Peanut the Elephant

I was browsing through Facebook this evening after making a menu and grocery list for the week. I came across a post from a local baby boutique, Green Bambino, asking what product you bought first after finding out you were pregnant. I couldn't remember a product, but I quickly remembered Peanut.

We found out we were pregnant for the first time the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 2006. I went into the health clinic at OCU on Monday to confirm because I didn't want to wait the extra weeks to get into an OB. I took another test at the clinic. Positive. I had blood work sent to the lab at Saint Anthony. It came back on Tuesday. Positive, and my hormone levels had me right in line with all of the dates. I was right around seven weeks. 

I went to Target to get a little gift to give to my brother-in-law to break the news over the holiday. Peanut was the first thing I picked out - a plush green elephant. It was perfect, so small and soft, and I imagined little hands would love to hold it. I left with that and a package of pacifiers, thinking a stuffed animal might not be obvious enough. 

We told everyone on Thanksgiving. It was so fun, and everyone was so excited. We spent Christmas in Arizona that year, and it was fun to be with my family while it was still new.  

I ended up starting the miscarrying process on New Year's Day. By then I had a few more baby goods, clothes, a blanket or two, an ornament for the tree. After I finished miscarrying (it took about a week and a half), I put those things away, but the thing that broke my heart a little was Peanut. It just wanted to be held and loved. 

[I just wanted to hold and love someone.]

About six months later, I got pregnant with Cora. I didn't buy anything. I kept the news mostly to myself and close family. I thought I was miscarrying her around 10 weeks; I fell apart. Making it to the 12 week mark didn't feel safe, but that's when I broke the news. I was excited, but guarded. We all know how that pregnancy turned out. Despite all of the wild complications at the end and the few in the beginning, she arrived safe and sound. She was here and she was mine. 

When Cora was about six months old, I walked into her room to check on her while she was napping. She was holding Peanut's trunk close to her face. I couldn't help but cry. It was her little hand I'd been waiting for. I could have never imagined that a stuffed animal could be the symbol of so much pain and later so much joy for me. That silly, sweet little elephant.  

I can hardly believe this baby will be 10 in less than two weeks.

The Day Magnolia Fell Down the Basement Stairs

Once upon a time, on a Sunday morning in January, I had just finished showering and was standing in front of the mirror putting moisturizer on. Before I got in, my daughters were talking about building a fort in the basement and Jake was sorting laundry. A quiet Sunday morning, indeed.

And then I heard the loudest rolling tumble. It went on for too long. And then screams. It was Magnolia. I grabbed my towel from my hair to wrap around my body, and I ran downstairs. Nothing on the first floor. I jumped off the step into the dining room and rounded the corner to the basement stairs to see Jake coming up with Magnolia in his arms. There was also a dining chair at the bottom of the basement stairs in three parts, with one of the leg caps still sitting on the landing at the top.

Magnolia was holding her nose with both hands, screaming, "Am I bleeding?! Is there blood?!"

I grabbed her hands and she released them from her face. No blood. "You don't have a 'blood face'," I said.

Blood face. Ever since Magnolia was two, 'blood face' symbolizes the worst kind of injury to her. She was jumping on the bed one day, fell off, and face planted on the wood floors. While she wasn't actually bleeding, she looked in the mirror and saw her red scrape and said, "I have a blood face!"

The warning for any kind of "dangerous" activity since then has been, "If you do that, you might get a blood face."

As soon as I let her know she didn't have a blood face, some of the terror left her eyes. I looked at her arms and legs, no noticeable breaks. I looked at her nose, it looked straight. I looked at her back. Lots of scrapes.

She screamed again and grabbed her head, saying that it hurt so much. I looked at Jake and said, "Let's take her to the ER." He replied,

"Let's just watch her for a minute."

I went to the freezer and got an icepack for her head. It wasn't very flexible, so I switched and got a bag of frozen corn. The only thing better than frozen corn are frozen peas for an icepack. We were out of peas. She held it on her head and grew calmer.  After a few more minutes, we were putting her emoji bandaids on her back, even though she didn't really need them. Bandaids make everything better. After she was covered up, she told us what happened.

She had moved a dining chair to the top of the basement stairs so Cora could come and get it and carry it down for fort building like she had the first three chairs. We have old dining chairs with chrome legs, so we put white rubber caps on the bottom to avoid scratching the floor. When Magnolia moved the chair to the landing, one of the caps fell off. She was standing with her back to the stairs trying to replace the cap when she fell backwards. She grabbed onto the chair to try and catch herself, but it fell down too. There was a minor sense of relief that the insanely loud sound I'd heard from two floors up was more dining chair than Magnolia hitting the stairs. Thinking about it still makes me want to throw up.

My initial irrational mom thought was to call the realtor, put Joan on the market, and start the search for a one-story house. I think I'm over the initial panic.

We got so lucky today. So very, very lucky. When I put her to bed this evening, she said her nose hurt. I'm going to keep an eye on it. No bruising or swelling on her nose so far. She legit fell down a whole wooden staircase and landed on a tile floor, all while tumbling down with a dining chair. The stairs have a few gouges, Magnolia has a few scrapes and bruises.

Grateful, grateful. Truly grateful I am.

Dwellings: Los Angeles

My heart sank when I saw our apartment in Los Angeles for the first time. "This was it?" I thought. I'm not sure what it was that hit me first: the industrial carpet, the peeling vinyl flooring, the 800 square feet? Or maybe it was the awful golden oak cabinets and pink countertops in the kitchen? I don't know.

I took a deep breath and walked in. This was it.

University Village. UCLA Graduate Student Family Housing.

I know I'm an aesthetician, and I can be picky about what I surround myself with. I was trying to put all of that aside so I could roll up my sleeves and get to work making it a home. But the truth was, I hated it.

I learned to be okay with some things: I had maintenance remove the vertical blinds in the bedrooms. A year after we moved in, we got new vinyl flooring. And we seriously had the best view of any other apartment in the complex - the lit buildings of Century City at night, and the San Gabriel Mountains during the day; some apartments faced the 405 freeway. At least we weren't in one of those apartments - industrial carpet AND a view of the 405 - it could have been worse. In lots and lots of ways.

I was looking through pictures today, and I was struck by the fact that so much life happened every single day in a dwelling that never quite grew on me. I wanted to share those photos here today - to honor the place that sheltered our family for three years, the life that happened there, as well as the moments I captured, but didn't always see.

Alice's Favorite Spot

Sunset hitting the storm clouds over East LA

 Birthday Parties 
(Cora always insists on having her party at home)

Girls' Room

Reading Nook

Dollhouse Day

Teacher/Student Learning to Read

Dining Table/Art Space/Game Center

Jenga. And then some.

Practicing Sewing Skills

"Is that water?" 
"Jesus could walk on it."

New Skater Falls in Kitchen.

Budding Yogini [dressed as Elsa] Flies in Living Room.


So Much Practice in this Space.

Jake's Hair, Jake, and Alice.




(She played Priest, blessing and passing communion to her family)

Despite the ugly kitchen, I still made pretty food sometimes.


The orchid I travelled to The Los Angeles Flower Market to find.

PhD Studies.
(AKA, Jake's side of the bed)

Discovering I could turn myself into a shadow giant with my reading light.

Seriously hours of fun.

[Every] Morning When I Rise.
(Tree House)

Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

I finished reading Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness this evening. This and Daring Greatly are my favorites of hers. I wanted to jot down a few general ideas coming fresh off this read. Her most recent book deals with belonging, and she defines true belonging as this:
True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
I've been thinking a lot about belonging in many different aspects of my life, certainly in a more concentrated way since Grammy died. While the struggle with belonging as it relates to Grammy is relatively new, some of the other struggles with belonging are things I've been feeling my way through for several years. Brown arrives at her ideas of belonging after wrestling with and then coming to understand the following Maya Angelou quote:
You are only free when you realize you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.
After an experience that led her to revisit the quote, she found it in its full context in the transcript of a conversation between Bill Moyers and Maya Angelou:
Moyers: Do you belong anywhere?
Angelou: I haven't yet.
Moyers: Do you belong to anyone?
Angelou: More and more. I mean, I belong to myself. I'm very proud of that. I am very concerned about how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much. I like the humor and courage very much. And when I find myself acting in a way that isn't . . . that doesn't please me - then I have to deal with that.
In the last chapter, "Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.," Brown relays an experience that Jen Hatmaker shared with her. Well, not so much the experience itself, but the aftermath of an experience.

I won't sugarcoat this: Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling. Because belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness our whole lives. Human approval is one of the most treasured idols, and the offering we much lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable. I'm convinced that discomfort is the great deterrent of our generation. Protecting the status quo against our internal convictions is obviously a luxury of the privileged, because the underdogs and outliers and the marginalized have no choice but to experience the daily wilderness. But choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. That first step will take your breath away. Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is belonging. Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive. But I've discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rearview mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty. But put one foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you'll be shocked how many people already live out there - thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. The wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.  I suspect the wilderness is a permanent home for me, which is both happy and hard. A dear friend sent me a text during those harsh first steps out, having broken party lines irreversibly after publicly wrestling through a fragile doctrinal interpretation. There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, "I will not let you go unless you bless me!" he touched Jacob's hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive. My friend texted me: "You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until he blessed you in this space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you'll always walk with a limp." So I've chosen the wilderness, because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised. Was it worth it? Unquestionably. And I hope the limp shows my fellow wilderness dwellers that I am acquainted with pain and didn't make it out here unscathed either.  
It's certainly true that Hatmaker's experience shares common threads with my journey in Mormonism, but also with many other aspects of my overall life journey. It's wild to find oneself on the outside of a faith community - a community in which I was comfortable because of its familiarity. But, as Brown points out in much of her work, fitting in and belonging are two very different things. Familiarity is great, but it can also breed complacency. In anything. Familiarity in relationships, in careers, in communities. At any rate, the talk of belonging and finding oneself in the wilderness really resonated with me. Keeping a wild heart resonated with me.
The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It's the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid - all in the same moment. It's showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind. A wild heart can also straddle the tension of staying awake to the struggle in the world and fighting for justice and peace, while also cultivating its own moments of joy. A wild heart is awake to the pain in the world, but does not diminish its own pain. A wild heart can beat with gratitude and lean in to pure joy without denying the struggle of the world. It's not always easy or comfortable - sometimes we struggle with the weight of the pull - but what makes it possible is a front made of love and a back built of courage.     
And finally, a daily practice:
Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don't belong. You will always find it because you've made that your mission. Stop scouring people's faces for evidence that you're not enough. You will always find it because you've made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don't negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you. 


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