I described how we all greeted Travis and Stephanie with hugs and tears on Christmas night 2011, when they realized the unbelievable truth that they were going to be parents and have a baby. This wasn't supposed to happen, this wasn't part of their plan....and yet, God, in fact, designed it to be THE PLAN.
And...within moments of their announcement, I absolutely felt God inviting me to participate in that plan. We all knew that the fears they had regarding their capabilities of being the "perfect parents" (which they are) would be something God would transform over time, likewise - all of the adjustments to how life would change so radically in simply being parents. However, the one thing that would need a tangible solution was how they would take care of a baby when both of them needed to continue working full-time. Knowing Steph's mom, ("Ladybug Grandma") already had her hands full with Steph's three nieces did not make that option optimal by any means - and Travis' family all works full time.
I do not work away from the house full time. While I had put time in subbing here and there that year, it was a job that was not "taking off" - and many times, felt like it was more effort than it was worth between trying to meet the needs of my own kids when I was working and the physical toll of headaches/emotionally draining aspect of it. Blessedly, God has provided for us in the position John has at Tyson Steele enough to recognize that the income I was providing wasn't going to make or break us. While I've kept myself pretty busy with mentoring college students, by no means did it ever "fill my schedule". So, God nudged me. And, I knew immediately what my answer would be, irregardless if the option was ever something Travis and Stephanie felt led to pursue. If they wanted me, I would be there for Whitley. "For such a time as this" kept re-playing over and over in my head - this was my time to be available.
I talked to John the next day about my thoughts, clearly it would influence our whole family. He had no reservations, and no hesitations. He 100% agreed with me, that if God was leading me, then it was something I should offer to Travis and Stephanie right away. I didn't know it at the time (though I suspected), how very worried they were over who would be the one spending time with their child while they were at work. I offered, they said, "Yes" - and there you go...I got to be an active part of the miracle that is Whitley Olivia White.
While it was obviously something God placed upon my heart, it didn't escape my head what this would mean for me and my lifestyle. I've been through the infant stage, the baby stage, the toddler stage, the pre-school stage with not only my two kiddos, but being around Michele's kids. Oh, the sleepless nights, the breast-feeding, the mastitis....WAIT A MINUTE....that's not my problem! Yeah, that's right, I'm the one who gets the baby in the morning and gives her back early evening, and none of those breast-feeding issues (which were a lot of issues) would be mine to deal with again - much less any impact upon my sleep. Well, with that in mind, "I've got this!".
Of course, that's way simplifying things. I mean reality is a whole different story. Because the one thing I forgot to take into account was....
...THE AMOUNT OF PLASTIC BABY ITEMS STREWN EVERYWHERE I LOOK!!!!
Hee-hee - obviously, that's all said with sarcasm, but to tell you the truth, that is the ONLY aspect of this arrangement that I wish could be a little different (If only we had one more room....or a garage that isn't full to capacity already....).
When I first agreed to this, and began sharing with other people how my personal life would be influenced by the arrival of Whitley, I was met with so many expressions (spoken or unspoken) of "Really, are you sure about this?" No, but God was - and is.
Sometimes I'd tell those inquirers a few of these reasons why, but mostly, they've merely filled my heart and soul with the marvel over God's love being so rich and so deep that He gives us what we don't even know to ask for.
The time span in which my kids were babies through pre-school is among the darkest and hardest of my life. Not because my kids were rough - on the contrary, I had incredible babies that were full of joy and quite generally happy. But, therein lies the problem - I can't even fully remember what my babies/toddlers were like. Seriously, my memory is so cloudy of those days because I was SO FILLED WITH FEAR.
- I was insecure - and therefore defensive and uptight over all of the ways the people around me were raising their children and how my methods seemingly failed. My (unbeknownst to us at the time) ADHD son didn't follow any schedule. He fell asleep with the bottle and ate all the time. Both our kids spent a lot of their sleeping time next to us at night. I didn't offer food that was only organic and even let them have sweets. Vegetables? I wasn't a fan, so it wasn't something I wanted to overly push on them. (Shocking - today, they aren't fans). I loved my kids, rarely ever wanted to not have them around me, but would have loved at any given moment if someone else wanted to play with them (in my presence, so I could have them near me) - because I don't really love to play "pretend" - Oh, and yes, tv and video games were definitely a part of my kids' lives....even in the car (because during those years, John worked for the company that pioneered the automotive VHS/DVD players). I didn't measure up to what I believed were the world's standards as to what a "good mom" was.
- I felt alone. This changed after about Brayden's first year, but initially, I was one of the first of my then "peer group" to have a baby. It changed everything and I felt so isolated at home. I lived for the times I could spend with Michele, which due to John's very heavy travel schedule, were quite frequent for weeks at a time. My normally busy lifestyle radically changed to turn into a calendar full of "blanks" - and it scared me to death to look at all of those empty days with just me and a baby - and what on earth I would do to fill all that time.
- I didn't feel like being "just a mom" was enough. I had been teaching - which offered measures of success and fulfillment. What did I have to show for my "performance" at the end of any given day just being a mom? It wasn't enough. So, I turned to other things. Little known fact, Michele and I actually co-wrote a novel with aspirations for publication at that time, in an attempt to prove that the co-class valedictorians of the class of '90 at Thurston High School had something more to show for themselves than dirty diapers, burp rags, and minivans. In that same vein, I felt like "all this extra time" should at least be used for "God's Kingdom" by pursuing Women's Ministry and trying to jump through the hoops that the church had in place to be among "leadership". That's information for another blog post, but it was a mess. It only added to more feelings of being judged as a mom - and found inadequate. Furthermore, I felt like I should be out shouting to everyone I knew about the love of God, but I was so isolated, I didn't have anyone to turn to. Again, I could write a whole other blog post about how a joyful spirit attracts more to Christ than any sort of agenda I had - but, instead, I was so determined to prove myself worthy, all of that truth was lost on me.
- Finally, and most significantly, I was unhealthy. Physically, my body was depleted because my son literally sucked me dry with his constant eating. I produced a ton of milk - which made for great weight loss, but left my body falling apart. By the time Brayden was six months old, I was CERTAIN I had MS, Lupus, Leukemia, Rhumatoid Arthritis or Parkinsons. It all depended on the day as to which diagnosis I'd run with, but I certainly exhibited symptoms that could have led you to any of those conclusions. This was when my neck began having issues - I had a herniated disk and while chiropractors would adjust to help things, one pick up of my son in his car seat would throw it all off again. (He was nearly 10 pounds at birth). That led to all sorts of very strange issues with hands shaking, going numb in extremities, etc. Scary.
- Whether you would say it's a result of undiagnosed post-partum depression or anxiety that had never surfaced in such a way - I was in a very bad place emotionally/mentally. When I think back on those days with my own kids, so very much is remembered as if I was wearing shaded glasses- with a dark pallor cast on all of it. Because, that's where my mind was. In a dark place. Not one vacation taken during that time is missing a hidden "subplot" of how I thought I was sick or dying. In Boston (Brayden age 6 months), I could barely get out of bed with all of the ways my body was achy and exhausted. In Yellowstone (Brayden age 18 months), I was sure I had breast cancer. Nobody had explained what fibroid masses were - how they were benign (and most likely a result of mastitits scar tissue) - all I knew is that I had lumps in my breast and might not ever see my son grow up to get married. Every day was plagued with worry. And, as is the horrible "Catch 22" of anxiety- it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of creating physical problems for your body. By the time Brayden had turned four years old, my heart would race without reason, "hiccup" and "somersault". I would feel my pulse and it would be as if it would just stop - and then race. At the same time, I was suffering the effects of a gallstone (that eventually went away on its own). However, the cause of the chest pressure, pain, etc. was a mystery to me - hence, suffering from a heart attack was my new reason for panic. By the time I finally saw my doctor to reveal just how bad off I was, I was crying in her office, with the highest blood pressure I've ever had in my life. I explained more of the final solution to this in this post, but recognize that it wasn't discovered until after my son's fourth birthday. SO MUCH TIME LOST.
And, now, I get a second chance. She's not my baby, but I get to remember with each smile, giggle, and cuddle. And, the beauty - the amazing miracle, I get to do it alongside of my own (shockingly well-adjusted despite my inadequacies!!!!) children. Every day with Whitley exposed to Brayden and Mikayla gives me more and more discoveries of the wonder of my own kids along with, obviously, Whitley. (I think it's pretty obvious based on all of the Instagram/Facebook pics I put up).
I get to love on a baby and watch her grow with NO insecurity. (Afterall, if she throws a tantrum in a store, I can always say, "Oh, she's not MY daughter....!") I've been there, done that - and, nowadays, there's no time or purpose for insecurity.
In a crazy twist of irony, exclusively caring for a baby is now my number one purpose, "job", and ministry. Obviously, not at the expense of my "biological family", but in unison with it. I don't, in any way, second-guess the importance of this roll I've been given.
In addition to all that, I get to see life again through the wonder of a baby - and marvel in her growth and changes. I'm going into this no longer thinking, "this phase will never end and I will be changing diapers and cleaning binkies for the REST of my life!" to, "hold on and cherish this moment - and know that, unbelievably, tomorrow might be even more extraordinary". I'm still relatively "new" to this roll, and only time will tell, but I am optimistic that even my feelings about the gray-ness and bleak days of winter will be somehow sunnier with Whitley in my day-to-day life. I'm also recognizing the little lessons God is teaching: That even though it may have worked this way once before, or how I thought I could make it work, God might have a different strategy He wants to guide me to follow. Patience and stress....I thought I was really doing pretty good with these qualities, and then I try to balance two fighting siblings and a crying infant and realize I've got a ways to go. Living in the moment - this is a big one. Not only must I force myself to not envision a future outcome in which I will have inadvertently failed Whitley or allowed an accident to happen, but I also need to let go of the "to do" lists I'm used to compiling in my head and not equate success with how many are crossed off. There will be a time to accomplish all of them (which definitely reduce exponentially after the holidays) - and I may actually find myself more productive in knowing I have pockets of Whitley "nap time" where I can race through a few chores at a time without getting overwhelmed with how to get everything done in one day.
I could go on and on (as I have already), but I think you'll see post upon post in the future that will give evidence on its own of all of the many more amazing ways Whitley's presence in my life will give me reasons to be thankful. I'm already truly in awe....