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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Let Your Light Shine"

What do you get when you combine two of my childhood nicknames: Tootsie and Bird? One evening, as the Chandler family gathered around the dinner table, my dad combined them. "What do you think about that, Turd?" The whole family died laughing. My father had called his only daughter, the 9-year-old princess, a turd. And I can still laugh out tears thinking back to that moment.

I had many nicknames, so they were bound to get jumbled at some point. I'm just so pleased those two made such a nice cocktail. My mom called me: sister sue, doodle bug, fairy princess, peach fuzz, babydoll, sugar...and all sorts of other spontaneous cutesy fluffy monikers. The nickname story popped (I accidentally wrote "pooped" at first...that's what happens when you begin with the turd story) into my head as I read this post about keeping your daughter (or son) off the bully train. Author Antastasia Basil (she's hilarious) says this:
"Every morning say to her: Be someone’s discovery of kindness in the world. Say this over and over again. Say it so much that when eye-rolling makes its debut as an Olympic sport, your daughter will compete for the gold."  
I flashed back to my mom dropping her fairy princess off at school. "Let your light shine!" she would say (paraphrasing Matthew 5:16) as I avoided her eyes and all-knowingly made my way out of the car and into the torture chamber that is middle school. There was no light in middle school. That's how I felt. I recently recollected some of my most scarring middle school moments to my mama and maybe I should have kept them in because she felt horrible that she didn't know the tween anguish I was feeling!

I switched schools between 6th and 7th grade. I actually liked middle school in 6th grade. Since I wanted to desperately take a jewelry class (in which they entrusted 7th and 8th graders with soldering irons and nickel saws),  my schedule would only allow me to be in 8th grade lunch. I was a new 7th grader, who knew a total of five 7th graders, and I was plopped in 8th grade lunch.

I knew one 8th grader from swimming, but she was way cooler than me. I sat with her at the cool table and no one talked to me. There was one day when they talked to me but I didn't hear it. It was the National Day of Prayer, which middle schoolers actually know about and were attempting to recognize in Texas. The cool girls were all joining hands to say a prayer. I was on the end of the cafeteria table and couldn't hear the directive/had no idea it was prayer time. A mean girl said, "Oh, you don't want to pray with us? Fine" and they kept me out of the prayer circle. haha. The story makes me laugh now. There's model Christianity, eh? It takes the Mean Girls "You can't sit with us" quote to the next level. I actually would have liked in on the prayer circle, but I decided that day those weren't my prayer circle peeps. I had a few lunches alone in the bathroom stall, until the hall monitor realized I was staying in there for way too long and I wasn't suffering from IBS.

I eventually found a couple of girls who were civilized and treating me like a human being. I sat with them. By 8th grade, I felt liberated because I decided with my two best friends (shoutout to the Willming twins!) that we didn't care if we were each other's only friends. We were sick of buying the right jeans and running in a ridiculous style during gym class to try to be in the cool crowd. (Note: the queen bee at our school ran with her hands limply by her chest - ultimate girly run - and we all tried to run like her. Bahahaha! How ridiculous is middle school?!). So, when I recollect middle school, I guess I should say it didn't all suck-- just 7th grade was THE WORST. Sixth grade was pretty awesome and 8th grade was livable.

So, what does this all have to do with my sweet mama's "Let your light shine"? I think her reminder subconsciously permeated my soul. It seeped into my reluctant adolescent heart and I knew I didn't want to be mean. I wasn't willing to be mean to be popular. I'm not sure if I was a ray of sunshine in middle school, but I sure as heck wasn't a bully. And I thank my mama for her constant gentle reminders of what works and I thank the mean girls for teaching me how bad you can make another human feel with a few words. I never wanted to use my words as daggers. So as Basil's quote goes-- I mastered the eye-roll and would have taken Olympic gold in it after hearing, "Let your light shine" so many times as I conjured up courage to drag my feet into middle school day after day. But geez, thank you, Mama, for that reminder. I probably needed it in those years more than any others.

Thinking about my sweet Skylar's middle school years terrifies me a little. Especially since social media has opened a gateway for criticism that I didn't have to endure in middle or high school. No phone ever for you, Sky girl. She's going to be colossal. She might have days where a bus full of track team boys points at her and says "there goes the MAN" (Yep, that happened to 5'11, 13-year-old me!). She might not know where to sit at lunch. She'll probably still try to wear chunky Steve Madden platform shoes that make her four inches taller, because that's what the trendy tweens are into.

But I plan to send her off into that scary world with her Mimi's four magic words: Let your light shine. Because even if she tries not to listen, those words will reverberate in her mind when she's being shown the darker side of kids' hearts. You can't counter darkness with darkness. Those kids are just blindly spitting fire. Light the way so they might crawl out of their own dark insecurities and find unrelenting kindness.

Once I knew only darkness and life was without past or future...but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. - Helen Keller

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sometimes We're Unfine...and That's Fine

Photo courtesy: (in)
How many micro conversations do we have in a week? Not every chat can be epic and deep and cathartic, but how often are our conversations the complete opposite? Short, shallow and suppressive. There are definitely people who have more of a need to express themselves through words (sup. That's me.), and those who process life differently.

I've had many-a-talk I realized I cut short because we were headed towards deeper territory or I just started talking about myself and cut off a friend's opportunity to share a life struggle. Ugh, I hate myself in those moments.

I tend to talk more than I listen and that's a weakness I'll need to work on for life. But those who don't wear their heart on their sleeve seem to be really good listeners and balance out the bleeding hearts of the world.

My high school best friends and I always considered ourselves deep talkers, which makes me chuckle now because of how little life experience we had. Not to say teenagers can't have deep thoughts, but they are amplified by how small your world is in high school. Just going through awkward adolescence with friends constructs a tight bond, but you're not really aware of how friendships are strengthened then. It just happened through shared thoughts and experiences.

When my 50 closest friends from the UA swim team began to migrate away from Tucson, I was sad. I mourned the loss of good friends and panicked about having to make new ones, because friendship up until that point of life had been effortless. "I need to get a job with a team of great people I'd like to hang out with on the weekends" was my thought. Well, I've never found that new circle of friends through a job. I was naive to think there was such a thing as a team of 30 best friends in every season of life.

It does make me think I took those years of best swim friends for granted. As you age up, friendship gets more laborious. Swim friends were just like playground friends-- oh, you like kickball/the isolating sport of swimming too? Let's be friends. 

I just finished Lisa-Jo Baker's book "Never Unfriended". She writes candidly about the weird thoughts that enter our minds when we're around other women. It's like we have the ability to revert back to our 7th grade selves at any stage of life-- a curse. Baker confesses that she has not dressed to impress a man since she was dating her husband 17 plus years back. Now she dresses well occasionally on a girl's night out, to collect a few treasured compliments from her female peers.

I've related to so much of this book, it's tough to pluck out one particularly relevant chapter because it's all overwhelmingly relevant. But one recurring theme of hers is letting go of your fineness. We're always "fine". It's a great way to bring an immediate halt to a conversation. And yeah, you're likely not going to pour your hurts out to the neighbor you just met, but if you're like me, your pains just grow by ricocheting around in your head.

I don't often share what's not fine in my life because it seems unfair to bog someone else down with my struggles, because everyone has their own burdens, right? But sometimes sharing our hurts can be gateways to incredible friendships. Or can be precisely what a friend needed to hear to open up.

I made a resolution I haven't really kept in my last post, so here's another lofty be a better friend, not on Instagram but in the flesh. Social media comments are nice, but there's really nothing like a face-to-face heart-to-heart over some sinfully decadent coffee drink.

There are always things in the way...I can always find a reason not to call a friend back or host a party or commit to a friend date. Lately, my excuse is Skylar. Not to say she's not a legitimate excuse on some days, but I know plenty of moms who are busier than me or have more kids than I do who still find time to be great friends.

My sister-in-law Katie is a great example. She's the mother of four kids under the age of 10, but when Hurricane Harvey hit her parents' and dear friend's houses hard, she found a way to help, every Tuesday and Thursday...for months on end. Katie was trapped in her house during the floods surrounding Harvey, and she couldn't wait for the water to recede so she could go help.

If you're looking for more inspiration to take action (because I always am...), find a way to see the film Mully. The subjects of the film, Charles and Esther Mully, had every reason to be content-- they were wealthy Kenyans, raising seven healthy kids in a home with every luxury. But in 1989, Mully sold all of his assets and began dedicating his life to taking in abandoned children off the streets. Since 1989, Charles and Esther (and their seven biological kids) have helped 23,000 orphans live productive, enriching lives. The story is awe-inspiring. Matt and I both left the theater feeling like we can always do more. Mully became a father figure to thousands. He cared deeply about their hurts but also longed to help these kids find a way out of their present struggles. He's a friendship hero. A guy who loves and loves and loves and his love drives him to act.

It's fine to be unfine. And it's good to be unfine around those who care about all the things that make us unfine. Because even Chip and Joanna have messy days...we just don't see those. It's gotta be overwhelming to have a HGTV empire built on domestic perfection though. Like is the Farmhouse ever messy? And can the Gaines fam ever have people over when it is?

I'd like to be more OK with my own mess (literally and figuratively), not to the point that people come over and feel claustrophobic and buried, but just so they feel comfortable bringing in a little dirt on their shoes and unloading any heavy burdens they've been bearing.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Keeping Tabs On Pre-Mom Me

I cannot write while simultaneously making sure Skylar doesn't stick her finger into an electrical outlet. However, I can listen to podcasts and keep Skylar alive at the same time. I've listened to everything from TED talks to the "Love and Relationships" podcast to various mom podcasts.

I like efficiency. I like quality. In the midst of some mundane household chores, I desperately want my mind to be fed. I fell across a podcast recently that I really love. It's called "Inspired to Action" and the host is Kat Lee-- a Christian mom on a mission to bring out the strength and gifts of other mamas. I've been so encouraged and inspired by all of the guests she's had on. One of her guests is a wise, articulate mother of five named Chrystal Evans Hurst.

Hurst wrote a book called "She's Still There" about the dreams she had pre- or intra-motherhood and how she works to do the things she loves while doing what is required of her. Hurst identifies herself as "an achiever". So do I.

I'm not sure if that simple truth really clicked until she said that's what her StrengthsFinder test revealed. I'm married to a guy who is a passionate achiever, so maybe my own desire for achievement gets overshadowed because Matt's achievement standard is soooo high. But the lowest I've felt in life is when I feel like I'm wasting my time...drifting in and out of days...not actively using my gifts. Not achieving.

Swimming fed my need to achieve for years. I had numerical goals and I knew how close I was to them at all times. Writing doesn't have the same clearcut measure for success, but I've always had writing goals for myself. But how do you know if you're "achieving" in motherhood? Especially when you have an almost 1-year-old (!) who's not yet using her words? She smiles a lot, so I do consider all of those to be achievements. :) But I'm not sure I can take credit for every gap-toothed grin.

I, like most (all?) new moms, was surprised by the time commitment of motherhood. It's not a 9 to 5. Working moms don't stop thinking about their kid as soon as they go to work. No, your baby is still there, in your mind, oft the subject of your worry.

I somehow thought Skylar would fit nicely into my pre-existing work regimen. There are a few reasons why this has not worked:

1. Mobility which comes with an unintentional lust for danger. 

I bought a Summer Infant Pop 'n Play to put beside my desk. The PC term is a play yard, but it's really a hexagonal baby cage. I don't think it's quite spacious enough to call a "yard". I assumed I could just stick Skylar in there and write. And I can...for all of 10 minutes. Then she gets bored and wants to explore the house-- something that requires every 10 second check-ins. So, yeah, writing time while Sky is awake is very limited.

2. I don't want to miss a thing.

Skylar changes every day. And I love watching my baby gain stability and independence. I love watching her wave. Or give hugs and kisses to her stuffed animals. Or chase the dogs (or robo-vac) around, thinking that one of these days she'll be fast enough to catch them. I don't need to be constantly playing with her, but I do love observing her.

3. Just priorities. 

I used to go insane if I had more than one day out of the pool/gym. I've always believed I'm a better human being when I get to exercise. But the definition of "exercise" has morphed drastically in the last five years. It used to mean four to five hours per day of swimming, running or lifting. Even after retiring from my swimming career, I was an exerciseaholic. Swimming year-round for 15 years will do that to you.  I now go on morning walks with Skylar and the pups and am content calling that my exercise many days. When I'm particularly motivated, I'll use some precious Skylar nap time to lift free weights in our living room. (Update: we just got a Peloton bike and I've ridden it nine days in a row [queue the "Bueller's been absent NINE times" voice]. I understand the Peloton craze now.)

Before the baby was my alarm clock, I'd rise "early" (7 a.m.) and get cracking on emails. I liked to knock off as much work as possible in the mornings. I've read recommendations not to start your day with emails but that never made sense to me. My mind was fresh. I was operating efficiently with my dear friend Coffee. I got 'er done.

Now...I wake up to my sweet snookems (Skylar), nurse her, play with her, feed her breakfast, then go on a walk. Emails might be hastily checked on my phone, but I'm not firing through my to-do list like I used to. And that's OK.

One thing Hurst says in her book is you don't need the answer, you just need an answer. I've realized my mom role is a dominating one in this season of life. Does that mean I don't need to exercise or write or tend to any of the gifts I feel God has given me beyond nurturing my child? No. Can I write a book right now? Probably not. Can I practice writing every day? Sure. Not with a 1800-word feature story each day, but with a brief journal entry before I go to sleep. Or a blog every three (?) months (...I'm always aspiring to be a weekly blogger). If I ever learn to wake up before Skylar, that can happen (reminds me of another good Kat Lee podcast-- Hello Mornings). *P.S. I write three to five stories each month for Swimming World MagazineSo, go ahead and subscribe. I don't care if you don't care about swimming. :D

I look back at all my mom did in awe. She never hired anyone to clean the house. She taught art and a Sunday school class. She was constantly redecorating our house and hand-making people gifts (useful handmade gifts! They do exist!). She made us every meal. She wasn't an exerciseaholic, but she was perpetually moving every day of her mothering life. She's always sketched floor plans/home renovations for fun. My mom worked really hard at being a stellar mama and did a lot on the side to nurture the creative nooks of her brain.

So yes, motherhood is a ton of self sacrifice, but I don't think God ever intended us to lose ourselves in motherhood. I want to strive to be like my mom. To be there for my husband and my kids, but to somehow find time to develop my other gifts. I know there's more to that than writing it down, but that's how I started every swim season-- goal sheets.

I'm reading a book called "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron that is all about restoring the blocked artist inside you to be a world-serving force.  It can be as flowery as that sentence I just wrote, but the methods Cameron outlines have been proven effective...I hope to employ them if I can find the time.

This Good Book has some solid advice too:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 
1 Peter 4:10

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

8, 9, almost 10 Months. Hitting Warp Speed.

I started this sometime in July (Sky was 8 months):

We lowered Skylar's crib today. There are three levels. We started our girl on level one and Matt was wanting to skip down to level three today. I instantly said, "No way!" Not because it wouldn't make sense to move it all the way down and not have to do it when she's standing up and trying to escape, but because I felt like moving it to level three was somehow going to speed up time. So she's sleeping in her level two-height crib right now, and all is OK in my world. So funny how my motherly irrationality kicks in, like if we went straight to level three Skylar would start crawling and climbing and walking this week. But that was my thought process...

I think I started to say Sky was in a magical stage at five months but now I think "No, no, no, now she's in a magical stage." But really...she's not mobile. She smiles uncontrollably at her mom and dad (I joke with Matt that we cannot look directly at her, that cuteness just shines so bright). She's made up entirely for the early weeks, when we did everything we could to make her happy and she gave us nothing. Her smiles are incredibly rewarding and she is entirely too generous with them. If she continues to charm us we her crinkle-nosed smiles throughout these early years, we're in trouble. Spoil-her alert.

August 2017

Smiling her way through Leiden in Holland. 
One month later and most of the above paragraph still rings true. However, Skylar forward crawled for the first time yesterday and life is about to change. Skylar journeyed to the Netherlands and France during her ninth month of life. I was praying that she would not discover mobility while we were there. She didn't. Not because she wasn't ready but because we probably delayed her crawling by taking her everywhere in the carrier (P.S. I bought a Lillebaby on sale for $80 right before this trip and am sooo glad I did. Even though my back did start to ache after touring around Paris for five plus hours, this thing is pretty user-friendly).
Sky's first jumping pic.
We started out on our marathon Paris touring day and Skylar was hysterical in the carrier with Matt. We switched because, endearingly and annoyingly, Skylar sometimes just wants mama. But she was not calmed by my presence. We sat down for breakfast at a bistro, and the waiter brought her some authentic baguettes to gnaw on. We got a good look in her mouth during one of her waling fits. Not one but FIVE teeth were coming in at once. The friend we were visiting in Paris, Sara, said she's heard the human memory doesn't begin until age two because we wouldn't be able to bear the memory of teething. It's apparently one of the most painful things we go through in life.

Though often called "cutting teeth" apparently what happens is hormones are released within a baby's body that cause some cells in the gums to die and separate, allowing teeth to emerge. Though teeth slicing through gums sounds far more painful, this gum-dying process must be quite painful too. Fortunately, we were in Paris, and Skylar had all of the best teething breads at her disposal. Matt and I joked that she would be ruined by this untouchable French bread, rejecting any variety of bread made in America we give her. haha. Thus far, she hasn't been so particular.
Sky will surely remember Notre Dame...
Airplane bassinet. Lifesaver. 

Lessons learned in month nine:

Oh hey! There's another sleep regression. I was so looking forward to getting back on our schedule once returning home from Europe (a rough nine-hour time change).  She was back on schedule for about a week, then, on my birthday, she woke up hysterically crying 20 minutes after her bedtime. Unfortunately, she was with a babysitter because Matt and I were out for my 30th birthday dinner (btw 30 ain't so bad!). Matt and I watched on the monitor (on our phones) as our sweet friend Cory tried to calm Skylar down. I know that's a no-no on date night, but we got some sadistic entertainment out of watching our friend turn on the lights and play with Skylar. haha. She won. She always wins. When we got home, Cory and Skylar were playing in the living room. Skylar gave us so many smiles at 9 p.m., knowing there was something special about being up after dark. I thought it was just a bad luck night for the babysitter, but the trend continues. The past four nights, Sky had woken up in hysterics, 20 minutes after conking out at her usual bedtime. It has taken us anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to get her back to sleep. Apparently it's the 8-10 month regression caused by separation anxiety. Now, how the heck do you let a baby cry it out when you know the cause of this is separation anxiety? Matt and I can't do it. Not at this age. We go in and wipe those crocodile tears and read to her until she calms down. Rock, read, down in the crib, repeat. Eventually, she rolls to her side and goes to sleep. Perk of this unintentional later bedtime, she sleeps in! 7:20 a.m. right now, and she slumbers on.

- It's OK to go off schedule. I was stressed about taking Skylar to Europe. Mainly stressed about the flight, but also about what the trip would do to her lovely schedule. I have come to the conclusion that most babies are good little humans if they're well-fed, well-rested and well-loved. But I've seen my little human when she's lacking in the food or rest department. She's unhappy. I wasn't sure how naps were going to work in Europe. I added up her sleeping venues and my little love slept in NINE different places over our 12-day vacation. That's including naps in friend's homes/apartments. That's a lot of foreign environments. And most of her naps were 20-minute catnaps taken in the front carrier. Not ideal for her happiness levels, but they sufficed! Despite five teeth creeping up, Skylar still managed to be her joyful self for 95 percent of our trip. And it took about four days to get her back on schedule once we got home. Basically, the lack of routine didn't phase Skylar once we got back home. Would I do it again? Probably not in the next five years. It was challenging. But I'm proud of our little family for making the journey.

It really does get better and better. Every month I say, "No, this is the best stage!" but as all experienced moms remind me, "It gets better and better." It doesn't necessarily get harder, the challenging areas just shift around. And gosh, the delights of this babe far outweigh the challenges. Let's hope that's the case when she's 15 and embarrassed of her parents simply because we're her parents. What an irrational stage of life-- sorry, Mom and Dad! I thought I was an adult at 15...I knew everything, except for how little I knew. OK, let's not focus on the teen years, this baby stage is pretty dang sweet.

Train ride to Paris.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Recovering from A Spinal Cord Injury: Carley Baldwin's Story

Carley was intimidating on paper. She was part of the studly class of swimmers I came in with at the University of Arizona. I thoroughly stalked each of my fellow incoming freshman. I remember my dad getting in on the excitement-- "This girl from Colorado is top 16 in every event!" Top 16 in the country. And Carley was actually in the top five in most of her events. A complete stud.

Our freshman class convened in Tucson in August...when the average temperature is 102 degrees. A letter had been sent out from the UA staff at the beginning of the summer. A daunting part of it read: "Be prepared to run three solid miles in the afternoon heat". We were all paranoid about this, except Carley. She had been running five miles regularly throughout the summer, in addition to swimming 20 hours per week. Carley had done cross country in high school too.

We went on a recreational run around campus as a freshman class before practices began (over-achievers). I was dying. Carley led the pack, able to chat and laugh the whole time. Carley was perhaps the least awkward member of our class. She could strike up a conversation with anyone and make us laugh with her sarcasm or her contagious eruptions of laughter. I liked her right away.

College swimming reveals a lot. Yes, physically, we didn't wear much. But emotionally, we saw each other naked in the heart of hard practices and after good and bad swims. You basically live with your entire freshman class in the dorms. We traveled in a pack. We were a flock of freshman swimmers riding our beach cruisers down to University Boulevard to get Chipotle (five nights out of seven).

Fast forward nearly 11 years. Carley is the product manager for a medical devices company. She works in the spine division. She's built a successful career. But more important in her mind is a boy named Jonny whom she brought into the world four years ago. She's raised him as a single mama. Carley is now in Denver, close to her parents, who help out a lot with Jonny.

Kristin Viger has been Carley's best friend for 16 years. I remember her coming to visit when I lived with Carley our sophomore year of college. They looked like sisters and were obviously kindred spirits. This summer, they took off to go to Belize on their first vacation together. Twelve hours after their puddle jumper landed on one of Belize's cayes (islands), their vacation turned into a nightmare.

On the evening of June 4, a few of Carley's friends were flipping off of the dock at the group's resort. Carley said she was too afraid to do a flip so she did the move she's done thousands of times in her life-- she dove into the ocean. The tide had dropped significantly since earlier that day. Carley's head hit the water and immediately thereafter hit land. Carley floated to the surface and could not feel her legs. One of her closest friends from college, Keenyn, swam over to retrieve her.

Carley knew there was something seriously wrong so she immediately went into lifeguard mode-- instructing her friends on how to best brace her body and her neck. Carley was transferred to a lawn chair and a rolled towel was placed around her neck for support-- a far cry from the emergency equipment that would be mandatory at a resort anywhere in the USA. But they were in a Third World country and did the best they could with the available resources.

Carley & Keenyn
Carley was in shock, wrapped in a towel on a lawn chair, attempting to move anything. After her friends had no luck tracking down an ambulance, Carley was hoisted into the back of a van. The seats were laid down in the back seat of a cab so Carley, still in the lawn chair, could fit. The drive to the clinic on Ambergris Caye should have only taken 10 minutes, but with cautious driving for the sake of stability it took 25. After checking into the clinic and realizing the incompetence of the doctors, Kristin said they knew they needed to get to a real hospital. Kristin helped line up a charter flight to Belize City, just a 15-minute hop over from the island. In order to situate Carley (who was still on the lawn chair) in the plane, rows of seats were removed. Only two additional passengers could fit, so Kristin and Keenyn accompanied Carley.

When the three landed, there was no ambulance waiting to take Carley to the hospital in Belize City. They waited 15 minutes for an ambulance to take Carley to a hospital five minutes away. It was around 3 a.m. when Carley was finally transferred from the lawn chair onto a basic wooden backboard. Kristin said they felt more comfortable with the doctors at this private hospital in Belize City, but the atmosphere was still starkly different from a hospital in the States.

Carley was taken in for a CAT scan. Up until that point, Keenyn (a former UA football player), had been hopefully reassuring Carley, "it's just a stinger". But the CAT scan showed a far more serious injury. It appeared she had fractured her C4 and C5 vertebrae.

If you Google that injury, a lot of scary stuff pops up. You'll see that C3 through C5 are some of the most critical vertebrae as they relate to your spinal cord. All can lead to paralysis of all or of significant portions of the human body.

After the gravity of the injury was revealed, Carley's parents received a call with the nightmarish news from Belize City. From there, everything was put in motion to evacuate Carley to Miami, Kristin said.

Someone needed to go back to get luggage, so Kristin flew back to the island, packed their bags in a hurry, then hopped on a return flight to Belize City, all within two hours. As they waited in the out-of-date hospital room, Carley and Keenyn listened to gospel music, praying for the Americans to come evacuate them soon. Carley's flight out of the Third World finally took off at 4 p.m. on Monday, June 5. When the medical team swooped in to rescue Carley, she said she'd never been more grateful to be an American.

Tom, Carley's father, was there to receive his daughter in Miami. Carley said she hadn't broken down and cried until she saw her dad. Once in the US, her medical care took a drastic turn for the better. She was taken in for an MRI and CAT scan.

Carley with her parents, Toddie and Tom, and Jonny.
Remember, Carley works in the spine division of a medical device company. She knows all about spinal injuries. She was nervous to see her MRI and prayed that her injury would not be "complete". A complete spinal cord injury means the cord was severed. There is no known treatment to recover from a complete cord injury. The word "incomplete" was what Carley was hoping to hear. Prayers were answered. The injury was incomplete. The protective dural sack around Carley's cord had not even ruptured. So, what does that mean? The paralysis she is feeling now is the result of spinal trauma-- bruising and swelling around her spinal cord.

On Tuesday, June 6, Carley underwent surgery to, in layman's terms, decompress her spine. The surgery was a success. The pseudo vertebrae they inserted in C5's place did it's job. Since the accident, Carley's arms retained some movement but her hands, abdomen and lower extremities were a different story.

A week after the injury, Carley's hands felt like they had fallen asleep. She started feeling a prickly pins-and-needles sensation and the numbness began to fade. When I spoke to her two weeks after the accident, she said she was feeling the same sensational progression with her feet. She had been getting lots of foot rubs since she could tell exactly which parts of her feet were being touched! Huge progress.

Carley has astounded rehab teams in Miami and since being transferred back to Denver. A couple PTs were assisting her as she sat up two weeks post-op. She asked them if she had helped at all. The PTs said that she absolutely had. Proof that the swimmer core doesn't event know how to relax!

There is much to be grateful for in the heart of this devastating accident. Carley said it most eloquently in a recent Facebook post:

No one knows why God puts certain trials in our lives, but throughout this fight His purpose will be made known with the support of my amazing family, friends, and boyfriend... And fighting is exactly what I plan to do. I don't consider June 4th the day of my accident, but rather the day I survived - and I truly believe it was for this little guy. My prayers are for him to learn faith, humor, and perseverance throughout adversity. ❤️💪🏽"Put on the armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." - Ephesians 6:13-14

Carley has a long road ahead of her. She said it's hard for her to comprehend the fact that every SCI (spinal cord injury) is different. Carley sees everything in black and white-- "If I break my arm, there is a set plan and estimated time for recovery." This is different. Doctors cannot forecast when feeling or movement will return to Carley's legs-- legs that have run and swum thousands of miles in their 29 years. It's hard to imagine how life-changing this is for a vivacious young mama and former elite athlete.

Shortly after realizing her legs did not work, Carley told Keenyn, "You know I'm going to walk again." She's been resolute since the minutes after her accident. She wants you to know, she's going to walk again. 

As reassuring as her hope is to all of those who love her, it's integral that Carley has that hope reciprocated. There are trying days ahead, and I know Carley doesn't want any of our pity, but she wants to know you're thinking about her and praying for her and her family-- the people holding her hand as she works toward her second set of first steps in her lifetime.

Carley's life has made a deep imprint on my heart. And that impression grows deeper as I hear of her courage and tenacity in the face of her life's biggest blow. She's a warrior, and I want her to have a massive army fighting alongside her. Shoot Carley a text, send her snail mail, give me a message to forward to her. Pray for endurance and strength as she works her way toward a full recovery.

Financial support is also much appreciated, as flying ambulances tend to cost a fortune, and insurance has not covered as much as Carley's family had hoped. You can help by contributing here.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dear Expectant First-Time Mom

It seems like every time I hop on social media one of my peers is announcing their pregnancy. We're moving out of wedding season and into baby season. So this one goes out to all of the moms-to-be.
***Disclaimer: I'm no pro, but there are a few things I wish I'd known before my daughter made her way into the world seven months ago.

The day I found out the cause of my lethargy and nausea was a baby and not the flu was a joyous day. Because I really hate the flu. :) I've wanted to be a mom for as long as I've idolized my own mom, which makes up at least 25 years of my nearly 30 years on Earth.

Some people hate pregnancy. I loved it. Well, 95 percent of it. Everything gets cramped in that last month. I've yet to meet a pregnant lady who loves being 37+ weeks pregnant. Every week my app let me know how my baby girl was changing and I found the entire process to be an education and a faith affirmer. So many millions of things line up perfectly for the creation of a new human. I look at pregnant women completely differently now-- with wonder. Ladies with bumps become a routine part of life, but they shouldn't! There's magic happening in that womb. I'm not running up to strangers to rub and kiss their tummy, but a weird part of me kind of wants to...

So, mom-to-be, I hope your pregnancy is being kind to you. If it's not, I hope you're seeing the baby within you as the best justification for feeling crappy ever. Matt and I knew parenthood would be a bit of a trauma, but there were unforeseen challenges-- some that could have been curbed, some that every parent deals with.

  1. Take a breastfeeding class and/or see a lactation consultant in the first weeks of baby's life (if you're planning on breastfeeding). 

Seventy-four percent of moms breastfeed for some period of time. Forty-four percent of moms breastfeed for six months or more. Before having a baby, I wouldn't have understood that 30 percent drop. Now I get it. Breastfeeding is hard. Sure, there are some moms who have a bountiful milk supply and whose babies know what to do at the boob right away. But I think that's a minority of cases.

I limped along breastfeeding my baby girl for the first six weeks, but she was never content after feedings. And it was painful. I finally scheduled an appointment with a lactation consultant who came to our home. She discovered our baby girl's severe tongue tie within minutes of her arrival. She was astounded no one checked for it in the hospital. We had her tongue tie fixed that week so Skylar could actually use her tongue to suck! A lactation consultant absolutely saved our breastfeeding game.

So moms-to-be, consult the pros! Don't have unwarranted pride around breastfeeding. You don't know what you're doing. I read books and researched online, but having someone watch you nurse and feel around your baby's mouth is invaluable. Don't wait, just do it! I wish I had called a lactation consultant earlier.

 2. Don't trust your milk supply in the first few weeks. Do trust it after 12 weeks. 

I'm a person who likes a routine, so I was eager to hop on the schedule train. I jumped too quickly into attempting to feed Skylar on a schedule. That combined with her tongue tie led to a diminished milk supply. Those first six to 12 weeks are integral to establishing your milk supply. You'll learn from a BFing class or a LC that milk production is based on demand. I've had many friends who have their milk come in plentifully in that first week, about four days after giving birth. Side note:"Milk coming in" is such a magical incredible for our bodies to know when to fill up the milk jugs?!

I woke up with heavy boobs one morning and was amazed. "Sweet! My milk arrived!" I casually thought. I assumed it was there to stay. Not how it works. Your body makes more than enough in the beginning then regulates according to how much your baby is extracting. If I could start over, I would have pumped at least once each day when my supply was in full force. That would have saved me lots of stress as I tried to resurrect my supply after learning that Skylar had not been extracting much milk at all with her tongue pinned down.

But trust your body! I dreaded breastfeeding at first because A. it hurt. B. it took FOREVER (50 minutes to 1 hr). C. It was uncomfortable (your baby needs to be propped and you support their every part, so it's easy to get super bound up neck/shoulder/arm muscles).

And D. I never believed I was making enough. Eventually, you need to get past what the pump says and look at your baby. Is baby happy? Is he/she growing in length? Does baby seem satisfied after eating? After four months, I finally chilled and observed my happy girl. She has never been chunky, but she's stretching out and smiling lots. I only pump two to three ounces at the end of the day, but I have complete faith that my girl is getting enough now.

3. Focus on your marriage. Somehow. Some way. 

A nurse in the hospital's triage room checked me and confirmed, "Yep, you're having this baby...TONIGHT!" Matt and I giddily looked at each other and kissed. The joy and fatigue we felt in the following days was indescribable. But the joy in the following weeks is not a constant. It's a visitor. The constant companion you have for the first six weeks is fatigue. And with fatigue comes tangled thoughts and hurtful outbursts. You will say things aloud, usually to your spouse, that you wish you hadn't.

But once baby sleeps through the night (which means six hours straight btw), marriage will still feel different. But what did we expect? We're bringing A PERSON into our home. Two people are no longer the focus. Everything seems to be poured into that third person. You and your spouse won't do it on purpose, but you stop pouring energy into one another. And that's a slippery slope.

A friend of mine who had a baby two months after me (shoutout to Baugh!), sent me this article. It shook me up, in a good way. Matt and I always complain about "kids these days" feeling entitled, but we never talk about how they got that way. This article nails it. Parents focus on their kids and not their marriage. I want our kids to look at our marriage as an example of love. A love that existed before they entered the world! Keep nourishing your marriage. It's hard! One of the hardest parts of bringing a child into your lives.

4. Meet other moms. 

I had a friend in Tucson who had her son six weeks before I had Skylar. She helped me talk through my baby blues and offered helpful hints for the challenges of caring for a newborn. She, sadly, moved in January and I realized I was sort of alone. Not that I have no friends, but I didn't have many mom friends who could empathize with the isolation that comes with those first months.

We were not created to be alone. I've always been good with alone time, but it's no longer alone time when a baby crosses your threshold! I found myself craving a tribe...literally a tribe. I was wishing I had a bunch of women with babies in teepees beside mine. OK, we can stay in houses. I was dying for fellowship with other mothers. It's a necessary therapy.

Postpartum depression is real. I don't think I had a serious case, but I definitely had the baby blues. You realize the gravity of your responsibility while feeling alone and in a sleep-deprived fog. Talk to other moms. They get it.

I think there's a real need for community within the circle of mothers with babies under six months. There are not many options for meet-ups. Classes and playgroups don't start until they're six months old. And before that, you feel silly attending a "playgroup" when your baby isn't old enough to grasp a toy, much less the word "play".

Insider tip: playgroups are for moms. Sure, it's super helpful for babies to watch each other and learn from observation, but honestly, moms just need other moms. I wish I had started going to baby story time at the library earlier. Yeah, it's hard to fit stuff between naps when they're super young, but getting out of the house truly will make you a happier, better mom.

5. But leaving the house is scary!

Seriously. I did not think I would be so fretful about driving Skylar somewhere. I still remember my first drive solo with her-- I stayed well under the speed limit. I was constantly paranoid that she was going to have a meltdown, so we didn't get out much. She was starving, so her first couple of months really were one meltdown melting into the next.

I truly did not get it when I saw seemingly carefree moms perusing Target with their brand new babies asleep in the cart. I was traumatized after 10-day-old Skylar screamed her way through Target in the stroller. You're so afraid of how your baby will behave and what people will think about you as a mother. But I think back to the days when I heard kids crying in stores and airplanes-- I never thought, "Ugh, how annoying". No, I thought, "I wish I could help that poor mama". So just know people aren't all judging you...they're mainly pitying you. Now, doesn't that make you feel better? :)

6. People give advice...they can't help themselves. Shoot. I can't help myself. 

I realized it as I wrote this subheading-- I'm giving unsolicited advice. Take it or leave it! There are a trillion different ways to mother. I know a lot of really good people who were raised very differently from me. Very differently from how I'm raising Skylar. Many wise, been-there moms will tell you how they did it. Most of the time, they are not telling you "this is how you should do it"-- they just want to be helpful.

I have pride so I have trouble with this one. If someone tells me something they did, my ego think "I know what I'm doing!" But really, I don't. haha. It's prudent to listen and (dare I say) apply some of the advice you get. But not all of it. That's not possible. And God gave you this incredible maternal instinct. You may not feel like it, but you're well equipped to keep this baby alive. The tools are built into your DNA.

I'm sure there are lots of pro tips I'm missing. Just thought I'd share a few things I wish I'd known. Good luck, mamas! This is the greatest gig on Earth.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Daughter is Half A Year Old...whaaaaat?!

No, I didn't throw a half birthday party for my Sugar Plum Princess, but she did wear a dress and a headband for perhaps the second time in her life. Solid effort, Mom! She doesn't seem to mind headbands, so I might start throwing them around that noggin more often so people stop calling her "handsome". haha! She is a handsome little broad though.
Does this count as a smile, Mom?

I'm not going to say we've "hit our groove" because I don't know if that ever happens with your first child. Right when I think she has a predictable routine, she goes through some mental leap that wreaks havoc on our controlled regimen. So the routine is, I'll feed you, play with you, look for signs of fatigue, put you down and pray that you sleep for longer than an 30 minutes. She typically has a good reason for refusing to nap.  This morning, she left me exasperated after refusing to nap for, I don't know, five hours...thereabout.

I plopped her in her jumperoo after admitting my defeat. After a few minutes of jarring bounces, she settled into a comfortable squat. The grunting started and in a few short minutes she was quite literally in deep doo-doo.

Matt followed me into the nursery. We knew we had to tag team this diaper change. I was impressed by her poop's upward trajectory. As I lifted her legs, she doused the front of her onesie in pee. Matt said he thought we were going to have to "cut her out of the onesie". haha. No jaws of life were required, but an emergency bath commenced and we have a sweet smelling six-month-old fast asleep in the crib now. I hosed down her onesie, but I'm not confident that it will be appropriate for another wear.

Sorry that I'm so preoccupied with poop. It seems like Skylar's moods revolve around her BMs these days though, so they all seem like very important episodes. Today's was just a lovely Mother's Day gift.
Sums up motherhood for me. Skylar is a headband repeater. --Fashion police reports. 

OK, let's see if I can remember any of the fun stuff Skylar started doing in her sixth month of life:

Sitting! She still has the most fragile ballerina arms, so she's hesitant to use them as props, but the girl can sit. Her trunk is strong and I'm confident she'll sprout a pair of guns soon.

Two teeth! They erupted in the same 48 hours and everyone was in pain.

Eating food! I was so relieved when I offered her a spoonful of oatmeal and she leaned in for it like a pro. Back in the horrible post-tongue-tie-revision days, her dentist was concerned about her hypersensitive gag reflex. Since her tongue never touched her palate (early on), she gagged whenever anything hit the roof of her mouth. I thought this would lead to eating problems but I've yet to see her really gag on anything! Such a relief. And I know "food before one is just for fun" but gosh, my boobs are relieved to have some caloric backup.

Skylar's likes thus far: oatmeal, avocado, carrots, peas, spinach, sweet potato, hummus. Dislike: asparagus

Ditched the Merlin Magic Sleep Suit. This marshmallow suit was a wonderful transition tool to get her to sleep comfortably in the crib, but you're supposed to get the little babes out of them before they start rolling. Plus, I think the puffy sleeves were preventing Sky from self-soothing in some cases. She now wears a sleep sack, which is the only hope she would have of keeping a blanket on her busy legs.
"Hey, where's my marshmallow suit?!"

*Oh, about rolling over....yeah, Sky did that when she was three months old then stopped. Cold turkey. At our six-month check up, the pediatrician said we should start physical therapy if she's not rolling in two weeks...cue the mom guilt! I'm not too concerned. I know she has the ability deep down in there, she just has a case of muscle memory amnesia.

New octave. Skylar has been singing for a while's precious. But there's singing and then there's hitting a note so high that it can be confused with the shrillest of cries. Sky has been experimenting with this lately. I hope it's just an experiment and she doesn't decide to sing in this tune during our 8-hour flight to Holland this summer.

Bath time is the greatist. But it wasn't always! Sky has found a love for bath water. She kicks and squawks and laughs her way through baths. We used to bathe her 2x week and dread it. Now, I look forward to her nightly baths. No matter how cranky she is, I can plop her in and she'll have a ball.

Mom Milestone?

I cried during her shots. I haven't been fazed at the other appointments, but as I stood there cradling her arms, three inches from her screaming face, my heart hurt. I know moms are supposed to empathize when their babies hurt but before, I've easily written shots off as completely necessary pain for Sky girl. This time, she was to get four shots and I wanted to shout "Stop!" halfway through. Four shots seems like a lot for my 16-pound chiquita. She was upset for two minutes. I nursed her after shots and cried for the next five minutes. She was probably like, "Mom, what is your deal?! I'm fine."

This will be my first Mother's Day as a mom and I still cannot believe I'm in the Mom Club. I'll never forget the first time I said, "my daughter".  I was at CVS, picking up a Vitamin D supplement for Skylar.  The pharmacist said, "Are you Skylar?" and I said, "No, she's my...daughter!"  It was so fun to say.  Then I realized I left my wallet at home.  I drove back laughing at my mom-brain and smiling about having a "daughter".  Such a gift.

Three giraffes chilling at the zoo.