Putting Fear In Its Place

My son has a severe phobia of thunderstorms, and I like to say it’s all Daniel Tiger’s fault.

Three years ago, when I was in the throes of adjusting to life with a newborn and a three-year-old, Daniel was our third parent. I could turn on an episode during long nursing sessions or while I went to put the baby down for a nap, and my son Nathan would sit for 22 minutes, mesmerized. Daniel encouraged trying new foods, sharing, and there was a whole arc that summer about a new baby sister that seemed divinely ordained. Nathan soaked up every lesson, and I patted myself on the back for choosing the perfect show: equal parts educational and entertaining.

It was all great, until the thunderstorm episode. Nathan had been blissfully unaware of the existence of thunderstorms until this point. He never batted an eye at a rumble of thunder or flash of lightning. The loudest storms wouldn’t wake him in the middle of the night; I can remember carrying his sleeping form downstairs during a tornado warning more than once. He didn’t know to be scared, so he wasn’t. That all changed as he watched Daniel and O the Owl become afraid of a thunderstorm in the Land of Make Believe. His eyes were opened to a previously undetected threat, and he learned a new lesson: fear.

At first, his reactions were pretty typical: he would jump at the first clap of thunder and scurry to sit next to me. I’d give him a reassuring hug and distract him with a game or toy, and he would quickly forget the storm as he immersed himself in playing. Three years later though, his fear has grown into full-blown terror. He eyes anything other than a cloudless, blue sky with suspicion—could a thunderstorm be imminent? On cloudy days he’s reluctant to play outside or stray far from home, because sometimes clouds mean rain and sometimes rain means storms. Nathan doesn’t decide to do something based on whether or not he thinks he will enjoy it, but on that day’s weather forecast.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have tried every tool in the parenting toolbox to assuage his worries. We’ve talked about how thunder is just a sound and sounds can’t hurt us. We’ve checked out books from the library that explain the science behind thunderstorms and lightning, knowing that sometimes we fear what we don’t understand. We have encouraged safety rules: stay indoors, away from windows, when there’s a storm. We’ve made concessions: yes, if a storm wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can come sleep on the floor in our room.

It’s a heartbreaking thing to see the fear and panic in his eyes when the first roll of thunder rumbles. My arms wrap around his thin shoulders and I whisper in his ear that he’s going to be fine, and that the storm won’t hurt him. Without fail, our conversation unfolds the exact same way every time.

“But how do you know, Mom?” he will ask. “How do you know the lightning won’t get us?”

“Nathan, bud, remember: what’s my job?”

“To keep me safe.”

“That’s right. I promise I will keep you safe during this storm.”

Usually my reminder is enough to keep the crushing fear at bay. And then of course, no storm lasts forever. As the thunder fades and the rain lets up, Nathan visibly relaxes. The sun breaks through; the threat is gone, at least temporarily.

We’ve tried everything to help Nathan manage his fear, and while some of what we’ve tried helps, nothing has calmed his anxiety completely. As you can imagine, we’ve received various nuggets of well-meaning advice.

Why don’t you tell him there’s nothing to be afraid of? Well, that’s not really true. Lightning can hurt you. His fear is disproportionate to the threat, but the threat still exists.

Why don’t you just distract him? We do some, but first we validate the fear. At the core, it’s an instinctual self-preservation. Nathan’s gut is telling him there’s something to be afraid of, and we don’t want to completely invalidate that. It’s more about managing his response to fear and less about pretending the fear doesn’t exist.

As challenging as it is to help Nathan learn to control his panic and anxiety about thunderstorms, there’s something to be said for a fear we can see and name. There’s also the satisfaction of being the antidote: my arms, my calming words, my presence is enough. He trusts me to keep him safe, and, so far, I’m able to do so.

It won’t always be so simple.

Someday he will learn I can’t keep him safe, not really. There are dangers in this world that I’m not strong enough to guard against, and then there are also the threats that come from his own mind: self-doubt, guilt, lack of self-worth. He will see there’s plenty to be afraid of in this life and how easy it is to let fear draw the boundaries of our lives for us.

Dreams go unpursued. Love stays unrequited. Differences remain misunderstood. The chance of a storm keeps us from seeing the world.

In the Daniel Tiger episode that ruined everything, Daniel’s mom tells him, “Close your eyes and think of something happy,” during the storm. Maybe she meant it as a distraction, but it’s also a profound truth.

Fear is heavy and oppressive. It crowds out everything else if given the chance and will absolutely revel in calling the shots. It takes a deliberate effort to focus on joy to put fear in the proper perspective.

It’s a lesson I could stand to listen to as well. Nathan and Daniel are only afraid of thunderstorms, after all. My own fears—of failure, of missed opportunities, of embarrassing mistakes—those are the ones that lead to a life that feels woefully unfulfilled when they’re the loudest voices in my head. When I’m whispering, “Remember bud, we can’t let the fear win,” it’s as much for me as it is for him.

That’s the funny thing about parenting, though. You think you’re shaping their character when really, they’re shaping yours. Together, we’re talking more about joy and less about fear. Joy in other people, in experiences, in accomplishing something that requires bravery and strength.

We don’t have to vanquish our fears, but we can’t put them in charge, either. Fear gets a voice, but not a vote. It can come along for the ride, but it sure can’t drive. That’s joy’s job.

Fearful moms raise fearful kids, and I want more than that for my children. I want more than that for me. Together, we are choosing something different.

We are choosing joy, and that’s no small thing.


Photo and words by Jennifer Batchelor.

Wild Things

I can recite Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak in its entirety. Sometimes when I’m exhausted, I keep my eyes closed through the bedtime ritual. The words have worn my voice into a song-like cadence when I turn the pages. Long before bedtime stories were anything more than a blurred lullaby of voice and closeness, I’ve been reading this book to my sons.

I reach for it on tired days when I’m ready to send my kids into the far-off realms of sleep. I understand Max’s mother, trying all day to instill love and discipline and nourishment, when he just wreaks destruction and defies her. I’ve shouted, “I don’t care!” to whining and complaints, and held the door shut to keep them in time out. The irascible nag I try to suppress overrules the patient, smiling mother I aspire to be. When it’s finally bedtime, I pick up Where the Wild Things Are. My voice rises and falls over the familiar words and phrases as my kids’ bodies go soft and heavy and they become sweeter and quieter. We rock in our soft recliner like a boat on the sea, sailing into the safe harbor of sleep and a new start in the morning.

I have hazy memories of my mother reading the book to me before bedtime—the colorful leaf design on the endpapers, the weird beauty of the wild things. My bedroom was carpeted in blue, and after being kissed goodnight, I would imagine my bed was a private boat rocking me across the sea to mysterious lands.

***

I’m sitting in my parents’ garage, sorting through boxes of books. They used to be piled on the bookshelves in my room, but it isn’t my room anymore. Vintage records are no longer tacked to the wall, and the lime green accent wall I painted in high school has been subdued to pewter gray. My prom dresses are still stuffed in the closet, but my mom has been asking what I plan to do with them.

It’s a natural process. I don’t expect my old bedroom to be preserved like a shrine to my childhood, but the lack of a permanent touchstone leaves me unmoored. I move a lot—my husband is in the military, so every home is temporary. A part of me loves the change and adventure, but another part of me feels blown about in the wind.

When I go to my parents’ house—what used to be home—I lose my impulse control. I go through the cupboards, looking for the hidden stash of Oreos and M&Ms. I stay up late reading in bed, even though I know my kids don’t sleep well away from home and will undoubtedly be up through the night. Sibling rivalry rises up between my sister and I as if we were still toddlers tussling over the prettiest Barbie dresses.

***

I wrap the towel around me and step out of the shower. My sister is at the mirror, arranging her crown hair extensions. “Have you seen these before?” she asks (as if she hasn’t been tagging me in Instagram giveaways for them for the last six months). “Alan got it for me for Christmas. Mom has some too, I think.” She unzips her makeup bag, pulling out sponges, foundation, a couple of mascara tubes.

“Your hair looks great,” I answer. “So much extra body.” I rub on eye cream, tinted moisturizer, bronzer, mascara. Done. Before I pull my hair out of its top-knot, I hear a shriek. My sister applies her second layer of mascara as I throw on a bra and t-shirt and rush downstairs.

My mom is sitting at the dining room table with her vanity mirror. She never does her makeup under the fluorescent bathroom lights. My oldest sits across from her, peering at his magnified face on the other side of the mirror. “Are they okay?” I ask. “I heard a yell.”

“Nolan took a toy from Cal,” my mom answers. “They’re fine now.” She unscrews her mascara (waterproof only—the regular kind makes her lashes go straight). “I want to talk to you.” Always worrisome words. “I’m going to take your sister shopping this afternoon. There are some stores downtown that she’s been wanting to go to.” She pauses. “I don’t want you to get jealous about it.”

“Um, okay?” I scoop up the baby. “I need to change his diaper.” The critic in my head starts ranting. They have more fun without you. You’re the odd one out in this family. They don’t want to shop with you because you’re fat. I tell myself that I wouldn’t have been bugged by this special shopping trip if it hadn’t been pegged as a special shopping trip, but I’m pretty bothered now. Even when my sister tells me she wants me to come with them and I find a great outfit (on sale!). Insecurity drips through the rest of my interactions with my mom and sister like poison. I pout as they swap makeup tips and laugh together, feeling like a martyr as I haul dirty diapers out to the dumpster in the snow.

***

My sister is a first grade teacher and and has to leave a few days earlier than I do for work. The morning after her flight, my mom’s fraying patience snaps. She tells me my attitude has soured what was supposed to be a weekend of family togetherness. She details my selfish actions: my inability to let offenses go, my jealousy, my obtuseness in thinking a mother could love one daughter more than another. Hurt, I only hear the accusations and ignore any undercurrent of love. I don’t know how to expose the vulnerabilities fueling my moping attitude, so instead I yell accusations of my own.

After the fight, I go upstairs and scroll through my phone, searching for flights home. I can’t imagine staying here for another two days, but I give up after a few minutes—the prices are exorbitant, and I knew my boys wouldn’t understand why we had to leave Grandma’s house early. The rest of the day is an awkward dance of playing with the boys while avoiding eye contact with each other. By dinnertime, we’ve reached an unspoken truce, but our talk remains stilted. We are both hurt and surprised, I think, at how easy it was to build walls and hurl stones.

That night, my toddler pulls my old copy of Where the Wild Things Are from the bookshelf. I zip through it, trying to get him to sleep so I can retreat to my room with a novel and escape the horrible day. Usually as I read this book, I relate to Max’s frazzled mother, who sends him to his room without dinner after a day of wildness. But tonight, Max resonates with me. Sentenced to a lonely night in his bedroom, he escaped to a faraway place populated by a coterie of monsters who crowned him their king. Finally allowed to do everything he wanted, he nevertheless found himself longing for home. He had complete freedom and complete power. He was in charge. But after a day of rumpusing through the bushes and trees, “he was lonely, and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” I choke through those sentences.

Once the boys are asleep, Where the Wild Things Are back on the shelf, I lie in bed, journal open on my lap, and escape into my own faraway land peopled with monsters.

They roar their roars and gnash their teeth and roll their eyes and show their claws, and I’m not quite as bold as Max. I want to hop right back into my private boat and sail away home into comforting arms and external assurance that I’m good enough. But the wild things have me now, and they won’t let me skulk away unnoticed.


Guest post written by Lorren Lemmons. Lorren is a mama to two blue-eyed boys, a military wife, a nurse, a bibliophile, and a writer. This summer she is moving from Washington state to North Carolina. She blogs about books, motherhood, and her undying love for Trader Joe’s at When Life Gives You Lemmons. Her work has been featured in several publications including Mothers Always Write, Upwrite Magazine, Tribe Magazine, and Parent.co. You can find her on Twitter.

Fourth Time's A Charm

Scene 1: Half-eaten burger and a side of waffle fries

It’s a Friday in May, and my husband Alex and I are sitting in our car parked at a chain restaurant. “Are we just supposed to go in?” I ask. Alex shrugs, and we walk in. Can the server hear my heart pounding?

“We’re meeting someone,” I say. There’s our adoption coordinator and a girl with an obvious bump. “Hi,” we say awkwardly. We order, and I pick at my salad as we chat about our families, work, vacations, dreams. She’s 19 with a one-year-old daughter, and wants to go to college and own a business someday. She admires my pencil skirt and heels. I wonder if she thinks my brown curls look the mothering part.

In the middle of eating, she puts down her fork. “I want you to have my baby,” she says. Alex and I look at each other, stunned. She gives us an ultrasound photo. I gulp.

On the way home, I chat with the coordinator. “She’s a good lead,” she assures me, “but stay cautious.” What? This woman just told us she wants us to parent her unborn child. A good lead?

A few weeks go by, and Alex and I quickly prepare a nursery. Every day we wonder, is this the baby we’ve been praying for? Is this the answer to the pain and the miscarriage and the cancer?

“You’ll get the baby you’re meant to have,” is our adoption agency’s mantra.

Baby mama and I text frequently. Every time my phone makes a sound, my stomach has butterflies like I’m 13 waiting to hear from my latest crush. I’m so proud of my decision! You’re going to be great parents, she says.

The due date draws closer. One night, I get a text: I think the baby is here, I’m in a lot of pain!

That’s the last we ever heard from her.

Every day, we hope for a message, but every day, silence. After a week, we receive word that she had the baby and decided to parent. We were crushed. But how can we fault a mama who wants to parent her beautiful girl?

Scene 2: Desk lunch, last night’s spaghetti and a coffee-machine espresso

On a July afternoon, my inbox has this message from a work colleague: “Are you still looking to adopt? A friend of a friend of a friend may want to place a newborn.”

Is this the baby we’ve been praying for?

I get the number of the friend of a friend of a friend. I call from my desk at work over lunch.  My stomach in knots, we talk briefly. She has three boys and can’t handle another. Will she work with our agency? Yes.

The days go by, and it’s time for another awkward lunch meeting. We share stories, names. Something feels off, but I can’t put my finger on it.

It’s a week before the birth, and our agency tells us the mama wants one day in the hospital with the baby before we come. It makes them nervous, but they respect her wishes. Oh, and pack a bag for the hospital.

Great! We say.

We never made it to the hospital. The day she spent with the baby, she decided to parent.

Again, how can we fault a mama for wanting to parent her beautiful son?

It hurts, though.

Scene 3: PB&J, nothing sounds good

On a Sunday night in August, I get an email: “A baby girl is in the hospital. The mama wants to place for adoption; her boyfriend thinks the baby is his. They want an adoptive family to take the baby for one week while waiting for a paternity test. If the baby is the boyfriend’s, it goes with him: if not, the baby goes with you. Are you willing to be an adoptive family shown to this couple?”

I was in tears—this is it. This is our baby.

“Y-e-s,” I type.

A few hours later, we receive word: they picked you! Come to the hospital tomorrow to get the baby.

The next morning, we drive two hours to the hospital. We’re sweating as we walk into the hospital room. In the bassinet is a beautiful baby girl.

Stay overnight with baby, then bring her home to wait for the paternity test results, says the adoption coordinator. We’ve never seen anything like this. It really could go either way.

The nurses are pulling for us. They teach us how to feed her and put her in a car seat. We hope she’s yours! they say.

We have one glorious week with baby girl at home. Naturally, we fall in love. Though the weather is unseasonably gracious, we stay holed up inside with baby, binge watching home improvement shows as we feed her tiny bottles of formula. We dub her “Maybe Baby”, since we’re not sure if she’ll stay. We pray every moment. This is the baby we’ve been praying for, right?

On Saturday, I get a text: Maybe Baby is his baby.

How can we fault him for wanting to parent his beautiful girl? But this one really hurts.

Scene 4: A vaguely Southwestern chain restaurant salad, iced tea

On an October afternoon, I get a phone call from the adoption agency. “You’re matched!” It’s with a mom named Mariah.

Alex and I drive a few hours to another chain restaurant. I pick at my nail polish. We don’t speak once we hit the freeway. There’s Mariah, looking barely pregnant and holding a darling dark-haired, six-month-old. She found out about this baby just after birthing her daughter, Lylah. And she doesn’t have the resources to care for another right now, she says, tears streaming down her face. She’s with her boyfriend’s mom, who supports her 100 percent.

We would be honored to be his parents, we say. We share about our families, work, vacations, dreams. She likes my appreciation of Hispanic culture and Spanish to honor his part-Mexican heritage. He’s due February 27. February seems so far away.

A few months later, we meet again. Mariah shares a letter she’s written to her son about why she’s choosing open adoption. It’s beautiful. I cry. She gives me an ultrasound picture. He has lots of dark hair, the ultrasound tech had told her. We work out a plan: visits three times a year. And we’ll send photos and updates often.

She asks about names. “One idea is Ames,” we say. James without the A. “Interesting,” she says. “Another idea is Larson,” we say. “It goes with his sister’s name: Lylah and Larson.” Her eyes light up. Decision made.

We text every few days. How is she feeling? Will he come on Valentine’s Day? Do we have a nursery ready?

I’m so sad, she shares with me over text. I love him so much. But I know it’s the right decision.

Scene 5: Veggie lasagna, kale Caesar salad, and four glasses of wine

Conventional wisdom in adoption circles is to keep things quiet, just in case. We tell some friends, but don’t share much.

Gathered around our dining table one January evening, a friend says to me with eerie accuracy, “I know you’re not sharing details, but I had a dream about your baby. It was a boy, with lots of dark hair. And he was your son.”

I stare into the little white candle flickering in front of me. Is this the baby we’ve been praying for? Could the fourth time be a charm?

Scene 6—Two black coffees, to go

It’s a Sunday morning in February, exactly between my birthday and Alex’s. We’re drinking coffee. I casually glance down at my phone.

It’s Mariah. “I’m in the hospital dilated to a four. They think I’m in labor.”

Alex packs a bag while I pace in circles. We speed to the hospital and join the baby’s grandma and great grandma at her bedside. We hug, once strangers, now family. Great-grandma tells us that she adopted Mariah’s mother, so she understands what it’s like. I’m excited for you to be parents, she says. We hug again, in gratitude.

Mariah announces she’d like me in the room for the birth. I’m astounded. What an incredible gift. Alex waits outside. The doctor breaks her water. Twenty minutes later at 2:19 on 2/19, a perfect little boy comes into the room. I can’t believe my eyes.

Alex rushes in. I feed him his first bottle. Congratulations, say the baby’s grandmother and great grandmother. Alex and I are in shock.

Scene 7: Kung Pao chicken, shrimp fried rice, and crab rangoon

It’s our second night in the hospital. The past days were full of photos and visits from Mariah’s family. Larson meets his birth sister, who gives him open-mouthed kisses. He’s held by his great grandparents and grandma. Mariah and I take a photo with Larson, me holding his head, her holding his feet. Before we take the photos she asks to borrow my makeup, and I powder her nose as she perches on the edge of the toilet. Alex and I have been staying in a room two doors down. Every waking moment we spend with Mariah and Larson, every sleeping moment tending to the baby.

The birth certificate lady comes. What’s his middle name? Alex and I look at Mariah: Should it be something with an M, for Mariah? A family name?

Didn’t you like Ames? asks Mariah.

Larson Ames. It’s perfect.

We order Chinese takeout, making the hospital room smell of fried rice and crab rangoon. It’s Larson’s first dinner and movie. We watch Under the Tuscan Sun. Mariah is watching, but it’s obvious she’s grieving, thinking about saying goodbye.

Scene 8: Stash of formula bottles, hospital cafeteria lunch gone blissfully cold

Alex and I are sitting in our hospital room alone, watching the clock’s hands tick by each second with painful precision. Larson coos from the bassinet. We’d been asked to leave Mariah alone in her room with the lawyer, her eyes sorrowful and her hair in the thick braid she’d asked me to put in the night before. My stomach butterflies are at epic proportions. Mariah said she was ready to sign the adoption papers, but was she? What if she put the pen down at the last second, unable to place her son’s future in the hands of another family?

My underarms are getting uncomfortably sweaty. After what seems like an eternity, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the social worker. “I’m here with the lawyer. We have some papers for you to sign.”

We look at each other. “That’s right. You’re parents!”

After all the waiting and praying and crying and uncertainty, Mariah had given us the greatest gift. And all that waiting, praying, crying, and uncertainty makes this answer to prayer all the sweeter.

This was the baby we were meant to have.

Our son: Larson.


Guest post written by Sonja Overhiser. Sonja is an author, recipe developer, podcast host, and healthy and sustainable food advocate. Along with her husband Alex, she is creator of the A Couple Cooks website, a collection of whole foods recipes and inspiration for healthy and sustainable eating. She is the co-host of the A Couple Cooks Podcast, a show that features conversations with the freshest voices in food, including authors, farmers, and celebrity chefs from Mario Batali to Rick Bayless. Her work has been featured in national online and print publications, and she develops recipes for national brands including ALDI, Sub-Zero, Muir Glen, and Dole. Sonja loves a good cup of coffee, trips to the farmer’s market, and traveling the world with her better half. She is the author of Pretty Simple Cooking, a cookbook that will release in February 2018 (Da Capo Press).  

Photo of baby Larson by Kelley Jordan Photography.

When You Love My Children

It was the "lazy morning at home" that by 8 a.m., I knew could no longer be the lazy morning at home. Restless toddlers, arguments over whose cup it was, and a pile of laundry that six little feet were simply not going to let me fold. The kids needed a change of scenery and a place to burn off some energy, and I couldn’t let those unfolded socks taunt me one more minute. We had to get out of the house.  

I sent a text to my good friend Kelly on a whim, hoping to have someone join me in the chaos but staying realistic about the chances of a last minute meet up. “We are headed to Jump + Bounce at 10! Are you guys free this morning?”

A few minutes later my phone lit up. “We are! We will be there!”

Thank goodness! I thought in return. When you’ve simply had too much of your little people and the day is still so young, the prospect of the company of anyone but those little people is incredibly comforting. I quickly grabbed everyone socks, corralled the kids into the car, and promised to stop at Starbucks for apple juice on the way—my way of saying, "Mama needs a venti this morning."

Within 90 minutes, two moms and five kids descended on the local bounce house. We wrangled shoes off excited toddlers and reminded the easily distracted one not to hold in her potty until the last minute. For an hour, Kelly and I chatted in one minute increments, head on a swivel for our kids in the sea of sweaty little people.

“So how was work this week?”

“It was good. Had a big meeting with a potential new client, but I think he enjoyed the presentation and is likely to hire us, so … oh, hang on, ‘Micah! Wait for him, do not climb over him!’ What about you? Anything new?”

“Oh not really. Keeping busy with the usual but I did get … ‘Cannon! Are you stuck? I’m coming buddy.’ Anyway, what was I talking about?”

And so it went the remainder of our time. A sentence here, a bathroom break there, a moment of panic when the two-year-old is out of sight for too long and sweet relief when I see his bright yellow shirt come out from behind the climbing wall. A classic mom-date, catching up and bonding over the shared experience of constant interruption and unfinished sentences.

When it was time to go, my four-year-old, Harper, spotted the balloons. The pink one, to be specific. Once her eyes locked on it I knew exactly what she was thinking. With the adept negotiating skills that seem far too mature for a four-year-old, somehow she convinced her distracted mama to hand over two quarters for a little bit of pink glory. As the sweet bounce house worker handed her the prize, my girl beamed. So much joy for such a little face. With Harper’s balloon in hand, we guided the rest of the crew out the door and toward a sea of various color minivans.

Just after we stepped outside and turned to say goodbye to our friends, toddler-tragedy struck: a gust of wind seized the pink balloon and began to carry it off into the distance. Immediately Harper shrieked in horror and began crying, “My balloon! My balloon!” I didn’t even have a moment to get out any words of consolation to her before friendship showed up.

Without hesitation, Kelly dropped her purse and took off running—no, sprinting— toward the balloon. This was no light breeze, it was wind she was up against, and she gave it her best athletic efforts. We watched as she chased that balloon down the parking lot, onto a sidewalk, near the storefront, and eventually around the back of the building. For a few anxious seconds she was out of sight and we all wondered and hoped she would valiantly return with the prize in hand.

She didn’t. The wind was too much that day. When she came back she knelt down to a sobbing little girl and wrapped her arms around her. “I’m so sorry about your balloon, sweetheart. I tried so hard to catch it.” And she had. She did something in that moment that not even I did.

Harper was still distraught as we squinted our eyes to see a little bit of pink floating high behind the building in the distance, but my heart was full. My friend had just demonstrated the most important level of friendship two moms can ever attain: loving the other one’s kids.

In moments like these, we learn a beautiful truth: love me and I’ll be grateful for your friendship; love my babies, too, and I will do anything in the world for you. I’m not sure many things can do more for a mama’s heart than seeing other people truly love her children. And not just when they are sweet and innocent, but when they are not. Harper was very kind and grateful for the balloon that morning, but there have been plenty of times when she has not been so kind and grateful. Kelly would have taken off after that balloon anyway, because she has not reserved unconditional love for only her children, she’s offered it to mine, too. Seeing my friends truly care about my kids and their growing, learning, imperfect and precious hearts makes the world feel a bit safer, and it makes the long days of raising little ones feel a bit sweeter. A mama’s love cannot be replaced, but it can certainly be added to. And that’s the funny thing about math and love: addition feels a lot more like multiplication when we see our friend chase a balloon through a windy parking lot.

A few weeks after the upsetting loss of the pink balloon, Harper and I thought it would be fun to surprise Kelly with her own balloon, to thank her for her heroic efforts. We went to the party store and filled one blue balloon with helium and grabbed a few extra for her boys to blow up themselves. When we arrived at the door, they greeted us with smiles and we all laughed at the memory of a grown woman sprinting through a parking lot, dodging cars and watching for curbs. We handed over the blue balloon to the boys and in the excitement of the moment, someone’s little hands let go of the ribbon and we all jumped at the sound of exploding helium. The moms laughed, the kids cried; we had unintentionally recreated the trauma of that windy day and decided that perhaps balloons would be not be the gift of choice for our little crew.

Some things are meant to last, others aren’t. But friends who truly love your babies: don’t let those ones go.