Sunday, August 10, 2014

Break Out the Flux Capacitor

An Introduction

As a creative person, my life is inevitably full of unfinished projects. Thankfully for my family, my unfinished projects typically exist in stacks of papers or saved on hard drives, and not in an incomplete bathroom remodel or a broken down car in the driveway. I came across this particular file a few days ago, titled “Pregnancy Book”, and began reading it over. It started on the day I confirmed my 4th pregnancy and my intention was to write one little blurb, basically like a blog post, for every day of my pregnancy. I would document and comment on the little daily happenings and, after the baby was born, I hoped to also give birth to an insightful and amusing little book. The average pregnancy lasts around 280 days. I apparently had made it to day 19.

I don't know what I was thinking, trying to write a book while pregnant and caring for my 3 children under 5. Well, I do know what I was thinking. It's the same illogical, overly-optimistic ambition that convinces me that I can unload the dryer, clip the baby's fingernails, and reorganize the garage ten minutes before we have to leave for church. But, woefully incomplete as it is, I enjoyed reading through the 19 entries. Even though it never made it to a book, if nothing else it serves as a wonderful little scrap of family history.

I figure if I wrote it, I may as well share it, albeit 4 years down the road. I have a blog, and a blog should have, you know, posts or something. Since I've written one post is the last 3 years, I'm thinking a post this gigantic should about catch me up. Will anyone read 19 posts mushed into one? Probably not. But to chop it all up and post it one day at a time, well, that would require more diligence then I have right now, not to mention the highly probable confusion it would cause. “Wait, are the Braseltons pregnant again?” No, we're not. But you can read about what it was like when the Braseltons were pregnant. At least for the first 19 days.

(For an abridged version, check out my faves: Days 1, 5, 11, and 15)

Day One
I buy my pregnancy tests at the dollar store. It seems to be a well-kept secret, though it should be shouted from the rooftops, that a woman need not pay twelve dollars for something at Walgreen's which can be had for a dollar six after tax at the 99 Cent Mart. Sure, there is that potentially hazardous extra step of peeing into the little cup rather then peeing directly on the stick, but to me the inconvenience is worth the ten dollars and ninety-four cents. I figure by now I must have saved at least sixty bucks.

Matthew wanted to be the one to look this time. I know I looked the first two times, then I think we looked together on number 3, but this time he wanted to do it. So I left it in the bathroom and we made casual conversation for 5 minutes. I remember making it so much more ceremonial the first time, waiting for morning pee, sitting on the edge of the bed watching the clock tick away exactly 5 minutes, taking deep breaths as I walked in and feeling my world turn a flip along with my stomach at the sight of the double pink lines. I guess this time I already knew, which is why taking the test on a whim, knowing I'd had it for couple years now and it was 7 months expired, didn't bother me. I always knew those dates were a crock anyway. They just want me to go out and spend another dollar six.

Matthew pokes his head out of the bathroom with raised eyebrows and a big smile.

“Oh, boy...” he says.

“Or girl.” I add.

“Or girl.” He agrees, no longer looking at me but staring off somewhere, surely envisioning another pair of tiny feet and hearing the little baby sounds, rocking it to sleep and feeling its soft skin on his cheek. He looks back at me moments later, and I raise my eyebrows in anticipation of his thoughts shared.

“You're going to get fat again.” he states matter-of-factly.

“Yup...” I sigh. “Look out.”

Day 2
I spend the day today processing the confirmation of what was much more then a sneaking suspicion. But it's complicated because we had been looking forward to adopting children for years, and after a long and somewhat tedious process, were finally waiting for a placement any day. I call our caseworker and, after congratulations, she tells me that we will need to wait at least a year after the baby is born before taking a placement. I feel simultaneously crushed and freed as I listen to her explain the policy. We have been wrestling with what to do regarding adoption in light of the pregnancy, but now the decision had been made for us. This means pushing back our adoption plans two years, possibly more, and I feel the gears that have been pushing so hard for so long come grinding to a halt and my heart lurches forward as I come to grips with our new timetable.

In times like these, the sovereignty of God is a wonderful, freeing thing to know. This pregnancy was not an accident on our part, and it certainly wasn't on His. He obviously laid the desire for another baby on Matthew's heart, brought me around to the idea, and continued bestowing on us the blessing of rabbit-caliber fertility. Apparently God thought it best for our family to wait for our adoptive children to come along. The time was not to be now. Perhaps we are not ready. Perhaps our children are not ready. This understanding relieves me of the weight of questions like “what if” and “should we have” and “will we ever”. I go through the day beating back these questions with the knowledge of God's infinite wisdom and love for us, wielding it like a wet blanket against the fledgling flames of fearfulness that, if left unchecked, can readily consume a woman's heart.

Day 3
Today I have scheduled breakfast with my best friend, who is pregnant with her first, about 14 weeks along. We were due to have a meal together soon anyway, but now it has been upgraded from a typical breakfast with Jenn to one of those bomb-dropper meetings when the butterflies invade your stomach on the drive over just thinking about how you will say it and when. I question why I still feel the butterflies and feel a bit silly. After all, I've sat across the table from Jenn 3 times before this with the same news. I suppose having a baby never gets old.

We talked about her pregnancy until the waitress sets the food down on the table- two plates of chicken fried steak and eggs. Surely not what the doctor ordered, but the babies did. There are only a handful of windows during a meal when it feels natural to bring up something of weight and significance. One option is to begin immediately after being seated, but then you are sure to be quickly interrupted by server introductions and drink orders. The next window comes after the orders have been taken and there is a brief but distinguishable abeyance in conversation. This is the moment I favor most because the next chance to speak is also the first chance to eat and, being quite taken with food, I prefer not to make momentous conversation while chewing. The final opportunity comes after the bill has been paid and plates cleared. This is less then ideal, however, because it requires not only that you endure your butterflies for the entire meal, but that you sit at an empty table under the disdainful eye of your server while you have an inevitably long conversation. I pass on the first window, and miss the second. When the waitress sets our food on the table, I decide to go with the 3rd.

“So,” I say slightly leaning across the table. “Our caseworker called yesterday and asked if we would want to expand out family by three instead of two.” Jenn's eyes got a little big as I continued. “She had two twin two-year-old boys and a newborn baby girl.” Jenn's face softens and her head falls to the side ever so slightly in the customary response elicited from a woman when she hears the phrase “newborn baby girl”.

“Wow....” she coos, before practicality sets in on her brow. “That would be crazy!”

“Yeah,” I say, nodding in agreement. “We actually might have said yes, but we had to say no.”

Jenn lifts a forkful of potatoes to her mouth.

“How come?” She asks sympathetically. I look Jenn in the eyes, determined to take in every detail of her response so I can later reenact it for Matthew with as much accuracy as possible.

“Because we're pregnant.”

Jenn drops her fork on her plate and subsequently throws her arms up in the air, which makes me glad for the sequence in which she chooses to perform her gestures. Then, as is required of Jenn when making surprising or scandalous discoveries, her hands hasten to her mouth to cover it as if some sort of creature would fly out of it if she did not. I grin from ear to ear enjoying the show, and briefly she is speechless before managing a gleeful, “You are?!”

After a few explanations and statistics like original intentions and ovulation cycles, we settle back into our chicken fried breakfast, and the butterflies have subsided.

I drop Jenn off with the strict charge not to tell anyone but her husband to which she nobly agrees, commending Matthew and me on our self control in spreading the news. But honestly, not much self control is needed this time around, as I am pretty certain that I have already received the most elated response I will get from our announcement.

Day 4
Today we are invited to dinner on a farm. We have very recently moved to Queen Creek, Arizona where there are wide-open spaces, fields of crops, and lots and lots of cows. This farm does not have any cows at the moment, but it has just about everything else not to mention a trampoline in the yard, and for our family you might as well have just plopped us down in Shangri-la.

Benjamin runs to the back fence in delight, pointing and screaming “Chickens!” at the top of his little lungs until I acknowledge his monumental discovery with sufficient enthusiasm. Bethany is on the trampoline in an instant, Harper collects the eggs right out of the hens' nests, and everyone gets to feed the horse and no one loses any fingers. It was a delightful evening, leaving both Matthew and me with that lingering feeling of rightness. There's just something about experiencing a farm. These are real people with real land and this is real food. The chicken we had for dinner had roamed the yard not long before it sat on the table. But as enchanting as it all seemed, neither Matthew or I even allude to the thought of our family living on a farm. Maybe it's our soft heart for animals, or maybe it's because killing any bug larger then an earwig is traumatic mayhem in our house, but we both know without saying it that we are simply not cut out for farming.

We come home with dirty, exhausted children. I am pretty exhausted myself and wonder as we unload the kids if I have eaten anything unpasteurized tonight. I can't remember what that can do to your pregnancy, but I'm sure it's something awful. We come inside to discover that ants have taken over the downstairs due to neither the front or the back door sealing shut correctly, and for the next 10 or 15 minutes it is ant genocide. We go upstairs leaving behind a wake of arthropod carcasses, the malodor of Country Bouquet scented Raid, and a sticky note to call the exterminator and the door-fixing people first thing in the morning.

Day 5
Today I realize that this baby has been growing inside my stomach for several weeks now totally deprived of prenatal vitamins. Some women start taking their vitamins when they are simply trying to conceive. I'm sure they are the ones who's children grow up to play the violin, or even more impressive the viola, because no one knows exactly what that is but it sounds so very cultured. I picture my little embryo languishing in my uterus, silently imploring me to send down some vitamins, or at least to eat a few vegetables for goodness sake. But I don't get along well with many vegetables and I have no vitamins at home other than the kids' gummy ones formed into shapes of Disney princesses. I consider popping a couple of Cinderellas but decide if my embryo has waited this long, one more day or two won't cost it a chair in the junior high orchestra.

I do find that I have DHA supplements in the cupboard, which as we all know is the very building block of the brain, and I eagerly swallow one of the gel caps to give this kid a fighting chance. The pill people put in a strawberry flavoring to combat an aftertaste of what is inside the capsule, which is listed as Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil. No one wants that revisiting them in the afternoon. The flavoring fulfills its purpose in that I never taste the fish, but instead I am plagued with a very potent artificial strawberry-flavor throughout the day. The slight wave of nausea that accompanies it reminds me that the prenatal vitamins had also made me feel a bit sick in the last go-around. I decide that all vitamins and supplements shall henceforth be taken directly before bed, and that whenever this kid stands up to receive an award it had better thank its mother.

Day 6
I can't quite get my face to stop scowling. I don't know why people say they are so angry they could spit, because I am about as angry as I get and spitting is the last of inappropriate actions I would like to take right now.

This is how it all goes down. I have the kids ready for bed so I send them down to say goodnight to Daddy. Daddy tells them he wants to read them a Bible story so can they stay up a little longer while he finishes up his work and of course they oblige. I, however, am done parenting for the day hence having the kids ready for early bedtime. So I tell the kids that Daddy's in charge and I shut the door and go to bed. I neglect to tell Daddy that he is in charge, which may or may not have prevented what follows.

I lay there for a while trying to block out the sound of feet running up and down the halls and the laughing and screaming, until I hear Benjamin say something about lotion. Benjamin with any lotion product is a combination I have experienced before and never want to experience again, so I grudgingly climb out of bed to make sure nothing slippery is going on. Turns out I am a little too late. Just how long does it take for a two-year-old and a four-year-old to smear an entire tub of Vaseline over the walls, doors, banisters, and carpet? I'm not exactly sure, but it isn't very long. At this point I make a mayday call down the stairs for back-up, mostly so that I don't throw anyone through a window, and Matthew and I empty the entire linen closet full of towels trying to wipe, scrape, and rub down every glob of goo while the perpetrators sit in the bathtub, covered from head to toe, laughing. I think the laughter was the worst. By the end of it, they didn't think it was so funny after all.

I start to fill the tub before realizing the futility of trying to remove Vaseline with water, and settle for wiping them down as best we can. Benjamin's hair is standing four inches off the top of his head, and as difficult as it is to stay mad at him looking like this, I think I have managed.

I know this sort of thing usually becomes funny after some time passes, but I'm still at the point where I cannot imagine this ever being funny. I guess an hour and 38 minutes is not enough time. Maybe a few days. Maybe a year. Maybe when they come home from their first semester in college. That is, if the little hoodlums don't get arrested first.

Day 7
As is natural and expected, we continue to get questions from friends and family about our adoption plans and have we heard anything and when do you think you'll get some kids. We are vague at this point, careful to be truthful but we have decided not to tell the world about this baby for a while.

We kept our little secret for 12 weeks with all of the babies, 12 weeks being the threshold when rate of miscarriage drops dramatically. Consequently, with a second baby or beyond it also becomes quite difficult to hide after that point. I am thankful that it is winter, and hoodies will be my best friends. It's not only the possibility of miscarriage and having to deal with the onslaught of well-intentioned sympathizers that makes us wait, but a sort of cherishing the knowing between the two of us for a time. Soon it will be public knowledge and there will be the joy in that, but for now it's just between Matthew and me; a little treasure to hide, a knowing smile across the table at a family gathering.

I must admit it was harder to keep secret the first two then with the Boy and this baby. Matthew and I both have one sister and I think that without anyone realizing it, our families might have subconsciously assumed that we would stop at two children. In fact, during those secret 12 weeks with Benjamin one of our family members actually called specifically to tell us we ought to slow down, as our girls were intentionally born close together and this already raised some concern. So when we announced we were pregnant for the third time, while there was certainly a joyful response there was also a subtle sense of remonstrance, almost like the rumbling of thunder that you cannot so much hear as feel through your feet and in the air. No one was disdainful or mean-spirited. Everyone was still elated at the announcement of a boy and at his birth. But still there it was.

Both of our families had only two children. Neither of our sisters has had children yet. And here we are procreating like mad out here in farm ville Queen Creek. We don't necessarily expect them to totally understand us, but with this pregnancy on top of our highly controversial adoption plans, I'm afraid after this announcement a pair of antenna will simultaneously grow from each of our heads.

Day 8
I keep realizing that I still have not gone onto one of those pregnancy websites and figured out how many weeks I am or anything. I'm pretty sure I'm like 6 or 7 weeks along, but I keep forgetting to do that, much less make a doctor's appointment. Jenn, on the other hand, has more than perused the pregnancy websites and is signed up for the weekly emails that tell you about what your baby is like now and things you might be feeling at this point and all kinds of logistical baby things you should be planning for way too far in advance.

“Last week it was the size of an avocado,” she tells me. “Now it's as big as a naval orange!”

I tell her that's pretty specific, stating even the species of orange to compare it to, and she admits that when she was in the produce section the other day she could only locate Mandarin oranges and thus felt like she did not have a truly accurate feel for the size of her fetus.

I used to have that book, “What to Expect When You're Expecting”. I can't remember who I loaned it to, but I haven't seen it for quite some time now, not that I was planning on needing it again. I thought for a long time that Benjamin would be our last biological baby, but ideas and desires do change, which is why we held off on doing anything permanent. I did sell all my maternity clothes on eBay, which gave me a pretty big sense of finality, but obviously not enough to seal the deal. “Sorry Babe, we just can't have another baby. I've already sold my maternity clothes.”

I guess I'll be going shopping pretty soon here. They've already come out with way cuter stuff then they had even 3 years ago. My maternity clothes were great- no complaints- especially after hearing these horror stories from mothers who carried in the era of parachute panel pants and moo-moos. Maybe I'll go on eBay and see if some size one woman that shares my taste in clothing thinks she's done having kids too. I don't want to buy too much... just a few things to get me through the 2nd and 3rd trimester, since this will certainly be my last biological baby.


Day 9
Starting to feel slightly more symptomatic.

Symptom 1:
I need to eat breakfast. And then I need to eat breakfast again an hour later. Then once more before lunch, and so on and so forth. Otherwise my tummy is not so happy with me. Not super-sick, just an icky kind of feeling. Enough for an excuse to eat constantly throughout the day.

Symptom 2:
Very, very tired. So tired that if I am even remotely horizontal I feel I will fall asleep within 4 minutes. I fear narcolepsy, though I have yet to drop off into a plate of food or in the middle of a conversation. We had a Japanese foreign exchange student with us for one weekend, and I swear she was narcoleptic. She fell asleep in church, which I didn't find too peculiar considering our pastor preaches for over an hour, in English. But when we'd be talking and I'd go to the kitchen for a moment, still talking, and I'd come back in and she'd be asleep, this I found curious. This happened a number of times, until finally I hopped on Google while she snoozed on the couch and typed in “Japanese Narcolepsy”. Sure enough, there were links. There were a couple of studies and a blog post or two. I found a message board post from a bewildered CEO wondering why when he flew in his Japanese business partners, they would fall asleep in his meetings. Apparently it's not so much jet lag, but more of a cultural thing. Tokyo is like New York in that it never sleeps. Its citizens average just a few hours a night, so it's very common and socially acceptable to just drop off for a few minutes on the train or in a waiting room. There's talk now of a genetic link, but who knows.

Symptom 3: I want ice cream. All the time. But I don't know if I can count it as a symptom, because I want ice cream all of the time even when I'm not pregnant. Perhaps its just a bit more acute now, and I have an excuse to eat more of it. Fortunately for the mere 25-30 pounds of weight gain that I'm supposed to stay within, “ice cream” in my book is actually frozen yogurt. Even our here in cow-town, we have a Yogurt Jungle just minutes away. Last night Matthew was out at band practice and he promised to bring something back for me. I told him that if he came home without ice cream I wouldn't let him in. He came through so he got to come inside, and we watched Jay Cutler throw five picks and the Bears got clobbered but I had my vanilla with Oreos so it was all good. In the 4th quarter I curled up on the couch, horizontally, and promptly fell asleep.

Day 10
When I look out the window this morning it is mild and overcast and it is Matthew's day off; perfect conditions for the zoo. We're members, thanks to my mom's annual anniversary present, so we get in admission-free every time. The best thing about that is then you don't feel like you have to stay all day long and drag the kids around until you've stood in front of every animal to get your money's worth. We typically show up mid-morning and stay until we get too hungry to continue resisting the smell of the 4 dollar hot dogs and then go out to lunch, which is how today goes down. It's been several months since we've been here, and every visit is more fun as the kids grow older and get more into the animals. This visit is a breakthrough for Benjamin who on previous visits was clearly more interested in the railings than what was behind them.

Today is one of the first days that the new Komodo dragons are out in their brand-new exhibit that cost more than our last 3 houses combined, and it doesn't even have a roof. They look an awful lot like really big lizards, and they don't breath fire or have wings. But they do eat people so I suppose that was enough for the zoologists to bump them up to dragon status. The title “dragon” is also probably very beneficial for a zoo in the middle of the desert that doesn't get a lot of the really cool animals like polar bears or penguins. Maybe next year they'll bring in a couple of unicorns.

Tonight is also date night, so put this one down as a super fun day. Mom comes over to hang with the kiddos and we go to a movie about the end of the world where stuff is blowing up left and right and John Cusack jumps a Winnebago across a 50-foot chasm. When we come home and mom leaves and we head upstairs I realize mom went into the master bathroom to put something back in there and my prenatal vitamins are sitting on the counter. I have the label facing the wall but if I were my mom and I saw a pill bottle by my sink I would so look at what it was. So now I'm wondering if she knows because there's no way she would say anything if she did.

I'm not super concerned that she know or not know. It's not so much a secret as it is a surprise. And I think surprise is exactly what we'll get when we tell everyone at Christmas dinner. We decided to do it on Christmas because it will be the end of my first trimester and our whole family on both sides will be there and it's always fun to tell good news in that kind of a setting. We know from experience, actually, because 3 Christmases ago we had Bethany tell everyone that a new baby was coming in the summer. It's also a great method to keep from getting grilled on the spot because most people wouldn't do that at the dinner table. Except for Matthew's grandma, that is. Her filter deteriorated years ago so she pretty much says whatever she wants to, whenever she wants to. Even if she does say something totally inappropriate, nothing could be worse then that time she interrogated an eastern Indian about his turban in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

38 days til Christmas.

Day 11
Tonight is the big charity softball tournament between several different churches to raise money for a school and somehow I got roped into it. I love to play pretty much any sport, but I haven't played catch in a long time, much less hit a ball, and I doubt I will contribute much. But they seem hard up for players and it sounds fun so we said yes and now we have to dust off our gear and remember what it's like to hit a moving target with a bat. Bethany has promised both of us one of her precious sparkly stickers if we win, so the stakes are high.

We get there early and toss it around with Luke and Molly, our good friends. Luke is the lead pastor at Second Mile Church where Matthew is the associate pastor and music guy. Luke played college ball and had a shot at the majors but took a left turn into ministry. The rest of the team is made up of various friends and acquaintances, all much better at softball than us. There are two firefighters, 3 sisters who all played in high school, and a guy that we've never met before but that has a bag full of really fancy looking bats. My goal is not to screw anything up.

I ask Luke what position the worst player on the team should play, and he suggests catcher, which in slow pitch softball basically means catching the ball after it bounces on the ground. I decide I can handle that. I stand behind the batter with the umpire and make friendly conversation, figuring he would be a good person to have on our side. Matthew and I both strike out swinging on our first at-bat, but we're already up 4 to zero so I don't feel too bad about it. The most exciting moment for me is when there is a very large man running for home plate and someone throws me the ball as he slides in and I tag him right on the chest. When the dust clears the umpire calls him out and there is arguing but the call stands and inside I know it is because the ump and I have bonded. We end up skunking the first team 14 to 4 and then face-off with the winner of the other game to determine who walks away the overall victor.

The first team we played seemed like pretty average guys, helping out for a church fund raiser on a Saturday night. But these next guys are serious. They have gear and they have special shoes and they have a coach that yells. But we are determined to win it all. I go back to my spot behind the plate and meet the umpire for this game, my new best friend. Things start off a little rocky, and we fall behind early 0-2 in the 1st. It gets to 0-6 before we finally put a couple on the board. We manage to creep back over the next few innings, and it's 10-13 with an inning to go. There have been a few heated moments- arguments over where players can and cannot stand and a couple of close calls on the bases, and it is clear that by this point both teams are out for blood (in the most Christian way possible).

The inning begins and we get one across and then two on before Matthew steps up to the plate with 2 outs. He has been getting on base pretty much every at-bat, but now the pressure is on and I am in the dugout just hoping he doesn't strike out or hit an easy grounder or something else that I will need to console him about later. I almost can't believe it when he takes a big swing and launches it over the fence. I wait for my hero at the plate as he comes around as the go-ahead run, feeling a little guilty about how surprised I am, and the rest of the team is going nuts. After the hubbub dies down, I go about my business making the 3rd out once again and the inning ends, leaving us to defend our tenuous lead. The other team ends up with the tying run on 3rd but after a great catch in center field we are crowned the champions of the 1st annual Calvary Christian Schools Bless-a-thon Softball Tournament.

We come home and tell Bethany that she owes us a sticker and the smile that spreads across her face is worth all the dirt that is in my socks. We proudly wear our stickers upstairs to our room, basking in the afterglow of our dramatic come-back win. It's like Luke says. Everybody has their World Series.

Day 12
I haven't been mountain biking since we moved into the new house, which has been several weeks now, and since that is my sole form of exercise, I have realized that I am quite out of shape. We have been moving progressively east, and we now live a good 45 minutes away from the mountain where I used to ride. I'm going to need to find another option for physical activity, or by the end of this pregnancy I might be ready for one of these dairy farms. I know that when I finally get around to making a doctor's appointment, he will give me his little sheet of recommendations during pregnancy, one of which is exercise. He will say to walk 30 minutes a day, but to me exercise should involve sweating and perhaps even a little huffing and puffing.

I tried tennis for while and really enjoyed it, though most of my energy was exerted running to the net and picking up the ball. The trouble with tennis is that you are dependent on another person and if they sleep in or if you don't plan ahead then you're out of luck. There is always good old fashioned running, but after a couple of miles on the pavement it feels like there is a steak knife in my right knee and that is really hard to push through. Not to mention all of the horror stories you hear about things that happen to women out running alone. Thank goodness for those chain emails, without which I would be completely ignorant of boatloads of life-saving tips like never to sniff a peddler's perfumes or open my front door if I hear a crying baby, and to always look underneath my car as I approach it and how to use my key to gouge out the eye of an attacker. All extremely useful for personal safety, and great excuses not to go running.

There's still ice cream in the freezer, right?

Day 13
Today we leave for a couple of days in Sedona to celebrate our anniversary. The kids are staying over at my mom's house for two nights, which will be a first for everyone involved. I'm more worried about Mom than the kids, but she seems sufficiently prepared and we head north for the red rocks.

I got a great deal on our hotel room, though Trip Advisor advised me that this was because we would be invited to a timeshare pitch upon arrival. I am very confident in my ability to withstand any sales pitch, so I am not worried about saying no thank you and getting on with our trip. When we get there, however, she offers us a free 2 night stay at one of their hotels and a $75 Visa gift card. We ask how long it will take and she promises 90 minutes and our room is not ready yet and we could do it right after lunch. We tell her we will not be buying anything, and she says there is no obligation and what if she made it $100? I am someone who finds it very hard to pass up free stuff, so much to Matthew's surprise I'm in and so we sign up for an appointment.

After lunch we are a few minutes early so we sit in the car and practice saying “no”.

“The financial benefit of a timeshare is undeniable.” I tell Matthew in an energetic voice. “You are absolutely throwing your money away without one!”

“No.” He says definitively, staring straight ahead out the windshield.

“Don't you love your family?” I demand to know. “You don't love your family if you don't buy a timeshare!”

“Yes I love my family, but I don't want a timeshare.” He shoots back with steely eyes and his jaw set.

“You are ruining your life and the lives of your children if you pass up this deal.”

“Not interested.” He says with finality.

We are now sufficiently prepared, and we sit across from Robert the vacation specialist not for 90 minutes, but for two and a half hours. He has us fill out checklists of all the places in the world we'd like to see and gets us fantasizing about dream vacations. He crunches their prefigured numbers and sets us up to look like fools if we don't buy in. He asks us obvious questions that the answer is “yes” to so he can get us used to saying “yes”, like “Wouldn't it be nice to spend less money and get more of it?”

We politely explain that it seems like a very nice program but that we just don't have the wiggle room in our budget for something like this. When he sees we're not cracking, he brings his supervisor over to have a go. His supervisor is definitely more confrontational, and gets more so as the end draws near. In a last ditch effort, he leans over the table, looks Matthew in the eye, and says, “Let me just say that I can tell you, man to man, that you can afford this. You can afford this.” We laugh out loud at that and shake hands cordially before they leave and yet another person sits down under pretext of a satisfaction survey and tries to sell us again. But we are hardened professionals by now, so we sign our name on the “we passed up this once in a lifetime opportunity and we are idiots and we acknowledge that” form and we finally get our $100 and free hotel stay.

We go back to the lobby to check in, and suddenly the reservations lady now realizes that the newly refurbished and updated room that she had signed us up for when we first arrived is a handicapped-equipped room, so she puts us in building 12 which looks like it was refurbished and updated too, just not in this decade.

It takes a little while to get rid of the icky feeling left on us by the sales pitch, but we feel good about taking our stand and holding our ground together. We may not travel across Europe staying in 5-star accommodations, but we're going to have a great time with our hundred bucks.

Day 14
Eight years ago this morning I was driving to a city park with my dad at 4:00am, the car filled with tulle and fake ivy vines to decorate the Tempe Sister City Gardens for my wedding day. I was 19, and my 21-year-old fiancée was asleep at his dad's house, his tux hanging in the closet.

Upon this, our 8th anniversary, we start out with a bike ride at Bell Rock, where we rode once before when I was pregnant with Bethany. I think that I have made it very clear to Matthew that I am expecting a nice, leisurely ride with nothing too strenuous or technical. I have even opted to wear blue jeans instead of the “I mean business” spandex riding shorts, which Matthew is always quick to correct that they are Lycra, not spandex, because no one finds terrible images flooding their mind when they hear the word “Lycra”.

I should know that nothing will keep Matthew from pushing the limit when he gets out on the trails, not even the blue jeans. He yearns to explore every side trail we pass, and wants to ride over every impossible-looking obstacle in sight. It's much like walking a Labrador, really. Eventually I have compassion on the poor thing tugging at his leash and follow him down some trails that I end up walking great portions of, but it is always impressive to watch him challenge physics and win. There are stunning views and perfect weather, and after deciding that he could come back here on his own tomorrow, we head back to the car.

Today is a nearly perfect day, and we now remember why we go on these trips. Thank goodness for grandmas.

Day 15
I've noticed something since we've moved to Queen Creek. There are not enough grocery stores to support its population. The most troubling consequence of this fact is not having to drive a little further to get there, but the sheer volume of shoppers at any given day and time. The parking lot is always full, and it is a miracle if we end up with a race car cart. The race car carts are one of the most merciful inventions ever given to parents of young children. It's basically a regular shopping cart but with a big plastic race car complete with seat belts and steering wheels attached to the front. This has several benefits for the adult. 1. It immobilizes the children. 2. It puts most of the products out of their arms' reach. 3. They end up about 3 feet in front of you and practicality on the floor so you can hardly hear the bickering and whining. And you still have the good old fashioned in-the-cart kid seat, so when I show up with 3 kids I have a seat and, more importantly, a restraint for each one.

The lure of the plastic race cars, however, does not only apply to kids with siblings. Every little rugrat wants to ride in one of those carts, regardless of whether they will benefit from the extra space. And I can't judge the moms with one kid who take the race car carts, though I have vowed to myself that I will never use one unless I am in dire need of it. Such is the case today, and as usual, there are no race car carts to be found. So I shift into plan B, which should really be plan F if we were basing it on effectiveness, where Harper sits in the child seat, Benjamin sits in the cart itself, and Bethany hangs on the side like a suction cup Garfield. Harper does just fine but Bethany hops off to explore every time the cart stops and Benjamin always ends up stepping on the tomatoes or sitting on the bread.

Shopping takes a lot longer in the overpopulated aisles because we spend a lot of time trying to squeeze our cart between another cart and the Stove Top Stuffing display, or vying for position at the meat cooler, all the while making sure Bethany doesn't lose an arm in the process. And forget about reading labels or comparing prices. Once you get into an aisle, you really have no choice but to keep moving with the flow of carts. If you can't immediately locate your target item and you end up passing it, turning around is out of the question. If you miss on the first pass, you just have to circle back around and try again.

Today the cart is extra full, and Benjamin is surrounded by food. We've been in this mad house for about 30 minutes and we're still only half way through our list. I'm trying to score a package of stew meat when I hear Benjamin call out “Uh-oh Mommy!” I turn around to see him trying to keep his feet out of a glob of spinach and artichoke dip that he must have opened somehow. The glob is the residue of a greater glob, which had already made its way through the holes in the bottom of the cart to the floor, but not before sliding across multiple items I had stashed on the bottom rack. I look around helplessly, but the world is oblivious to my plight. I decide I need paper towels. A lot of paper towels. I remember that there's that little bell at the seafood counter, and I ring it for the first time ever. The seafood guy comes out ready to dish me up some shrimp cocktail but ends up helping me mop up the mess and salvage my groceries instead. He is very nice and I am very appreciative, and I make sure to mention several times that the goop is spinach dip so that he doesn't think he is cleaning up vomit or something.

Benjamin has to walk due to the cart contamination, so now I have both Bethany and Benjamin to keep away from the wine-laden end caps or getting run over by other shoppers. We miraculously reach the the end of our list and step into a checkout line behind a lady with one snotty little boy in his race car cart when Harper declares with urgency that she has to go potty. I don't know what it is about kids. They never have to go potty a little bit. They either don't have to go at all, or they are on the verge of explosion. Harper is definitely in the latter boat, but being the caring Mommy that I am, I tell her she can't go potty until we pay for the groceries, like it's some kind of store policy or something. So she dances around while I pay and pray that I won't need to call the seafood guy again. The little trooper holds it in and we dash back through the store to the bathroom just in time, though now the clock is ticking on the ice cream sandwiches we just bought. While the kids seem to care nothing about their mother's sanity, they are quite motivated to save the ice cream sandwiches and we make great time getting into the car and both the sandwiches and the family make it home in tact.

Day 16
Today I suck it up and go for a run. I can't go on without exercise, so I strap on my shoes and head out the door. “I'll be back soon,” I tell Matthew on my way out. “Really soon.” I go for about 15 minutes before my legs start giving me the better-stop-soon-or-you'll-regret-it-tomorrow warning. My knees hold up, so that's a plus. I feel good for doing something, even if it's just 15 minutes. We'll see if this was an isolated incident or something that might happen again.

Day 17
“I am en route. And I have mac salad.” I text Jenn at the stoplight as I drive toward her house. It's about 8:30 pm, way too late for someone my age to be leaving the house, but I have yet to see an Ultimate Fighting bout and Jenn and Adam have ordered it up on pay-per-view, along with pizza and wings. I truly am interested in seeing the UFC fight, but it was the pizza and wings that sealed the deal for me. I have the three kids in bed and an enormous bowl of macaroni salad to contribute. “Fabulous!” Jenn texts back.

When I get to her house Adam greets me at the door and congratulates me. “Congratulations” still throws me off at this point and I quickly initiate a rapid mental scan of several possibilities of what he could be referring to. Had I recently won an award that has slipped my mind? Was he simply offering congratulations for coming to my first UFC fight? Has the legend of our epic battle on the softball field traveled even here? It takes a moment to realize he is talking about the baby and I say thank you but remind him that it's still on the down low. He in turn thanks me, because he had forgotten that part which doesn't surprise me because men aren't usually very good about stuff like that. I'm impressed he even remembered to say anything, considering what an unreliable source of information Matthew is. As a pastor he hears all the good news right away but neglects to tell me for several weeks. I hear about pregnancies 20 weeks into it and with engagements I'm lucky to find out before the shower invitation arrives in the mail. Of course, now that I'm on facebook I have control of my own destiny.

The first few fights are kind of opening acts to the main event, a fight between two pretty big guys with gigantic ears. I learn that this is called “cauliflower ear” and it comes from getting hit on the ears repeatedly over time. I start to take note of each fighter's ears and try to estimate brain damage. The first fights are pretty interesting and I ask a lot of questions that are eagerly answered as everyone there knows all the rules and who everybody is and all that. It is just as fun watching them as it is watching the fighters.

I get through the whole thing without throwing up or leaving the room. There was one time when there was blood pouring out of a guy's eye and they were showing a close up of his head getting smushed into the mat that I had to turn away and watch it in the reflection on the arcadia door. Jenn and Adam have a huge TV, so it was a pretty big bloody head.

I leave as a more enlightened individual around eleven o'clock with what is left of the macaroni salad. Even though I am freezing cold I still swing by Wendy's for a Frosty, because nothing hits the spot after pizza and wings like ice cream.

Day 18
Today I mailed a rock. The music publisher that I write for in Nashville is a big fan of Sedona and the red rocks, so when I told him we were going last week he told me to bring him back a rock. I'm pretty sure he was joking, but I thought it was a great idea. I got him a nice big one, like a paperweight size, so that it would look “intentional” as I explained to Matthew, when he puts it on his desk. I wrote “Randy's Red Rock Sedona, AZ” on it with a Sharpie and wrapped it up with a note that said “Don't say I never got you anything” and put it in a box.

The post office closes at 5:00, but I am waiting for Harper to wake up from her nap. At 4:50, I put the girls in the van and we make a mad dash for it. We get there with like a minute to spare but that's according to the clock on the dashboard and I bet the post office has a nuclear clock synced up with the White House or something so I unstrap the kids and tell them to run inside. I figure if my kids are in there they have to let me in too. We get in line and as they lock the doors and pull out the iron curtain security thingy, I immediately see on Harper's face the realization that we have been locked inside the post office indefinitely. I reassure her that they will let us out, and that we could always mail ourselves home anyway. Bethany looks at me like I'm an idiot and informs me that you can't mail people.

It's our turn and the lady at the counter puts the box on the scale and asks if the contents are anything liquid, perishable, fragile, or otherwise hazardous.

“Nope,” I reply. “It's a rock.”

Her eyebrows raise. “A rock?”

I nod.

“Okay...” she says, and continues processing the package. A few moments later she looks up again. “Is it from your backyard or something....?”

“It's from Sedona.” I explain.

“Oh!” She says, visibly relieved not to be dealing with someone mentally unstable. “Well that makes more sense. That's really cool, actually.” She punches in a few more things and then looks up as if she was going to ask another question but stops and laughs, “I guess you probably don't want to insure it.”

Even without insurance, I spent nine dollars to mail a rock. It's a good thing that they let us out when we're finished. It would've cost a small fortune to mail us home.

Day 19
I love to cook, but the last few years when Thanksgiving rolls around, I end up doing hardly any cooking at all. We've been having Thanksgiving at Matthew's mom's house for a while now. She makes the turkey and stuffing and everyone else brings the side dishes. Matthew's sister is in charge of the mashed potatoes and gravy, my mom does the green bean casserole, Matthew's dad brings pies from Marie Callanders, and I get left with bringing something totally lame like frozen corn. This year I was assigned to rolls. I said I would make some more stuffing, partly to make sure we didn't run out and partly because I knew we'd want to be able to take it home with us for leftovers afterwards. I also said I would bring frozen corn since the kids like it so much. So basically I have microwavable vegetables, store-bought bread, and renegade stuffing. The cook in me is quite disappointed and gets the courageous idea to make homemade dinner rolls.

This might not seem very courageous for someone who loves to cook, but when I say “cook” I do not mean “bake”. In my opinion, cooking and baking are two completely different ballgames, especially for someone like me who doesn't like to use recipes. When I cook, I go by look and smell and taste and intuition, throwing in a little of this and a bit more of that until I think it's right. It didn't take me long to realize that junk doesn't fly in baking. You've got to have a recipe, and you've got to stick with it, even if it doesn't look right along the way. You have to measure everything in those little cups and little tsp spoons and I never know if I'm supposed to pack it in or just lightly scoop it or level it off or what. If you miss a step, you're screwed. If you add ingredients out of order, you're screwed. If your baking soda is too old, you're screwed. For me, baking anything that doesn't come out of a box is just setting myself up for failure.

So I don't know why I think I should attempt homemade dinner rolls on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe it was the last two batches of cookies I baked from scratch that were actually pretty good that has me thinking all hope is not lost. Maybe it's that my cooking muscles are just twitching on Thanksgiving and I have some kind of need to create something in the kitchen. Whatever it is, I look up a recipe online and give it a go.

I buy yeast for the first time in my life, and judging from the package it sounds a little like Sea Monkeys. Matthew reads the recipe and looks doubtful. I tell him I just think it will be fun to try, and homemade dinner rolls sound pretty darn good. I envision light, airy, marshmallow-soft rolls with a hint of butter and honey- like the ones they serve at Texas Roadhouse. What I show up with at Bonnie's are a lot more like biscuits. Or maybe hockey pucks.

I have no idea what I did wrong. I thought I followed the recipe as best I could, though in my defense it did leave some room for interpretation. My mom of course said they were great and Dad nodded enthusiastically in agreement, but I remember the stuff they used to tell me was fantastic when I was a kid so they don't really count. Bonnie's husband's daughter.... I'll give you a minute to trace that little familial line.... ate like 4 of them so she is now one of my favorite people. The stuffing turned out fine and I successfully brought the corn from frozen to hot. The rest of the meal was very good and I am quite full. I probably look pretty pregnant now, but so does everybody else.

On the way home Bethany announces that she is tired of sitting in the way back seat all alone and asks when we are going to switch seats around. I tell her next summer we'll switch things around and she won't be alone anymore. She seems satisfied with that, and Matthew shoots me a sideways glance and a smile. Next summer seems like such a long way off, but then again, 6 months ago so did Christmas, and now Karen Carpenter is singing “Merry Christmas, Darling” on the radio.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Epilogue- August, 2014
Judah Justice Braselton was born on June 23rd, 2010. When we told our families that we were pregnant that Christmas morning, they were thrilled. A few weeks later, when the ultrasound revealed that he was another boy, we were ecstatic. Two girls and two boys. How much more perfect could it be? He would bring balance to The Force. And yet, we didn't feel like it was time to make a permanent decision about our family. Even though we were still pursuing adoption, there was still this... something. We wanted to leave the door open. Turns out we were leaving it open for our beautiful little Shiloh Hope to come bursting through and steal all of our hearts in May of 2012.

After our baby girl, we knew she would be our last, and with peace we turned the page on our baby making days. While adoption is not out of the question completely, the likelihood of it being a part of our family has, frankly, greatly diminished. Our life is wonderfully rich and full, but it feels like it requires every bit of ourselves to cultivate it. And so I have slowly been letting go of what I always thought would be, but knowing that God will have His way with our family regardless of what decisions we make or lines we draw in the sand. No matter how hesitantly we push it closed or definitively we slam it shut, with the great God of the universe writing our stories, every door in all of our lives is forever beautifully open.


Becky Smith said...


I actually read this all the way through and was captivated! Truly.

Blessings to you and your sweet family,

Daniella said...

So fun to read this! =)