Monday, July 11, 2016

Express Yourself

I couldn't decide whether to go on our family's annual camping trip this year. The thought of tent camping with a three month old baby seemed overwhelming, sticky, and scary. I mean, this is NOT glamping. We have no running water and our bathrooms are latrines. If Andrew became uncomfortable and inconsolable, I wasn't sure what I'd do.

Up until 3 days before, I planned to have Tim and Margaret go while Andrew and I stayed home. But, as I may have told you, Andrew can be a real fuss-pot, so I started weighing whether I wanted to be alone 24/7 with a fuss-pot, or roughing it with that fuss-pot where I'd have family support.

I made reservations at the closest motel to the campground so Andrew and I could stay there at night. If you've ever slept in a hot tent, you know it's sauna-like, but in a bad way. When I found out the weekend was supposed to be VERY HOT, the idea of a cool room was the only option, I figured.

So off we went on Friday, heading 3 hours away into the mountains, at which point I picked up my motel key. The additional 50 minutes on the world's windiest road to the campsite made me reconsider the feasibility of going back and forth to the motel. Andrew does not like the car, and I didn't want to put him through that.

Here's a towel from the motel gift shop:

I hoped the trip would be good enough for a few stories, but not EPIC enough to make it to dish towel status.

For reasons that are too boring to discuss, I should let you know that I've been pumping milk for Andrew since he was 4 weeks old, instead of nursing him. He showed a strong early preference for the bottle, so I just rolled with it. Or, as I like to say, twice the work for none of the fun. I was overwhelmed thinking of pumping and storing breast milk at a rustic camp site, but I was determined to make it work. We had bottles, coolers, and ice packs. But as I was pumping milk in the car, on the world's windiest road, we started to smell something burning. The portable pump, plugged into the car charger, shorted out.


Thankfully, I brought formula as a back-up, so I knew the baby would be fine, but I was now in an isolated spot with quickly filling boobs and a broken breast pump.

We set up camp and I tried to interest Andrew in nursing. He acted as if I were trying to feed him a Twinkie covered with dog poo. Uh-oh!

The hours passed, and my window of opportunity to drive back to the motel closed as darkness set in. Tim borrowed an air mattress for us, we unzipped his sleeping bag to make a blanket, and I wadded up a t-shirt to use as a pillow. I hadn't packed those things for me as I thought I'd be sleeping in a motel. Soon we settled Andrew into his Rock and Play.

My big fear was that he would cry all night, keeping everyone else awake. I dreaded not being able to console him if the new surroundings threw him off. Instead, he had the audacity to sleep through the night.

While this might seem like a good thing, to someone who pumps 4-5 times every day, it was troubling. I tried to sleep, but it was like having throbbing balloons full of hot rocks attached to me. By two in the morning, I was desperate. No pump. A sleeping baby who would not wake up to nurse. A husband snoring blissfully next to me. I had no choice but to start expressing milk by hand. For the next hour or so, I milked myself like a cow, soaking an entire beach towel. Good times.

The next two days, Andrew was more receptive to the boob, and he proceeded to help his mom out by nursing a bit to take the edge off.

Being outdoors all day kept him relatively fuss-free. Yes, it was hot, but we stayed in the shade and appreciated the strong breeze. The best part was having plenty of  people to entertain him. The last day was actually cool enough for long sleeves!

Hi! I'm Andrew, and I slept all night in this tent!
 Even jumping in the air can't make Tim and Margaret as tall as our nephew, Jack's BFF!
 Black clothes don't show wet stains. Yay!
 Camping isn't complete without camp dogs.

We ate copious amounts of deep fried food, from chimichangas to funnel cake and fried oreos, told stories around the campfire, and watched some awesome wiffle ball. We even made Andrew his own little bathtub/swimming pool to keep him cool.

As Jack's BFF cousin and his girlfriend were packing up to leave, a huge bird swooped low over the campsite and kept making higher and higher circles until their car pulled out of sight. Hard times, good times, holy times.

I  still can't believe we took a baby camping. I mean, I haven't even been brave enough to take him to Target yet!

Next year should be even more interesting as he'll be toddling around.

Hold me.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Last fall I spoke at a college campus about writing memoir and about what the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted," means to me. Recently, a student who bought Rare Bird during that visit reached out to me. He had started reading the book over summer vacation. As he sat on a beautiful perch above the Hudson River, he read the part about how blue jays have been a sign to my family that we are not alone in our brokenness, and that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. Blue Jays, our son's interest in birds, and the assurance that our "rare bird" is more than okay in heaven, led to the title of my book. The young man shared that at the moment he read that part, a blue jay swooped down in front of him, reminding him that he is not alone in his struggles either. Had he not just read that passage, he may not have paid much attention to the bird at all. Part of my story became his story.

I know my story of child loss isn't pretty-- one takes a chance by stepping into it, as that young man did. As you, my dear friends, do when you visit me here.

It is scary and ugly, but I'm glad to share it as a way to link me to you, human to human. And in this case, it somehow gave encouragement to someone I've never met.

Sharing stories can inspire, encourage, elicit understanding, incite action, or even make us feel ill.

We can shut down and say we don't want to hear about the hard stuff any more-- the ugly stuff in our neighborhoods, our country, and our world. We can cover our ears and think, "Nope. Only that which applies to MY FAMILY and MY STORY is important." We can be in denial and refuse to acknowledge pain, racism, and  injustice if it doesn't touch us personally.

It's a luxury to be able to live that way, complacently putting our trust in the walls that separate our experience from others, but I don't think that's how we are supposed to exist. Your pain should be my pain, your story, my story.

One aspect of the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" is that sometimes WE are the way that closeness and help comes, from being called to seek justice and mercy and step into each other's lives, in letting God use us in love. We do the absolute opposite when we choose to ignore, refuse to acknowledge reality, and run away from each other's stories. We can be lulled into thinking we aren't part of the problem, even as our silence makes us complicit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beautiful Jewelry Giveaway!

A special piece of jewelry is one way to celebrate a loved one's memory or commemorate an important milestone. For instance, I wear a necklace almost every day that has Jack's favorite Bible verse on it.

Recently I came across the lovely Christine of No Way Out Jewelry, and she generously offered to have a giveaway here at An Inch of Gray.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces:

 I would love to have this necklace made with Jack's signature on it and a cross.

Isn't it neat how this necklace has a private message of hope tucked inside?

Aren't these bracelets great? Love.

Christine also has family tree items, baby items that feature the actual footprint of your baby, and more.

If you are looking for a special piece of jewelry for yourself or to give to a friend, No Way Out Jewelry has over 200 options!

In order to enter the giveaway, please visit Christine's etsy shop and see what she has to offer. Then, leave a comment here on this post letting me know what you would choose if you won! Also, please visit Christine's No Way Out Facebook Page. A "like" is not required, but is GREATLY appreciated.

(Contest starts at 12:01 am, June 29)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Other "A" Quilt

When I was a child, I seethed with jealousy about any advantage, real or imagined, that my sister had over me. Her long, straight blond hair mocked my poufy Dorothy Hamill cut. She was good at sports and socializing, when all I liked to do was read and clean closets. When it came to gifts, money, and my parents' attention, I spent a lot of time trying to make sure things were fair.

Each year the 13 cousins in the family would draw a name to exchange one "Cousin Gift." It was the highlight of Christmas, with gifts coming to Virginia from our cousins in Texas, Oregon, and Kenya. One year my cousin Emily drew my sister's name, and in mid-December it arrived-- a handmade quilt, each square depicting something that began with the letter "E"-- my sister's first initial. I marveled at my Aunt Bonnie's creativity and skill. I particularly enjoyed stroking the flocked fabric on the fuzzy EGG square.

Oh, how I loved that quilt!

I can't remember whether I griped about my lack of an "A for Anna" quilt, but I'm pretty sure I did, because one day my mother, who didn't like to sew at all, presented me with a quilt of my own. It didn't have the alphabet squares, or cute pictures appliqued on it, just a big A at the top made out of fabric to match the colorful bedroom Mom had created for my sister and me. I love how she didn't feel compelled to make me an exact replica of my sister's quilt. I wanted and A, so she gave me an A, darn it.

My mom loved me, complaints, drama, and all. She never made me feel like a pain in the neck, although I know I was sometimes, acting like a little martyr and a know-it-all. I love the quilt she made, and it has traveled with me from house to house over the 28 years since she has been gone. I'm glad I can still remember feeling loved by her, regardless of how I was acting. I hope my kids will one day be able to think back on undeserved, unexpected gifts I've given them, whether they are something physical like the quilt, or just a glimmer of grace on a really hard day. Today, June 27th,  would have been my mom's 75th birthday. Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

And now, on to why this memory came up for me today. Aunt Bonnie, nearly 40 years after making that E quilt for my sister, made Andrew an amazing "A" Quilt. It is a treasure! You should see the tiny whisk made out of thread that goes with APRON, or the detail on the ARTICHOKE! ARROWS? AIRPLANE? ACORNS? AMERICA? Simply adorable. Here's a sample:

I can tell he's going to love it, too.

Monday, June 20, 2016

If You Give a Mom a Maxi Dress

If you give a mom a maxi dress, she might realize she needs a new strapless bra for it. If she orders a 6 pack of one-size-fits-all bras from Amazon for 19.99, she might not understand that the sizing does not apply to her enormous jugs. If she wears one of the bras and the maxi dress all day, she might wear it out to a party at night. If she's having a good time at the party, she might let good company and conversation distract her from a throbbing in her chest. If she is distracted from a throbbing in her chest, she might not realize the bra is cutting into her low-hanging boobs right where the milk ducts are, creating a formidable wall that no milk can breach. If no milk can pass out of her body, she might stay up all night in pain, pumping, praying, and cursing her life and her bra. If she stays up all night tending to her hard, misshapen balls of misery, she might be tired at her baby's baptism the next day. If she's tired at her baby's baptism, she might blearily look around at all the pretty ladies in their maxi dresses and wonder if she should buy another one.

If you give a mom a maxi dress...

Despite boob-trauma, Andrew's baptism was lovely. He didn't cry, which was a huge relief because he has been pretty fussy lately. I'm going to try dig up pics for you of Margaret and Jack in the same gown.

Godwink of the day: Andrew's baptism was exactly 17 years to the day after Jack's.

Would you like to watch his baptism here?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Moment

Andrew loses his shizzle in the car.

Every. Single. Time

As a result, I haven't taken him anywhere except for church for the past several weeks. A two hour drive to West Virginia recently was just too much to bear, so I retreated to the living room couch, where I've made quite an indention in the cushion.  I realized yesterday that if I didn't try to venture out again soon, I could become a hermit, and my boo might never get used to the car. Oh, but what a terrible feeling it is to be driving while your wailing infant is in the back, out of reach of comfort.

Today, we ventured to Walmart, amid much screaming, in an attempt to pull the band-aid off.

Once inside the store, he calmed down and enjoyed looking around. I got a little cocky, quickly filling the cart, and even taking the two of us into the grungy family bathroom, so I wouldn't have an accident. Moments later, Andrew started screaming again, and we high-tailed it to the checkout. A friend happened to be in line behind me, so I felt a little more relaxed than if it had been a stranger.

As I pushed my cart to the car in the bright sun, holding Andrew under one arm, a stranger did approach. She quickly offered to help, loading the groceries into the back seat and taking the cart off my hands so I could get the baby cooled down. She could have criticized me for having him out in the heat-- his head was beet red from screaming by this point--  but she didn't. She just lent me a hand. I sat in the car for a while, nursing Andrew and thinking what a crazy journey this is. I mean it has been almost 15 years since I've done the front seat nursing thing! As he cooled down and calmed down, so did I. I changed his diaper and steeled myself for the stressful ride home.

He was a wreck within seconds, so I think I'll stick to the couch a while longer. Andrew seems happy here on my chest, Netflix is queued up to Call the Midwife, and this jumbo bag of Walmart trail mix won't eat itself.

Monday, June 13, 2016

1,000 Reasons

This is my 1,000th post on An Inch of Gray.

I suppose I could try to do a re-cap of the last 9 years, or make a "Best Of" list. But as I stand here at the kitchen counter, Andrew strapped to my chest, his gentle breathing in sync with my own, what I really want to do is say THANK YOU.

Life can be painfully lonely sometimes. I don't have a particularly difficult time making friends, but there are always blank spaces longing to be filled with love, understanding, and support. Rough edges call out to be smoothed with fresh perspective and empathy. And I don't care whether we are 5 years old on a mini soccer field, or 50 and making a scary life change, having someone cheering us on makes a real difference.

I have an embarrassment of riches in the cheering department because of you.

Some of you showed up long ago to read of my trash to treasure makeovers or funny little stories about parenting Jack and Margaret. Others came when the horrible news of Jack's death spread like wildfire throughout the blogging community. You could have refused to click over, wanting to shield yourself from the pain you knew you would find here. But you came to read, pray, and bear witness. You helped save my life. Some read Rare Bird and wanted to follow up and check on us, or perhaps to get a feel for where your own grief journey might lead, newcomers in a club no one ever wants to join. News of our miraculous God-gift of late in life pregnancy may have landed others here, not so long ago, because who doesn't like to hear of beauty from ashes and see a newborn's gassy smile?

This community amazes me, and I'm grateful for each of you.

I'm just a person who likes to make people laugh, although I know I sometimes make them cry. I enjoy picking up an idea, turning it around this way and that, exploring it with my words, wondering if my thoughts might connect with just one person out there. I like to be real, because being fake seems like it would be exhausting. I like to point my toes toward hope, and sometimes I find myself walking toward it and embracing it before I even know I'm moving.

Our world can be scary. There is a lot of hate out there. People tear each other down. Differences are magnified, hatreds fed and tended to until they flare up and consume.

I want to thank you for the love, for the real friendship and connection that absolutely can happen though a screen, and for being lights in my world, and THE world.