Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Happy "Accident"

I once had a theory that I felt certain was true: That the first and the last children in every family were “surprises”. It was true of my family. My oldest and youngest brothers both came as a surprise to my parents. And it was true with me. Ashton, as you all know, came as a shock. And Atleigh... well. If anything could be more shocking than Ashton, it was her.

After Chloe was born, Jeremy and I debated whether we would have more kids. We wavered back and forth, back and forth. Took precautions, deciding maybe we would try again later. After a nasty, horrible, awful run-in with an IUD, we decided to just... hold out, until more permanent methods of birth control became available. Chloe was about 18 months old at that time. 6 months later, I was pregnant. It was then, and only then, that I realized how happy I was with our “Disney Family Four Package”, as I called our little family. I’d always thought, “Well, maybe one day we’ll have another baby”, and until I was actually expecting said baby, I never knew how much I DID NOT want another baby. I took five tests in 4 days, hoping against hope that one would be negative. I cried everyday for a month. After that month I tapered down to about three times a week. By the time I got to my third trimester, I was down to crying only once every 7-9 days.

We’d always said if we had a third baby, we wouldn’t find out the sex. We had one of each, we figured we were prepared for any eventuality. I had to sign all kinds of papers, stating that the sex of the baby would in no way change my acceptance of said baby, that I was absolutely certain I would receive the baby regardless of its sex, etc., etc. In theory, not finding out the sex is exciting, mysterious, and somehow connects you with mothers from generations past: patiently waiting for your unknown little person to arrive, its name and fate undecided. In reality, or at least my reality, it only served to increase my sense of disconnect from this child that I had never asked for. Although our close friends and family knew I was pregnant, we didn’t make a widespread announcement. After about 5 months people started to notice that my fatness was taking on a shape (I was thankful for THAT, at least).

I sound like such a horrible person. The truth is, until about an hour before Atleigh was born, I had the trapped feeling of a person forced to get on a roller coaster, who realizes after it’s too late that she wants to get off the ride. I had the sense of looking down into a precipice, knowing I was about to spiral out of control, and knowing there was nothing I could do about it. I remember frantically texting my friend at 3 in the morning, after they’d decided to keep me overnight, saying, “I can’t do this. I changed my mind.” It was just... too much. One too many.

Jeremy had Atleigh’s named picked out since before Chloe was born. He wanted to use the name on her, but I wouldn’t let him, saying I wouldn’t have my kids have “twin” names like Ashton and Atleigh. We have (had) a deal- whoever picked out the first name, the other got to pick out the middle. He got Ashton, I got Nathaniel. I got Chloe, he got Noelle. If Atleigh was a boy, her name would have been Riley Nehemiah. As it was, Jeremy finally got his Atleigh, and I chose Naomi for her middle name, knowing that Naomi means the exact opposite of what my name means. Knowing that this baby was the exact opposite of what I wanted, but that God had predestined her. Naming her according to HIS plan, not mine.

Atleigh was born almost three weeks early, and so quickly I hardly even noticed it. 3 hours of labor, about 30 seconds of pushing, and this teeny little 6 pound baby with a dimple in her chin and blond highlights in her hair was placed on my chest. It’s just like in every story you read: I loved her the minute I laid eyes on her. I forgot all the tears and the whining I had done for the past 9 months. I forgot that I never “wanted” her. That didn’t matter. I needed her. She was mine. She was so little, so... unfinished. She looked like the pictures you see in books of babies still in utero, all the planes of her little face still softly smeared together, faint lines where her eyebrows should be, her tiny mouth pinched at the corners. When I picked her up, her body would curl up and out, turning her into the shape of a jelly bean. I still call her Jelly Bean, 3 years later.

Today Atleigh is the child of my heart. While Ashton and Chloe were both “Daddy’s” kids (and Chloe was decidedly my sister’s “kid”), Atleigh has always been solely mine. She is my little mini- me. She quirks her eyebrows like me, twists her mouth like me, “flounces” like me, as my parents will attest to. Her personality is 1,000 times larger than her tiny little frame. My mother tells me she’s just like my brother Ben. My mother-in-law tells me she’s just like Jeremy. I ask them both what I did to deserve that. She’s sassy and loud, bossy and wheedling, quirky and sweet, and everyone who meets her is immediately wrapped around her finger. She is the most charming person I know. She’s the only child of mine who inherited my brown eyes. I mean to apologize to her for that, when Daddy’s blue eyes were to be had. She still has blonde highlights running through her hair- a birthmark, I suppose. Her face is Puckish, with pointed eyebrows, a button nose and bow mouth, and a tiny little southwest dimple that looks like God Himself couldn’t resist pinching her cheek in the forming of her.

A few days ago I took her out for her very first “photo shoot”. I’ve done shoots of both Ashton and Chloe, but never Atleigh all by herself. I thought I would have to wrangle her mercilessly, but I underestimated the Jeremy-ness in her. She’s as big a ham as he ever was. She posed and preened and simpered without my even asking her (and don't hate me, Mom- her glasses gave off too big of a glare. When her new ones come in I'll do a whole new shoot, I promise!). Here are a few pictures I took of the happiest “accident” that ever happened to me. I thank God everyday that He didn’t let me off that roller coaster. I have a feeling that with Atleigh, I’m going to be on it for a long time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Sixth Love Language

I’m up late, and on cold medication, and am struck with a writing bug. This is my disclaimer. I may or may not remember what I type here.

I read a book a long time ago, when I was in an internship program at my church, and again when I got married, called The Five Love Languages. You may be familiar with it. In the church circuit, the term “love language” is as well known and accepted as “washed by the blood” and “backsliding”. The Love Languages are as follows:

Physical Touch
Quality Time
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service

All those years ago, my love language was unequivocally “Gifts”, with a splash of “Acts of Service” thrown in. Jeremy’s are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Gifts is a tough love language to have (if all of this is Greek to you, click here). To those without the "language", you look greedy for wanting gifts, ungrateful for wanting what you don’t have. And when you give gifts to someone who doesn’t have the same love language, their lack of effusive gratitude can throw cold water on your happy little gift giving bubble.

Example: Long before Jeremy and I were ever dating, he told me how his mom had bought him special Star Wars cereal (this was when The Phantom Menace was all the hype), which he loved. Apparently it was like Lucky Charms, but better, containing superior marshmallows and marshmallow to cereal ratio. Some part of me tucked this little story away. When we were dating, the second Star Wars movie came out. I watched and waited, excited to buy him this superior marshmallow cereal. I bought 2 or 3 boxes, carted them to his house and put them in his cabinets, and waited, almost giddy, for him to discover them. When he came home, he didn’t go straight to the cereal cabinet like I figured most single guys would. Bouncing with excitement, I told him to open the cabinets, that I had gotten him a surprise. He smiled knowingly (Lord knows what he was expecting, but with his love language being physical touch, I can imagine), and opened the cabinet to find it full of Star Wars cereal. He stared blankly for a minute while I jumped up and down behind him, clapping my hands.

“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s your cereal!”, I squealed. “Your cereal that you love so much!”
“My what?”, he asked.
“You said... you said this was your favorite cereal. That your mom got it for you because you love the marshmallows,” I said, starting to deflate.
“Oh... Ok. I don’t really know how I’m going to eat all this before it expires. But. Thank you...?” He ended it like a question, not quite sure to do with a girlfriend who thought multiple boxes of cereal was an acceptable gift.

I was heartbroken. Obviously. 10 years later and it still stings. He didn’t mean it that way, of course. It’s just that we didn’t - don’t - speak the same language.

All that said to bring me to this: I’ve discovered I have a love language that isn’t mentioned in any book. Maybe I’m the only one who has it. My love language is music. I mean it. There is nothing- no gift you can give me, no service you can do for me, no amount of time you can spend with me- that will reach down and touch my soul the way music does. There is a tender spot in my heart that can only be touched by melody. I’m sure people will read this and say, “Oh yes, me too.” Maybe that’s so. But something tells me that this affinity is rare. It’s a gift and a curse, this language of mine. Not something I can control, and not something very many can relate to. Jeremy speaks the language of music as I do, although maybe a different dialect. But I know he feels it, and that has worked its way to healing breaches caused by rejected cereal.

I’ve said before that the way you can tell I really love you is if I’ve shared my music with you. When I make mix tapes (although I guess technically they are mix CDs), they’re never just random songs thrown together. I pour myself into them, spending hours arranging and rearranging track orders so that there is flow and meaning. In most cases, they aren’t songs I’ve written, but they’re songs I’ve written on my heart, and they are little pieces of me that I give away to the few people I’ve let into the crux of who I am. My life is built around music. Every turning point can be pinpointed by a song or musician. My everyday life is consumed with it. I don’t go more than a few hours without some song playing. It’s not that I hate the silence. It’s that I love the music. I can’t breathe without it. There is something so vulnerable about good, true music. And I don’t mean most of the “Christian” drivel that is played nowadays. No, not all of it’s bad, but most of it’s not good. There is no depth, no sweeping current, no true vulnerability in what mainstream Christian artists produce today. Music, above all, should be honest. It should come from hidden wells in our spirits that speak of deep waters. Look at the Psalms. More than anything, the psalms ring truth in every line, whether it’s good truth or bad. That’s what true music should be. Encompassing human nature, the precious and the ugly, the twisted defects of who we are, as well as the blinding beauty of who we can be. Christians certainly don’t have the corner on that particular brand. Here’s my advice on that score: Don’t put what you think can minister to and change your life into a box. There is so much rich, beautiful music out in the world that can truly bend the course of your life, and it doesn’t have to be found in a chapel.

Don’t worry. I won’t leave you hanging. You can read a previous blog about music that has touched me, and here are some other artists, albums, and bands (in no particular order) that have been weaving their way into my heart of hearts over the past few months, Christian and otherwise. Not all of it is "cutting edge". Very little of it is, actually, now that I think of it. I don't look for the shiniest, prettiest song to speak to me. I find that in recent years I've gravitated towards music that is more melodic, bordering on folk. I look for music that will wear well. Music that can be repeated for two weeks straight without becoming stale, but actually becomes richer with each listen, that layers itself into something that can mean one thing in January, and quite another thing in May. It goes without saying (and yet here I am saying it) that all of this music is to my taste, my opinions. Which you do not have to agree with.

Bison: Quill
I have to give a shout out to this local band that are well on their way to being the "next big thing". Their music is genuine, different enough to be memorable but not so different as to be weird. Make us proud, guys.

The Frames: The Cost
I. love. Glen Hansard. If you want to find passion in music, look no further. He has it by the bucket load.

Josh Garrels: Love & War & The Sea In Between
This album is completely free to download right now on Download it. You won't regret it. Here's a Christian artist I can get behind.

Bon Iver: Bon Iver
I love Bon Iver's rich melodies and harmonies. They make we want to drive for hours on a warm night with the windows down.

 Jon Foreman: Fall
Jon Foreman, of Switchfoot fame, has a series of EPs named after the seasons. I haven't heard the others yet. Fall has a little Dylanesque feel to it, and you can't get much better than Dylan. Another Christian artist I wholeheartedly support.

The Secret Sisters: The Secret Sisters
I love sisters. I love sisters who sing together with airtight harmonies even better. Their roots are firmly grounded in old school country, the kind my grandparents may have listened to, the kind that's easier for me to swallow. Some of it even smacks slightly of The Beatles' earliest albums, and I absolutely can't resist that.

Leeland: The Great Awakening
There's one song on this album that gets me every time, called I Wonder. Listen to it.

Ascend The Hill: Ascend The Hill
I found this album on (HIGHLY recommend this site). They're a little raw, but their worship is absolutely genuine.

David Crowder* Band: Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in C [the happiest of all keys])
DCB's last album, and I can honestly say I think it's their best work. Modeled after a Requiem Mass (hence the name), it's two hours long and worth every minute of listening.

 Paper Route: Absence
A Pandora find, also on Noise Trade right now. These guys aren't a Christian band, but what I like to refer to as Christians IN a band (that's right, folks, it IS possible!). They remind me a little bit of Mute Math's first album (another great Christians IN a band band).

 Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, & Fats Kaplin: Lost John Dean
I haven't heard this whole album. I have one song off of it, called "I Can't Wait" that I listened to on repeat for 2 hours straight one day.

 Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
Sufjan Stevens completely charms me. He's so eccentric, writing songs with titles like, "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament", and "The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'" Despite the clever and goofy titles, his music is haunting and has depth that few artists can manage. He's another mainstream Christian artist that I love to support.

The Hunger Games Soundtrack: Safe & Sound
I've pre-ordered this soundtrack, which doesn't come out until next week, but this song was made available a little earlier. It. is. fantastic. Goosebump-inducing fantastic.

 The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow
I discovered The Civil Wars last year a few months after their first album released. Everyone has since jumped on the bandwagon, which quite offends me. I'm very possessive of music I love. And I love The Civil Wars more than I've loved any music in a long time. I'm going to overlook any bandwagon hopping in this instance, if you listen to them on my recommendation.

And if you’re wondering what I’m listening to as I write this (because writing and music go hand in hand with me), I’ve just picked up a little collaborative gem by The Chieftains, an Irish band that is celebrating their 50th anniversary, comprising original and traditional songs by various artists: The Civil Wars, Bon Iver, The Decemberists, Imelda May, and more. Definitely recommended.

And of course, I am always looking for new music to form a relationship with. I am open to any and all suggestions.