I was here. I was all in. I was committed…and then I was just gone, wasn’t I? I am sorry, but I do have some good excuses. First, I got a cold. The regular kind with fever and chills and stuffiness–that makes you reticent to get out of bed on cold mornings to care for a wailing baby, much less to write. Then, on Tuesday November 5th my cold suddenly morphed into such severe abdominal pain that we (Ashley and me–Jeremiah assumed I was being overly dramatic ;)) went to the ER, believing I either had appendicitis or a small Triceretops running loose in my abdominal cavity. I was willing to accept either of those as a diagnosis, but it turns out I had a ruptured ovarian cyst. I left the emergency room approximately 30 minutes before my sister Kendall checked IN in labor–to the very same ER.
My nurse told Kendall, “You sister JUST walked out of here!” I wish I had stayed, because a few hours later John Clark Downs made his way into the world:
He is marvelous, isn’t he? Fresh from heaven. And Kendall and Watson’s childbirth experience was the kind you would expect to see in an old black and white movie. Contractions began, Watson drove her to the hospital. She was admitted and a short time later was given her epidural. Kendall slept through most of the night after her epidural, only waking occasionally to be checked. Then, early the next morning, her doctor WOKE HER WITH THE NEWS THAT IT WAS TIME TO PUSH. Did you think that kind of thing actually happened in real life??? I didn’t. Kendall said it felt very much like waking up on Christmas morning, because, after 20 minutes of pushing, she was holding the most soft, wriggly, and wonderful gift she’s ever received.
Alas, the black and white movie reel ended a day or so later with the postpartum pains, awkwardness of a mom and baby trying to teach each other how to do something that neither of them has ever done before–nurse, and realization that it was now time to care for the helpless wonder–OUTSIDE of the safe hospital. This is where I like to butt myself right up into my sisters’ lives. I get to come in and stay with them and act like a know-it-all ;). It has always been hard, all three first babies that I have gotten to share with Taylor, Caroline, and now Kendall, but it is also such a privilege to be a part of those first days of life. The uncertainty, the endless little tasks, the fragility of newborns and hormone swings–coupled with the freshness of new life, wonder of a teeny tiny baby, and joy of welcoming a new member to our family.
Kendall had her Christmas present, to be sure.
And Watson was the most googley-eyed new Daddy I have ever seen. At one point he told Kendall, “I want 10,000 of these.” At another time, he said, “I just want to surround myself with babies.” One night Kendall and I were talking in the kitchen and Kendall said, “Abby, I think Watson may love John Clark even more than I do…” No, no I began to reassure her. That is not possible…but then we both peeked into the den where Watson was holding the baby. He had no idea we could see him, and he was lying on the couch, John Clark asleep on his chest, simply beaming at that baby. I had to admit their love levels might be a toss up.
I left Kendall’s house last Wednesday and as I tried to re-adjust back into my own (barely manageable) life I realized that I only had two days to plan Pace’s birthday party, which I had sent out invitations for just before John Clark was born.
Oh, you know, somewhere between the cold and the hospital stay. It was a panicky couple days of pulling things together, but it turned out to be a fun party…I think.
The end of this lengthy recap, is that we left our computer and internet at the Maddox’s house after the birthday party…I just got it back last night. So I really haven’t been procrastinating the blog, just swept up in a whole lot of life.
It is not a very endearing term, but it is the one that most accurately describes what it feels like to be in public with all four children. I say “in public” because at home, I usually feel like I see Pace. Mary Aplin. Jay Paul. and Mae. Each an invaluable and integral part of our home. Each an individual. When we are in public, most specifically when we are in a parking lot walking from our car to wherever we are going, I feel like I no longer have four individual children, but instead a swarm of small, vulnerable people humming around my legs and hanging from my arms.
I know that it always takes time to re-establish your normal routines after adding a new member to the family. I had a 30-minute long conversation with my friend Ann recently, solely on how to navigate from the grocery store parking lot, through the store, and finally the check-out line. If you were eavesdropping, you would have wondered what military re-connaissance effort we were planning. Doing the grocery store with children is not for sissies. Three months into life as a mother of four babies, and I feel pretty confident about taking on our normal activities. It doesn’t always go well, but I at least have a protocol to fall back on for most situations… …
What I could not establish a protocol for, was how to stop feeling like a swarm. How to stop feeling overwhelmed and short of breath about the number of lives I was responsible for. How to feel like I was mother to Pace. Mary Aplin. Jay Paul. and Mae all day long.
The startling revelation that I came to, was that I needed to seek out time with them as individuals. Please realize that I say this with caution, knowing that this may not always be how we operate. It may not seem the least bit revultionary to you like it has been for me, but living moment to moment and seizing every possible opportunity to be with them one-on-one is how I make it through the day right now. It is how I have found my breath again after adding number four.
Often, it is not so much that I am DOING anything differently, as it is that I am RECOGNIZING and making the best of ordinary times in our day. For example, Mary Aplin gets out of school at 12 and Jay Paul takes a nap until it is time to leave again to pick up Pace at 3. That is now my coveted time with Dapples. We do her homework, normally. Nothing too special, but later in the afternoon, when it is time for Pace’s homework, I don’t feel bad sending Mary Aplin upstairs to “babysit” Jay Paul in the playroom. I have had my time with Dapples, and the 3:30-4:30 window is Pace’s time.
Once I started noticing these windows of positive time, it helped me realize who had a defecit…it was poor Jay Paul. And as frustrated as I have been with him for all his naughtiness of late, I started to wonder if it could be that my neediest child was in need of focused attention. So, I dropped one of his mornings at MMO and started devoting Mae’s (marvelous) morning nap all to him at least one morning a week. He started loving me again. Instead of being frustrated ALL of the time, now it’s only 3/4 of the time 😉
My Mae’s moments have to be stolen in little spurts throughout the day. I have started going (alone) to the nursery to nurse her at least a couple times a day. Sometimes Jay Paul finds us and tears the room to shreds around us or squeezes in the chair with us demanding “Book!” “Book!” as he wallops us with it, but sometimes he doesn’t. And I get to gaze at her little face and we smile at each other so big that my heart swells to three times its size. She is a patient wonder.
There are still times when I get overwhelmed by the swarm, but spending the day looking for one-on-one times, valuing those moments when they do present themselves as a precious opportunity, and praying God continues to provide the energy for me to make it through them all is how I’ve survived so far. It gives me benchmarks to feel like I’ve accomplished something throughout our day, instead of just powering through it. And there are times, like yesterday afternoon when all three were playing together at the park, and Mae was happily observing it all from my arms when I LOVE the swarm. All of them together. All at once.
She is a little love. Just writing Mae’s name makes me smile. She has her moments–times when she is fussy and requires attention or bouncing, but they are few and she is never inconsolable. I have realized that THIS is why people love babies so much. I have always loved my own babies, but it was a love fraught with exhaustion. A love forged through hard work towards a common goal. Mae is not this way. She is…pleasant. I did not know it was possible for a baby to be pleasant in their natural, unmanipulated state. But if every baby were like this one, I might have had 10.
I can sit her down and she will quietly and curiously observe the world around her, at least for a little while, before making a small whimper or grunt to request some attention. Now that she is becoming more coordinated, she will lay on her play mat and bat and kick at dangling objects with an intensity that shows her excitement and discovery. If you smile at her, and don’t wane in your enthusiasm, you will be rewarded with smile in return–often immediately.
Mae coos and “talks” with so much animation that I am spell-bound when she gets chatty and have trouble dragging myself away (no matter how great the needs are swirling around me). Maybe each baby gets to be the darling of the family, but Mae baby is definitely our darling at present. Our night-time routine is for Jeremiah to do story and prayer time with Pace, Mary Aplin, and Jay Paul, while I give Mae her bath and get her swaddled and ready for bed. There is a moment when I walk from the nursery to the stairs and pass by the door where all four of my other loves are piled on the bed. Jeremiah’s story is always interrupted by squealing requests for kisses from Mae. Sometimes they can’t wait for me to take the 6 steps from the hallway to their bed and a queue forms at my feet, each waiting impatiently for their moment with our girl. Other times their Daddy holds them at bay so that Mae can join them all on the bed for a blanket of kisses all at once–a free-for-all to see who can get closest to her face. If I have moments where I fret for Mae, being the baby of four, worrying that she doesn’t get the same attention that the other babies have received from Jeremiah and me…those moments are reversed by these. When I realize that no amount of love we give could equal the sum of love she receives from her sisters and brother.
I am going to keep this short, since Mae just had a birth story and doesn’t require a RE-introduction, but I wanted to include a part of a poem that I read recently. It is by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and it resonated with me, as though a grown Mae were whispering in my ear. The fact that Jay Paul gave MyMae her nickname, is what–I believe–made this section of a poem called “The Name” stand out to me:
…My brother gave that name to me
When we were children twain;
When names acquired baptismally
Were hard to utter as to see
That life had any pain.
No shade was on us then, save one
Of chestnuts from a hill–
And through the word our laugh did run
As part thereof! The mirth being done,
He calls me by it still!
Nay, do not smile! I hear in it
What none of you can hear;
The talk upon the willow seat,
The bird and wind that did repeat
Around, our human cheer!
I hear the birthday’s noisy bliss,
My sister’s woodland glee,–
My father’s praise, I did not miss,
What time he stooped down to kiss
The poet at his knee,…