Mother's Day Bliss

Loveys, yesterday I spent most of the day out shopping with Ashtyn and Lily in the rain. And I realized that three girls shopping (even when two are ages ten and four!) costs way more than one. And regardless, I know I'll be shopping with those two for the rest of my life, and I'm incredibly blessed by that truth.

Because being a mom is my favorite.

Ten years ago (getting closer to eleven) I was awake at three a.m., slightly terrified that I knew I would be giving birth very soon, more than excited that I would soon meet the person who'd been kicking me for months. Eventually, my mom and Jeff and I went to the hospital together. My mother helped me to the bathroom and I changed into the hospital gown.

The journey began. The moment I'd been waiting for was here. Time to have this baby and touch her fingers and toes and kiss her head.

Confession: I'm not the greatest at delivering babies. I'm the crying kind. The kind who says over and over that she's changed her mind. The frightened, tired kind who the doctor has to climb up on top of and tell her that she's decided to use the vacuum because the baby keeps inching in and out like a turtle, and the delirious mom says, "FINE! DO WHATEVER! PLEASE GET THE BABY OUT!" I'm the kind who holds on to the nurse so tightly while getting the epidural that said nurse needs to get a pillow to put between us before I draw blood. I'm the kind who pushes the button for more medication frantically and calls out that I think the machine might be broken and HELP PLEASE, I'M FEELING THINGS I SHOULDN'T BE.

I'm the kind who has postpartum issues. Who cries all the way to the recovery room and the doctor comes in afterward and softly says, I hear we've been having a hard time. And I can't help it and I don't know what to do to be normal, but they do. And they can help. I'm in love with the baby and so thrilled to hold him close, but my hormones can't seem to settle and I'm a mess. But these people around me understand and know what to do, and I'll take all the help I can get. My mom is there. My dad is there. Jeff is there. Sara and Nemo are there. Laura's in college and she comes as soon as she can.

It's hard some days but I can do it. The hard days don't last forever and the trade off is everything. This beautiful, wonderful, perfect baby I get to hold in my heart forever.

I'm the kind of mom who desperately wants a chicken fried steak after delivery. And I'm hoping for a margarita at some point. I'm laying in the hospital bed, looking over at the warming bed and see Sara and Laura and Dad and Jeff all hovering over Ashtyn, and I've never been so happy.

I'm the woman who's whispering to the nurse a day after I've had a baby that I still seem to look pregnant and maybe something's not quite right? (I'm laughing at myself right now!)

And I'm the woman who just wants to stare at her babies and cry because they are all my dreams come true.

I'm all those things.

And you know, it doesn't matter at all. Because in the end (thanks to powerful meds--hallelujah--and doctors who are going to do what it takes even when I've cried that I've now given up), I've survived three pregnancies and been given the best gifts of my life. Those scary, overwhelming, wonderful, beautiful, magical days when I've had my babies are the very best of my life. There's nothing like being handed your brand-new baby (even if you're the kind of mom who's still sobbing and waving off the nurse, saying they can clean up the baby first PLEASE and THANK YOU, and then you will be thrilled to hold that bundle of joy). Whatever kind of mom you are--there's something so incredibly special about the days our babies are born.

Everyone is different, I know, and I've had different dreams/goals in my life and moments that are wonderful that I'll hold on to forever--but these three--Ashtyn and Lincoln and Lillian, they are everything. They are pieces of me and Jeff that I love so much. They are fun and funny and exhausting and loving and beautiful. When I feel like I'm not enough, that I'm not much really, that maybe I'll never do anything amazing and maybe I'm too tired to even care, that I'm just me and so many women are incredible in ways that I never will be--when those thoughts creep in, I think about the fact that I'm the one who gets to be mom to Ash and Linc and Lily, and all I can feel is gratitude. Because I was meant to be theirs and they were meant to be mine. Just like I was meant to be Ron and Blanca's and they were meant to be mine. We belong to each other. 

And families--however they come to be--are such beautiful things.

Today at a Mother's Day brunch that Laura's mother-in-law hosted, I sat across from my mom at our table, she wore a beautiful yellow head wrap and she sat with us even though she wasn't feeling all that great, and my heart kept overflowing, because all I care about is that she's here with us. She's my mother. I'll always be part of her. Her heartbeat was the first sound surrounding me. My dad is next to her. I'm so grateful he's still here too.  

I know Mother's Day can be so hard. For the women missing their moms. For the women and children whose mothers haven't been there for them. For the women who long for babies and are still waiting. And my prayer tonight is absolutely for those women too.

Tonight, my kids were singing songs we heard at church this morning. Lincoln and I were finishing up his school project for tomorrow. The kids were having root beer floats. 

Just life.

Mother's Day.

I don't have to be more than I am to be loved by these three children who call me mother. Loving them well is enough. 

I'm so thankful. 


The Start of The Last Summer

Loveys, it’s a gorgeous morning in Lynchburg, Virginia. Sunlight spilling through the back porch. Cool breeze blowing through the trees. And while I’m a tea drinker 97.5 percent of the time (that number just came to me), I’m treating myself to a caramel cappuccino this morning, because life is short and all that. How are you guys? We’ve had company the last few days. The Jeffster’s sister and her husband came to see us and it’s been so fun. Now it’s back to just us and I’ve been doing laundry and all the things. I’m thinking about summer book club. Kids are playing outside. Jeff’s working on the car. We needed this easy weekend.

There’s something healing about sunshine and green grass and trees everywhere, don’t you think? 

This is my first spring-almost-summer back in VA in forever, and I’d forgotten how green and beautiful it can be. I’d forgotten how wonderful it feels. My soul is loving it.

My mom’s chemo is going well. We went through the hurdle of her losing her hair—which is emotional and difficult for her and everyone—but now on the other side of that, I’m just thankful that she’s doing great so far, and we'll keep moving forward with treatment.

We had spring break over here recently. At the beginning, Ashtyn and I took a whirlwind weekend trip to Denver to see all our people who we love and miss so much. It was the kind of trip that fills up your heart until all the love spills over. Once we got home, the Bruce tribe went to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Williamsburg is just so fun. We loved it and got to tour some of the fun historic places before rain started coming down in sheets. Maybe I’m just a sucker for historical things, but there’s something I love about seeing gardens and ballrooms and imagining what things would have been like years and years ago. Seeing the governor’s mansion made me want to pick up a historical fiction novel (probably regency!) and dive into a time of dancing and tea-drinking and all things amiable. (While I love reading about those things, I really love all things modern, like air conditioning and deodorant and Dr Pepper).

Going to brunch with my girlfriends in Colorado, exploring Williamsburg with this little family of mine, going out for drinks and dinner with my sister- and brother-in-law Friday night, and the wonderful Easter we had recently with family and friends, mixed with some adventuring through the woods and to the creek—all these things remind me so much that life is a mixture of beautiful and hard moments for all of us. And that we never need to feel guilty for wonderfully happy days and moments—hard times come to all of us. Moments of sadness. Regret. Wistfulness. Uncertainty. Fear. Anger. We all get hit with those emotions at times. Me too. So when you get moments of pure happiness—those are gifts to enjoy.

My best friend since forever, Michelle, her birthday is tomorrow. And for her and me, we’re turning forty this year. I’ve been thinking about the fact that our daughters are now very close to the age we were when we first met (sixth grade!). That is amazing to me—and wonderful. (Yes! We liked to match! BFF)

Daughters and mothers and sisters and grandmothers. Every year is special for all of us. (Men, too, of course! But I’m thinking of the life of a woman over here, loveys—two women, actually.)

I so wish Michelle and I were together on her fortieth—maybe recreating some of our best days, sipping daiquiris and listening to Tom Petty, or drinking coffee and looking out at the lake. I look at her life and mine, and I can hardly believe that forty is upon us. Marriage and babies, good days and hard days, loss and love—it all makes up these lives we’re living, the days we’ve been given.
I’m so grateful.

My childhood was blessed with a loving family and a safe, happy home, and I have so many good memories. My twenties were full and busy--graduating, getting married, finding my dream job and working and writing. Those were very special years. But my thirties have been my favorite years, because these are the years we’ve grown our family from two to five. Truly, the best days of my life have been the days I’ve brought home my babies. These have been the years--the days and nights--of watching my children grow from babies to kids who are a little more independent. No more diapers and bottles over here. 
So what will my forties be about?

I’m not sure.

That comes with a little uncertainty, to be honest.

I think we all have these feelings that we need to do something, we need to do more, we need to leave a legacy . . . what’s our purpose? (Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks those things!) But for these last few months before I turn forty, I keep just wanting to breathe and not take any more on. I doubt I would have ever thought that at this stage in my life we’d be starting over somewhere new, making new friends, getting settled all over again. But here we are. It feels right and good, despite some of the emotional upheaval that comes with moving.  

I'm thinking if forty feels like being a woman who’s less interested in what people think and more interested in loving her little family well; if forty sounds like laughter, and basketballs bouncing on the driveway, and music playing while my kids dance; if forty looks like a few trips and a little adventure, and busy days juggling three kids’ schedules, and reading great books; if forty means going to my parents’ house for dinner and feeling thankful that they’re both still here . . .

I’ll take it.

Happy birthday, Michelle. From the twelve-year-old versions of us to now, I’m glad for all our memories, and more to come.

This summer, the last summer of my thirties—I’m hoping and planning for my best summer yet. 

I'm not positive what my forties will hold for me. I'm thinking taking it one day at a time and letting go of stress and expectations I might have for myself is a good start. Maybe it's okay for happiness to be its own accomplishment. Maybe feeling content with your life is an achievement. Maybe being loved and loving well are the things that stay with us anyway. 

We'll see, loveys. 

P.S. Thx to my darling Danielle for new author pics! 

Facing the Unexpected and Holding on to What We Still Have

Are you feeling lucky, loveys? Tomorrow’s Saint Patrick’s Day and it also happens to be Miss Lily’s fourth birthday. We used to call her our little leprechaun but that bothered our son Lincoln a bit (he truly thought she was a leprechaun!). But every Saint Patrick’s Day, we get to celebrate Lillian Paisley Bruce. She’s a bundle of energy and joy for our whole family and extended family and friends.

I’ve been thinking about the party tomorrow and the gift of birthdays and family and love. In January we celebrated my dad’s birthday. In February we celebrated my niece Virginia and my mother’s birthdays. And this month we’ll celebrate Lily and my sister Sara. All these people that mean everything to me. Birthdays mean we’re still here. Another year to love each other.

You all know that last year was a tough one for my family. My dad was diagnosed with cancer, which was such a shock to all of us. And so the year involved lots of doctor appointments talking about cancer and treatment, surgery, radiation, emotional and physical changes, and stress for my family. 

He came through it—we all came through it together. Recovery has been slow, but that’s okay. What matters is having each other.

And with all that came the decision that Jeff and I made to move our little family to Virginia to be a closer source of support for my parents. It was hard to be so far while he was going through treatment—I felt the pull of wanting to be there to help him, and to help my mom as she was taking care of him.

And we wanted more time. Of course. More days together.

I’ll be honest that the move was a lot. Selling our home, packing up, moving so far from where my kids were all born and had been so happy, Jeff finding a new job, buying a new home over the span of basically one weekend, crying because I miss my sister Sara so much—so many things go into a big move like ours.

But we settled in. And seeing Grammy and Grandpa every few days has been wonderful for my kids, they love it. My parents needed us and we needed them.

I was already thinking that all I wanted for the next year was life and health for my family. Making great memories.

And then.

A few months after we moved, my mom had a routine mammogram and there was another shock. 

She had breast cancer.

Even as I reread those words, it’s hard to believe them.

This can’t be happening again, right?

It took me a couple of quiet, emotional days to process this. It felt like too much.

You guys know that I’ve written before how I can struggle with faith. It’s an ongoing choice I work at—choosing to believe and hold on to faith when doubts creep in. And in this moment, when perhaps I would have expected doubt to overwhelm me, Jeff said something that made all the difference. When I told him the news about my mom, he said, “It feels like this somehow restores faith, doesn’t it? Like God knew we needed to be here for this and started pulling us here months ago.”

And it stopped me in my tracks. He was right. We came here because my dad had been sick. Because we were reminded that we’re not promised more time, and for us, it was time to move and be closer to my parents. I could never have known that within just a few months my mom would also be diagnosed with cancer. It doesn’t feel real. They’ve always been so healthy—and suddenly, two cancer diagnoses within one year?

Still, God knew. And he brought us here.

And that’s enough.

Jeff’s right. That does restore faith.

Now this year looks similar in some ways to last year. Doctor appointments and talking about cancer. Chemo and radiation and months of treatment. It’s hard. 

But we’re here and I can breathe a little easier because of that. I can drive over to my parents’ house at any time. Take meals. Go to doctor appointments. We still celebrate all the birthdays. Lunch dates. 
All these moments are what we came for—time.

I’ll take it. It’s not what any of us expected for this year—but then, last year was unexpected as well. I think maybe this is just life and so many of us are going through it. And this year, for my family, we’re holding on to each other and doing what we have to.

Really, the love we have for each other is a gift in itself. I know this is true.

So tomorrow we’ll all get together and celebrate Lily. And Grammy and Grandpa will be there, and I don’t take it for granted for one second. There will be cake and presents—Lily’s been counting down for this day for probably six months.

My book After the Rain has been out now for a little more than a month. I can hardly believe it. There’s a line in the book where the main character Debra is talking to another girl named Karis, whose mother has breast cancer. I remember writing that conversation between the two girls. It wasn’t even a thought in my mind that when the book was finally released, I’d be having that same kind of conversation with people. My mother has breast cancer.

That line in the book has so much more depth for me now. And everything unsaid.

My mother is everything.

My mother is beautiful and funny.

She’s the rock of our family.

Her faith is real and strong.

We need her so much.

She can do this. We can do it with her. It’s a privilege to go through it with her.

My dad is still here too.

We can do this together and we will.

God knew what was coming.

I love this family. Some days will be harder than others.

And next year we’ll celebrate more birthdays.