Birth and Death, Breath by Breath

My knees met the floor at the side of my bed in desperation, exhaustion. Ironically, the same place I bowed down to birth, I found myself surrendering to grief.

In anger and tears, I had lost all strength. The pain was too much.

As time recklessly and graciously ticked on, the swell passed.

When I got to my feet, I was surprised to uncover that giving birth had taught me how to survive grief. 



As goes birth so does death,
breath by breath. 

Waves of intensity build to a first breath,
from a last.

Every swell comes crashing with a purpose.
Feel it, don’t fear it.
Welcome it, don’t fight it.
Dance to it, flow with it and let it move through you.

But don’t let it take you away.
Feel your feet on the ground,
your gaze on the wall,
the breath in your lungs.

Deep inhale.
Full exhale.

Determined minds present an endless Q and A:
What just happened? What’s next?
Why him? Will she ever come?

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

When your limit is near, the wave knowingly retreats:
Sweet relief.
Find your balance.
Brave a smile, an effortless laugh.
Reach for hope, a glass of water, connection and gratitude.

But how will I get through that intensity again?

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

You were made for this.
Cut from the same cloth as the sea and trees,
made to be two things at once.
Living and dying,
ebbing and flowing. 

Birth and death,
a tug-of-war of fear and hope.
Compassion, anxiety, resilience, resistance.

Tucked beneath comfort blankets and glossy eyes,
new life has unearthed.
Everything forever changed. 

What’s left? What’s next?
What’s always been:
Nothing but love.

Deep Inhale.
Full exhale.

A Family of Our Own

There’s only so much other people see; at the park, on a playdate, in a photo or through an Instagram page. It’s all real, but it’s only a part of our story. The intricacies, everything unfiltered, what we’re like in these four walls – that’s the nectar reserved just for us. The cheeky smiles before the huge laughs, the inside jokes on the last page of the potty book, the bedtime shenanigans, the embarrassing dance moves, the strange “sammie” voices and nonsensical nicknames. How we look singing Sam Hunt songs in Eddie the Explorer. The loudest screams, the deepest cries and the softest hearts. Pillow talk. The best of us, the worst of us, all of us. In the moments in between what other people see and what we choose to share, we are knitting the heart of our family. A family of our own. Home. 

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Ara & Little Boy

I used to think Maisley had an imaginary friend. Her name was Ara. She talked to her often; on long drives, in the kiddie pool, in bed. After months of inquiring about Ara and google searching the scale of normal for imaginary friends, I found out some other, arguably less disturbing news about who Ara really was.

It happened in the car one day.

I turned around in the midst of a conversation with Ara to find Maisley gently cradling her left foot. She proceeded to tell me that Ara was sandy. Ara, her left foot, was sandy. I finally caught up to her imagination and asked if her other foot had a name. Indeed it did, his name was Little Boy. 

This is Maisley, Ara and Little Boy at their first day of preschool.

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The Missing App

A stolen moment of freedom spent on the porcelain throne.
“Hey babe, can you watch the kids? I’ll be back in a ‘minute’ ”.
I take off down the habitual rabbit hole of time well wasted; checking in on that complete stranger to see if she had her baby yet.
Gmail →  Instagram → Facebook.
Something’s missing.
Where’s that app I really need.
The one that guides and predicts my day:

For dinner tonight cook this.
Here are directions to the path of least resistance;
to the path of most enjoyment.
Reminder: don’t pick that battle.
Coura needs to be held 20% more today.
A weird rash analysis.
Toddler not listening? Say this instead of that.

An app that knows for sure: everything is going to be okay today.
So I can let go of my worries and find joy without hesitation. 
Check in to my abundant reality.

I guess I don’t need an app for that.
Time to shit or get off the pot.

Triggers

I drove to Creative Mornings with mascara on, feeling brave and un-smudgeable. I met my friend and creative dreaming partner, Suzanne, coincidently twinning in a golden shirt, jeans and brown sandals. It was her birthday and the day before Coura’s birthday. I was feeling excited to hear some inspiring words on creativity.

Five minutes into the presentation, the speaker started talking about her childhood. Mostly, all about her dad, photos in a slideshow of her dad, her relationship with her dad. More about her dad. And then, a tape recording of her as a kid talking with her dad.

That’s when I lost it. I became unhinged in every sense of the word and started uncontrollably sobbing in a silent auditorium of 200 people. I ran out as fast I could, my tears fleeing my eyes at the same pace.  It was the most blindsiding, unexpected wave of grief yet.

Triggered.

Who knew? What are the rules on big, flashing trigger-warning signs?

DAD TALK COMING. ALERT. AVERT. PREPARE. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TURN AROUND. RUN HOME AND CRAWL INTO BED.

Some triggers are obvious like going to my parents house, the spot of the phone call, a photo. Other triggers are more camouflaged, hidden inside innocent keynote speakers or coffee shop playlists.

Thank God for Suzanne who knows dark humor and what it means to cry in public. It helps to be surrounded by people who know how to position your arms so that air can flow into your lungs.

As uncomfortable as that was, I would take a public cry over holding that gigantic ball of energy in my body to wreak havoc on me in some other way. I’m slowly learning, that if I face my grief head-on with honor and kindness, it actually releases it’s death-grip and even lends a reward of peace on the other side.  In kid terms: It’s less like an annoying house guest who never leaves and more like Tom the mailman, just dropping in with a quick message and then on his way.

I wonder if other people wanted to cry that morning. I wonder who else has been hurting when I’m sitting in beautiful oblivion. 

One of the many gifts of grief: compassion.

Triggers I want more of: sprinklers on a hot summer day.

Baseball, Granddaughters & 2x4s

Hey Dadio,

Last week was the Padres home opener and the weather hit a soul-quenching 80 here in San Diego (there is so much pollen in the air, your allergies would be off the charts).  Did you hear that the Padres picked up Manny Machado? Remember when we sat so high in the nosebleeds at Angel stadium that I was afraid we’d fall off the edge? 

Since I know you would ask, here’s a quick granddaughter update:

Coura Joan’s two front teeth are popping through like a couple of teensy white chiclets. Her squinty four-toofed smile is the best part of my day. Her nickname of the week is Joanies, however, Maisley calls her Maya Malaya or Malanky or Makeherd (?). We have no idea where those came from. Coura climbs into every crack and crevice she can find, her favorite spot being the entertainment center. She eats each meal like I’ve never fed her before and she is most happy while booty bouncing around the coffee table, swinging, or comfortably tucked in the nook of my hip. She’s always watching and following her big sister (even if she just pushed her down) and she laughs when we laugh. She gets her helmet off in a month or so which means hard surfaces won’t go as easy on her – especially since those first steps are just around the corner.

Maisley is now dressing herself and much to my inner child’s surprise, loves anything with tulle.  The only way she lets me do “crazy hair” in the morning is by coloring it with bright hair markers. She calls popcorn, “Popcorns”, and her favorite food is a cheese stick. Her mood and energy is that of a dragon fly trapped in a glass bottle. She has challenged me in every way and I wish daily that I had a roadmap to understanding her next move and what she needs from me. Especially when she runs away from me at the aquarium and I lose her to a sea of fish and panic. She is sensitive to people and things around her, always the first to step up and help. Her preschool teachers say she is a really good listener at school. Weird…just like at home!

It’s harder as more milestones pop up and days go by because it means we are further away from how we were when you were here. But as the girls change and grow, I am excited to see your traits in them revealed.  You will always be a part of them in the form of DNA and vivid stories. So far I think Maisley has your helping hands and Coura has your go-getter determination.


I’m spearheading our mailbox renovation project on Rock Creek – although you probably already know this because I was talking out loud to you in Home Depot. “Tom the mailman” informed me that our post is about to topple over, so me and Ryan, alongside Warren and Mike are replacing it. In my first attempt at a supply run I got: 12, foot long 2x4s. I then realized I was supposed to get a 12 foot long, 2×4. I could use some light guidance for the install this weekend.

There are so many invaluable gifts you’ve given us since you left; deeper spirituality and faith, new people, greater awareness of the present moment, more knowledge about ourselves – the list goes on.  I’d rather be a girl with a dad here on Earth, but I’m going to take full advantage of these new experiences and perspectives as a form of gratitude. 

I have to remind myself all the time: our worst day was your best. From what I can imagine and what my heart knows to be true, you’ve never been happier. Life without you here is still a little like freshman year and I’m awkward and sometimes I hide in the locker room to eat lunch, but I’m slowly learning how to be in this new existence. How to honor and communicate with you in new ways.  The memories are cloudy and a little jagged, but I know one day they will come flowing out as easily as a breath.

Have you met any famous people up there like Abe Lincoln or The Great Bambino? Other than being with us all of the time, are you a guardian angel for anyone else?

Missing you every day in every way. Love you Dadio!

In a bottomless pit of gratitude and baseball game nachos (with jalapeños),

– Jen

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

This land is your land, this land is my land…

Pandora just happened to settle on these words chirped by Elizabeth Mitchell as we drove from Sausalito to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge catches my breath every time I see it. At first just peeking over Victorian rooftops and then, in plain, awe-inspiring site. We rented a convertible, because why not on a 24-hour surprise birthday trip to San Francisco with no kids?

Looking up to see nothing but blue sky and “international orange” felt like a mix between Full House dreams and a rollercoaster to freedom. Ryan reached cruising speed and my hands caught the wind above. I was completely overcome by the near perfection of the moment.

The extreme joy I felt, coalesced with an extreme fullness of my dad. Then, a deep longing to have him there with me. To experience joy with him one more time.

If I closed my eyes under the warm sun, I could almost feel him right there next to me. He always said yes to a spontaneous trip. No questions asked, other than, “When are we going?”. Windows down, one hand on the steering wheel and his elbow resting on the side of the car. A baseball cap, Oakley sunglasses, chewing Trident gum, while giving me a half smile that perfectly said, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

I felt my dad the whole trip. Ryan said he did too. On the flights as my calming voice: “It’s going to be okay. Just enjoy it”. In the butterfly that greeted us halfway up a long hill on our hike in Marin. In the solo mountain biker cruising amidst the expanse of empty trails. In a juicy orange. In the fog horn and the ocean bell.

It’s amazing that my dad was in San Francisco. It confirmed that inkling, that he’s in me. He’s in all of us. He’s everywhere.

So, listen to the songs he loved.
Go to the places he loved to go.
Travel 500 miles away and feel him.
But also, just be. He’s right here.