As a kid, I remember thinking of Christmas as a mile-marker. I would look back over how much had changed from one year to the next. In high school, I’m sure I wondered if the next Christmas I would have a boyfriend. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) Or the year I went from not being able to drive (legally) to driving on my own. Then a couple of years later, I went from living at home to my first year in college. There were sad reflections too. The Christmas we spent with my aunt, knowing it would be her last. A couple of years before that, we gathered around my grandpa’s bed for his final Christmas—he passed away a couple of months after the new year. The following Christmases felt different. It wasn’t that it just felt like something was missing. Someone really was.
As an adult, I see Christmas mainly through the eyes of my kids. Last year, Rhett and Allie were 5 and 3 and they were both old enough to be excited about Christmas. Their eyes sparkled with the magic and lights, the wonder of what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I never even brought up Santa, they remembered from the past year. Last Christmas, my belly had the hint of a baby bump—and we didn’t know if the growing baby was a boy or a girl. The overwhelming feeling of adding a third baby to the family was slowly wearing off, and finally, my appetite was back to normal—my days of nausea behind me. We celebrated with my family in Wyoming, with yet another empty space on Christmas Day—my cousin had passed away two months before Christmas.
This year, I know many people around the world will have empty places around their Christmas trees and tables. Maybe because someone passed away since last December, or maybe because they aren’t gathering together this year.
As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas 2021 will look like. Will masks be something we are talking about in the present tense or a thing of the past? (Let’s hope.) Will Rhett and Allie still believe in Santa? How many words will Nora be able to speak? I pray my family will still have the same people around the tree, even if we aren’t celebrating together.
Even though this Christmas won’t look like year’s past, I know from experience that no Christmas looks the same as the year before. There is always good and hard. But I believe both can exist together.
These are the good things I want to remember about 2020.
In January we remodeled our kitchen that was stuck in 1955—and it’s beautiful. I’m grateful for it every day, and haven’t once missed the orange carpet.
Nora was born on May 21st in an exciting roadside delivery. Adding a new baby to our family is at the top of my “Good List” for 2020. I don’t take it for granted what a blessing a new baby is—one wished and prayed for by many.
Rich turned 40! I don’t know if he would consider it a part of the “good list.” But I’m reminded every year that growing older is a gift that’s not afforded to everyone.
A few weeks before his birthday, we celebrated with friends. We rented a cabin on the river and the guys fished and the girls got pedicures. We ate good food, watched The Office, had cake, and relaxed.
We had another successful and safe harvest. I also survived my first summer and harvest season as a mom of three. I spent most of harvest cooking meals, with one half day spent driving a combine (with a three-month old in tow).
I kept the flowers in my garden boxes alive all summer—which is truly a miracle.
Rhett started kindergarten in August and can go in-person. We’re thankful for his teachers and the school for making it possible in this crazy year.
This year I was especially thankful to live in a rural area. With hundreds of acres surrounding us, the kids were able to run, play, and farm with dad, and life went on (mostly) as normal for them.
Rhett is learning to read and write and wrote me this note last week.
Allie started taking dance class once a week this fall and loves it. Since Rhett started school, there is a lot of talk at home about his teacher and class and learning, and Allie loves having her own teacher and class. She taught herself to write her name and is excited to be in school next year.
In October, Nora was baptized in the church I grew up in. When the pastor was pouring the water on her head (in the silent church) she had a huge blowout in her diaper. Rich remained calm under pressure and held onto her bottom to keep everything in place. He held it together long enough to finish the baptism and get a few family photos. Afterward, my mom admitted that at first she thought it was my sister passing gas and was worried she was getting sick. My sister was slightly offended.
Rich and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in September. We spent the weekend before with the kids (on our first trip as a family of five) in Glacier National Park. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed the absolute beauty that is Glacier. On our actual anniversary, I baked a cake. Mostly because I like to eat cake.
Nora cannot wait to be on the move to keep up with her siblings. She thinks their crazy antics are hilarious. She just turned seven months old and her two bottom teeth came in at the same time. She is so happy and always has a smile on her face. Allie and I often say how much “we want to eat her!” Rich still finds this disturbing, but has come to terms with it three babies in.
Above all else, one thing remains the same—the true meaning of Christmas. We will be celebrating the birth of our Savior—and that is something great.
Last week, I set my phone down and went for a walk. I put one foot in front of the other— the earth solid beneath my feet. The crunch of gravel rang through my ears, instead of the noise of strangers. The heaviness of the stroller under my palms pulled the weight of the world from my shoulders. The air was cool on my face.
With each step, I was reminded of my life beyond a screen— and the view looks good from here.
“Feel how soft this blanket is,” I whisper, rubbing it against her chubby cheek. I lean back into the recliner—the leather stained with milk and my sweat. I pull her into my chest and gently rub her back. She yawns, her little nose scrunching up as the yawn takes over her whole face. “You could just take a short nap on me,” I say, rocking the chair back and forth, trying to coax her into sleep. The house is quiet, the snow gently falling outside. She nuzzles into my neck and I close my eyes.
I picture the last five and a half months, and I’m hit with the realization time has swept by in the blink of an eye yet again. In the first month, I was glued to this chair. The first weeks after Nora was born, I moved from my bed to the chair, then back to the bed again. She guzzled milk here, then fell into a milk-drunk state—my body was her bed. During the first month, she didn’t sleep anywhere but on me. Now she pushes away from me, the serene moment has passed.
I can’t remember the last time she napped on me.
An hour later, she naps in her crib, after refusing to nap on me—proof she’s not that tiny newborn anymore. Rich has taken the two big kids “on an adventure”, so I can have a few hours to myself at home. I putter around the house, stopping to pick up Legos, chunks of Play-Doh, and school papers while I wander. I think back over the last few months and the times I’ve wished for quiet space to read, write, or just be alone without interruption. But now, I don’t know where to start, and even though it’s only been 32 minutes, I’m grateful that, like clockwork, Nora wakes from her nap. Because I don’t remember the last time I was truly alone, and I’m not sure I’m ready to find out.
I can’t remember how to be alone.
The dryer kicks off, a load of towels slows to a halt. With Nora on my hip, I walk to the laundry room, where my laptop is propped open. The screen blares white: an empty Google Doc. The cursor blinks where my words are supposed to be. I sigh, shifting her up my side. I bend down and pull the hot towels from the dryer, sorting them by the bathroom and kitchen. She babbles and pushes against me. I bounce her and talk to her, knowing if I lay her down on her playmat she will cry.
I can’t remember the last time I did something with both hands.
Naptime rolls around again, and I place her in her crib. I grab her pacifier and put it in her mouth, and she immediately begins to suck. Both her hands go to the giraffe attached to the pacifier, and she holds onto it tenderly.
“Night, night, have a good nap,” I say, shutting the light off. I walk back to my office, the dryer now quiet. I watch her big eyes sparkle on the black and white monitor. Part of me wants to snuggle her, knowing she won’t be this little forever. The other part of me hopes she naps for longer than 32 minutes.
I can’t remember what it’s like to not live in 30-minute cycles.
She wakes again, and I know with certainty the time will come again when I’m completely alone in this house. My life won’t be in 30-minute intervals and my body won’t be feeding and nurturing a baby.
I walk to her crib and I wonder, Will she sleep on me again? Or did I miss the last time, without knowing it was the last time?
I pause beside her crib, simultaneously filled with sadness at the passing of time and wonder at the child growing in front of me. For the last six years, I’ve been immersed in babies and toddlers and big kids—and now back here again. While I’ve caught a few glimpses of life beyond the nap and nursing and then toddlers stage of life, it’s never been long enough to get comfortable there.
I pick Nora up from her crib and snuggle her soft, chubby cheek into mine.
In the past, I’ve gulped up the free time, not knowing when I would get it again. But now, as much as I want to be alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to find out what it’s like to really be alone.
Today, I’ll savor the snuggles when I can get them. And I’ll enjoy the minutes I have to myself—knowing there’s more to come later.
Today marks six months with our sweet Nora Kate. I don’t know what we would do without you, sweet girl. (Well, I would probably be getting more sleep, but that’s a story for another day.)
One of the hardest parts about writing this was trying to remember the timeline of events—a lot happened in a short amount of time. Using my phone call log and notes from my midwife, I was able to (mostly) piece together the final moments of labor and delivery.
Before I start, there are a couple things I think you should know. I planned to deliver at a Birth Center, not a hospital. When I use the name Birth Center, I’m not referring to the labor & delivery department of the hospital. Several people asked if we called an ambulance, but we did not. The Birth Center is not associated with a hospital, and we called my midwife’s cell phone.
And to give context on where we live—we are 50 miles from town. Roughly half of those miles are gravel roads, the other half is highway—depending on which which road you take. The day of Nora’s birth we had to go the longer way, which is closer to 30 miles of gravel roads.
And now, the story . . .
“Feel my belly, the baby is kicking, or maybe he or she has hiccups,” I whispered in the dark. Rich rolled over in our bed and put his hand on my full belly. Within seconds he felt what I was feeling on the inside.
“Just think, this could be the last time I feel the baby in your belly,” he said.
I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me. I knew this wouldn’t be the last time he felt the baby in my belly. I was 38 weeks and 4 days—there was no way I would have the baby anytime soon. My second pregnancy with Allie had gone to 41 weeks, and I had been mentally preparing myself the last few weeks (months) that my actual due date didn’t mean much, and I should settle in for the long haul.
“I doubt that, I’m sure I’ll be pregnant for awhile,” I said.
“You never know. Night babe,” he said as he rolled back over.
As with every night in the last few months of pregnancy—I couldn’t sleep. I moved to the recliner in the living room where I mindlessly scrolled my phone until I felt tired. I had been having Braxton Hicks since around 30 weeks, so the twinges I was feeling as I sat in the chair didn’t concern me. Around midnight, I finally made my way back to bed.
At 5:30 a.m. I woke up and was immediately aware of the tightening in my belly. Although they weren’t painful, they seemed to be coming more often than normal. I kept turning over from side to side, but it didn’t make the contractions stop. I picked up my phone and found a contractions timer on my pregnancy app and started timing them. After about 20 minutes, I realized they were happening every 5-6 minutes, and were lasting between 30-45 seconds (some longer, some shorter). But I wasn’t in pain. I made my way to the kitchen, where I saw the wet grass outside.
Rich came into the kitchen with a big smile on his face, “I wasn’t expecting this rain.”
I smiled back and said, “I might be having contractions, but I’m really not sure.” Since this was my third pregnancy, I felt like I should really know if I was in labor. My due date was still over a week away, so surely this could not be real labor.
“Should I call my parents and give them a heads up they might need to take the kids?” he asked.
It was barely 6 a.m. and I didn’t want to get everyone excited when it could be a false alarm. “No. I still don’t know if I’m really in labor.”
I sat at the kitchen table and started to drink my hot cup of coffee while the kids were still sleeping. Every once in a while I stood up and paced around the kitchen, but I still wasn’t in pain. (I feel like I should make this part clear.) The kids eventually woke up and requested pancakes. As I was flipping the pancakes on the griddle, the twinges became more noticeable.
“Hey Rich, can you finish making the pancakes so I can take a shower?”
I made my way to the bathroom and decided if I really was in labor, I wanted to wash my hair. Who knew when I would feel up to doing that again?
Rich finished making breakfast and dressed the kids. Then he went out to his pickup to vacuum and get it ready to go. After my shower, I finished packing my bag for the Birth Center. (Hey, third pregnancy!)
Around 8 a.m., I began to feel more uncomfortable, and I had a flashback of being in the bathroom at the Birth Center when I was in labor with Allie. I then remembered from a previous appointment that my midwife told me, “When you feel like you need to sway back and forth, head to town. That likely means you’re dilated to around a 5.”
Knowing Rich was in the garage, I called from the bathroom, “Kids, can you go and get your dad?” They ignored me on the first ask, so I yelled again, “Rhett, go and get your dad!”
Rich immediately jumped to action and called his parents and told them we would be dropping the kids off. The kids were starting to get excited calling out, “We’re going to have a baby!”
“Is your bag ready to go?” Rich asked as I was getting dressed.
“Yes, I’m almost ready,” I said.
He grabbed my bag and loaded the kids into the pickup.
At 8:16 I called my midwife, Melissa. “Hey, this is Stacy, I think I’m in labor.”
She asked, “How far from town are you?”
At this point, I was kneeling on the floor of my bedroom, leaning up against the bed and I exhaled, “An hour.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the Birth Center. I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to take a shower first,” she said.
After hanging up, I texted my mom: “I might be in labor. But I’ll let you know if it’s a false alarm.”
Then I texted my birth photographer, “Hey, funny story—I might be in labor. I’ll text you when I get to town and let you know for sure.”
Ironically, she had texted me the day before to check in and I had immediately responded: “No signs of labor. I’ll still be pregnant for awhile.”
I went back into the bathroom to finish putting on my mascara (priorities, am I right?).
Rich called from the living room, “Honey, what are you doing? I think we need to go. The kids are in the pickup.”
The rain overnight made our gravel roads into muddy roads. I gripped the handle above my head as we bumped the three miles to my in-laws. Whether it was the bumps in the road, or just my body progressing naturally, there was no question at this point if I was really in labor. The contractions were becoming more intense. But with the kids in the backseat, I tried not to show I was in any pain. The kids chatted happily about getting to meet their new baby brother or sister and kept trying to talk to me.
“Mom, why aren’t you excited?” Allie asked.
Rich answered, “Mom’s excited. But it’s painful for her too.”
We pulled up in front of my in-laws’ house and Rich opened the back door and told the kids to go inside. It was still gently raining as the kids walked toward their grandpa standing on the front step.
I called out, “I love you!” as I sat on the edge of my seat, unable to get comfortable.
Rich glanced at the fuel gauge and said, “Should I put in a little gas?” (The bulk tanks for our farm are in my in-laws yard.)
I looked over at the gauge and saw that there was just barely enough to get to town and responded, “No. Just go.”
He hit the gas and we were on our way.
Around 8:36 I texted my sister, “I haven’t been able to get a hold of mom. I don’t have enough cell service to call her, can you tell her I’m in labor.” I put my phone down and hoped the text would eventually go through.
With each contraction I got onto my knees and faced the seat, wrapping my arms around the back of the seat and moaning.
Between contractions, I sat down and told Rich, “I can’t do this. It hurts so bad, I don’t think I can do it.”
With his hands gripped at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, he calmly told me, “You can do this. You’ve done it twice before. I know you can.”
The intensity of the contractions ramped up fast, and the thought of laboring for roughly 30 miles of gravel (plus the highway) felt like too much. I was already dreading the hardest part—pushing the baby out. Having had two unmedicated births prior to this, I knew what was coming.
Eventually I reached down and could feel the baby’s head, although it was still a few inches up the birth canal. Although the head wasn’t out, it was definitely coming.
After a few more contractions, I felt like I needed to push. It might have been during the first push or the second, (I can’t remember) my water broke—soaking me and the seat.
“My water just broke,” I panted.
I took off my romper (yes, I was wearing a romper—it was comfy and I fully expected to get to town and change into a gown) and threw it in the backseat.
At 8:47, Rich called Melissa to tell her my water broke. Instead of driving to the Birth Center, she headed out of town to meet us. Rich attempted to give her directions, repeating the road we were on, and he eventually hung up.
He turned to me and said, “Can you text her the name of the road?” Which I did. (She ended up missing the turn and was lost. But I don’t think she would have made it in time anyway.)
The final call to Melissa at 9:01 lasted seven minutes. With her on speakerphone, we kept driving and she told me, “Keep breathing.” To which I thought, “I am breathing.” But I didn’t have the energy to expend on speaking.
“Do I need to do anything with the cord?” Rich asked.
“No, just leave it,” Melissa replied.
It felt like they were talking about someone else. I was in my own world.
While leaning back in the front seat, I felt another contraction and I bared down to push again. Through gritted teeth, I closed my eyes, yelled, and pushed. I felt the ring of fire and knew what I would see when I looked down. I exhaled and opened my eyes—a head of dark hair was out and face down.
“The head’s out,” I breathed.
Rich hit the brakes and pulled over onto the side of the gravel road. He walked around the pickup and got into the passenger side. He then kneeled on the floor of the passenger seat to face me.
Melissa said, “Stacy, get up on your hands and knees and push.”
“I don’t think I can,” I said.
“Get up onto the console,” Rich told me.
I pulled myself up onto the console and leaned back against the driver’s seat. (I think we exchanged some other words, but I honestly don’t remember.) With one more push, Rich helped guide the baby out and brought it up onto my chest. Without any towels or blankets, we used our coats to cover the baby. Rich went back to the driver’s seat and cranked the heat up.
I sat back down in the seat, closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. I’ll never forget how the baby felt on my chest: the warm, squishy, wet skin on my skin. The pain was instantly gone from my body, replaced by the weight of a baby on my chest.
“Is it breathing?” he asked. The baby was quiet and I couldn’t see the face.
Melissa was still on the phone and said, “Take your knuckles and rub them vigorously along the baby’s back.”
I started rubbing and the baby fluttered its eyes open and we could tell he or she was breathing. Once we confirmed with Melissa the baby was breathing, we disconnected the call at 9:08.
“Take our picture,” I told Rich. “Use my phone, it takes better pictures.”
I smiled, relieved to be out of pain, as he snapped two photos. (The time stamp on this photo: 9:09 a.m.)
We kept driving and a few miles later we met Melissa on the gravel road (we still weren’t to the highway yet). We pulled over and she opened the passenger’s door. Once she saw that the baby was pinking up and my bleeding was stable, she instructed us to meet her at the Birth Center.
With the baby clenched tightly to my chest and the umbilical cord still attached, we continued our way to town.
“Should I see if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.
I gently tried to pick the baby up off my chest. But the baby was so slippery, I decided it wasn’t worth trying. We had already waited nine months, what was a few more minutes?
Around 9:25 (almost exactly one hour after we had left our house) we arrived at the Birth Center. Considering it takes over an hour to get to town (while driving at a normal speed), it was impressive we made it to town in an hour—stopping for only a few minutes to have a baby. Melissa met me outside with warm blankets to wrap myself and the baby in. Becky, my birth photographer, was there too. She was smiling and shaking her head at me as Melissa opened the door of the pickup.
“Oh my gosh, Stacy!” she said as she snapped photos of our arrival.
At this point, some of the initial shock had worn off and I was starting to cramp. I grimaced as I stepped out of the pickup, suddenly aware of the umbilical cord that was still between my legs.
We made our way inside and onto a bed, where I soon delivered the placenta. Shortly after, we found out we had a second daughter. The exact moment was a blur—the most important thing was that she was doing well.
Rich and I kept going over the events that had transpired in only a few hours. “You must have a really high pain tolerance,” he said. “To be that far along in labor all morning and you didn’t even really know.”
“If we had left an hour sooner, we would have made it,” I said.
“Yeah, but just barely,” he replied.
As I laid in bed holding my new baby, I kept thinking back on the morning. I began to question myself—how I had let it happen. How did I not realize I was really in labor? But it all happened so fast and hindsight is 20/20. Roughly 15 minutes after my water broke, she was born. With both of my previous births, Rhett and Allie were born hours after my water broke. As I counted her 10 toes and 10 fingers, I was thankful it was a relatively easy delivery with no complications. Rich and I both stayed calm. I was grateful she was healthy—regardless of where she was born.
Rich called his parents to tell them not only did I already have the baby, but we had her in the pickup. His mom passed along the news to the kids that they had a sister. She said they started hugging each other and then Rhett said, “A baby brother?” (I think he’s come to terms with having two sisters now.)
We stayed at the Birth Center for a few hours, making sure she nursed well and her temperature was stable. Becky stayed and talked to us, snapping photos of our baby’s first few hours of life. Melissa and her assistant made us breakfast and I took a shower.
We had picked out two names while I was pregnant: one boy and one girl name. But that day, the girl name we had picked didn’t feel right.
We left around noon with an unnamed baby girl—this time in a car seat, instead of on my chest.
That afternoon at home as I sat in the recliner rocking our baby, Rich started to take apart the seat in his pickup—and we agreed on a name.
Nora Kate Bronec Born May 21, 2020 7 pounds, 10.5 oz. 20 inches
“When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world.” John 16:21
What a joy you are, Nora. I would do it all over again.
The change is so subtle, it feels like it happened overnight. And maybe it did. Slowly, the morning light breaks through the prairie skies sooner, and the light lingers well into the 5 o’clock hour. Wasn’t it just yesterday it was pitch black by five? During the winter months, the light would vanish, enveloping our house like a cacoon—calling everyone in for dinner. The end of the light outside acting as a signal to come in. When I think back to an afternoon outside with the kids, I recall an edge in the air—so crisp it felt like I could reach out and grab it, and like a reflex, I would reach up to pull my hat down over my ears.
“Mom, I’m hungry!” I glance at my phone, not realizing it’s already nearing 4:30, and I have zero plans for dinner.
“Do you want a cheese stick while I figure out what we’re having for dinner?” I ask.
Once I’ve passed off two cheese sticks and a sliced apple, I search through the fridge and pantry, hoping something will magically appear. At the same time, I begin to wonder what time Rich will be home. I think back over the last few months of winter and how we had begun to fall into some semblance of a routine.
In the fall as the days shortened, his schedule did too. After a long spring of planting, followed by hot days of haying, then harvest, which rolled right into fall planting—the shorter days of fall and winter felt like a balm to my weary soul. A bit of the weight of carrying the kids, both literally and figuratively, had dropped from my shoulders. In the long seasons, I rarely count on him being home before dark—which in the peak of summer is after 10 p.m. The sun acts as a time card, he punches in at sunlight and doesn’t punch out until dusk or dark.
While I love the longer days and the extra sun hours of sun that stream through the windows. The longer days also mean more hours of being alone for the kids and me.
The next day, the kids open the shed in the backyard, pulling out their outside tractors and bikes, getting out their John Deere Gator, which was stored away for the winter. While they are still wearing their stocking caps to break the wind from their ears, they can feel a change in the season too. Even though it’s barely March, we all are ready for a change. But with that change also brings a sense of dread over me.
I feel guilty complaining about the hours of light coming back, and the sunny, warm days ahead. Instead of thinking of the hard moments yet to come, I close my eyes and think of all that spring brings. From the buds on the trees to my tulips in the front yard to the afternoons spent watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the gravel road in front of our house. I’ll switch out my stocking cap for a baseball cap. I imagine in the coming weeks I will sort through the box of hats and mittens, hoping to find all the pairs (a losing game to play). I’ll store them away, knowing that next winter some of them will be outgrown, the kids another year older.
While I know the coming days will bring hours of time when I’m alone, I want to remember how good the sun feels. I want to embrace the extra hours of light. I know some days that will be harder than others, and I’ll still find myself counting down the minutes until bedtime—while also reminding the kids that sometimes we go to bed when it’s still light outside (thank you, blackout curtains).
As I look out the window, I hear the sound of the Gator on the gravel. I pull the curtains back and see Allie driving alone—her bright pink hat contrasting with her blue jacket (Rhett’s hand-me-down). I watch in amazement as she steers the Gator into the garage, parking it without hitting anything. Last year she couldn’t reach the pedals, no matter how hard she tried. Now here she is, proudly driving alone. I quickly walk to the garage door and open it.
“Allie! Look at you!” I say. Her broad smile matching mine.
In the light of day, the changing of seasons brings more than just daylight—it reveals the growth that’s happened over the winter, and a gentle reminder of all the goodness yet to come.
“Not that I’m counting, but I see you with your second piece,” Rich says with a wink as I bring a forkful of tiramisu cake to my mouth.
I smirk and happily scrape the rest of the cake from the bowl, not wanting to waste a bite. “I’ll probably regret that tomorrow, but it’s so good.”
“Nah, you deserve it,” he says.
A couple of weeks earlier, while digging through the chest freezer looking for something to make for dinner, I found a Rubbermaid container filled with Rhett’s birthday cake. Dinner was pretty much forgotten once I discovered the cake. While the cake itself is made from a box mix, I use my mom’s recipe for buttercream frosting and then I decorate the cake. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but it’s my one “crafty” thing I do for my kids. And it’s the only true tradition I have kept going for five years.
Growing up, my mom made all of my birthday cakes too, which I know has influenced my desire to make my kids their cakes too. In the early years my mom picked the cakes she would make, but then I started picking my own designs, from Winnie the Pooh to the Tasmanian Devil. Each year on the night before my birthday, after I went to bed my mom would stay up and finish my cake. When I woke up on my birthday, the cake was perfectly made and displayed on the kitchen table.
I know my mom was up well past when I went to bed, and I only know this now because I’ve found myself up late, putting the final squeeze of frosting on the cakes for my kids. And every year I ask myself, “Why did I want to do this again?” But the next morning when the kids wake up and I see the looks on their faces when they see their cakes for the first time, I remember why I stay up late.
Now back here in my kitchen, I open the Rubbermaid container, impressed to see the cake still looking delicious—not a speck of freezer burn. Rhett sees the bright blue frosting and says, “My birthday cake! Is today my birthday?”
I pause, honestly surprised he remembered his cake from almost six months ago. I laugh, “No, this is just leftover from your birthday.”
After dinner, I slice the cake and each of us has one piece—and I am impressed at how well it tastes for being frozen.
One-piece remains, and I put the container back on the counter.
The next day, Rhett asks for the cake again and Rich tells him, “Nope, that’s Mom’s piece.” Whether he said it because he loves me or is scared to get between me and a piece of cake, I’m not sure. But I love him for it anyway.
According to Gary Chapman’s book about the five love languages, quality time is my love language. And while I definitely know that’s true, I believe cake is part of my love language too. It’s more than the taste of the cake, which don’t get me wrong, I love. It’s the time my mom spent making 18+ cakes in my life, and now the time I’ve spent making cakes for my kids.
Cake marks special occasions and traditions. From birthdays and weddings to the everyday—such as a solo trip to the grocery store. There are also the vacations I’ve taken to visit friends, where I’ve dragged them to the nearest Sprinkles cupcake store (shout out to Melissa and Sprinkles in Scottsdale). Or the times Rich has surprised me by bringing cupcakes home from town when I knew he had to go out of his way to get them.
Just like I can picture most of the cakes my mom made me, I hope my kids remember some of the cakes I make for them. The fact that Rhett knew this was his cake six months after his birthday, already gives me hope that this tradition is meaningful.
I don’t expect them to remember each cake, I just hope the memory of how they felt on their birthdays doesn’t completely fade. Even though my cakes are far from perfect, I want them to know I did it out of love for them.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of cake in the kitchen that’s calling my name.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Love Languages”.
She can’t remember who called to tell her the news. Although the call wasn’t unexpected, it was the type of news no one is ready for. It was a cold Friday in January, there was probably snow on the ground, but she couldn’t tell you for sure.
A few weeks before, she’d traveled home for Christmas. Her new boyfriend drove down the day after the holiday to meet her family. They had only been dating a few weeks, but they’d both agreed the timing felt right. She wanted him to meet her dying aunt, her mom’s only sister. She was the aunt who never missed a birthday party and passed on her love of baking to her niece.
They went to her aunt’s house and talked while she laid in bed, but the aunt she once knew wasn’t there anymore. When they left, with tears in the corners of her eyes she whispered, “I wish you could have met her before.”
She thinks that was the last time she saw her alive. When she looks back on 28 years of memories she feels guilty she can’t remember the last moment. What did they talk about? What was the last thing she said to her? She assumes it was, “I love you,” but it feels like there should be something poignant she can clutch in her memories—a lingering hug, or her aunt’s words of wisdom to carry with her.
After she received the call, she went through the motions of her workday. She didn’t make plans to leave early—she thought she had enough time. She went home for lunch to pack her bag and put it in her car. Then she sat through her last class of the day, wishing she was with her aunt, instead of in a classroom with 12th graders.
When the school bell rang, she locked her office and left the building. It was dark soon after she was on the interstate. She didn’t hear any new updates from her family and assumed no news was good news.
Three hours later she arrived in her hometown and went to her sister’s house. She thought they would go see their aunt together, for what might be the last time. As she sat on the couch, she thinks she asked, “Do you want to go and see Aunt Dee?”
Her sister said something like: “Haven’t you talked to Mom?” The details are fuzzy, but the confused look on her sister’s face is clear in her memory.
“No, I just got here,” she said. Shortly after, their parents’ headlights crossed the front window. She isn’t sure who said, “She’s gone.” Was it her mom or her sister? She wishes she could remember. When she tries to grasp at the memory, when she tries to make sense of it all, she doesn’t have a face to put to the words.
Her first reaction was anger. Why hadn’t someone told her? As she sat in tears, her dad said, “We knew you were driving and we didn’t want you to be upset while you were on the road. And there was nothing you could do.”
She knew she should have left work earlier. Maybe if she had been able to say her final goodbye she would actually remember the moment. There might be a final word she could cling to, something she could hold in her mind as her memories started to fade.
The boyfriend became her husband, and now they have two kids. Her kids will never meet her beloved aunt, gone too soon at 50 years old. She has albums filled with photos she will show them over the years—but it will never be enough.
She doesn’t talk about how she feels losing her aunt. She didn’t lose a mom, or a sister, a wife, or a grandma. It seems like her loss is less than the others. So she keeps her feelings tucked close to her chest, thinking of her aunt often. She keeps their texts saved, wishing the conversation was still ongoing. That instead of the last text being about a guy she was bringing home to meet the family, she was sending photos of her kids playing in the snow, of them on their birthdays.
She knows there never could have been a perfect “goodbye.” And had she known the last time was going to be the last, it wouldn’t have been any easier.
Most of all, she wishes her aunt was still here. She wishes that January day never happened. But that’s not how the story goes.
Instead, she walks into the kitchen and takes out her recipe book. She reaches for the card with the familiar handwriting, running her fingers over her aunt’s lettering. She might not remember her aunt’s exact last words, but here in her kitchen—she is filled with her aunt’s voice, one scoop of flour at a time.
Deanna Ruth Walker was born May 5, 1962, and died on January 11, 2013. She was a beloved mom, wife, grandma, sister, friend, and, my aunt.
From morning til night, The requests never end. We just had breakfast. It’s almost lunch. How can you still be hungry? Someday I know I’ll miss being the keeper of snacks. But until then, can you go and ask your dad?
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “On Repeat.”
While we get our kids ready for bed, my son climbs onto his top bunk. He doesn’t sleep there yet but loves the somewhat “off-limits” idea of it. My daughter looks up at her brother and immediately points to him and says, “Up!” My husband gently lifts her onto the bunk and she starts running from one end of the mattress to the other.
My stomach starts doing flip-flops as I envision her falling headfirst onto the floor. “Sweetie, no running. Crawl.”
She looks down at us, “Huh?” as she tilts her head to the side, using both hands to brush the hair from her face.
My son looks down at his dad with a big smile and says, “You come up here, too?” My husband agrees and starts to climb the ladder.
I stand down on the floor, arms crossed, secretly counting the minutes until the kids are asleep and I can get back to my book. But eventually, I give in to their cries for me to “come up here!”
Truthfully, my heart swelled knowing they want me to join them. All too often I choose to sit on the sidelines, letting these moments pass by, worn out by the demands of motherhood and mentally clocking out before they are asleep.
To read the rest of my essay, click over to my newest story at Motherly.