Today I walk Hudson into his first dress rehearsal for Willy Wonka. We tour the green room, then the dressing room, and as we step out of the shadows backstage onto the main stage, I watch his eyes grow three times their normal size. All prior practices took place inside a church rec room. “Is this a real theater?” He asked in the parking lot. In this moment, with the studio lights illuminating his six-year-old face, mouth agape, he can’t hold it in – suddenly he sweeps his hands into the air, fingers splayed in dramatic ta-da fashion. I can practically feel the pitter-patter of his heart, and it transports me back to times when I’ve done something big or noteworthy – a public reading, a national television broadcast, a reality show – but none of those times feel nearly as significant as watching a bright-eyed Oompa Loompa take the stage his very first time.
When I arrive at the hospital, my Dad smiles and hands me two small pumpkins. After Ryan and I first got married, I got into the habit of making scratch pumpkin pies. I’ll roast the pumpkin, scoop out the filling, mix it together with milk, eggs, sugar, and spices, and pour it all into a graham cracker crust. I laugh nervously as I accept the pumpkins – an omen that after all of this, he and my mom will still come over for his favorite dessert. That he will be okay. That despite his diagnosis of a 90% blockage in his left anterior descending artery (a broken heart), he will be okay and somehow a cinnamon custard concoction would make this whole mess a little bit easier.
Earlier this year I listened to a psychologist speak about anxiety in children. She explained how when they are stressed or sad or angry, the brain’s limbic system kicks into overdrive. She compared it to a jar of glitter after it’s been shaken up. She held up her own jar – blue glitter swimming around like a tiny hurricane. Until the glitter settles, it’s nearly impossible for them to make a rational decision. My brain has been swimming around since my dad’s first visit to the hospital before Thanksgiving, but today, the glitter will finally settle. We give him a hug, and then we wait. Just as my son waits watching the glitter fall to the bottom of his jar after he loses it when a toddler wrecks his lego creation or water gets in his eyes in the shower. To him – real threats. To us, we know that legos can be rebuilt and water will not actually cause him to go blind.
But today, the threat is real. A quick google search of the diagnosis calls it the “widow maker” artery – because a blockage in the largest artery is often fatal. The cardiology floor waiting room television plays the Ellen show. I hold my mom’s hand. We listen to her stories of working in a factory decades ago. I get up to pee. My sister talks about her diet. My brother eats a clementine I brought along in case anyone got hungry. All the while, the glitter swirls around us – an invisible fog in the air. Finally a tall man in scrubs scans the waiting room. “Are you John’s family?” Then something about his procedure went well, and a blood thinning medication he’d be taking, and he’d get to go home. I take the first deep exhale since before Thanksgiving – suddenly allowing myself to sort through the feelings – like when my son sees the last speck of glitter falling slowly to the bottom of his jar, and he can verbalize why he felt such big feelings in the first place. I was scared. It didn’t feel fair. I didn’t want to lose something so special to me.
I hope this season finds you in a place of deep joy, but this doesn’t require us to deny our suffering. We simply have to embrace peace while we wade through it. Easier said than done. And harder still when we hang our hope on the outcome of a surgery, an election, or whatever else keeps us up at night. It’s why in the very humblest way, Jesus came lying in a manger. So today, we get to claim hope, not just because we got a positive answer to our most earnest prayers, but because we know our hope is grounded in something greater.
I clutch the bag of pumpkins as we make our way through the cardiac floor to the pod where my dad sits – still hooked up to monitors and IVs – scarfing down questionable looking hospital food. I think about how grateful I am for new life. I squeeze a packet of mustard onto a piece of cold sandwich bread for him. It’s not much, but I suppose it will tide him over until he can have some pie.
This photo was taken in the darkest season of our marriage. Pretty terrible opener for a 10-year anniversary post huh? It was taken by a dear friend whose own marriage ended not long after. My hormones were out of whack after weaning Hudson, I was struggling to understand my new identity as a mother, and I relied on my job for my sense of worth. And since my job relied upon social media, I’m certain I posted it with a cute hashtag to boot. When looking for a photo today I came across this picture again. I thought I could repost and caption it with a declaration of undying love for Mr. Right after all these years, but then I also thought maybe your feed is filled with everyone’s happy grams and sometimes that makes you feel less than, when the truth is you probably just don’t know the yucky parts that it took to get there.
Ten years ago I stood across from my best friend and made a promise between us – two imperfect human beings – and a God with grace big enough to cover our failings. I naively envisioned a happily ever after filled with sweeping romantic gestures even Nora Ephron would’ve admired, but over ten years we’ve learned what pretty much any married person knows – while he may have had you at “hello,” the real hard work comes after “I do.” At our worst, Ryan and I have miscommunicated, altogether ignored, and profoundly hurt one another. I’ve never needed forgiveness from anyone as much as from Ryan. So today we’re not celebrating happily ever after. We’re celebrating the times we got back up, kept showing up, and didn’t give up. We feel our marriage grow stronger and more whole each time. I don’t feel like this photo is less worthy of being remembered, because gratefully even in our very lowest place, we found joy. Thanks for making me laugh these last ten years.
Tonight Hudson stands quietly in front of the warm light of our tree. Taller than last Christmas and each day looking more like a miniature young man. Somehow that chubby baby grew into a kindergartner this year. A polo shirt adorned with his school crest tucked neatly into crisp navy blue shorts, his brand new tennis shoes a radiant white the sandbox had yet to sully. He looked at himself in the mirror and beamed nervously. “My heart just started beating this fast,” he exclaimed while patting his chest as quickly as he could.
A year full of heart-fluttering milestones for us all: A first day of kindergarten for Hudson. Ollie’s first steps. Her first words. Hudson losing his first tooth in the middle of our favorite restaurant – his excitement so palpable, the entire wine cafe erupted in applause. And the moment when early one August morning before Ryan had gone to work, two blue lines appeared on a stick in our bathroom.
So many significant moments, but in a year that has been so hard for so many, it reminds us to cherish the mundane ones as well. The lunch boxes packed, the tantrums endured, the bedtime stories told. We cling a little tighter to each other and to the hope we find in this season.
As I whisk Hudson away from the tree to his bed tonight – his sister already sleeping soundly in her crib – he remarks, “You know why I love the tree so much Mama? It reminds me of Jesus and makes my heart feel warm.”
“Me too, Bear,” I tell him, as we snuggle into his bed for another bedtime story.
We packed up some chicken taquitos, baby carrots, and orange slices late this afternoon and headed for the coast. Ryan shook out the picnic blanket and the kids and I each held down a corner as the strong sea breeze threatened to send it flying across the Pacific. Hudson and his cousin plopped down on it, digging their toes into the sand. They made loud “mmm” sounds as they gobbled down the taquitos still warm from the oven and then ran toward the water. I held the baby and fed her bits of chicken and tortilla while watching the older kids splash and giggle and stuff seashells into their pockets. The sun slowly sinking closer to the sea cast long shadows on the sand, and we played as long as we could as the tide crept closer and closer to our blanket.
This handsome boy finished pre-K, and I’ve only cried about it three times today! Can’t believe how much he’s grown or how white his button-down still looks compared to his first day.
Ryan approaches Mother’s Day with reverential fervor. He booked a J. Crew personal shopper on my first Mother’s Day when Hudson was just a few weeks old and none of my clothes fit. He once learned how to edit together a reel of home videos complete with narrated voiceover. This year our poor Hudson bear woke up with a fever no amount of Tylenol or lukewarm baths could break. He refused to eat even his very favorite food – roasted sweet potatoes. With the pediatrician’s office closed on Sundays, we hopped in the car and headed for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Before long we were snuggling together on a reclining pediatric exam chair. We watched The Little Mermaid on a small television hanging in the corner of our tiny room, and at long last, the fever broke, but not before Hudson requested the nurse switch the movie to something less scary. A fluorescent orange popsicle, a strep diagnosis, and a shiny new Hot Wheels car later, we headed home for more rest. I love the in-home massages and earnestly presented finger paint art projects, but today was pretty special too.