Her small body on my chest is like a weighted comfort blanket in our dark room. All of my ambient thoughts are dissipated by the loud hum of the sound machine. How do you bottle a feeling? Her body flinching. Her lips softly smacking. Her booty perfectly lifted up by an invisible string from the sky. Her sweet fingers grazing my chest. Her soft round head cupped into the palm of my hand. Her cat like purring and intermittent sighs. I inhale her breath as she exhales, reminding me of our connection and the big and small loops of daily life and death — Day and night, summer to fall, a rosary, our strawberries dying, our watermelons growing, a kindergartener starting, a country collapsing. Constant impermanence. Everyday we show up for life and every night we come back to this place of rest, where we both simply exist, and that is more than enough. Maybe if I write my feelings down I won’t forget this random Thursday night in July of 2021. The time I fell in love with her for the millionth time.
In a rousing game of “Who gave the best empty threat on the car ride”, we sat under the stars with our necks kicked back, telling tales from our 6.5 hour car rides up to Bass Lake for our Loftus family vacation.
My brother-in-law, James, said he would pull the car over and make his kids get out on the side of the road (though he promised us he would actually do it!).
Ryan threatened that we just wouldn’t go to Bass Lake. He convinced the car that he would drop me and Mara off at the lake, and bring home whoever wouldn’t stop screaming and fighting.
And the ultimate irrational threat of all? The winner? If Coura didn’t stop asking Ryan for his orange tootsie pop, he would reach into her stomach and pull out the one she already ate.
All of these desperate moments brought me back to my childhood, and the times my Dadio, the calm, cool and collected enforcer, followed through on those threats. Always the king of his word, the master of a good follow through.
When I was around the age of 10, my dad was so fed up with all of us sisters fighting in church and again on the drive home, that he promised, “If you don’t stop fighting I’m going to pull this car over and make you walk home!”
And he did.
Michelle was acting like a classic teenager one Sunday afternoon and kept putting off her chore of washing the car. My Dad said, “I’m going to wake you up before school starts and make you wash it at 6am if it doesn’t get done today.”
And he did.
We tell these stories to our girls and they enjoy the levity of the moment in hindsight. I read on all of the conscious parenting strategies Instagram pages that threats and fears aren’t great tactics, and I mostly agree. But sometimes they become family history stories, badges of honor that we had parents who cared enough about us to stick to their word.
Obviously we didn’t pull the car around and go home or remove the already ingested lollipop… but maybe next time we will.
He confesses that he likes the pink door down the street. He wears crowns when asked and a suit and tie for the “big party”. He teaches all about Sally Ride. He’s a feminist in the purest version of the word, always has been. He takes time for a puzzle and explanations of the golden rule. He gives his girls a rocket boost on their scooters People call him: “Super Dad”. We call him: “Cookie Monster”. He gets mad at himself when he’s not the picture of patience. So what if patience isn’t the defining factor for a “good dad”? What if it’s the way you teach, the way you love, how you practice braiding hair? What if it’s showing them how quickly you apologize after making a mistake? What if it’s defined by the lady at a “Yittle Moore” who knows your names and Friday morning order? What if a good dad, a super dad is defined by the joy on their faces when you come home from hours or days away? Or magic bravery water? You have our whole hearts. Every part of you
If you find yourself at Point Lobos State Reserve —
Notice the way she sways like the luminescent kelp with the tide. How the waves sound like a meditation recording, gathering all of the stray pieces of her into one, whole, present witness of the moment. Take note of the knobs on the trees, they’ll see her exactly as she is. She will feel giddy like Christmas morning, with the trees adorned in moss tinsel and pine cone ornaments.
Pillows of spongy kelp will cover the rocks; she’ll dream of a safe haven for sleepy mermaids. Anemones will be the size of her face, jellyfish will glow in the marine blue water, sea lions will sunbathe and desert succulents will grow unexpectedly on the sea walls.
She will stand right where the land, shakes hands with the sea, the greatest meeting of its kind.
She will feel right at home as the wildlife grows; Unruly Wild Imperfect Steady.
So if you find yourself at Point Lobos — Hold on to her.
2020 felt like it ended with an ellipsis, to be continued. Answers I had hoped for personally and ones we had all hoped for collectively, still wandering about.
We are living into the everyday, ordinary moments right now; stretching them out into an entire life. Ryan and I danced in the kitchen. Maisley sang Maroon Five while playing with her figurine toys. Coura told me that her arm is hungry. The moments are so delicate and sweet, with plenty of noise outside the good ones too.
In our 672 square foot temporary Airbnb cottage, we yell to our kids through our jack and jill bathroom when they wake up in the middle of the night, “I’m right here!”. There are no hallways, every inch serves a purpose. The passing freight trains gently shake our walls every night around 10pm. The vibration is somehow soothing, sending me into dreamland as a New Yorker living in a tiny Manhattan apartment near the L-train. Aunt Mimi and Sunday farmer’s markets are a simple walk away.
A mess is made here as fast as it cleans.
We are giving up space for morning and evening walks to the ocean. It reminds me of my tiny studio apartment in Australia with barely enough space to brush my hair in the bathroom, but did I mention the view? A floor to ceiling panoramic picture of Bondi Beach.
I stood at our ocean lookout for a while and watched as a rotating door of seekers came up for their daily dose; even if just for a mere minute to regain something in themselves. How do you just look at something and become changed? I was hoping to leave feeling filled up. I wonder if other people were leaving unwanted pieces behind.
Even with the gas leak, the stage five clinging shower curtain and hearing the stove turn on and the toilet flush all while laying in bed, this beautiful, garden-like plot of land with lemon and avocado trees is home for now. Maisley asks a lot about our forever home and when we will get there. I worry about how all of these transitions will impact her and Coura. I worry about all of the uncertainty. I worry and say it’s my job to worry.
Then, Maisley swings high on the tree swing and yells out, “I LOVE THIS COTTAGE!”
“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” I tenuously asked our future long-term Airbnb host. “I was wondering if you would be comfortable with us giving birth at your property?…I promise a home birth isn’t as messy as it might seem!”
Her birth story is now a story. Something that actually happened and something I can share. For nine months I thought about the day; how it would feel, when it would happen (her due date was “coincidentally” my parents’ anniversary, March 10th) and where. I now hold all of those details in my memories; there is such relief in that. Especially because the details are both beautiful and impossibly hard, and most of all; ended with a healthy baby in our arms.
Labor began early on Sunday morning, March 7th. Surges had been off and on for a few days, so I wasn’t sure if these waves were a warm up or the main event. I hadn’t slept well in a couple of nights and my anxious mind was starting to wear.
I walked my pregnant self up to the ocean lookout just a few minutes away from our Airbnb in Leucadia. My sister Michelle (Meesh) sat with me on a bench and spoke beautiful prayers to help me feel more centered and connected; the exact shift I needed to come home to myself. As the day wore on and the surges held steady, I began to realize that I was definitely in “real” early labor. Mental strength was my biggest challenge during this early phase, unsure of how long I would be here before progressing to active labor.
Ryan and I watched a couple of movies on Netflix, walked up to the ocean again and did a lot of resting. Meesh and my mom had been watching Maisley and Coura and brought them back home for bedtime. Before they went to sleep, Maisley and Coura came into my room and kissed my belly. They asked why there was a towel underneath me and I told them it was there just in case my water broke. They looked at my water bottle on the bed next to me and said, “It’s okay mommy, if your water breaks, you can borrow Mimi’s (Meesh’s).” They told me to take a big, deep breath and to be brave.
I went to bed around 9pm and woke up around 10:30pm with a surge that shot me straight up in bed. I went from the main house of our small airbnb to our little casita that we turned into a birthing suite; bed, birth tub, shower and toilet all within an arm’s reach. Mother Mary held vigil, aglow by candlelight in the window sill from the beginning of labor to the hours after our baby lay asleep on my chest. She was accompanied by a photo of my dad and several other meaningful pieces to form a small altar of inspiration and support.
The lighting was dim, the tub was full and there was nothing left to do but have a baby. At this point, I was breathing deeply and sounding through each contraction. Ryan was helping with knee and hip compressions and simply sitting with me in between. I alternated between frog pose and lying on my side, putting all of my energy into the sound of my breath and movement of my hips to not get lost in the intense, burning pelvic pain below. As I focused all of my attention inside, Ryan was busy with his many roles: doula, husband, midwife supporter, tub temperature moderator and dad to Coura when she woke up with a nightmare as I labored.
Meesh came into the room every so often when Ryan needed to step away and she jumped right into our rhythm or prayed silently and beautifully by my side. Michelle the midwife came quietly around 12:30pm, observing, checking our baby’s heartbeat and allowing me the space to continue as I had been laboring.
I hesitantly felt the call to move to the toilet, the place I knew would move things along, but would also raise some hell in the process. I swayed while holding onto Ryan as he put counter-pressure on my lower back. After a while, I started feeling a lot of low, deep pressure and felt like it was time to move into the tub. The water was magic; a welcomed feeling of levity and ease as rain unexpectedly began to fall outside.
In my mind, I was remembering my last birthing experience. I had gotten into the tub and Coura was out in 20 minutes. I had assumed the process would be similar, however assumptions and expectations don’t exactly bode well in birth.
An hour and a half later and still no progress toward pushing, I began to feel deflated. I was at 10 centimeters, far into transition as told by the back to back contractions, but something felt stalled or stuck. My doubting mind wondered if the baby would ever come, if I could handle this again? I asked Michelle to check out what was happening. I knew my water had yet to break and so I asked if she would help move things. As she manually adjusted the lip of my cervix, my water broke. I dove straight into the sensation, out of my breath and felt unbearable pain. “Fuuuuucccckkkkkkkk”, I groaned under an exhale, contrary to my former peaceful presence.
Everything was both a blur and crystal clear from here as she made her way down my pelvis. I had forgotten this next level of intensity. I bared down and pushed with every ounce of my strength for over an hour. Coura had just flown right out. Why was this so much harder? I felt angry like I had betrayed myself somehow. “Why did you put me in this position AGAIN, Jenna?”
The pressure was building, lower and lower until I could hear the midwife and Ryan talking about how to catch the baby. I grabbed the side of the tub on all fours and with one more mountainous push of pure adrenaline strength, her head emerged into the water. 30 seconds later, I was able to release her body. Ryan said he will never forget seeing her face resting peacefully in the water before her body fully emerged.
I turned onto my back and Ryan caught her, maneuvering her like a reverse football hike through my legs and onto my chest.
The air stood still. Time stopped at 3:56am as her warm, soft body lay peacefully on my chest. There was a quiet commotion around me, as the midwives worked to stimulate a deep breath from our baby. Once she was breathing steadily, we turned her around to reveal her gender. I thought with certainty that she was a boy, so when Ryan revealed through tears, “It’s a girl, we have a daughter!”, I too couldn’t help but feel the flood of how right and perfect she was for our family.
I laid my head back against the edge of the tub in pure ecstasy. Disbelief settled in like the stillness of water. I went from desperate to be anywhere else – get me out of my body – to never wanting the moment to end. The juxtaposition of one of the hardest moments of my life, to one of the three best is so difficult to comprehend.
Everyone was in awe of her thick umbilical cord. She fell asleep with her arms and legs entwined like a soft pretzel in my welcoming arms. We transferred to our comfortable bed, the best part of doing a home birth. Home births are a lot of work, but the good kind of work, because we created an experience all around personal preferences and comfort. I was able to flow from one room to the next and fully engage in the birth without worrying about leaving for the hospital. Our midwives were supportive, professional, knowledgeable and receptive to my flow. Mara squeaked and squawked like a tiny bird as their gentle hands weighed and assessed her body.
Mara was born on March 8, 2021 – International Women’s Day – at our little Aloha cottage in Leucadia, in about 100 square feet of the 700 total. Even if it’s our temporary home, we will always hold this plot of land in gratitude and awe. With her fruit trees, rose bushes and salty sea air, she was the perfect place for our third baby girl to enter the world.
Time is something we can never believe. Death is something we can never imagine. Yet both are here Certain Elements of life Burn you more than others The dark moments of parenthood… Was I even meant to be a mom? A dad? I don’t feel good at my name right now More like I’m drowning in survival tasks, unable to do the things I thought I would as a parent – like teach my kids how to play soccer, build things, read. Too busy breastfeeding and cleaning blood from a stubbed toe that’s been tracked around the floor like a crime scene. I wonder if my neighbors heard me yell, “There’s blood everywhere!” Even though in the hard moments it’s hard to believe, There’s no one better suited as mom, as dad then you and me.
Every night before bed, Maisley and Coura want to hear stories from when I was younger. I often tell Poppi stories because they make me happy and keep him alive in their tiny worlds. When this one came to me tonight, l desperately wanted to call him and reminisce, so instead I’m writing it here.
I remember so vividly that winter in June when my Dadio came to Sydney “on holiday”. We had been planning and emailing and using my calling card (!) to schedule our time together. I was so happy to have him there after surviving my first two months alone in a new country. Being around my dad was like being around the best version of myself. Does that even make sense?
We traveled seamlessly together; always on the same page. Happy and carefree vacation life suited my hardworking and responsible Dad. I loved the way he would kick back in his chair with a beer in his hand and say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, huh Jen?”
The day he arrived we promptly hit the thrift shop after he saw my TV sitting on the floor. He also wondered how I heated up my food. We found a small TV stand and a white microwave, shoved them into a cab and suddenly my little studio felt more like a home. Such a classic Dad move.
We had a lot of memories from our time together, but one of my favorites was our trip to the Blue Mountains. Dadio and I both loved mountain biking so I figured a personalized biking excursion would be the perfect outing. We sat three across in an old pickup style truck for the 2.5 hour ride west of Sydney, with a real genuine Aussie mate named Steve, as our driver and tour guide. I just remember he talked a lot while my dad and I mostly asked questions and looked out the window or at each other for a funny side smile.
When we arrived at our trail, our legs were already a little stiff from the long drive. We jumped on to test out our joy rides and immediately felt the weight of the extra heavy aluminum frames. The trail that Steve chose was this irritating up and down path that was just hard enough to not be enjoyable. Plus, we didn’t even see the Blue Mountains? Ice had unexpectedly accumulated throughout the trail and the temperature was far below comfortable. Needless to say we were exhausted after our two hour ride. Good thing Steve promised and raved about a delicious lunch he would be providing! Steve, a robust Aussie man, brought us each a single, measly spring roll from his favorite Vietnamese place. I feel stuffed just thinking about it.
Read the room, Steve!
We headed back to Sydney feeling cold, hungry and with miles of memories stashed away to laugh about later.
To this day, I can’t help, but smile. We laughed about that little trek a hundred times over (once it was over). Sometimes the “worst” moments are our best memories.
I know exactly what you’d be wearing. Where you’d be sitting. The suit you’d be sporting and one of three ties you’d be wearing. Who you’d be talking to. How your hands would be positioned and how you’d hold your drink. Those subtle moves on the dance floor. I know exactly how you’d smell and what you’d love and laugh about. I know the side-eye you’d flash us when we were being inappropriately slap happy. How we’d be talking to only each other and you’d tell us to go mingle and meet someone new. Like a magnet we’d be drawn to wherever you are. Our anchor.
All the brother-in-laws endearingly took turns swinging Mara’s car seat to rock her to sleep, without asking, without making a fuss. You’d be the first one in line to help too (and not just to get out of dancing).
Having Mara with us almost felt like she was holding the empty space for you. Her blue eyes looking curiously about, the way she feels comforting and safe. The way we’re drawn to her calming energy.
She’s one of Poppi’s angels. Her and Stratt, so far.
We too are holding space for you, Dadio, and if only for a second, a glance, a tiny moment of remembering and knowing; it feels like you are there.