Would the Owner of the White Car Please GTFOH

Would the Owner of the White Car Please GTFOH

As we settled into our new home we noticed a car that seemed to never move, parked outside our house. My friends assumed we bought a used car; it was always there, on the curb. One morning as I was watering the plants, our neighbor introduced herself to me, “I am 72 years old and we will never leave this home.” … our initial interaction was odd but I chalked that up to her age. The next morning as I was watering my hydrangeas I asked my neighbor if she knew who’s car was parked in front of my house, “Yeah, it’s mine”. After that, the car moved for about a week but then it was back for good.

I was chasing Mill up the sidewalk when I ran into a neighbor who was all too eager to gossip about everyone in our cul-de-sac. She told me that her neighbor was socially awkward (like he might keep women in his basement – her words not mine) and that the boys who ride their bikes around are autistic. Between her assumptions and fabrications she did spew some interesting information about my next door neighbor, “If the white car is out front, that means her son is living with them again”.

The interactions with those neighbors were minimal. We’d wave to the old man as he mowed his grass. I would talk to the woman about the weather as we watered our flowers. As the weather got colder and snow covered the streets, I would shovel their sidewalk along with mine. Millie and I made them a plate of cookies for Christmas; an assortment of cookies with a card that she signed. We bundled up and walked over to their house but left the cookies on the porch because nobody answered. (We assumed it was because of COVID.)

March rolled around and the kids were desperate to get outside. On a particularly nice evening, after dinner, we took a family walk. Chris pushed the stroller and we let Millie run around in the grass by the pond. As we were headed home, we ran into a friend of mine, a sales representative for instruments and repair. We knew that he lived in our neighborhood but had never seen him out before. As we were chatting, Mill and Wells were playing with his dog. During our conversation about home values and mulch fundraisers, he mentioned that he thought we lived in close proximity of a child sex offender; he thought the man lived on our street and that he might in fact be our next door neighbor. The conversation moved onto back patios and football then oddly enough, his neighbors lawn mower caught fire right in front of us. Even an explosion wasn’t enough to get my mind off of the potential threat to my family.

I sat on the couch, pulled out my phone, and frantically began searching the internet. Our county has a website that allows you to search for sex offenders near you. I typed in our home address and my fear was confirmed. We had five offenders within a two mile radius of us, with the closest being the house next door. The mugshot associated with the address was not of the owner of the home, but their son. The site listed his name, age, employer and his work address, crimes committed, vehicle description and license plate number. This confirmed that the white car in front of my home was his, a man convected of pandering a juvenile male.

My anxiety heightened as the night went on. “The children played outside in their bathing suits this summer! I literally walked Millie over to their porch to deliver Christmas cookies!” Chris and I knew that we had to have more answers before we started to assume the worst. The following day, Chris walked over to speak with the neighbors. I could see him from the window above my kitchen sink. The old couple sat with Chris on the porch for what felt like an eternity. When he came back home, the news was not comforting.

Our neighbors were incredibly forthcoming with information. They assumed we knew about their son, the sexual predator. Chris explained to them that we were unaware and that we were concerned for the well-being of our children. They commended Chris for wanting to protect his family and told him that he was the first person in the neighborhood to approach them with questions. They told Chris about their 46 year old son who had his doctorate in French studies. What started as one glass of scotch a night became two, three, four, etc. He began downloading child pornography – they claim he didn’t realize that the children in these videos were being abused. According to his parents, he went to court, lost everything, and was living with them because he was suicidal. He struggles with the guilt of knowing what he had participated in. He was assigned a probation officer and a physiatrist that he spoke with daily. He chose to do his grocery shopping during the school day while kids were at school, he limited his time spent outside, his internet rights were taken away – but in the six months his probation would end.

I feared the worst. Could my children ever play outside without me worrying? What if he hacks into our WiFi and illegally downloads filthy things and the police thinks it’s us?! I couldn’t wrap my mind around him watching the 15+ children on my street. Why wouldn’t his parents move him away from the temptation? I called the non-emergency police line and spoke with a deputy about my options. His words verbatim, “We protect those bastards and because he registers as an offender, he continues to have the same rights as everyone else.” I was advised to not say anything in the form of signs or fliers because I could be sued for defamation of character. The officers advice to us was to move away. He said, “Don’t play Russian roulette with your children.”

Watering my plants was no longer enjoyable. I was on high alert whenever I was outside. I was uncomfortable getting my mail, playing in the yard with the kids, and eating dinners on the patio. I knew it was time to get serious about moving. We contacted our realtor, who swears she had no idea about the proximity of the sex offender, and she put a for sale sign in our front yard. That sign was a visual representation of taking control of a dangerous situation. The market was insane but we sold our beautiful home (that we only lived in for eleven months) and we were able to move out of that neighborhood and into one with two schools within a mile (so no sex offenders can live there).

I remember the first interaction I had with that neighbor, telling me that she’d never leave – what a bizarre thing to say to someone you just met. Now I realize why she said it. She thought we knew about her son. She thought I was curious if the sex offender on the street would be moving any time soon. As I walked into the post office for a change of address form, I noticed a sign hanging on the lobby cork board with fines and penalties for sending illegal mail; $50k for reusing postage. $10K for sending child pornography. My eyes have been opened in a whole new, terrifying way.

Pandemic Parenting

Pandemic Parenting

On March 3rd 2020, I delivered Wells with my husband, grandmother, father, and photographer in the room. If I would have had him on his due date, just two weeks later, I would have had to birth him alone. While we packed up our bags from our hospital stay, breaking news declared a mask mandate in Chicago and we feared Ohio would be next. We asked my nurse for masks; “I’m sorry, we are down to our last two boxes on this floor.” Chris immediately regret discarding his mask from labor and delivery.

My mom planned to stay with us for six weeks; helping with Millie and the housework while I focused on healing and bonding with Wells. Chris didn’t get any paternity leave so my moms help was a Godsend. A week after we came home from the hospital, the government shut down the state boarders around New York; my mom couldn’t stay with us indefinitely if Ohio chose to follow suit. Selfishly, I wanted my mom to stay and help but alas, my mom went back to Virginia.

Planning for this pregnancy, we knew that I would not get paid for the entirety of my maternity leave. My sick days accrue; if I work a month without taking a sick day, I earn a day of sick time. I had proudly saved twenty sick days which meant I would get two pay checks during my six-week maternity leave. After my sister passed in September of 2019, I used three weeks of my sick time, grieving her loss. On top of being pregnant and losing my sister, I was definitely stressed about the amount of unpaid leave I would have to take. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a weeks worth of sick time from myself so we would receive at least one paycheck during my six-week, maternity leave.

I had one sick day left to use when I got a phone call from a friend and fellow teacher that we were going to start teaching, virtually. Could I also work virtually (make money) while still on maternity leave? I was able to convince my OB that I could, “return” to work as long as work meant teaching from my couch. I fed Wells, Millie watched Mickey Mouse Club House, and I was posting music assignments at the same damn time. The pandemic allowed me to stay home for 21 weeks without a single, unpaid day.

As if new mothers aren’t paranoid enough, add a global pandemic to the mix. Thankfully, Chris’ company assigned his department to work from home so we weren’t getting germs from his job. Groceries were bought through delivery services and bags were sanitized at the door. Once Wells gained back his birth weight and was no longer jaundiced, we didn’t take him to another pediatric appointment until he was six months old. I should have gone to my six week OB appointment – I didn’t. I had a terrible, terrible pain in my right nipple from a latch issue – I didn’t receive outside help. My cousin unexpectedly passed away and we didn’t attend her funeral. I wasn’t comfortable breaking our “bubble”, so we stayed in.

Chris working from home turned out to be a blessing. He was able to hold Wells during his lunch hour and help change diapers between meetings. Wells definitely got more time with daddy due to the pandemic. I had planned on spending quality time watching Cubs baseball during my maternity leave, but the season was postponed and there was no baseball to be watched. We used this time at home to potty train Millie. She didn’t like feeling poop in her diaper so she would take the diaper off and the poo would get everywhere – it was time. We stripped her naked, packed away the diapers, gave her tons to drink throughout the day and constantly encouraged her to sit on the potty. We rewarded her, even if she sat on the toilet just to toot. We bought her cute undies with Frozen characters on them. We experienced more victories than accidents, but there were many accidents, especially when we would play outside. Within the month, she was completely potty trained.

The week before Wells was born, our realtor called wanting to show us a house that checked every box on our “wish list”. We dropped Millie off at my dads and I waddled through the open house. It was in a neighborhood with better schools, gave us a thousand more square feet, and had a fenced in backyard. Also, homes in our neighborhood were selling quickly at above asking price. The market was right, the house was perfect, but I was doubting how the timeline would work for us. The same day Wells was born, our offer on the house was accepted.

The worst part of selling our home during the pandemic was having to leave the house during showings; there was no where to go because everything was closed so we would load both kids in the Jeep and drive around, praying that no one entering our home was COVID positive. I would sit my postpartum butt between the two car seats and read to the kids while we ordered French fries through the Burger King drive through. The house inspectors and appraisers were weeks behind because of the shutdown. The contractors that installed our new floors had to break for two weeks because they had been in close contact with COVID-19.

All of our activity memberships expired; COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory, the Zoo. Zumbini went virtual and we tried classes through Zoom but Millie lost interest. She was getting stir crazy staying home; heck, I was too, so we would do at least one activity together everyday. It was nice to spend some one-on-one time with her because well, Wells. She loved when I would ask her to wash the dishes in the sink or when I’d let her scrub her toys. We made multi-colored foam in her water table. I taped shapes on the floor for her to organize her blocks. She loved to finger paint. We colored eggs for Easter. We became quite the bakers; she loved watching the baking competition shows and trying new recipes. We jumped in puddles on rainy afternoons and watched for, “sworms”. We would adventure in our yard where she found some fallen pine cones which she called, “coconuts”. If we were blessed with good weather, Chris would take Millie to the park across the street on his lunch break; until yellow caution tape was wrapped around the slides and the playground was off limits to promote social distancing.

The holidays were different, to say the least. We celebrated Palm Sunday by fanning around artificial leaf decorations left over from Millie’s second birthday and blowing bubbles in the back yard. Thankfully, I bought Easter gifts early because most stores were shut down. Church was virtual and we watched Easter service from my phone. Maw surprised us by decorating our tree in the front yard with eggs shaped like rabbits and ducks. She didn’t come in because she knew she’d want to hold the kids and she just couldn’t. (She had been in and out of the hospital after our cousin’s liver transplant and it just wasn’t safe to be around each other.) There was no Fourth of July parade and although we heard fireworks all through the night, we could not see any.

In November, Millie turned three and our governor had given clear instructions that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather together. Realizing I couldn’t throw Mill the birthday that I wanted for her, made me empathetic towards those who had to cancel their events due to the pandemic; weddings, trips, graduation parties, etc. It broke my heart to tell family members and friends that they could not come over to celebrate with us. So on Millie’s third birthday, my parents and the in-laws came over to celebrate and we FaceTimed others while she blew out her candles.

One very ordinary evening in December, Chris had a sore throat. Neither of us thought anything of it until he had chills throughout the night. He called our family doctor who then scheduled him to be tested for COVID. By the time of his test, he felt like he had been hit by a truck; even sitting was painful. Chris received a positive covid test and two days later, Wells and I had symptoms; body aches, fatigue, and a fever to follow. Wells slept the worst he ever had in his life. I could tell by his cry that he was in pain. Following suite, within the next two days, my grandmother who watches the kids during the week was symptomatic. Her and I both lost our taste and smell. Covid had infested our family.

Five days after Chris tested positive, Mill still had no signs of the virus. We were so impressed with her immune system! We must not have knocked on wood quick enough because without warning, my energetic fire ball was melting into the couch. Millie was lethargic and had a fever of 100.3. We called the pediatrician and she told us to give her children’s Tylenol and monitor her symptoms. We put her in the bath tub and encouraged fluids. Once the medicine was in her system, she was back to her normal self. You could tell when the medicine would start to wear off – she’d slow down, get rosy cheeks, and her eyes would gloss over. She took her medicine while I sang, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Sweet girl didn’t fight it at all. Her symptoms lasted 48 hours.

The virus did not keep us from:

  • Worshipping the Lord
  • Celebrating birthdays
  • Going to VA
  • Playing in the snow (Millie makes the best snow angels)
  • Moving my grandma into a new condo
  • Making Christmas cookies and giving them to our neighbors
  • Sending Valentine’s cards
  • Going to the zoo
  • Dedicating Wells

Not everyone had our same comfort level for socialization during the pandemic. We were not fearful of a virus with a 98% survival rate, we had faith in our immune systems, and we agreed with Pastor Doyle when he spoke about togetherness. Unfortunately, many family members missed out on important birthdays, holidays, and other once in a lifetime events because of their own anxieties about safety. The thought process was, “I want to be around for the holidays that they’ll remember.” but no one can guarantee tomorrow. [Millie (3) and Wells (1) just because you might not remember this year, doesn’t make your experiences any less valuable. I’m blogging so that if one day you don’t remember, my words may be enough.]

“If you’re a pandemic baby and you’ve been in quarantine your whole life, you get overstimulated by everything ’cause all the strangers that you see have masks on, and you’ve never really had a playdate in your life.”

I worry about how much this year has affected our children. One year out of my thirty is nothing, but one year to my three year old? That’s a third of her life. Wells? His entire life. Children aren’t as resilient as we like to think, you know? Why do so many adults find themselves in therapy – childhood trauma. We have absolutely no idea the ramifications of living this closed off, pandemic life. Millie was supposed to start dance this year and Wells doesn’t know what it’s like to be around other children. I’m heartbroken and concerned for our children, this generation now labeled as, “Gen C”.

Crazy things about COVID:

  • This started during an election year.
  • People hoarded toilet paper and sold it for obscene amounts of money on the internet.
  • Your Great, Great Uncle Bobby, who is bedridden in a nursing home (suffers from strokes) survived the virus!
  • There were directional arrows on the floors of stores and MawMaw became the aisle police. Although, she told me if I needed to go down an aisle with an arrow facing the opposite direction, to just walk backwards and act like I “forgot” something.
  • Millie was told she had to wear a mask upon entering the Disney store.
  • People were also concerned about murder hornets (I’m still not positive about the murders – were they murdering bees? People?)
  • The sports stadiums were empty (they broadcasted with fake audience cheers, it was bizarre) but some stadiums offered fans to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the seats. Gam got Millie a cutout for the Shoe so she was “at” the Buckeye games.

I thought I’d finish this blog post months ago (I began writing in August of 2020) but the pandemic trudged on. Ohio is now in a state of “purple” meaning we are worse off when we were in the “red” during our initial shutdown (the colors are arbitrary). Children are back in school full time, sporting events are being held with spectators, vaccines are being administered through drive-thrus – I don’t know what’s next for parenting in the pandemic but I’m glad this blog can be updated because I’m sure it’s not over.

Millie Met Wells

Millie Met Wells

My father being in the delivery room was not in my birth plan. He bought a “little brother” onesie from the hospital gift shop and to his surprise, I was mid-push in active labor when he came to show me. He watched as Wells entered the world and was placed upon my chest. My dad went out into the waiting room where his wife, my step-mom, was watching Millie. She asked my dad how I liked the onesie and was completely surprised when he told her that baby Wells was born! He explained that the baby had been delivered while he was “delivering” the outfit. Together, my dad and step-mom brought Millie to the delivery room to meet her baby brother.

Millie stood nervously at the entrance of the room until her daddy welcomed her over to my bedside. She ran with great two-year-old-gusto into his arms. He kissed her on the head as he lifted her up to see the new baby. Millie saw Wells sleeping in my arms. “Oh, baby Wells!” After the many months of telling Mille that she was going to have a baby brother, she finally was able to meet him. Chris and I were given matching hospital bracelets that linked us to baby Wells and the nurse gave Millie a bracelet that said, big sister. It was purple and adorable but Mill didn’t like it around her wrist and had the nurse cut it off. Sitting on the bed, she sang him, Happy Birthday”.

The nurse took Wells to get his measurements and Millie followed; she wanted to be where her little brother was. Millie demanded her daddy, “pick me up” so she could have a better view of Wells. She informed the nurse that she was the big sister and made a comment about her stethoscope (a word she picked up from watching Doc McStuffins). The nurse was very impressed with her vocabulary and let her wear the stethoscope around her neck. To my surprise, Wells weighed over eight pounds! I was in disbelief because my ultrasound the week prior, the tech said he was weighing in at less than seven. After having Millie, a 4.8lb baby, Wells was giant! As Wells started to fuss, Millie got upset. She was already protective of her little brother.

Millie was to come back to the hospital the next day to take “fresh 48” photos (pictures taken within the first 48 hours after birth). I found out that Millie had gotten sick after eating breakfast. She had never thrown up before. I blame the puking on her grandparents because I guarantee they gave her way too much sugar. The hospital pediatrician said it was okay that she come up as long as she wasn’t running a fever. (The world was very different a week before the lockdown.) Millie bulldozed into the room and no one would have ever guessed that she got sick earlier in the day. She had on an outfit that matched her brother’s.

We laid Wells on some pillows next to Millie in the hospital bed. She was so curious; she kept trying to pull his hair up to see how long it was. “I hold him, daddy?” She rested her cheek on his head and it about melted my heart.

Welcoming Wells

Welcoming Wells

At 33 weeks pregnant with Millie, my OB instructed me to go to labor and delivery. I felt miserable; pounding headaches, swelling to point of discomfort, dizziness and fatigue. I left the OBs office completely unable to accept the reality of induction. Instead of rushing to the hospital, I had my husband take me to Arby’s. As I pumped ketchup onto my tray, a lady grabbing napkins said to me, “If you have a girl and see blood in her diaper, don’t be alarmed, it’s her hormones.” What? Suddenly, I had lost my appetite for ketchup.

33 weeks came and went during my second pregnancy yet, everyday the thought of preeclampsia was a very real concern. I checked my blood pressure with an at-home monitor, I constantly analyzed the size of my ankles, and I actually iced and elevated my feet at night. 34 weeks into my pregnancy, we lost my step-father due to a massive heart attack, just four months after unexpectedly, losing my sister. I was fearful that the grief and stress would throw me into labor but thankfully, the baby stayed put.

37 weeks of pregnancy is considered full term; something I never was able to experience with Millie. I still feel a tinge of guilt for not being able to carry her longer. I was ecstatic to have made it to term with this pregnancy and also surprised I didn’t feel entirely miserable. Don’t get me wrong, the pelvic pressure was painful and sleeping comfortably was a challenge, but life wasn’t completely intolerable; nothing like what 33 weeks pregnant with preeclampsia felt like. My OB said we made it to term because of the daily dose of baby aspirin but I like to think that he was comfortable in my sisters arms, in heaven.

At 37 weeks and 6 days, I started having contractions seven minutes apart. Laying in bed, I would check my phone with each pain; 3:07, 3:14, 3:21. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was being woken up by my alarm. As I was getting ready for work, my husband urged me to stay home and call the doctor. Wanting to save my sick time, I went in to teach. During my planning period, I called my OB to tell him I had contractions through the night. He responded, “get to labor and delivery”. I drove home, snuggled with Mill on the couch, and waited for my baby daddy to come home. My husband packed the car, we kissed Millie goodbye, and this time, we didn’t stop for a cherry turnover.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were sent into triage where a nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, checked my lungs and pulse, and she gave me a sani-wipe and cup to collect my urine. As I sat down on the toilet, I opened the wipe and simultaneously, it jumped out of my hands! The wet wipe flew through the air, nearly six feet, before hitting the tile floor! Reactively, I screamed and then I couldn’t stop laughing! My husband and the nurse thought I was crazy but it kept the atmosphere light; labor terrified me after my experience with Mill.

My vitals were normal except my blood pressure, 118 over 96. The nurse explained that the reading was a mistake; the bottom number “didn’t match” the top number. She checked it again; 135 over 95. She seemed concerned that the readings were slightly elevated so she was going to consult the resident doctor on duty. Of course I was stressing thinking that the pre-e had returned but there were no traces of protein in my urine, so that kept me sane. Waiting for my blood pressure to go down, I ate a bag of mini pretzels, watched an episode of Friends (ironically, it was the episode where Rachel and Ross are at the gynecologist), texted my parents, and peed again. The nurse returned, checked my BP, and it was even higher than before! Over and over again, the cuff would squeeze my arm, release the pressure, and I would dauntingly peek at the numbers on the monitor; my blood pressure remained high. The resident doctor, who looked younger than me, asked about my birth plan. I explained to her that if the preeclampsia had returned, I wanted a c-section, which had been discussed numerous times with my OB. She began explaining to me why she would not give me a c-section, even if the pre-e had returned. I stopped her and said, “I know that I am able to elect for a cesarean birth.” I was no longer interested in speaking to this resident. My blood pressure reading was highest after that conversation.

My OB was in the hospital giving a tour to a newly hired doctor in the practice, so he stopped by my room to discuss my, “options”. He told me that he was admitting me for gestational hypertension. He explained that my history with pre-e made him too concerned to send me home with an elevated blood pressure. The doctor informed us that there were risks to induction, especially premature lung development, particularly in boys. A day before Millie was born, a steroid shot was administered into my leg to better develop her lungs. Unfortunately, there is no evidence shows the steroid being effective after 34 weeks of pregnancy, so the shot was not an option this time around. There is a fine line between gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia and my doctor thought the induction outweighed the risks, given my history. Gestational hypertension is a form of high blood pressure and it occurs in about 6 percent of all pregnancies. Delivery heals the mother from the hypertension.

I was being induced for a vaginal birth, with a c-section as plan B if my blood pressure continued to rise. The doctor promised me that this delivery would be different than my first and that I was being closely monitored. I signed some papers, shoved my underwear into my purse, and tightly held my husbands hand as we left triage. I was full term. This baby spent weeks longer in utero compared to Millie. I’ve done this before; affirmations I told myself walking to labor and delivery.

We started the induction at 4pm with a twelve hour dose of cervadil; a vaginal insert that ripens the cervix. Like a tampon, the medicine is attached to a string. Unlike a tampon, it is placed super far up the vaginal canal (I swear, the nurse was elbow deep). The first four hours on the cervadil were a breeze – mild cramping. My grandma brought Millie to see us before her bedtime. This was the first night that I wasn’t sleeping under the same roof as her. It broke my heart when she didn’t want anything to do with me. She was scared of the machines and my IV.

I was uncomfortable during the next four hours as the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Around 3am, I wanted the epidural but I was only 3cm dilated. The resident OB wanted to wait on ordering the epidural until I dilated further so he offered to give me pain meds through my IV to take off the edge. I urged both him, and the nurse to consult with my doctor because we had discussed this exact situation after my traumatic experience with Millie. I had dilated so quickly with her that I was unable to get the epidural and I did not want that to happen again. Thankfully, they consulted my doctor who approved the epidural.

I gave birth to Millie without an epidural and I was not about to do that again. Although, I was scared that the epidural would hurt, that I would move during insertion and become paralyzed, that it wouldn’t take, or that the baby’s heart rate would drop, I was terrified of another natural labor. I was overwhelmed with the pain from the contractions so I pulled up a video of Millie on my phone, to focus my energy on her pure joy. As I watched, tears rolled down my cheeks; partially due to the pain I was experiencing but also because of my love for her. I was assured that the anesthesiologist was the best they had. He was an older man who talked me through everything he was doing. My husband was asked to wear a mask and a hair cap while the procedure took place. He held my hands as I sat up straight, at the edge of the bed. The medicine felt like a bead of cold water rushing down my spine. I do not remember any pain during insertion. Slowly, my legs started feeling heavy and I knew the epidural had worked.

Pitocin was administered and for the next two hours, 4:30-6:30am, I experienced some mild cramping. The epidural provided great relief to the clinching pain of the earlier contractions. My grandma had joined us in the birthing room. Her presence was calming as she rubbed my legs. My birth photographer, Sarah Shambaugh, arrived and began taking pictures of the process. Around 6:30, it felt like I needed to poop; nothing hurt, I just felt a sense of urgency. I remembered feeling that way before Millie was born and I knew it was time to push. The nurse examined me and sure enough, I was fully effaced and 9.5cm dilated. The nurse called my doctor, who was twelve minutes away. Longest twelve minutes of my life.

I was instructed not to push until my OB arrived. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks in response to the discomfort I was enduring. I told my husband that I didn’t care to wait for my doctor any longer, as long as someone would catch my baby, I needed to start pushing. My bed was raised, nurses helped lift my legs into the stirrups, and a resident doctor began dressing to do the job. In that same moment, my doctor entered the room and prepared for the delivery. I breathed a sigh of relief while grimacing through a contraction.

Pushing was difficult because I couldn’t exactly feel what I was supposed to be doing due to the epidural. I was anxious to push and didn’t like the wait time between contractions. I forced all of my energy down and with every push, the baby moved further through the canal. My doctor was so supportive; using words of encouragement and massaging the tissue so I wouldn’t tear. My father snuck into the room and held up a “little brother” onesie as a means of encouragement. The thought was endearing but I also didn’t want my dad to see my vagina. My husband helped lift my head up towards my chest and my grandma pulled my legs back while I pushed. I could not understand why this labor was taking so long – comparatively to my three push labor with Millie. My OB used his hands to turn the baby’s head in a more opportune position. Impatient, I decided that I didn’t want to wait for the next contraction to start pushing again and that is when the baby progressed enough that my doctor could see the hair on his head. My husband looked – gross. My doctor predicted that the next push would do it; I would meet my son.

Clinched teeth, chin to chest, toes curled; all of the tension released when Wells was born. It is absolutely amazing how exhaustion and pain evaporate away the moment of birth. A wiggly, slime-covered, baby boy was placed on my chest and my entire being began taking him in; he was heavy, he was pink, he had hair, and he was crying. My husband cut the umbilical cord as nurses suctioned fluid from his mouth. We stayed skin-on-skin while my family met him. When it was time to feed him, he latched quickly and correctly, which made nursing simple. While he was on my breast, I felt the bottom of his little feet; so soft.

My sweet, perfect boy. Life may be unpredictable, but my love for you will forever be constant. Welcome to the world, Wells.

Love and Loss

Love and Loss

My Millie,

This post has been so difficult for me to write because my current reality is incomprehensible. When you are able to read this, time will have lessened my waves of sorrow however, right now, it’s all very raw and emotional. I’m going to try my best to write through my grief so you can see your mother’s honest vulnerability.

On September 22nd 2019, your aunt, my only sister, completed her battle with bi-polar depression. How can I begin to explain the person she was? Words cannot describe her contagious laugh. The mere stories I will tell over the years will never give justice to her vibrant life. No longer is the person who would sing to you in your car seat to make you smile. How can I possibly make you feel just how much she loved you?

Your aunt was the sun, our Shani-sunshine.

Bright– Shani was so incredibly smart and she was such a good student. I teach with women who taught your aunt in grade school and they all loved her personality and work ethic. They refer to her as one of their favorite, most memorable students of their careers. Throughout her schooling, she had completed her masters degree in psychology and was working towards a Psy-D, Shani was always the “teachers pet” and proudly, the top of her class. I always thought, if Shani was in school, her mind was in the right place. I knew nothing about the mania that accompanies bi-polar disorder and what she felt necessary for the success in her prestigious, doctoral program. Her energy source was the same disorder that would lie to her and put her down.

Nurturing Our bodies need the sun’s vitamins and you could call Shani, my vitamin D. If I was having a bad day, or I was walking alone in a parking lot, if I needed someone to talk to, Shani was only ever a phone call away. She loved to FaceTime with you and we would, daily. She was the first person to babysit you while I went to my six-week OB appointment and she took the sweetest pictures of you inside of your stocking. During the last phone conversation we had together, she commented on how sweet your little voice sounded and how much she missed you. We were making plans for her to come visit for your second birthday and how she thought I was ridiculous for wanting to rent a kangaroo.

Shani and I would talk about our futures with one another; pool side, on the porch, sitting on her bed in the early hours of the morning. She always said she would carry children for me if I wouldn’t have been able to. She was so excited when I told her I was pregnant for you. She said that she would be the “cool aunt” that you could go and live with during your rambunctious, teenage years. She wanted you to be able to talk to her about your crushes and all the awkward things you wouldn’t want your mom knowing about. She threatened me by saying that she’d tell you all about my years in high school. She had plans to help pay for your college. She had plans to care for you and her future family.

Your aunt knew a song for every occasion and she had an incredible voice. When she auditioned for women’s chorus in high school, she sang, “Lean on Me”, which is incredibly fitting for the friend that she was. If we couldn’t spend Thanksgiving Day together, she’d call me up and we’d sing the turkey song over the phone. On the day you were born, she kept singing, “Edelweiss”. Small and white, clean and bright. You look happy to meet me. She listened to all genres of music; gospel, show tunes, rap, country, etc. She even dabbled in recording. Her range was great and she had an ear for harmony. I had amazing opportunities to hear Shani sing; beautifully at a wedding reception, in the church at Bridgewater, and my favorite memory of her voice – singing to you cradled in her arms.

Shani cared for everyone. It didn’t matter race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. When we were kids, she would find dead mice in our garage and make beds for them out of old shoeboxes and try to keep them as pets; completely disregarding Gams wishes to throw the dead rodent away. In high-school, she started an equality club for the LGBTQ community (sorry if I didn’t use the correct acronym, Shani – she would be quick to correct me if it’s wrong). She got a speeding ticket in college while taking her sick roommate to the hospital. Shani had no money to give but she gave freely to friends and causes, despite what I had to say about it. She had clients who clung to her every word and had her cellphone number incase of emergencies.

Shani would make sure everyone was well fed. She loved tomato sandwiches in the summertime. Shani was always the one to cut up the fresh pineapple. Your aunt worked at Johnny Rockets, a diner where she would dance and sing in between serving milkshakes and she had so many regulars because of her bubbly personality. She had so much fun baking my bachelorette party cakes; one black and one white, you’ll understand that when you’re older. Shani was always first to try my vegan recipes and was supportive of our family’s lifestyle. Last year, she urged everyone in the family to stop using plastic straws for the sake of the sea turtles.

She took you to the beach when you were six months old and bought you toys to play with in the sand. She always bought you things that would help grow your brain. The Veggietales DVDs and Noahs Arc toy were gifts from her for your dedication because she wanted you to grow in Christ. She wrote you a book and bought you so many books; she didn’t just read them to you, but she encouraged you to read them aloud. Shani cared about the students that I taught, too. My second year of teaching, Shani bought my entire classroom clipboards for my birthday. She helped run a fundraiser for my class to get ukuleles. On her spring break, instead of sleeping-in, Shani ran the music for my choir concert.

I desperately wish that she could have turned off the voices inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. To everyone else, she was vitamin D.

Dazzling – Her beauty was effortless. We are so fortunate to live during a time where pictures and videos can be retrieved in seconds because some of her radiance was captured in those quick moments and short clips. She exuded confidence. (Now, I question how much of that was a facade due to her disorder.) Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. She would talk about getting her ears pinned back, having an eyelid procedure, and needing a boob-lift; I vetoed the surgical nonsense every time she brought up because your aunt needed none of that. She had the most shiny hair, the quirkiest placed dimple under her eye, an hourglass figure, a pixie nose, and most petite hands and feet. The Friday before Shani took her life, I told her that I wished she could see herself the way that I saw her, but now I know that the darkness of the disorder would prevent her from feeling that way.

Consistent with the rising sun is unforgiving darkness and unfortunately, Aunt Shani experienced that, too.

Your aunt struggled to find men who were worth a damn. There were plenty of men interested in her and she would date them when she felt like it but she was notorious for falling for the guys who needed, “fixing”; the divorcee, military men with ptsd, her exes. I told her many times, you can’t force someone to change and that we only have control of ourselves – but the disorder kept her from having control of her feelings. Shani told me that she would never, “settle” in a relationship and that she believed in soul mates; I argued with her about this. I wanted her to find stability in a relationship. Now, I wish I could have done more to help her obtain stability within herself.

We shouldn’t stare directly at the sun. I would wait for the “right time” to tell my sister things, not knowing how she would react. If you would ask Shani a personal question about her love life, significant choices, or her mental state, she would quickly change the subject, get irritated and defensive, and remind you that she was, “fine”. My sunscreen was you. No matter how frustrated she’d be with me for asking too many questions or how upset she’d get when I wouldn’t agree with her on a political stance, I could change the subject to you and her entire attitude would change. She always agreed with my parenting choices and would never tire of the stories I’d tell her about you.

I don’t remember life before my sister was born because as far back as I can remember, shes been there. Shani has always been there just as the sun has been burning for 4 billion years. I never thought I’d have to live life without her. Life ceases to exist without the sun and I’m having an impossible time without mine. Learning to navigate this changed world is incredibly difficult; the finalization of death. There are nights when the tears won’t end. I no longer listen to the radio or watch television for the fear that something will remind me of her. I have to push myself to speak to my friends, do anything outside the house for myself, and celebrate the holidays. And I’m sorry for the times you see me crying in the kitchen – I just hate that you’ll never get the opportunity to be in your Aunts wedding or to hear her beautiful voice at Christmas time.

But you, my love, are a light and I need you to know that during this time of heavy darkness, you will forever be my saving spark, my energy source, and the illumination that keeps me going. I pray that God will carry us through this time of heartache and that Shani is resting in paradise with our Heavenly Father.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

I love you, Ashani Leigh Pompey and I’ll never stop. It sucks that we can’t make any new memories together but I know that one day, I’ll get to see you face to face and tell you all about this crazy, beautiful life. On the other side, my baby sis, my sunshine.

Millie Met Mickey

Millie Met Mickey

Fair warning, this is an elongated blogpost about an an affluent, American family taking a Disney vacation. I am definitely not a “Mouseketeer”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Disney movies and their musical scores. It’s just so commercialized; Disney is everywhere. Name a children’s movie that isn’t Disney. I don’t dress Millie in Disney clothes because I think its tacky when children wear characters on their clothing. As a child, I liked the princesses but I loved Max Goof (bizarre character to be fascinated with, I know) Max was actually with me through my labor (see previous blog post, “laboring love” for more details). I went on two family vacations to Disney World under the age of five and I don’t remember them, sorry mom. When I was in high school, I skipped on the opportunity to go to Disney World with my marching band. Recently, my in-laws mentioned wanting to take Millie on a vacation to Disney World with the full princess experience; the gown, makeover, sash, carriage ride, etc. ($$$) Call me selfish, but I wanted the first time that I would remember experiencing Disney to be with my little family; my husband, Millie, and me.

With the help of our travel agent and the advice of friends, I planned a spring break trip to Disney World. I surprised my husband with the trip on Christmas morning. Initially, he was not thrilled about the gift of the vacation because he assumed an astronomical price tag however, I informed him of the details and as the trip drew near, he became more excited. I created a Disney trip countdown as a visual aid for Millie comprised of construction paper links, to look like Mickey and Minnie. Each day we removed a link from the chain and March came quickly. (Time moves so much faster with a child).

6am flights are the absolute worst. We did not originally have such an early flight however, the plane we were scheduled for was grounded due to numerous deadly crashes using that same model aircraft (I’m grateful for the switch). We arrived at the airport at 4am, eager to leave the 38 degree, Ohio weather. On the plane, Millie could be a lap-rider because of her age. We had to show the airlines a copy of her birth certificate; we took her original birth certificate without knowing we could bring a copy. Apparently, the airlines would have even accepted a picture of her birth certificate on my phone. (Praise God nothing happened to her original.) Not buying Millie a plane ticket saved us over two-hundred dollars. I was able to book direct flights to Orlando, which was a two hour trip. I wish I would have known that I could have kept Millie in her Ergo-carrier throughout the security and boarding process because having both of my hands free would’ve made things a lot easier. The flight went well and Millie was great on the plane. She was so excited when we landed in Florida and saw pictures of Mickey Mouse everywhere.

Millie loves dogs so I decided the Dalmatian wing of Disney’s All Star Movie resort would be the perfect place for us to stay. The price of this resort was more reasonable than I expected and by staying at Disney, transportation was taken care of to and from the park, as well as back and forth from Disney Springs, and the airport. The shuttle transportation system allowed us to not have to lug Millie’s car seat around. We did however, bring her stroller from home along with us; it did not cost extra money for the stroller to be stowed during our flights and the park had ample stroller parking. I was later informed that the stroller policy at Disney World would be changing soon so if you’re planning a trip with little ones, check that out.

Our vacation commenced by eating Mickey waffles from the resort food court, which were equal parts adorable and delicious. Millie thought the waffles were funny and chose to not eat Mickey’s face. Before we were able to check into our room, we participated in our first family activity; the splash pad at the resort. It was almost 80 degrees in Orlando with little cloud coverage and the occasional breeze. Millie did not want to have to wait to have her sunscreen applied. Advice for parents of a toddler: put the spf on their little bodies before they see the water. Millie had so much fun splashing and dunking her head under. We had the splash pad all to ourselves and it was a blast. The trip was worth the money the moment we saw the joy exude from Millie, playing in the water.

Mill fell asleep on my lap as we soaked up some sun on the beach chairs. We were watching the palm trees sway when the Disney app notified us that our hotel room was available. As we walked by the many Dalmatian puppies in our wing of the resort, Millie would bark and wave. We were pleased to find our room was on the first floor. The room was comfortable; two full beds, a mini fridge, working air conditioning, and Disney decor. Unfortunately, the walls were extremely thin and we could hear every word that our neighbors said (although we couldn’t understand it because they spoke Spanish). I asked the Lord to grant me grace because their screaming baby almost woke my sleeping baby at 2am.

Our first evening in Orlando was spent at Disney Springs however, we found it underwhelming. It was comprised of highend, Disney boutiques and sit down restaurants. We ate delicious, coconut sorbet and returned to the resort.

The next morning, we excitedly boarded the shuttle to Magic Kingdom but on the way to the park, it started to down pour. We had not prepared for rain so we made the decision to ride the shuttle back to the resort and wait out the storm. We ate brunch at the resort and were pleased with the quality of the veggie burger. Once the rain had stopped, we boarded the shuttle to Magic Kingdom for the second time that morning. I was disappointed in the security process because I had to leave Millie in her stroller, unattended, to go through the detectors on my own, as instructed. I was never more than six steps away from her however, Disney is terribly crowded and for a first-time mama with anxiety, I wasn’t having it. Luckily, my husband stayed with her while I went through the metal detector and pushed her over to me once I was through and then he went through himself. What if I was a single mom and didn’t have anyone to stand with her while I went through the metal detector? I expressed my concerns to the security guard who was more concerned with the growing line than my frustrations.

Entering Magic Kingdom was like going through a time warp set back 120 years; the buildings were colonial style, women were dancing with white gloves and parasails, and a barber shop quartet, dressed in stripes of red and white, harmonized in front of a deliciously fragrant candy shop. Main Street had a quaint, small-town feel with shops adorning each side of the road. To our right, we noted a “Meet Mickey and Minnie” sign, which was where we needed to be to utilize a fast pass we scheduled for later. A man asked me to take a picture of his family and for the first time that day, I saw Cinderella’s magical castle. I took a picture of his family and he took a picture of ours.

Large, decorative floats with dancing and singing Disney characters paraded down Main Street. We followed behind a float carrying a dancing, Max Goof until we made it to the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statute. Millie was apprehensive about viewing the parade as she buried her head into my shoulder for most of it. My husband recorded the parade on his phone and even though Millie might not have enjoyed the parade then, she loves watching it now.

Similar in ride concept, I chose to fast pass the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. These rides did not have height requirements, they were categorized as, “slow moving”, we would be able to sit as a family, and they had great reviews for children under two. Millie sat on my lap on the inside seat of the ride car. My husband took control of the car’s height lever which would raise and lower us upon his discretion. Millie was hysterical because she kept a straight face the entire time we rode both rides. I couldn’t tell you if she loved them however, I don’t think she disliked them because she absolutely knows how to show discontent.

We stopped in our tracks upon hearing a screaming trumpet from the Main Street Philharmonic. This small ensemble sounded fantastic and played everything from old circus marches to modern pop. If you are planning a trip to Magic Kingdom, you need to make time in your schedule to listen to this group play good music for fifteen minutes. Another worthwhile venture is finding a stand that sells Mickey pretzels – delicious!

Millie had the opportunity to meet Mickey and Minnie in a small, poorly lit room. The characters were wearing “party” clothes to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th Anniversary. I held Millie on my hip during our wait but upon locking eyes with the large, plastic Mickey head, she wiggled up my body and hid her face in my neck. The characters tried their best to get Millie to smile; Mickey played peek-a-boo with her and danced when I sang the, “Hotdog” song. My husband took a video of this event and again, Millie treasures it even though she wasn’t quite ready to enjoy the actual moment.

Millie’s fear of costumed characters didn’t stop at Mickey Mouse; Daisy Duck had no luck making Millie smile nor did Pluto. They were set in a gypsy theme, which I found unsettling. After taking pictures of Millie looking absolutely horrified, Disney tried to pull a fast one by putting the exit through a souvenir shop. Naturally, Millie was intrigued and wanted everything she could get her hands on. Miraculously, we left the gift shop/exit empty handed. The princesses however, were not as scary to Millie. It could have been because even in costume, they look like actual people. She met Cinderella, who looked like a sloth, and Elena of Avalor, who? While Millie might not have been scared of them, she definitely had no interest in seeing them.

We spent an hours time on Tom Sawyer’s Island. A short raft ride takes you to the island, which was unnecessary. The bumps while docking the raft were abrupt and a walking bridge for the short distance would have been suffice. Once on the island, Millie really enjoyed being able to walk the trails. The terrain was not ideal for a sixteen-month old, so she reluctantly held our hands through most of it. I held Millie while crossing a bridge of barrels that bobbed up and down with each step. There was a small play ground that Millie played on that was overruled by older kids.

I was concerned how nap-time would work while adventuring in the park, but Millie was exhausted by lunch time and would fall asleep in the stroller. Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen was our favorite lunch spot; the air conditioning was on blast, the staff was great, and the food was delicious – I highly recommend the Shiriki Noodle Salad, yum. Eating vegan while at Magic Kingdom was a breeze with the help of amazing chefs.

The Swiss Family Treehouse was our next adventure. There was not a line for this activity and that was refreshing. I was unfamiliar with the story of the Swiss Family Robinson’s however, my husband filled me in as we ventured along. The treehouse had bridges, ramps, and stairs which were fun for Millie to navigate through. I held her hand through most of it because her balance was still wobbly.

I used the My Disney App, week’s before our vacation, to make food reservations at the park. On our first night at Magic Kingdom, we ate dinner at The Crystal Palace, which is a buffet-style restaurant with mingling characters from Winnie the Pooh. Millie hit Piglet in the face, twice, wanted nothing to do with Eeyore, and was scared to death of Tigger. The food was great but not worth the bill. The next morning we ate breakfast at Belle’s Be Our Guest Cafe, which is where I was told was the only place that you could see Belle and the Beast. Unfortunately, neither showed up during our breakfast. We had a terrible time in the line; a staff member told us to return closer to the end of our reservation time yet, while trying to talk us out of the line, four other families got in line before us. The computers were down and they weren’t accepting Magic bands as a form of payment. The food was subpar but that was to be expected from a French menu. The aesthetic of the dining hall was spectacular. It looked just like the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast.

Mickey’s Philharmagic was an interactive, 3D mini-film. I guess you could call this Millie’s first theatre experience and I was surprised when Millie kept her 3D glasses on the entire time. She laughed when Donald Duck came on the screen (she adores him) and when things would come flying at us, she would reach out to try to touch it. Her reactions to the film were the best part.

My travel agent, friends, and colleagues all advised me to not use a fastpass on, It’s a Small World because the line was never long. We chose not to fastpass that ride, but we totally should have because the line was forever long. Due to our terrible line experience at the Be Our Guest Cafe, the staff gave us an additional Fastpass to use that day in the park. After seeing the line for Its a Small World, we updated our magic bands and skipped the longest line that we had seen at the park. We rode in the first car that had plenty of leg room and a bar that Millie stood up and held. She was rocking the boat trying to get the ride to move faster. She loved the singing and the scenery; I thought the dolls were super creepy.

We rode the infamous Teacups – I felt sick as a dog. Mill sat in my lap. My husband spun with one hand and was recording Millie with the other. She proceeded to have the most serious look on her face as we spun around and around. When she realized that the wheel in the middle of the teacup was controlling the spin, she tried to turn it herself. I think if the ride would’ve been twice as long, she would’ve enjoyed it more but boy, I sure was ready to get off!

The shuttle ride back to the resort was amusing as we sat next to an animated, little girl with a blue, Stitch stuffed animal. Millie had acquired a Lilo doll from one of the gift shops outside of the princess meet and greet (she wouldn’t put it down). The two girls played with their dolls together, Lilo and Stitch.

I know I’m forgetting so many details like, Millie and her daddy howling before bed, Millie sitting on Walt’s lap our first evening in the park, the nursing mother’s room that was busting at the seams, the sound of Millie’s feet as she walked with such purpose through the automatic doors to get to the pool..our vacation was amazing. Millie won’t remember it, but with the pictures, videos, and this blogpost I hope she will know how much fun we had – fun that would not have existed without her.

Until next time, Disney.

Zumbini

Zumbini

Before I had a child, I knew I’d be the monitored screen time, oil using, breastfeeding, crunchy-kind of mama. When Millie was born, the television wasn’t turned on for weeks because I read in a parenting magazine that baby’s can sense when you’re multi-tasking, like folding laundry and watching Grey’s Anatomy. Multitasking can make a baby anxious so the tv remained off. My mom finally said, “You have to be able to put her down for a moment and the tv will help.” She found a channel called, Baby First and Millie was entranced!

The vibrant colors, the songs, the high-pitched voices, the close ups of baby faces; Millie loves it. There is a a flower in the corner of the screen and the petals change color based on the learning elements in that particular show. The best aspect of the channel, in my opinion, is Zumbini. I love to dance and Zumba is my favorite way to work out. Zumbini is a baby’s Zumba. It incorporates dancing, singing, instrument playing, ball rolling, etc. Millie loves to dance and sing to the short Zumbini episodes in our living room. She smiles and rocks her body – she is completely engaged! At the end of the show it instructs the viewer to, “Go online and register for a Zumbini class near you!” So, I did.

The class was being offered near my undergraduate campus so I felt comfortable with the location. The instructor was quick to answer all of my questions and she was just as helpful and kind when we met in class. I am a music teacher and a “retired”, collegiate Zumba instructor so one could assume that I would be judgmental towards another’s class however, I’m new at this parenting thing and I have nothing to gain from judging and everything to gain from creating experiences with Millie.

When registering for Zumbini, we received a book with the lyrics to all the songs in the class, music downloads, and a little doll (that has seriously won over Millie’s heart, she loves her, “TJ”). Zumbini promotes freedom for the children to do as they please as they listen the up-beat music. I dance with Millie on my hip, I dance in front of her while she sits on the floor, I play instruments while she puts hers directly into her mouth. At six months old, Millie was the youngest in the class however, everyone was willing to help her, they doted over her and her big, blue eyes, and it never felt like she didn’t belong.

The music from Zumbini, incorporates different languages, styles, tempo, and time. I like that Millie is exposed to such diversity. The class materials include rhythm sticks, scarves, miscellaneous percussion instruments, balls, and bongos. Mill has taken two, nine week sessions and we don’t plan on stopping. This girl is shaking what her momma gave her!

Millie Met Mo’ana

Millie Met Mo’ana

We are so fortunate to live close to the amazing, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Because I teach and have summers off, Millie and I have been able to go on daily adventures – the zoo being one of her favorites. She loves looking at all the children and is captivated by the fish at the aquarium. During the week, especially on days with spotty weather, the zoo isn’t overly crowded and we have the opportunity to talk with the staff that works directly with the animals.

The Columbus Zoo works closely with Western Lowland Gorilla conservations. I was encouraged upon learning about their success increasing the gorilla population. Stephanie, the gorilla expert, told us the names of all of the gorillas and their ages. She was knowledgeable about their relationships with one another and their individual personalities. She informed me that “Mac”, the silverback in the enclosure, is the grandson of the infamous, Colo. Colo was the first gorilla to be born in captivity and is practically a celebrity in Columbus, Ohio. The large and in charge, Mac, knows he’s handsome, will pound on the glass whenever he feels like it, is a surrogate dad, and is busy raising his two year old, rambunctious son, J.J. J.J. acts like any other toddler; he prolongs nap time, copies everything his daddy does, and plays about the enclosure. The gorillas habitat was observed and approved by Diane Fossey, one of the greatest mountain gorilla conservationists of all time. Stephanie says that these gorillas have it made at the Columbus Zoo, like the animals in the movie, Madagascar.

I learned that the female gorillas take birth control pills once a day, the same way a female-human would. The female gorillas are tested each month to make sure that they haven’t gotten pregnant by mistake. A “board” meets to determine which gorillas can breed according to their DNA compatibility. Because the gorillas at the zoo are promoting the conservation of their species, the board wants the bred outcome to be the best gorillas. Even with this board acting in the role of God, some gorillas do not come as planned.

Kinyani, a beautiful female gorilla at the zoo, was bred and born in captivity. She is deaf. She stays up high in the trees so that she can see the activities below and no one can sneak up on her (For his own enjoyment, Mac will sneak up behind her to smack her in the head.) Her deafness was not planned by the board however, Gods plan supersedes.

Mo’ana, is a seventeen year old, female gorilla at the zoo. She was born and bred in captivity and she has a mental disability. Her body didn’t grow normally so she looks different and she has arthritis. She sits right at the glass of the gorilla enclosure and tries to feed the children hay when they sit across the glass from her. Again, her disabilities were not planned, however her gentleness is a gift from God.

I have always loved gorillas and I felt especially close to them after learning that Colo, the beloved gorilla – may she Rest In Peace, her parents were from Cameroon. I was not familiar with this country until earlier this year when I looked it up; 3% of my DNA is from Cameroon, according to Ancestry. I also learned that Colo’s mother’s name was, Millie.

Twice, I have sat Millie by the glass to interact with Mo’ana. She seems timid as she looks at the gorilla and then turns her face into my chest. She doesn’t cry but she doesn’t smile at her either. I tell her all about the gorillas when we visit their enclosure. I hope that one day she will share the love that I have for these beautiful primates.

Getting to Know Millie

Getting to Know Millie

At four months, Millie is enjoying life differently than before; she can see further, manipulate her hands better, and vocalize her needs. The more she develops, the more human she becomes (she’s always been human) but she has flourished with independence and she’s growing her own personality. The first precious smile we received from Millie was a product of gurgling gas and now, she’s smiling at our smiles, different toys, and the sunshine. Her facial expressions, interest, and focus inform me of how she is feeling and it’s a joy learning along with her.

Millie was born premature, so during the first month of her life we weren’t concerned with playtime, we were in survival mode. Our days included making sure she had dirtied the appropriate amount of diapers, that she was feeding every three hours, and that her breathing wasn’t labored. She would last ten minutes in the stroller before crying. She had a difficult time getting her eyes to focus so she frequently went cross-eyed. Car rides were no fun; she hated them.

At two months, Millie began to take notice of dark and light contrast; we would show her different black and white patterns which kept her attention. She also was drawn to the color red and the lights on the Christmas tree. She enjoyed about thirty seconds of tummy-time; she would turn over onto her back if we kept her down for the full minute. Millie liked sitting in her bouncer seat but she did not enjoy the five-point harness in her swing. Car rides were still the worst.

At three months, Millie was enjoying walks more than she had before; on a nice, winter afternoon, we walked for almost two hours. She was fascinated by the woodland creature mobile hanging in her crib; the otter, the fox, and the owl move around to Brahm’s Lullaby above her head. When eating dinner at the table, we sat Millie up in her high chair. She would watch us eat and interject a coo or two into the conversation. Have I mentioned how much this baby hates being in the car?

My sweet love is now four months old and I know for certain that time is a thief. She is loving chomping down on anything that she can get her mouth on. She smiles anytime she catches her reflection in the mirror. She snuggles with her Cuddle + Kind dolls. Millie thinks my hair is a toy and pulls on it with all her might. With some assistance, she is enjoying sitting in her skiphop saucer. Millie loves pulling on her teething links and holding her Oball. The car seat is no longer her worst enemy. Everyday she learns something new; she amazes me. I keep thinking, if I could just freeze time, but then I’d miss out on her adorable five-month adventures.

Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave

As a full-time, public elementary school music teacher, I received six weeks of paid maternity leave by using my accumulated sick time. Preeclampsia caused me to deliver preterm and just six weeks later, I would not have been prepared to leave my premature angel for work. Any mother would agree that six weeks is a ridiculously limited amount of time to bond with a newborn. For those mothers who have to rely on outside childcare after six weeks, I am so sorry; I will pray for your continued bonding, physical and mental health, and safety. Fortunately, I was able to take additional time off using FMLA. This time off of work was unpaid however, my husband and I had monetarily saved. In total, I had fourteen weeks off of work for maternity leave and I still wished that I could have taken more time. Whether you have six weeks or six months, the time you’ll spend with your newborn is priceless. The fourth trimester is a blur but before I completely forget, due to juggling work and infancy, here’s some thoughts of my time on maternity leave.

After we were discharged from the hospital, my body was recovering from the trauma of birth; breastfeeding was a learning curve, my blood pressure was regulating after the high levels due to pre-e, and I was profusely sweating out all the excess fluid that my body was retaining. While all of this was occurring, I was also bonding with my fragile, four pound newborn. It’s difficult for me to look back on the first month because I feel guilty – there’s so much growing that she did that I just slept through; I’d nap on the couch with Netflix on. There were so many moments that I forget due to sheer exhaustion. My advice for any new mom is to tape your eyes open – of course I’m kidding! I encourage you to take so many pictures and journal as often as you can; you never get that precious time again and so much of it can become lost in the exhausted haze of motherhood.

I was so grateful to have an overwhelming outpour of help from my family and friends during this time. Having a meal-train was extremely helpful; we had prepared meals for a week! My mom stayed with us the first two weeks after Millie was born. Everything was new; I didn’t know that I was supposed to log every diaper change by time and contents, I didn’t know what cluster feeding was or how to handle it, and I had never given a newborn a bath before. Having an additional person to help clean pump parts, make dinner, take a nighttime shift, run a load of laundry, etc., was so helpful. My mom successfully raised three children and was there whenever I asked, “Is this normal?”. My husband was allotted no paternity leave; he had to use his vacation time for my hospital stay, so he was incredibly grateful for the support from my mom as well. Thanks, mom.

It was traumatic getting Millie’s blood tested when managing her jaundice level. As I held my daughter in my arms, she was pricked in the heel of her foot and then milked of her blood, which of course made Millie cry and her tears broke my heart in two. My mom was there with me so I didn’t have to experience that alone. Pumping was difficult for me in the beginning. I truly thought that I’d have more comfortably with the pump than breastfeeding however, it felt impersonal and I had a hard time doing it. My mom would stay up with me and care for Millie while I pumped to increase my milk supply. Those late night talks of motherhood and watching my mother bond with my little one; I hope to never forget those moments.

My mother returned home and my mother-in-law came to stay with us. For the first month of Millie’s life, I was never alone with her. Some people may read this and think, wow – this woman is crazy however, I was relieved having someone else there with me. It was more eyes on my preemie, someone to watch her while I showered or napped, and it was socialization when I couldn’t leave the house (I was terrified that I would bring home germs that would put Millie back in the hospital.)

I loved taking Millie for walks when the weather was fair. I loved holding her tight, rocking her, having skin-to-skin time, and resting my cheek upon her cheek. I think my heart skipped a beat every time my husband would speak to her. I didn’t completely despise changing her diapers like I thought I would. I enjoyed online shopping while breastfeeding – maybe a little too much. I watched her grow from a thin four to a chunky twelve pounds. Listening to her sigh, smelling her head, seeing her smile – there’s nothing else like it. I feel so incredibly blessed to be Millie’s mother. Even though my maternity leave is over, I am grateful for the time that I had and I cherish my moments with her now, even more.