milk and pencils

for what it's worth

Three children born


Part twenty-five.


Five springs, five summers,
five falls, four winters.  
Three children born,
Under the shadow of poplars.
You and I,
in a covenant of love.
One merciful God
Giving grace from above.

* * * * *

The greatest of all our joys in our house under the trees was the birth of three more children, birthed in the comfort of our own bedroom.

February 8, 2011.  Rachel was already two weeks overdue, and we weren’t supposed to go beyond that date.  The midwife suggested a protocol of herbal extracts and using a  breast pump to initiate the contractions, which Rachel started at 8:30 in the morning.  It worked better than we were expecting.  The labor picked up quickly, and transitioned as the midwife arrived and set up her things.  Within two hours, our boy slid right out in the water sac, his hand up next to his head.  I caught him as the rest of his body emerged.  The water broke and our joy overflowed as we heard his first gasps for breath, and his vivacious cry.  “Oh, baby boy!  Oh, baby boy!” Rachel cried, again and again.  A little before noon Emeth Reid came, as sunshine streamed in through the bedroom windows.

* * * * *

July 27, 2012.  The contractions had started in the middle of the night, but Rachel didn’t tell me or the midwife until 6am that morning.  She didn’t seem to be in much pain, and I went through my usual morning routine, getting ready for work, in the event that the contractions stopped.  But they didn’t, and continued to intensify with no sign of relenting.  We had been in communication with my mom and the midwife, and they both were taking their time, thinking they had a few hours to go.  By 7:30 or so, the timing and intensity of the contractions really picked up.  We spread out our home-birth supplies in the bedroom, covered the floors, and kept texting the midwife.  I remember her saying something to the effect of, “I’m going to leave the house at eight.”  Okay, seems good enough to me, I thought, imagining we still had plenty of time.

Rachel paced back and forth in the house, groaning deep through her contractions.  Micaela and Emeth were awake at this point, and standing in their cribs, playing and laughing at one another.  Soon, Rachel went into our bedroom and leaned into the bedspread to muffle her groans, but the kids heard from across the hall and made a little game of echoing her.

Rachel: “Oooooh!”

M+E: “Aaaaah!”

R: “Oooooooh!”

M+E: “Aaaaah!”

At 7:53, Rachel’s water broke.  I texted the midwife.  Water broke.

Call me if you need to, was her reply.  I’m on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

My mom had not arrived yet, and thankfully the kids were still playing in their bedroom.  Then the reality of it hit me.  She isn’t going to make it!  Then, I remembered the midwife’s words to me, from the previous week.  She had said, If things are going well, all you have to do is catch.

I called the midwife and put her on speakerphone, just in time, for during the next set of contractions, Annie’s head popped out.  Miracle of miracles.  It was really happening, and we were alone in our bedroom!  I felt for the umbilical cord around her neck.  Check.  Not there.  I was zoned in, and ready to catch.  The midwife told her to push at the next contraction.  It didn’t take much (at least from my perspective) to have Anna Belle come sliding out.  I slipped my fingers under her arms, held her for a moment, then placed her on Rachel’s chest, where she wailed for a moment, then began nursing fervently.  Arriving prompt and hungry, at 8:00 on the nose.  I opened the kid’s door, “Annie’s here!”

At 8:05, my mom arrived.  I heard the door open and walked out of the bedroom with my hands held out in front of me, gloves on, as though I had been in surgery.  “What happened?!  Is everything alright?” She asked, with a nervous look on her face.

“Come and see,” I said.  Everything is just perfect, I thought, leading her in to meet her third grandchild.

* * * * *

When Rachel first found out she was pregnant with our fourth, she ran the idea by me of doing the delivery by ourselves, since we had delivered Annie alone.  No way, I said.

Over the course of the next few months, though, Rachel wouldn’t let go of the idea.   This scared me a little, but the more we talked, the more I softened to it.  We talked with the midwife about all the different scenarios and possible symptoms that would indicate that we needed to get Rachel (or baby) to the hospital.  We ordered extra homeopathics, herbs, and supplies just in case.

The day finally came.  April 15, 2015.  Again, labor started in the morning.  It was a warm, overcast, drizzly day.  The contractions didn’t seem to be relenting, so we called my mom, since she had agreed to come and help with the other three kids, and Rachel’s parents too.

The timing and intensity of the contractions slowed down just before noon, to every ten minutes or so.  We were discouraged, and hoped they wouldn’t stop altogether.

The midwife suggested a homeopathic remedy that we didn’t already have to help the contractions pick up.  So Grandma and Grandpa took the kids to pick it up at Whole Foods.  Rachel continued to labor slowly.

I had it on my mind to apply for some new jobs at the time.  What better time than now?  The kids weren’t around.  Rachel was laying on the couch.  I didn’t need to worry about making dinner since my mom had already started preparing it.  So I went online and continued to work on an application I had started.

Rachel got up and paced again, groaning louder during the next set of contractions.  “Are they picking up?” I wanted to know.  No answer.  After a minute, she asked if I could do a technique that the midwife taught us, called rebozo sifting.  Rachel was on all fours in the back room, and I held both ends of a towel, with the middle of it wrapped underneath her belly.  I lifted, and rocked her back and forth.  It was supposed to ease the pain of the contractions.

Wanting to take advantage of the downtime (between contractions) I walked to and from the computer, working on my application for a few minutes, then back with Rache and the towel.  Between one set of contractions, as I was typing away, Rachel said, “Jos! My water broke!”  The application can wait!

I ran back to the bedroom.  We had already put the birth supplies away earlier when her contractions were slowing down.  I spread out a shower curtain and some towels on the floor, and Rachel got down on her hands and knees.  Rachel’s parents and the kids returned from Whole Foods with the remedy we no longer needed.  They turned on some music out in the living room to help drown out any noises from the bedroom.

Things were progressing quickly now.  And I realized, There’s one question I forgot to ask.  How do I measure how dilated she is?  At that point, it didn’t matter though.  “Oh, Rache!  I see her head!  It’s so scrunched!” I cried.  Pretty dilated, I guess.  The next two sets of contractions were textbook.  First the head.  That beautiful, scrunched, oxygen deprived head, feeling the harsh atmosphere for the first time.  I checked for the cord.  Nothing.  Then, the next contraction.  I told Rachel to push.  Baby girl’s body started slipping and twisting out, and I slipped my fingers underneath her arms.  Our little Vitalia Joy.  (“Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus!” was Rachel’s refrain this time.)  She was calm and alert, and barely whimpered.  Within moments, she opened her eyes, and stared at us, as though saying, Thank you.  I’m so glad to finally be here.  I gave her to Rachel.  She didn’t express any desire to eat, but rather, just kept looking at us.  Her whole face and body, full of peace.

Once Rachel was settled and tended to, I walked into the living room and asked,  “Did anyone hear a baby cry?”

“What? No!” said grandma.

In time, Vitalia nursed well.  We ate, put the kids to bed, and followed suit.  Needless to say, we were all exhausted.  Even Vitalia.  And in God’s kindness, we all slept through the night.

Part twenty-four.

The wisdom of Frodo


I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved.  But not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger.  Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

- Frodo Baggins, from The Return of the King

Beav it up


Emeth, playing with dust pan and broom, imagining broom is a beaver.  Places ‘beaver’ at foot of kitchen table leg.

E: Daddy, I’m gonna put the beaver right here so that he can beav up the table.
D: Beav it?
E: Yeah.  He will beav it up and then the whole table will fall down!
[Then later, speaking to the beaver…]
E: Beaver, I wonder why you beav trees up.  Maybe ’cause you love to!

* * * * *

I need a quash-wash!

- Annie, requesting a wash-cloth after dinner

* * * * *

On a Saturday.

E: Daddy, it must be Sunday.
D: Why’s that?
E: Because there’s sun out!

* * * * *

This is my vacu-veen, and it’s bringing my water into my mouth.

- Emeth, comparing his straw to a vacuum

* * * * *

Annie and Micaela dressing their dolls, sitting on the kitchen floor next to the radiator.

A: I not wanna die in ner.
M: You won’t die in there.  It’s just a heater.  It’s just a little hot.
A: Oh.
[Emeth walks over]
E: Annie, wait!  That’s not your baby!
A: My baby!
E: That’s not your baby!
A: My baby!
M: Emeth, if you stop talking about it she’ll stop saying it’s her baby.

The freedom to “judge not”


There is no teacher like that of the child.  Especially my own children.  For there are times they do something so crazy (to put it gently) that my heart flames with indignance, and I want to yell, “What were you thinking?!”  I want to call them names.  Names that they won’t forget.  I want to teach them a lesson, that they might think thrice before doing it again.  I want them to understand the depths of their folly.  And I want to be their judge.

Then, words that I don’t want to hear come to mind, in stark contrast to my anger.  “Judge not, that you be not judged.” And I am pricked.  I am reminded that I was once a child.  That I have done some pathetically stupid things in my lifetime.  (And still do.)  I am reminded that I am no different than them, and that I must come alongside them, just as my Savior, Jesus, has done to me.  (And still does.)  I am reminded to show mercy, just as I have been shown mercy.

And I begin to see, slowly, that to judge is not only to put myself in God’s place, but it is to put myself in bondage.  The bondage of forever trying to figure out the perfect recompense for the act, since there are endless opportunities to judge.  It is to be a slave to my own, imperfect law.

But to judge not is to be free.  Free to leave judgment in the hands of the only true and perfect Judge; to the One who sees with infinite clarity, into every situation and heart.  For when my heart is full of judgment, there is room for nothing else.  But when my heart is free from judgment, it can be filled to overflowing with the the mercy and love of Christ.  And only then am I able to come alongside my children, to show them mercy and love, as one who has received mercy and love, from the One whose law we have both transgressed.

Selfless Samwise


I am a latecomer to The Lord of the Rings, but I can now say that I unapologetically join the ranks of those who are passionately in love with this tale.  Sure, maybe Landroval and Meneldor could have flown Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom from the Shire, thus skipping the need for The Two Towers and The Return of the King, but that’s just plain silly!  This is more than a tale of the ring’s destruction, and the overthrow of Sauron.  Tolkien paints a picture of true character and friendship to the end.  I found my heart most stirred during Frodo and Sam’s journey to Minas Morgul, then to Mount Doom.

In the second half of Book II, the interplay between Frodo’s trust in Gandalf’s words (that Gollum will still have some part in it all), and Sam’s distrust of Gollum, and Gollum’s need for the ring, yet deference to Frodo, and spite towards Sam, is masterfully done.  It sets the stage for Sam’s most daring deeds: the stabbing of Shelob to save Frodo, and the raiding of the watchtower to rescue Frodo from the Orcs.

From there, in Book III, Frodo and Sam make the last leg of their journey to Mount Doom, where the beauty of Samwise’s character is in full flower.  Up until Shelob’s lair, Sam seems mostly like a thoughtless, but lucky companion to Frodo.  But in their journey to Mount Doom, Sam is nothing short of Christ-like, laying down his life to nourish, encourage, and carry Frodo the rest of the way.  He is, indeed, ready to die to help Frodo accomplish his task.  He thinks only of his master, and takes no thought of himself.  (This is most poignantly shown when Sam, without struggle, gives the Ring back to Frodo in the watchtower.  It had little power over him.)

Sam displays the beauty and depth of a friend who sticks closer than a brother, leaving me with much to ponder on the meaning of true friendship.


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