a typical morning

the other day, aida cooed a special little noise that she makes occasionally. it’s a gurgly little series of “hoo hoos” that melts my heart. it would probably melt your heart too. i listened to her with a melty heart, and suddenly realized that this might be the last time she ever makes that sound, at which point my eyes got a little melty, too.

there’s this myth in the current parenting paradigm – i’ll call it “the instagram effect.” (catchy, no? points if you thought that it sounded like the title of a big bang theory episode.) this myth is that it is somehow possible to record every wonderful thing your child does that you will miss when they stop doing it. it’s subconscious, of course; no one would admit to actually thinking that. but it’s easy to see why we start to believe it, surrounded as we are by photos and videos and statuses and blogs (like this one) filled up with an exhaustive inventory of other people’s memories. we snatch up our camera phones at every turn; the mantra of parenthood becomes “get her to do it again!”

but, parenting isn’t about “again” … it’s about now. catching the memory must be secondary to making the memory, and that means that a lot of memories will go uncaught, released like balloons into the sky, never to be seen or thought of again. my mind’s ear has already lost the exact inflection of aida’s sweet little coo from yesterday, and i didn’t catch it. the joy in moments that will slip away is bittersweet; the air fills with the scent of impermanence.

one of the reasons i am a photographer is that photography is an effective weapon against forgetfulness. professional photography is a particularly efficient weapon against forgetfulness, since a good photographer will see the details that you didn’t even realize you’d want to remember. a good photographer will sense the expressions that hold a deeper place in your heart. a good photographer will feel shimmering layers of relationship and emotion through the light and air. a good photographer doesn’t turn your life into art; they show you the art that lives in your life.

it took about 45 seconds of perusing the blog of weeno photography to know that i needed to hire them. ashley offers a unique service that she calls a “truth session,” in which she spends 3 hours with your family doing … whatever it is you do. making memories, in your very own house. with your very own mess, even. (or however much is left of it after your mad cleaning session the night before. wouldn’t want to be too truthful.)

on a sunny weekday morning in july, ashley came over and photographed our breakfast, our process of getting the kids ready to go out, a sweet roommate interaction, a walk to the park, and naptime, all very typical occurrences around here. i’m so grateful to have had this chance to make some memories, without the pressure to catch them. i know that many memories will fly away, but that only makes the ones that remain more precious.

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nana’s camera

this week, joel’s mom and stepdad visited from san clemente, california. the kids’ nana karen brought her little point-and-shoot, and documented a fun little series of our family life these days. so, as a reintroduction to our family after a year of not blogging, here are the contents of nana’s camera.

en route to the portland farmer’s market
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daddy’s pickled carrots are always a hitkaren's camera 203 karen's camera 206

grandpa richard and aida having breakfast at petite provence

karen's camera 207blink faces for mommy and ash!
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dinner with housemates and friends
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touring ne mississippi avenue necessitates a stop for ice cream at ruby jewelkaren's camera 233 karen's camera 235 karen's camera 236 karen's camera 238 karen's camera 245 karen's camera 246

sad babies have a solution, and his name is ian. conveniently, he is also our housemate.
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or savannah … who also lives in our house.

karen's camera 249my morning juggling act
karen's camera 251 karen's camera 252some of life revolves around medical appointments right now, and a trip to ohsu’s pediatric sleep clinic provides a lovely opportunity to ride the tram!
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aida spends her days inching closer to crawling

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karen's camera 266she takes a quick break to nurse …
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… and then she’s off again!karen's camera 268 karen's camera 272 karen's camera 277the beautiful ordinary, documented for a week on nana’s camera.



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.

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.


dear florida,

please accept a goodbye kiss from ashal.

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… cause we’re going HOME!

our ash baby is about to experience the wonders of life in oregon, where daddy isn’t the only guy around with facial hair, mommy isn’t the only one who greets strangers on the street, and a host of people are waiting to love him!




we gave ourselves the entire plane trip to pick out a name for our 12 day old, yet-unnamed baby, forgetting that the plane would have no internet access. how the heck do you name a baby without the internet?!

the process went something like this:
watch an episode of seinfeld.
“what name do you like the best right now?”
“you answer first.”
“let’s watch another seinfeld.”
(lather. rinse. repeat.)

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ashal was a name that we had briefly considered before sky was born, but never even reached the “let’s research this name” phase. basically, we wanted to call him ash, but give him a slightly more dignified full name. “asher” had a little too much R action with our last name (asherrrrrroberrrrrts), so ashal was a lovely alternative.

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my dad did some research on the name. (cause, you know, he had internet. such a useful invention.) he found that it means “tamarisk tree” in hebrew, and “a flower in the heavens” in arabic.

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joel asked why the baby even needed a middle name. i informed him that depriving a child with the ridiculously common last name of “roberts” of the many internet-age options a middle age name provides is not very nice. joel capitulated.

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ashal’s has haitian heritage, so i used our half-hour layover in phoenix to look up popular haitian names for inspiration.

unrelatedly, the phoenix airport carpet is weird. (though i suppose a pdx native can’t really boast in the matter of airport carpets.)

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and there, right near the top of the list.

god with us.

it all came together.
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today we’re snuggling our little flower from the heavens, who brought the hope of god-with-us back into our life after a desolate year of pain and grief.

web ready-039i wondered if i would ever say this again.

merry christmas.