Skip to main content

With or Without

I can feel each and every beat of my heart, each breath I take. It is as if my heart and my lungs are being held in place with barbed wire, so that each time they move, I am cut. With each deep breath I try to take, I taste the metallicness of blood dripping on rusted wire. Except that's not what is happening at all. It just feels that way.

Firsts are usually celebrated. First time you found out you were pregnant. First time you heard the heartbeat. First time you found out if it was a little boy or a girl. First delivery. First cry. First feeding. First diaper. First time rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking. First time saying mama. First time riding a bike, going to school, putting the ponytail in all by herself. First dance recital, first sleepover.
I find myself now navigating this precariously fragile world of Firsts Without.

First spring day where she isn't going to ride her bike. Instead, the bike is just going to sit there. Waiting. Waiting for a girl who cannot come.

First time going to Anchor Inn and not ordering a cheeseburger because she isn't here to eat it.

First time being woken up by a storm and realizing there will be not footsteps scurrying down the hall, the door will not open, and her slender body will not fold back the blankets and slide in close.

I feel overwhelmed by Firsts Without. I could drown myself in Firsts Without: first time going to the gas station without. First time grocery shopping without. First time going to the dentist without. Without, without, without.

And then I think: did I realize there were this many Firsts With?

Did I seek out and take joy in the first time my child stood on tiptoe to fish out the mail? Or did I only notice the "important" firts? Did I seek out and take joy the first time I walked into Bed, Bath and Beyond holding the hand of my child? Or, instead, did I rattle of a list of rules: hold on to my hand, don't touch anything, don't get lost. Did I sit back and take notice of the first time she snapped her pants all by herself? Or did I just note how my life got that much easier now that she was one step closer to self-sufficient?

Why do so many of the Firsts With seem overlooked... while all the Firsts Without seem glaringly obnoxiously cruel and hurtful?

What causes us to overlook the plentiful ordinary Firsts With? Do we convince ourselves they're not that big of a deal? Are our lives too busy? Are we that all-consuming that we forget to even take notice the first time she puts a stamp in the right corner of an envelope? Or the first time she squeezed the toothpaste on without oozing half the tube on counter?

What would happen if we slowed down? What would happen if we all took a Mommy Time Out, pushed everything out of our head and just watched with? Today, I challenge you...

I challenge you to take the most beautiful First With you can take... for the next twenty minutes forget about the laundry and the dinner that must be made; forget about the bills and the garbage and the sticky stuff on the kitchen floor you can't identify. Instead, for the next twenty minutes, get on the same level as your child. Lay on the floor, sit on your knees, climb up the tree house take a seat and criss-cross-applesauce on the rough plywood floor.... and really look at them. Memorize the curve of their neck and the mole by their left temple. Watch their fingers as they put together Lego's and drink in the way their lips move when they talk. Take a mental photo of that unruly cowlick, the pointed elbow and the feet that surely one day they'll grow into.

For the next twenty minutes, take full and complete notice of how truly beautiful, how truly wonderfully made this child is. Your child. Do it now. Because you will not have the opportunity when you are Without.


The withs were not overlooked. If they had been overlooked, you would not feel without. You would be totally unaware. You are present and aware. If you were not, you would not be able to write in detail and with perspective in the amazing way that you do.

Next time you feel the feeling of "without," tune in. Let all of your senses go into overdrive. Feel the energy in wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Listen inside. I bet those times you are feeling "without," are actually moments when you are still very much "with" her. In those moments, look for the footprints in the sand. I'm sure they will be there. Find the happiness in the memory and let that wash over you instead of letting yourself feel the lack.

When my heart aches for a lost loved one and I get stuck in a place that's not good for having an emotional breakdown... like a grocery store or gas station... I take a deep breath and give myself over to the memory. The thought of letting go of my composure is sometimes terrifying, but I concentrate really hard on not crying at the memory. I try really hard to smile at it. Those memories deserve a smile.

Thank you for that lovely post and the reminder that the only thing we have is the moment we are experiencing right now.
Anna See said…
This is lovely and true. xo
Brenna said…
Just last night my husband said, "Okay, she's tucked in. Stop burning holes in her face." He calls me creepy when I sit and marvel at her beautiful face. I totally ignore him, I'm okay with being creepy.

Popular posts from this blog

The House that God Built

in·stan·ta·ne·ous /ˌinstənˈtānēəs/ adjective 1. occurring or done in an instant or instantly.
synonyms: immediate, instant, on-the-spot

The thing is, she died so sudden.
I didn't have the chance to plead with God, to make all the irrational promises. If he would just let her be okay.... I would start taking better care of my health. I would be nicer to the neighbor that drove me crazy. I would always let someone else go in front of me at Walmart no matter how long the line was. I wouldn't complain. Ever. I would volunteer at the Homeless Shelter. I would clean up after pigs. I would clip the toenails of the elderly. I would do anything and everything He would ask me to do....
There is a box on her death certificate that captures the amount of time between the initial injury and the time of death. It reads "seconds." I wish it read "instantaneous" because she deserves a clever word like that.
Fast forward five years.... definitely taking MUCH longer than "…

Seeing Avery All Grown Up

One day I'll tell you about the freezing cold we left and the heavy bags we lugged, full of supplies and medicines. I'll tell you about arriving in Port au Prince and walking across a cracked concrete parking lot to board an old school bus with a flat tire. How the heat was suffocating after months of below zero Wisconsin winter weather, how the people crowded and walked too close to moving traffic as we searched for a tire shop that was barely more than a couple men sitting on overturned 5-gallon buckets on the side of the road next to a pile of old tires, everything covered in dirt.

I'll tell you about waiting on the bus while they removed the tire and I'll recall the loud explosion that rocked the bus and scared the life out of me and how I was relieved to learn it was just the tire blowing after being filled too far. (They didn't have any gauges.) And then I'll tell you about the fear I felt when I realized we didn't have a tire and we were stuck on th…

When Your Imagined Life is Nothing Like This One

There were so many ways I imagined my adult life would be....THIS is not one of them.
I posted that on my Facebook wall last night. It might have been seen as funny except my choice of hashtags gave me away:
treading water getting nowhere piles of disappointment not many successes worn out and exhausted out of options

I always imagined my life would be thrilling. Full of exciting adventures and people from all over the world. I would dine at Ethiopian, Thai, and Indian restaurants. I would write books, teach English, coach forensics and direct the play. My husband would be charming and funny and not care about gender roles when it came to household chores. He would beg for at least six kids and I would fall in love with him all over again each time I caught him giving good life advice.
I would take photographs and travel the world documenting the people I came across. I would adopt a sibling group of three or maybe four and work on foster care policies because the ones we have aren't work…