Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fear...and a Hope for Faith

For about two months we have been watching Madelyn sprout fears. For the first two years of her life she was fearless. There was a time last summer when she was terrified of sudden, loud noises, like a lawn mower turning on next door or a low-flying plane overhead. But that lasted a whole two weeks, and then she was her normal fearless self again. In our old apartment, a huge bull mastiff with a deep-chested and not-too-friendly bark lived upstairs and though the dog could keep Dave hovering in the doorway, Madelyn adored her. When she barked, Madelyn would wave her hand and shout a cheery "hello! hello!" (Turns out, the dog could sense her natural love and soon drew Madelyn into her protective circle. Madelyn became a part of her "family.") But now, Madelyn seems to be afraid, sometimes terrified, of things that never bothered her before: small, fluffy neighborhood dogs, her closet, the dark. We used to watch a wide array of animated movies, but I've started screening them much more carefully. Now we stick mostly to Lady and the Tramp, the Nutcracker Care Bears, and Curious George.

I know this is a natural phase - as children learn more about their world and how small they are in it, it  makes sense that things that seemed fine before would seem scary now. We keep encouraging Madelyn...and trying every trick in the book to get her to sleep in her room where the scary closet is. She's finally to the point where as long as the door is open and the hallway light is on, she settles down to bed without (too much) fuss.

I suppose I once had the typical monsters-under-the-bed fears that Madelyn has now. I don't remember them. I know as I got a little older my fears grew more mature; I was afraid of tornadoes and house fires because they could take away my home and beloved things and shake my sense of safety and stability. But mostly I was a happy, confident child. I had no doubt that one day I would be a mother who wasn't overly-cautious, who didn't worry too much, who didn't constrain her children's freedom and adventurous spirits because of possible perceived dangers.

I had no idea what it was like to be a mother. It made narrative sense to me that Molly Weasley's boggart - the magically embodied fear of Harry Potter's adopted mom - was her children dead in turn before her. But as a teenager, I emotionally passed by that passage. Now that passage grips me.

It is the same fear I have been battling since I brought Madelyn home as a brand new newborn. I was particularly emotional during that recovery, and one of those powerful and extreme emotions was fear. I was terrified of losing my precious, beautiful baby.

Just over a week after she was born, Dave and I watched the semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, when the leaders of the church speak to counsel and direct members. We were late to the broadcasted meeting, and so the first talk we heard was from a man who had lost his one-year-old boy because of a tragic accident...something so simple...swallowing a piece of chalk that had been left on the floor by an older sibling. His talk was one of support and encouragement for members who had lost loved ones, especially children. But all I could think as I sat in the dark chapel weeping was, "This is not a coincidence. Heavenly Father is preparing me to lose Madelyn." There were other times (rare, but real), when the fear was so consuming it seemed to me like I had already lost her.

The hormonal emotions that sometimes affected me after Madelyn's birth were almost completely absent after Anna's, but there was one night about six weeks after Anna was born when we had been at my parents' house for dinner. I had fed Anna in the early evening before we'd left and when we got home we took her in her car seat to her room so we wouldn't have to disturb her. I went to bed expecting to hear from a hungry baby an hour or two later. When I woke up at 5, engorged and sore, I lay terrified in the dark, realizing that I had gone the whole night without hearing from Anna. I stayed there, stiff, frightened, trying to prepare myself in my mind for the worst possibility. (Can you prepare for something like that, like you can brace yourself for an impact?) Finally I shook David awake and, with a whimper, asked him to check on Anna for me. I couldn't go to see for myself if my fears were unfounded. The chance that they might come true was too paralyzing.

I am grateful that Dave was so understanding. He didn't question me, he didn't tease me, he didn't grumble at me because I woke him up. He squeezed my hand, got immediately out of bed, and came back a minute later to tell me that she was still breathing peacefully in her car seat. About ten minutes later she cried out and I went to feed her.

Two summers ago I visited the American war cemetery in Cambridge, England. It was my first time visiting a cemetery like that as a mother and I saw the rows upon rows of markers with new eyes. My heart went out to the men who never came home, but for the first time, I turned my heart to their mothers. How many thousands and thousands of mothers suffered in silence the rest of their lives because a son was laid to rest overseas? I found myself wondering, who has told their story? How could anyone tell their story who hadn't lived it themselves?

Along those lines, I know this is a blog post that maybe I shouldn't publish. My heart aches and aches and aches for people who have lost children, and I wonder if discussing the mere fear of losing a child publicly might not sound...heartless...because I haven't lost a child. Despite the sickening fears that plague me, I still can't even begin to understand how it feels when something that horrible does happen.

I want to be sensitive to those who have lost children. I don't want to sound flippant. But right now, these fears are little demons tangled up inside of me and I am trying to figure out how to deal with them. Madelyn is a powerful, radiant light in my life and home. I spend more time than I should feeling sick at the thought of losing her, now, as a little one, in all her innocence and love of life. I wonder at the strength of my faith because I don't know if I could bear it. Love of God, faith in Him, is supposed to cast out all fear, so because this fear persists, and because it is a real, strong, powerful emotion, doesn't that mean that my faith is imperfect?

I do believe, with all my heart, that we will be with our loved ones again in the next life. There isn't a doubt in my soul that that is truth. I rejoice in it; I look forward to that time of great togetherness and profound, communal joy. But that doesn't erase the terror that I might have to go the rest of my mortal life without my radiant Madelyn or my sweet, sweet Anna. It doesn't erase my fear of having to cope with a loss like that. And so I go on, fearing, knowing my faith falters in at least one way.

Tonight President Eyring talked about compassion in his Women's Session General Conference talk. He talked about a family coping with the sudden, unexpected loss of their 5-year-old son. He affirmed their feelings of deep grief, but also spoke about their hope in the covenants they had made as a family and their faith that their family would be together forever. He talked about the divine Spirit that settled on the room as this family shared their feelings together in an intimate setting prior to the funeral. I sat wondering (while tears slid down my cheeks) at their ability to feel the Spirit in their mourning. I wondered, "is it possible that the Spirit would testify to me too, even while I hurt so profoundly?"

I suppose, now, as I think about it, that one of the strongest spiritual experiences I have had in the last few years has been during my grandmother's funeral. It makes sense that God's Spirit would be there strongly in those times when life touches death. And that's true, too, in the places where life touches death, which is, I think, why I love visiting cemeteries and feeling the peace there.

I had a friend once who questioned the platitude that promises that the Lord will never give us more than we can bear. Sometimes, she observed sadly, the hardships we face are just too much. But as I listened to President Eyring, I began to feel that maybe right now it is too much for me to expect NOT to fear losing my precious girls. Tragic things happen, and they remain tragic and awful and oh, so painful.

But maybe I can learn to hope that as awful as that experience would be, the Lord could HELP me bear it. Without Him, maybe I couldn't. With Him...with Him all things are supposed to be possible. Maybe it's not important to have faith that "it will all be ok in the end." But maybe I should learn to hope that even when it hurts so much, God helps us feel His omnipotent compassion if we seek it.

It is a hope to cling to in my fear, one that can guide my faith as I work through my fears and learn to live with them.


(By the way, my amazing Aunt Clydie did lose a child this past year because of a tragic accident. She posted this article today, and I was grateful for its open and honest advice about how to better "mourn with those who mourn.")

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Small Holidays Matter to Moms

This morning I dressed the girls in green. Nothing fancy, in fact, Madelyn's shirt was actually teal. At about 4 pm I saw a Pandora notification on my phone suggesting that I try their St. Patrick's Day station. It reminded me that I like Irish music, and while we listened throughout the rest of the day, Mads and I "jigged" together on and off. I'd had nothing special planned for St. Patrick's Day, but while I fixed dinner I debated with myself: to make a St. Patrick's treat or not? Dave and I are trying to be good - no treats, no dessert, as little sugar as possible on weekdays. But pretzels would be ok, right? I found this recipe from one of my favorite food sites and though the cinnamon sugar edition sounded amazing, salt it would be for us this Tuesday (some upcoming weekend though...!). I dyed the dough green and we made clovers. Madelyn was a great helper :)

Love this girl!

Proof that I was there

And so was Anna, watching the action from her swing

Today I learned that boiling pretzels in baking soda and water gives them their famous flavor and chewiness.
It worked - they tasted like pretzels!

Madelyn basting the pre-baked pretzels with egg.

They look like clovers, right? :P
(Haven't fixed the colors or the exposure on the pictures yet, but hey). So here's the thing. I'm a some-of-the-holidays person. Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July...those holidays are big deals to me. Little holidays, like Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, April Fool's Day, etc. have never been much on my radar. What I'm discovering, though, is that as a mom who is home all day, every day, I look forward to things that break up the normal. On Valentine's Day this year, I had a two-year-old who loves hearts. So the girls wore heart outfits that day, we made pink heart pancakes for breakfast, cut out red and pink paper hearts and taped them all around our kitchen and dining room, made heart-shaped PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and made heart-shaped pizza for dinner. And though I hadn't planned anything for St. Patrick's Day, it came and I realized I wanted to do something to make this day different from yesterday and tomorrow.

That might have meant that instead of doing the dishes after dinner we made even more of a mess, but Madelyn and I had fun. And we had delicious pretzels at the end of it - win :)

In other happenings, it did snow once this year in Utah. We made our only snowman of the season that evening, because we knew it would melt the next day (and it did):

Madelyn is only occasionally interested in Anna (we expect that to change as Anna becomes more interesting), but sometimes we have sweet moments like this:

 And though most of my attention is demanded by my two-year-old day-to-day, I love quiet moments with my sweet little one...

...who is smiling and "talking" now. Her coos make me melt.

Hard to capture her smiles (the camera distracts her). These are the best we have...

Happy St. Patrick's Day moms. And everyone else too :)