Wednesday, May 30, 2018

because one day you won't part 3

Milo was born in April, and the transition to three children has been as expected - insane and delightful all at once. At times I can see my knowledge and confidence as a mom coming on strong this time around; other times all three of the darlings are crying at once, and I am cursing Stephen for not working from home more often. The reality that this little guy will be walking and talking (read: running away from me when I call his name and using phrases like "pooper butt") all too soon has made me aware of moments to remember.  Even more so than I did with Charlotte and Andrew, I am slowing down, noticing, and smiling that both childhood and baby life are happening in our home.

"Because one day you won't" is my unapologetic, sappy mom writing. You can read more about it here and here.


Because one day your cheeks won't be so big.

Because one day you won't fit so perfectly in my arms, letting me hold you close and squish your cheeks.

Because one day you won't wake me up throughout the night

And despite my constant exhaustion and occasional complaining, the corner of my heart will miss the sweet stillness of those nighttime moments when it is just you and me.

Charlotte and Andrew,

Because one day you won't walk curiously into my hospital room, eyes wide, ready to meet your baby brother.

Because one day you won't think bathing your little brother makes for the best day ever.

Because one day you won't kiss him so fiercely.

Because one day you won't both fit in the rock & play.

Because one day you won't stare at him over the crib.

Because one day you won't beg to hold him just a few more minutes.

So today I will notice those moments.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

could i have grace instead?

I paced around our small bedroom, bouncing a swaddled infant and singing Jesus Loves Me. We were interrupted by a knock on the door, again. Andrew was only a few weeks old, and his two-year-old big sister had not yet mastered the art of playing quietly in the other room while I put him down for a morning nap. I whipped open the door and knelt down to Charlotte's level. "If you knock on this door again, you will have a time out."

The knocking did not stop, but it did change to a soft tapping, allowing me just enough peace for Andrew to doze off. I laid him in the pack 'n play and moved toward the door, committed to following through with my threat. I didn't care how many times I put her in time out over the next few days, that little girl would learn to be quiet when her brother was napping.

I opened the bedroom door to see her sitting in the hallway surrounded by pretend food. She smiled. So big. So genuine.

Shoot. Stick to your guns, Joy.

"I made you soup," she said, holding out a small plastic pot filled with wooden carrots and peppers.

Oof. Don't cave. Don't you dare be a parent who spits out empty threats. 

"Charlotte, thank you for the soup, but you kept knocking on the door when I said to stop. You have a time out." As expected, the tears began, but it wasn't temper tantrum tears; she was sad, disappointed. She finally had my attention, and I was barreling in with a consequence.

I was flooded with compassion. She'd been a big sister for sixteen days, and I expected her to play quietly in the living room while I snuggled and smooched her brother. I was being unreasonable, and I knew it. She didn't need a lesson in obedience right now; she needed grace.

My next sentences were a jumbled mess. There was something about how she'd made a mistake by not obeying. Something else about not getting what she deserved, and I probably threw in something about Jesus for good measure. It wasn't eloquent and possibly not theologically sound. But if I want my children to grasp the grace of Jesus, I need to fill our home with tiny snippets of grace. This was a first, mediocre attempt.

"So," I concluded,  "Mommy is going to give you grace instead."

I exhaled a sigh of relief, hoping to move past the moment, but Charlotte wasn't done. She looked at me with expectation and held out her hand.

"Grace," she demanded. "I want grace."

Oh rats. My holy moment was coming to an abrupt ending as I realized Charlotte wanted something put in her hand. I told her I was giving her grace, and she was ready to receive. No doubt she imagined grace to resemble a chocolate chip cookie.

"I want grace," she demanded again, now stretching out both hands.

"Well honey," I began, knowing I was already sunk, "grace isn't something I can put in your hand. It's kind of like..." Oh, this ought to be good. "Like...a hug."

A hug? Really, Joy? Grace is like a hug?

It seemed appropriate to lean in for a hug, but she pushed me away in frustration. With her hands outstretched and head flung backwards, she began screaming, "Grace! Grace! I want grace! Give me grace!"

Preach it, sister. We all do.

Would you think less of me if I told you I went and got her the cookie?


A few months ago, the kids and I met some friends at an indoor play place. We played, ate lunch, and played some more. I intentionally held off on dessert knowing it might be just the motivator I would need to gather the darlings when it was time to go. There were a dozen candy machines next to the escalator, and I'd be happy to trade a quarter for a handful of Skittles if it meant a smooth exit to the car.

It was nearing 1:00. I gave the five minute warning.

The one minute warning.

Then the casual, "Time to go," as I swung the diaper bag over my shoulder and turned toward the exit.

No one followed. Shocking.

Eye contact was made, and I mouthed the words, "Let's go," from across the room, complete with a forceful hand gesture and deathly mama glare.

No response.

I walked toward them as they ran even further from me, a sure trigger for my blood to start boiling. I knew it wouldn't be easy to collect the darlings, but I had to keep my composure. After all, there were other moms watching me. I couldn't go all crazy mom, yet.

They began climbing a giant pig structure and I moved in, ready to pull a good, old-fashioned dessert threat out of my back pocket.

"You need to come now, or you will not be able to get a treat." I stood silently and watched them disregard my instructions with glee.

The next ten minutes were a blur, and I can't remember how I wrangled them in, zipped their coats, and tied their shoes. I was frustrated, tired, and ready to enforce my threat. Today I would teach them a lesson, even if it meant screams and tears because by golly, when I say it is time to go, it is time. To. Go.

We approached the escalator and the colorful candy machines locked eyes with my children.

"Can we get a treat, mom? Please, can we get a treat?"

Deep breath. Here we go.

"No. I told you it was time to leave, and you didn't come. Your consequence is no treat today." Boom. Done. Consequence enforced. Lesson learned. Well done, mom.

"But please, can we just get one treat?"

"No. I told you it was time to leave, and you didn't come. Your consequence is no treat today."

Charlotte stopped walking, and I braced myself for the inevitable wailing. She buried her face in her hands and let out a loud frustrated exhale. A moment later she looked up and said, "I'm sorry. Could I have grace instead?"

Insert pin drop.

What just happened?

Did she ask for grace?

Is she allowed to do that?

Am I allowed to do that?

I've made stupid choices recently, some toeing the line of foolish and others that are downright sinful. Either way, they are mistakes deserving of a consequence. I never considered just asking for grace. I've opted for guilt instead, fearfully waiting for a smack down that might finally teach me a lesson.

Guilt is a poisonous beast I rarely see in my children. They mess up all the time but are never slowed down, dragged down, or consumed with guilt. I, on the other hand, talk with the Lord about the same foolish choices for months, continue to apologize, and then dwell some more in the sorrow of my stupidity.

Could it really be that simple? Am I allowed to just ask for grace instead of a deserving consequence? Grace instead of guilt?

In Matthew 18:2, Jesus says that we must "become as little children" in order to enter the kingdom of God. It is from this verse that the church coined the term "childlike faith," a phrase tossed around when Jesus stops making sense in our grown-up lives. Jesus is pretty confusing to me most days, and I am not crazy about this "childlike faith" phrase. Mostly because I don't understand what it means or how it plays out in my day to day.

I suppose on my worst days, when the weight of my decisions and the filth of my sin are overwhelming, childlike faith looks something like a crying toddler, hands outstretched, head flung backwards, screaming, "I want grace! Give me grace!" And on my more dignified yet weary days, it might look more like a girl who just lost 25 cents worth of Mike-N-Ikes but is bold enough to ask for grace instead.


I let her have the candy that afternoon, and on the drive home I started to doubt my decision. Was that a good parenting move? What about obedience? What's my plan if she starts asking for grace all the time?

Asking for grace all the time.

I like that.

So, I followed Charlotte's lead that day and decided to ask.

Lord, discipline is hard, and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not sure what just happened in that mall and if I made a wise decision. Would you cover this one in your grace? Would you take my feeble efforts, weakest moments, greatest mistakes, and give me grace instead?

Asking for grace all the time. I think I'll start doing that.

This essay was first published by Mothers Always Write.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

that damn stroke

A nurse stood at the foot of Dad's bed and held up a pen in one hand, a banana in the other.

"Mike, point to the pen."

His left hand carelessly pointed to the banana.

The nurse set down the banana and held up a water bottle instead.

"Mike, point to the water bottle."

He pointed to the pen.

I thought he was kidding. I thought he was annoyed at the nurse for insulting his intelligence. This was a man who lived for Trivial Pursuit and participated in Jeopardy every afternoon at 3:30 - a grammar nerd, literary guru, and Cubs' stats fanatic. He was being asked questions suited for a nine-month old, and I thought he was playing her. The nurse repeated this exam several times throughout the morning, each time with similar results.

I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Dad. Stop it. Be serious. Point to the pen."

He looked back at me confused. The nurse wrote something on her clipboard and left.


We had been waiting all day for information, an answer, a suggestion, a next step. A new doctor came into the room and stood at the foot of Dad's bed as we circled around. But there was no information, no answers. Instead, the doctor kept a safe distance from optimism, swimming around in a vague territory of "more tests," and "just have to wait and see." If we were looking for hope that Dad might speak again or walk out of this hospital, we wouldn't find it from this doctor. 

Exhausted and defeated, it was clear we all needed a break. 

My brother and I, along with our spouses, ended up at Starbucks. I was thirty-six weeks pregnant and ordered an iced passion tea lemonade; it didn't seem appropriate.

Thirty hours ago Mom had found Dad on their bedroom floor, crippled and silenced by a massive stroke. Right now he was sleeping in a hospital room. He couldn't move the right side of his body and made weird noises when he tried to talk. His face was droopy, and he needed someone to wipe drool off his chin. While he laid in bed scared, confused, and unable to distinguish a pen from a banana, I was sitting outside a coffee shop on an 80 degree day drinking a fuchsia colored iced tea. Something didn't feel right, but it was also a relief to be out of that hospital, away from doctors who had no answers and offered little hope. There was freedom from the stale conversation that hangs in hospital rooms because no one knows what to say but silence seems worse. The familiarity of a coffee shop brought relief. I don't know how to navigate hospitals, awkwardly lingering around my dad as he lay motionless in bed, but I do know coffee shops. I know how to order a drink and idle by the counter. I know how to set up camp around a table, sip, talk, people watch, repeat. It was comforting to know what I was doing for an hour. 

We sat around the table, and I told them I didn't feel bad for my brother or for my myself. We had Dad, at his best, when we needed him most. He was there - baseball games, dance recitals, Six Flags, AWANA Dad's Night. He'd taught us to drive and took us to Cubs games. He'd moved us into college and walked me down the aisle. I didn't even feel that bad for my mom. I probably should have, but she was Mom; Mom can always handle it. 

Instead, I told them, my heart was aching for this baby in me who would only know a grandpa who sits in a wheelchair as a quiet spectator rather than one who gives piggyback rides and reads stories in a Donald Duck voice. 

My heart also ached for my brother's three-year-old twin boys. They were too young and wouldn't remember that just nine days ago their Grandpa was splashing them in a hotel pool and building a sand castle on the shore of Lake Michigan. 

That's when my brother cried. 

My brother is a man of action; he always has a plan, a next step. There was something about seeing him, elbow on the table, leaning into his hand to wipe away tears that told me this was bad. This was our great divide - the event that just split our lives into a before and after. 

I stopped talking and drank my tea. 


It was just after 4:00 in the afternoon on Monday, three days after Dad's stoke. I was sitting on the small plastic couch near the window when Dad waved his left hand, motioning me to come closer. He pointed to the clock and then back at me; his face was concerned and looked to me for an answer. I knew that look, and I knew what he was thinking. 

"You're wondering why I'm still here," I said. 

He nodded.

"You want to know when I am leaving."

More nodding. 

"You know it's 4:00, and you know we have a five hour drive back to Ohio. You are worried about us driving home in the dark." I said it as more of a question, not really sure if he understood details like time. 

But he nodded again and even smiled. He motioned at the clock and then at the door.

"We'll leave soon, okay?" I sounded like a teenager, irritated at my overly protective father. But I wasn't really annoyed; I was relieved and knew he also wanted to ask if I'd rotated my tires recently. 

He reached over and put his left hand on my giant belly. My throat tightened up, and I felt tears burning the back of my eyes. But I didn't want to cry, again. I didn't want to tell him my heart was crumbling with fear and that he had to get better so he could play with his grandbaby. 

"You think I should leave now so I don't have the baby right here?"

He laughed and looked at my mom as if to say, "Would you help me out here and get her to leave already?"  

That was the first time I saw a hint of Dad. Visitors with good intentions told us he was still in there; he was the same old Mike. But I wasn't so sure until he pointed to that clock.


The months after dad's stroke were confusing. I had lost the dad I'd known for 29 years and weeks later gave birth to my first child. I didn't know how to let the joy of motherhood exist alongside the sadness of dad's stroke, and even now, five years later, I cannot separate the grief and joy. I loved those early weeks of motherhood, but it felt selfish to be so happy when I knew my mom was miles away drowning in decisions and sorrow while my dad was barely moving or speaking. 
I was grieving the loss of my dad. I still am. But that seems strange - grieving the loss of a dad who is alive. 

He has come a long way from the man I saw in the hospital bed five years ago. I am thankful for that. But in my desire to be thankful, I haven't given my sadness the room it deserves. I haven't said aloud how much I hate that damn stroke. I haven't thought much about how I'm sad, and how I miss my dad, and how unfair it is that my children were robbed of their grandpa. 

If I give my sadness an inch, I am convinced it will take the mile. And then another mile after that, probably picking up anger and fear and bitterness along the way. Before long, I might be too far gone. 

But today I will say it. 

I hate that damn stroke. 

I hate that it took the life we expected for my mom and dad. I hate that it took the grandpa who wants to wrestle and swim and play hide-and-seek. I hate that my brother's twin boys had three years with that grandpa, but my children never met him. And I hate that I'm starting to forget. 

I have to try, really try, when I want to remember him. I have to sit in a quiet room and close my eyes if I want to hear his voice and remember the distinctive Italian gestures he'd use when telling a story. Sometimes I try to remember him sitting in the driver's seat of the car or mowing the lawn, but I can't, not anymore. It's strange how you can see something or hear something for decades, but then forget so quickly. 

I do not take Dad's recovery lightly. He took on years of therapy like a champ, relearning to speak and walk and manage with just his left hand. We are still adjusting to a new normal, but Dad is alive, and he knows his grandchildren. They build puzzles, play CandyLand, and sit on his lap to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They have an inside joke about quesadillas, and Dad can bust out a pretty mean tickle monster with his left hand. They adore him, and I am thankful. 

But I still hate that damn stroke.

Monday, October 30, 2017

because one day you won't, part 2

This past summer, I went all sappy mom and wrote this.

I'm doing it again.

These past two months have taken me down. Our hearts are celebrating the news of baby #3, but my body is rebelling against all parts of life that don't involve lying on a couch eating Rice Krispies. I'm irritable and ill and have had to force myself to notice quirky, childlike moments invading our home. It seems like these moments are hiding, lost in the blur of me running to throw up, again, but they are there. And I know they won't be for long.

Because one day she won't come to my gynecologist appointment with a baby doll hidden under her shirt.

Because one day she won't wear a Snow White dress and have a picnic in her room. 

And because one day she won't ask to go to the Verizon store with me rather than staying home to play with friends. 


Because one day he won't line up tiny twigs when his dad asks him to gather firewood.

Because one day he won't mow the lawn in his diaper, rain boots, and winter hat.  

And because one day he won't call rabbits "bunny hops."

So today I will notice those moments.