Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Last Drops of Summer

I am annoyed with myself being that writer to open a piece by describing the weather, but, I'm cliche and I know it.

We have a lineup of some really hot days ahead, but the last few were the third in a gust of chillyish, breezy weather that has you side-eyeing those unworn sweaters you bought after last winter’s clearance, and instinctively sniffing about for a pumpkin flavored treat.

Cue everyone everywhere clamoring for autumn.

Its tempting. I feel the longing especially when I head out the door for a run these days, and want to puke from the humid heat wrapping itself around my throat. Vicious. 

And...  it will be exciting to wear skinny jeans again, and let my hair down, and light a fire in our fireplace, and go apple-picking, and indulge in a latte or 4 (per week).

But I can honestly say, I am soaking up these last drops of summer. I am determined to only because I know if I don't I will be furious with myself come mid-January. 

This has been a full summer.

Beach trips with family, random visits with old friends, last minute houseguests and laid-back dinner parties, a summer bible study, a fluent chatty 3 year old, a toddling 1 year old, a long relaxing break after Jason’s last summer mba semester EVER… a new position as co-editor at my job with [! I know, right! that is my excuse for not blogging ;) I may share more on what I do some other time though  :) ]… long sweaty runs and one time getting sick from heat exhaustion (it was  less exciting and dramatic than it sounds, which is why I think only Jason knew about it - teeth-chattering high fever that night and um, bowel issues for a few days. I don't recommend it).

I will not miss the 95 degree afternoons. I will not miss the mosquitoes in my backyard. I will not miss the snakes (I have seen 4 crossing my running trail, and 3 of them were copperheads). I am ready for the change in the air, and a new season to start. I think we need seasons, physically and spiritually.

But for these last few days of August, and the first warm weeks of September, I am making a daily list to remind myself of what I am grateful for, right now.

I have loved the ease of going out the door without having to put shoes and socks on everyone.

Or shirts. You know.

No one being sick! Or, very rarely.

Oooh being able to let my thick hair air dry without catching pneumonia! that is a good one.

The sound of cicadas.

Birds every morning.

Green canopies over the running trail and our yard and the streets we drive.

Salads tasting mouthwateringly satisfying.
The simplicity of summer meals.

Evening walks in the daylight after dinner. 

That last one is the thing I have loved the most. I will be so sorry to let go of the extra shining hours. Soon enough it will be cold and dark before dinner, and the evenings that Jason is in class will seem extra long because of night falling so fast. 

We walk after dinner nearly every evening now, pushing the boys' bedtime back a little because, really, these days have an end and its almost in sight. Will pushes barefoot Henry in the red car and Jason and I sometimes smuggle out a glass of wine or two. The sun takes obligingly long to set, always until after we get home. The time is peaceful and simple and relaxing. 
The season has been one of a solid balance between make-it-happen energy and the luxury of laziness. 

Summer, you have been good to us. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Henry Turns 1

We had a little birthday party for Henry on Saturday. Not really for Henry; for us. Will handled all the decorations - seriously intense watercolor posters all around the dining room!... and we served lots of beer and grilled up a summer supper, and my brother's awesome girlfriend made her unbelievable guacamole, and we all just sat around laughing with family and a few close friends while the children played with each other. 

decorating beforehand
It was lovely - laid-back and relaxing and a wonderful way to celebrate making it through a challenging year, as well as the END of Jason's LAST SUMMER SEMESTER!!!! We now get to enjoy a full month of togetherness before he starts the last semester of the MBA. I am so proud of him and proud of myself. He's learned so much! We have learned so much - mostly about how to communicate, and the contagiousness of true generosity, and how to handle big stressors. Though he has also given me several crash courses on the things that excited him the most, like financial analysis and investments and business strategy and management psychology. ;) 
 This past year has been really hard for me in an unusual way. See, each day has been totally doable. I get up, grab coffee, do an hour of work before the boys wake up, swim through our routine, get in a good workout, manage the household chores I can do and let go of the ones I can't, make dinner while nursing a glass of red, get the boys into the bath and then into bed and then I come downstairs, clean up what I can (and again, let go of what I can't), and crash on the couch til Jason walks in the door after class. The boys are used to the daily schedule and really, they're not hard to parent. If I were a babysitter, I'd feel guilty for getting paid to take care of them because overall, they are happy, well-behaved, easy to please children. If you were to ask me at any point in the last year how I was doing, I would say honestly that I was great, doing good, just fine.
But I realized a couple weeks ago, I have no real memories of Henry's first 6 months. Nothing vivid. Nothing like the many happy, quiet moments from Will's infancy that were frozen in time; the first time he stared at me, long mornings snuggling in bed with him, learning how to breastfeed; his little baths, tummy time, our first couple walks. So many hidden things I will never forget. 
Henry's babyhood, in comparison, is a blur. A few random things stick out; but overall, its just one long vague, rather dreary memory. I start crying every time I think about this too much. Henry has been such an angel of a baby! I wish I had more memories of him as a sweet, quiet little infant. I guess I was just more in survival mode than I realized. I suppose that means you are in ACTUAL survival mode, if you can't even look around you and decide you are in survival mode, because you are too overwhelmed to do anything except, you know, survive.

I think I instinctively wouldn't let myself think about how hard it was, because I couldn't afford the breakdown that might follow if I got discouraged. I had to just keep my chin up and stay focused on the present moment. That has been a powerful gift that I cannot take any credit for. Like Peter in the gospel this past Sunday... walking on water, doing fine until he started focusing on himself and freaking out about what he was doing... I have needed every grace I was given to simply do what I wouldn't have thought possible had I stopped to think about it. Miraculously, I didn't stop to notice how hard this season was until well after I was past the hard stage.
THANK GOD FOR IPHONES. Even though I don't have many memories stored in my head of my little towheaded 1 year old, I had thousands of them stored in my phone; moments I just snapped without even thinking twice about it - the blessing of your camera being your phone! Here they are for me to soak up after the fact. 
So that's why this slideshow is so. Darn. CHEESY. I needed to indulge the memory making. I needed to stop and look back, and even though I may never have many real clear memories of this season, I will have them forever in pictures. 

If y'all care to see it, here it is :). 

Henry's First Year from Kallah Oakes on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In His Eyes

The most painful rebuke I have ever received was my 3 year old's desperate, angry yell: "Mommy! No more phone!"
Oh my conscience.
Its very difficult, even though I don't have Facebook, to remain firmly unattached to this small computer in my hand. I am a writer, and I work from home, so I have clients and my editor to reply to, articles to research, trends to keep up with... not only friends and family on Instagram. But nothing could've stabbed me as badly as the rightful anger of my 3 year old. And if I'm late responding to an email, or if I have extra articles to catch up on at night, I should be at peace with that. The world will not come crashing down.
This is my world:

So I started giving the phone to him. 
Seriously. Not to watch Netflix or play games; I showed him how to take pictures and videos, and the concept captured his imagination. It was open-ended play, and it kept him happy when he was tired of coloring and building with blocks.

I hadn't paid much attention to the pictures until my phone informed me I had no storage left (I got this phone 2 weeks ago). I realized Will had taken about 1000 pictures just walking around our home. It was funny and endearing to look through and see what catches his eye, what he is most fascinated with. I'm sharing the best of them. 

sipping milk.

a boy's best friend.

a significant look.

an abandoned sippy.

a golden opportunity.

nonplussed self-portrait.

marching through the grounds.

respectful underlings.


water for sustenance.

a new chariot.

an old friend.


 (by far, Henry is the most popular and interesting subject). 

laundry day. :[

to clean faces and phones



here she comes.

bathroom reflections.


These are mostly burry and barely understandable, but they show me the way he sees our home, the things he notices. The most mundane and downright messy objects in our house are intriguing and chaotically lovely in his lens. I love the unique way his little mind works, the things he finds beautiful and worthy of a picture. 
And I love that when he has my phone, there can be no pictures of me glued to it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Romeo & Juliet, John Legend & Jack Johnson... and Birth Control

The day had been long and dreary, which I [weirdly] kind of liked. Jason was working hard at his office late on a Saturday to finish a big school project. I had had a quiet, uneventful and yet happy day with the boys - drunk in love with the 70 degree run I got on my favorite greenway trail in the late afternoon. We had eaten our simple supper of leftover pizza - no KP for the win :) - and the boys' happy babbles in their room had finally quieted; the locusts were chirping loudly outside the open windows, and I curled up on the couch with a glass of Shiraz and the iPad. Inspired by the crispness of the air coming through the open windows, I closed Scandal on Netflix and instead opened up Romeo & Juliet. 

I cannot get enough of this love story. As an English minor and Shakespeare addict, I do understand that Shakespeare was not, in fact, channeling an early Nicholas Sparks with this play. I get that there is much evidence within the text itself to point to the fact that he was not necessarily glorifying the type of love that Romeo and Juliet had.

But just as there is a vivid and unique beauty in the very short-livedness of the daylily - the flower that blossoms overnight in rich, full hue and shrivels by the next day... there is a vibrance that anyone can appreciate in the youthful love that surges up in an flash and rages, passionate and all-consuming, til it is put out. "These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder" [Act 2, scene 6]. I personally have always thought that Shakespeare was neither spinning the world's most famous chick-flick, nor was he simply penning a cautionary moral tale.
I will never be too cheesed out by Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet either. And this song:
Kissing You (Instrumental) by Romeo & Juliet on Grooveshark

I love the poetry of this play; the imagery, the lines I have practically learnt by heart over the years; the liveliness and energy of the characters. And watching it the other night made me realize something else I love. Although I did not marry my husband the day after I first clapped eyes on him... although I did enter into my marriage with a bit of a check on the passions flying around... there is something Romeo and Juliet-worthy about the kind of in-loveness we have committed to guarding and growing for our whole marriage. The kind of inloveness we seek together daily. 
Here is a love that is pure and fearless and completely self-giving. This story would not have endured the last few centuries if we didn't all universally recognize some poignant beauty within it, some heart-wrenching truth. 

The love that gives completely of self without fear or manipulation or control of the situation. The love that isn't hedging its bets while kissing you. The love that is ready to die to self without a second's hesitation. This is the kind of love we all, deep down, desire. I believe the truthfulness of the story lies in the fact that no great love is without sacrifice. 

You can never have it all. This is life! There are downsides to every desirable thing. There is nothing you can fall in love with on this earth that won't disappoint or challenge you in some way. Romeo and Juliet had this intensely idealized vision of each other; the unique heart-aching beauty of their story is that their love ended before any disillusionment could enter. Although the romantic in me likes to believe that, just as Juliet was able to choose to love Romeo after he had killed her cousin in a hot temper, so they would have been able to continue to choose to accept and cherish one another with each test of time and hardship. 

While I have a humble love that endures through grumpy days and sick days, and long nights up with a baby, and dirty laundry, and balancing the checkbook, and gas after eating Mexican [not exactly that intoxicating high of a new love, no?]... there are those days that catch you off guard with the intensity of love you feel when you look at his profile and adore his strong jaw... or when something happens to make you feel all over again the rush of excitement and disbelief that you get to be his. Jason and I have found there are so many ways you can encourage these moments and continue to woo the heart of your spouse. Ever since we were dating, we committed ourselves to aiming for a protection of our "inloveness".  We believe in the love that surges up strong again, after each test of time and tiredness; the love that never stops cherishing and respecting the other person or forgetting their "otherness" - never treating them like an accessory or appendage to oneself [in other words, not making your marriage all about you]... We believe that enduring love is every bit as awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching as Romeo and Juliet's youthful, passionate new love. 

I want complete oneness with Jason. I want to never take him, nor the fact that we get to make love to each other, and only each other, for the rest of our lives, for granted. Not using contraception is the biggest and most effective way we guard against that. 

This does not actually mean that we are going to have 13 kids. We are not the in the Catholic camp that necessarily wants a huge family. Some days we love that idea, other days it seems overwhelming. We are going to take it one baby - (slash job/house/circumstance) at a time. [Did you know that a woman is infertile except for the day she ovulates? There are some caveats to this - all biologically proven and much more unique to your body than the old "rhythm method", and which you can easily learn in a few classes. The extent to which you follow the rules (i.e., how many days pre and or post-ovulation you are willing to risk intercourse) varies greatly based on how seriously you need to avoid pregnancy. ] What it does mean is that every time we make love, we do it all the way. And yes, there is always the recognition that there could be a chance that you read your chart or your body incorrectly, and you are ovulating. This adds quite an edge of excitement and danger to lovemaking. ;)

In my love life, I believe I should give of myself completely - I believe I should completely receive the gift of love from my spouse, without doing anything to my body or to his to effectively manipulate the physical act. A good analogy for why we believe that would be wrong, is why you would believe someone had a very real eating disorder if they ordered a delicious Filet Mignon that they chewed and tasted and then spit out in a napkin so they wouldn't take in the calories. We believe that, like anything else in life when it comes to our bodies, sex is good [and sometimes really really really good ;)] but it has real consequences. You have to approach it with moderation and discipline to enjoy it fully, neither trying to trick nature nor taking zero responsibility. 

Honestly, there are many nights in a given month that we can't make love. Many days we are looking at my fertility tracking chart and GROANING. Its not easy... it is definitely a sacrifice. But there is nothing like the anticipation of that first night you get to be one again after you've been waiting and waiting. (For me, right now with breastfeeding hormones all over the place, that can be up to a 2 week waiting period. In my experience, it does get much shorter as time goes on). 

I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is the only way to go. Everyone has their own journey, and this is definitely completely counter to all that is common in our culture. I get that. 
But I do think its important to share what I see to be the beauty of Jason and my choice. Indulge my romantic over-the-topness and believe that I am neither exaggerating nor sugarcoating anything to spread an agenda. 

Two examples I can give of the kind of love that Jason and I choose each day, are two songs that may surprise you. They are neither of them Catholic or even Christian, but from the first moment I heard either, I thought they perfectly embodied life-giving, procreative, sexual marital love. 
One is John Legend, "The Beginning". There are a few lines that give me shivers...
"Soon as I saw you, baby, I had plans
Plans to do it til we have a baby
Even if the world is crazy
Pick some names, boy or girl,
And we'll change, change the world...
Its the beginning of forever
You don't have to go
Sometimes you just know
Its the beginning of forever
It don't have to end
Keep doin' it, and doin it again"
The Beginning... by John Legend on Grooveshark

There is something powerful about making love and knowing you might be making a baby. Not because you are necessarily trying for heirs or you've had your 10 kid-free years of marriage already under your belt or you're lonely or its just the next box to check... no, that kind of approach to sex can totally feel like work. But I'm talking about something different; when you are so in love you want to go all the way, the way nature intended it to be. You want to feel that your love is so real, so intense, that it can literally create new life. Sometimes you might be a little nervous about that - a little unsure of yourself - but sure of your love and unafraid of that love being tested by babies and brief cases and coffee-stained mornings and dark-circle-under-your-eyes late nights. 

In that sense, I do live in a Romeo & Juliet type love, because we face our future with that same kind of passionate, fearless eagerness to give everything. The difference is, we promised to "keep doing it, and doing it again" when the lows of life hit us. And they do, and you do your best to prepare for that. You neither freak out about it, nor do you settle comfortably, nor do you go off in search of new loves for the thrill of the high. I think life is like the tide; there is an ebb and flow to it. Peaks and valleys. Things don't get progressively harder nor do they just hit a steady status quo. Love doesn't get progressively more boring, nor can it stay at the same intense altitude of besottedness. As we are committed not just to loving but to being in love with each other, we make date nights and little weekend getaways a priority, not a luxury. 

I met him after his class a couple weeks ago for an impromptu little wine date. We stayed up way too late and it was more refreshing than countless hours of sleep.

The last song is Jack Johnson, "Angel".
"Got an angel
She doesn't wear any wings
She wears a heart that can melt my own
She wears a smile that can make me wanna sing
She gives me presents
With her presence alone
She gives me everything I could wish for
She gives me kisses on the lips just for comin' home
She can make angels,
I seen her with my own eyes
Gotta be careful when you got good love,
cause those angels will just keep on multiplying
You're so busy changing the world
Just one smile and you can change all of mine
We share the same soul"
Angel by Jack Johnson on Grooveshark

Isn't it funny how both the songs that talk about this kind of selfless, fearless, "rash" openness to new life, to making babies out of nothing more or less than love... isn't it funny how they both literally also talk about changing the world? I don't think its a coincidence. I think its reflective of something true... something about that kind of love, that kind of powerful approach; I believe it does have the ability to change the world. 

I know for me, my heart is full. Our life is not easy. But it is also kind of exciting that it's not stretching out ahead of us in boring, careful predictability. There is a daring kind of adventurousness to our life and our approach to making babies. I mean, really... when is making a baby ever easy or cut and dried? How can you ever be truly prepared when you never know ahead of time the physical and emotional challenges of each unique baby?

There was a Buzzfeed thing going around recently - I don't really understand why - the decision of one company (with many competitors who would happily take their business) to plead their right to refuse to pay for birth control? - the whole thing seems odd to me in a nation where birth control is not hard to acquire for anyone, and is in fact pushed on you at every visit to the Gyn. It seems odd in a nation where using birth control is the rule and not the exception. Anyway. I know several women who were angered by the Buzzfeed post, which felt like a flip of the bird to their own very personal sacrifices and non-confrontational religious beliefs, rather than a necessary or helpful contribution to any sort of dialogue. 

 I just felt sad. I freely chose to not bring birth control into my lovemaking for wholly positive reasons. For reasons that have brought beautiful fruit into my marriage and effects I feel each day. AND HEY! I didn't have 5 kids in 5 years! Not that there's anything wrong with that - but I think many people imagine you would only give up birth control along with family planning. Jason and I still do approach our family with planning, but we believe it is less cold and calculating and cut-off than it might be were we using artificial means. I didn't choose this way of life because I felt forced to or because I felt judged. In fact, I feel like a strange minority most of the time, even among other Catholics. But I am okay with that because I am so grateful for my choice. Its sad to me that there are so many people who have no idea what it could be like, what they are missing out on. 

I choose this way of life daily because I love the consequences of my choice. I find it incredibly romantic. I get to date my husband on the few times of the month we can't make love - I get to feel like he wants me so badly, not just sex. I have to say - when I was pregnant both times, and we got to have sex whenever we wanted, we both actually missed the romance and anticipation that comes with doing Natural Family Planning and abstaining from intercourse for some of every month.
I am aware that people may look at me, 25 years old with 2 children and open (physically and emotionally) to having [undetermined number] more of these little people in the next 15 years...
 they may look at my husband and I not being able to have sex whenever we feel like it - regardless of my fertility cycle - unless we're pregnant or trying to be... 
people may look at us and feel pity. I am aware of that; but it doesn't bother me in the slightest. They don't know what they're missing. 

I know what I'm missing; trust me! Its a sacrifice; a sacrifice of convenience, of the feeling of total control. But I am willing to make it, day in and day out, for the unique beauty of the life I choose instead. The peace of never being taken for granted (or at least, making that much less easy to do, ha!); of never using or being used to scratch a sexual itch (intentionally or not); of only making love when we can do it all the way; of my husband seeing me as fertile and liking that - seeing me as "an angel making angels"; the joy of accepting the gift of children with a love that stretches and expands to meet their needs, trusting in grace from the Author of Life, rather than coldly calculating it ahead of time. Of course, simply not using birth control does not give you a free pass on all of those things I just mentioned. Selfishness has a way of creeping into everything. You can never just relax and be like, I got it in the bag. But it makes it a whole lot easier for us to be selfless, to be focused on each other with mutual appreciation, to grow and grow and grow in love. 
"Did my heart love til now?" 
That is a sentiment I have been lucky to feel many times over again in the last [almost 5!] years I have spent as Jason's girlfriend, fiancĂ©, wife; feeling like you are more in love than you ever were before, even when you couldn't imagine that being possible. This, we believe, is the beauty of a love that gives freely of self, a love that is total, fruitful, and faithful. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running for a Mother's High

This post is an ode to running.

 To feeling like you could dance, or laugh, or fly 
in the middle of the sweatiest of runs. 

To the highest of highs. 

To feeling like you are a free, fast-moving GPS dot in the map of a big beautiful world. 

To having music fill your ears that makes your heart beat harder, your legs fly faster, your head lift higher. Like you are a character in a movie with a really, really great soundtrack.

This song does it for me right now, every run.

To soaking in the beauty and strangeness of new surroundings. Running on little Edisto Island in 3 mile circles looked like this...

and this...

and this...

I have never felt hotter while running. As in temperature, not state of mind. ;). It was blazing. I could literally inhale the heat rising from the pavement. But it was weirdly exhilarating. 

And it gave me such a burst of energy every day. I could keep up after my boys even after Jason had to leave us for a few days... I could take them for long bike rides and chase them on the beach and splash with them in the pool. 

I credit running for the energy I have been blessed with for this special and especially exhausting season in my life. I am not the most productive or organized of mothers. But I am pretty much always energetic. No one feels happy all the time, and nobody's life is without suffering and hardship and work... but I can honestly say that even on tough days, I feel like I am given just enough grace (and energy) to choose joy. Real, tangible, grateful, humorous joy. Much like how, in the hottest of runs on the island, sweat pouring down my back and heat pounding on my face, I was able to press in and get a heart-soaring, muscle-tingling second wind. 

Running is a gift from God right now. It fills my sails and my tank and my heart. That second wind - physically and emotionally - is the greatest help I could get right now. 

A few nights out at the beach, after the boys had crashed from a long day of sand and saltwater, I was able to hop on my rental bike and leave the baby monitor with my sweet mother in law and her as-sweet sister. 

It was special to just feel like me for a few hours. And it was special to be able to see things like this... 

That color  is not a filter, hand on the bible. It was unbelievable - a hurricane raging offshore from us, and the whole island was lit with this eerie, fiery glow. 

I dropped my bike and ran up to the beach to catch the sight of lightning flashing over the water in the distance, as the sun set behind me. 

I felt in that moment, sitting on the sand by the sea, and then riding back to the condo with the wind in my hair and the pink fading overhead - that I am loved beyond measure. I am a small person in a big world, and it is exciting and dangerous and beautiful. And there are so many adventures I get to have. Not the least of which are the two pairs of bright eyes that greet me every morning and just want to play with me all day long. This is how I feel about being a mama.

I am grateful for the zest and energy for this time in my life that I honestly think comes from running. This time in life can be a tempting one for us women to feel like martyrs or victims or has-beens.  Its not that we don't love our babies - but I get how it just overwhelms you, along with the piles of crusty dishes and moldy laundry. I am grateful that God gave me a stress outlet that also fills me. And its free. ;)

getting a run in with my double Bob on my favorite trail at home, right before a storm

Running isn't for everyone. My mom had this experience with cycling [she is a badass on a bike]. But I have to believe that God is able and wanting to help every mother find something to give them the joy and energy needed for their vocation. I know myself... I know my own failings and temptations... and I know I can't give myself the credit for the fact that I am simply loving this season. Sure its a lot of work; duh I yell and cry and say bad words plenty of times. But it is every bit as full of laughter and slobbery kisses and hilarious hijinks at bedtime and the contagious delight of your child getting to discover God and the world and himself. The tipping point, for me at least, is having the energy to lift up your head from the spilled milk and stained walls and see it. Having the energy for the bathtub splash fights and kitchen dance parties and epic story telling - these things make all the difference. Having the energy to laugh instead of cry. 

So, here's a surge of gratitude to running... for this joy it gives me that I get to be right where I am, with every sweaty fiber of my being. 

If you find yourself stuck in the hardships of motherhood, I have been there... and I know it has nothing to do with being a good mother, or being cut out for the vocation. I truly believe, if you press in just a little harder, if you seek out your own God-intended outlet and energizer... that second wind is waiting for you. 

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light; come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you." - Matthew 11:30

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