The truest of brave girls

I have a friend back home who just might be the strongest person I know.

Today, she is at Target, getting pictures printed, of the baby boy she’ll never know.

The hospital sent them over, though, and well, I guess you get the prints made.

I cannot imagine what that feels like, how you put your keys in the ignition and make the 10-minute drive to the Target at the nearly defunct mall on the busiest street in Omaha, how you put your blinker on and wait to turn into the parking lot at that awful intersection. How you go inside and wait for the pictures to be ready. How you open that envelope.

My friend said it was awkward. I imagine it deserves a whole lot of other adjectives, too.

Heartbreaking. Sad. Unfair.

I don’t know. Others.

My friend and her husband visited us out here about three weeks ago. We talked about the baby, what names they liked, whether she thought it’d be another boy (they have three beautiful sons). She looked great. They seemed happy. It was like we hadn’t missed a beat. And it’d been so good to see her.

Late last week, she went in for her 18-week appointment. There was no heartbeat.

Every pregnant woman’s fear was realized. And her life changed, forever.

My dear friend went to the hospital to have a baby that wasn’t alive, an act no one – ever – deserves.

He was born early Sunday morning. My friend and her husband gave their baby a name. They recorded his birth date and time.

Then they set about their mourning.

I can’t stop thinking about her, about them, about their sons. I can’t shake the goosebumps I feel. The knot in my stomach. The complete admiration I have for her. For him. For them. For the strength I hope I never have to see if I have.

She told me she knew they’d get through this. That this had been her worst fear. That she’s still alive.

Where does strength like that come from?

Do we all have it within ourselves, dormant until we need it? Or do we fight to find it?

Could we all face such a heartbreaking tragedy with as much grace, with as much bravery as my friend?

To all of you women who have lost a child, you are in my thoughts – and in my complete esteem – more than ever.

Perhaps the truest of brave girls.

Volunteering at my kid’s school: Why?

I’ve started volunteering at my son’s school.

He’s in the second grade at his third new school in a little more than a year and, well, maybe I feel guilty about that or maybe I genuinely want to know his teacher and student teacher and every single classmate he has or maybe I just want another way to be involved in my not-so-little-anymore boy’s life.

Maybe I want to be the cool mom who other kids say, “There’s Rye’s mom!” with a smile on their face. Maybe I want my own kid to think that.

Whatever the reason, I started volunteering at my son’s school and, so far, I don’t love it.

Every Monday, I show up at 3 p.m. to help with whatever task the teacher assigns.

The first week, I finagled a paper cutter in the teacher’s workroom to help make various stacks of oddly-shaped flashcards, which I then wrote “2+3=5” and similar facts on.

Last week, I helped students learn subtraction facts by flipping flashcards. I got through about five or six students (not my own) before my time was up.

Yesterday, I cut out more math facts from over-sized sheets of laminated construction paper.

As I sat at the small desk at the back of the room, maneuvering the scissors over the slippery laminate, I wondered: Why am I here?

My son’s teacher greeted me, handed me my assignment and then ignored me. My son seemed both happy to see me and horrified that I was in his classroom and might oh-my-God speak to one of his friends, at the same time. My son’s classmates glanced at me awkwardly, unsure who I was, what I was doing there or if I’d be calling them over to practice their math.

My brain ticked off a list of other ways I could be spending that hour: work, laundry, going for a run, unpacking, reading, painting the bedroom, planting flowers, ETC.

I kept cutting. The classroom carried on around me.

I tried to remember the times my own parents visited my elementary-school classroom. There was a year both my mom and my dad led my Girl Scout troop. That was fun. And there was a time or two my dad brought his college actors in to perform a skit from a children’s show he was directing. I also remember, as a really young kid, bringing Halloween sugar cookies to school for my birthday. My mom had made those.

But aside from school programs and other functions, those are the only times I can remember my parents being at school. Certainly, neither volunteered to help the teacher on a weekly basis.

And as a kid? This was fine with me.

So I’ve been struggling lately with how I spend my time, what commitments I’ve made, whether the things I do reflect the priorities I have. If I want more time with my family, why would I take on any community obligations? If I want to be a five-day-a-week runner at this point in my life, why wouldn’t I forgo another commitment to make that happen? If I want to learn to play the guitar, why would I pursue any other extracurricular activities?

It’s a tough line to find, to cross, to sidestep, to hover over. And I’m still working on all the answers.

But for now (for always), I know one thing for sure: Being involved in my kids’ lives is important.

And if being present in my son’s classroom on a regular basis helps communicate that to him, if Anne Lamott is right that 80 percent of life is just showing up, if my son looks back one day and says, “Wow, Mom was at my school a lot, she must have really wanted to be an active participant in my life,” if my son feels he can pursue any interest and his mom will support it …

Well.

Then all the mindless, thankless cutting of flashcards, was worth every second.

Apple trees, an old barn and a home of our own

Outside the office window, I can see our entire backyard.

The old ambulance barn stands tall and strong, on guard, ready to house chickens in the small space on the south side and an art space/recording studio/guesthouse/whatever else we dream up in the main area whose white-washed doors make me feel hope.

The antlers near the barn’s top will stay because apparently if you’re a man, they make you feel like a man.

I’ve stopped looking at pictures of barns on pinterest.com because all the ones I love involve painting the barn red and hanging twinkly lights and having patio furniture and oak dining tables and dinner parties and fancy things that I’ve been told don’t belong in this sort of rustic structure, this barn that literally used to house our town’s ambulance back when the hospital was across the street (the old hospital was long ago turned into an apartment building that right now has Halloween decorations – and an American flag – flanking its entrance), this barn that high school kids each year visit for a backdrop to their senior pictures.

So OK, the barn is the rock star’s. And I’m OK with that.

Across from the barn a ways are the apple trees. I can see these from my office window, too, and they fill me with such a strong spirit of fall, of home, of everything good that I love them already. On our first visit to the house, to see if we might like it enough to make it our home, the kids – as if drawn like magic – found the apple trees on their own. They picked the yellow-green fruit and they came in to show us their find, sweet nectar dripping down the little girl’s chin, her pockets full of more juicy orbs.

I’ve already promised the kids baked apples. The only thing better would be if Grandma were here to make them, like she did for me as a little girl. Eating that sweet dessert in our Wisconsin living room is one of my favorite memories.

Outside my window, I can see the spot where my husband will build a fire pit and a pathway leading up to it. I can see where he wants to build us a garden, where he wants to grow food for our sustenance, where we might add on to the house in the next year or two, where we plan to put a swing set, maybe even a trampoline (shh…). I can see kids walk past the alley behind our house in the center of this small town. I can see the someday fence the rock star wants to build for privacy. I can see our kids playing. I can see a someday dog (well, maybe).

I see my family, in a home of our own.

Inside, we have lots of plans. Ripping up carpet and refinishing hardwood floors. Laying slate in the kitchen. New countertops, a new sink, more functional cabinets, new hardware in the bathroom. Paint. Lots of paint.

But we are here. We are happy.

Is this a forever home? the kids have asked. Maybe, my husband and I say. We hope so, we answer. We’ll at least be here a long time, we figure.

And that’s something, isn’t it? To find a home – a house and a community – where you can really, truly envision living for a long time.

I’m thankful.

BlogHer fame and why I’m still not cool enough to write “booyah”

A post I wrote several weeks ago about my son paying my daughter a dollar to go away and leave him alone is on the homepage of BlogHer.com today.

Whoop, whoop! (I always feel ridiculous writing those sorts of phrases. Same goes for “booyah.” Is it because those were never on a spelling test as a kid? Or because white men (girls) really can’t jump?)

Either way, I’m syndicated today on one of the most powerful women’s blogging networks in the world!

I’ll take it. And I’m grateful.

Thank you, BlogHer!

Onward.