One of the pioneer journals detailing my great-great grandfather’s trek west mentions a woman who, at the onset of the day, had something tied up in her apron as she began pushing her handcart. After some inquiry it was discovered the thing was "a little person who had come into the world the previous evening". She had walked all of yesterday, quietly birthed a baby, cleaned herself up, and tucked it in a homespun pouch because the wagon train was moving. No time for recovery and reverie. No time for white nightgowns and silver trays loaded with hydrangeas and pastries. No time for sleepy skin on skin. Time was reserved for sunburn and steps. This story disturbed me mostly because she was 1000 times tougher than I’ll ever be. I am happy to report chivalry was not dead on the plains; the fellow travelers of this woman insisted she ride for a few days while benefactors took care of her cart.
The other story that has been on my mind was written by Rachel Coleman, a trail runner I should have bumped into at BYU but somehow missed. Please, I never would have bumped into her while running. Running is ludicrous. I would have bumped into her in the Brimhall building while we were earning our graphic design degrees. She writes about the crumbling of her health and 17-year marriage:
During this time, a good friend gave me a picture of the temple with these words from Elder Jeffery R. Holland written on it: “Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead.” I stuck it to my fridge and read those words every day. When my great-great grandmother Asenath Viola Wilcox began her journey west as a pioneer, her family traveled on what her sister called “trackless prairie.” The grass was so high that her father had to stand on top of the wagon bed in order to get his bearings. I did the same thing, praying to know God’s will for me and trying my best to follow Him, without knowing where I was going. I put one foot in front of the other, on my own trackless prairie, knowing only that God keeps His promises, even if I couldn’t see how the things he promised would ever be accomplished.
BABY 1: RE. I quit working the week before she was born. Our house was furniture and spot-free, therefore no real effort was required to maintain sanctuary. I wasn’t even scrapbooking or crafting then. I honestly don’t remember what I did all day but I don’t remember feeling haggard or overwhelmed.
BABY 2: Archer. A definite adjustment with definite postpartum baby blues. I hid my struggle because I was afraid to say, “This is stinking hard.” I thought if I admitted how tough babies were I wouldn’t be appreciating the miracle of the century. I stressed myself out until my milk dried up and felt displaced despite overall conditions of health and happiness. By the time Archer was four months old I started getting my mojo back. The fog eventually lifted and list-making, crafting, writing, and wild monthly photo shoots commenced.
BABY 3: Everett. I had him on Thursday and enjoyed a two-night holiday* at the hospital. Then I promptly tied him up in my apron and started chasing wagons on Saturday. That’s what it felt like, anyway. (First thing I did when I got home from the hospital? Cleaned my tub.) The wagons veer like my wind-up toddler toward sights yet unseen: a new high school, a new home, a newish van (can't wait!), a new lifestyle with littles (for the first time in our marriage Greg and I have finite personal time which forces us to communicate and write things on the calendar). I can’t let the crazy train out of my sight despite strong urges to jump in the sick wagon and nap indefinitely.
I’ve never had three kids. This is not a complaint; I just don’t know how to do it yet. Twice a day while my Sonicare buzzes I stare at the card taped to my bathroom mirror: THOUGH HARD TO YOU THIS JOURNEY MAY APPEAR GRACE SHALL BE AS YOUR DAY. I'm day-to-day right now, meaning I can only focus on today, not tomorrow. (Which kind of freaks me out. I have to breathe deeply and repeat three times "It's okay to not be Superwoman.") I remember when Archer was a newborn there was a day when the only thing I accomplished was breaking my eyebrow comb in half so it fit in my make-up bag. That was a low point in my list-making life. Now I laugh about it. This time around I'm simplifying: less bullet points, more naps.
The morning after Everett was born I physically felt like I'd jumped through a paper shredder. I was slightly better off mentally and emotionally. As I have pinged and ponged between being okay and being overwhelmed I've submitted to one truth: I need manna, succor, and grace every morning, noon, and night. The thing is…I believe the Lord will give them to me. I believe he wants to give them to me. I especially need these things when life is stripped down to the basics of survival. I appreciate the minimalist "manna phases" of my life. They keep me close to the Lord.
Acres of grass wave to the horizon. Unknown waves before me roll hiding rocks and treacherous shoal. Jesus, Savior, pilot me! Above the tips of tall grass I stand sleep-deprived in a wagon bed (the irony...sleepy in bed) with a new bundle in my apron. I survey and scour for promised paths and hidden treasures. Despite being an amateur orienteer I know I will find them by feel versus sight. Nudges, pushes, pulls. Hesitation, inspiration, revelation. Day by groggy day. Little by little. Step by step.
The first night in the hospital, before abandoning me to sleep at home for nine hours on a plush mattress, Greg admitted he was feeling the weight of providing for another human. (According to the internet it now costs $300K to raise a kid. I told him we'd be fine if he just gave up his daily lunch at Wendy's and I stopped buying Kneaders eclairs.) I likewise admitted I was questioning my capacity to nurture another human. (Which is why I need all those eclairs!) Bonnie Dixon shared an article about a mother of eight whose motto was WE CAN DO IT, meaning (SHE + GOD) CAN DO IT. Greg and I adopted that motto because it's easy to feel buried in our individual spheres. We remind ourselves God does not set us up to fail.
I know I have a special compass inside of me. Chart and compass came from thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me. The Lord dictates to its spindles via my heart and my mind. WE will find a way. WE will track and travel together.
*Sarcasm! I hate that place! Baby lockdown! Sleepless prison!
Photo quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Photo of the actual Wyoming prairie I walked through five years ago on a pioneer trek re-enactment
Rachel's article here
I should add that thanks to my amazing neighbors I did get to rest in the sick wagon via deluxe dinners delivered daily for a week. (Say that three times fast.) Life is obnoxiously easy when one doesn't have to cook.
UPDATE: September 2, 2016.
I accidentally stepped on the hem of my linen gaucho pants from anthropologie when I was stooping down to change a diaper and RIPPED the leg of my pants off. There may have been an audible sound of heartbreak. Everett got a clogged tear duct (or pink eye? hope not) and pooped/peed through four outfits. Archer threw a tantrum when the turtle scene of Nemo was over, when I told him he couldn't pour his own pure maple syrup on his empty breakfast plate, and when I accidentally cut his banana wrong. He also slipped a Harmon's gelato sample spoon through the slits in the return air register. I'm hoping that little spoon doesn't blow my furnace up. Hey, I only know how vacuums work. My parents have been gone for two days, hence, I haven't napped in two days and I'm feeling a bit low on fuel. I ate an entire package of marshmallow pinwheel cookies in a week. That's twelve pinwheels. That's about 1500 calories. I'm trying to tell myself it doesn't matter because a)I'm nursing, and b)that's the caloric intake of one bite of anything served at The Cheesecake Factory. The last time I ate an entire package of pinwheels was when Archer was born. My mom got me a package then, too. I guess pinwheels = little baby boys. As soon as I can figure out how to get a new tire on the double stroller Bonnie Dixon gave me I can go on walks in the day. That should cut down on the pinwheels as well as the cooped up feeling. I need to get out. Maybe I shouldn't have purchased two boxes of peaches to can this weekend. I still think WE can do this. But boy oh boy the learning curve is real!