21 November 2019

"Sometimes by Step"

Somehow, almost accidentally, Rich Mullins songs have ended up becoming the soundtrack to important milestones in my life together with Angel.

It started in his old Ford in 2009, when we were headed out on a shopping errand together, and he popped in a mix CD that began playing "If I Stand." 

It was instantly one of those "You too? I thought I was the only one." moments that C. S. Lewis talks about. I don't know how a California boy who grew up Catholic a decade ahead of a Michigan girl who grew up in Asia both happened to become fans of the same artist who passed away over a decade before we met and wasn't exactly crazy popular in 2009...but it happened. And "If I Stand" became the song that we consider "ours," one that we played during our wedding.

Years later, when I had a miscarriage, Mullins' "Hold Me Jesus" became the hymn that I clung to on a daily basis.

When Cyrus was born, we dedicated "Let Mercy Lead" to him, as it truly fits what we hope for his future and life.

A month or so before Glenn was born, I was having a physically very tough day. It was getting near the end of the day, which had begun with the usual homeschool routine with the big kids, and now I was finally making dinner, Cyrus was wandering around getting into things he wasn't supposed to be getting into, and I began to get discouraged with how rough I was feeling, I brought to mind the picture of "putting one foot in front of the other." I didn't have to think about how I was going to make it all the way through till the end of pregnancy and recovery again, I just had to think about the very next step.

And as I thought, I realized how very much that theme had been a characteristic of this pregnancy, how ever since early on when we discovered, much to our surprise, that his little heart was still beating, and we were told bluntly, "There's no way to guarantee anything, at this point we'd call it a 'threatened miscarriage.'" 

All I knew at that time was that I was indeed still pregnant, and all I could do was count each day, each little 'step' further along on the journey. The journey never really got easy, but it wasn't cut short and taken away from me, and for that I cannot be thankful enough.

And then the song "Sometimes by Step" came to mind and I knew I'd stumbled upon my song for Glenn.

Here are the lyrics:

Sometimes the night was beautiful
Sometimes the sky was so far away
Sometimes it seemed to stoop so close
You could touch it but your heart would break
Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hot
There was so much work left to do
But so much You'd already done
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days
Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

Now, in the wee hours of the morning as I take my steps around the house, holding close a tiny boy who doesn't yet grasp the idea of sleeping without cuddles, I sing this to him, and think about all the days when I wondered if we'd ever make it this far together.

Sometimes this walk comes just one small step at a time, and that's all we can manage...and we can't quite even manage those little steps but for the grace of God. And that's enough.
13 November 2019

Birth Day Story

It started on a Sunday evening. Some friends who we hadn't seen in over a year had just arrived to spend the week at my parents' home, and after they came to my place for a short visit to see how much Cyrus had grown since they last saw him, we all went out to Subway together for a quick dinner.

Towards the end of dinner, around 6:30, I was starting to experience some suspicious pains and when Angel suggested walking around the mall for a while to see what was going on (there was some sort of fair or sale on at the time), I told him no, we ought to head straight home, I wasn't feeling well. I walked out and was headed straight for the car, but Angel lingered in the restaurant with my dad, continuing their dinner time conversation about Christian bands from the 70s and 80s. I remember turning around and glaring at him a bit as I waited, uncomfortably, near the entrance to the parking ramp. A minute or two later, he came with Cyrus and we headed home.

When we arrived home, I gave Cyrus his evening cup of milk and we brushed his teeth and got him to bed around the normal time, 7:30, and then I took a shower--both to help with the pain and to be showered and ready if I decided we ought to go to the hospital. Then I wandered around, finding the final things that needed to be added to the hospital bag and making sure we knew where everything we needed to bring was.

I was quite unsure what was going on, because the contractions didn't start out nearly as strong and predictable as they did with Cyrus. After a couple hours of walking around the house and trying to stretch and try out different comfortable exercises, I decided to call my mom to come stay with Cyrus and that we would head into the hospital to be safe. Cyrus's birth was so fast, and we live a solid half hour from the hospital, that I was nervous about being too far away or having to manage late-labor contractions while in the car.

But...spoiler turned out that this was very different from my experience with Cyrus and we had a long ways to go. I wonder whether we ought to have stuck it out at home longer...but I was in pain way too often to fall asleep anyways, and I did feel safer closer to doctors and with the ability to check on the baby's heart rate, so in the end, I think it's good we went in when we did.

We arrived at the hospital and, once again, went in through the "No Unauthorized Entry" doors into the ER, where they immediately put me in a wheelchair and brought us to a labor and delivery room. This time, they put me on the monitors for 20 minutes first (they never did that with Cyrus, I guess it was a little too obvious that time that it was very nearly "go time" for baby), and the nurse said sure enough, I was having contractions about every 2 minutes, but they were varying in intensity and not very long. But I had progressed enough and with the history of a quick labor the first time, they called my doctor right away and admitted me.

At that point, Angel got taken away to do the admittance paperwork, at which point he found out that we did need to have my passport (I'd asked in packing if I needed to pack my passport but he'd said no, he didn't remember needing one and I am already registered at the hospital so they have my info. But we were wrong!) He pacified them by saying we could have my family bring the passport in the morning, and then was able to come back to my room.

They left us alone most of the night, only the occasional visit from my doctor once she arrived and from nurses who had me back on the monitors to check on baby's heart after every couple of hours. I alternated between walking around the room for 30-45 minutes at a time and then lying down in the bed to rest for a while, trying to find the balance of giving the baby gravity and movement to help move him along, and also resting to try to stay relaxed and not get too exhausted. Labor is weird. You can read up on everything that is supposed to help but in the end, you just don't know exactly what's the best thing to do at the moment. Angel spent a good chunk of the night sleeping in the bed while I walked the room--which worked out well, because while I was in a good bit of pain, it wasn't unbearable or anything I felt I couldn't manage on my own.

According to the monitors, contractions kept coming on very frequently but weren't lengthening or getting consistently stronger. Around 7 am, 12ish hours after the pains had begun, my doctor suggested starting a pitocin drip to see if that would help with labor progression. In her opinion, I was plenty far enough along that there was no backing out of it at this point--she was definitely open to letting me continue to progress naturally but thought it might be another 12 hours or more at this rate and was letting me make the decision of whether I wanted to tough it out or try some drugs to help move things along.

I decided to agree to the pitocin--again, I feel like at times like this, you really never quite know what's the best choice--and then because of that now had to stay in the bed on the monitors so that we could keep an eye on baby's heart rate. After about 3ish hours after starting pitocin, they came in and suggested breaking my water, thinking that would help get us all the way to the end zone. Seemingly within seconds after my water was broken, the pain instantly ramped up into "impossible" level and I immediately asked for the gas to breathe...which, again, I'm not sure helps all that much with pain, but gives you something to concentrate on doing, attempting to breathe air coming out of a little tube, and I was sitting up and Angel was right there helping me through it all.

About an hour after my water was broken, baby Glenn was born. Unlike Cyrus, I actually got to hold him and keep him with me for a while because he was breathing fine (Cyrus was first handed to me but then got immediately taken away because he was so purple and not breathing so well). It was a good thing I actually got to hold my baby because things didn't go so well for me in the post-baby birth process and since I wasn't on anything for pain relief, the only thing I had to help me through it was holding my precious baby and Angel right there with me. They let us keep the baby with us for a good while before taking him to the nursery for weighing, etc, and that was really nice. It was so good when it was just the three of us in the room that (when I was brave/foolish enough to actually look around) looked like a scene out of a gory movie that I would never watch. My first impression of Glenn was of how much he didn't look like Cyrus at all (Cyrus was born with a very noticeable v-shaped storkbite on his forehead, so at this point I was kind of expecting all babies to be born with Vs on their foreheads) and that he was very tiny.

Glenn had been measuring a bit behind in his size since around the beginning of the third trimester...just one more little worry in a pregnancy that had been very worrisome, and was born at 38 weeks 5 days weighing just a bit under 6 lbs--much smaller than his 7 lb. 2 oz. brother, but a very respectable size for a baby who was expected to be on the small side. We'd had an ultrasound 2 days before he was born that estimated his size at 2.7 kg, and he was born weighing 2.7 when people always say, "Oh, those ultrasounds can be really far off!" just know that they can also be pretty correct. Who knew?

We eventually were brought to a recovery room about 2 hours after Glenn was born, and my parents arrived and brought Cyrus and one of my sisters to meet the baby...only we had to wait another couple hours before Glenn actually arrived in the room.

We had opted that we wanted to keep Glenn in the room with us as much as possible and take care of him ourselves rather than having him go to nursery, so once he arrived, he was with us for the evening. I expected that, like Cyrus, he would be very sleepy on his first night, but quite the opposite, he was very alert and wanted to be held most of the night. At one point I think I held him for two hours straight while he just happily looked around the dark room. The next day, we were both discharged by our doctors and were able to head home in late afternoon, which is where we both stay for now, getting rest and building strength before heading out into the big, exciting world that Glenn doesn't even know about yet!

Our miracle boy is here. and I'm so very, very grateful. As we were alone in the room together after he was born, Angel and I talked about those horrible 5 days in April when we thought he was already gone, and about the doctor's appointment at the end of 5 days that utterly shocked us--when we saw a growing baby on a screen where we fully expected to see nothing good at all. How stunned we were as we drove home from that appointment, trying to wrap our minds around getting the best news that we could imagine alongside the words "at this point we would call it a threatened miscarriage." And then at 18 weeks when the doctor told us that the placenta had partially detached and early delivery was a risk...and then at 28 weeks when his growth slowed...all I can say it praise be to God for this indescribable gift. We got to meet our boy!
28 October 2019

Currently in October

Sewing: A surprising amount of projects. This has been probably my oddest nesting instinct...I've felt a very specific urgency to use up as much of my fabric stash of leftover fabric from previous projects as possible, and in the last month or so I've made a variety of items that I can't picture here because they are intended as Christmas presents, among them, the most adorable skater skirt for the littlest sister and a bunch of throw pillows. Also some fabric Christmas ornaments, and most recently, a couple of no-sew fabric garlands for Christmas decor. I've also got an embroidery project that I've been working on consistently after Cyrus's bedtime, but I'm not sure if I'll actually be able to finish that one in time...

Wearing: The latest in modern fashion, superglued glasses.

One of our room doors tends to swing on its hinges into the middle of the doorway, and one day recently I wasn't paying enough attention and walked straight into the edge of the door, cracking the frame of my glasses, popping the lens out...and also ended up with a tender bruise above my eyebrow for a couple days. Oops! These glasses had been bothering me for quite some time, I often found myself pushing them back up on my head at various times throughout the day because they bothered me, but I was really trying to hold off on new glasses till after baby...but a few days after this incident we went to an eye doctor and they said that my prescription hasn't changed, the reason the glasses have been bothering me is because they're just old (about 4 years old) and the UV coating was separating from the lens, causing strain. Who knew that happened?

Well, actually probably everyone knows you ought to get your eyes checked more often than once in 4 years

So, I'm getting new glasses, soon, and at Angel's persuasion, ended up opting for the more "out there" option of the two pairs I had narrowed the choices down to, so that should be an exciting return to being able to see clearly and a hint of quirky fashion once more.

Preparing: Well, we certainly ought to be preparing for the new arrival due in about 3 weeks...we have made some progress. We haven't given the birth plan to the doctor yet but intend to remember to do that on Saturday. We have washed Cyrus's infant car seat and readjusted the straps down to newborn size but haven't put it in the car yet. I'm kind of envisioning that we won't end up installing it ahead of time but will just throw it in the car on the way to the hospital...when you drive a small five-seater hatchback there is not much motivation to install a second carseat any sooner than necessary.

We don't have the crib set up in our room yet, either, but again, kind of thinking along the lines of space being at a bit of a premium this time around. We definitely started setting things up earlier with Cyrus! I have washed the sheets and all the smallest sizes of baby clothes and have packed a tiny bag for baby for the hospital, but I haven't really packed for myself yet, although I did get out a bag and put two toothbrushes and a sample size tube of toothpaste in it because last time, having to request my parents to bring toothbrushes to the hospital when they came to visit baby (because I forgot to pack them) just seemed a little bit ridiculous. ha!

I feel like a lot of moms worry about going to the hospital too soon or too early...for some reason last time I was not at all worried about that, or about waking Angel up to tell him to get ready within half an hour of my first-ever contraction. Which ended up being a good thing because we didn't have all that much time to spare. I don't know if this time I will end up less or more focused on getting to the hospital ASAP....

Anticipating: November appears to be shaping up to be an extraordinarily momentous month for my family. There's Thanksgiving, of course, and the baby, but then, also, my sister is getting married:

(photo by their photographer)

The wedding is in America, so it doesn't have that much physical impact on those of us who live so far away, but it's definitely an emotionally impactful and momentous event. Being a big sister and watching all of these "littles" grow up has been amazing, and I'm excited for the new life she's about to begin.

Also, my parents are the keynote speakers at a parenting conference in November, and they have long-time family friends coming to stay for a week, and my dad will be traveling out of the country for a different week, oh, and did I mention the baby that's coming due? Which is slightly more complicated this time since now there's a 20 month old who will need to be taken care of while we're in the hospital? 

And another sister is in the midst of busy preparations for her 4th-ever booth at an arts and crafts sale happening the first week of December. Over the past month, we've been working together on applying to colleges and scholarships and trying to figure out what her future might look like. Angel and I pretended to be responsible parents and took her to a college recruiting night being held at the school where he teaches. Again, with the big sister stuff--what an experience it is to sit there and watch one of my baby sisters asking questions of a college recruiter about financial aid options, dorm life, opportunities within the art department, etc.

They all grow up!

Playing: With Cyrus and the other kids. Angel's school had fall break recently and during his week off, we really tried to make the most of balancing adult responsibilities (doctor's appointments and getting our air-cons cleaned) with playtime at local playgrounds and at the beach, and with his new Mr. Potato Head toy that Grandma got him. To me, all of the faces he will put together on Mr. Potato Head look crazy, but what's funny is that he'll find some specific face combinations ridiculously hilarious and start cracking up at his own Picasso-esque face creations.

Planning: Future travels. Having been on the island for a solid 12 months at this point has left me with a certain amount of cabin fever. Yes, being home-bound has been well worth it and I'm so excited for the little guy we'll be meeting soon...and I'm also excited about the prospect of taking two little boys on adventures elsewhere. 

I think when Angel and I were more new to our relationship, my casual planning of adventures in the uncertain future unnerved him, but at this point, he thinks it's totally normal when I randomly bring up the topic of potential destinations for a 10th anniversary trip or things I want to make sure we do when we visit the USA. 

Writing: I'm trying to get a little bit ahead on my articles for the Sonlight blog, in anticipation of being a little extra distracted in the near future, but haven't yet managed to get as ahead as I'd like to be. In the meantime, my most recent article published on their site is about Keys to Foreign Language Proficiency for Homeschoolers!
07 October 2019

18 Months with "Baby"

It occurred to me...just a couple weeks late...that I ought to write an 18 month update on Cyrus.

(This was the photo I took on for the day he officially turned 18 months, a year and a half, old. Only half of his body is in motion, so hey, not too bad...)

How big? 26 lbs and 32 in. Which, from the online calculator, appears to be something like 70th percentile for weight and 25th percentile for height. He's been wearing mostly 18 month size clothes for about half a year. We often get told how "tall" he is but I don't think he's actually tall, I think it's because we don't often run into Caucasian kids, who would probably average taller.

Words? In the last month he's started saying a few more words. I love it! Being from a girl-heavy family, I was a lot more used to toddlers who were big talkers and his silent observation worried me a little. This morning, as we were sitting in the dark waking up, he turned to me and said "Ball!" and pointed to the room where his ball is...then he said "Keys!" (this kid loves to use keys to try and unlock things...all the time)...and then he said "Papa!" and went to climb on top of Angel. He is definitely understanding a lot more of what we say, to the point where we've realized that we can't casually mention going outside or going swimming or milk unless we are prepared to follow through on our statements. His understanding of English is a little wider, I can tell, but he is following more of Angel's commands in Spanish (and I'm gradually getting more comfortable with the command form and attached pronouns...the bane of my existence in college Spanish classes).

A normal day looks like:
6-7 Wake up, and Cyrus immediately eats breakfast and takes a shower
7-9 Storytime, sometimes going on a walk or a swim with Angel while I get morning housework done, sometimes just playing at home.
9 Angel leaves for work, and Cyrus and I head over to join the homeschool crew.
9-12 Morning homeschool hours, so I'm mostly focused on the big kids,. My sister takes care of a little boy who is Cyrus's age during the day, so he has a buddy he can play with in the morning. Cyrus usually tries to interrupt and steal pencils and erasers. He loves to sit at the table with the kids doing schoolwork and scribble in an old school book, but usually gets kicked out after a while due to stealing too many writing utensils and calculators. He'll have a morning snack, play with blocks, usually do an art activity with gluesticks (his FAVE) or watercolor, and usually goes outside to play with my teenage sister or hangs out on the balcony with her and colors with chalk.
12-2 Cyrus and I head home for naptime (for him), and I eat lunch, write, hang up laundry, work on various sewing projects, or whatever is on the agenda for my quiet time of the day. Sometimes, I nap too, because pregnancy. His naps are actually really varied these days, sometimes 1 hour, sometimes 3 hours, but usually closer to 2.
2-2:30 If Cyrus is awake, I'll give him a cup of milk and we'll read stories.
2:30-4:30 I guide Mandarin lessons followed up by English lessons, and Cyrus usually gets passed around between whichever sister isn't in class. 
4:30-6 is the time that's really just for Cyrus and me, and has become "baby school" time at home. I sing the songs I'm teaching him with him, we read a couple stories, and then do some sort of activity, like playing with stickers or play-doh. Still working on NOT eating play-doh. Then I make dinner.
6 Angel's home! We eat dinner, and then I clean up while many evenings, Angel heads out with Cyrus and sometimes my littlest sister--to swim, to the playground, to the beach, for a quick little adventure before bedtime.
7:30 Shower, milk, brush teeth, bed!

-Still loves birds. He has a fondness for books with birds in them. The books don't have to be about birds, there just has to be a random bird somewhere in the illustration on the page, and he will find it, and he will say, "Bee!" "Bee!" very distinctly means "Bird!" There was one evening Angel was making all sorts of crazy sounds for him to imitate, and he was mimicking everything perfectly, including random words like "Hola" and "Door" and "knock-knock". Angel said, "Bird!" and Cyrus said right back, "Bee!" We need to be careful or we'll find ourselves talking about Bees in public and everyone will be confused because they're actually birds.

- Kitchen utensils. One day a few weeks ago, he took the whole can of kitchen utensils while I was cooking, said "Bye!" to me, and simply left the room. He often asks for some spoon or ladle or pair of tongs to play with. 

- Grandpa. My dad is probably the person in my close-by family that he sees least often, due to work and traveling, but he is always amazed when he does see him, and instantly runs for the bookshelf, because he thinks Grandpa equals automatic storytime.

- Helping. (The activity that all moms hopes will last forever...but probably won't). He'll go grocery shopping with Angel and help carry the groceries all the way back to the apartment, and then he'll unload the bags from the kitchen floor and hand everything to me (which, at this point, is a legitimate help, because I don't want to bend my very pregnant self down to the floor a million times to grab all the groceries). He'll carry the trash down the hallway to the room with the dumpster. He'll throw trash away in the kitchen trash can and he'll take clean, folded laundry off of the ironing board and throw it into the washing machine (yeah...we're still working on that one...and I've learned to get laundry put away real fast!)

- Keys. In order to avoid him playing with our real sets of house keys, we've given him the little keys that go to the drawers in our built-in cupboards (because when have those ever needed to be locked). He will try them on every door in the house...dragging a chair up to the bedroom door and working really hard to try to get the key in the lock. He shut my bedroom door while I was doing makeup the other day, and he ran to me excitedly. "Keys?" he asked. He thinks if a door is shut, you'll likely need keys to open it. I've taken him down the hallway in our apartment complex and he's tried his keys in every utility door and roof access door. I gave him my old purse when I switched purses lately, and the first thing he did was run and get all of his keys and put them in the purse. It's so funny how much they are watching you!

- Visitors. He LOVES it when people come over and is very disappointed when they inevitably leave. He does love to say "Bye!" and wave, but he much prefers to be the person leaving, not the person left behind. My sisters stayed with us for a few nights while my parents were away and he was thrilled with the idea, other than the fact that it necessitated going to bed while his buddies were over. 

- Having ideas. This kid is full of ideas. He's recently been putting on two different shoes when we leave the house. When he hears the real phone ring, he'll have an imaginary phone in his hand and he'll answer it. He'll suddenly get an evil gleam in his eye and turn the balcony hose on one of my sisters, soaking them (it's true, I saw the evil gleam and everything). I've taught him different motions for some of our books. I.e., the picture shows a sun, we point to the sky outside. The picture shows a watermelon, we pretend to eat it. Mostly, he loves doing the motions do go with the words, but sometimes he'll purposely do the wrong motion, and then laugh. He occasionally tried to trick me by saying "cicak" and pointing somewhere where there is clearly no cicak (gecko), and then laughing hysterically when he "made me look." I had no idea that toddlers had this much innate concept of mischief, that pranks could begin at 18 months old. He is a constant adventure!

04 October 2019

Belligerent Peace

Sometimes I think we cling so tightly to our problems that even God, if He were so inclined, couldn't pry them out from between our fingers. We look at what we're going through and spin identities defined by such experiences. Lost someone we loved. Work too hard and too long for too little reward. Not able to get along with the boss. Facing serious health issues. Constantly under financial stress and barely making ends meet. Dreams have not and will never come true. Traumatized by past experiences. Facing anxiety and depression and fear. We've been offended. Hurt by people who should have done better. Ostracized. Unloved when we ought to have been loved.

We experience hard things in life and these hard things shape us. But sometimes we continue to allow them to mold us and bend us more than they truly have a right to, and end up bent into a bitter mockery of what we could have been. Instead of seeing ourselves as persons separate from the crises we handle, we look at ourselves through a lens of trauma, a lens which gradually shrinks and distorts our very selves.

I suspect that when we cling so tightly to the experiences that we have decided to form into identities, God isn't actually inclined to attempt to pry them out of our fingers. Perhaps that's a better description of the situation. It's not that he couldn't force us to let go, it's that He made us free. Free to embrace the thing that wounds us, if we so desire.

But what if we chose not to? What if, instead of holding onto my hurt, I loosened my grip enough to start clinging on to the possibility of peace that isn't dependent on my circumstances? What if we realized that even if nothing about our pasts or our presents changes...even if nothing changes in the relationships that bring the most pain...we have not lost the freedom to see our own selves through lenses that are not warped by hurt and disappointed expectations. What if that was one of the keys to growing up and growing old without growing bitter?

We make the choice to cling desperately to our deepest hurts, like a toddler who is determined to keep hold of the scissors or pencil or whatever random and dangerous object is currently within his clutches. We scream and flail and demand that those around us see us through the lens of pain that we use when we look at ourselves. But what if we didn't? What if we let go, ran to the Father and confessed that we don't want to see ourselves this way anymore. That we don't want to live forever under the shadow of broken relationships, disappointed dreams, and frustrated lives. That we want to be able to walk into each day with the peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace that defies comprehension...that makes no sense given the reality of the situation...the peace that looks evil and brokenness in the face, puts up its fists, and says, "Try me."

We know this belligerent peace exists. But do we trust that it does enough to loosen our hold on a sharp object?