What This Win Means to Us

There is something about this Cubs win that is about so much more than sports.

When I met my father-in-law some 14 years ago, there were three things I quickly learned about him.  I learned that he has the best, hearty, deep-from-the-belly laugh. I learned that his greatest pride is his kids. I learned that he was a die-hard Cubs baseball fan.

The minute I stepped into his house, I felt I was home. He squeezed me by the shoulders, and he looked me in the eyes, and he yelled over to my then boyfriend, now husband, “Well, aren’t you lucky?” And the rest is history. I remember spending summer weekends at the lake with his teasing and affable banter. I remember big family holiday gatherings where he would always sneak time to sit right next to me, with his plate piled high with turkey, gravy, and Grandma’s famous potato salad, and he would say, “you having fun yet?” with that wink in his eye.

He didn’t have an easy life. There were obstacles that got in the way of life and family. He was a workaholic to a fault. But as life moved along, he woke up. He redefined his priorities, and he set out to be who deep down, he had always been, buried under those things that had led him astray. By the time I met him, all I knew was a man that loved his children and his family and a man that was wholeheartedly loved by my husband.

My husband gave the eulogy at his dad’s funeral. During the eulogy, he talked about his respect for his father. He was proud of what his father had overcome and who he had become. He was proud of how his father made amends and embraced loving his family as his greatest priority. His death left a hole in my husband’s heart that would take time to heal, but that would never completely mend. I am so thankful I met this great man in my husband’s life. I am so thankful we will always have memories of him infused in this family map we are weaving.

There have been so many times that we have felt his great void. My husband’s graduations from college and law school, our wedding day, the birth of his grandchildren, holidays, birthdays, family gatherings. In all the chaos of these wonderful celebrations, there has always been a moment’s pause, to recognize how much sweeter it would be to have him by our sides, laughing his deep-belly-laugh, and teasing his son about changing dirty diapers. I know if he saw who his children had become today, he would be bursting at the seams with pride.  We miss him.

One of my favorite stories is that of my father-in-law piling his dad and three young kids, including my husband, into the car one early Saturday morning, driving the three hours to Chicago to bring his family to their first Cubs babeball game at Wrigleyfield.  Then driving right back home after the game. When time is tight and money is tighter, you do what you can to create memories for your family and share the things you love. That is exactly what my father-in-law did.  He did it right. To this day, my husband cherishes that trip they took to the great Wrigleyfield and it remains one of the most magical places for us to visit. This summer when we took our own kids to Wrigleyfield for the first time, it was as if we were sharing a part of Grandpa Mark’s legacy with them.  It was as if he was there with us, sharing those Chicago dogs in a poppy seed bun, piled high with onions, mustard, green relish, tomatoes and a pickle spear.

My father-in-law was passionate about Cubs baseball, to say the least. To him, like so many, Cubs baseball is not just a sport. It is an undeniable, slightly crazed passion we high-five and howl over. It is putting all your life’s heaviness aside to cheer for America’s favorite pastime. It is a shared hope that brings us closer together. It is a place to belong. It is the heartbeat that unites us.

Cubs baseball is infused into the identity of my father-in-law and the family that gathered around him. His love for the Cubs has sparked and cultivated our love for the team, which we are now passing along to our kids. During this roller coaster of a history-making series, my father-in-law undoubtedly took a seat on the couch along side each of his children. He has brought us together, to celebrate the Cubs, because in celebrating the Cubs, we are celebrating his passion, his heart, and remembering his constant presence.  Every text that was fired between his kids as the Cubs scored a homerun, made a sick defensive play, won a game, was sent with the unspoken message, “wouldn’t Dad love this?”

We wish he could be here to experience this epic Win. Oh, you would love to hear his deep-belly-laugh in all its glory. You would feel his hands slap you on the back and love to watch him sweep his grandchildren off the ground with his big bear hugs.

This is more than a won baseball series. This is about the history and families of fans that have united behind their love for their team. Fans that remember their fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers that passed on this tradition to root, root, root for the Cubbies–win or lose. But this time, they won it all. And for all of us that are carrying on, generation after generation, this die-hard love for the Cubs, we are celebrating big, for us and those that we wished were right here along side of us.

Fly the W

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Grandpa

Making plans with other moms these days is somewhat of an exercise similar to that three-mile run I force myself to do after a two week . . . or six month . . . hiatus from running. It is sweaty, it is a brutal uphill challenge, but when you come out the other end and finish that run–or find that one perfect day where your schedules match up–it feels like the best, inconsequential accomplishment ever. There are nap schedules, there are doctors’ appointments, there is gymnastics and T-ball, there are work schedules, that day your friend is watching her sister’s kids, your child’s preschool friend’s birthday party . . . I’m not even sure how it all piles up, but there are piles, and piles of commitments to navigate. But that is life, and it is rich, and it is wonderful, and it was worth all the hectic mayhem. We are so lucky to have the ability to participate in all these amazing things. This is what makes a family full and alive.

But as we age, there is something else presenting itself and glaring us in the face. It is the aging of our parents. It is their doctor’s appointments, their unexpected emergency department visits. It may be a fall. It may be weakness. It may be feeling dizzy. It may be feeling short of breath. We find ourselves sitting in hospital rooms with our lifelong caretakers. In our visions for our futures, with our homes, with our careers, with our families, we never envisioned this. This is all very unexpected.

I met my father-in-law 14 Thanksgivings ago. I was so nervous to meet my boyfriend’s parents. I had no idea what to expect and even less of a clue how to act. I battled my nerves the whole three-hour drive from our little bubble of a world on our college campus to my boyfriend’s little hometown in Michigan. He told me not to be nervous, “there is nothing to be nervous about! They will love you!” Ah yes. What mother doesn’t love the girl her son brings home? Of course she will think I am good enough . . .

I remember pulling up to their home. I remember finding my now father-in-law in the midst of making lunch for us. I remember that big, hearty hug he gave me, and that gentle pat on the back with those kind eyes. I remember feeling welcome.

I learned in the years to come more and more about my father-in-law. I learned that he worked hard hours, never complained, and put his head and hands to his work to provide for his family. He was always a do-it-yourself, fix-it-yourself man. He worked with his hands. He built the kitchen in their home. He built their deck. He fixed the plumbing. He fixed the car. He built an extra bathroom. Sometimes by trial and error, but he got it done. He was a man of not too many words, but he showed his love and affection through his work. He was the builder, the fixer, the caretaker for his family, for his neighbors, for his friends. When we moved into our new home and the basement flooded, we waited patiently for my father-in-law to visit so he could teach my husband how to replace the base molding that was now water-logged and rotted. After I gave birth to the twins and was in a complete state of sleep deprivation and disarray, it was my father-in-law that, night after night, cooked us dinner without which, I am at a loss to know how we would have eaten or if we would even have remembered. This is how he provided. He was the strength, producing for his family.

As the years have passed, I know it has been a struggle for him. It has been a struggle for him because often times, the walk up those 8 steps leading from our garage to our home is a daunting challenge. It sometimes takes all he has to make it up those steps, feeling winded, feeling light-headed, feeling bewildered, trying to remember when his physical strength had been hijacked. It breaks my heart to imagine what this must be like. To be the strength, and now to find your body unable to keep up with your will and desires to provide as you have lived your lifetime doing.

I can’t imagine, but I want him to imagine what it is like for us. For us, it has never been about what he built, it has never been what he could fix, it has always been about his intentions, the vast amount of love and steadfast committment that went into every project. It has been his effort, it has been his heart.

It is his heart. Oh, it has always, always been his heart that is his greatest strength. It is those words he says when I’ve been working tirelessly all weekend, feeling so incredibly worn, those words of acknowledgement, “you must be tired.”  This is the strength that we see in those kind, always welcoming eyes that I met those 14 Thanksgivings ago. It is that heart that my five-year-olds so affectionately call Grampy and my two-year-old calls Babba.

So, today, on my father-in-law’s birthday, I just want him to know, we see him for who he is. He may not say much, but we hear every word.  Don’t let his sometimes gruff demeanor fool you.  He is full teddy bear.  He is full of heart, he is full of love, he is full of strength.

On your 78th Birthday, we love you Grampy, Babba, Byron. Happy, happy birthday.

A Work Day That Ends in Sushi

Previously published on:  http://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2016/4/8/a-work-day-that-ends-in-sushi

My husband and I waited seven years to get married; in those months after we became engaged, before I even picked my dress or wedding colors, I had already started planning for the family that occupied our daydreams. We’d have three kids; I was sure of it. We would have two boys and one girl. Of course, our baby girl would be the youngest so she would have two older, protective brothers. They would come on cue two years apart.

Instead, I picked my strapless A-line dress, we settled on red roses and ivory linens with gold trim, we got married, and we had six miscarriages.

I would get pregnant, and just as we would allow ourselves that hopeful glimpse of the first trimester final stretch, I would miscarry. It was crushing. Yet it became a cycle that I became all too familiar with. My emotions became a pattern of predictability: excitement, anxiety, devastation.

By my third miscarriage, the emotional strain of losing each baby I had lovingly carried  brought me to the point of buckle-at-the-knees desperation . . . followed by a sinking relief. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to wake up another morning asking, is my baby’s heart still beating? I would let my anxiety wash away, replaced by a heaviness in my heart, and almost a strange sense of peace. It was a dark place to be, but a familiar dark place. A place that I could control.

In the midst of uncertainty, I even developed a miscarriage routine. Routine was something I could do. And something I could do well, on my terms. It was a way to say, “I got this.” Even if I didn’t.

 I would realize I was miscarrying, and continue through my day. Continue to care for other people, to smile and joke, when inside, I was hurting so much. I was thinking, “I know you are hurting, patient-in-my-emergency-department, and please be assured I will do my best to take care of you, but you see, what I can’t tell you is that my baby is dying and I am hurting too.”

My baby is dying right now as I stitch up this cut on your finger. My baby is dying while I try to figure out why you are having abdominal pain. My baby is dying while I tell your loved ones you are having a heart attack. My baby is dying and I can’t take care of her the way I can take care of you.  My baby is dying and no one knows it but me.

After work, I would call my husband, then stop to get the sushi I had craved since learning I was pregnant. I would go home and focus on the pain of my cramps, because that was exponentially easier than acknowledging my broken heart. When everything passed, I would mentally brush my hands off and ready myself for the next time. That was my routine. My miscarriage routine.

I was riddled with guilt over everything about it.

During this two-year period, I felt like a failure. I felt like a weak woman. I felt I was doing something wrong. I felt it was my fault. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate. I felt out of control. I felt ashamed. I had never felt so vulnerable and nothing had ever felt so personal.

A year into the process, I went to an infertility specialist and received the million-dollar work-up. Nothing was wrong. How could nothing be wrong? But test after test confirmed that, “Congratulations! Nothing is wrong!” Translation: there is nothing we can fix. I was started on this medication and that medication, because “It’s worth trying.” I was hopeful, but hopeless. I was exhausted from this constant testing of my emotional strength.

And then it was our seventh pregnancy, and this time–twins!!!! Twins!!! My excitement was quickly followed by a flood of anxiety. My husband and I kept our news to ourselves. We held our breaths.   We had been through this. We tiptoed around our fears, whispering to one another, stifling the excitement we held in our glances towards one another, and we waited. And waited. And my belly grew. And I had no cramps. And I had no bleeding. And I saw their heartbeats. Time and time again.

The infertility specialist said we didn’t need him anymore. I sat still in his clean, slightly-dated office, in the same blue upholstered chair with its thin wooden arm rests, the same chair I had sat in for two years, staring at the same framed picture of him and some big fish he had caught with his nephew, and I weighed the heaviness of his words. Then I broke down in wave after wave of tears. We didn’t need our infertility specialist anymore.

We passed three months. And four months. And five, and six, and seven, and eight!!!!! And two healthy beautiful babies were born.  They are beautiful to this day. I stare at them sometimes, and marvel at how they came to be.

Sometimes when I am tucking in my five-year-old daughter at night, I tell her, “Do you know that you are more beautiful than I could have ever imagined?” What I mean to say is, everything about her existence is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

When we decided to have a third, I was ready for the journey. I was nervous of going through the process again, but having had our twins, I knew it was more than worth it. The day we decided we wanted to try again, I put up my defenses against my own emotions.

Five weeks later, just like that, we found out we were pregnant. I braced myself. I was fearful this would become another pregnancy that would fall victim to my routine. I went in for ultrasounds every week. Week after week, there was a heartbeat—I couldn’t believe my ears. And then our beautiful baby girl came into our lives seemingly seamlessly. It was too good to be true, but it is true.

These three beautiful babies of ours.

I realize now after eight pregnancies and three babies and innumerable dreams for our family, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There never was. There was nothing I failed at.

 These days, when I see the chief complaint of “possible miscarriage” show up in my emergency department, I want to see that patient. Not because I can provide better care than my colleagues, but because I want to share my story. Mother to mother. I want to give them hope and I want them to know they are not alone. I am unashamed of the tears that fall from my face when I share in their grief and acknowledge my own. I want them to know it is okay to grieve and natural to feel defeated, and then it is okay to hope again when you are ready.

Sushi has once again become my favorite food. When I eat it now, it doesn’t taste the way it once did. I don’t feel like I am swallowing heartache, loss, and failure. These days, when I stop for sushi at the end of a long day, I bring it home to share with my three children and husband. We talk about what was good about our days, what could have been better about our days, what we look forward to tomorrow. It has become our family favorite meal.  No words can express what these days that end with sushi mean to me now.

I am thankful for everything I have been through. It has given me what I have, it has given me who I am, and it has given me what I have to share. And most of all, it has given me and my husband our beautiful, healthy children.

The Thing About Mother-In-Laws

I met my husband in college. Just two college students trying to make it to class and finish papers before those absurdly-quickly-approaching deadlines. We met each other’s friends, we learned about each other’s hobbies, and about each other’s likes and dislikes. We came to know each other’s favorite study spots, favorite foods; we came to understand how the other dealt with stress and success. We were different in so many ways, but we were beyond compatible and I think we both knew, this was it.

Fast-forward seven years: he proposed, I said yes, we got married. Instantly, I had another side of the family, and so did he. But what has been on my mind isn’t brother-in-laws, or sister-in-laws, or father-in-laws, though they all have their crucial places in our lives; what has been on my mind is mother-in-laws.

It’s a strange thing isn’t? You’ve grown up your whole life with your own mother, who is the center of your world. You know what a mother-child relationship is like, what it should be, based on your own upbringing; and here you are, a grown adult, being thrown into a new mother-child relationship. Except no one is the child, and really, the mother role has changed dramatically.

I think about the parallel lives my mother-in-law and I have lead. She too was present in her children’s lives from the moment they were born. She too made decisions about when she would breastfeed her children and when she would give them formula. She too decided how their foods would be prepared when they transitioned to solids. She too decided when her children would begin to potty train. She too decided what vegetables they would eat, what type of milk they drank, and what clothes they had hanging in their closets. She too planned their summers and weekends together. She too orchestrated every detail of her young family’s lives down to the socks her children wore. Neither of our families would have taken its particular routes without us in them.

I think about what it must be like to evolve from being a mom, directing every part of your child’s life, to now assuming the role of a mother-in-law and grandmother. In thinking about this, I have come to realize the most wonderful thing about my mother-in-law. No matter our differences, my mother-in-law never judges or criticizes the choices I make as a mom. I wish I could bold this, underline this, shout this through the written words on the page. She now stands witness to another person making a separate set of footprints in this path of young motherhood, with footprints that are different from her own. I imagine it must be hard at times to see another person parenting the people you love in a manner different than your own.

But. She never judges me. She never criticizes me for the decisions I make for my family.

And this is why my mother-in-law has taught me the greatest lesson of whom I’d like to be when I enter into her role.

As a young mother, struggling to navigate the raising of young children, this is the greatest gift a mother-in-law can give: non-judgmental eyes, and a gentle, but resilient ever-present support. This is the quiet, constant backing I need for my waxing and waning confidence.  This means everything to me. And while my Type A spirit, will keep me barreling forward in my independent parenting style, my mother-in-law’s influence on how I would like to be as a grandparent and mother-in-law resonate loud and clear. The best way to be–I have come to appreciate–is to respect a young parent’s judgment, way of parenting, and just be supportive and present.

Becoming a mother-in-law, I imagine, must take some adjusting to. You now share this role as the heartbeat of your family with someone you never anticipated sharing this role with.

I am so thankful to have the best mother-in-law to learn from. She has shown me what it is to be kind, to be patient, and to be open-minded. She has given unconditional support, even to a daughter-in-law that is somewhat frantic, somewhat uptight, somewhat of a neat-freak.

The thing about mother-in-laws, is that adding that title to their resume changes nothing about who they are as a mother, because our ultimate goals are all the same: to love the families we share and be present in the best way possible. I am thankful that I have a mother-in-law that gets that.

Thank you to my mother-in-law. You are the definition of love and I couldn’t be more appreciative of having you here to steady our day-to-day chaos.

Happy Mother’s Day. We love you.  Please never move.