this is church right now

Five minutes late (aren’t we always these days). Smudged nametags, courtesy of Crayola markers. Pile of coats on the end of the pew (will it ever be spring?).

Loud whispers requesting books as soon as the lector starts to read. Why can’t we sing that psalm again – I like that one.

Puzzle pieces scattered on the floor during the Gospel. Homily about poverty and divorce and addiction and all the wants we bring before God. Tears over who gets to put the envelope in the collection basket (next Sunday remember to bring two).

No, we are not going to the potty like that little boy. Because you went before Mass and you can hold it, that’s why.

Eucharistic prayers for a bishop at the center of the latest sex abuse scandal. Whining about how hard it is to keep standing (I know, sweetie, I get tired, too). Eyes that light up at the Our Father – I know this one.

Shaking hands with every person within lunging range. Can you be gentle for the Sign of Peace? Headlocks between brothers broken up while the priest breaks the bread. A smiling whisper from the grandma behind us: of course they’re fighting but you have a beautiful family.

Wandering up behind us for a blessing at communion time. Why can’t I have the bread yet? Why doesn’t Mama drink the wine while she’s growing the baby? Snuggles while we sing. Watching babies in the communion line (7 more weeks and everyone will stop asking when I’m due).

Yes, we can read the book about the saints again. Use a Kleenex, not your fingers.

Announcements about a new unemployment support group. Careful practice of the Sign of the Cross at the final blessing. If there’s drumming on the last song, you can dance. But sometimes in Lent we sing quieter songs because it’s a solemn time. Solemn means quiet.

Requests to visit the tabernacle and light a candle and I want to pray for the baby and rainbows and everyone and God. Put down the kneeler carefully, please. Squabbling and a shove over who gets to pick the candle to light.

Why can’t we have donuts during Lent and are we going to Trader Joe’s on the way home? High-five from the priest on the way out to the parking lot. Please hold hands.

You boys did a great job at church today. Thank you. Attempts to revisit the homily’s high points over mounting requests for a favorite CD for the drive home. Brainstorming babysitters for Holy Week services (7:30 on Thursday night will be a disaster otherwise).

Closing antiphon from the littlest one, car seat in the back, dirty boots swinging against the driver’s seat, can you please stop kicking, sweetie:

I love going to church.

. . .

Has it always been so small and so huge, all these questions and concerns wrapped under one roof of one church? Maybe.

It’s the juxtaposition of the miniscule and the momentous, the ordinary and the overwhelming – praying for mudslide victims and pulling up trousers that were indeed too big for Mass this morning, hearing stories of healing in the Gospel while rummaging around in the diaper bag. The whiplash back and forth that defines this time in our lives. All of this is church right now.

Some day we may find ourselves just two again, a quiet couple that takes up only part of a pew. But for now church is chaos. And that’s ok, too.

. . .

Today at Practicing Families I answered our oldest son’s question from last Sunday, a response to his tantrum at the back door:

Why do you have to go to church?

I thought I wasn’t going to have to answer that snarly question for a few more years. Maybe even a decade before you started stomping around with teenage eye rolls of disgust when I ask you to get dressed on Sunday morning, and not in those ratty jeans with the holes in the knees, either. boots

But here we are today, already five minutes late and you’re standing at the back door whining in protest, coat clenched in your fist and your stubborn stocking feet kicking the mud-caked boots you refuse to put on so we can scramble into the car.

Do you want my answer? Ok. This is why you have to go to church.

Read the rest at Practicing Families

what is deliberate motherhood?

If you’d asked me this when I knew the most about parenting – you know, back before I had kids – I would probably have replied along these lines (if I answered at all, staring back at you strangely, wondering why you’d ask such an odd question):

Deliberate motherhood? I guess that’d be getting pregnant on purpose.

(Real deep. Also real naïve.)

But if you’d ask me now, just a few years into a ride that will last the rest of my life, I’d answer very differently (that is, if you can hold on just a minute while I refill someone’s spilled milk and break up a slapping squabble over trains and finish making breakfast so we can get out the door to school on time without flipping out over finding everyone’s shoes):

Maybe it’s mindfulness. Thoughtfulness? A desire to be intentional about the way I raise them. An awareness of how important this work is.

And maybe it’s not, maybe it’s none of these things, maybe I still have a long way to go to figure it out, but here’s the difference: I’ve thought about it. That to me is the heart of deliberate motherhood.

It’s the mission of Power of Moms to be a gathering place for deliberate mothers. When a friend first set me a link years ago to a story published there, it felt like a deep breath amid the frantic “what to buy / how you have to do this / why you need to worry” tone I felt from so many parenting magazines and websites.

I loved that Power of Moms was a gathering of different voices, a celebration of diverse perspectives, and a community of women who were trying to be mindful about what it means to approach motherhood deliberately.

None of us are deliberate all the time. Plenty of days I parent on auto-pilot. But the moments that we’re able to be mindful, that we chose to consider why our words and actions and attitudes matter, that we realize how much this journey is shaping us as well as our kids – these are the deliberate moments that make the rest worth it.

Power of Moms just published their Deliberate Motherhood book (and, full disclosure, sent me a copy to review). And my whole-hearted endorsement is that it echoes exactly what I love about the Power of Moms website. It’s a collection of diverse voices, it’s a positive approach to encouraging moms, and it offers just enough concrete tips to make me think positively about how I could bring a little more mindfulness into my life.

The book is organized around 12 “powers” of motherhood – deliberate practices or attitudes that can shape how we face mothering: acceptance, love, patience, individuality, progress, balance, priorities, organization, fun, optimism, and moments. Each chapter is written by a different mom who also draws in stories, insights and ideas from many other mothers who’ve written for Power of Moms. I love the collaborative community voice that emerges here, affirming that our backgrounds and beliefs may be different, but our love for these kids in our lives is fierce. So let’s think together about why it matters how we raise them.

Deliberate Motherhood inspired me to sit down and think about the “powers” that guide my parenting – the attitudes or practices that I want to cultivate and pass on to my kids. Without editing myself, I scribbled down my own list of 12love, forgiveness, faith, joy, gratitude, hope, laughter, curiosity, community, wonder, mindfulness, compassion.

Since then I’ve been sitting with my list, wondering what it says about the practices that sprang immediately to mind – whether I try to live them out or only hope to aspire to their ideal – as well as the ones that didn’t. (Note that perfection and competition never made the list. Neither did peace and calm.)

What about you?

Which one of the Deliberate Motherhood powers is most important in your parenting? Which is the most challenging? Leave a comment below for your chance to win a free copy of Deliberate Motherhood, generously offered by Power of Moms. (Comments must be left by Friday, September 20, 2013 at midnight, CST, for a chance to win; winner must reside within the U.S. to be eligible.)

Check out Power of Moms to learn more about their work (including another forthcoming book that I’m delighted to be a part of – more details to come!) or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. And as part of a special giveaway, for anyone who purchases Deliberate Motherhood in September and sends their receipt to dm@powerofmoms.com, you’ll receive complimentary access to the Deliberate Mothering Podcast series (valued at $20). On October 4th, 10 Grand Prize Winners will be selected to receive the Power of Moms Premium Package (valued at $224)!

mary of the miscarriage

Pray to Mary, she told me.

Your grandma did, when she had her miscarriages. She didn’t understand Mary, but she still turned to her.

It was the last phrase that stuck with me. Not the admonition to pray, not the reminder of solidarity, not even the memory of a relative I loved.

But the honest truth of another Catholic woman who didn’t automatically feel connected to Mary, who didn’t adore her with the thrill of May crownings and the comfort of rosary beads, who admitted that she didn’t always understand her but who still turned to her.

So I tried to make room in my heart. For her.

Whose motherhood likely looked nothing like she imagined, either.

Who learned, from the moment she found out, that love and loss go hand in hand.

Who stood in a long line of women who wrestled with their wombs – Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel and Elizabeth.

Who fled to the comfort of kindred spirits when the world proved too much.

Whose words were Fiat and Magnificat, the humility of hope and the awe of wonder.

Whose prayers spoke truth of a God who lifts up what is bent low.

Who heard awful words that a sword would pierce her own soul.

Who treasured all these things in her heart, even as it grew heavy.

Who might have wanted to carry again, too.

Who had to let her child go.

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When I think of what this awful August has been, of all the people who have rallied round us, I see how half the women who held me close have known the pain of miscarriage themselves, who remember and reach out to say that it was a life, that it was a loss, that it will take time to grieve.

But the other half of the women who are helping to carry me never knew this heartache themselves. Yet they love me through it just the same.

Maybe I have to stop holding up similarity as the way to sympathy.

I’ll never be like Mary; she’ll never be like me. But if I stop at the contours of the immaculate conception and the boundaries of the virgin birth and the defenses of the dogmas we construct to keep holy the God-bearer, then I might count myself out of a kindred spirit before she ever has the chance to surprise me.

Maybe we do not need to mirror each other’s experiences to share the same story.

These days I don’t know where I stand, on the shifting sands of a loss so small the world cannot see it, a grief so heavy it drags down each step I take. But the one thing I know as the days keep arriving and leaving, as I ache to turn the page on this month with too much living and dying, is that I do not stand alone.

And all the women – who sent flowers and dropped off dinners, who wrote cards and keep writing emails, who pray me through and listen me through and cry me through and love me through -  maybe they are Mary to me.

Even if I do not understand, I keep turning.

carry the load

Laundry round here is eternal.

Diapers, dirty dishclothes, daily heaps of socks and shirts and pants and bibs and towels. It piles up in towering heaps overnight, and just when I slam the dryer door shut with a satisfying thwack and declare it tackled, I turn to find my boys covered in marker or yogurt or (worst) mysterious unknowns.

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I sigh, strip them down, fill the tired barrel of the washer once more, and set it again to spin.

Laundry without ceasing.

. . .

I have a handful of friends who are pregnant, most of them expecting number three or four, none of them amateurs at gestation but all of their hands and hearts already full to the brimming. I’ve promised them prayers, dip into their days with a quick email to inquire how they’re doing, but it never feels enough, not when I know how dark and depressing and downright overwhelming the burden of bearing baby can be. I wonder what more I can do, especially for the far-flung friends, the dear ones far across the country that I can’t surprise with a casserole and a hug and a how are you really doing?

What can any of us do to help carry the load?

Of course it’s prayer, I know that’s the answer, but it seems so small and trite sometimes. An easy promise to hold up, to keep in mind, to whisper good thoughts and happy hopes to smooth the way. I’m still learning, slowly, stumblingly, what I believe about prayer, but I’m quite sure it’s nothing like the power of positive thinking or the secret that stops the universe to grant my heart’s desire. If prayer is about bending myself to the way of Christ, allowing myself to be changed, humbling myself back into the heart of the divine, what does it mean to carry other’s intentions with me as I go?

I’m still not sure.

But I do know one thing: prayer reminds. Even when it may not help or heal, it reminds.

. . .

I pause from the pile of laundry to read a favorite blog, clicking through the pages as I ignore the clothes around me on the couch, half stacked in neat piles of designated owner, half still strewn in a messy dump from the dryer. When I stumble upon the simple post about praxis of prayer, a tangible mindfulness of uniting intention with the everyday, the idea falls into my lap like a soft jumble of small socks:

I’ll carry my laundry for them.

How many times a day do I bend to grab the plastic handles of the bulky baskets, lug them up and down stairs, stagger them around corners, fill them to the back-breaking brim? How many times a day could I easily remember those expecting, each one of my friends who carry something much weightier and more wonderful than even clean laundry? What difference might it make – for them, for me – if I slowed to remember when I stooped to carry again?

The more I muse, the more laundry I fold, the more it seems right. This is how prayer becomes incarnate: in everyday actions.

. . .

Laundry seems endless in these early years: the late-night laundry, the soaked and stained laundry, the kid clothes and grown-up clothes all tumbling together in the dryer. Pregnancy can feel like that, too: endless and oh-so-bodily. Good work, necessary work, but so tiring, so cumbersome, so overwhelming.

I remember at the end of my pregnancies when my husband rushed to grab the basket out of my hands before I lugged it up or down the stairs, balanced on my basketball of a belly. Let me help! he’d say with exasperation. Let me carry that – you’ve already got enough.

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I’d laugh to myself (what did he think I did while he was gone all day?) but without protest I let him help. Let him carry the load. Let myself rest for a moment and remember how much I was already carrying.

Maybe prayer’s like that, too: a willingness to carry and be carried.

To learn when to remember and when to rest in each other’s arms.

the real wise women

The joke regularly circles round the Internet and church bulletins this time of year:

What if the three Wise Men had been women? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts!

But beyond the silly stereotyping, the harmless joke always rubbed me the wrong way, though I could never put my finger on exactly why.

Until I was musing about what to give for a dear friend expecting a baby, and I realized I didn’t feel like buying her anything practical. I wanted to give her something beautiful, something lasting, something lavish.

Thoughtful folks always offer diapers and wipes when a wee one arrives. Bibs and burp clothes, toys and teething rings flow as freely as advice at baby showers. But the wisest women in my life were the ones who brought me impractical gifts. Handmade blankets. Tiny knitted sweaters. Wee white booties. A shiny silver cup.

Nothing for the day-to-day messes of babyhood. Everything for the wonder of welcoming a new one into the world.

When I look around our home’s endless kid-clutter of ever-changing clothes and once-loved toys, I realize these gifts – the impractical ones, the indulgent ones, the ones never found on a registry – are the lasting treasures.

In my youngest’s room, the rocking chair is draped with a quilt handmade by a dear friend. IMG_6494Propped on the floor by his favorite books is a pillow from my sister, stitched with his name and birth date.

In my oldest’s room, a warm white blanket from my husband’s aunt rests on his trunk. Keeping watch from atop the dresser stands a small statue of a mother cuddling her baby, a present from my sister-in-law. Gifts from mothers wise enough to know that babies deserve to be welcomed with beauty.

And lavish impracticality.

So every time I hear Epiphany’s Gospel of the Magi, and someone snickers about the impracticality of gold, frankincense and myrrh, I think no, the wise men got it just right.

And maybe it was the women they loved – the ones they left behind to journey so long and far, led by a star’s strange stirring – who were the ones that whispered in their ears bring something beautiful, something rich, something lasting. Maybe the women beside the wise men were the ones who knew just what a birth deserved, especially a sacred birth like this one.

Not the practical help that a young couple with a newborn needed. But the lavish gift of honoring a new and noble life in the glint of gold, the scent of frankincense, the perfume of myrrh. All the extravagance they could offer for such a child as this.

The wise men got it right. And wise women would have done the same.

i am because we are

She walks around the crowded yoga studio, stuffy with the heat of our bodies, pulsing with the waves of deep breathing in and out. Ubuntu, she speaks softly, stepping carefully between brightly colored mats while we lie stretched out in child’s pose. I am because we are.

She gently describes the South African philosophy, quotes Desmond Tutu, you can’t be human all by yourself. While we spend an hour stretching and sweating and shaking as our muscles strengthen, she speaks over and over about the interconnectedness of identity and community.

I listen to the rushing flow of our breathing in and out, sharing the same air and the same space, and I think about interdependence, being created and connected by community.

My body knows this. My mind knows this.

I am because we are.

. . .

Even before the game clock ticks to 00:00, the Facebook feed lights up like Christmas: GO IRISH! #1! NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, HERE WE COME!

Texts fly in, from every old roommate, from every corner of the county. Exhausted from running around the basement to celebrate the final win, we collapse in our chairs. Can you believe this season finally happened? Can you believe how lucky those kids have it, to be there right now? But family and friends on the phone, calling from living rooms and parties and bars and halfway across the world, remind us that we’re already lucky. In an instant, clichés about college-as-family shimmer into true.

We are – and remain, across the years and the miles – ND.

It’s what I loved about the place, of course. The community. The spirit when you step on campus. The collective sense of identity.

But what lured me in as a high school senior went far beyond school spirit or team pride. Notre Dame changed my faith life, too. Because it taught me how to be part of something so much bigger than myself, what it meant to choose a collective identity.

That despite our diverse and disparate interests, beyond our bickering, we can be drawn together by something greater than ourselves.

That the thin spaces and places that unite us, thick with tradition and the ancestors that came before us, put into perspective the worries of the present day.

That we can gather together under one big tent, whether football or faith, even as the sides flap open when the wind blows hard, even as we jostle and elbow each other inside.

Because when the crowd chants in slow, solemn circles round the stadium - We…Are…N…D… – you can’t help but feel the chill. We breathe together in the stadium, our gasps and whoops and yells and cries creating a single wave. Community. Collective identity. And the comfort and challenge always within.

Which is, coincidentally, what church is about, too.

I am because we are.

. . .

I’m firmly his favorite parent. It’s a fleeting phase, I know; they all are. So I soak it up for a season, laugh when he collapses on himself in chortles when I open the door to his room in the morning. Pure delight: she’s here!

He clings to me like a baby koala, nails digging into my arms, never wanting to let go. Even as he takes his first toddling steps and rolls new words around his tongue, he holds on even tighter. High school psych class taught me enough to know that he’s far past the stage of differentiating himself from his mother: he knows he’s not me. And yet something deep within him desires to hold on to this first, most primal, collective identity: I am because you are.

Perhaps it’s the greatest gift I could give my children: a strong sense of self, a firm foundation on which to build a life, a sure place from which to leave. But at the same time knowing that their lives are intimately bound up with others, people who love and need and depend on them, too.

What Catholic social teaching calls the common good. What Desmond Tutu calls ubuntu. What Notre Dame calls family.

I am because you are.

one year a christian

One whole trip around the sun. That’s how long he’s been a Christian.

A year ago we gathered with old and new friends, family from near and far. My mother and I dressed my six-week old son in the baptismal gown that four generations of my family have worn.

And a young deacon, an-almost priest we met as he journeyed through seminary, rolled up the sleeves of his alb, nervously took the squirmy baby from my arms, and plunged him deep into the waters of new life.

He came up wide-eyed and gave a small yelp. We all smiled.

Everyone likes when the baby cries, my mother whispered. That’s how they know the baptism “took.”

Last weekend we watched a baptism from the back of church while that same boy, now a year old and a thousand times squirmier, crawled around the gathering space. I listened as the pastor asked parents and godparents the old familiar questions we’ve heard a thousand times before.

What name do you give your child? What do you ask of the Church for your child? Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

The priest chuckled at the last question, paused and turned to the congregation. “I always laugh when I ask parents that one. As if they have any clue at all what they’re getting into.”

I looked down at our boy. I thought about the letter I wrote him one year ago. Do I clearly understand what I am undertaking? Trying to raise him in this church, trying to raise him in any kind of faith when all the headlines scream that it’s becoming more unpopular by the day?

Not at all. Maybe none of us do.

But I’m trying. Deep in my bones I believe this is the most important thing I’m trying to do as a parent, to awaken my children to the possibilities of faith and a life lived for others.

And isn’t that what most mothers and fathers do – parent towards possibility? No matter our child’s age or ability, no matter their stage or situation, we always dream of the possibilities, what they might do and achieve and become. Baptism’s like that, too. We are welcomed into a community that has great hopes for us, called by God who dreams of all we might become.

But baptism also celebrates the simple fact of being beloved. Of knowing that we need not achieve to be worthy nor succeed to be faithful. My hopes for what he comes to believe about his faith rest between this tension: I hope it will inspire him to do and remind him to be.

When I think on my boy’s baptism anniversary of what it means to have smeared that chrism on his forehead and named him a child of God, I wonder what knowledge his own bones hold from that moment. None of us remember the first year of life. And yet he knows many things, deeply.

He knows he is loved. He knows the people he loves. He knows he has always been cared for. All of that will help him learn how he is beloved by God, no matter where he goes or what he does. I hope the memory of that belovedness is his lasting gift.

That will be how I know the baptism took.

steve & robert, my partners in parenting

Don’t tell my husband, but I spend much of my day with other men.

Two, to be precise. Steve in the early morning and Robert in the late afternoon.

As I sip the day’s first mug of tea or chop vegetables for dinner, their familiar voices float around me, winding from the radio, room to room. Reassuring voices, deep and gentle.

Sometimes serious, sometimes playful, their rises and falls intertwine with mine – sometimes laughing, sometimes lecturing. Toddler yells and baby screams always interrupt right when my interest in a news story is peaked, but I never worry. Steve and Robert will tell me again next hour.

They’re my faithful partners in parenting, from hectic Monday rush through slow-news Friday.

. . .

I grew up on a steady diet of NPR. Even after nearly two decades of eating vegetarian, the trumpet fanfare for “All Things Considered” still reminds me of onions and ground beef sauteing on the stove as my mother stood and stirred while she listened.

I remember guffawing with my dad to “Car Talk,” rolling my eyes at “Prairie Home Companion,” even complaining on endless road trips that couldn’t we please listen to ANYTHING else besides the news because that’s for ADULTS and it’s boring. (My youngest brother declared I was officially old once I started slipping, “I heard this interesting piece on NPR…” into conversation.)

But what I have come to cherish as an adult is not NPR’s solid reporting or even-tempered commentary. It’s faithful familiarity. NPR sounds exactly the same to my ears now as it did when I was ten years old. So much changes, technology rises and falls, the latest new fads come and go, but news-on-the-radio is stubbornly old-fashioned. Just the way I like it. 

That’s why I love Steve and Robert. They remind me that doing things the old-fashioned way – whether it’s diapers hanging on the line or vegetables from our backyard garden – is a good way to live. That I can draw more wisdom from my parents and grandparents than from the latest glossy magazine. That as life constantly changes, we need some things to stay the same.

The steady voices of Steve and Robert and Renee and Michele set the rhythm of my days in this season of life. They bring a perspective to my kid-dominated days that’s bigger than my kitchen table. They pull me outside my front door even when I’m at home. But if I’m honest, it’s not the news or the politics or the arts that I truly love. It’s the adult voices that accompany me through the days, the antidote to my work-at-home, mother-at-home loneliness.

That’s why I count them as partners in parenting, just like the friends we meet for playdates and faces we see at preschool drop-off. They’re part of the community, the wider world, the proverbial village, that’s helping me raise my kids. With a mindset that goes beyond mothering and a concern that goes beyond my children.

(If only Robert offered to change a few more diapers…)

called by name

I woke up to the litany of names. Maybe you did, too.

Every year on this day they wind around me as I sip my morning cup of tea, greeting another sunny September day like that bright one we pause to remember (can it be eleven years ago now?). I listen to the litany. Names read by loved ones, a simple, solemn recitation. Just enough pause to let the sounds and syllables sink in before the next name begins.

Names that sound foreign and names that sound familiar. Janitors and bankers and moms and firemen. People who rushed in and people who tried to get out.

All of them gone. All of them loved.

The only thing I treasure about this awful anniversary is that honoring each name is our way to remember.

. . .

We’ve been church shopping for months.

I hate to admit it, because I dislike a consumerist mindset when it comes to faith communities: what can I get here? what can you give me? But our recent move landed us smack in the middle of four different parishes, all equal distance from our house. So we have to decide where will be home.

Each one draws us for a different reason: a great school, a beautiful worship space, a vibrant liturgical life, a warm community. The choice is hard, but we long to settle in – to stop slipping in and out of pews unknown, to cease the Sunday hop from church to church.

But one parish has something that none of the others have.

Before you walk into the sanctuary, you stop at a wooden table with markers and nametags in a wicker basket. The small sign above reads: We are all called by name through baptism. Babies and adults alike slap the sticker on our shirt. When we wind our way to the front for communion, the minister glances at our nametag with a smile and proclaims our name before offering the Body of Christ. The children are blessed the same – by name, with a soft hand laid on their heads.

Every time it gives me goosebumps. The power of being called by name.

I think we found our home.

. . .

I dropped him off at preschool again this morning. I mentally crossed fingers and toes that we’d have another day like last Thursday, the one day he didn’t cry when I left. But I wasn’t sure. He’s a cautious soul, my firstborn.

We held hands tightly as we crossed the parking lot to the front door. Parents and preschoolers all around us did the same. But one little boy, carried in his mother’s arms, squirmed to the side and pointed with delight at my son.

“There’s S!” he exclaimed with a broad smile.

His mother turned. “Is that your buddy?” she asked. The boy just grinned. My son smiled right back, though he said nothing in return.

He didn’t cry today. (Though I teared up as I drove away.)

The power of being called by name.

I think he’s home.

uncommon birth day thanks

A first birthday is full of nostalgia, as it should be.

Where is the sleepy curl of a newborn, all milky breath and radiant warmth? Who is this toothy, mop-haired, grinning, babbling, climbing, crawling ball of a boy who took his place?

And was there really a time we lived without him?

My thoughts this birthday week have tended towards the usual thanks to God. Deep gratitude for the gift of life, the chance to parent times two. Blessed thanksgiving that his first year was healthy and fear-free. Extra joy for his happy nature and chipper smile, the icing on his charming cake.

But my thoughts of thanks became more particular as we neared this day. Faces of friends and strangers surfaced: all those who, knowingly or not, accompanied me on the journey of birthing this babe, one year ago this early morning.

Because none of it would have happened without God, of course.

But neither would it have happened without them.

The doctor who suggested new diet and vitamins before we leapt back into drugs. Let’s try this first. I’ve got a good feeling.

The grocery cashier who grinned as she rang up the pregnancy test on that snowy Saturday. Hoping for good news? I’ll cross my fingers.

The family whose loud whoops at our announcement met this baby with as much joy as his brother. Are you guys serious? Best Christmas gift ever, again!

The friends who kept calling, stubborn and faithful, for the dark stretch of months when I was too sick to get off the couch. L, it’s me again. Thinking of you, sending love, call when you can.

The husband who brought me bouquets on the worst days and made me smoothies on the best days and never once complained when I spent months complaining. It’s ok. I know it’s going to get better soon.

The yoga teacher who refused to relent with all those agonizing goddess poses, the squats that strengthened my resolve to birth naturally. You can do it, mama! You are strong. Your baby needs you.

The smiling priest who stopped before giving me communion one Sunday and made the sign of the cross in front of my belly before offering me the host. As if to say, Welcome to the family. We’re already glad you’re here.

The neighbor who greeted me with shrieks of delight every time she saw me waddling through the neighborhood that endless hot summer. Oh, honey. You are so beautiful.

All of you who joined me here as I waited and waited, who laughed along with this cheeky post, and this one. Thinking of you! Be patient – baby’s almost here.

The family and friends who started praying me through labor as soon as we made the calls. We’re with you. All our love.

The mother-in-law who showed up grinning at one in the morning to watch the sleeping sibling. Wow – you’re in hard labor! Am I ever glad I’m not in your place right now!

The nurse who paused on the phone with my husband when she heard me holler through a contraction from the passenger seat. Are you sure there’s no hospital closer? Sir, if the baby starts to come, PULL OVER.

The staff who met us at the emergency room door as my husband squealed the car to a stop, who wheeled me up to the birthing center, flying past the bewildered receptionist with admittance forms in hand. You’re going to make it. Everything’s going to be fine.

The kind-eyed, grey-haired doctor who glanced up at me over her glasses in the final moments, with a smile calm and steady. You’re almost done. Baby’s almost here.

The doula who showed up ten minutes after the baby was born, fast and furious and bigger than any of us expected. I’m so disappointed I missed it! But you did it – you had just the birth you wanted!

And the baby himself, the wee lad who’s now made one trip around the sun.

Thanks to you, sweet One - in the words of a favorite baby book - for trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful,

just as you are.