blue sky shining over

transitions

“welcome to the rest of our life,” he said last week, waltzing through the door on his last day of training. “from now on, i’m only working 3 days per week. my training is done, my schooling is probably done … 5 years pursuing my dream, and now it’s your turn.”

my turn. my turn to be … something. anything. a student and the world’s best wedding photographer and a middle school choir teacher and a writer of books and a mentor to foster kids and a runner and a farmer and a lover of god and people and everything i want to be for the rest of my life.

how often do normal days become the first day of the rest of your life? defining moments dropped like a boulder into a pond, making life unnormal for a while, and then a new normal, until again a new unnormal. and the rest of your life is hard to recognize for a while, and then the grace time slowly creeps in, transforming the new rest of your life into beautiful, wise, painful normal.

when you’re six years old and you sing a lot, and your parents find the best piano teacher they can, and you shyly climb the stairs to her blue and flowered living room, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you put down the last test, essay hand aching, and creep out quietly so as not to disturb others, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s dark and cold and sparkling, and you watch the city lights dance on the water, balancing your way along a log with his hand supporting you, and suddenly you’re in his arms and a too-small ring is cutting off the circulation to your knuckle, welcome to the rest of your life.

when your friend holds out a check for a hundred dollars, and you say no, really, i just like taking pictures, and they say take it, you’re amazing, you deserve it, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you dip a piece of plastic into a cup of your own excrement and there are two parallel lines like towers, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the doctor standing over your 9 month swollen belly says i’m so sorry, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s monday morning and your adoption worker calls and there’s a baby in florida, do you want him, welcome to the rest of your life.

when god says “let there be light,” and a bright light shines on the god-shaped confusion, the finally honest chaos, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the worst thing happens and you survive, fighting to overcome and winning your self back, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the best thing happens, and it’s actually truly really real, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you try and try and agonize and fume and hide and talk and plead and cry tears of blood in the middle of the night, and then you realize that you can’t control anyone’s actions except your own, welcome to the rest of your life.

when there’s no going back, the bridge is drawn up behind you and the prairie wilderness before you, the paths are many and faint, the wild wind in your hair and on your face and the rain soaking through your clothes and the sun bright and dancing on a faraway hill, welcome to the rest of your life.

alive

oh me, oh my, and oh my goodness. ashal will be 3 months old tomorrow.

what a whirlwind these months have been! for most of this time, joel has been in intensive, long houred job training, we have been music directing beauty and the beast through journey theater, and i have been scrambling to catch up while a ten pound tornado of body fluids and pure emotion tears through our lives and hearts, wreaking delightful havoc and changing the topography of our existence as if it was made of play-dough.

and then the tornado caught a cold.

i have unresponded-to emails from 3 months ago. i have unswept corners of floor from 3 months ago. i have items in the back of the refrigerator from 3 months ago. i have unfinished photo editing from 3 months ago. and i have multitudes of blog post fragments and ideas, some from 3 months ago.

most of the crazy will end within 2 weeks, and i’m more than a little scared of the inventory of emails, dirt, and dropped balls that will need to be taken. i made the mistake of attempting to go through my inbox yesterday, and after 15 minutes, spent the next hour hiding in my room and crying of overwhelmed-ness. of course, the upside will come after all the dropped balls are collected and disposed of (perhaps sent to a ballpit in the great playplace in the sky), and i can tackle each day with a fresh slate and clear conscience.

today is not that day, however, so i leave you with a cute video of ashal and penguin, taken by our dear friends who visited from china a few weeks ago.

interruption

is there still a blog here? i was in the middle of a story … wasn’t i?

… cause all i know is that i had a baby, was writing a little story about getting him, and then WHAM, life hit with the force of a semi truck and topsy-turvied things up for a while.

see, right after that amazing thing happened – that thing we’ve been waiting for these past 8 years – another amazing thing happened. something we’ve been working toward for 5 years. joel got a nursing job. the beginnings and process of his nursing journey are a story for another day; it’s a long story of determination, catheters, and perhaps the occasional miracle. he graduated from nursing school in december of 2011 (sky was born the week after his finals), and received his license last march. the job market for new grad nurses is pretty bad in portland, and after 9 months of applying he was getting pretty discouraged.

back in november, he applied for a new graduate job program at salem health hospital, and they set up an interview for him on december 21, only his second interview in the year since he graduated. 2 days before his interview, we found out that we would be picking up our son in florida at the same time his interview was scheduled. he called the hospital, explained the situation, and asked if he had any options. they said no.

disappointment over this was quickly driven from our minds as we cared for our new baby, though, and we returned home from florida optimistic about our new life with joel still working at his old job. several weeks later, salem hospital called back. on the phone, the hiring director asked about the new baby, asked about parenting, asked if joel would like to interview for a position they were unable to fill, and mentioned that, oh by the way, her sibling and cousin were adopted too.

he went in for the interview. the manager asked him about the new baby, went through a normal interview procedure, and at the end mentioned that, oh by the way, she was adopted too.

4 hours later, they offered him the job.

(he thinks ash got him the job. i maintain that he got it because he looks pretty darn fine in scrubs.)

joel nurse in scrubs with stethoscope

at the beginning of february, he started his 8-5, 5 day/week, 7 week training. in salem. (salem is an hour and a half away, bringing his total time away from home each day to about 13-14 hours.) within 2 weeks of that, we started in on music directing our latest show with journey theater arts group, beauty and the beast, with 8 hours of rehearsal per weekend. my photography business picked back up again, and i restarted teaching piano.

… and that’s about when this blog, and a whole heck of life along with it, moved solidly to the back burner. actually, forget the back burner, it moved to the fire pit in the back yard. in the rain.

at the end of joel’s training he will work three 12 hour shifts per week, at night, and we will share parenting responsibilities as we both develop our careers. until then, however, we’re making do.

i’m getting lots of mommy time. while i’m thankful that our chosen lifestyle will involve both of us trading off the role of primary parent as we make room for each others’ career pursuits, there is something so special about these long days of snuggling with my little one, who does not like to be put down and makes that very clear.

i dressed him in his “mommy loves me” onesie yesterday and was reminded that, though these hectic weeks seem to stretch forever, they’ll be over before we know it. a new phase awaits our family in 3 and a half short weeks – one in which we can take hikes together in the middle of the week, i can have back those 14 hour stretches of photo editing and writing that i crave (albeit with a few interruptions), and joel can spend as many happy hours with ashal as he likes. oh, and i can blog again, too. that’s a happy thought.

ashal in mommy loves me onesie

progression | part 5

december 16

to finish our days of mourning rituals, we spent sunday morning writing down things that we missed about sky, and burning them. we first wrote them in the journal in which friends had written thoughts at his memorial service, then on small scraps of paper to burn over a candle.

the intensity of this ritual was heartbreaking, but also heart cleaning. just as sky’s life and body were burned to ashes, our dreams for life with him were also turned to ashes. this gave visual and tangible reality to that loss.

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after this, we had no more rituals. sky’s birthday season was over.

progression | part 4

december 14

we released sky’s ashes just as the blue sky peeked through on his dark and rainy birthday, and left them at the foot of the most beautiful waterfall i know.

a few friends had given us a stay at kah-nee-ta resort, a couple hours from our home, for sky’s birthday. the sun set as we drove through hood river, and as the last light of day fell it started to snow.
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somehow, hitting 25,000 on the odometer reinforced the fact that we had hit a milestone. we stopped to take this picture and walk in the snow.

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december 15

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the next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise.
and sky’s birthday was over.

progression | part 3

december 14

we had to do it alone.

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we were alone when we summoned his body from the earth, and now, alone, we return the sum of our bodies to the earth and water and air and elements.

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these ashes feel hideously indecent, powdered triune nakedness.

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web ready-010i pour into my hand and they slip through my fingers, soft and caressing like a baby’s touch.

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fine like baby powder.
fine like powdered baby.

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i strew my heart and my passion and my future and my body along this river. spiritual and carnal comingle, cold rain and hot tears. the water and ash make mud in my hand, and this is creation. i hold the stuff of adam.

creation and desolation, beginning and end.

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alpha omega is here, in this infinite moment.
distilled and destroyed image of god.
breath and dust.

i breathe. i choke hot dusty sorrow. it is finished.

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but it is also beginning.

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a small seed of rainbow, the root of ash, nestled in the womb, a circular room that circles from beginning to end. sky’s life began and ended here; ash’s life begins … and begins again. old mud is formed into a baby who is not yet powdered, bringing forth order from chaos.

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i have two babies: one knit into order, the other flung into chaos. earth and water and breath course through the baby of order. the baby of chaos is in the earth and air and sky. my sky child, and my ash child.

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a paradox:
my baby who is ash is not called ash, and my baby who is called ash is not yet ash.

web ready-035the beginning and the end curve together into a circle, and binding them in orbit is love.

progression | part 2

this is the story of the days leading up to ash’s adoption, which began during the season of sky’s birthday. the week of sky’s birthday and the week before ash’s adoption, i journaled the following.

december 11, 2012 | finishing

we have to finish what we started. one year ago, we ventured out on the path of the lost year. we knew the name of the path, but we had no other choice. the lost year was awful, the most awful, painful, heart-wrenching and directionless year of our life. i went to school for no other reason than to keep busy, joel applied to nursing jobs and was turned down for each one, we completed the adoption homestudy and didn’t receive a child, we hid in our room and cried and held each other and whispered “this year is lost. we just have to get through.”

we wandered on the path as it went in circles, through deserts and swamps. there were very few streams or pretty views.

oh sky, if you were only here none of this would have happened. if you were here everything would be beautiful; we would love you, and you would be god’s blessed tiny messenger of hope to us. we would love you and hold you and let you teach us your baby ways of seeing the world. if you were here my direction in life would be clear, your father would have a nursing job, and we would be whole and together as a family of three. you would be happy, because we would love you completely. you would have so many people to love you, spoil you, and dote on you. if you were here we would have a christmas tree, and the children’s books would already be worn and well-loved, there would be a swing in the cherry tree and a fence around the yard.

but you’re not, and you never will be. our happiness will never be complete without you. you will never have the chance to grow up as part of our family. and the longer we live without you, the harder i find it to believe that god can ever make this right.

one year since we last knew for sure that you were alive. i’ll never forget the look of total wonder and joy on your father’s face when he heard your heartbeat. you were so beautiful. i miss you terribly.

december 13

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it had been 7 months since we pulled out our precious mementos of sky’s life, and cried at his beauty.

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pictures, gifts, handprints, cards … we have so little from the life of our little one.

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we lit a candle, and slowly turned each page, handled each object, read each card.

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the fear of grief was worse than the grief itself. our hearts, washed clean with tears, softened again.
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our vigil lasted through the night, a shadow memory of that horrible night a year earlier. the candle flickered in the corner, illuminating his angelic face. a face that will never change, never grow, never become lined or weary. frozen in perfection. lifeless.

web ready-069and then the sun rose, and it was his birthday.

progression | part 1

i feel it is important to clarify that this will be my story of ashal emmanuel’s adoption, not his.

we have almost no information on ashal’s 38 weeks and 5 days in utero, and not much more on his first 12 days of life. his story starts in a place that is unreachable to me, and it will emerge as he finds the words to tell it. the story that follows is my story of motherhood, an evolving story of loss and confusion and unexpected joy. of finding myself and god and a world of mystery in the complexities of mothering children who are both living and dead.

it is a picture story, because photography is an essential part of how i make sense of life. sometimes it’s awkward. it’s awkward to pull out a big fancy camera in moments of great emotion, awkward to focus my lens when my eyes are full of tears, awkward to punctuate the music of crying with clicks, awkward to ask a stranger if i can take her picture. but i do it anyway, because, well, it’s what i do.

my refrain, starting last january, was “i can’t get through another christmas with no children, no family.” over and over throughout the year; i can’t get through our 9th christmas with just the two of us. can’t is such a cruel word. each time i have said i can’t over the past year, that which i could not do came and went. i didn’t explode or disappear, but each time the tyranny of my self-professed inability chipped away at hope. i can’t is not a statement of fact, but of despair. i knew i would live through another childless christmas as i had each one before that, but … i can’t.

in november, our first adoption opportunity arrived. a baby would be born at the end of november, and we were one of two families considered to be his parents. it was a protracted affair, with certainty pushed off more times than i could count. each time we heard “no word today. hopefully tomorrow.” my heart said i can’t. after 10 days of this, i wrote the following journal entry:

i really should be doing a better job of journaling this adoption process. so many emotions and memories and thoughts – tidbits of learning that fall like the parable of the seeds on the road, trampled by the stomping of strong emotions and complex experiences.

i feel certain tonight that this mom won’t choose us tomorrow. and i can’t really say i feel peace about it – more of a sad acceptance. we will spend this thanksgiving without the present hope of a child. this whole year, the grief year of losing sky, must be lived out, loose ends must be tied, and ashes must be scattered.

we’ve tried so hard to start the next thing before finishing the first, and i don’t think the universe works this way. maybe it does. one could certainly say that the universe multitasks. but i must bring the silence into my soul before it can be filled with hope again; of this i am sure. joel says that 90% of life is just showing up and bringing what you have, but i think that, to take this next step into present motherhood, i must prepare my broken heart.

this premonition proved to be true, and we set about finding ways to bring some amount of resolve to our mourning hearts, never dreaming that a child would come into our family exactly between sky’s birthday and christmas, the tiny window between finishing that which we had to complete, and spending another christmas alone.

mensiversary

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vignettes

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ashigator

this is currently my favorite outfit of ash’s. upon my mentioning this to joel, he declared that the outfit was ok, but he didn’t want ash getting the idea that alligators are cheerful and friendly.

i’m beginning to wonder if we do our children a disservice by clothing them with cute and cuddly images of ferocious wild beasts (dinosaurs, jungle) and/or food (duckies, chickies). we’re setting them up for disillusionment, at the least, if not a very awkward encounter with either their dinner or their own mortality. i bet carter’s and the psychotherapy industry are in cahoots.

nevertheless, it’s still my favorite outfit.

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DIPS
acronym: “diaper in progress situation”

we have coined the term dips to refer to … well, you know what i’m talking about. you start changing the diaper, and then the situation … expands. sometimes it blows up. bodily fluids and semi-solids start pouring out of goodness-knows-where, and you wish you had donned your hazmat suit.

it can be a noun (you wouldn’t believe the dips i had last night), a verb (help! we’re dipsing over here!), or an adjective (what a dipsy night …).

dipses are divided into three categories:
dipscom 1: any dips involving and limited to, you know, number 1.
dipscom 2: any dips involving and limited to number 2.
dipscom 3: any dips that involves 2 or more bodily excretions, consumes 3 or more diapers, produces an inordinate decibal level of infant frustration, or contains diarrhea. there is no dipscom 4, because once you reach a terminal level of horror there’s no point in going on without a fire hose.

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curls

ash’s hair is an enigma to me. when wet, it bunches up into a beautiful collection of tiny, silky curls all about his head. throughout the day it flattens, until at night it is nearly straight. unless he sweated very much, in which case it sweeps back kind of like this. keepin it classy.


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pterodactyl

the ashlet specializes in making sleep-noises that sound exactly like a baby pterodactyl.

what’s that you say?

of course i know what a baby pterodactyl sounds like.

gosh.

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bach

the first recording that ash listened to (after coming to live with us) was of the brandenburg concertos, conducted by jordi savall. i need to make sure to ration his exposure to baroque repertoire, however, because i wouldn’t want period tuning (the practice of tuning notes down approximately a half step in older music) to thwart his pitch identification capabilities.

we’ve already started playing him the suzuki piano method repertoire almost daily. this kid may not grow up to be a musician, but gosh darnit, he’s going to LIKE music.
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