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Home Video Hangover

For our anniversary earlier this year, I gave Chris a gift certificate to have all of our home videos transferred from those old mini DV tapes onto DVDs. I had decided on this gift months ago after we had all gathered around the TV to watch one and the camera started “eating” the tape. It was a stern warning from the universe to preserve these memories while we still could. So after an afternoon of searching for and combining Groupons, I placed an order for just slightly less than our monthly mortgage.

A few weeks ago, I dug through the boxes in the spare bedroom and located the freezer-sized Ziplok bag that contained all of our tapes from the past decade. I boxed them up and sent them away to Southtree in Chatanooga, Tennessee. And then yesterday afternoon, as I was just about to start binge watching Season 5 of Friday Night Lights, Chris walked in and presented to me a small white box with a return address of Southtree.

I let out a little scream of excitement and tore into the box. Inside were 22 neatly labeled DVDs packaged in individual clear sleeves.

By this time, the kids had started gathering around me wondering what all the excitement was about.

“Wait ‘til you see this!” I said. “Annabelle, run and get my laptop…you guys are not going to believe what I have here!”

Annabelle returned with my laptop by the time I had randomly slid one of the DVDs out of the box. It was labeled,“2005.”

I popped the DVD into the laptop and huddled my kids around me. After a few seconds, up popped video of a baby in a highchair staring at a few cereal puffs on the tray.

“Who’s that?” Annabelle said skeptically.

“That’s YOU!” I practically screamed.

For the next 20 minutes, we all sat and watched Annabelle alternate from sitting in her highchair doing virtually nothing, to laying on her playmat doing virtually nothing, to squirming around in her crib doing virtually nothing. These weren’t the typical 30-second snippets of video that I take with my iPhone today. This was a different kind of video!

We were all entranced. The kids were beside themselves with what I can only describe as pure glee. Annabelle had a look on her face that I have never seen – I watched her watching herself and thought of just how cool that must be.

Had we not had a soccer game to get to, I have no doubt we would have watched all 22 DVDs right then and there.

********

Later last night, after the kids were in bed, I decided to watch one more DVD. Of course I knew that Sophia would be on some of them. But I had no idea which ones or how much. As my fingers flipped along the edges of the clear DVD sleeves, it felt as if I was walking through a field of landmines.

I pulled one out and it was labeled simply, “Sophia.”

I decided it was time. I poured myself a glass of wine, took a deep breath and slid the DVD into the laptop.

After a few seconds, the screen displayed two kids in a bathtub splashing and squealing. I could see myself perched at the side of the tub, swirling the bubbles with my hand, a huge smile of my face.

“Sophiiiiiaaaa….” Chris was cooing from behind the camera. “Sophiiiiiiiaaaaaa….”

The tears came fast and burned my cheeks.  I was prepared to see her. I wasn’t prepared to hear Chris saying her name.

Over the next three hours, I watched footage of Annabelle and Sophia. Playing dollhouse in our sunroom, painting construction paper apples that I remember cutting out for them, swinging in the hammock at our cabin, swimming, dancing, singing, eating. And in every second of those hours of video, Sophia was smiling, laughing, exploring or doing all three at once.

I was shocked by how it seems like an eternity ago that Sophia was here and we lived in that house in Mankato. But as I watched the video, I was struck by how so much is still the same. My kids still play with the same maracas that Sophia was shaking. They still sit in those tiny blue plastic IKEA chairs. They sleep with the same blankets that were strewn around the living room in the video. We still sit on the same green sectional and display the same art on the walls. Chris still wears that gray and black swimsuit he wore as he bobbed in the pool with the girls.

I don’t know how I feel about that yet. I haven’t processed what that means to see Annabelle playing with one sister then and a different sister now. I don’t know that any mother could ever process that. So, as I have for the past seven years, I will just sit with these conflicting feelings and not try to make sense of them. I will just be okay with knowing that they never will.

**********

This morning I had a “home video hangover.” My eyes were swollen my head was pounding. I was disoriented about what had happened, where I was and who I was with.

I was popping a few Advil just as Alec came in the kitchen rubbing the sleep from his eyes and dragging his blue blanket behind him. He snuggled up next to me and started telling me about how a roaring lion had woken him up in the middle of the night. Normally, I might have smiled, half-listening as I pulled up my email on my phone. But this time, I stopped him briefly, went to the front hallway and returned a minute later.

I propped the camera on the tripod next to the couch where we were sitting. I hit the Record button and turned back to Alec.

“Ok.” I said. “Now tell me more about this lion.”

15 Weeks, 6 Days

15 weeks, 6 days to complete my manuscript! Here’s a recent excerpt:

 

Chris had accepted a new position with his company just weeks before Sophia died. As part of his new contract, we were required to move to a small rural town in Southern Minnesota that, in my opinion, had nothing to offer a young, growing family. We were all dreading it and to cope with that dread, we were not discussing it. Chris had talked with the realtors on his own and one day, a “For Sale” sign appeared in the front yard.

On that day, Sophia was playing in the grass next to the sign. She was wearing her Baby Einstein outfit that my sister Padrin had given her from a cute boutique in Decorah, Iowa. The dried Fall leaves were dancing softly all around Sophia and she was mesmerized, giggling as she tried to catch them and crumple them in her hands.

All I could think about was that damn “For Sale” sign. I got my camera and returned to the front yard, shuffling backwards into the street to capture the sadness and unfairness of it all.

The camera kept capturing that “For Sale” sign, while Sophia played just outside of the frame.

I had no idea I was focused on the wrong thing.

Unstuck

Perhaps you never noticed.

In some ways I hope you did.

In other ways, I hope you didn’t.

But I’ve been stuck. Yes, stuck.

It’s certainly not been from lack of effort. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down at my computer these past months, intent on writing something. Anything. And each of those times I’ve come away with nothing. Quite literally, nothing. Not even a sentence much less a Word document that I could save in my folder entitled, “Book.”

And for months this voice inside my head has been whispering that I’m failing. I’m failing to write this memoir that I’m telling everyone I’m writing. I’m failing Sophia because by not writing her story, every day I forget more and more. I’m failing because my mom or Chris is watching the kids so I can sit at the coffee shop down the street and sip my large Americano uninterrupted and I come home with nothing. I’m failing because I’m not making the most of a horrible situation. I’m failing to learn “the lesson.”

But, a single question posed to me this morning was like finding a long-lost key to a lock stuck tight. “Prinna, what are you scared of?”

Some people might be afraid to admit that they have sought out the help of a coach. But I, for whatever reason, am not. I’ve had sports coaches certainly. I’ve had coaches in the form of mentors at work. So why would I not seek out the help of a coach to help me accomplish this goal of writing a book? So I did. And during my meeting with her this morning, she and I dug and dug and finally, my head poked out from the deep hole in which I stood and I held up a key. A key that feels like it unlocks the door I’ve been trying to get in for months now.

“Prinna, what are you scared of?”

To answer that question, I had to come to a realization about myself. I am a list maker.

I make lists galore, some mental and some physical. What’s on the list isn’t so important. What’s important is the feeling that I get, the “rush” or the “fix” you might call it, when I check something off the list, especially the last item. I literally or electronically crumple up my list and throw it into the trash. I feel lighter, successful, productive. You get it. I know there are more of you like me out there.

But how does this play into my coach’s question? “Prinna, what are you scared of?” And what I came away with was that I am scared that when I do write this book, when I hit the Print button and watch as hundreds of pages pour out of my printer, when I finally place that checkbox in front of “Write Book” on my list, that I won’t get that fix. I won’t feel that rush. I won’t feel lighter. I won’t be back to how I was before I had to write this book.

I will be left with my grief.

I will be left with the painful realization that I will hold this grief for the rest of my life. I can never check “grieve” off of my list. And that is truly terrifying to a list maker.

Luckily, coaches have a way of turning something terrifying into something empowering and energizing.

I’ve unlocked the door and now I stand in a dark room. Looking for a flashlight.

More to come…I promise.

Home Again

Chris and I built our dream house at the ripe old age of 32; a two-story, four-bedroom colonial house in an affluent neighborhood. Throughout the design process, Chris, essentially the foreman of the project, had afforded me every luxury. An upstairs laundry room, huge sun porch, granite countertops and bull-nosed wall trim. Everything down to the orange peel wall texture and silver vessel bathroom sink that I had fallen in love with.  But it was so much more than just the furnishings and cosmetic beauty of the house. It was to be in this home where we would raise our family.

So when we had to leave the house after only 11 months, it was devastating on so many levels. Not only did we have to say goodbye to our home, but we had to say goodbye to our daughter at the same time. Because a nightmare had occurred in our dream home.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but we’d spend the next six years bouncing around from relatives’ homes to friends’ homes and back to relatives’ homes (thank goodness for them!) Our therapist would frequently tell us we needed to find our “new normal.” But with all the chaos in our lives, all the devastation and loss, the instability and uncertainty, we just couldn’t seem to find that “new normal.”  Something was…missing.

Chris and I recently agreed that what was missing was a home.

Tonight, we bought that home. And our “new normal” is within our grasp.

The Lights. The Microphone…And Me.

“I can’t feel my arms or my face,” I announce.

Chris doesn’t even look at me. “Hmmm…” he says disinterestedly.

“Seriously.” I repeat. “My body is starting to shut down…limb by limb.”

Chris reaches out and presses the elevator button for Floor 8 with one hand while navigating his iPhone with the other. “Hmmm…” he repeats.

And if I didn’t know it was all just an act to keep me calm, a façade of disinterest,  I’d reach out and shake him while bursting into tears, demanding that he take me to the emergency room.

But it is an act. An act that I’m familiar with after the other two times. The other two times when I’ve told my “Moth” story.

Each performance day, just hours before the show, I’d announce that I thought I was dying. That my heart was going to burst from the pressure. That even my lungs were shaking. That I didn’t think I was going to make it this time. That I Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. Again.

And each performance day, the people around me would shrug.

They’d say things like, “Oh Prinna, you’ve done this before…what’s the worst that could happen?”

I could literally pass out walking up the stairs to the stage, I think.

“Oh Prinna, they already have one good recording of you…who cares if you mess up?”

I care if I mess up.

And “Oh Prinna, the nerves will actually help you to do better.”

Yeah, right.

And at first I’m angry with these people for not taking my panic seriously. These people who have never wobbled up on shaky legs to an empty stage in front of a single microphone in front of a “packed house.” These people who  have never felt the white heat of the spotlight on their hair, or saw the faint shadows of row upon row of people staring at them. They’ve never opened their mouths to hear the deafening echo of their voice from all directions.

But I know better than to be angry with these people because not only do they care, but they are my biggest supporters. The ones who always believed I could do anything. Get through anything. Conquer anything. Even life’s worst tragedy.

They are the people who, five years ago, picked me up off the bathroom floor and told me I was going to have to go on. They are the people who supported me during the worst days and months and years of grief for my daughter. And also through the times when things started to get better. When I started to get stronger. When I realized that there was power in my story – and that telling it could be a gift to others and also to myself.

And I remind myself as I walk up the stairs to the stage on my shaky legs, with my numb arms and seemingly explosive organs, that this IS a gift. It is a gift to tell people my story. To feel the thunderous applause of 1,058 people shake me to my core. To have audience members line up to talk to me at intermission, some of them just wanting to give me a hug. It’s a gift not only to me but to all the people who have gotten me up on this stage.

And I look out into that audience at the end of my story and I can imagine each and every one of them sitting out there.

And they are the ones clapping the loudest.

All About Annabelle

“Now mom, don’t cry,” Annabelle says as she comes in my bedroom holding a bright yellow book to her chest. I save the story I’ve been writing and close my laptop, motioning for her to get up on the bed with me. I know she’s been up to something because she’s been silent downstairs for over hour and that never happens. She climbs up on the bed and holds out the book for me to take. The “About Me” book that she got for Christmas. A beginning journal for children filled with prompts that elicit funny, age-appropriate responses we will laugh about some day when she’s older. The one I did as a child still sits in the bookshelf at my parents’ house.

 

I am initially impressed that she even found the book in the mess of a closet downstairs. I remember burying it underneath a stack of games around Christmastime. But somehow she managed to dig it out.

 

“Oh,” I say excitedly, “The About Me Book! Now why would I cry? Go get a pencil, I’ll show you how to do this.”

 

“No mom, I already finished it!” she says victoriously.

 

And I wince; knowing that whatever she has done has surely ruined the book. I open up to the first page. It reads, “This Book Is About:” and then below that Annabelle has neatly printed her name in black pen. I’m impressed. “Good!” I say, sure that things are about to go downhill. I turn to the second page.  She has filled in each question about herself. The box in front of “girl” is checked, she’s drawn straight brown hair and brown eyes on the diagram of a face and circled “no glasses.” I mentally scold myself for doubting her abilities.

 

Over the next few minutes, we page through the book, which is completed nearly perfectly. Sure she tallied the number of windows in our house completely incorrectly and on the page where it asks if she hits when she gets mad she’s checked, NO. I smile and nod approvingly when I read that she wants to be a waitress when she grows up. She’s recorded her life as a seven year old as accurately as she could have.

 

“This is the part where I don’t want you to cry,” she says as I flip to the final page.

 

“I Like To Write Stories,” the page reads. “Here is one I wrote.”

 

That page and the next are completely full. She has actually written a story. I read it aloud (spelling has been corrected!):

 

“My Dad. My dad’s name is Chris. He is 37. He has straight hair. My Mom. My mom’s name is Prinna. She is 38. She has straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Eve. She is 4. She has curly hair. It is blond. My Brother. My brother’s name is Alec. He is cute.  He has straight hair and then curly at the bottom. Me. My name is Annabelle. I like gymnastics. I have straight hair. My Sister. My sister’s name is Sophia. She is 6 and has curly hair I think but she died and she never had a birthday. I don’t know why.

 

She slams the book closed and looks to me for a reaction. My chest tightens. I hold my breath and close my eyes, as if that could somehow put the feelings I’m feeling on pause. After a few seconds, I exhale and open my eyes.

 

“I’m so glad you included Sophia in our family,” I say to her cheerfully. “And it’s ok that we don’t know why she died.” She smiles, takes the book from me and skips out of the room.

 

I sit motionless on the bed, wishing she were still there so I could talk to her more about her story. But her therapist told us that she’d come to us when she needs something. And when she’s gotten it, she’ll go off and be fine until she needs something more. Apparently, she got whatever she needed.

 

I’ve read about how children grief. Their grief is linear, circular, and developmental. They bounce around from disorganization to transition, reorganization and then back around. But I like to think about the process of grief less clinically. That it’s more like one of my favorite authors, Ann Hood, described it. “Grief is like the ocean; it engulfs you. And when you think the tide has finally gone out, it returns even stronger.”

 

For some reason, when I write about Sophia, the tide goes out, if only for an hour.

 

Maybe it does for Annabelle, too.

Why Did I Weight?

NOTE: Someone recently wrote that she  was moved by my openness and honesty and my ability to acknowledge that being human is not always showing the most flattering sides of ourselves. I was hesitant to post this but it’s a perfect example of this statement. Enjoy!

 

“I’ve hit a new low,” the email started. “For breakfast this morning I had Jiffy blueberry muffin batter and a Pepsi.”

I ran my fingers slowly across my laptop’s keyboard, giving serious consideration to whether or not I should send the message. Did I really want to admit to this type of behavior? Was email the appropriate way to “out” my issues? Was I really ready to deal with the consequences of doing this?

I took a deep breath and sent it. I sent this confession and plea to all the women in my family with a note asking them to tell me how they thought my weight had negatively affected my life. I asked them to tell me how they would support me in my journey to a healthier lifestyle.

And then I sat back in my chair, relieved to have finally, albeit electronically, made my cry for help.

The responses from my sisters and sisters-in-law came almost immediately, like they had been waiting for this opportunity. Their responses were motivational. They offered recipes and workout suggestions. They explained about sugar addiction and the importance of routine and discipline. My older sister told me I wear too many elastic-waisted pants.

But it was the email from my mom that stuck with me the most. She wrote:

“Prinna, when I look at you now, I have many mixed emotions. I see a strong determined talented woman. Made stronger by awful tragedies in your life over the past few years. You are a survivor. You are my hero. I am so unbelievably proud of you. But there is one thing that makes me sad – your weight. Your weight gain represents Sophia’s death to me– a physical sign that your life has been so horrific that you are out of control. You are Prinna on the inside. But you are not Prinna on the outside.  If you could lose weight, I could find peace in knowing that you are starting to heal–that perhaps you are not in constant pain. That although you will never forget Sophia, you can move ahead with the rest of your family. Your “need for input” email is a positive sign…it means you care and want to change. I think losing weight will have huge impact on your self-esteem and will spread into other areas of your life. I will do whatever I can, but I don’t know what that is. I think it has to come from inside you. Sorry, but you asked…. :)

********

Four Months Later

I sit patiently in the waiting room, even though the doctor is more than an hour late. I flip through an old People magazine.

“Prince Harry Excited to be an Uncle.” “Kyra Sedgwick Gushes About Her Husband, Kevin Bacon.” “Johnny Depp Lands a New Role.”

Finally, the doctor emerges from his office and calls my name. I set the People magazine down, take one last slug of my coffee and walk down the long hallway towards the doctor. He stretches out one arm to invite me in.

As I sit down, I suddenly feel uncomfortable wearing my winter coat.

“It’s ok,” I reassure myself, “this will only take a few minutes.”

The doctor sits across the desk from me and immediately starts typing on his computer. “So,” he says, “How are things going?”

My instinct is to say “fine” but then I will myself to answer the question truthfully. He is, after all, a psychiatrist. He’ll probably know I’m lying anyway.

“Noooot too well,” I say slowly.

He looks up from his computer; peers at me over his reading glasses.

“Oh?”

“Well, I am feeling kind of…low energy.” I say.

“Tell me more,” he says.

“Well, all of these wonderful things are happening all around me and I can’t seem to get out of bed to enjoy them.”

“And,” I hesitate. “I can’t seem to stop gaining weight.”

“How much weight have you gained since you were in the ward?” he asks, turning to type some more on his computer.

“60 pounds,” I reply.

There. I said it. For the first time in three years, I’ve acknowledged just how much weight I’ve gained. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, covering my body with my coat to avoid possible scrutiny.

“Well,” he says, looking back at his computer. “That’s Abilify weight.”

I narrow my eyes.

“Abilify weight,” he repeats matter-of-factly.

The phrase is foreign to me.

“And what, exactly, is that?” I ask.

He goes on to say that a side effect of my Abilify medication (anti-depressant) can be significant weight gain.

“5-10 pounds is no big deal,” he says. “But 60…well, that’s metabolic syndrome. You should have come in sooner…there’s actually something better on the market; something without that side effect.” He reaches for a prescription pad and starts scribbling.

And I feel the tears well up in my eyes. I’m not sure if they are for relief or anger.

Maybe a little of each.

The Best Gift

It has to be more than coincidence that Annabelle and I got to spend much of today alone together. We so rarely do. But this afternoon she came dress shopping with me and then to a coffee shop where she gulped down a big hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate swirled on top. And then we drove home.

“Mom,” she said as I merged onto Hwy 7. “Can we listen to Raffi?”

My heart nearly stopped.

“I want song #8,” she continued.

Song #8: Bumpin’ Up And Down In My Little Red Wagon

It was as if she knew.

It was as if she knew that I have been thinking non-stop about her baby days – those early weeks when I’d walk her around and around the living room in the middle of the night trying to calm her. Many times I’d walk and bounce her to song #8 – Bumpin’ Up And Down In My Little Red Wagon. She was soothed by the dips and swells of the music and I always felt it was her favorite song.

 

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Won’t you be my darling

 

I’ve been thinking about those days so much this past week because I’m headed back to a full-time job tomorrow morning. And the last time I worked full-time was when I was pregnant with Annabelle eight years ago.

I feel like it’s the end of an era tomorrow. I relinquish my title as “stay-at-home mom.” And in many ways this makes me sad. My kids will start going to daycare. Chris will have to do more than he already does around the house. I won’t be around to give them lunch or do crafts with them or have dance parties in the kitchen. I won’t be there when Alec wants to “nuggle.” And I’ve cried many a tear over the loss of these moments.

But I know that this is what my family needs right now. A change of pace. An opportunity to grow. To overcome fears and obstacles. And succeed at new endeavors.

We’ll all be doing this together as a family – the way we do everything else.

But I’ll always think of these past eight years as the best gift a mom could ever get.

Grace

PANERA BREAD, EDEN PRAIRIE, 12:15pm ON JANUARY 27, 2013

“And how do you spell your last name?” Kay asked, her hand pausing over the check.

“B-o-u-d-r-e-a-u.”

I poked at the croutons in my French onion soup with my spoon. I could feel the tears welling up but I forced them back. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to cry. I took a sip of lemon water and tore off a piece of my baguette. I glanced over to Ted, who was sitting next to Kay with a giant smile on his face.

“If only the people in this restaurant knew what was going on here,” I thought to myself. “They wouldn’t believe it either.”

Kay neatly finished writing my name and amount, tore the check out of its book and slid it across the table to me.

All the noise in the busy restaurant seemed to fade away.

It was as if it were just me, Ted and Kay.

And the check.

Made out to me.

I could no longer stop the tears.

 

2 WEEKS EARLIER…

I barely recognized Ted when I entered the coffee shop. I had, after all, only met him two times in person. Once a couple years ago and once at a local charity concert that we had both attended. Ted waved me over and when I arrived at his table, he gave me a big hug and cheerfully announced that it was two-for-one wine night.

I realized in that moment that although I had not spent much time with Ted, I knew quite a bit about him from our online friendship. I knew that Ted’s wife had once lost a baby. I knew that he was a writer. I knew that he had recently retired and that he was a self-described “foodie and extrovert.” And I knew that he had been following my blogs for many years. Occasionally he would leave a compassionate and encouraging comment under one of my posts. The kind of comment that you remember. The kind of comment that reminds you that you are doing something of value. Something important.

I hung my laptop bag on the back of the chair, ordered two glasses of merlot and rejoined Ted at his table. We exchanged pleasantries – how is your family? How is Chris’s job? How is your writing going?

“So tell me,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “What made you want to get together all of a sudden?”

I took a long sip of wine and considered his question. I realized I didn’t really know why I had emailed him the week before to see if he wanted to get together.

“I’m not really sure,” I said slowly. “I guess…I just…I am just so grateful for the support you have given me on my blog. I know that you are a writer, like me, and I just…I don’t know, I just wanted to get together and talk about writing.” I was embarrassed at having been thrown by such a simple question.

There was a long pause. Ted took a sip of wine so I did too.

At last he spoke.

“Let me cut to the chase,” Ted said. I clenched my hand around the stem of my wine glass, suddenly very uncomfortable.

“Prinna, I think there is a reason you contacted me now.”

I leaned in, completely unsure of what was happening.

Ted continued. “My family has recently come into a very large sum of money. As part of our faith, we have decided to tithe away 10%. Now are you ready for this?”

I tightened my grip on my wine glass.

“I want you to give me a reason to give some of it to you.”

My face felt hot. I’m sure my jaw dropped, my eyebrows furled.

“Excuse…me?” I said quietly, as if he had just told me a secret.

“I know!” he said excitedly. “This is just as incredible for me as it is for you!!”

I still wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly.

“Excuse me,” I said again. “What exactly are you saying?”

Ted stretched his arms into the air and took a deep breath. He was smiling from ear to ear.

“Prinna. My family has recently received a very large sum of money. It’s a long story. But we are giving away 10% of it. We want to give some to you.”

Yes, I had heard him correctly. But I couldn’t entirely process what he was saying. I spent the next 15 minutes or so babbling, probably incoherently, about how people don’t do this kind of thing. About how this was crazy. About how I didn’t know what to say.

Ultimately, I asked Ted if I could write to him in response to his offer. He said of course.

I went home that night and told Chris what had happened.

“I’ve heard of people tithing like that,” he had said. “But nothing like this. No…nothing crazy like this.”

It took me a couple of days to process Ted’s offer.  Finally, I knew I was ready to write to him. And I decided to tell him this story:

 

Dear Ted,

I’d like to tell you a short story. It’s short because the experience only lasted about 30 seconds. But it’s these 30 seconds that have kept me going for the past five years; through the dark hours of grieving for my daughter, Sophia. Through the loss of our home and several of my husband’s jobs. It’s 30 seconds of my life that I will never forget. When we met last night, you asked me, as many others have, what has kept me going these past five years. I didn’t want to get into the whole story then, but the truth is, I know the answer: 30 seconds.

The story begins as I sit in my car on Hwy 494 in Bloomington – just by the Hwy 100 exit. It was heavy enough traffic that I had come to a complete stop. Accepting that my fate was to spend at least the next half hour on this stretch of road, I turned on the radio to one of my favorite talk shows. I tuned in just as they were welcoming their next guest, Kate Hopper. Over the next several minutes, Kate spoke about a series of classes that she was teaching called Mother Words. She talked about the importance of mothers’ stories and the strength that can be found in writing these stories.

I could tell you that I cried as I listened to Kate. But really, I wept. I wept because my daughter had died just a few months earlier. I had been an avid writer prior to her death but hadn’t been able to write much of anything since.

I put my head on the steering wheel for about 30 seconds. And in that 30 seconds I prayed. For the first time in a long long time, I prayed to God. And I asked him to give me the strength to tell my mother story. To give me the resources I would need to make a difference with my story. To give meaning to my daughter’s short life by allowing me to write about it and share it with whomever wanted to hear it.

I believe that our meeting last night is a direct result of this prayer. Because the fact is, I could use your help more than you know. Kate Hopper, the teacher who I heard on the radio that day, has invited me to a writing conference that she is putting on in Madeline Island School of the Arts in Wisconsin this June. I was devastated at having to tell her I would not be able to attend because we just couldn’t financially swing it. I asked Chris just last week if anything had changed and he told me no, we just couldn’t afford it.

You asked me to think about how I might put your tithing to good use. I think this conference would be my choice. It would enable me to study with one of the writing teachers who I most respect. It would allow me to move closer to completing my manuscript, which I have been working on for several years now. And most importantly, it would be the resource that I need to do what I set out to do five years ago – tell my story of what it was and is like to be Sophia’s mother.

Of course, I don’t know if this is what you had in mind but it’s what immediately came to me when you told me of your unique circumstance. There are surely others you know who could make use of such a donation. I would understand completely if you made the decision to give it elsewhere. Just knowing that there are people like you out there is all the hope I need to keep going on my path. But if you do find that this Kate Hopper conference would fit your idea of how the money could be utilized, I would welcome and appreciate it more than you could ever know.

Warmly, Prinna

 

And then I waited. I can’t say patiently. After a few days, I received the below message from Ted.

“Your prayer will be answered. You responded in faith to a whisper from God … and God whispered back … through me and my wife. Kay and I are working out the details and trying to come up with a time for us all to get together and celebrate the awe that comes with having our eyes opened to the string of events which landed us where we are … and … where we all are headed from here.”

 

This is a true story. This get-together happened today. I am going to Madeline Island in June thanks to these wonderful people. I am one step closer to telling my story.

Cozier

“Mom. If I stay in this spot, it will get cozier,” she whispers into my ear.

Her curly light brown hair rubs against my cheek as we sit, embracing, on the green sectional. Our “morning hug” ritual. As she speaks, I smell a wisp of her sour morning breath. I notice she is wearing the sweater from yesterday underneath her pajama top, its bulky collar bulging out, surely making things quite uncomfortable. But she doesn’t appear to mind. She is happy and light and hopeful for another day spent with….me.

This is my sweet Eve.

It’s 6am and I’ve been up for an hour, writing. She’s likely been up for that same hour, maybe more, playing in bed with her Polly Pockets and singing to herself. And, like it does every morning, some strange internal clock tells her to come upstairs at 6am to watch My Little Pony in our room.

Eve is what you would call my “rainbow baby.” The baby I had after the loss of my second daughter, Sophia. And, like a rainbow, she is something beautiful and full of light that appeared in the midst of darkness and clouds. She turned four this past October. We had a Mexican fiesta and I made a six-layer rainbow cake. I didn’t even make the connection until just now.  One day she’ll understand. She’ll understand that there was once another child who drank from her sippy cups. Another child who had curls covering her head. Another child who we loved and dreamed through. She’ll understand that she is here because we chose life over grief.

My 7-year-old daughter, Annabelle, would argue that it’s all because of her curly hair that people notice Eve. And it’s true…her hair is a work of art; like spun gold. Strangers will come over and run their fingers through it. My mom says that, like my hair as a child, her curls are so tight you could hide little toys in them.

Eve likes “hot pink strawberry milk,” puts eye shadow on her eyebrows, and will tell you her sister Annabelle doesn’t like her very much. She has a half-inch gap between her front teeth and an outie belly button that you can sometimes see through her shirt. She plays with anything that is “mini sized” and has been called a “leader” in her preschool class. She sings along loudly to the vacation bible school CD in the car and prefers orange to any other color. She is quirky and funny. “Fascinating to watch” as my grandmother would say.

The other morning as I was trying to get three kids ready for school, I thought about the pure joy and relief that would come when they all boarded the same school bus and went to school for an entire day. I would have entire days to accomplish things again. Entire days to organize and work and be productive in a way that I haven’t known for many years. I want time to speed up so badly. But then a shred of sadness creeps in and I realize that I also want it to stand still. So I get to keep these morning hugs and baby curls. I want to stay in this place with my children for as long as possible.

But no matter where time stands, Eve will be that shining ray of light that appeared out of darkness and clouds.

Yes, my sweet Eve. You are right. If I stay in this spot, it will get cozier.