The way toddlers never do. The way adults do probably a little too much. It was whimsical and idyllic and entirely her own moment that I was lucky enough to witness.
And motherhood. It’s a downright dichotomy, the way the two of us shared a body and were literally inseparable until suddenly here she is: a revelation all the time. A house full of thoughts and feelings expressed by a huge amount of appropriately raucous moments that are sometimes interrupted by stillness and sometimes even sleep. I love her and I know her and I’m getting to know her all at once.
I realize this relationship between mother and daughter is not a new story, but God, it’s incredible that it’s our story.
Hi friends. These days, I write a lot on my instagram account (in case you were like, Man, what is Jessica thinking?! Or in case you’re my mom. Actually, she already follows me over there, so maybe this is superfluous. But gosh, it’s 8:23 on a Saturday night, my toddler is asleep, my dog has been walked, TJ is showering, the apartment is pretty darn neat and look at me, having all this time on my hands (I won’t mention the unfolded laundry if you won’t). Enough time, even, to be superfluous. It feels good, guys. Real, real good).
So here are something about me that has changed within the past month or so: I am just about 18 weeks pregnant, and now my body is feeling rather superfluous (I use that word for two reasons: one, in the “extra” sense of the meaning (not the unnecessary sense); and two, because I should probably use the word superfluous at least once a paragraph tonight). My belly is getting bigger, but so is the rest of me; I am also growing a human, so it’s all good.
I feel really grateful to get to be a mama to a whole new person. I love being Charlee’s mama, so if this new experience is anything like the current one–and I think it’s safe to assume that there will at least be SOME similarities (like the kid will eventually call me mom and yell that name at 3am)–then, sign me up. But I also feel a healthy sense of trepidation, because being the mama to a newborn baby isn’t the easiest thing in the world. In fact, I think it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done yet. Well, no–not really. I’ve endured much more painful things, emotionally. But it’s the thing that’s kept me from sleeping the most, and that was hard, guys. It’s hard to be both more exhausted than you’ve ever been and have to give more than you’ve ever given. Both at once.
Somebody told me about post partum mamas in an Asian country–forgive me, I forget exactly which one. But it must be a really compassionate one in which either the women make the rules, or the rulemakers really REALLY love their moms/wives/sisters/you-get-the-point. Because these women have a baby and then THEIR ONLY JOB FOR ONE WHOLE YEAR IS TO NURSE THAT CHILD. That’s it. There is no multi-tasking. No cooking dinner or pumping or going back to work with leaky boobs and terrible rooms that don’t lock and have no electrical outlet for your breast pump. They literally lay in a bed and the child is brought to them when it’s hungry. And if they’re making that good mama’s milk, then the world at large around them is like, “YOU’RE THE BEST MOM EVER! LOOK AT THE ROLLS ON YOUR CHILD’S THIGHS!” And also, “NO, DON’T GET UP! LET ME MAKE YOU A SMOOTHIE AND BRING IT RIGHT TO YOU AND DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH BOOKS FOR THE DAY, M’LADY?”
I admit that I’d probably get terribly bored of laying down for a year, but I wouldn’t mind all that help. Actually, I am a great appreciator of help. You can know your wines and your cars and your Tony winners up and down for the past fifty years, but I know good help when I see it. I’m basically a help connoisseur. I also think that word is really hard to spell. Like, look-it-up-and-then-probably-copy-and-paste-it-too hard to spell. But when I had Charlee Jane here in Boston, so far from my family and friends who feel like family (especially at the time; I think we’d been here for less than two years), I didn’t feel super comfortable just asking for help. You know, like hold my baby while I shower kind of help. Instead, I just didn’t shower that much. But there were two dear friends who not only visited (which I appreciated SO MUCH!)–they also brought food when they came. FOOD. Things that were edible that I didn’t have to put together myself. It was amazing and so practical and so incredibly helpful, considering how hungry I was all the time. Oh, and tired. It also opened my eyes to how wonderful help can be, and how easy it is to just assume that everyone we know in our comfy little American corner of the world is doing totally fine and doesn’t need a lick of help. The truth is we all need help–and sometimes that need becomes more acute.
And now I need to be more on the lookout for people who need help.
Just think: what if we tried to out-help each other? Tried to be the kind of people who not only visit, but also bring food when we do? The thought reminds me of that beautiful lyric:
May there be peace on earth–
And let it begin with me
And to tie things up here before I fold some laundry (It’s okay, I’m not mad; I’m the one who mentioned the laundry, not you), I think I should probably bring back our old friend superfluous by saying genuine help is NEVER superfluous, no matter how many times we give it or get it.
(And you thought I forgot about superfluous. Never ever ever.)
There are times when life as we know it stops. These are important times, defining times. We meet God and we are wrecked. But not in a bad way–not at all. We simply cannot continue to live the way we did before we knew about such grace, such love, such peace. We are changed and it’s not just for the better, it’s for forever and it’s for Monday mornings and when we’re stuck in traffic and when we don’t know which job to take; it’s for the details–all of them– and after it happens, our friends notice our faces are changed because it’s hard to carry that much around in a heart without your face showing it, too.
I was married before in what feels like a different life, but it wasn’t. It was this one, and it was me. My husband made the kind of choices that leave you not only with nothing left to rebuild, but nobody with whom to do it. So I moved on, wrecked. I walked on ashes only seeing the ashes–not knowing that ashes are a special kind of ground, a sneaky kind of ground. They slowly change under your feet until you’re standing on a jumping board that landed you here. And God, you love here. And now the ashes are always a part of here, so you cannot even hate them, though you still remember the hot, damning shame they brought and the black color they turned your feet. But feet can be washed, it turns out, and there’s some kind of vibrant, wild joy and gratitude found in redemption.
And this, my friends, is a post about motherhood, about how I’m wrecked all over again in that same beautiful way that Charlie was after he discovered the golden ticket and knew life would never be the same. He didn’t know that the Chocolate Factory was a hard place, too, full of tests that, were we simply to give into our most base selves, we would fail.
And I’m not the first mama to comment on how the highs are worth the lows, but I’ll agree with all the other beautiful souls who said it, because they are. And maybe not everyone feels this way, but there are lots of mundane moments that accompany motherhood (I mean, at least, I’ve never seen that particular phrase on any barn-wood signs).
But! It’s cumulative. Just how God wrecked me and changed the way I approach Monday mornings and traffic and impossible decisions–adding a measure of grace that is transcendent, clarifying, and peace-giving–motherhood wrecked–no wrecks me again and again–and changes the tenth trip to Claire’s (I don’t love Claire’s guys; ALL that junk!) and the mall (the mall has a way of stealing your soul and tricking you into forgetting to dream beyond a sale at the Gap)–it makes going to these places for the tenth time this week into simply, real acts of love. Because I have a little girl who finds joy at Claire’s. Who cannot put enough tiaras and Christmas elf hats on her head. And God, if acts of love aren’t weighty and valuable, I don’t know what is.
Hi guys. We are just about to that solid ground that lends deep breaths. Satisfying breaths, even. It looks like this: Charlee and I can do some baking projects together.
Now by “together,” I mostly mean I bake while Charlee goes all mad scientist in the kitchen. I glance over and she’s legit pouring baking soda onto the ground, smiling with pleasure, her toddler self just waiting to see what becomes of it (the scientists are right: CAUSE AND EFFECT IS SO EXCITING!). I quietly take away the baking soda and remind her that wasting food is a shame when we need it to eat, and in twelve seconds Charlee has already donned plastic gloves and a sponge and is making every 1950s era grandmother proud because she is on her hands and knees cleaning. All she’s doing is spreading the wealth of the baking soda–not one speck is actually getting rounded up–but I let her do it.
And then we’ve got all these beautiful banana chocolate chip muffins and Charlee wants to touch every single one of them. I can just hear TJ asking me, though, “Which ones did Charlee touch?” as he deftly maneuvers past those that are guilty with a toddler’s germs and reaches for the remaining pure ones. So I limit her to touching one. Which always means two. “Okay, Charlee, just two, then,” I say, as she happily jabs the second one with her finger.
And then it’s nap time (pause for a quick and meditative moment of thanksgiving) and I’m left staring at a mess born of productivity, joy, and exploration–three more things that, to me, once again equal a pretty solid win.
I needed some good news tonight. Maybe you do, too. Here’s what I found, friends:
The blue penguin–also adorably called the little penguin or fairy penguin–is now traveling in style and, most importantly safety, in New Zealand. The beautiful country that gave us the backdrop to The Lord of the Rings films is now one penguin-sized tunnel richer, allowing their penguin friends to travel from land to sea without harm. Now, can the US build something–anything–penguin-sized? Thanks.
South Carolina professor insists student bring newborn baby to class. Understanding that missing weeks of classes could be overwhelming and a setback, Dr. Josie Ryan not only told her brand-new-mama-student to please just bring the baby along, she also HELD the baby the whole time she taught her students math. I don’t know about you, but I think math class would have been a whole lot better if a baby was there, too. And if I’d, like, understood it.
Massachusetts is the first state to get rid of veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. Basically, this means that if an animal cannot lay down, stand up, fully extend its limbs, or turn around in it–THE PEN IS NOT HUMANE SO DO BETTER. And now it’s illegal to NOT do better. This is a direct result of MA voters, so high-five everyone who lives here, too (and especially the animals, because look: now they actually have the space to high-five!).
Janitor in New Hampshire creates fun images in carpet for elementary kids to discover daily. What’s cool about this? A couple of things. Ron Munsey cleans the shaggy old carpets that cover the classrooms and, rather than getting annoyed with their outdated appearance, he sees potential. So he starts creating images with his vacuum cleaner (um, hello, I’m just excited when I create some form of cleanliness and marked lack of dog hair with my vacuum cleaner. This guy is being a straight-up ARTISTE with it!). Fun images, like the White House (no comments, please) and the Red Sox logo (again, no comments please; I’m originally from Philly, I get it, but hush). And by the seemingly small act of creating these pictures, he actually creates something way bigger and better: anticipation in the students to come to class every day. He literally makes going to school fun! These kids rush the classroom at the start of the school day just to see what image they can find. And here’s the kicker: Ron Munsey is a nighttime janitor. He never interacts with the students, never sees their joy or is thanked firsthand. He does it anyway. I WANNA BE LIKE RON MUNSEY USING HIS SPHERE OF INFLUENCE TO EFFING CHANGE THE WORLD (ah, for better. Let’s not forget that minor detail is super important when one sets out to change the world).
Love to you ALL.
It was just the two of us this past weekend. I kept appreciating the calm and focus and missing Charlee intensely–all at once.
We went to New York City, the backdrop to where we first met, first became friends, first fell in love. We walked a thousand miles, I’m pretty sure; my feet hurt and my heart didn’t at all. It was perfect.
At church this morning, I closed my eyes and felt my inner self focus. I thought about all the times I choose to worry instead of hope and I wondered if today might be different. I’d like to do better. I’d like to let go of the things that don’t serve me or others well. I’d like purpose to be driving me, rather than an afterthought. But then I got on the train home to Boston and I snapped at TJ over something dumb involving a bagel, guys, and there it was: proof that I need grace. I apologized and decided to do better all over again.
And now I’m going to bed and tomorrow is Monday and I might need to decide three of four or fifteen different times to do better, but as long as I keep asking for help and keep deciding to do better, then I think it’s okay. Or at least the kind of okay that means you’re not at your destination quite yet, but you’re definitely on the way. And I’ll take that. I’ll be grateful for that.
My family goes to the beach every summer. We have for as long as I can remember. We pack up a ridiculous amount of those huge box fans–the kind you buy at Walgreens when you’re living in Queens and it’s 108 degrees outside and you haven’t arrived in life to the point of having an air conditioner, but you sure do have a wet towel to sleep under and man does it feel great when the fan blows on you and that blessedly damp towel (Anyone? No? Just me? Oh.).
We pack enough box fans to keep a small, non-weapon wielding army cool–and towels and quarters, too (because God forbid they let you use a credit card to pay for parking at the beach) and we drive south until we sete gas stations with Shore Stops instead of plain old boring markets.
After doing this for many years, my parents started to notice the market at the beach changing.
(Real estate, Jess? you ask. I KNOW. But trust me, friends.)
“If only we’d bought down here ten years ago,” they’d say, “We’d have made a killing.”
“If only we’d bought when it was so much cheaper fifteen years ago…”
Eighteen years ago. Twenty years ago. You get the picture.
So then, what does this mean for us? Well. Look around. Start building, start investing. Dig deep into where you are now–even if it looks like nothing–and build an empire. Or maybe a small wooden house with an English rose garden. You know, keep it your style, but build something. Nobody builds an empire out of an empire. It’s always nothing first; an idea, a dream (I know, I know: but dreams are scary. And so is regret). In fact, if you see a whole lot of nothing to work with all around you–or anywhere around you–then congratulations. Go right there. That’s where you build. That’s also exactly how the best stories start. Even the Bible starts with God hovering over nothing before there was something. It’s a thing, and now make it your thing. Two years, five years, twenty years from now–you’ll be so grateful you did.
P.s. words like empire, etc, can be highly overwhelming, and let’s face it, most of us don’t exactly want to skip through this life responsible for Rome. So what I mean is carefully and with consideration build the life you want right now. Like, if what you want is to photograph sail boats don’t spend every waking moment on Netflix, bemoaning the fact that you’re land locked in Ohio. Find a way to get to those sail boats and be ready with your camera when you do. Don’t wait. And I’m saying this to myself, because this is our life, dear family. It’s our one precious life and that sometimes keeps me up at night with wonder, you know?
I should probably be removing the many things crowding the kitchen counters right now–putting them back in their rightful places–but man, I’m just not sure that the changes this world needs will come from a tired sense of obligation.
I’m not sure the changes I need will come from a tired sense of obligation.
I mean, the counter isn’t going anywhere and, although tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, if and when it comes, I will certainly be able to organize my corner of the world then. But until that time there’s now and there’s so many different words and there’s the relief that comes from describing the former with the latter. And though there’s also a certain kind of relief I get from having beautifully empty, decluttered kitchen counters–not even sarcastic here; that is some sexy, shiny, peaceful stuff right there–I just want to talk on paper right now, if that’s okay.
Let me put it this way: my sweet and garrulous little nephew apparently asks his teacher lots of questions. Which I think is probably fine, considering he’s at school and one is supposed to learn at school and how do we learn without all those questions driving us to find answers? I mean, right? But this teacher doesn’t have time to be interrupted with so many questions, I guess–what with all those teacherly activities that apparently don’t involve answering students’ questions–so she now gives Judah three sticks at the start of the day. For every question he asks, he has to hand over a stick. Once he’s out of sticks, he can’t ask another question until he gets three more sticks the following school day. With that said, I feel like I wake up with only so many sticks and once it gets to evening I have maybe, like, one left (if I am lucky. Read: if I got to sleep past five that morning and Christmas came early in the form of TJ taking Luna on her last walk of the day). So I look at the counter and I think about my precious one remaining stick and do I want to give my stick over to clearing off counters? Or would I rather save this stick for something else, something a little more LOOK MOM! I’M TIRED AS HELL AND CHARLEE POOPED IN A BASKET TODAY, BUT MY SOUL STILL SPEAKS!
And she did.
She totally pooped in Luna’s toy basket today. It was wild; potty training is LIT.
Yesterday afternoon, TJ and I went shopping for a dress.
(For posterity’s sake, the dress is for me.)
We went all up and down Newbury Street and I saw so many dresses I have no interest in. But I would sometimes linger over a color or fabric and TJ would ask me one question: “Do you love it, Jess?”
The answer was usually no. There are so many dresses I don’t love. There are so many dresses not worth my time trying on or hard earned dollars. And this is just a dress. I mean, there are things that matter more. Lots more. What I am saying is that as I get older, I realize that I only have so many sticks and so much precious, finite time. With that in mind, it’s good to pare down, to simplify, to say there is only one thing I can do this evening, and I choose to sit down and write. I will wake up with counters that are cluttered and it will be okay because look, my soul speaks and what it’s begging for is not necessarily to wipe down the counter for the thousandth time this year. (But I will wipe the counter down tomorrow, absolutely, because it is part of the beautiful job I share in managing our home.)
It’s easy to do the bare minimum. It’s so easy to simply do the things that have to be done. Like wiping the counters. I don’t necessarily have to take time to write. But I don’t want to look back someday and only see a neat home and spotless counters (I wouldn’t mind seeing that in addition to other things, though!). I want to see choices I make that line up with my goals (I want to write books! looks like writing a lot–even when you’re tired; I want to be fit! looks like working out a lot–even when you’re tired; I want to do the things I love! looks like choosing to invest in (i.e. DO THEM) the things you love–even when you’re tired).
Oh, and I found a dress that I love, by the way. TJ sure knows how to hold a high standard, and thank God he does this for more than just the dresses I buy.
My neighbor is an amazing cook. I don’t know this because I’ve ever tasted her food (I wish!); I only know this because the aroma of dinner wafts through our shared wall every evening and reminds me that smell and taste are two of the best senses we have. Oh, she also eats dinner late. Like, she-clearly-doesn’t-have-a-toddler-late. (It’s nine o’clock, and I’m breathing it in. Also, Charlee has been in been for two hours already.)
These past two weeks have been ridiculous. And I keep thinking if I were an animal in the woods, I’d be dead by now. But I don’t know if that means this particular situation has been especially dangerous, as there are probably many scenarios that would find me dead, were I an animal in the woods.
A little over two weeks ago, I went into the oral surgery clinic at MGH to get one wisdom tooth removed. It was supposed to be no big deal. Soft foods and ice and some Tylenol afterward, sure, but should be better within a few days.
Fast forward a few days, and an infection had developed, meaning the fine oral surgeons of MGH had to install a drain and put me on some strong antibiotics.
When that didn’t work, the pain was so intense, I was back at the hospital–this time in the ER–getting a CT scan. The infection was low in my jaw, right above my neck, and if it moved any lower, it would prohibit me from swallowing, and essentially cause me to asphyxiate. (That’s why I keep thinking if I were an animal in the woods, with no preventions, well–there you go!) Another surgery, an IV to administer antibiotics and really effective pain meds, and a few days in the hospital had me feeling better.
Now I’m home and I’m getting better every day, but to be honest, I’m not normal yet (Hahahaha roll in the jokes about “BUT WHEN WERE YOU EVER NORMAL, JESS?!”). The surgeon says that a full recovery just takes time and in the meantime I’m still on antibiotics–happily off the opiates, though!–and having to do these excruciatingly painful jaw stretching exercises. Because now I can’t open my mouth very well…
So as you can see, these past few weeks have been an absolute BALL and if you need your wisdom teeth out, run–don’t walk!–to the nearest oral surgeon and have at it. No actually, what happened to me is a-typical and simply unlucky. It shouldn’t have happened and I suppose the moral of the story is that I am incredibly grateful that I am not simply an animal in the woods (God rest my soul, because you know what would’ve happened THEN).
The good part of all this: So many people have reached out with kind words and prayers; I was even sent soups, smoothies, juices, milkshakes, and a book of smoothie recipes. My mom flew up here and she massaged my neck a lot (it’s amazing how two weeks of straight up face pain will really put a creak in the old neck). My friend took Charlee for an entire day and never even hesitated when TJ asked her if she could while taking me to the ER. A dear friend visited me in the hospital (which, I realized, is HUGE. When you’re stuck in the hospital, it’s amazing to see a kind face and just talk about life for a second with someone who isn’t preoccupied with your vital signs). Every client was a thousand percent understanding, and my employers were too. My friend took Luna on a long luxurious hike and my dog walker (who has become a friend) took Luna for a couple of nights without a word of protest.
So what does all of this mean?
It means that I am squarely in some kind of amazing community. I live in a beautiful city. Like, the buildings and streets and water come together in a magnificent way. But man, the people here in Boston take my breath away.
I’m either a convict with an electric anklet ID, or I’m back in the hospital.
(Or I suppose there’s always a chance that I’m both.)
(Okay, so I’m *just* back in the hospital and my anklet ID is not electric, but rather a way for the nurses and doctors to know that, “Yes, you are who you claim to be, so let’s draw some more blood!” *Now sing I JUST WANNA DRAW SOME BLOOD/DRAW SOME BLOOD/DRAW SOME BLOOD to the tune of Ingrid Michaelson’s Be Okay; it’s a real fun hospital diddy guaranteed to lift your spirits like THAT.)
By Saturday night, the pain was rushing back, outnumbering my ability to cope by a long shot. So by Sunday, TJ brought me here so I could writhe uncomfortably in a chair at the ER instead of writhing uncomfortably in our bed at home. They gave me two rounds of morphine and it didn’t touch the pain, so finally they gave me something that routinely puts morphine down as being weak and it worked. It worked so well, that I was like, “Listen, I’ve already had TJ’s baby, but if you like, I can have your baby, too. I mean, really, it’s the very least I can do considering the way you’re making me feel.”
I got a CT scan and that’s when the doctors decided to perform another operation (I JUST WANNA OPERATE/OPERATE/OPERATE..by now you know the tune…thanks, Ingrid, for the endless amounts of fun this morning). That went well, and I will gloss over what and how much they took out of me.
I now have two drains on my body–one in my mouth and one through my mouth under my chin, so get ready for a steady flow of gorgeous selfies coming your way from this girl right here. Also, if I was in a marvel comic book, I’d be Drain Girl and you would be very, very afraid.
I’m getting a lot of good stuff through an IV and they even gave me broth last night, a nice departure from the “nothing, not even water” diet all day Sunday, and even the “okay, now you can have water but that’s it” Monday diet.
The big guns arrived yesterday (aka my mom), and the doctors will be doing something called advancing my drains today. I asked if it hurt, and they said not much, so we’ll see. And advancing my drains does kind of sound like a promotion, so that’s cool.
So there you go. Happy Tuesday and I’m pretty sure I haven’t rested this much since Charlee was born.