Seconds from Shaken Baby

The light is off, and Lydia and I just finished our bedtime routine – read a story (tonight, Big Little), use the potty and point out repetitious things like the fact that we painted the bathroom (“Oh, looks good!”) and the boo boo on her knee is healing, and migrate upstairs to her bedroom. Elvis is across the hall in his room, still yelling himself to sleep – the nightly agenda since he won’t take a pacifier and wakes up after falling asleep in mom’s arms – but typically by the time Lydia is settled, Elvis has also fallen asleep, and if not, usually a revisit to the bedside to pick up and check diaper contents solves the problem.

I lift Lydia up into her big-girl bed, dig her pacifier out from the crack it has fallen into, and raise the blanket over her legs. She asks, “Pray?” and so we do, for grandmas and grandpas and relatives and the playground and toys and the dog and whatever else comes to mind, and we ask for protection and safety and thank God for Jesus Amen. And then the radio request show starts, the first song up is Away in a Manger followed by Rock-a-Bye Baby and last but certainly not least, I sing Row-Row-Row Your Boat. Lydia lets out the commonplace whine as I kiss her forehead and say, “Night Night.” The whine escalates into a forced cry to which I reply, “Do you want me to turn on some music?” She says yes and settles back onto the pillow.

It is dark but I know the play button is right in the middle, volume pre-determined the previous night or during afternoon nap, and the instrumental music of Phil Keaggy begins. I return to Lydia and again kiss her on the forehead, pat her arm and wish her good night.

As I turn toward the door, the wailing starts. Before it’s closed, Lydia is upright and sliding out of the twin bed. Before I can get down the hall, the thump of bare feet on hardwood echoes toward the door. And before I am halfway down the stairs, the door knob turns, a sobbing two-year-old waiting for me to come back.

One technique recommended by Super Nanny is to quickly, firmly and quietly return the disobedient and sleep-deprived back to bed, tucked in, and wished good night. End of story. Or beginning of two hour story, depending on the strength of the two-year-old’s will and the fragile emotional foundation you feel certain you are crushing with every return to bed. But I try it, for awhile, thinking she has to give in at some point. She will get the message, roll over and silently if not hiccup-y suck her pacifier, the beautiful locks of fine blond hair swept away from closed eyes, tears still sliding softly down each cheek… asleep, nonetheless.

It is now four hours later… no, just ten minutes but it might as well be hours, and the wailing has reached hyperventilating screams of MOMMY! from the bedroom doorframe. Meanwhile, Elvis is still awake. I have given up temporarily on Lydia and move to the equally urgent but fewer decibal screams coming from the crib in the opposite room. Elvis is dry as far as I can tell except for his face which is damp with tears and I hold him close, do not hold him responsible for being awake still, and sway back and forth, whispering “shhhh”. Elvis slowly calms down in spite of his sister hovering by his door (working up a wail here and there to be sure I am aware she’s still awake), calm enough to lay him down and try his routine again. He begins crying but stays on his stomach, pushing forward with his legs until his head is wedged up against the crib bumper, a security he seems to have discovered to help sleep.

As soon as Lydia realizes I’m done with Elvis, it is back to the full-on crying. I quickly close his door and trot Lydia back to bed, envisioning Super Nanny with her hand on Lydia’s shoulder all the way, speaking firmly with her British accent, “Now it’s toime tu go tu bed, sweet hauht.” We resume what now has turned into a game of how quickly can Mom shuffle out the door before Lydia springs from her bed.

Upon multiple failures at the Super Nanny approach, I try a new tactic – hold the door shut. At first, I think this will work – force her to stay in her room. She’ll give up and proceed back to bed in a huff, clearly defeated, tired, and sick of this game. But coming from the other side of the door are heightening panicked yelps, “MOMMY!” sob, gulp “MOMMY!!!” and then the pounding begins. Lydia is beating on the door with her fist, and I am shocked. My hand is clenched on the doorknob, my throat tightening. The door is flung open, likely over the toes of my preschooler but I don’t care. “Get back in bed!” I shout, louder than I wanted to.

This is extremely effective. At making the situation ten times worse.

I bound down the stairs into the kitchen where my friend Hilary, waiting at the back door, has called to see if I’m home. It is 8:15, 15 minutes past bedtime and it feels like we’ve been at this for an hour. “You’ll have to bear with me, I have an irate two-year-old who won’t go to bed.” Hilary has a seat at the kitchen table with a book and I return to Lydia who is now standing at the top of the stairs hyperventilating.

The muscles in my arms are tense, my fingers tight around my daughter’s biceps. I launch her into the air and swing her into bed. Her rear end bounces on the mattress. Between sobs I whisper, “It’s past your bedtime, you need to sleep, why are you doing this?” and wait for an answer, my hands still firm on her arms. She replies, “I need to go potty,” a routine bedtime prolonging answer that makes my blood boil because I know most of the time she is lying but some of the time she really needs to go, so we have to listen all of the time. But this time, I place my bet on the former. “No you don’t, we just went.”

I realize the force I’ve kept around her arms and loosen, relax, pray, pray for patience and intervention, please Lord. Lydia has forgotten about the potty and asks instead if we can pray and sing again. My voice creeps back toward normal levels of sanity and I say okay, “But this is the last time. No more crying and screaming or getting out of bed. Right?” She says okay.

“Dear Lord,” I begin, exhaling a sigh from somewhere eternal, “Lord, thank you for Lydia. Thank you for Elvis and Mom and Dad and Granny and Pop. Thank you for Gramma Rose and Pop-Pop. Thank you for Uncle Ben and Aunt Kelly and Cousin Braden and the New Baby on the Way. Thank you for Uncle Bill and Uncle Phil. Thank you for all of our friends and family and we ask you to please bless us, Lord, keep us safe, and help Lydia to feel loved, protected, and safe tonight. We are thankful for all that you’ve given us and provided us. Amen.”

In the time it takes my weight to shift from the mattress to my right foot, Lydia is wailing again. I lean back toward her and ask if she wants me to sing. Of course the answer is yes and so I do the whole line-up again, Away in a Manger, Rock-A-Bye Baby, Row-Row-Row Your Boat, and for the grand finale, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. In the twilight shadows slipping between the curtains, Lydia’s eyelids are heavy, her thumb and forefinger rub the knob of her pacifier which is tucked securely underneath her nose, a position she’s preferred since birth. I rest my hand on her shoulder, sigh, praise God for silence, calm, steady breathing, and rise up off of the bed.

Before I am out the door, Lydia yells again. This time I pick her up. I need a distraction, something to ease the tension and frustration, so I carry her downstairs where Hilary waits at the kitchen table, reading a book. “I think we’re going to need to reschedule,” I say, “Someone is having a tough time going to sleep.” I introduce Lydia to Hilary and take Lydia back upstairs to sleep, this time certain I can placate this child.

We climb back into bed, Lydia’s voice calm, tears and hiccups gone. “Do you want me to sing?” I ask, and launch into Away In a Manger… “Away… in a manger – no crib for a bed, the li…ttle lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. The stars… in the sky… look down where he lay, the li…ttle Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.” Every line of every verse I drag out, “The ca…ttle are lowing, the ba…by awakes, but little lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” the melody familiar but off-tune as usual, “I lo…ve thee, lord Jesus look down from the sky, and stay… by my cradle til morning is nigh.” Lydia is still underneath my palm, but just to be certain, I continue through to the end, “Be near… me lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with thee there.” This last verse I’m fairly certain is misinterpreted lyrics from years of listening to first-verse-only Christmas carols on the radio, but I like it – I find my own comfort here in the third verse and let the “there” hang in the dark air a bit longer.

Aside from Phil Keaggy track 5, it is quiet. I stand, tip toe from her bed and pull the door shut behind me. And then it happens again – the wail, the cry, the thump of feet, the door opening, the hovering at the top of the stairs, the calls for mom who has huddled in the now-empty kitchen with her forehead pressed against the refrigerator pushing those tears back and dialing the phone, hoping her husband brought his cell into basketball with him, hoping he doesn’t roll his eyes when he sees the call but instead checks his message and hears the despair. Lydia is yelping “MOMMY!” again but I ignore her, whisper into the receiver the report, hang up and wait, wait to see if she makes a move either back to her room or further down the stairs. Instead she cries, “I have to go potty!”

I climb the stairs once more. It is back to the bathroom, onto the potty chair. “Oh, it’s dark outside!” Lydia says, staring out the window, and then, “Look at the star!” “Try to go pee, Lydia,” I return. Lydia pauses and the sound of success rings true from the bowl. “I peed my pants.”

I reach down to feel the damp crotch of her panties and pajamas, whisper, “Lydia,” and gently pull off her bottoms. “I’ll be right back,” and return to her room for new underwear.

After she’s done, she bolts back to her room and climbs into bed. “Where’s my pacifier?” she asks, and I rustle through the blanket and under the pillow until I find it. She burrows in, asks for the routine again and so I sing. I promise her waffles with peanut butter and honey in the morning if she stays in bed, and we pray again, thanking and asking for forgiveness and protection. When I’m done, she cries again.

And again. And again. In between episodes, I text my husband, “Please come home” and return to her. We resume the Super Nanny approach, and when that doesn’t work I pin her to the bed, angry, frustrated, crying. I leave her and she screams all the way back to the door. I threaten to spank her. I spank her. I put her back into bed. I put her back into bed again. I put her back into bed again. She’s hysterical, I’m irrational. I walk out, close the door, hold it shut. Lord, intervene. Please make her stop. Please, please I am losing it. I’ve lost it. It’s 9:30, Lord give me patience, peace, clarity, protection. Intervene.

This last time I do nothing different. Lydia is standing at the door and I’ve opened it before the knob turns. I walk her back to bed, lay her down, push the pacifier toward her mouth and pull the blanket over her. My head is inches from hers, my eyes staring into hers (“Oh, she has her mother’s eyes!”), I speak loudly but not yelling, “This is enough. I am done. No more crying. No more yelling. I love you. Good night.” And she says, “bye,” what she says on a normal night at 8:00 p.m. after a book and a song and a prayer.


The weeds in my new flowerbeds are multi-legged monsters with weak stems and claw-like roots. I have never seen this particular weed before, but it spread in large cancerous masses over a two week period. This is what happens when you work all day for two weeks straight – cancer beds.

While hoeing and yanking my way through the flowerbeds (which have no flowers yet, by the way), Lydia let out the loudest, scariest scream I have ever heard. I thought for sure whatever just happened involved a finger separated from the hand, or a leg bent backwards – something equally terrifying. “Blood curtling” doesn’t even come close to the level of this scream. My pulse jumped about a hundred beats as I spun around, nasty weed in hand and hoe falling from my other grip, to see my beautiful, smiling Lydia perched in the window of her playhouse, laughing.

Scream does not equal squeal.

“You DO NOT scream like that, Lydia, unless something really bad has happened or some scary person tries to take you or you get hurt, do you understand me?” I yelled. She fingered the plastic windowsill. “We do NOT scream like that. Don’t do that ever again. Unless you…” blah blah blah blah blah. She’s two. Get over it.

And in the opposite corner, my new toddler is picking clover blossoms and eating them. I guess it is better than pebbles, or grass, or dirt, right? My cousins and I experimented with clover blossoms ourselves. We pulled the delicate petals out to suck the sweet nectar from them – a country girl’s glue-sniffing experience. Why feel guilt about clover blossoms? I do the finger swipe through his mouth and he gags, as usual, but the now quite soggy blossom is dislodged from potential choke-dom.

All of this while I hoe away at a flowerbed that has no flowers, won’t have any flowers until next year, had two lovely holly bushes that were taken down by the dog’s tie and died a slow, dehydrated death; beds whose plentiful weeds will bounce back with the next rain because they are not only infested with a masterful root system but also lack ground cover or mulch of any kind. No weed prevention here, baby. Just plain old dirt. Fortunately for me, one corner of the bed won’t need to be weeded because my 75-pound redbone coonhound keeps digging his own dirt mattress every time the sun comes out, flinging soil onto the concrete patio that we never sit on anyway so why not throw dirt all over it?

I bagged up about thirty pounds of weeds this afternoon. You can actually see my blue star junipers and the Stella d’Oro day lilies again! It’s a miracle! AND, mixed in with this amazing weedbed are some things that look like they might be wildflowers. Out of the weeds just might come something worth saving.

Sounds Like Somebody’s Got a Case of the MUNdays…

I had every good intention of getting laundry done, dishes washed, something significant that isn’t so easy to do with the kids around, but instead, I have had a headache. All afternoon. So cable tv uninterrupted has been fabulous tonight.

I watched this ridiculous show on WE or O or Lifetime, some frilly station, called “Rich Bride, Poor Bride.” Oh. Dear. What is wrong with people? This girl’s mom paid for her wedding, which, come on – gratitude? please? But no, every step of the way, the bride was pushing to go above budget, with serious attitude. It was like listening to a 13 year old, “It’s MY wedding!” Oi, vay. And she hardly seemed to like her fiance, who, poor sod, couldn’t seem to do anything right. She had no respect for him whatsoever. It was nuts.

Poking around upstairs for a computer program to install on this nifty new laptop I’m using, I found our wedding albums. We are inching up on five years already. Pages on pages of smiles, hugs, kisses, laughter, intimacy… sunflowers and daisies, blue dresses, tuxes, Crystal Brook Farm, friends, family… I had a fairytale wedding, really. It is hard to write about our wedding without sounding incredibly sentimental. It’s probably easier to read about bitterness and frustration than joy and good times, anyway, right?

I had a difficult time getting into the swing of things at work today. After another long weekend, everything seemed urgent, so it was hard to determine where to begin. The most recent book with the Ashland Poetry Press is nearly done, which feels SO good – the cover design is just gorgeous, and the author’s thematic structure and well-constructed poems, I believe will be a hit. I also met with Joe and Dan to talk about River Teeth and the double issue; UNP is getting as excited about River Teeth’s future as we are, and that’s thrilling. The 10th issue is going to rock.

In the end, I guess I got things accomplished.

Besides my wedding albums, I found a notebook I kept the last year of college with some quotes and prayers in it. I have been thinking a lot about the outward flowing of spirituality lately – I used to gush 110% about how great God is, his love, forgiveness, grace, justice, mercy… etc., but not nearly as much anymore. I guess I got tired of saying the same cliches all of the time. It isn’t that I’ve forgotten his faithfulness or disregard his love – in fact, these traits about God and Jesus are as apparent in my life as ever – but the vocabulary of it all has gotten old and heavy. I want to walk the beach and tread water at the same time.

A favorite verse of mine, to close: “These commandments that I give you are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-9

D&C Done – Moving On.

All went well today – I am relieved to be done with the process of ending and happy to be moving back out of transition.

We took the kids to the park this afternoon following a nice nap. Weather was beautiful – mid-70s and a cool breeze, the Light in August (thank you, Faulkner), and two adorable kids poking around the playground. Lydia is the queen of adventure right now – she’s bounding up whatever challenging ladder or climbing device she can get to and flying down all slides, big and small. The bigger the better, even.

Elvis kissed a girl today. Yes, my son who turns one tomorrow waddled wrecklessly over to an innocent 20-month-old to grab her shirt and smoosh his face into hers. We of course created a drama for it all. Elvis cornered this poor toddler underneath the playground. I hope this isn’t foreshadowing a teenage life to come.

I spent a good deal of time writing ridiculous commentary to photos I found on our computer tonight. It’s all on facebook. I also discovered my mini-videos of Lydia and Elvis from the last two years. I need, NEED to get a video camera, I’ve decided. It is obvious to me now. These teasers of days-gone-by are just not going to cut it.

It is good to feel good again. The guilt I feel for feeling relieved that it’s over isn’t too much – but enough to complicate the relief. If anything, this miscarriage has helped us think in terms of more babies, sooner rather than later, and that is, I think, a good thing. At least for Brandon, it is. We need to wait about three months or so to try again, and this time we will try to conceive off of the pill (a healthier approach, I think). The timing will be better as well, if we can work it out. It’s not exactly in our hands, anyway, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t even know if BW is up for trying again, even after this incident, but I have a feeling it will be so.

.400 – major leagues, baby!

Not really major league status so much, but those are the stats – two babies for five pregnancies. I knew a few days ago that it wasn’t okay, but confirmed everything yesterday and have had two fantastic days with PLENTY of evidence. Tomorrow is the D&C – though I don’t think there’s anything left to take care of. Such is life, right? Really though, as mentioned previously, the timing for this pregnancy was not great. We would have loved to have a third child and would have of course made everything work, but God works it all out for good… even though the immediate consequences suck.

The third miscarriage is easier than the first two. Having two lovable children here to cuddle helps. And – our five year anniversary will be much more fun now. I realize this is kind of a sick way to think, but I have to look at the positive side of things. Three miscarriages is a lot to carry, and fortunately the burden of the first two was washed away a long time ago (thank God). Finding out we were pregnant came with a lot of complicated emotions, and finding out we’re not anymore is also loaded with complicated emotions. But for some reason, I am coping a lot better this time around.

It still sucks.

To the Unborn

The residency is over – hurrah! and boo… I will miss all of the students and faculty – such a weird transition from seeing people all of the time to none of the time.

I found out yesterday that another friend miscarried. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I went to the doc yesterday but they think I’m only six weeks along instead of eight, so I’m going back in two weeks. The doctor didn’t fail to let me know that conceiving while on birth control increases the risk of miscarriage. This is a complicated thing for me, because Lord knows Brandon and I weren’t planning on getting pregnant right now, and the timing (in my world) isn’t very good, for work purposes and for my husband’s sanity, but on the flip side – that would not make a miscarriage any easier to deal with. I saw the little blob on the ultrasound. Any mom knows that the instant you’re aware of being pregnant, all you think about is that baby – names, gender, health, personality – you become fixated, whether you were planning to or not. All of this to say – I’m nervous for this baby and already wondering if he/she’ll make it. Am I not too careful? Am I worried for nothing? Am I suspicious?

In light of other friends’ situations: a poem I wrote for my miscarried babies…

To the Unborn

And now you are the ellipsis,
the unfinished sentence,
the introductory clause
that made hollow promises
and then slipped off the page
almost as an oversight,
as if the printer ran out of ink
or out of paper,
or out of power,
a deadline passed
six months in advance,
the memory
that never was
and never will be

Never-Ending Summer Residency

Okay. I am tired. Really, really tired. But the last nine/ten days or so have been fabulously fun and exciting, and of course inspirational in the poetic way. Because there are double the number of people at this year’s residency, there are double the number of complaints and general issues to work out. Food is definitely a culture thing. I realize now that I am a true-blue meat-and-potatoes girl. That’s all there is to it. I have no clue what “good food” is, and less of a clue about vegan diets, vegetarian diets, and other strict dietary needs and meeting those needs. Oh, to have a cheeseburger right now!

In spite of the food wars, most everything has gone splendidly well. The visiting writers have been great, the faculty are excellent and loads of fun to spend time with, and the students are generally good-natured and pleased with the program. And I am tired. Just plain tired. I am sure this is partly due to the seven week or eight week pregnancy bit, which is spiking up in its usual symptom of nausea.

The husband has been a real trooper the last week and a half, and I’m glad things have gone relatively well. I stayed home tonight instead of going to the faculty reading so I could actually spend time with them for a bit. It feels like I’ve been doing the residency forever and that it may never end. But, the end is sneaking its way closer and closer, and I know I will be sad when it is over. Goodbye, students! Farewell, faculty! Back to quiet office hours… kind of…

Sleepy time.

Day One – Residency

Today is the first day of the residency at AU, and my children and husband have left the house for the in-laws. I have a feeling of hovering, waiting for “it” all to happen. There were plans to go to church this morning, but I think with the check-in and meetings, orientations, etc. I can’t. We met the faculty for dinner last night at The Cabin (Fabulous!), which was excellent – I am even more thrilled about this coming two weeks and the year to follow. The people are awesome. I think our students are going to be thrilled with the new hires. I am.

Tex has fleas. Ew. He has been an outdoor dog the last few months because we were tired of yelling at him all the time to stop begging from the kids, and he also has this habit of needing to go outside at 6:00 a.m. regardless of the day. He initiates this need by scratching relentlessly on whatever door is in his way to said outside. This had to stop – especially because the scratching seemed to have a direct coorelation with the time our children woke up. Bye bye, Texy! Outside you go! With this comes consequences – mostly for him – we occasionally forget to feed him in the morning; he now has fleas; and, my favorite, he gets the leash tangled around my newly planted holly bushes, yanking them out of the ground. It will be a miracle if they survive.

One of my favorite things about the residency is being in the presence of this hoard of writers who are not afraid to talk about writing as if it is the most important topic on earth. This is good fun. What I always come to realize, however, is that I do not fit the writer-mold: I am not left-wing vegan organic activist; I am not a professor with months of time to do research (though if anyone would like to grant me this time, I’d be happy to take it); I do not snub the midwest lack of big city culture. Here I am, small town girl, generally appreciative and easy going. How did I land here??

At any rate, these two weeks will be challenging, envigorating, and exciting. AND, I still have hoards of submissions pending all over the place, which is fun. I made the SHORT LIST at Relief: Quarterly Christian Expression – the first time I’ve received such an email. Hurrah!


I have been wanting to get back into the habit of “blogging”, or what used to be called journaling and before that diarying, for some time – and this seems like a good time to start back up. I have known for about a week that we are pregnant with #3, which seems unbelievable. THREE KIDS. I am of course thrilled and excited, but the husband is less-than-so, since he is still the primary care giver in the relationship.

I had the hardest time coming up with a clever name for my new distraction from everything else I should be doing, but thanks to a recent poem, I found myself a title. “Driftwood” came about from an old poem I wrote when BW and I started dating and went river walking. This is funny now because my husband is not exactly nature-boy. The things you’ll do to win a girl’s heart, I tell you what. At any rate, the old poem was… bad. But I love renovation, and renovating old poems is much like renovating houses – you find one characteristic you love and you build on it, tearing everything else away. So, “Driftwood” came about as a piece about marriage making two people holy rather than happy, though it could be about any type of long term relationship – with God, with people, with pets, I don’t know ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here ’tis –


Not unlike two pieces of driftwood from up river,
we spin in the current and undertow of the falls.
The rocks, slick under our sandals render each step
cautious, the familiar made unfamiliar
by lichened sandstone loosened, unpredictable,
transient beneath our feet.

The water makes us softer; we are blending,
being refined, losing sharper edges, your limbs
and mine twist together, threaten to destroy each other.
How do I not break you, our throes violent, sudden, severe?
I could snap in half, take part of you with me.

When weโ€™re finally spit out, the knotted whorl left over
will be bare, our two indistinguishable, polished, holy.