 months, but, again, I know that's mostly good luck as well. I do feel like I've managed to savor and really enjoy Zuzu's first six months, in spite of ongoing grief and the general stress of having a newborn, so I think that's an accomplishment.

9. What was your biggest failure?
An academic article I submitted for publication got a "revise and resubmit" rather than accepted.  I was super bummed about it for about two days, but now that I'm revising it, it's so much better that I have to grudgingly admit the reviewer was probably right.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Oh, mercy.  Mastitis when Zuzu was 7 weeks old.  Highest fever of my life (peaked at 103).  Also I had a stomach bug and a bad cold both in November (right after starting back to work, naturally).  Here's to a barf-free new year!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Freetime cloth diapers and the Nose Frida.  Best gifts were my new sewing machine and laptop!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
David's--for being such a great dad and hubby, especially when it comes to changing diapers and getting up in the middle of the night.  Cooper's for being such a good dog.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Little Mac's.  We are growing increasingly concerned about the risks of having an occasionally-aggressive and mostly antisocial dog (even though she's very small and can be sweet sometimes).  We even had a sad discussion about this with our veterinarian.  For now, our solution is doggie gates and a crate, but we will see.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Meeting my insurance deductible.  Buying baby supplies (and a few clothes...).  Professional photo sessions.  Saving for a new house and a college fund.  Daycare!  And the usual... gas, mortgage, Target.

15. What did you get really excited about?
The baby.  And fitting back in my jeans (with only a slight muffin-top... sigh).

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
Glen Hansard's "Song of Good Hope":

Well, if we're gonna make it
Cross this river alive,
You'd better think like a boat
And go with the tide,
And I know where you've been
Has really left you in doubt
Of ever finding a harbor,
Of figuring this out, 
And you're gonna need
All the help you can get,
So lift up your arms now,
And reach for it, reach for it

And take your time, babe,
It's not as bad as it seems,
You'll be fine babe,
Just stay close to me
And may good hope walk with you through everything
May the song of good hope walk with you through everything

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder?  Immeasurably happier.
- thinner or fatter?  Fatter. I'm still about 8-10 pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight (hence the muffin top).
- richer or poorer?  Poorer.  (Hey there, daycare check!  Worth every penny, though.)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
I'm glad to say that all I wanted to do this year was have a healthy baby and soak up every moment with her.  And I did that.  I wish I'd exercised more post-baby, but it just wasn't a priority.  Maybe next year?

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying.  But I think I say that every year.  And it's always impossible.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
On the Great Tour of the Midwest--Christmas Eve with my parents, Christmas night with David's family.  Celebrating Zuzu and missing Eliza.

21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
With our new baby girl.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Homeland.  (It's also Barack Obama's favorite TV show.  We should totally hang out.)

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Hate's a very strong word.  And, no.  I'm spending my energy elsewhere.

24. What was the best book you read?
I read a lot of books, especially late in my pregnancy when I wasn't working and needed a lot of distraction.  A lot of fluffy lit, but a few good ones.  I reread Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, which was even better than I'd remembered.  I read the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths, which were intriguing.  I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which was disturbing but memorable.  I read Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton, which was haunting in a good way.  I'm currently reading Wild Girls, which was written by a girl who was in my PhD program with me (after she got her MFA).  She publishes under Mary Stewart Atwell, but we call her Polly.  Once she and I had a disagreement in class about how we were reading a passage of Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (an excellent novel if you're interested in a sensational nineteenth-century mystery).  I highly recommend both books.

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
The Lumineers (I know, me and everyone else in the United States).  Their "Dead Sea" song is my favorite.  I like to tell David that he's my Dead Sea now.

26. What did you want and get?
a baby girl

27. What did you want and not get?
both my baby girls

28 What was your favorite film of this year?
I managed to see Argo and Lincoln and thought both of them were really fabulous.  I'm hoping to see Les Miserables before school starts.  I also loved watching The Hunger Games, even though the book was (obviously) way better.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I went with David and Zuzu to the drive-in movie to see the new Batman flick.  It was a nearly perfect night.  I was 32, which is weird because I sort of feel like time stopped when I was 30 and Eliza died, but I also feel much older than 32 (like 75), and also like I was just in college four or five years ago, which makes me about 26.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Visible abdominal muscles and Canadian-style maternity leave (a full year).  Okay, that's two things.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
Maternity wear + post-pregnancy wear = a lot of leggings and tunics; or, Easy Access for Nursing and Pumping

32. What kept you sane?
Mr. Duckworth, my e-mail buddies, and this blog

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kate Middleton (I have very mixed feelings about her pregnancy, which I think are quite perfectly expressed by this article)

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
I did not follow politics too closely this year.  I was one of those close-minded folks who had already made up her mind about the election and just wanted to vote for my candidate and be done with it.  This fiscal cliff bullsh!t makes me want to pull out my hair.

35. Who did you miss?
Eliza, of course, and David's Grandpa Gene.  Also my grad school friends who have moved to other cities for new jobs.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
New friends Melanie, Kim, and Kristin.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.
Perfect is the enemy of good.  I should stitch that shit on a pillow.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Glen Hansard's "Bird of Sorrow":

Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that buried in the hollow
You've given over to self-deceiving
You prostrate, bow, but not believing
You've squandered more than you could borrow
You bet your joy on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returning
While everything around you is burning.

Come on we gotta get out, get out of this mess we've made
And still, for all our talk,
We're both so afraid
Will we leave this up to chance
Like we do everything?
Love is gonna find us again
Love is gonna find us, you gotta be ready then

May love find you in 2013.  Here's to a new year.

And So That Was Christmas

Well, I didn't intend to drop off the face of the earth for a week--I swear, I packed up my computer and brought it with us, but The Great Tour of the Midwest left little time for, well, anything.  I'm really not sure where all that time went (besides the twenty-some hours we spent in the car) but here is a recap of sorts...

We drove from St. Louis to David's dad's house, visited with them for a few hours, then continued to my parent's house on Sunday (the day before Christmas Eve).  We left there on Christmas day to drive to the middle of Kansas and spend two nights with David's family, then drove back to my hometown to celebrate my Papa's 80th birthday and have another Christmas with my extended family on my dad's side, then drove home through Kansas City so we could see my BFF and her daughter (who turned one on Saturday).

The whole thing was do-able only because Zuzu was an amazing traveller.  The baby who only catnaps at home will sleep for HOURS in the car.  She was incredible.  Even if she'd wake up in her car seat, she'd just play with her little car seat hanging toys and coo to herself.  Adorable.  She was so good that I wished we'd put the Snuza monitor on her in the car because I couldn't believe how quiet and content she was.

In fact, the only time she got fussy in the car was when my brother was in the back seat with her and we were driving the few minutes from my parents' house to my aunt's house for Papa's birthday party.  Zuzu had a total meltdown and screamed in the car all the way there and all the home.  She was fine in between, so we can only surmise that she does not like sharing the back seat with Uncle Bubs.

As for Christmas (or all the Christmases)...  It was good--not perfect, but good.  We kept things pretty low-key, which  was exactly what I needed.  There was lots of eating (FYI: peanut clusters are totally acceptable breakfast food, because peanuts = protein).  There was some drinking (mimosas on Christmas morning).  There was plenty of baby-admiring (Zuzu has three sets of grandparents, one set of great-grandparents, and two more great-grandmas, plus many great-aunts and uncles and cousins).

There were some challenges.  David was in possibly the most foul mood of his life the weekend before we headed out of town and it was all I could do to not escalate our bickering into a full-scale shout fest.  Of course he apologized later and said he was entirely out of sorts (intolerably, so, I would add).  We talked about how some of that probably had to do with jumping back into our typical holiday routine of driving all over the midwest (which has felt stressful in year's past, but actually was quite tolerable this year--maybe because our expectations were so low?) and how a lot of it was grief resurfacing.  Christmas is so tightly mixed up with aching for Eliza, even now.

We attended the early Christmas Eve service at my parents' church and sat directly in front of a two year old girl.  Because of course we would do that.  And Zuzu beamed at that little girl throughout the service because of course she did.  Zuzu has two cousins who are close to the age Eliza should be now, and it's still hard for me sometimes, when I think about the missing little girl who should be there playing with them.

Looking back, I wish we would have done some little ritual in honor of Eliza, like a candle lighting, but in the moment, everything felt pretty much okay, which I think is the most we could have hoped for this year.  Zuzu of course brought us so much joy, and I can't tell you how often David or I would look at her sleeping in the back seat and say to each other, "God, I love that baby."  (Seriously, it was like every 15 minutes one of us would say that.)

We'd brought the pack & play for Zuzu to sleep in, instead of her rock & play bassinet sleeper.  Let's just say the transition did not go well...  Zuzu wanted nothing to do with the pack & play and slept like a baby (haha) in our bed.

We decided that Christmas break was not the time for worrying about bad habits--we were just going to do whatever it took to get through the Midwest Tour with our sanity intact.  So we did some co-sleeping, I breastfed on demand and did some comfort nursing, we re-introduced the pacifier (with success!), and we even left the baby with Grammy one afternoon to go watch Lincoln (which was a fantastic movie and made both of us tear up when Lincoln and his wife talked about their grief after losing their son Willie).

OH!  I forgot to mention that our washing machine broke the day before we left home.  Of course I had loads of laundry that I'd planned to do that day before packing.  Of course that laundry included dirty cloth diapers.  EEEEWWWWWW.

My brother had stopped here and spent the night to break up his drive from Pittsburgh, so after a frantic phone call to my mom, we ended up packing up his truck with the diaper pail and a good portion of our dirty clothes to take to my parents'.  It was kind of like college--taking laundry home to was--except with poopy diapers.

We had planned to cloth diaper over break just because we didn't want to deal with disposables for an entire week.  We'd convinced ourselves this was totally doable, as we'd be staying at our parents' homes and they have washers and dryers and it would be just like home, right?  I think I also wanted to show off how EASY it is to cloth diaper.

Ugh.  No.  Next time we will be buying dispoables for the week!  David basically took over the diaper laundry, which is the only way anything got done.  I felt like I didn't even have time to think about it and it was such a pain in the butt.  Trying to do daily loads of dirty diapers at someone else's house while your whole routine is completely off is just super inconvenient.

The lack of routine was definitely challenging--it got to the point that Zuzu just went to bed whenever we did.  Which was sometimes 9pm and sometimes 11pm.  Sometimes she had a bath before bed, sometimes she showered with me in the morning.  Fortunately she's a pretty easy going and adaptable baby--I think she handled the shifting schedule better than I did.

We did get to see lots of family, some of whom were meeting Zuzu for the very first time.  I only cried a couple of times when the sadness of missing Eliza really got to me.  We got many nice gifts--Zuzu especially--and had some good laughs.  (My brother didn't buy a gift for Zuzu because "she wouldn't remember it anyway."  He also told my mom that she should "update" one of Zuzu's newborn pictures that she has framed in the dining room because Zuzu is "much cuter now.")  My Nana always gets worked up when playing dominos with her grandchildren and she called someone an "idiot" and then told David she should "break his neck" for playing his domino where she had intended to play hers.  Never a dull moment!

My dad's side of the family did a homemade gift exchange, which actually turned out great.  We drew names (but they weren't secret) and had a year to plan our gifts.  There was quite a variety--everything from hand-tooled leather wallets, to canned vegetables, to paper crafts, to Christmas tree skirts, to pillow covers, to snowmen built from golf balls, to framed photos.  Oh, and my brother made a gift card holder by gluing macaroni to it, pre-school style.  (He included a gift card as well.)  It made for a fun and different kind of Christmas exchange, and I think it will become a family tradition.

Our days were mostly filled with visiting people and running to Target and Wal-Mart and going out to lunch and playing games and watching movies (OMG my brother rented the movie Ted to watch with my parents) and I spent an afternoon getting manicures with my cousins.  So there were lots of good things and I managed to enjoy Christmas this year, even with the ever-present ache for Eliza.  It helped a lot to remind myself that things didn't have to be perfect to be good.

We are home now, watching it snow, and the project for the day is FIXING THE WASHING MACHINE.  Wish us luck because we (and our cloth diapers) definitely need it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Awww, you guys.

You LIKE me, you really LIKE me!

Karen posted the winners of the 2nd Annual Blog Awards and by the brooke won for the Best Kept Secret category!  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  The secret is OUT.

Karen gave a play by play of how she imagines the award show went down (I was glamorous, if you were wondering).  Pretty fun.

Thanks to all of you who voted.  And to all of you who keep on reading.  Big wet kisses and all that jazz.

Now it's time to find the perfect place for my leg lamp.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Enemy of Good

I took a sewing class last night with my friend K and although the class ran an hour longer than scheduled and my baby was mighty glad to see me my boobs when I got home, we had a very productive evening and whipped up some cute projects.

While we were sewing, I shared with K my sewing mantra--the little chant I repeat to myself during every sewing project that I undertake:

Perfect is the enemy of good.

I'm not a good enough seamstress to make it perfect.  I'm just not.  If I try for perfection, it will take forever and I'll never be satisfied.  There will also be lots of crying and cursing.  (I mean, even more than usual--some cursing is generally par for the course when it comes to me and sewing.)

(For the record, I neither cried nor cursed last night--this project went pretty smoothly!)

When I sew, I force myself to let go of my perfectionist tendencies.  I know that no one else will notice that slightly crooked seam, or the way that corner is just a little bit wonky.  I remind myself that people who receive things I've sewn are focused on the project as a whole, not on the piecing or the stitching.  I try to remember that the other awesome thing about sewing is that it's sort of a rare skill these days, so most people are just amazed that I can use a sewing machine to make anything--they aren't inspecting it to see if the item is meticulously put together.  I also keep in mind that if you look at a lot of store-bought things--clothing, curtains, etc.--they don't always have perfect seams or stitches either.

After some hard-fought battles with myself and my sewing machine, I've discovered that sewing is only fun for me if I let go of perfect and settle for good.

And "good" doesn't necessarily mean "mediocre."  Sometimes--when my machine cooperates and the stars align--good can be really great!  Never perfect, but definitely more than good enough.

So each time I have to rip out a seam, or I frown at a mistake that seems glaring in the moment, I say to myself:  "Perfect is the enemy of good."

I can apply this to sewing projects, but I sure as hell have a hard time letting go of "perfect" when it comes to my life.

Here's the thing.  However we define "perfect," my life will never be perfect.  Because I'll never get to have a life that includes Eliza here with me.  That will always be my greatest sorrow, my everlasting regret.

Obviously I could not equate losing my daughter to screwing up a pillow cover.  But it's not too much of a leap to realize that if I can't let go of perfect in this life, I'll risk missing out on what's good.

Refusing to live a less than perfect life means I'm not living at all.

Christmas will never be perfect for me and my family.  That knowledge breaks my heart into a million pieces.  I can't tell you how many tears I've cried (am crying, will continue to cry) over the imperfection of celebrating a holiday without Eliza here.

But if I can (eventually?) accept that perfection is unattainable, then I can make do with all the good things that we do have.  It will never be what I wish it could be, but it doesn't have to be utterly ruined either.

That's my sewing class revelation:  Life--like curtains, skirts, shopping cart covers, and tote bags--does not have to be perfect to be good.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TV Stand Upgrade

To read this post you need to know two things:

(1) I (not-so) secretly wish that I had a home and lifestyle blog.

(2) I've hated our TV stand from the moment we brought it home and put it together.  The fake-cherry-wood particle-board ickiness of it has mocked me for years.

this is the "before" except David had already moved the cedar chest.  Can I just say that my husband was not especially great about accommodating my desire to photograph every step of this progress.  As though he's not interested in being part of the DIY blogging community?  Appalling!  #we'renotallmarriedtojonpetersik  And yes,dog beds are a prominent feature in our home decor.
The TV stand was perfectly sufficient.  It was doing its job (holding up the TV) and it didn't take up too much space in our living room and it's not like we have money to burn and don't fix it if it ain't broken and all that jazz.

And yet...  I envisioned something different there.  I wanted something with character, something that would give us some storage for the clutter educational and engaging baby toys that threaten to overtake the living space, something from the Restoration Hardware catalog.  I considered hanging the TV on the wall, but punching a bunch of holes in drywall didn't seem like the best plan when we're talking about putting our house on the market this spring summer eventually.  (Another topic that makes me kind of want to hyperventilate.)  Plus I thought we'd still need something underneath it.  Anyway, I hated what was there, but I couldn't really justify purchasing an expensive replacement.  Still, I had a vision and I knew that I'd recognize the perfect TV stand when I saw it.

Given that it is December and I have Christmas cards to address and mail and Christmas goodies to bake and package and a couple of sewing projects and some gifts to wrap and packing lists to make before we head out of town for a week, not to mention various work-related things that need to get finished (syllabi, an article, and some other reports to write), it's no surprise that I found myself trolling Craigs.list one morning.  You know, just to see.

And there is was! An antique sideboard or buffet.  No fancy pedigree, but solid wood, with nice-sized drawers and cabinets.  And at $125, the price was right.  And it was only about 10 minutes from our house!

A few e-mails, texts, one cancelled viewing, and another rescheduled visit later, David and I found ourselves the proud owners of a sideboard/buffet that was incredibly heavy and wouldn't fit in the Prius or the Honda.  This is why it's very smart to have a neighbor who has a truck.  And some muscles.  And is agreeable to moving furniture on the spur of a moment on a Saturday afternoon.

Of course, once in was in our living room, I did my typical freak out when it comes to changing things.  I decided it was too big, the TV would sit too high, it would never work, what were thinking, how were my measurements so far off, gosh 60 inches seemed smaller in my head, etc.

See how HUGE it is in my tiny living room?
My cousin Amanda (the crafty one) had been in on this purchase since it was a little Craigslist dream, so I was frantically texting her pictures and bemoaning my failure to adequately envision furniture in my home.  She talked me down from my ledge via text and then I convinced David we should just go for it.  Yes, it meant un-wiring and re-wiring the TV, but my word.  It's not like there was anything serious at stake here.  As Amanda suggested, we'd live with it for a few weeks and if we hated it, I'd sell it on Craigslist.

For $300, natch.

Using it as a TV stand meant that we had to remove drawers and create shelving for the satellite receiver, the playstation, and the sound-system thingy.  We pulled out two drawers to create two shelves that were the perfect size for housing our electronic gadgets.

the light sticks that look like paint-stirrers are the drawer guides that ran down the middle--we popped them off so the shelves would be even and smooth, but kept them in case we want to use the drawers again in the future
Of course, the wood inside the drawer spaces was light and unfinished, and I wanted to make it dark so that it wouldn't draw the eye and be a distraction.  However, I also wanted to keep the sideboard as close to its original condition as possible, so we decided to use 1/4 plywood (painted black) to line the drawer space and make little black caves for our electronic devices.  David cut the plywood to the exact dimensions of the bottom drawer space (including the little curved front) and the sides, and I bought a $3 jar of test paint in Behr's Black Suede and a mini-roller and did a super quick paint job.  This way the electronic equipment just sort of blends into the black-lined drawer space.

painting on the deck--thank goodness for the unseasonably warm weather!
Mom, you are kind of crazy painting outside in the dark.
We stored the drawers in the garage so that if we ever want to use the sideboard as an actual sideboard/buffet someday, we can just remove the black plywood shelf-lining and replace the drawers. And after letting it dry overnight, we slipped the plywood into place.

shelf lining fit perfectly in place
David did have to drill two small holes in the back of the piece in order to thread the cords through, but we figure that you'll never see the back of the furniture anyway, and if the drawers are in use, you'd never see the holes from the front either.

We wiped it down with some Old English and I put coffee-sachets in the drawers and cabinets to get rid of any musty smells (I saw this on Pinterest, and I guess it works.  I'm not sure it was transformative by any means, but my living room smells faintly like a coffee house, which is awesome and makes me feel like studying.)  By this time, I was starting to fall in love with the old sideboard.  How had I ever doubted it?

Nevermind the weird marks on the left cabinet--that's just the reflection of our Christmas tree lights.
We had to do some rearranging to make it fit in our living room.  Our cedar chest made a move to the backroom, and a trunk that had previously been in the backroom storing some sewing supplies was relegated to the garage to hold outgrown baby clothes.  I didn't realize how much it would open up the living room just to move out the cedar chest.  Even with a bigger piece of furniture under the TV, I think the room feels more open and spacious.  (David thinks it looks like we need a bigger TV, but I think it looks far more appropriate for the TV we have.)  I'm not crazy about the bookshelf next to it, but we need the storage, so it stays (for now...).

OK, in the spirit of DIY/home improvement, here's a before and after:


Like I said, we're not sure the bookcase will stay there, but we've decided to hold off on further rearrangement until we take down the Christmas tree and remember what the room normally looks like.  The wall hangings need to be reconfigured (the clock is necessary as we look to it all the time, but I miss my Tempest poster from Shakespeare in the Park), but overall I think we're happy with the new piece of furniture.  The TV definitely sits higher, but it's still comfortable for viewing.  After the first day, I can't say I even notice the difference.  And I really like how it looks like a "real" piece of furniture instead of that awful fake-cherry wood / cardboard box that had been there (which is awesome!  If you want to buy it!).

I know, I would really need to improve my photography/lighting skills if I ever hope to be a home decor blogger.
OK, now I feel weird--like I'm fishing for compliments.  You don't have to tell me you like it.  But if you've ever gotten a steal of a deal on a piece of gently-used furniture or reconfigured a piece of furniture for other purposes, I'd love to hear about it.  I'm pretty pleased with my dining-room-sideboard-to-living-room-television-stand transformation (and it was a good deal, right?).

Oh, and Zuzu is such a big girl these days.  Sitting around on her deliciously fat thighs. Wearing seasonally festive head- and footwear.  #gratuitousbabyphoto

I'm 24 weeks old?  How did that happen?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Forging Ahead

When your world falls apart, I think you can do one of three things.

You can shut down.  Don't leave the house.  Don't leave the bed.  Leave the bed only to move to the couch. Don't take phone calls.  Don't answer e-mails.  Cut of contact with the outside world and try to create a cocoon that will make you feel safe and whole even though the entire reason you're shutting out everything is precisely because you'll never feel quite safe or whole again.

You can run away.  Get far away from the familiar.  Leave behind the people and places you know, the places that no longer seem to fit you because they were part of "before" and you are so entrenched in "after" that you scarcely recognize the old version of yourself anymore.  A change of scenery, a change of weather patterns, a change of wardrobe.  You know that new places won't make you forget the old, but maybe it will offer a distraction?

You can forge ahead.  I'm not so good at this one.  This one is awfully hard.  The only thing that makes is possible is that forging ahead doesn't mean you have to go out skipping with your head held high and your smile pasted on.  It's okay if forging ahead is more like trudging.  And if you cry while you're doing it.  You don't have to accept what happened, you certainly don't have to come to peace with it.  As my friend Sarah swears she doesn't actually say, you just have to keep on keeping on.

And what else can you do, really?  Because you can only shut down for so long before you become an unbearable burden on other people and you can only run away for so long before you have to feed your dog or mow your lawn or go back to work or whatever.  Escape is not as easy as you'd think, especially when you can't escape what's in your head.

Our hearts were heavy this weekend.  I was fearful.  I remember in the early weeks/months after Eliza died, I was so scared that David was going to get in a car accident on his commute.  I was tense and edgy the whole time he was driving home.  I was just so sure that if one terrible thing could happen to us that we were no longer immune from tragedy and I was going to lose everyone I cared about.

Those anxieties came back a little bit these last couple of days.  I'd be lying if I said that the idea of a gun man storming into the department store and shooting up the line to see Santa didn't cross my mind while we were standing there.

But what are you going to do?

So we forge ahead.  It felt a little callous, to go on with everyday life, especially fun and frivolous parts of everyday life, knowing how those families in Connecticut are aching with grief.  But it also felt wrong to let the private tragedies of individual families be so sensationalized that it would take away from our family's time together.  It's only Zuzu's first Christmas once, you know?

And so we decided to see Santa.

We made the trek to the North Pole Von Maur and waited in a long line.  Okay, David waited in line while Zuzu napped in her stroller and I wandered the store, browsing for things to make my own list for Santa and surreptitiously keeping my eye out for suspicious looking people.  (Everyone I saw looked not only normal, but actually nice.  And Santa promised me the fuzzy earmuffs I want.  I sure hope he remembers them come Christmas Eve...)

Our not-good-napper suddenly decided that she loves to sleep.  But only in her carseat?

We actually had to wake her up after an hour (yes, it was a LONG line) so that she would be prepared to sit on the lap of a strange chubby man with a big white beard.  David held our place in line while we went to the mothers' lounge for a snack and a diaper change and then we got back just in time for Zuzu to meet St. Nick.

This is my iPhone picture, which is less than perfect, but she did amazing!  Big smiles and happy girl all around.  She asked Santa for this version of Pride and Prejudice and some new outfits.

At the end of the day, she was pretty confident that she'd made Santa's Nice List.

Santa loves me!

David and I skipped Christmas for two years.  First because we shut down, and then because we ran away.  This year, we're easing our way back in, and it helps me to remember that this holiday is about finding hope in the midst of fear and light in the midst of darkness.

My friend Becca posted these song lyrics on her blog today, and I want to share them here, too.  I know what it is to feel despair at Christmas, and my heart goes out to anyone who is despairing this year.  May we seek out the good in the world around us, and may next year bring us closer to peace on earth.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men. 

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men." 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men." 

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Major Award

First of all, I want to share this link, which gave us some much needed smiles and even some happy tears yesterday:

26 Moments that Restored Our Faith in Humanity This Year

A friend of mine brought it to my attention that my blog is a finalist for a blogging award.  It is A MAJOR AWARD, people!  No guarantees, but there could be a leg lamp at stake.  Possibly?

Anyway, I can joke about it all I want, but the truth is that I was totally excited and flattered and kind of verklempt and I want to win this if for no other reason than I can tell David that any time I spend blogging is Very Important Work, absolutely crucial, as I am an award winning blogger and I need to please my legions of readers.

Which is ironic, since my blog falls under the "Best Kept Secret" category because I have fewer than 200 followers.  

Details, details.

Anyway, should you want to vote for the bythebrooke blog (and therefore share the best kept secret on the interwebz), you can click over here and make your mark.  Should you want to blackball me, you can do that as well.

In all seriousness, the reason I'd love for my blog (or any blog by a bereaved parent) to receive recognition is because--like my friend Brandy--I take the role of "grief ambassador" seriously.  I tell my story so other people can be brave enough to share theirs.  It's important to talk about pregnancy and infant loss because it's not as rare as we think, because it happens to ordinary (and sometimes to really fabulous) people, because we need to connect with others who can offer us support, and because we don't want our babies to be forgotten.

And the other reason I'd like to win is because I think a leg lamp would look great in my living room.  A MAJOR AWARD!

While you're there, you can also vote for my friend Jodi for Best New Blog of 2012.  She'd like a major award, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Watching the News

I watched CNN yesterday in wide-eyed horror and disbelief.

I was listening to NPR in my car at first.  They were speaking to local reporters on the scene in Newtown.  The reporters were crying on the radio.

I turned on the TV when I got home.

I didn't start crying until President Obama started crying.

I held Zuzu while she napped instead of putting her in her crib.  I just didn't want her out of my sight.  And we all know she's my comfort.

I called David, who was at work.  In an elementary school.  Full of beautiful little kids.

I asked him if he'd heard about the shooting.

He said yes, it was terrible.

And then I started crying and saying, "Just don't be a hero, okay?"

As though his school was next in line.  Because it kind of felt that way.  Such a precarious place to work--a building full of innocent children and the people devoted to teaching them.

How does someone walk into a room full of little kids with those kid-sized chairs and little bitty desks and artwork on the walls and spelling words on the board and the American flag hanging in the corner and start shooting?

I am so incredibly sorry for the families whose hearts were broken and whose lives were shattered by a madman with guns.  I think of their homes decorated for the holidays with stockings waiting to be filled and gifts that will never be unwrapped.  I think of how noisy kids are and how silent their homes must be today.  I think of the way nothing will ever be quite okay for those families again.

The police may uncover more details and psychologists may speculate about diagnoses, but there are no answers and no explanations that will make this right.  It is incomprehensible, this kind of evil and this level of grief.

My thoughts and prayers and tears are with the families in Connecticut.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you keep reading or hearing the same story over and over again?  It shows up in different forms, it takes different shapes, but it's like the world is conspiring to whisper to you the same message?

Here is the message that I've heard lately.  It started in the form of a song by Over the Rhine. The lyrics go like this:

I was born to laugh.
I'll learn to laugh
Through my tears.

I was born to love.
I'll learn to love
Without fear.

My friend Monica gave me that CD shortly after Eliza died.  It became part of my grief soundtrack, a mantra I would repeat after I got pregnant with the Deuce.  I would listen to it on the way to my NST appointments with the Deuce, as I tried to love (or maybe tried not to love yet?) another baby that I felt could be taken from me at any moment.  I heard it again Thanksgiving weekend.

Last week, Caroline received a gift from my friend Kristin and her family "on the occasion of Eliza's birthday."  It's a book called The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers.  The illustrations are beautiful and the story is breathtaking.

It's about a girl who experiences a loss that hurts her heart.  So she puts her heart in a bottle to protect it.  This solution works well, except it also means she no longer notices things that used to bring her joy--like the stars and the sea.  One day she realizes that she's missing out on the wonders of this world so she tries to retrieve her heart from the bottle.  But it's stuck.  She can't get it out; she can't break the bottle.  She doesn't know what to do.  Then she encounters a little girl, whose hands are tiny enough to reach in the bottle and give her back her heart, which allows her to fully embrace the everyday magic of the world.

I read the story as soon as I unwrapped the book, sitting in my car with Zuzu in her carseat.  And then I reread it, wiping my cheeks so the tears wouldn't drop onto the pages, as I thought about Zuzu's tiny hands and the way they did so much to give me back my heart and allow me to see this world as full of wonder.

Today I opened up a note from a friend.  She's moved to a far away city, but she has been so intuitively kind and thoughtful in the months (my God, years) since Eliza died, and I've always admired her immensely.  In addition to the note she wrote, she included this poem by Mary Oliver (who has always been one of my favorites):


The time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer
and I did not die.
Surely God had His hand in this,

as well as friends,
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
"It's not the weight you carry

but how you carry it--
books, bricks, grief--
it's all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down."
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled--
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep wave,
a love
to which there is no reply?


Do you see what I mean about getting the same message over and over again?

How a song and a book and a poem are all telling me the same thing?

Here I am, two years out, having survived a grief I thought for sure should kill me.

Here I am, practicing the balance of carrying my grief--"it's not the weight you carry / but how you carry it"--and finding laughter again.

Here I am, at last feeling mostly capable of admiring the things of this world that are beautiful but also complicated in a way I never understood before--including my love for Eliza:  "A love / to which there is no reply."

So here I am, thanking those friends who each felt compelled to share that message with me in song, in prose and pictures, in verse.  I don't believe that God intervenes in our lives the way we so often want him to--by which I mean, I don't think he decides who lives and who dies.  I don't believe he controls tsunamis or cancer diagnoses or car accidents.  But I do believe he shows up in the people who surround us with love: "Surely God had His hand in this / as well as friends."

Sometimes it truly seems that the whole universe conspires to tell you something.

I'm listening.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Good Ol' Days (Or Were They?)

One time a few years ago, I participated in our city-wide "Big Read," which is a program that includes giving a lot of people free copies of a good book and having various kinds of events related to that book in order to encourage reading.  The year that I volunteered, we were reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  If you haven't read it, it's set in the future in a time and place when things like sitting on a front porch are unheard of and televisions take up all four walls in the parlor and firemen are trained to burned books.

Anyway, I volunteered to lead a book discussion group at a local library.  The book group was mostly older women and I quickly realized that the discussion was not the sort of classroom situation I was used to--the ladies had their own agenda and my plan to close-read passages went out the window as the conversation spiraled out of control to become a tirade about the "good old days" and how times have changed now and you can't even let your kids go play in the park and kids today only want to be on their phones or computer. (I mean, the constant texting is obnoxious, but the vast majority of my students are actually pretty delightful people once you get to know them.)

I know it's easy to look at the past with rose-colored glasses, but I was sort of stunned to hear women who had lived through the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. talk about how bad things were today.  I mean really?  Seriously?  You think things have gone downhill from then?  I mean, even Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were killing people in the 1970s and 1980s (My serial-killer knowledge rubbed off from my college roomie who was a true-crime buff and I believe declared herself a criminal justice major for a short time before deciding to go into elementary education.  Which sounds much weirder when I type it out like that...).  I don't have any crime statistics memorized, but I just have to roll my eyes when I hear people lament about the state of the world today as though our personal safety is at a much greater risk now than it was a decade or three ago.

Of course, I understand that we all like to wax nostalgic about days gone by, but sometimes it's just too much for me.  Case in point:  David's grandma came to town and stayed with us over the weekend and when she started kvetching about some news story that came on the radio, I swiftly came in with a redirect and asked her to expand upon a story she'd told us last fall.

Last year, when David's grandpa was ailing but not doing so poorly yet, we made a weekend trip to Branson and took them on a driving tour of rural Southern Missouri, near the small town of Gainesville.  They both grew up in smaller towns outside of Gainesville, and that's where they met.

One of the tiny towns we visited is called Souder, which is David's grandma's maiden name.  A cousin of hers still runs the general store, which is the only commercial building in Souder.  We visited the little white church with its tidy little cemetery where his great-grandparents and some great-aunts and -uncles are buried.

(We had to drive down a gravel-turned-to-dirt road to get there and the road really would have been more appropriate for a four-wheeler or at least a Jeep, but we managed in our Prius).

Most of the gravestones in the cemetery are relatively modest, the vast majority are anywhere from 30 to 100 years old.  One headstone was especially large and kind of ostentatious.  I noticed it because the last name on the grave was "Taylor" (first name: Buoy) and because it also included the inscription:  "Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends."

David's grandma knew almost everyone buried in this cemetery--including Buoy Taylor--so I asked her about his gravestone, expecting to hear an inspirational story of self-sacrifice.

Well, the story of ol' Buoy Taylor (no relation and no idea how he came into his first name) is that he and his brother Ralph learned of a local farmer/rancher who had just sold a head of cattle.  They knew he was flush with cash from the sale, so they killed him.  They hid his body under a brush pile, and then they killed a dog and threw it on top of the brush pile so as to disguise the smell.

It was actually David's grandma's brother who discovered the body.  He was part of the search party who went out looking for this farmer.

(I want to say that the farmer was stabbed to death with a pitchfork, but I think I might totally be embellishing this part of the story.  He was probably shot with a rifle.  I'll have to double check with David's grandma on the details.  A pitchfork just popped into my head, but that seems too grisly even for this tale.)

As the story goes, everybody knew that Buoy and Ralph had done it, and that they'd been in on it together. They were trouble-makers through and through.  Evidently they were caught before they even had a chance to spend the cash, because David's grandma was pretty sure that the money was returned to the farmer's family.  Both men were arrested, and their father ("Ol' Doc Taylor" everybody called him) hired lawyers to defend his sons.

Nobody is quite sure what went down, but in the end, Buoy took the rap for Ralph.

Ralph got off scot-free and lived out his days with a family and a decent job in Kansas City (In fact, David's great-uncle visited him a few times when they were both living there, but his grandma was quick to add that they were not friends--"they just, you know, grew up together," which evidently is a legitimate reason to associate with known criminals).

Buoy died in prison.

And Ralph paid for his headstone.

My mouth was gaping open as David's grandma rather matter-of-factly related this story, which she remembers mostly overhearing as a kid listening in on adult conversations.

The headstone apparently created quite a scandal when it was placed in the church cemetery, as everyone knew what it referred to, which seemed slightly at odds with the Bible verse it references.

Anyway, I'm not sure she got the implication of my conversational redirect--as in maybe the good ol' days weren't quite so good when you recall that you couldn't necessarily trust your neighbors not to murder you and stick you under a brush pile--but I considered it a little reminder that we're certainly not living in a perfect world, but then again nobody ever has.

Also:  mid-century small town scandals are crazy.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tinsel and Other Thoughts

* I love tinsel on a Christmas tree.  I don't mean that cheap garland--I mean the individual silver strands that some people call icicles--the ones that must be meticulously placed so there's one strand on each branch.  We always put it on the tree when I was a kid and I still think it makes the tree look soooo magical.  David thinks it's "messy."  This year I let him win and left it in the box because I'm still gingerly dipping my toes back into Christmas.  In a couple of years when Zuzu is into tree decorating...  let's just say that when the girls gang up on him, David's not going to stand a chance.

* Of all the sweet things people said to us on Eliza's birthday, maybe my favorite one (and one that definitely made me cry) was when my friend Jamie wrote, "We miss her too."  I just can't quite articulate how much it means to me that other people feel a empty spot where she should be.  It's a difference between people feeling sorry for us and people truly sharing our sorrow, and wishing they could have gotten to know her and the little person she would have been.  It means so much to me.  It's how I feel about many of the babies whose parents I've gotten to know post-loss, and it's especially how we feel about Mia's twin, Max.  I would love to know what that little guy would have been like today.  We miss him, too.

* Zuzu is producing a lot of bodily fluids these days--most notably, snot and drool.  I put drool bibs on her because I can't stand it when her shirt is soaking wet.  Sometimes this is annoying because the bib covers up a cute shirt, but how cute can a shirt be when it is soaking wet?  Plus I don't want her to have slobber-wet clothes against her skin.  HOWEVER, it seems like I'm the only person in the world who wants their kid to wear a drool bib because they are not that easy to find and the ones that are out there are not very cute or are holiday-specific.  I sewed a few of them myself and I think I'm going to try to make a few more over break (that coordinate with various outfits, naturally) since it doesn't look like the drool is going to be wrapping up anytime soon.

* David moved from the stomach bug directly into a cold which developed into a sinus infection.  Zuzu has had a runny nose for over a week now and if it doesn't clear up by next week we'll be visiting the pediatrician.  We bought those saline "Boogie Wipes" to wipe her face, which she hates (of course).  We could hardly blame her, as the first package I bought was a different brand and I didn't realize they were scented.  David couldn't stand them, either.  He insists they smell like "eighth grade perfume," then, more specifically, Exclamation.  I wore Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers when I was in eighth grade (in addition to decorating my bedroom in sunflowers and also wearing a Blossom-style hat with a sunflower on it because evidently sunflowers were my signature flower) so I'm no expert on Exclamation, but he's kind of right.  When I went back for more wipes, I made sure to purchase the unscented ones and wondered why they make the scented ones at all--I mean, berry scented face wipes?  Yick.

* I get a lot of pleasure from a well-wrapped gift.  I enjoy wrapping presents, and I appreciate a well-wrapped gift.  I know that a lot of wrapping paper is just "pretty trash," but it's also Christmas decorations for a good portion of the month!  This year, for the first time, I decided to be consistent in gift-wrapping and use the same paper and ribbon for all our gifts.  I cannot tell you how much I like seeing all matching gifts under the tree.  I kept it simple (and inexpensive) using brown kraft paper and red and green and white yarn for ribbon.  The gifts look cute and kind of rustic.  Who knew that matching gifts would make me so happy?

* I am proud to have participated in Franchesca's "12 Days of Christmas With You in Heaven" series at her blog, Small Bird Studios.  Franchesca has done so much to spread awareness about pregnancy loss and her online magazine Still Standing is a lovely contribution.  You can read my post in the 12 Days series here and check back for what others are sharing.

* Zuzu is such a big girl at five months and one week!  She is so close to sitting up on her own--still wobbling, but she loves to be upright.  With the help of a Boppy pillow, she sat on the floor next to me as I wrapped presents and she totally entertained herself with her little taggie doll, Baby Vicky (a gift from our friend Vicky) and her Baby Einstein radio (a gift from Monica & Ellie Kate).  Those are two of her favorite toys at the moment.  Zuzu also really wants to crawl and is quite the scoocher.  This morning I put her down on the dining room and she took advantage of the hardwood to spin herself in circles.  We are so not ready for her to be mobile.  (And by "we" I mean David, Little Mac, and me.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Two Years

Is it weird that I feel a sense of relief that her birthday has passed?

It makes me feel kind of guilty even to type that, but the weight of day was so heavy, and the anticipation of it so tense, that I swear I felt lighter when I woke up this morning.

Last night we attended the candlelight vigil at the Angel of Hope statue.  It was a nice ceremony, and it was 50 degrees out, which is so unusual but was really nice.  There were probably around 1,000 people there.  We got there just as it was starting and as we parked the car, we could see the glow of candles over the hill. It's lovely but heartbreaking to see an event like this so well-attended.

One of the women who spoke lost her daughter at the age of 16 in a car accident.  The focus of her speech was about love, and the way the amount of love a person brings into the world has no relation to the length of her life.  And even when that life ends, the love remains.  Which is, of course, what makes the grief so intense, but also what makes the life meaningful.

I'm working hard to remember that today, and to feel grateful for the love Eliza brought into our lives.  I felt surrounded by that love yesterday, in the form of e-mails and texts and cards and phone calls and instagram photos, and I felt it, too, in the love we have for her little sister.

The woman who spoke last night talked about how she learned to integrate the loss of her daughter into her life, and she said that she purposely didn't use the word accept because she would never accept what happened.  It would never be okay.  But she did learn to live with it, and to eventually see the ways it could deepen her connections with others.  She said that even if she knew her daughter's life would end prematurely, she would still choose to be her mom because she would still want to experience that kind of love.

To be honest, I struggled with that for a long time.  If I didn't get to bring Eliza home with me, I wondered why I'd ever had to get pregnant and fall in love with her at all.  I didn't need to learn a lesson--or if I did, I certainly didn't need to learn it that way.  I already felt lucky and grateful and ready to be a parent.  Was the love I felt for her, and those brief months of happiness worth the agony of losing her?  Sometimes I still don't trust myself to answer that question.

I've lived for two years now with the painful divide between Plan A (the plan I loved) and Plan B (the life I have) and it has been a challenge not to continually compare them and see all the ways that Plan A would have been superior and happier and better in every way.

Now, of course, there's a little Plan B addition that complicates that good/bad comparison.  And I know, deep down, that life is more complicated than that.  If every decision we make has an alternative outcome, then I've lived Plan A's and Plan B's in exponential numbers--so much that I could never cleanly divide my life into two paths that diverged at a moment in time.  It still feels like I could--like that moment was December 6, 2010--but more and more I'm starting to integrate Eliza's life and her loss into the only life I have--one that is still worth living, even though it will never be quite what I had hoped it would.

I had prepared myself for Year 2 to be really difficult.  I know it was for many of my friends.  And, as is now typical for me, it was the week leading up to it that was really the lowest point for me.  But yesterday, what I found myself thinking about a lot was how far we had come in the span of a year.  How different December 6, 2012 felt from December 6, 2011.

One year out from Eliza's death was agony, ongoing.  I was newly pregnant and taking progesterone supplements which were making me nauseated, constipated, tired, and depressed.  I was dreading the day because I was convinced that if/when I lost this pregnancy, it would also happen on the 6th.  I couldn't stand the thought of the approaching holidays, and I was stressed out beyond belief at the way some of my in-laws did not appear to be supporting David and me.  I didn't know what I wanted people to do for us--I didn't know what I wanted us to do.  I didn't feel capable of organizing something, I couldn't bear to just do nothing.  I was in a really bad place.  And it had been an entire year!  I had thought I'd be feeling so much better by then!  It seemed like if there wasn't much improvement after a year, that things would never get easier.

This year was just...  easier.  I didn't feel like I was drowning.  I missed Eliza, but I was also grateful for her.  And so, so grateful for her little sister.  I can't say that Zuzu has cured our grief.  She certainly hasn't replaced her sister or made our family whole--there's nothing that could do that.  But last night I cried not just for Eliza, but for friends who have had multiple losses and for friends who have struggled to get pregnant after loss.  I cried because life is not fair, and David and I have had the worst of it and now the best of it.

The truth is that last night was easier because I was carrying Eliza's little sister in the Ergo.  There is no doubt about that.

It was also easier because of all the ways I felt connected to people who were remembering my little girl.  I know that happened last year as well, but last year I was so anxious about it--I sent out memorial cards, I demanded acknowledgement.  This year, I let myself wait and see and didn't worry about it so much.  And no one who matters disappointed me.  Do you know how freaking lucky we are to be able to say that?  Of course, I may have edited my list of people who matter in the last two years, but still.

Thank you for remembering Eliza, for speaking her name and writing it down, for lighting candles and whispering prayers.  You're all part of the love she brought to us and I'm grateful for you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I'm doing okay today, and I think we'll be okay tomorrow too.  It's hard, of course, but how could it not be?

Thanks to all of you who are reading and remembering Eliza along with us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sparkle and Fade

There are so many moments when I feel so good.  When I feel like the person that I've become since Eliza, because of Eliza, is exactly the person I was meant to be.  When I feel like I've learned something and gained something from all of this, and even though the outcome was forged by pain, we're in such a beautiful place now, a place I can see with clarity and gratitude.  I want to count my lucky stars but it would go on forever, and of all the stars, Eliza's is always the brightest and most beautiful.

There are moments when she feels like a whisper, a dream, a hope, a guiding light on the journey to creating our family.  I feel like the lessons I've learned from losing Eliza, as hard-fought and devastating as they were, are valuable lessons, teaching moments, not the beginning of the end, but the start of something so much more than I could have ever imagined.

And then there are moments when I remember just how real, how tangible, how human she was.  How alive she had been at one time.  How cold her tiny little hands were.

I cannot believe I birthed a dead baby and then held in her my arms.

Forget all the should-haves and might-have-beens.  The trauma of that reality makes me want to hold my breath until I pass out so I don't have to remember it.  And also because me breathing when my baby wasn't felt like an incredible betrayal.

The weight of her--she was solid and substantial even though she weighed in at less than four pounds.  The shape of her face.  That damn button nose.  Her long fingers, her soft jowly cheeks.  She wasn't a figment.  She was so damn real.  And now she's gone.  She's ashes and air and broken dreams and it makes me furious because she was a person with her own little body and soul and brain and personality and I never got to know what she was like outside my belly.  And now all I know about her is that she liked root beer and Greek tragedies and she didn't care for pesto and it's not enough and it will never be enough.

She died and I held her and she was wrapped in a blanket and wearing a hat and I never took off her hat because I didn't want her to be cold.


Oh my God.  You guys.  My baby died.  I had a beautiful baby girl and she died and we don't know why.

My brain does not want to accept that truth.  I do not want this to be my life.  This life of gratitude and hope and metaphysical thinking and asking hard questions and accepting there are no good answers.  I'm not a good enough person for that life.  I don't want to be compassionate and helpful and kind and understanding and changed-in-good-ways because of her death.  I just want her to be alive.

I'm angry.  I want the smug, safe, comfortable life where tragedy happens to other people, not to me, and certainly not to my baby.  I want to be naive and innocent and stupid and happy.  I don't want Christmas to be loaded with grief coming in on the flipside.  I don't want to be so damn angry that all the things we can do with Caroline this year, things we're looking forward to doing--photos and Santa and carols and gifts--we should have been doing for the last two years with her sister.

I know Christmas is about magic and miracles.  It's about hope and love in the dust and hay of a stable.  It's about a world that is lost and in pain finding an unexpected pathway to something greater and more beautiful than they had imagined--and doing so through the birth of a baby.

But none of that makes Christmas easy, especially coming as it does on the heels of my heartbreak.

Two years ago, that baby in the manger was like a dagger in my heart.  A virgin could have a baby without any medical care in a freaking barnyard and THAT baby lives to grow up!  (Yes, I was jealous of the Virgin Mary.  I'm not proud of it.  Grief is ugly and stupid and relentless.)

This year, I put up our nativity scene, surrounded by my choir of angels, and I could handle the baby Jesus.  After all, he grew up to be a pretty decent guy.  And his mom's heart was broken, too, so it's not like I can really stay mad at Mary these days.  So I guess I've made some improvement since one of the major aspects of Christianity no longer upsets me?  It's the missing two-year-old who should be singing "Away in a Manger" that still makes me cry.

I say I lost eighteen months of my life to grief, and I mean it.  Those were months when I didn't want to leave my house. When the only places I went were work, the grocery store, and then--finally--to yoga classes and coffee shops with (childless) friends. Those were months when I couldn't bear to have conversations with some of my best friends.  When seeing babies and hearing about pregnancies made my chest constrict with jealousy and my stomach clench in sorrow.  When every baby shower thrown before the baby was born felt like a personal slap in the face, like they were saying, "It happened to you but it won't happen to me!"  Those were months I watched countless hours of TV, needing the noise because it hurt to much to listen to what was in my own head--an interminable chant: "I want my baby."

And that's not to say that magically, eighteen months later I had another baby and all was well and my grief was over.  Because things are SO MUCH better and often really, really great and I feel lucky and happy and sometimes even shallow and superficially so, which is awesome because I never thought I'd get here again.  But even with the rainbow, it's not all sunshine, you know?

And you know what?  I'm pissed off about that too.  Because Caroline's babyhood shouldn't be shadowed or drizzled or overcast with my heartbreak.  And maybe our lives today are quieter and easier and lovelier because we are so grateful for her, and maybe her tiny little hands (always warm) have worked their own miracles in helping me recover from Eliza's loss, but STILL.  It is so damn unfair.

And I know I'm just like every other sot who nods sagely and says, "Oh, life is hard.  We all must suffer." and then cries foul when it happens to me because obviously I meant everyone else should suffer and I should just, you know, have a rough day at work and that should be it for me.

But today.  Two days out from the bleakest anniversary I can imagine, the sparkle is fading fast and I am feeling so, so sad.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Stocking Was Hung

My mom is in the process of making Zuzu a stocking to have a Grammy's house, but we wanted her to have one here as well.  The stocking I always had growing up is still at my mom's (it was handmade... I think by one of my great-aunts?  It has a little mouse on it) and David has a stocking there (No idea where it came from), too, but we also have a matching pair of stockings here at our house that I bought at Target for our first Christmas together (awwww).  They are fair isle sweater-like stockings and only kind of cute.  But now I feel sort of sentimental about them, so I don't know if I'll replace them some day or not.  Mac and Cooper also have stockings that look like paws.  Because why would a dog have a human-foot shaped stocking?  Makes no sense, right?

Anyway, I considered making a stocking for Zuzu to have at our house (I've actually sewn stockings in the past for some of my friends' kids).  But then I saw this one at Pottery Barn Kids and I decided to go ahead and order it.

I think it's absolutely darling.  I love the ice skater's tulle skirt and her little scarf.  I love the way it looks hanging in our living room (perhaps some day we'll have a house with an actual fireplace).  It's pretty much as perfect as it could be.

The only thing that would be better is if there were an Eliza stocking next to it.

David and I talked about that--should we order one?  There's an angel one that is so sweet.   I considered it.  But I didn't add it to my shopping bag.  I feel really sad that Eliza doesn't have a stocking, but the truth is, I don't want her stocking.  I just want her.   Honestly, I think it might make me even even sadder to see her stocking there, empty.  Sometimes it's hard to know where to draw the line between incorporating Eliza into our family traditions and just making myself even more miserable about missing her.  I know we could probably come up with something special that involved an Eliza-stocking, but that just feels too hard for us on a holiday that is already hard.

I'm telling myself that we have lots of other ways that Eliza is represented at Christmastime--angels and ornaments and something new that's in the works (I'll keep you posted)--so it's not like we're trying to pretend she never existed.  I love all those reminders of her, but none of them changes the fact that she's not here.

So we're sticking with the one stocking.  I hate that it doesn't have a sister stocking, but as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much the best stocking ever.

Yeah, we can call that a metaphor for this:

Her shirt reads, "I'm the Perfect Present."  Naturally.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November's End

I made it!  A post a day everyday for 30 days.  I thought I might not make it today, as we were crazy busy, but here we are at almost 10 o'clock (almost past my bedtime!) and I'm typing my final November post.  Seems appropriate to reflect on this month.

Zuzu is the cutest she's ever been these days.  She's chatty and so curious about the world.  She loves to be part of adult conversations, and she is so intrigued by toys and spoons and dogs and the world at large.  I love watching her take notice of new things--it's almost like you can see her brain working.

Going back to work has been good, although I tend to get a lot of road rage on my way home from work when I feel like other people are keeping me from getting back to my baby!  I know that the reason this transition has been as easy as it's been is because I feel so good about the daycare we have.  In just a few short weeks I feel like Zuzu's teachers have gotten attached to her (and her to them) and even though I miss her, I don't worry about her, which is wonderful.  And Zuzu has started taking a bottle at daycare (as in really latching on and sucking, as opposed to just crying while they let a fast-flow nipple dribble into her mouth--a big improvement!).  She's so close to sitting up, and she wants to crawl.  If only she could figure out how to lift her butt and her head at the same time...  Once she masters that trick, we're all in trouble.  Especially Little Mac.

This month also leaves us almost 24 months without Eliza.  We are less than a week away from the day that she should be turning two years old.

I'm so grateful for every smile and every snuggle and every breath that Zuzu takes.  I know that her first Christmas is truly something to celebrate.  But sometimes I feel like a total ingrate because you know how much fun Christmas would be with a two-year-old?  Every time I think about it (especially since so many of my friends have kids that age) I feel sad and left behind.  No matter how much I love the life I have now, I will always, always, always miss the life we would have had with Eliza here.

This week was busy, and my post-Thanksgiving slump seems to have lifted a little bit.  We even plan to put up our Christmas tree this weekend.

The last time I put up a Christmas tree, I was pregnant with Eliza.

Somehow that feels like forever ago, and like no time at all has passed.

A friend wrote us a sweet note about the journey that we've taken, the journey that has brought us to Zuzu and to the life we have now--which is a good, happy life.  And she said that she knows Eliza is such an important part of that journey.

It was such a sweet sentiment, and such a true one.  Two years is an unfathomable amount of time to live without your daughter.  But I could never leave her behind because she's an inextricable part of me, influencing everything I do and shaping everything I feel.

The moment I lost her, I knew that her absence was the greatest pain I'd ever felt.

What never ceases to surprise me is that I'm still discovering all the ways that her presence continues to be a gift.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let Me Tell You About Me. More Than Usual.

In Southern Living magazine, they interview some celebrity and ask the following questions.  Let's pretend I'm a celebrity and you're reading Southern Living.

I will now tell you things about myself you never [knew you] wanted to know.

I NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT... my iPhone, my water cup, and Burt's Bees chapstick.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I sometimes leave home without one, two, or all of these things.  But then I stress sweat.  And those of us who watch television know that stress sweat smells worse than regular sweat.  (Is that a fact?  Can a biologist confirm that for me in the comments, please?)

THE MOST STYLE YOU CAN GET FOR UNDER $25... a scarf.  Ever since David and I went to Paris (three and a half years ago but who's counting?) and I saw all the stylish French women wearing their scarves, I've loved accessorizing with them.  They make me feel cuter no matter what I'm wearing.  I wear a black sort of pashmina-ish scarf the most, which is boring and yet I swear it makes my outfit more interesting.  I'm into circle scarves right now and I think Nordstrom's juniors department has the best prices on really cute ones (as in under $25).  Target's are pretty cute, too.  I often have to tell myself to FOCUS so that I make it out of the accessories section and on to whatever it is that I'm actually there to buy.

MY VANITY IS ALWAYS STOCKED WITH... Tarte make up and Whole Foods brand body lotion.  Both are paraben free and don't have all the crazy chemicals found in a lot of cosmetics.  Also Burt's Bees chapstick.  I'm an addict, it's true.

BEST SHOPPING ADVICE...  don't be scared to shop off-season.  (Possibly my most favorite purchase ever is my tall brown boots, which I got on sale in June.  I debated so long over whether to get them because it was summer and I wouldn't wear them for months.  But I did get them, and it was definitely the right decision.)  Also...  Pack a granola bar for an energy boost.  Wear comfortable shoes.  When in doubt ask yourself if you'd buy that item of clothing if it were the same price but for sale at Wal-Mart (maybe its just me, but sometimes I find that I get suckered in to the name brands when an item isn't actually that cute so the Wal-Mart test always helps). Finally, take my mom with you.  She's a great bargain shopping partner.

I ALWAYS SPLURGE ON... handbags.  Because you carry the same one every single day (at least I do).  And having a great handbag can make any outfit.  Or at least distract from it.  I got my first "cool" handbag when I was in college.  It was a Kate Spade.  One of those black boxy ones--you know what I'm talking about?  And I always felt coolest when I carried it while wearing yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt and running shoes because that was my college uniform and YET I had this fabulous bag that I'd begged my parents for and gotten as a Christmas gift.  That purse still ranks up there as Best Christmas Gift Ever, along with an electric car I could drive and a swing for my Cabbage Patch Kids back in 1985.  Plus you need one that is convenient for your lifestyle--whether it's big enough to hold a novel or small enough to fit in your diaper bag.

I ALWAYS SAVE ON...  shirts.  I'm happy to spend more on good pants or jeans that fit perfectly, but especially now when I've been all different sizes in the past two years (and my boobs are still, um, vacillating), I buy only inexpensive tops.  My back-to-work wardrobe was entirely sale or consignment buys.  (And I often cover the shirt up with a scarf anyway).  I always save on David's shirts, too.  He is picky about his pants, but I shop for his work shirts in the clearance section at Macy's and Kohl's and I rarely spend more than $10 on a dress shirt or necktie.  Seriously!

EVERY WOMAN NEEDS...  jeans that flatter her butt, comfortable ballet flats, and a best friend who works at Neiman Marcus (one of my BFFs is a manager there and I love getting her hand-me-downs).

MY SECRET STYLE SOURCE... undergraduates.  Mostly my students are total slobs, but sometimes they wear really cute stuff or accessorize in a unique way that I find inspiring.

MY MUST-HAVE FOR WINTER... my brown boots and fingerless gloves.  So I can pretend I'm a writer living in a garret in London, obviously.

You know you want to do this, too.  Let me know in the comments if you post your own Southern Living celebrity interview.