Summer Night

Dear Joy,

It's Friday night, and I'm writing this from the screened porch in our backyard. Cicadas are buzzing hello, and there's a thick, heavy stillness all around. It's less hot than it has been, but still, I'm in my shorts and bare feet in the middle of all this warm air, and it's hard to believe that we'll be cuddling under blankets and warming up the coffee in less than a handful of weeks. Still, for now, it's warm and green. Our deck is littered with a bunch of random wires, tools, pipes, and electrical tape – anything safe that I could find in the garage and stuff into a bucket – the remnants of my desperate late-afternoon Hail Mary play with the kids. (“Here. Take all of this stuff and invent something. GO.”)

It's been a summer of adjusting, tweaking this and trying that and letting a whole bunch of stuff go. We've watched hours of PBS Kids morning TV, cooked hundreds of pancakes and eggs, trekked to and from the library a dozen times with piles of books, DVDs, and puppets in tow. We've done a little bit of hosting and a lot of crashing at Grandma and Grandpa's house. I've been getting my feet back under me, working out the logistics of life with three, and realizing that – surprise? – I can't do it all. I can't even do most of it.

I've been reading again, this summer, and it's been so good, like crystal clear ice water to this girl's thirsty soul. I'm reading fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, devotionals, how-to's, blogs... anything but the news. The news is the one thing I do not read. Whenever I question this decision (“But world events! Culture!”), I watch CNN highlights at the gym, and everything is reconfirmed. No news. Maybe in five or ten years, when I can walk down the driveway in my slippers on Sunday morning, pick up the paper, and take fifteen minutes to read it, curled up on the couch. (Somehow, I feel like my slippers and the crossword puzzles might cushion the gut punch a bit.)

It's been a summer of podcasts (The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey is my go-to), of not-gardening (the weeds in my unkempt garden beds are yea-high [points to her waist]), of Blue Moon (the beer, not the astronomical occurrence), of potty training (see, the beer). We haven't traveled too much, but this summer, I've stood on a southern beach at sunset and felt the salty waves wash over my feet. I've been in the city just after sunrise, when everything is sleepy, the streets are empty, and the buildings loom beautiful and silent. I've walked through fairgrounds, farmers' markets, churches, zoos, grocery stores, water parks, warehouses. We've fed our kids drippy ice cream cones and broccoli and french fries. I've watched my newborn baby girl grow into a sturdy 6-month-old with a world of a personality and a smile to match it.

Does this sound all peachy and dreamy? Hold on. It's also been the summer where I've practiced putting anger away, again and again. I have stood in my kitchen, day after day, sweating, baby whining, pot boiling, and all I've wanted to do is yell into the phone. (A lot of times, I have. We're probably at 60/40, this week, and I'll let you guess which side of the ratio is “Have yelled/Have not yelled.”) It's been a season of honesty and vulnerability, even when it makes you look a little bit ugly. I've learned that there's something beautiful about people coming together, over and over again, to tell each other the truth. This is why it's important to keep showing up – to family dinner, to church, to mom's group, book club, Bible study, to that morning kiss-before-you-run-out-the-door.

It's been a summer of courage, of noticing brave women, all around me. There's been deep, profound heartache, piled up on the backs of so many of my dear friends. These things have challenged my view of God, stretched me to the limit. I have hundreds of questions. It's been a summer of not writing, not even journaling, because I haven't had any words.

It's been a summer of wishing upon a star for a nanny and a housekeeper a thousand times. This has been a summer of microwaving frozen veggies in a plastic bag, cooking some noodles, cutting up a watermelon, and calling it "dinner." When one of my friends had a baby recently, I first offered to cook her a meal, but then had to go back the next day and tell her, “Honestly, I don't even cook for my own family. You don't want me to cook for you. Can I buy you a gift card?” However, things are looking up around here: I've recently been checking out recipes, flipping through cookbooks, starting to get interested (trust me, this is an improvement). I even marked a recipe for beef bourguignon, and I'm trying to figure out where our dutch oven is... so let's just hope that maybe, in the kitchen department, Stella's got her groove back.

It's been a summer of tears, joy, and keeping it real – a summer of grace upon grace upon grace.

It's dark now, in my backyard. The neighbor's twinkle lights are shining next door, and the cicadas are singing “goodnight,” I think. My babies are sleeping, my hair is frizzing, the (actual, astronomical) moon is shining. Hey, Summer. You've been good. Stick around a few more weeks, ok?

Love, Sherah







In Indonesia, there are two ways to say that you have one child. 

The first is baru satu, literally new one, meaning "one for now." 

The second is satu saja, literally one only, meaning "only child." 

I learned this the first time someone asked me how many children I had and I responded with satu saja, which sounded closest to what I say in English: just the one. My language helper corrected me and explained the difference, but satu saja kept rolling off my tongue, over and over. 

"Berapa anak?" someone will ask. "Satu saja," I'll say. "Baru satu, ya?" they'll offer, helping. I've had this exchange dozens of times. 

But once we started trying for another, and especially after months began to pass without a pregnancy, and especially after months became years, I became far more sensitive to the nuance.

Was Anders my new one? Or was he my one only? 

Time in the States moved fast, the answers came slow, and the months that we had to put everything on hold for new vaccines and separate travel added up. But finally, this last month, my third month on clomid, I felt the nausea settle in. It hummed constantly in the background but especially when I was hungry, though not much sounded appetizing. Pete's cologne smelled different, my toothbrush made me gag a little, and I had a slightly metallic taste in my mouth at all times, which I didn't know was a symptom until I looked it up. Pregnant. I knew it from the inside out.

I was patient and confident and didn't take a test five days before, or four days before, or three days before. I broke down and took a test two days before, but I brushed off the negative with the assurance that it was too soon — I would get a positive the next day.

I didn't have to take a test the next day, and I cried over the answer for the first time since I could remember.

I've found it much easier throughout the last three years to keep hopes at a minimum, to stay rational and pragmatic, and, most importantly, to stay off Nameberry. I'd have my reaction each month, but I've had a lot of other things going on that required my emotional energy, so I didn't have the bandwidth to let it consume me for long. And, sincerely, it's been easy for me to stay thankful. I have one beautiful, wonderful child, and he's more than we could ever ask for, and he has many good things in his life even if a sibling isn't one of them. I've been happy and content for us and for him. 

But this month was different. This month I let my hopes climb as high as they wanted, let them creep close to certainty, let them go wild on Nameberry and birthday calculations. Every time I wanted to tell them to settle down and brace themselves, I stopped myself. It's okay to let hopes be hopes. It's okay to want something and not have it. I can take the disappointment. 

And that's where I think my pragmatism, for as much as I appreciate everything it did to get me to this point in one piece, perhaps worked a little too hard when I could have let it relax. I forget that disappointment isn't something I need to constantly guard myself from feeling — that I can feel it and be okay. I figured it out in time for this month, knowing it would probably be the end of our fertility journey, at least for now, probably (not certainly, but probably) for good. If the end of this road was a baby, I didn't want to receive the gift with all of my walls up and my barriers in place. I know that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but I also know that a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. My heart was telling me that it was strong enough to handle either, if I would let it. 

And it did. My heart was great. I should give my heart more credit, really. It took the fall like a champ, told me to lay in bed and forget about my responsibilities for a day, let me cry. It pictured what the joy would have looked like on Anders' face. It let me think about the full table of adult children I imagined us having someday ... some healthier, less sarcastic version of Parenthood, a string of lights strung over an outdoor eating space and everyone talking over each other. It let me grieve the name I had my heart set on for a girl and the names that Anders has been collecting for a brother. 

Then, knowing I was welcome to come back to that place and be sad whenever I wanted, I thought about how much I love my little family exactly as it is.

I love how all three of us are firstborns, all ENFPs, all extroverts who enjoy their alone time, all travelers who love being home. We're like the best little club I've ever been a part of. I like the energy of one bouncy little boy but plenty of quiet and space. I like how Anders pushes me to go outside and meet new people, how he'll knock on someone's door because they have kids and he wants to meet them. I like how we can buy plane tickets for the whole family on the cheap, fit into any compact car, squeeze around anyone's dinner table. 

I thought about the ways this might alter our future, doors it might open. When we were engaged, our original plan had been to have one biological child and then foster or adopt any kids after; have these past three years just brought us back around to our starting place? I thought about future travel, education, career opportunities, resources, time. I got a renewed energy around returning to Indonesia with one independent child in kindergarten. I breathed some relief that I won't have to live in a mosquito net for the next nine months, being pregnant in a world of Zika, in a place where I get bit no less than ten times a day. 

I let all of those thoughts swirl together, none of them trumping the other, sadness over that big table mingling with relief over Zika mingling with excitement over flexibility until all of my scattered thoughts and emotions melded into, quite simply, what it is.

This is life, right? You've got your plans and intentions, and then you walk them out into reality, whatever that may be. 

Maybe I still don't know whether Anders is my new one or my one only, but I think I'm done qualifying the number. We have one child. Not "just one" or "only one." Not "one for now." Not "one but we'll see."


As complete as any family ever is. Hearts wide open.