annabel

I’ve wanted to write this post for weeks now, but every time I try to sit down at the “big computer,” I decide to sleep instead. And also it is really hard to type with one hand.

A Birth Story

On May 8, we went to a regularly scheduled OB appointment and discovered that the baby was transverse – lying across the uterus instead of in the preferred “head down” position.  The fact that I had a lot of fluid and a misshapen uterus (thanks to a myomectomy and a twin pregnancy) made it very easy for the baby to swim into whatever position she preferred.  Dr. G had already performed a “version” (changing the baby’s position) in the office at 37 weeks, but the baby happily shifted by the next day. Knowing that the baby moved so quickly, Dr. S suggested that once we achieved 39 weeks gestation, we should schedule another version followed immediately by an induction.  In the meantime, we were advised that I should try hard NOT to go into labor and that if I did go into labor, or my water broke, we should go straight to the hospital due to risk of umbilical cord prolapse.

Thus began my maternity leave.

The first available date for the version and induction was Wednesday, May 14 with Dr. G.  We were signed up for a 7:30 a.m. time slot.

In between the appointment and the induction, I managed to injure my neck, causing me considerable pain and insomnia.  The day before the induction, we visited our friendly neighborhood chiropractor who attempted to mitigate the pain and gave Frank some suggestions for assisting me with pain management during labor and delivery.

We both woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning, ready to meet our third child.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning and a perfect drive to the hospital. I was so happy to walk into Labor and Delivery, instead of being wheeled into L&D in complete terror (as was what happened with the twins). We were set up in our room, I changed and was put on monitors … and then the fun started.

 

Ready to go to the hospital!

Ready to go to the hospital!

Dr. G is sort of a legend in our area.  My mom actually went to his practice many years ago in hopes that he would deliver her third child, my brother Andy, but unfortunately she went into labor on a day that he wasn’t on duty.  He is an older gentleman, with a sweet and kind demeanor.  His old-school training made him more likely to try things like a version, something that only one of his colleagues would also attempt (Dr. S). He was optimistic that he could shift the baby’s position, but he was also realistic.  He’d seen enough versions that should’ve been easy that failed, and other versions that should’ve failed, work. Within minutes of locating the baby on the ultrasound, he began the process of shifting her position.  We watched in awe as her little shape moved into a perfect head-down position.

Once it was confirmed that her head was in the best position possible, Dr. G broke my water and began pitocin.

Hanging out, inducing and stuff...

Hanging out, inducing and stuff…

Everything was pretty uneventful after that.  Frank and I watched a movie, texted, played games, and just sat around waiting to meet our baby. Frank left for breakfast and lunch breaks, and finally by about 2 p.m. we decided to get the epidural.  At that point I was dilated to 2 cm and everything was looking good.

At 5 p.m. Dr. G was leaving for the day and he wanted to see how things were going with me before handing me off to Dr. S.  I was dilated to 3 cm and everything looked fine. After he left, though, my nurse and I both noticed a deceleration with the baby’s heart rate on the next contraction.  I bit my lip nervously as I waited for the heart rate to return to normal.

A few more contractions came and went without decelerations.  The nurses changed shifts and the new nurse wanted to check my cervix.  While she checked, a worried look crossed her face.

“Did the doctor mention anything about feeling facial features when he checked last?” she asked.  I shook my head.

I’m not a doctor, but I knew enough to know that you shouldn’t feel a baby’s facial features during a cervical check. Crap, I thought.

The next contraction, as though the baby knew, involved another heart rate deceleration.  I furrowed my brow. Frank was now pacing next to my hospital bed.  The nurse called the hospitalist (the doctor on duty for the hospital).  The hospitalist arrived quickly.

“Yes, I feel a forehead… and eyes.  What does the OB want you to do?” the hospitalist asked the nurse.

“Turn her on her side and stop the pitocin and call the OB in,” said the nurse, reaching to turn off the pitocin as she said it. The hospitalist nodded. Within 30 minutes, my OB was in the room.

Dr. S was a very professional and still very kind doctor.  She is one of those doctors that instills a sense of authority while still being very compassionate at the same time.  She spent a long time assessing the situation.  During her check, she attempted to move the baby’s chin down in order to shift her head into a better position.  She attempted to push the baby’s head back into the uterus.  Neither effort worked – the baby was fully engaged.  Dr. S could tell that the baby’s head was becoming swollen from the pressure from the contractions.

Dr. S looked at me with sad eyes and I knew before she even said it.  “We have to do a C-Section. I can’t move the baby’s head.  There is a risk that if the baby is allowed to be born this way, she might break her neck,” explained Dr. S.

My heart dropped. My poor baby.  All I could think of was this poor, sweet baby trying to be born into this world and being stuck and injured.  Frank and I took a few minutes to talk and to pray.  I knew I had to do the C-Section, but even though I had tried to mentally prepare for that before we were induced – I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a lot of difficult things. Not climbing mountains or anything, but I’d had surgery before, been through challenging seasons of my life and so on. I’d created ways to mentally push through those difficult situations by outlining steps in my head.  Just get through this, this and this. Once you do those three things, you will be done.  But being awake for a major surgery? I knew what the steps were and I just couldn’t see my way through. I actually thought, so then they will put your organs back in… sweet heavens to Betsy… my organs will be on the outside… on.the.outside.  I couldn’t see my way through it. I started to panic.

And then I remembered that the last time I had a similar surgery to a C-Section (a myomectomy), I had been horrifically sick.  I threw up for hours by myself in my hospital room after surgery.  I remembered texting Frank and telling him how sick I was. Frank had asked if he should come back to the hospital. For what reason?  I remember thinking.  To watch me puke up jello into a kidney shaped blue bowl while I try not to hurt my already aching stomach muscles?  It was the kind of lonely misery that would not be improved by a spectator.

At the memory of my myomectomy recovery, I became scared of puking on one side of the operating curtain, while my actual stomach was exposed on the other side.  I couldn’t handle it.

I will say, my doctors were amazing.  Upon hearing of my nausea/vomiting fears, they took every step possible to reduce any chance that I would become violently ill while delivering my baby.  Not once during the C-Section did I even think of vomiting.  I was grateful.

Once I signed off on the paperwork for the C-Section, I was prepped and wheeled into the same operating room in which I delivered the twins.  I was moved from the L&D bed onto the narrow operating table.  The anesthesiologist began the spinal through the same port as my epidural and the final work to bring our baby into this world began.

Frank joined me by the head of the table, but he watched the entire surgery, not missing a moment of our baby’s delivery.  The thing about a C-Section is that while you do not feel pain, you feel your insides being moved around.  It’s a totally surreal situation – knowing that on the other side of a thin piece of blue fabric, your insides are on the outside.

But, oh heavens, at the first gurgling cries of sweet Annabel – it was all worth it. At 7:18 pm on May 14, 2014 she made her way into this world.

"Seriously you guys, what took you so long??"

“Seriously you guys, what took you so long??”

 

“It’s a girl! And she’s a big baby!” announced Frank and the doctor, laughing.

They brought a screaming, healthy baby Annie around the curtain so I could see her for the first time.  Frank laughed, “Boy is she angry!” The swelling in her forehead gave her a particularly angry scowl.

They cleaned up Annie and weighed her – 9lbs 3oz and 21 inches long – and brought her over for a more formal introduction.

"Hey, Mom, wassup?"

“Hey, Mom, wassup?”

Frank, Annie and me.

Frank, Annie and me. All of our best angles.

Annie and Frank hung out in the nursery waiting for me to get cleaned up and after two hours of recovery, we were all reunited.

"Mmm... Pain Management rocks!"

“Mmm… Pain Management rocks!”

Annie and I snuggled while Frank tried to forge for food (a nearly impossible task).  In between coos, I hit the button for pain medication every ten minutes. I’ll tell you what, C-Sections are no joke and I am grateful for the excellent pain management (the PC way to say “large quantities of pain killers”) that I was offered at the hospital.

The twins were excited to meet their new sister.  Poor Carrigan, confused and concerned by the logistics of birthing, immediately asked if Annie was going “back in.” We assured her that Annie was here to stay.

Party of 5!

Party of 5!

Annie and I hung out in the hospital for four days and were discharged, happily, on May 18.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Frank and his girls!

Frank and his girls!

"Let's rock and roll mom and dad!"

“Let’s rock and roll mom and dad!”

Sisters

Sisters

About the Name

Annie’s first trimester was more exciting than we had hoped.  Early on, we were very concerned about some bleeding issues that went on for nearly four weeks.  During that time of worry, I felt peace at church and felt that her middle name would be Ruth.  We knew we wanted an “A” first name, and it was between Abigail and Annabel.  I’ve always loved Annabel and it’s literary history.  We both loved that the name could be shortened to Anna, Ann, Annie, etc.  Annabel is actually a variation on the Scottish name Amabel, meaning loving.  And she definitely is a little lovebug!

Two weeks old, poolside

Two weeks old, poolside

Eight weeks old

Eight weeks old

updates with parenthood

I loved the 1989 movie Parenthood. I would categorize it as a movie that I loved when it came out (I was nine) and love even more now that I’m a parent – especially since I get the jokes (which, side note, OMG – why was I allowed to watch this movie when I was 9??). In the theme of the movie, here are updates on the recent happenings in the K Family… in no particular order.

On family…

Justin(3 year old son): Who’s that?

Gil (Dad): It’s my kid brother, Larry, your uncle. Don’t give him any money.

Justin: I won’t.

My youngest sister Sarah turned 21 on September 27.  I remember when she was born calculating how old I would be when she hit important milestones in her life. I figured out that I would be 32 when she was 21.  I remember thinking two things, first: “WOW… I’ll be old!” and second: “I won’t be relevant any more! How could I be 32 and cool?”

Oh, dear, sweet, young Emily.  You are as relevant and as cool at 32 as you were at 21. That’s not saying much, but it’s OK. Have a cocktail, toast your sister and color your roots.  I mean seriously, is that fairy dust or sparkly grays?

 

On marriage…

[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room]

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story. (sarcasm)

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

… A few moments later…

Karen: I happen to LIKE the roller coaster, okay? As far as I’m concerned, your grandmother is brilliant.

Gil: Yeah if she’s so brilliant why is she sitting in our NEIGHBOR’S CAR?

We live on a roller coaster.  Frank is home, Frank is gone.  Some of the hills and loops are familiar – kids to sitter, kids to doctor, kids home, go to work, leave lunch on the counter at home.  Some of the twists are new – new projects, opportunities, moving homes, and so on.

I love our roller coaster.  I love that there is an element of juggling involved in our lives and I love when everything goes smoothly.

Our roller coaster makes me appreciate quiet Saturday nights like this one, where I can spend some time writing.

I used to think I was a merry-go-round kinda girl at my core. Until there was Frank; Frank makes the ride worth it and taught me how to love the roller coaster.  After ten years of marriage on September 19, I’d pick the roller coaster every time. T M, A.

 

On parenting… 

Frank (Dad): You know, when you were two years old, we thought you had polio. Did you know that?

Gil (Son): Yeah, Mom said… something about it a couple of years ago.

Frank: Yeah, well, for a week we didn’t know. I hated you for that.

[Gil looks surprised and hurt]

Frank: I did. I hated having to care, having to go through the pain, the hurt, the suffering. It’s not for me.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is not what you have to do for your children – it’s learning to accept what you can’t do for your children. We do our best to set a good framework, provide rules and boundaries – but every now and then something crops up and they are the only ones who can handle it.

We are rapidly hitting these moments – potty training, going to play school (Pre-pre-school, essentially), and generally redirecting them when they are misbehaving.  Parenting is an art and a science and a test in parental patience, will-power and self-discipline.

But it is so worth it.  The girls make jokes now – with each other and with us.  The play together so nicely much of the time and I am surprised by the few times they need a parent to step in and break up a disagreement.

Ellie is a gentle soul with alpha baby tendencies.  She does not like stern reprimands and apologizes almost to the point of fault.  She will certainly stand up to her sister and has mastered the screeching scream as a method to scare Carrigan away from a beloved stuffed animal or toy. I wasn’t feeling well the other day and Ellie was persistent in her questioning, “Mom, are you OK? Do you need medicine? Do you need to see the doc-tor?” She asked these questions with her curly red head cocked to one side and her eyebrows raised in serious concern.

Carrie is hilarious and gregarious.  We were getting ice cream – her favorite treat – and she walked into the ice cream store like she owned it.  She said hello to everyone, investigated the toppings and ice cream selections, requesting sprinkles like an old pro. And that’s the way she is – she walks into a room and says, “Hello friends! How’s it going?” with a big, confident smile on her face.  She has started striking poses with one hand on her hip – which is incredibly funny! She has a sensitive side that is tough to navigate; she will throw up a wall if she wants to ignore your request and is genuinely sorry when she’s done wrong.

 

on life…

Frank: Gil, you have a good memory. Uh, was it yours or Helen’s or Susan’s wedding I got drunk at?

Gil: It was all three, Dad. Congratulations.

Frank: Well, which one did I punch the band leader?

Gil: That was mine. We have photos. I’m having them blown up for the commitment hearings.

And in conclusion…

I am constantly re-learning the meaning of family.  It’s a lesson that evolves and morphs and changes, but the result is always the same for me: family is both the people I was born stuck with and the people I choose to be stuck with. Family is always worth the time and the fight and the energy.

wednesdays

It is Wednesday night in the suburbs of Chicago.  Specifically, it is 7:45 p.m. on a Wednesday night – the time when the somewhat late Chicago commuters are briskly walking to their cars in a twilight parking lot.  Late, but not too late to kiss the kids good night.

But I am not a part of that fray.  Maybe in a different life.

But not this one.

In this one, I am lying on the floor of my twin daughters’ room.  Sprawled, almost like a bad crime scene.  I am dressed like a mullet – half loungewear on the bottom and half work attire on the top.

It is dark.  It is dark because the heels of my hands are pressed on my eyes, rubbing methodically.  I hear two sets of feet running down the hall.  One set stops at the door and one set stops next to my head.  I slowly remove my hands. I see a bottom.

A clothed bottom.

Which, as a parent of toddler twins, a clothed bottom is about all you can ask for when presented with a derriere in your face.

This particular derriere belongs to Ellie.  She is in position to do a summersault.  She turns her head to look over her shoulder to make sure I’m paying attention.

I flip her and land her on my legs.  She hops off.

“Again!” she pronounces.

Carrie has returned from her adventures in the hallway.  She is holding Super Pickle: a plush pickle that used to belong to Frank when he was young, but who has now come into favor with Carrie as her new stuffed best friend.

“Pickle, Mama! Super Pickle!”  She makes Super Pickle fly.

Ellie is at the door now, about to embark on an adventure.  She turns to me before she departs and I hear her say, “I want some socks Mama!”

I furrow my brow.

“Socks are in your closet, Ellie.”

She furrows her brow.

“I want some SOCKS Mama.”

I lay my head down on the floor again and replay the words over and over in my head.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS!”

Carrie understands, though.  She goes to the door to leave as well.

“I want some socks, too, Mama!” says Carrie.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS! I want some socks.”

“Socks?” I ask again.

Carrie repeats herself at least a half dozen times.  She is so emphatic about the words, she is drooling, but somehow looking at me like I am crazy the crazy one.

And then I realize what she wants.

Snacks.

Never, ever have my children pleaded fervently for footwear.

I should’ve known.

We are down the stairs and snacking within seconds and my children are relieved.  They were probably wondering if they had a remedial mama and subsequently wondering what they will tell the other kids on the playground.  I can imagine the scene at the top of the slide:  The girls huddled with two of their best slide-riding buddies, whispering, “We asked for snacks and she kept saying socks. Do you think the Park District has a program for her?”

I want to explain to them that I can’t read lips and even a southern accent is difficult for me to understand. Nothing else major is wrong with me, I want to explain to them.  Well, nothing too major.

But, there are some surprises better left for when they are older.

So they have some puréed fruit and I sweep the floor and we all three consider entirely different lines of thought.

Ellie counts to ten.  Then says her ABC’s. And then congratulates herself on her tremendous accomplishments.  I tell her how smart she is, but it is just icing on the cake.  Girlfriend is independent.

Carrie investigates the shapes she can make squeezing the fruit on the table until I stop her.  She may be boisterous and tough seeming on the outside, she has a big, sensitive heart.  After I take away her fruit and firmly (but nicely) admonish her for dumping it out, I hug her and squeeze her.

Back up the stairs we go.  Snuggles. A round of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” More snuggles.

It’s hard to believe they were ever tiny.  It’s hard to believe that Carrie’s weight actually dipped a little below 5 lbs in the NICU before she came home.

I remember living through the moments with them, listening to them breathe while they slept on my chest, and I thought, “I will never forget how tiny they were.”

And while I know they were tiny, I can’t remember it.  I can’t imagine it.

If you’ve seen the twins lately, they are little girls.  They rode their first carnival rides.  Ate their first carnival food, even.  #ParentsOfTheYear #OnlyOrganicCarnivalFood #BAHAHAHA

My parents and their parents and their parents all warned me.  “You will age.  It goes so fast.”

And I remember just not comprehending it when I was younger. I knew I’d age, but for some reason I thought time would always be ahead of me. But now, there are 32 1/2 years of time behind me.

My peers are noticing this reality, too. Many have especially commented on the kids’ music today. And the clothes. And the catch-phrases. Sometimes they don’t hear themselves saying the words.  Sometimes they do.  And then they repeat themselves – just to hear it again. The words are eerily familiar and yet, the words are not their own.  The words are those of our grandparents and great grandparents saying, “I told you…”

I tend to believe that the ones who have gone before us would also tell us a whole lot of other things about life. How precious it is.  How fragile it is. How you can’t ever really know the first two things until you’ve lived it for a while.

I look at the little girls tucked into their beds. I know how it happened that they are not little babies any more – how they grew up.  I know that it happened over a series of Wednesday nights, much like this one.

Wednesday nights here are like driving through downstate Illinois. Fields and fields of corn, as far as the eye can see. Fields that seem to stretch on, all the way to forever, until you pull off the highway at your destination and you realize you’ve traveled 300 miles without ever noticing it.

We are a long way from where we were.  I’m glad we have a long way yet to go.

a requiem for diet coke

Subtitled: A Eulogy of a Love Affair

Like all classic love affairs, it began innocently enough.

A glance across the room in high school.  A night at the movies in college.

By the time I graduated from college, I didn’t really notice that Diet Coke had left a toothbrush at my place, started taking over a shelf in the medicine cabinet and began adding itself to my grocery shopping list. By the time I was working full time my insatiable need for Diet Coke had taken hold, seemingly without warning.

A can at breakfast. A fountain drink at lunch. A mid-afternoon pick-me-up. The discovery of Diet Dr. Pepper.

It didn’t hurt that the first office I worked at had a veritable pipeline of Diet Coke in the form of company-supplied-and-maintained soda fountains.

Assessing future employers based on access to diet caffeinated cola products became practically my top priority in my job hunt.  I was only stymied by the fact that most companies don’t include “access to coke” in job descriptions.

Fear not.

Directors who knew me knew that my productivity, when bolstered by diet caffeinated cola, was that of five semi-hungover employees.  Directors who loved me understood that Diet Dr. Pepper was my hands down favorite diet caffeinated cola.

See, I spent much time analyzing and rating my preferred diet caffeinated colas, resulting in Diet Dr. Pepper winning every time, followed by Diet Coke from McDonalds (has to be – nothing compares), followed by Diet Pepsi in a 20 ounce bottle or 12 ounce can followed by Diet Coke in a can.

I wrote a poem about Diet Coke.

At my first job.

My first grown-up job.

I did that.

And? My director thought it was a lovely poem and hung it on her wall.

It’s a disease, people.

Of course, as my love affair with diet caffeinated colas heated up, the buzz about the suspect ingredients also started building.  Around the time we started to try to have children, the diet caffeinated cola love affair was peaking, but it was nearly impossible to ignore the mounting evidence that some of the ingredients were not good for me.

I almost felt shame every time I heard the pop and the “pssshhh” of the can opening.

Almost.

Most doctors seem to agree that women trying to get pregnant and those who were already pregnant should cut the caffeine.

So, I quit.

It was easy to quit. Too easy.

I heard myself say these words, “See? I don’t need Diet Coke. I can quit at any time.”

You may have heard those same words on A&E’s Intervention or you know, any show about drug addiction.

I was “clean” for my entire pregnancy with the twins.

While in the NICU, Carrie had an apnea incident (basically she forgot to breath) and I heard one of the nurses mention that babies who have chronic apnea incidents are sometimes put on caffeine. And I thought, “what if I drink some Diet Coke, pump and give it to her via breast milk  Maybe that will help!” Mom to the rescue!

So I called my old flame Diet Coke.  I wondered what it would be like after all that time.  Would there be the heat and the passion that I remembered?

Oh, that first blissful sip.  It was so good. So bubbly. So cold.  So fresh and delicious.

Ahhh.

But the innocence was gone.  I knew better.  I knew the scandalous ingredients.  I knew too much.

I tried to keep my torrid affair out of the public eye.  I knew there were others who would judge.  Others who knew that I knew that they knew that I knew that Diet Coke has some pretty nasty crap in it.

When I went back to work, I started a bad habit of going to McDonald’s for oatmeal in the morning – and oh – a Diet Coke.  Only $1 for 32 ounces. I mean, why not?  The small, medium and large are all priced the same.

It would be tragic to pay the same as a large, but only get a small.

And then I discovered that the twins loved Oatmeal.  As a mom on the run, Oatmeal became the perfect breakfast food on the go.

And some Diet Coke… in a giant tub… with a straw.

After some time, I noticed that I was needing some more diet caffeinated cola around lunch. Plus, sandwiches always taste better with diet caffeinated cola.  We have a vending machine that sells Diet Dr. Pepper.  In 20 ounce bottles.

If you’re doing the math with me, you’re probably noticing that on most days I was drinking 50+ ounces of diet caffeinated deliciousness – often well before noon.

So this New Year, I decided to give it up.

Go cold turkey.

I challenged the part of me that said, too casually, “I can give it up at any time.”

And so I did.  I discovered tea and coffee.  A more “mellow buzz” if you will.

I sip. I try to drink water.

Today, I found myself thinking about lunch.  I usually think about lunch about 2.4 seconds after I finish breakfast.  So, there I was, thinking about lunch… and how delicious a large Diet Coke from McDonald’s would be.

I didn’t cave.

And just like that, I realized that I was over Diet Coke. We had our moment in the sun, but our season together was over.

One month, twelve days, 20 hours, 41 minutes.

Fair thee well, diet caffeinated cola products.  Fair thee well.

:: and scene::

aging

So yeah, I turned 32 on November 16. No biggie.

A thrilling birthday for me is dinner with my family.  And a clean house.  Gentlemen, you want to know what your wives want more than anything?  A Clean House. Clean sheets, clean floors, clean.  While my children wipe snot on me and I pick up “ickies” from the floor and I investigate mysterious little weird things my kids find, I still appreciate a clean environment.  Frank, well done.

This past birthday got me thinking – what does 10 years look like in pictures?  Sure, and duh, my life has changed in 10 years.  Husband, kids, work, etc, etc.  But when you look what the presidency does to dudes in four years, I wondered what happened in 10.  So, brace yourself, here we go:

 


Melissa and me 10 years ago.  Melissa was my roommate in college for two years.  Two. Amazing. Years.  So amazing, she moved to Oregon shortly thereafter.  Well done, Em, well done.

Not sure what is going on here, but this is from 2002.  This is what I looked like in college.  Tired. Messy. Collegiate. Someone get me a brush, a Diet Coke and eye make-up remover, STAT>].

Frank and I attending a wedding.  The Bright Wedding.  July 13, 2002, I believe.  I could be wrong.  Maybe the 16?  Who knows.  This was our first “nice” couple picture.  Frank would be the first to point out to everyone that he had hair when we started dating. Apparently pro-longed exposure to Emily either results in losing your hair or moving to Oregon.

This is about the time it got serious.  We were 12.  It was amazing. Christmas 2002.

Frank still had hair.

Me, getting ready to throw my bouquet.  Goodbye, singleness!  Hello Franky-pants!  September 2003.

Some time in the summer of 2004.  That same weekend I lost my most favorite wedge sandals.  Woe is me.  I will never forget. (Seriously, they were awesome, neutral sandals.  They were amazing.  Elongated my legs, comfortable to wear, and, swear to you, they could’ve brought world peace. Instead? GONE.)

I bet NBC wishes they had snatched us up while they had the chance.  This pic was from 2005 when NBC still had the sparkling team of Katie Couric and Matt Lauer.  Ah.  NBC.  Call us. K, thanks, bye.

This began an era of time where we did not take a normal picture.  So yeah, here’s the best I can do for 2006.

My sister and I, posin’. She’s such a hottie.  Love her.  Smooches. And of course, she looks amazing then and amazing now.  Dirty, dirty bird.

Seriously, from this ENTIRE 10 Year High School Reunion Season onward, Frank did NOT take a single normal picture.  This is the best I have.  Here you go, world. 2008. Can’t go back…

This should be proof enough that I have cooked.  So there you go.  2009. Emily Cooked. Bam.

Also, 2009.  Vegas.  That’s us, wild as ever.  After this picture was taken: OPTION A) Frank swam the canals and I ate all of the gelato in Venice (Las Vegas). We were arrested and asked to leave Vegas and never return. OR… B) after this picture was taken, we ate all we cared to enjoy at a buffet dinner and fell asleep by 10 p.m.  Choose your own adventure.  Go.

2010. Here I am.  Large and in charge.  Hello bay-bays!  This is about 7 weeks before the twins burst forth into our lives.  Ah… Twins.

Me and the twinsters.  Chillin’ at the NICU.  Also, at this point I discovered the benefit of flattering camera angles.  Ahhh…. Chins.

Yeah, that’s me and my bay-bays.  Sure, it’s not the best pic.  But who cares? And who has time to find a good pic?  Shhh.  Enjoy the babyness before you.  Soak it in.  Drink it up.  Bay-bays. Well, really, tahd-lers.

And really, so long as we are still laughing, that’s all that matters.

 

So yeah, I’m older.  If I live long enough, that’s bound to happen. Aging is a privilege.

Thirty-two.  I dig it.

all you need is love…

It was much easier for me, when I was younger (and dumber), to determine what would make a marriage work.

When I was 22 years old, I would’ve told you, even if you didn’t ask, that a marriage required love. Squishy, delightful, schmoopy love.  Also? I would’ve told you marriage required an investment of time and hard work, but only because once I heard someone say that and I found something oddly romantic about this puritanical angle to long-term relationships. I would’ve told you that marriage required mutual sacrifice (mostly on the husband’s part… thus mitigating the “mutual” part).

Now?

Lots of scientists and philosophers and people generally smarter than I have created an entire cottage industry on why and how and who and when and where marriages work best.  There are endless top 10 lists of things that promise predict the seemingly inevitable demise of your union.

Smash the wedding cake? BAM. Divorce.

Pick a the wrong first dance song? BAM. Divorce.

Does your spouse wash their hair first in the shower while you wash your face first? INCOMPATIBLE! FAIL!

When Frank and I were getting married, though, we were high on LOVE. Every element of planning the wedding was a beautiful adventure on our way to our storybook wedded bliss.

There we were, traipsing through this loveland, la-la-la-ing our way to September 19, 2003 when BAM, we walked faced first into the sliding glass door of our pre-marital conference at church.

Picture this:

Emily and Frank, young, thin and in love, holding hands and sitting amongst other engaged couples.  Eight round tables were placed throughout a large conference room with eight couples per table (plus or minus). We looked at the other couples seated with us and glowed at them – you are like us! we are like you! we are in LOVE! yes! And the other couples looked at us and said back, “stop looking at us like that.  You’re creeping us out.”

At the front of the room was a podium and an earnest professor-type opening up our session in prayer and sharing wisdom and trying to impart the mechanics of marriage on people who were more interested in the difference between a fresh fruit cake filling and a jam cake filling.  Decisions, decisions.

We embraced this conference – we were determined to get an A+ in pre-marital counseling.  We were overachievers.  We were in love!

The conference director said, about halfway through, “OK, raise your hand if you are over 25.” Nope. We were 22. “OK, raise your hand if you have college degrees.” WINNER WINNER! Our hands shot straight up. “OK, raise your hand if you make over $50,000 per year, combined.” Nope.

“If you do not have two out of three of these items in your favor, your marriage is more likely to end in divorce.”

Frank and I sat in stunned silence. Did we fail at marriage before we began?  How is that possible? I have no idea what else what they said at the conference – I was still trying to figure out if we could get extra credit in order to make up for the two of the three we missed.

Originally I thought it was kind of like that summer before my freshman year that I took a keyboarding class and got a B+.  I started my  high school career knowing that I could NEVER be a valedictorian… or a court reporter.

And there is something freeing in that – you know, knowing you won’t be the valedictorian. Or a court reporter.

But the part where I got an F- in your premarital counseling class has less of a silver lining.

Fast forward nine years: we have, so far, defied the odds.  We have our moments, for sure.  We’ve traversed bravely some of the things often described by marital experts as potential marriage enders.

Is there really a magic recipe for a marriage that works and a marriage that fails?

I really don’t know.

Tonight, in a moment of top-of-the-mountain reflection, I watched my brother and his bride rehearse for their wedding.  All while watching them practice walking up the aisle and learn their roles in the ceremony, I was thinking about what I wanted to tell them – what I would wish them to help ensure a long and happy union.

Do I tell them, “Never go to bed angry.” Or do I tell them, “Never say Divorce.” (woops. I said Divorce. Woops. I said Divorce again. And again. I’m in trouble.) Or how about, “If you’re the wife, lower your expectations and if you’re the husband, step up to the plate?” (yikes.)

Upon further reflection…

It just seems that marriage is like flying an airplane.  There are all these logical reasons  an airplane flies. Lift and drag and speed and atmosphere and blah blah blah. (Can you tell I failed my aviation ground school?) But when I see a plane or a bird gliding through the air successfully, doing what it was made to do, the only real explanation that makes any sense is the one that my pilot husband gave me: Pure Freaking Magic.

A lot of people miss the magic.  They are caught up in the mechanics and the science and the logistics – and they miss enjoying the moment.  A party planner who never dances at his parties. A writer who never reads his books. A painter who never sees the art around him.  It’s easy to do the same thing in marriages – to amass “stuff” and to check checklists – and never savor the relationship.

But, oh, the moments where I stopped and wondered at and drank in the magic of it all: lazy Saturday mornings, long car rides, dreaming of our future, holding our babies, lying under the Christmas tree and holding hands on the way to somewhere exciting. How we met and fell in love and stay in love and live in love – that is simply Pure Freaking Magic.

When my brother brought Lauren home, we knew he was a goner.  You could tell it in his eyes and his smile.  It was magic.  And when Lauren laughed heartily and genuinely at his jokes? That, too, was magic.  Pure. Freaking. Magic.

My hope for them is that they marvel at what they have, all the days of their lives.  And that when they see an airplane flying or a bird soaring or a humming bird floating that they would be less concerned with the details and more enthralled with the Pure Freaking Magic of it all.

To Andy and Lauren: I wish you a marriage full of magic and wonder and joy.

PFM, always.

Love,

Em

a prairie home companion

alternatively titled, “a love song for my children.”

I love talk radio.  I love conservative talk radio.  I love liberal talk radio.  I love post-Hawks games sports talk radio.  I love morning talk shows and will frequently change the station when they play music.  I adore news radio of all kinds.

But there is something absolutely magical about my childhood Saturday nights at 5 p.m. in Chicago.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday night, the self-deprecating Minnesotan Garrison Keillor, accompanied by a jaunty pianist, would open up the stage of “A Praire Home Companion,” a lovely radio show that often featured tales of Garrison’s beloved Lake Wobegon

Listening to APHC is like being thoroughly ensconced in some of the most treasured aspects of my childhood.  Growing up, we mostly listened to APHC on the way to Saturday night Catholic Mass, and some of my strongest, most delicious memories, are of Garrison’s steady, deep voice rumbling through stories of Guy Noir and News of Lake Wobegon.  Our family’s red minivan bounced along the tree-lined streets of Palatine, the same streets that brimmed with my own family’s 50+ year history of growing up and growing old in this town.  Sunlight filtered and danced through the large oak trees we drove under, a faint smell of barbecues pre-heating wafted through open car windows and Garrison’s narrative rose and fell over the sounds of my family chattering along the way to mass.

I especially recall Garrison’s folksy duets with guest singers and song writers: a perfect soundtrack to a lush summer day.

Tonight, on the way home from a day with Frank’s family at the Lake, I turned on NPR and heard the familiar sounds of my beloved APHC.  The first strains of the piano accompaniment sent me straight back to those wonderful evenings driving to Mass.  I turned the volume up, hoping that the sound of Garrison’s rambling stories, always punctuated with his deep, inhaling breaths through his nose, would bury themselves deep into the girls’ psyche.

See, those Saturday night family trips to Mass are, for me, the epitome of an American childhood.  We worked outside all day on nearly every Saturday – mowing, trimming, watering, and planting – and then we would wash up, put on clean cotton shirts and skirts, and go to Mass.

The church I grew up in, was a dark, cavernous space, but it was not unfriendly – not at all – it was a holy and happy place for me.  On Saturday nights, our parish allowed the worship director to use guitars and folksy versions of our favorite hymns.  We always left church on Saturday nights with light hearts – and hungry stomachs.

Usually Garrison’s show was still going on when we left church.  While we drove somewhere to pick up dinner, we’d listen to the News of Lake Wobegon, smiling as Garrison deftly wove together stories of Lutherans and casseroles and young people making their way in life.

And always, always, Garrison finished his broadcast with: “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Then, the jaunty pianist would send us all off into the proverbial sunset, happy and satisfied that somewhere in the world, there must be a Lake Wobegon. And more importantly, there seemed to be an implicite promise that there would always be a Lake Wobegon – as long as their story was told.

One day, maybe my children will hear the sound of Garrison Keillor’s voice intimately narrating a story about the stoic midwestern folks up in Minnesota, and that they will feel what I feel: that our stories and our legacy and our love continues on in the people we love, long after we are gone.