I Gotcha

I’ve always known I believed in God, but there were plenty of times when that meant little more than an occasional fervently whispered prayer when I needed something. I’d engage in religious debates with other Christians – Christians much more learnèd and devout – and non-believers alike, but I didn’t know much beyond what I’d learned through years of religious classes. I didn’t really seek to know God.

My faith hasn’t grown deep and true in churches or on prayer kneelers. It’s grown slowly, over the course of the past couple of years, in hospitals and on winding mountain roads.

When cancer struck, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t understand how or WHY something so terrible could happen to Casey – to us. I was angry and confused and hurt. So I prayed, but I didn’t hear anything. For a long time after that, I was indifferent. I didn’t hate God. I didn’t turn away from Him. He just wasn’t a priority.

Then things got bad – really, really bad.

Visit after visit we received terrible news. The cancer had spread to his brain. The cancer had grown in his lung. The cancer had spread to the other lung. Shingles covered his right leg and the pain was excruciating; he could barely walk. We were defeated. We were lost. We were broken.

We went on vacation – just the two of us – in an attempt to forget, to heal, and to rest. While we were there, we stumbled on a beautiful little chapel. We drove past, in a hurry to play, and forgot about it. We passed it again on our way back. Compelled to enter, even as a vicious storm brewed, we stopped and walked and prayed. Then we called my dad and shared the photos and mostly forgot about it.

The next week, on our way to an appointment, I asked Casey what cancer had done to his faith. He said, “nothing good.” I asked him if he was angry with God and he nodded, nearly in tears. I wanted to comfort him, to whisper, “I gotcha.” But I didn’t think words would help. Anxious and afraid and desolate, neither of us spoke for the rest of the drive.

That day we got our first bit of good news. The radiation had begun to shrink the brain tumors.

Some of the tightness in my chest eased and I felt a glow of warmth I could barely begin to understand. Though of course I knew this meant the medicine was finally working, I didn’t think it was a coincidence that it was this particular medicine or this particular time.

A few weeks later, a friend from my dad’s church, moved by dad’s prayers during rosary, shared his own experiences with cancer. He gave my dad a bottle of holy water and a container of holy dirt and asked him to give them to us. We could sprinkle it on Casey, blend it as a smoothie, leave it on our mantle, pray over it. It was ours to use as we pleased, but he gave it to us to use in good faith. We accepted gratefully.

Both sat on our mantle for over a week as we thought about it. We finally made the decision to use them. Zoey and I rubbed the water and dirt on Casey’s chest, leg, and head – everywhere the cancer and pain was worst. Then we bowed our heads and prayed together.

A few weeks later, we got more good news. The tumor in his right lung was gone. The tumors in his left were shrinking.

We were overjoyed. Casey danced. I laughed. We both cried.

God was everywhere in this. It was like He’d reached out, wrapped His giant, celestial arms around us, and held us. We basked in His warmth and more of the tightness eased. We were finally able to breathe again.

We started talking about going back to church, something we’d done off an on since we’d been together. Church was tricky for us – I was raised Catholic and he’d been raised Lutheran, but what we wanted was a church we felt comfortable attending together. It was a struggle. I felt comfortable in the Catholic Church, but didn’t agree with or believe in all of its teachings. He didn’t feel at home or at peace there. We argued about it, prayed about it, struggled with it. We knew we needed to find a church, needed to raise our daughter knowing God, but we didn’t know how.

On a whim, one Saturday (after yet another church-related argument), we decided to try our friends’ church. I was convinced I wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t feel comfortable, wouldn’t want to return.

I was wrong.

God was everywhere. He was in the people, in the music, in the sermon. He spoke to me.

I thought it was a fluke, but had nothing to lose so we went back the next week.

I was wrong again.

God’s presence was even stronger this time and I knew, I just knew He was speaking to us. I could feel Him pressing on my heart. I felt safe. Loved. Comforted. Peaceful. Joyful.

I felt like I was home.

We went back to the doctor yesterday and heard more good news. The tumors continue to shrink. The medicine continues to work. The cancer is under control.

God is with us.

All this time, He’s been with us. Even when we didn’t listen, didn’t see, didn’t care, He’s been there. He’s just been waiting for us to hear Him saying, “I gotcha.”

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Fear

I’m afraid of the dark – I always have been. I never knew why or what triggered the fear, possibly an overactive imagination and too many novels, possibly just the fact that I was a kid, but I rarely went to sleep fear-free. For years, I leapt on and off my bed to avoid the Purple People Eater any creeps that might be lurking beneath it, ready to kill me.

In order to stave off some of the fear, I convinced myself that if I did things just so, no harm would come to me. And so, every night I checked the closet and closed the door. I refused to look into mirrors when the lights were out. I pulled my blanket up to my chin, believing that anyone who wanted to hurt me (presumably by cutting off my head) wouldn’t do so if my neck were covered. No one wants a partial head, amirite? I didn’t get out of bed unless I had to use the bathroom and I refused to turn lights on if I did for fear of seeing something I shouldn’t. And when all else failed, when fear still plagued me, I closed my eyes and prayed.

It didn’t matter what I said, but I would usually wind up repeating the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary over and over, the familiar words and repetition calming me enough that my stomach muscles unclenched, I was able to breathe normally, and I’d eventually drift off to sleep. Nothing could harm me so long as I was praying.

The next night, the cycle would start all over again. I was afraid of lots of things as a kid – Bloody Mary (not the Queen of England, the mirror one), ghosts (though I wasn’t sure I believed in them), evil things that lived under my bed (thanks, Poltergeist), clowns (thanks again, Poltergeist). Those were the times I couldn’t wait to grow up because grown-ups don’t have irrational fears. Grown-ups aren’t afraid of the dark. Grown-ups are strong.

Unfortunately, my fears didn’t magically disappear when I grew up. They merely changed.

As a young adult, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the Right Guy, that I wouldn’t find a job, that I couldn’t do the job I found, that I’d never be a successful writer.

As a newlywed, I was afraid to be apart from my Right Guy, afraid that we would never stop fighting, afraid that I’d drive him away with my never-ending tears.

As a pregnant woman, I was afraid of birth defects, being a bad mom, being a mom at all, labor, missing life before baby everything.

As a mom, I’m afraid that she’ll grow up too fast, afraid of the moment she gets hurt, really hurt, afraid of mean girls and meaner boys, of the moments she’s sad or hurt or broken and I can no longer fix it with a hug and the Minion movie.

I thought I knew fear then. Until cancer. I’ve never been afraid of anything more than cancer. Because no matter how many times I check the closet or under the bed, or how high up I pull my blankets, or which lights I leave off or turn on, I can’t make his cancer go away.

But on those nights when I feel my stomach clench and my breathing hitch, when I feel the fear start to drown me, I close my eyes and start to pray, the same prayers over and over, the familiar words quieting my mind, giving me peace.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

And I know if I keep on praying, my fears won’t conquer me. Because it turns out that it’s not the words or the familiarity or the repetition that soothes me. It’s the knowledge that I’m not alone, that Someone is always with me. And for a little while, nothing – not the dark or mirrors or cancer – scares me.

Because nothing can harm me as long as I keep praying.

Tomorrow

I creep into her room before we leave this morning, my hand hovering over her back. I have to leave her with my sister again. It’s only the first time this week, but it’s the fifth time this month that I won’t be home when she wakes up, that I won’t be home to put her to bed. I want to cry because I miss the days when I don’t kiss her sleepy face or when I’m not there to listen to her early morning chatter. I miss her when I’m gone. I know she loves her aunt, but I also know there’s no substitute for mommy.

“I’m sorry I won’t be here today, baby. I’m sorry your daddy is sick and we keep missing things. We love you so much,” I breathe the words over her, praying she understands, hoping she forgives us.

*                *                *                *                *

Casey can’t hold her today. He had a scan with contrast this morning and is possibly radioactive so he isn’t allowed to be close to her for 24 hours. She runs to him when we get home, arms out, calling “Dada!” He gently pushes her away.

“I can’t hold her, Michelle. The radiation…” He stops talking and turns away. He looks sad. He looks sad more than he knows we realize, both Zoey and I. She starts to fuss, hurt by his rejection, not understanding the difference between can’t and won’t. So I scoop her up, kiss her cheeks, and tickle her until she laughs. I put her down in front of her toys to make dinner as Casey lies on the couch.

“Book, Dada! Book!” I hear her from the living room and look over to see her climbing on him. I take a deep breath and walk over to them, pulling her into my lap.

“Daddy can’t hold you right now, baby. Mommy will read you a book.” I smile at her, aware that my smile is different, stilted, and false, but I read and I hold her until it relaxes into something natural, until I feel the smile in my eyes, in my heart.

*                *                *                *                *

After her bath, I wake Casey from his nap so we can play with Zoey before bedtime. He still looks tired, but he grins as he takes her from me.

“Hugs for Daddy!” He says as he squeezes her. She squeals then slips from his grasp and drags her blocks over to him. We build a tower and cheer as she smashes it up. She laughs and we clap for her, our queen of destruction.

“Do you need me to get anything ready for you before chemo tomorrow?” I ask him.

“Nope. It’s just chemo – I’ll be fine!” He responds with false cheeriness and high-fives Zoey. She loves high-fives so she brings him more blocks to build more towers for smashing, knowing that we’ll cheer each time, real happiness bubbling from us.

We play a little bit longer, until it’s time to brush Zoey’s teeth. We have a routine: I hold her and Casey dances next to her, singing a song about brushing our toofers. But tonight he has to sit down as the pain and the anxiety overwhelm him. So I brush her teeth, then sing her a song, and lay her in the crib by myself. Then, just like I do every night, I kiss her and say, “Goodnight, baby. I love you.”

As I walk out of her room, I hear a small voice. “Nigh-nigh! I yuh you!” I smile and my eyes fill with tears as think about how even in the midst of all the awful, I am so lucky.

*                *                *                *                *

We pull up to the house, bursting with excitement. After almost a year, we needed some good news. Casey’s parents are in town visiting and what could have easily been a week of sadness, of constant consolation, is now a week of celebration. His dad asks us again what the doctor said, still in disbelief, needing to hear the good news once more.

“He said there’s a tiny, active spot in my lung and it’s probably just inflammation from the radiation so he wants to do a biopsy but it’s not a big deal.” His mom looks at me for confirmation and I nod. Relief fills her face. I want to feel that but something holds me back, something keeps me cautious. Zoey starts to whine, hungry as usual.

“Daddy’s going to be fine,” I whisper into her ear as I strap her into the highchair. “He has to be.”

*                *                *                *                *

We continue our celebration at the brewery. Mid-sentence, he stops talking and I know – something’s wrong.

“I have this weird spot in my eye. No matter where I look, I can’t see out of it.” I feel the panic rising as he experiments, looking up and down, side to side. He tries to reassure us, “It’s happened before, I’m sure it’s nothing.”

I chase Zoey around, tossing goldfish at her to keep her happy, ignoring the fear that’s nestled deep in my belly. She falls and scrapes her knee and reaches back for me, crying. I pick her up and hold her, soothing her, soothing myself.

“Shh, you’re okay. We’re okay. Everything’s okay.” I murmur the words until they feel like truth.

*                *                *                *                *

I can’t stop crying. He was supposed to be better. We fight on the way back from the hospital, our emotions high, the news too much to process. He leaves me sobbing in the car and stomps into the house on his own. Even though it hurts, I know he needs some time to think, to deal with the news on his own, and frankly, I’m in no place to be of any consolation. My mom and sister walk out of the house, but I pretend not to see them. I cover my face and whisper, “Please don’t come talk to me,” over and over again, willing them to leave me alone.

When I calm down, I walk inside and take the spoon and yogurt from my mom, hoping that doing something normal like feeding Zoey, will keep me grounded.

“Did he say anything?” I ask.

“Just that they found a brain tumor,” my mom answers me, her voice gentle, so gentle I feel my heart break. I put my head in my arms and start to cry again and feel two pairs of arms wrap around me.

But all I can focus on is the tiny hand that pats my head and the sweet, raspy voice that says, “Hi, Momma!”

*                *                *                *                *

“Everything hurts,” he tells me as coughs wrack his body. I tell him to go lie down and rest, Zoey and I will play on our own tonight. He doesn’t want to miss it so he sits on the recliner, pretending the pain isn’t nearly as bad as I see etched in his face.

She doesn’t like to feel ignored so she walks over to him and touches her nose. “Nose. Nose, Dada.”

He smiles at her. “Yes, nose.” She holds out her arms, waiting to be picked up but he can’t do it. He wants to but he can’t.

“Tomorrow, baby. I’ll pick you up tomorrow. I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

Somehow she understands. She walks to her shelf and carefully picks a book and brings it to me. She sits in my lap and I start to read quietly, “In the great green house…” And we all hope tomorrow doesn’t take too long.

Tomorrow1Michbelle

 

Note: I originally submitted this piece to a contest (with fake names instead of our own) in December. Obviously, I didn’t win, which is why i’m able to post it here now. I do, however, consider it a personal win since I still get to publish and share it with all of you. Since then, Casey’s tumor has been treated and is shrinking and he’s started a new round of medicine for the tumors in his lungs.

This piece has been published on The Huffington Post.

Thank you

The past year has been hell at its worst and slightly cooler than hell at its best. And while that may be hyperbole, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve had a rough year and two months (thanks a lot, cancer).

To be fair, it hasn’t all been bad. Sure the endless hours at MD Anderson, the treatments, the sickness, the fear, the anxiety, and the stress all sucked, but there were some good things too – like Casey’s home all of the time and I started writing again.

Mostly though, those good things were all of you.

I’ve thought about sitting down to write each of you notes, letters, novels in which I would attempt to express what is, very simply, thank you. A few times I even sat down to do it, but the truth is that I don’t have enough time or energy to write to every person who has, at some point, done us a solid because so many of you have been so generous. So, this is our thank you – our very genuine, heartfelt, sincere thank you.

Thank you to the family who have given their time to be here with us for days, weeks, months at a time. Thank you for driving in on a moment’s notice when we were sick or overwhelmed or sad, for flying in when we needed help, for giving up your weekends so we could rest. Thank you for being our rocks, for keeping us going because we couldn’t do it on our own. Thank you for answering late night phone calls and researching options. Thank you for taking care of Zoey when, for whatever reason, we couldn’t. Thank you for your unending love, your constant support, and your steadfast positivity. Thank you for shouldering some of our burden so we didn’t crumble.

Thank you to our friends for all of the meals cooked, the car rides downtown (at all hours and during hellish traffic), and the thoughtful (and sometimes even grandiose) gestures. Thank you for visiting. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being our shoulders to lean on. Thank you for understanding when we couldn’t meet you for dinner, when we didn’t make it to your wedding, when we forgot to return your phone calls. Thank you for being there, wherever there was, whenever we needed you.

Thank you to all of those who prayed for us and thought about us and wished upon stars for us. Please keep doing so. We need you.

I can not say it enough – thank you, thank you, thank you. We love you all so much and, cliche as it is, we know that we are blessed beyond measure to have you in our lives.

And so you all know, should you ever need us, we owe you like a thousand favors. So, feel free to cash those in at your earliest convenience. We’ll be right here, thanking God for all of you.

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A Christmas Blog: A Year in the Life Of the Underwood Family

I used to write the Rodriguez family Christmas letter and thought I’d do the same for the Underwoods, but updated for the digital age, of course. It’s been a crazy year – sometimes awesome, sometimes terrible, but always an adventure. And so, in lieu of a Christmas letter, I present to you: A Christmas blog and our year in a nutshell.

January: Casey and I took a spontaneous trip to Colorado knowing the next few months would be wretched since he’d just been diagnosed with lung cancer. When we got home, we spent most of the month waiting – in doctor’s offices, for scans, for results, for good news. When we finally had enough of waiting, we left the hospital that diagnosed him and went directly to the best: MD Anderson. Zoey started crawling and got her first serious viral illness: Hand Foot Mouth.

February: Cancer, chemo, radiation. Casey felt well enough to take me on a Valentine’s date to the drive-in theater and we made everyone jealous as we ate our popcorn and watched the movie cuddled up on the giant beanbag in the bed of the truck. Zoey started standing and saying “yay” – probably to applaud the fact that she was standing.

March: Cancer, chemo, radiation. I turned 28 and Casey baked me a cake. From scratch. I also got my groove back started writing regularly for a website called Curisome. Zoey found her reflection in the mirror and fell in love. #narcissus

April: Cancer, chemo, radiation. Casey turned 28 and kept kicking cancer’s ass. We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary with the worst father-in-law on the planet who drank all of my champagne (because he’s a jerk) and a lovely friend who drank none (because she was pregnant). Scary Mommy paid me for a piece I wrote and I officially became a published author. Zoey started climbing and thus began her reign of terror.

May: Chemo and radiation treatments completed. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Casey, Zoey, and my mother-in-law by drinking mimosas and conducting business as usual because apparently, Mother’s Day doesn’t mean you get a day off from being mom. Weird. Zoey started walking and discovered that everything belonged to her.

June: School ended for the summer and we decided to do a “quick” kitchen cabinet remodel. It took too long so we left it unfinished and began our road trip to Indiana. Zoey turned one, smashed cake all over the place, and conquered the Yanks. #onederful

July: We made it home just in time for Casey to wind up in the hospital with Pneumonia. We threw Zoey a birthday party at home and had a bounce house and a superhero themed cake. She ignored one and smashed the other.

August: Casey bought a golf cart. We made a spontaneous road trip to Austin to meet up with Aunt Mels where Zoey slept through watched her first musical. Casey went back to work. Madi got a job with me and we went to work too. Zoey stayed with a friend and baked cakes all day.

September: Zoey started throwing tantrums. So, September was obviously super eventful.

October: Zoey started school and learned a million things in three days, like how to sign “more” and “all done.” We went to our first Come and Take It festival and Casey got another lesson on how amazing Texas is. Casey’s parents came to visit. We got great news about cancer – none in his lung! Then, we got terrible news about cancer – brain tumor. We celebrated Halloween by dressing up as characters from Monsters, Inc. and handing out candy to strangers kids. Zoey learned to play guitar and drank a few sips of her first cherry limeade.

November: Casey had radiation on his brain. He also started knitting. I’m not saying the two are connected but I’m not saying they aren’t. He had two biopsies but it felt like a thousand and we waited on news again. We celebrated Thanksgiving and tried to be thankful because we have the best friends and family. And each other. We discovered Zoey is a genius who likes to read articles about Quantum Physics.

December: The biopsy results came back positive for cancer in Casey’s lungs so he started chemo again. My bestie visited. Casey’s cousin visited. We all decorated and prepped for Christmas. Zoey had her first Christmas program where she did not sing Jingle Bell Rock or shake her jingle bell. She was probably boycotting because she wasn’t on the left and she’s always on the left. #meangirls

Next week Casey will (hopefully) be feeling much better. We’ll spend Christmas with both sides of our families when the Underwoods come for Pigmas at the Rodriguez’s’. And Zoey will impress everyone with her vast vocabulary and spot-on animal sounds.

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So many people have visited and helped us this year but if I’d added everyone in and included all of the things they did, I’d have written a blog so long no one would want to read it. So, thank you, all of you, for everything you did to make our year brighter, easier, and better. We love you all.

Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and all the other holiday greetings you wish to hear!

In Sickness and In Health

In 2011, I met a boy. In 2012, he proposed. In 2013, we said, “I do.” In 2014, we had a baby. And then someone decided we needed a little more madness and in December of 2014, my boy was diagnosed with cancer.

Suddenly, life was about doctor appointments and treatment plans, chemotherapy and radiation, disability paperwork and sick days. Instead of arguing about whose turn it was to change the baby’s diaper, we were arguing about who was more tired. Because while he was struggling with the physical pain and fears of cancers, I was struggling with the responsibilities and stress of a new role: Caregiver.

It hasn’t been easy and I have not, by any means, excelled in my new position, but I love my husband and he needs me, so I’ve learned. It’s been a lot of trial and error and a lot of fights conversations, but over the past year I’ve realized a few things key to surviving in this role.

  1. Don’t take it personally. They’re (usually) not mad at you. Keep that in mind when they’re blaming you for traffic or they’re angry at you because they don’t want to go to the doctor – they’re just projecting. You didn’t create the traffic or make them sick. It’s not your fault, so if you can, let it go. In doing so, you will offset at least a thousand fights.
  2. It’s not a competition. I didn’t even realize I was making it one until Casey told me so. At some point, instead of responding with something thoughtful and caring when he told me he was tired or sick, I started to say, “I’m tired too! I was up three times with Zoey last night and I had to get up for work at six this morning, plus I had to run to the grocery store and make dinner.” Eventually, he stopped talking to me about his feelings because he felt like I was just going to make it about myself.
  3. Find time for yourself. I can’t tell you how difficult this is for me to do because I feel the need to do all of the things myself, like if I’m not constantly cleaning up my house or caring for my family, I’m a failure. But I’ve noticed when I don’t take at least an hour per week to do my own things, I start to lose my mind a little bit. And then I’m super unpleasant. And I whine a lot. And no one wants to spend time with me. Which should mean me time but, let’s be real, it doesn’t.
  4. Accept help if and when it’s offered. In the beginning, I said we were fine and we didn’t need anything because I thought I had to do all of the things myself. And it was clear I was struggling so people helped anyway. And it is such a humbling, magical experience when you know that someone took the time out of their life to make yours a little bit better. People want to help; they just don’t know how. But if they offer, it’s because they genuinely want to, so accept their help gracefully and everyone wins.
  5. Don’t make yourself a martyr. Because a) you’re not one and b) you’re still alive.
  6. Today may be a bad day but cheer up because tomorrow may be worse. There are going to be a lot of bad days because cancer sucks. He’s going to feel sick, you’re going to be tired, you’ll both feel scared and sad and angry. And there’s a good chance tomorrow will be worse, not better, because again, cancer sucks. Accept that it’s not a great day and move on. Ten points if you can find something good to focus on amidst all of the terrible. Twenty if you can laugh.

Thanks to cancer, I’ve had to be a lot of things I wasn’t prepared to be. It’s been challenging and frustrating and stressful. I’m fortunate Casey is the most freakishly optimistic person of all time because it usually helps to keep me balanced but even on my best days I struggle to take my own advice and I spend a lot of time talking myself into feeling things I just don’t.

But on those days, the days I’m so worn out I don’t think I can do it anymore, my parents, sisters, and friends are standing at the ready to care for me and I’m able to recharge and start all over the next day.

This Moment

You know that feeling when something bad happens just before you go to sleep – you fight with your spouse or a beloved character on your favorite TV show dies – and there’s a moment, just before you open your eyes the next morning, when you’re between asleep and awake, that you’ve forgotten it happened and all is well? That’s my favorite moment of the day – that moment of peace before I remember, before the shadow creeps back in, before the heaviness of our burden settles on me.

I lay quietly for a minute, willing myself out of bed, talking myself into going to work, not calling in sick. I’m going to need those sick days for doctor’s visits that aren’t mine, caring for sick people that aren’t me.

I listen to you snoring (loudly) next to me like you have been since you came to bed long after I fell asleep. I was angry with you when you woke me up as you climbed into bed, your restless movements jarring me awake. I was angry with you when you woke me up snoring and kept snoring even when I shoved you and told you to roll over. I was angry with you when the baby woke me up at four in the morning and you kept sleeping so I had to get up, even though I had to be up in less than two hours and you would keep sleeping. I was so angry I growled at you, this primitive noise starting in my chest before I even knew it was happening.

But then you start coughing and my heart pounds, beating erratically, fearfully in time to each bark. I worry about you. Why are you still coughing? Shouldn’t this be better? Shouldn’t you be better?

I try to remember what it was like when a cough was just a cough as I wait for your fit to stop. When it does, I ask if you’re okay, if you need anything. You mutter something unintelligible and settle back into sleep and I shrug, swing my legs out of bed, and head to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

I feel awake – tired, but awake. I make the mistake of looking in the mirror and see someone that looks a little like me, but she’s older – drawn, wan, haggard. I pull out my concealer, the only expensive bit of makeup I buy because I need something good to paint over those dark circles under my eyes. I’m tired but I keep painting – eyeliner, mascara, blush, bronzer. I was going for the human look today but might have actually just barely managed zombie princess.

I curl my hair and then pull it up because it looks silly – too flat on the right, too frizzy on the left. But at least I look normal, maybe even better than I did yesterday.

Maybe today no one will tell me I look tired or sick. Maybe today I won’t have to say “I’m okay” when someone asks me how I am. Maybe today I’ll actually be okay.

I’m running late. I’m always running late. And I still have to get the baby ready for school. I walk out of the bathroom. Should I kiss you goodbye? What if I wake you? What if I don’t? I tiptoe up next to you and breathe a short prayer over your head and  move before the dogs make any more noise – they’re anxiously waiting to be let out. I don’t want to risk waking you after so little sleep. You need more sleep.

I can hear the baby before I open the door. She’s calling for you. Dada. Dada! DADA! She always calls for you in the morning. I might be jealous if she didn’t reach up for me excitedly and bury her head in my neck happily when I pick her up. She pulls back and touches my face and whispers, “hi.”

And I realize I was wrong because this – this is my favorite moment of the day. So, I stand there just a minute longer, knowing I’ll be a minute later because in this moment, the shadows have retreated, the heaviness has lifted, and I’m at peace.

ThisMomentMichbelle

Note: A version of this blog ran on SheIsFiercehq.com.