Burn Down the Factory

Shortly after I had knee surgery in January of this year, I was sitting on the sofa one morning in a rather pleasant, pain-killer-induced fog, trying to watch something on Netflix but, let’s be honest, unable to keep up. So I found myself contemplating life in the way that one does when one is only about three-quarters of the way coherent, and I realized something shocking, or at least as shocking as anything can be in that particular state:

I did not miss working. At all.

To some, that revelation may fall into the category of Obvious rather than Shocking, but 1) I’m not a Type A personality, I’m a Type A++++++++ and 2) I love my job, and I have since I started freelancing six years ago. Then I started Powell Photography three years after that and I loved it even more. Sure, it was stressful sometimes, and around about the 800th wedding photo my eyes would start to cross and I would begin to doubt that I was ever going to look at pictures of anything else ever again, but where other people complained about Mondays, I secretly sort of saw them as a brand-new opportunity every seven days to punch the world in the mouth.

But I had gotten burned out. Actually, I’m not sure “burned out” accurately describes it. You can usually fix “burned out” with a vacation or a change of pace. This was more like emotional and creative bankruptcy, at least where photography was concerned. I told people I’d just had one too many crazy clients, and even though I had encountered my fair share of people whose cheese done slid off their cracker, it really wasn’t them either. The truth is I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know how to make it better. So I decided the easiest thing to do was quit. At the beginning of the summer, I turned to my husband and announced, “If I never take another picture for pay, it’ll be just fine.” I figured at the time that the look on his face when I said that meant he was shocked and upset that he would now be the sole breadwinner for our family. But he told me later that that actually wasn’t the case, not even close. Rather, the look on his face was profound sadness, because I am good at photography and I love my clients, and he didn’t want to see me give that up.

Now that I’ve said those words – “I am good at photography” – there is at least one person contemplating calling or emailing me and telling me how arrogant I am, what an untalented hack I am, how I have no training, I have no right, etc., but none of those things are true. I am good at photography, and I am highly trained. Am I the best? No, not even close. Am I the most highly trained? Absolutely not. But I have worked very, very hard, and the glory belongs not to me. When I started Powell Photography, if I’d had a dollar for every person who told me I was crazy, that I would never get any clients and/or that I would never make any money, well, then I wouldn’t have had to take out a small business loan to buy my first batch of equipment. But I worked my ass off, I hustled day and night, I read everything I could get my hands on, I practiced all the time, I took classes in my spare time and I poured a lot of money that I could’ve spent on shoes and handbags into education, training and better equipment. In a completely over-saturated market, I found myself with a loyal enough client base to have not the part-time business that I set out to develop, but a full-time one instead.

…and therein lies the problem: I wanted a part-time business. I ended up with a more-than-full-time business.

For the record, I am not complaining; of all the problems a business owner can possibly have, that is by far the best one. But I consider Mom & Wife to be my full-time, primary job (which, as all of you parents know, is actually a more-than-full-time job), so when it was all said and done, I had not just one but TWO more-than-full-time jobs. This on top of my volunteer and church commitments, to say nothing of trying to have some fun and a tiny bit of a social life every once in a while. Pretty soon, I was exhausted. Not only that, I was sick all the time and the stress was beginning to take a serious toll on my health.

But I didn’t know how to fix it. Without realizing it, I had created Powell Photography: Your High-Volume, Low-Cost Picture Factory where I was shooting several times a week, editing as fast as humanly possible (no surprise, often late into the night), flinging CDs of the finished product at clients and then moving on to the next one.

That’s pretty much what you HAVE to do when you’re first starting out – you need the practice, the portfolio and the word-of-mouth recommendations. And shooting anything and everything is not only good practice, it’s a way to figure out what you’re good at (and what you suck at) and what you do and don’t like to shoot. Problem was, I was no longer “just starting out.” But I didn’t have any idea what my prices should be, I didn’t have a real sense of how good my work was (or wasn’t) and I didn’t really know that you could have any other kind of business and be successful. My husband is a marketing expert, but he doesn’t know anything about the photography industry – he helped me immensely (I credit him with a HUGE part of the success of Powell Photography), but he only knew how to grow the business, not how to make it manageable.

So I just said to hell with it. No, I didn’t say that publicly. But I stopped reading photography blogs, I canceled my subscriptions to all photography-related magazines and I deleted emails about upcoming classes without even reading them. I was done. Out. Over it.

And then along came this stupid photography conference. At least that’s how I thought of it. I had signed up for it months ago and it was coming up fast. When I tell you I could not have cared less about it, that’s an overstatement. The only things about it that even remotely piqued my interest were a few image critiques I had signed up for and the fact that two of my friends were also going. I actually planned ahead of time to skip one day of classes and go sight-seeing.

We had to submit our images for the critiques ahead of time, of course, so I went through my hard drive trying to decide what to submit. It’s divided into folders and sub-folders, so I have, for instance, “Headshots > Madeline 2-19-14″,  “Boudoir > Courtney 3-28-13″, “Senior Portraits > Callie 9-28-13″, etc. As I dug deeper and deeper, I realized that my very best images were in just a few folders. Huh.

(The lightbulb just came on for everybody else, right? Sadly, it did not for me.)

However, God went to work on me practically the minute I landed in Salt Lake City. The keynote speaker for the first day of the conference was Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. It would take several pages for me to adequately paraphrase her speech, but the gist of it was to be so different as to be laughable. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but fortune favors the bold. (That’s one of my favorite sayings, and it now permanently resides on my bathroom mirror.) Great things simply do not come to those who follow the herd.

The Bible itself backs this up: Try just once to count how many times the phrase “Do not be afraid” is written in the Bible. I’m sure someone somewhere has done it sometime, but whoever that is can count a lot higher than I can.

Be so different as to be laughable. Do not be afraid. Fortune favors the bold.

One of my first classes was taught by Ashley Westphal, an EXTREMELY successful senior portrait photographer from Atlanta, GA. One of the first things she said made me want to burst into tears:

“You are in this room because something besides photography is important to you.”

Ashley was my introduction to the boutique model of business. This post is going to be far too long as it is, so I will give you only the most salient points (i.e., there’s a lot more to it than this):

–You have a much smaller, much more specialized business

–You offer a much higher than average level of service (i.e., it’s extremely personalized)

–Because your business and number of clients is smaller, you can spend more time perfecting a smaller number of more specialized products

–You have a much smaller number of clients who pay more for this level of service and personalization and a superior product

So basically, Better quality, more expensive product = Specialized business + Smaller number of clients + Extremely high level of customer service and personalization

I took a couple of classes on the boutique model, and perhaps my favorite part is that, because you’re no longer running The Photography Factory, you can enjoy my favorite parts of the business:

–You get to know your clients better and develop real relationships with them (which also has the advantage of making them easier to shoot, because folks are obviously more relaxed around people they know)

–Because you can better control all aspects of your shooting schedule, you can give those clients the best possible product

–You can shoot with the products they want in mind. For instance, I am shooting a family portrait session in October, and because I was able to take more time with the mom, I already know they want a huge canvas for their living room. I know what colors they used to decorate their living room and I know their personal style, so I know the exact location where I will shoot their session and was able to advise them about wardrobe. I also know specifically what kinds of shots they want so I can shoot with those in mind.

(And yes! I’m finally going to offer photography products! I’m still getting everything set up and there are a few things up in the air, so more on that later, but I can tell you that I won’t be selling prints smaller than 8×10, and these are luxurious, heirloom quality products, not stuff you can buy for yourself cheaper with a Groupon.)

Will everyone want to pay for this level of service and these products? No. Most people simply want the best deal. Most don’t care about heirloom quality. And some may want exceptional service and quality but they can’t afford it right now. And that’s totally OK. Meg Borders gave a great quote about business:

“People don’t buy what you sell, they buy who you are and why you sell it.”

Who I am is outgoing and bookish and kind of dorky and passionate and loyal and feisty when it comes to defending my friends. I love clothes and fashion and telling people’s stories and making them feel beautiful and helping them see their own true beauty. I love Christopher Guest movies and gangsta rap and I think everybody is interesting. I consider it to be my personal duty to cheer everybody up when it’s raining. I’m part Cordelia and part Care Bear. I think one of the most important things we can do as human beings is make memories.

I sell photography because I’m a storyteller, and one of the most effective ways I can tell your story is to show – literally SHOW – you and the rest of the world who you really are. I also sell it because memories are extremely important to me – they’re why I scrapbook and blog as well as take pictures. My grandmother, who was one of the great loves of my life, died of Alzheimer’s disease when I was 17. She got sick when I was eight, so I never knew her as an adult. She was an artist too, and I have spent nearly my whole life trying to piece together who she really was. I don’t think I will ever truly know as long as I live on this side. I don’t want my daughter or anyone else to have to search that way, and that’s why I want to help you preserve your memories. Not only that, I want the experience of me helping you preserve your memories, of attempting to freeze this moment in time, to be a memory in itself. I want the Powell Photography experience to be on the highlight reel of your life. That’s a big dream for a little photography studio in Shreveport, LA, but big dreams are what I’m all about.

Will everyone want to buy me and why I do what I do? Will everyone think I’m worth it?

Nope.

But a few will, and those are the clients I want.

Will I make a lot of money?

Maybe. Maybe not. Most people thought I would go broke with the first iteration of Powell Photography and I didn’t, so maybe I’ll be able to make a living with this version as well. We’ll just have to see.

Not too long ago, Blake and I were listening to a motivational speaker and he used that old cliche, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

I thought about it. And then I started to panic.

Because I didn’t know.

It was shortly after the second miscarriage and at the height of my creative malaise, so I’m sure depression factored in quite a bit. But after thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I had to admit I was a girl without a dream. I knew what I wanted my life to look like, but I had no idea how to get there. And then I went to Click Away.

In the middle of listening to Meg speak, I knew. This. This is what I would do if I knew I couldn’t fail.

So this is exactly what I’m going to do.

Be so different as to be laughable. Do not be afraid. Fortune favors the bold.

 

Staying Home and Keeping On

April 4 was Harper’s last day of preschool. No, school didn’t let out early; I pulled her out. I suppose I should say we pulled her out, since it was indeed a family decision, and by “family,” I mean that in the most global terms possible. We sought the opinions and advice of everyone who loves Harper, including her grandparents, our neighbors, our friends and her pediatrician. The consensus was the same: Harper is smart, she is well socialized, she learns quickly, but emotionally, she was just not yet ready to be separated from her family every day.

I’m not sure I fully understood that I was making a decision for myself as well as Harper, and I am positive I didn’t understand the implications of that decision. Because it meant, if not the end of my career, then an enormous shift in how I conducted it. As of April 5, I became what I refer to as an MSAHM: A Mostly Stay-at-Home Mom.

I didn’t think the change would be all that big for me – after all, I would still work, just a lot (a LOT) less than I used to. And being at home with Harper wouldn’t be much of a change, either. I mean, I’ve worked from home since before I got married. I can hardly remember what it was like to get up, get dressed and commute farther than a few feet. In essence, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since Harper was born.

WRONG!

WRONG. WROOOOONG. WRONGWRONGWRONGWRONGWRONG.

FTSAHMs (Full-Time Stay-at-Home Moms), I hereby offer you my deepest apologies. I thought I knew your life, as the kids say nowadays. But I did not. I had no earthly idea how difficult it is, how weighty the responsibility is when you have only one job, and that job just stripped off its diaper and peed on the sofa.

Those of you FTSAHMs with more than one kid, well, you’re just a bunch of mutant superheroes as far as I’m concerned. It is sometimes literally everything I can do – oh, who am I kidding? It’s often MORE than I can do – to get my AND Harper’s teeth brushed every day. I can’t imagine multiplying the job by two, three or four.

Prior to this summer, if you had asked me, I would have said that my job as a WAHM (Work-at-Home Mom) wasn’t really harder or easier than a SAHM’s, it was just different. But if you could have seen into the deepest recesses of my brain, you would’ve seen that I secretly thought my job was harder. Because I had TWO jobs, you see, not just one. I had to be a SAHM and a writer/photographer.

But what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t really a SAHM and a writer/photographer; I was a writer/photographer with childcare. (As it should be, of course, because even my SAHM friends of four and five kids agree that trying to work AND be a full-time SAHM is nothing but a one-way ticket to an involuntary field trip to your local psychiatric facility.) As I would soon see, being a legit, full-time SAHM is a whole different ballgame than straddling the fence, which is what I’ve done all Harper’s life.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am exceedingly grateful that I am able to straddle the fence; most working moms can’t do that, either because their jobs can’t be done from home or because they can’t afford to work less than full time. Even if they can afford it, they have to choose whether or not to give up careers that they love and that, oftentimes, they went to school for several years to learn to do, or they have to make lifestyle changes that, while totally worth it, nevertheless make life harder in certain ways for their families and themselves. So I am not in any way complaining.

But I am here to tell you, I had no idea – no concept, even – of what it would take to give up most of my career to stay home and take care of Harper all day every day. As a mom, I thought I already knew what it meant to die to myself and live for someone else.

I.

Did.

Not.

Here is a partial list of things I have had to deal with in the last four months:

–Harper feeding vitamins to Steve.

–Lola Mowis being picked up by her head. Practically every day.

–Steve eating like 800 crayons and a Lego. Every receptionist at our vet’s office knows my voice on the phone now.

–Going through the grocery store checkout line with every single box of snacks already opened and so exhausted that I literally put my head down on the counter next to the credit card machine.

–Taking a vomiting dog (surprise, surprise) to the vet with Harper in tow, seriously contemplating asking the vet to write me a prescription for those tranquilizers they give to dogs during thunderstorms and honestly wanting to punch an old lady in the face when she looked over at me in the waiting room, sweating and panting and trying to keep my kid and my dog from killing themselves, and told me how “cute” they are.

–Spending five and a half hours in a hotel room bathroom by myself because we couldn’t get a suite and Harper was sick and won’t go to sleep unless it’s pitch-dark and silent and Blake was at a business party with our friends and so I had to sit on the floor and watch Hulu on my laptop and DID I MENTION I SPENT FIVE AND A HALF HOURS IN THE CAN?

This is the hardest thing I have ever done. It has tried me and tested me and laid bare all my weaknesses and sins.

I have learned that patience is like a roll of paper towels; I have a smaller roll than most people in the first place, and my spirited two-year-old often uses up the entire thing by 10 a.m. I have learned that I need a lot of sleep. I have not only learned what all my “buttons” are, I have also learned that Harper knows precisely what all of them are too and that she can push every single one of them. I have learned how much of a homebody I am. I have learned how easily I get bored. I have learned that I both shop and eat too much when I am stressed and bored.

On the other hand, I have learned just how smart Harper is. I have learned that she loves to make up songs and that she enjoys nothing more than when songs have a big, long, loud ending note (think “Company” or “Defying Gravity”). I have learned that, as outgoing as she is, she always wants to know that Mama is within arm’s reach. I’ve learned that while she sometimes has trouble being gentle with people, she’s always empathetic and compassionate toward animals. I have learned that, thank God, she’s not afraid of water like I was. She’s not afraid of much of anything, really, and I have learned how much I admire that about her.

Summer is (all too) quickly coming to a close, and I’m equal parts sad and relieved. Blake and I decided that, for the time being, it’s best that I work part-time. We still have bills to pay from my knee surgery in January, Steve needs horrifyingly expensive eye surgery in a couple of years and – the best part by far – we’re starting to get serious about the process of adoption. All of which means that Harper will start preschool soon. Part of me is glad – I won’t have stress dreams about grocery shopping anymore, and Harper will get to spend time learning with her friends. But I’m also wistful that I won’t get big hugs from chubby little arms and sloppy kisses from a pretty, crumb-covered face any time I want them.

Motherhood really is a series of trade-offs, isn’t it?

Moms of every stripe have my utmost respect, whether they work full-time or part-time or stay at home or send their kids to school or homeschool or have a nanny or whatever. On Sundays at church, I want to high-five every parent I see: “You made it! You’re fully clothed! You got everybody up and dressed to a greater or lesser degree and you left the house and made it to a public place with all of you in one piece! You did it! Rock on!”

But you stay-at-home moms, I understand you a lot better now, and I am grateful for the privilege of having walked in your shoes for a few months. You are charged with one of society’s most important and most difficult jobs, and none of us – including those who are kid-free – should ever take you for granted. You are raising a goodly portion of the next generation of humans, and who knows? You just might end up saving the world one day.

Rock on.

Mama-cures

Ladies, we need to have a talk. All of us. Gather ’round.

(Men, several of you probably need to hear this too, so get comfortable.)

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read three different blog posts by three different women writers (who do not, as far as I can tell, know each other or even have much in common) who say they’re ashamed or embarrassed that they get or have gotten regular manicures.

Manicures! Since when is a manicure a source of shame?! I mean, maybe if you’re getting your Kim Kardashian talons sharpened and gold-plated every day, sure, but the regular ol’ polish-and-buff routine once or twice a month? No way! NO. FREAKING. WAY.

Listen up, y’all. I try to go for a manicure every other week or so. That usually doesn’t happen, what with the kid and all, but I try. I also get a pedicure every few months, I have my hair cut and de-grayed every eight weeks practically on the dot (I’m not telling any secrets – my hair’s so dark that I’ve been finding gray hairs since I was 18) and I snatch up every Groupon for a massage that I can get my grubby little paws on. I also buy MY favorite brand of coffee (Community, in case you’re interested) without consulting anyone else in the household.

Each night, I go into the bathroom with my Kindle, lock the door and stay for precisely one hour while I take a bath and read or watch TV. That time is considered sacrosanct at Chez Powell to the point that Blake, Harper and Steve all know without having to ask that if they need the bathroom, they better march their happy butts upstairs ’cause I ain’t comin’ out and they SHO NUFF ain’t comin’ in. During that time, I do not answer phone calls or texts, and unless there is a major fire or an actual, certifiable medical emergency, the person who knocks on the door is gonna get it.

Do I feel guilty about one bit of it? For even a single second?

Not on your life.

I am a mostly-stay-at-home mom to a very spirited two-year-old, but I also work occasionally and run a small business. Blake is the easiest person in the world to be married to, but his life is a well-oiled machine thanks to me (my husband is smart, talented and dedicated, but household efficiency is not his strong suit). I volunteer with several organizations, including one for which I was recently elected to the board of directors – in fact, next year, I will serve on two boards simultaneously. I am a wife and a mother and a friend and a chauffeur and a cook and a maid and a laundress and a business owner and a seamstress and a landscaper and an artist and a volunteer and a delivery service and a writer and a therapist and a secretary and…

…and I love it. I love it with every breath I take even when it’s so difficult I’m not a hundred percent sure I’m going to make it til 6:00, and I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you that I thank God every day of my life that I have so many people to love and to serve. But I don’t feel guilty one little bit about taking 45 minutes to myself a couple times a month and doing something relatively inexpensive that relaxes me and makes me feel a little more put-together. And you shouldn’t either.

Please don’t misunderstand – no one, myself included, has the inalienable right to visit the spa every month. And luxuries like manicures are not in everyone’s budget. That’s not what this is about.

Rather, what it’s about is letting go of Mommy Guilt. Or, much more accurately, Female Guilt. Because I hear my single girlfriends saying the same things – they feel guilty taking a day off because they’re business owners and if they’re not minding the store, figuratively speaking, then who is? Or they feel guilty about indulging in a hobby (even if that hobby is watching The Real Housewives of New York City) because that’s time they could spend doing something constructive. Well, guess what? Relaxing, decompressing and taking care of yourself IS constructive. As far as I’m concerned, anything that keeps me from blowing my stack when I have to pick up 28,000 Legos for the 17th time in a single day or going Travis Bickle on the lady at Target when she tells me they lost my contact lens order is time well spent.

I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this spend the vast majority of your day pouring yourself out for other people, whether you’re male, female, married, single, gay, straight, parents of human babies or parents of fur babies. And if that’s a healthy situation in your life, then I pray you’ll keep doing that – all of us, we can always do more for each other, love each other more.

But I also hope you’ll realize that you are one of the people you should love and care for. You are just as deserving as anyone. And whether you care for yourself by getting a manicure or locking yourself in the bathroom with a book or going for a run or cooking Beef Wellington for your cat, that should never be a source of shame or embarrassment. After all, if you don’t take care of you, then how are you going to take care of everyone else?

So go get that manicure.

(And bring the cat’s leftovers to me.)

Success, Stairways & Swinglines

I firmly believe that if you’re willing to look, there’s a blessing – usually many blessings, actually – in every bad situation. And, obviously, this blog wouldn’t even exist if I weren’t able to find the humor in nearly everything that happens to me. Most of which is inarguably ridiculous and inherently humorous, but you get the point. Another of my firmly held beliefs is that when God placed me on this earth, He said to no one in particular, “And you, my dear, are going to keep everyone entertained.” Which is how things like the Unofficial St. Joseph Altar Death-Match Bake-Off happen to me in the first place.

At any rate, recent events have forced me to reexamine my life – the things I want and the reasons I want them. This is proving to be a painful process, to be sure, but it’s always a good thing to stop, take stock and question your own motives.

So it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I’ve been rather teary lately. Part of it is grief, and part of it is my hormones hitting a wall, but part of it is also reevaluating my place within my family, my contributions to it and the ways I serve the people I love most. During one of many late-night, tear-soaked conversations, I looked up into Blake’s face and asked, “Are you happy, Perkins? Do you have a good life?”

I was pretty sure I knew, but your stomach always clenches during the split-second when you’re waiting for answers to questions like that, doesn’t it?

Much to my relief, he nodded emphatically. “We live in a two-story house,” he said. “When I was a kid, I thought that was as good as it got.”

Stairs as a measure of success. Why not? People measure success by a myriad of yardsticks that are WAY dumber than stairs.

That started me thinking: Success means something far different to me now than it did when I was a kid, of course…but does it have to?

What if I still measured success the same way I did when I was 7?

–I own my own stapler. I can staple anything I want any time I want, and I don’t have to ask anyone for paper OR staples. WINNING. I also have the modern-day equivalent of my own typewriter, and no one chides me for banging the keys too hard.

(I typed that sentence so loud my neighbors could probably hear it, by the way.)

I also have stamps and ink pads, and I can stamp every damn thing in this house if I feel like it.

–I can eat in bed. TAKE THAT, MOM.

–Speaking of Mom, I own several pairs of high-heeled shoes and 18 tons of sparkly jewelry and accessories. See?

I also have eyeliner, blush and approximately 84 lipsticks. I am allowed, indeed, encouraged to shave my legs. No one gets onto me for using an entire bottle of bubble bath at one time.

Well, almost no one.

I am allowed to light candles, use the curling iron and cut things with scissors unsupervised.

On the down side, I do not look like Carol Alt, I did not marry a prince, I do not drive a silver Corvette with a pink interior (YET), and I am not, nor will I ever be, Miss America. I did not grow up to be a professional ballerina, and I have to work much harder than anticipated to find a reason to wear a tutu.

However, I have a little girl, I frequently put bows in her hair, and she has several tutus of her own. She loves makeup, high heels and purses, and pretty soon, I’ll start painting her nails. She agrees wholeheartedly with my life philosophy that one can never sparkle too much.

I own pom-poms, and I wear perfume on a daily basis.

I HAVE A CAR.

WITH WHICH I CAN DRIVE TO TOY FAIR.

EVERY SINGLE DAY!

We do not yet have a Barbie Dreamhouse, but we will. Oh, we will.

As far as accomplishments go, I have not gotten eaten by Jaws or Shamu, and I have never been sucked down the bathtub drain. I graduated from high school. I have worked as a secretary.

By the way, if any of you who are reading this are currently employed as secretaries, then you should know that in the opinion of a 7-year-old Kelly Phelan, you have the single most glamorous job in the entire world except for maybe 1) Professional Ballerina and 2) Being Carol Alt.

Not too shabby, you guys. Not too shabby at all.

I have not yet kissed Henry Winkler or Alan Alda, but there’s still time.

Perhaps best of all, we have stairs. And if Blake and I didn’t mind being in traction, we could slide down the bannister right now if we wanted to. In fact, I think I will!

(Nah, I’m just kidding. I like my spinal cord the way it is.)

So according to 7-year-old me, my life is unimaginably awesome. Well, except for the Miss America thing. But that’s what eBay‘s for, right?

Things are a lot more complicated than they were in the second grade. But as long as I’ve got Harper, Blake and a stapler, we’re all going to live happily ever after.

Lately

Oh, you guys.

The comments. The emails. The Facebook messages. The texts. The phone calls. (And one gorgeous and fragrant bouquet of lilies.) Many, many from friends and acquaintances, a few from friends of friends, a couple from sweet folks we don’t even know and one or two from people we haven’t talked to in a very long time. Each and every one healed us a tiny bit. We’re still grieving, for sure, but we’re OK. We can see the light, even if we can’t quite feel the warmth on our faces.

A lot of people have asked what we plan to do, medically speaking, and after seeing my obstetrician again today, I’m both happy and frustrated to tell you that we’re already doing everything we can do. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but there are some VERY positive aspects of our situation and some that are puzzling and troubling. I can say for certain that we will not be taking any extreme measures to have another baby – Blake and I have both felt called to adoption all our lives (Blake was adopted, in fact), and while we would dearly love to have the experience of giving birth to one more baby, if we determine that’s not in the cards for us, then we’ll proceed with adoption. There WILL be more children in this family – the only question is exactly how they’re going to get here.

There’s hope! There’s always hope.

With that, let’s try to get back to what passes for normal life in the Powell household, shall we? I guess I probably should’ve deleted the following post once I decided not to publish it the other day, but…pictures! And even a video. I can’t bring myself to waste food, and, apparently, blog posts. So here you go.

A few bad things happen, a lot of good things happen and a MILLION funny things happen. Life goes on, doesn’t it?

—-

I should have my Photographer Card and my Scrapbooker Card permanently revoked, because I did not take one single picture of our absolutely magnificent Fourth of July celebration. So this oldie-but-goodie will have to suffice:

Aaaaaand you wonder why I hire other photographers to take pictures of my child. I present to you Exhibit A.

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

Anyway, back to the Fourth, on which Ratine smiled non-stop and did not glare at her mother contemptuously.

There was a time when I would have expected – nay, demanded! – a good Fourth of July celebration to include tons of people and free-flowing beer. The guest list for Independence Day 2014 included three preschoolers and was fabulously low-key except for when Harper and Liam (Lam) stole a bag of Cheetos, took it into the tent that Blake had set up for them to play in and dumped it out on the floor, and then they and Steve proceeded to eat the entire thing. There were four orange hands, two orange faces and one orange muzzle.

Cheetle for DAYS, y’all.

—-

Today, we Powells reached an all-time low when we sang this song to Harper at naptime, substituting “Ratine” for “Norwich” and “terrier.”

Good: We nailed at least most of the harmonies.

Bad: We know this song well enough to have nailed most of the harmonies.

Good: Theatre season auditions, here we come!

Bad: Karaoke, here we come!

—-

Harper has been obsessed lately with guinea pigs, which is literally a dream come true for me ever since I fell in love with Cashew on House of Cards. (Warning: Link contains profanity and will also make you pee yourself laughing.)

Harper, Steve and a guinea pig: LOOK OUT, ERRBODY, IT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL.

—-

Blake and I have been hard at work on our flower beds. We live on one of those streets where at least half of the residents obviously spend all their time watching HGTV and reading Better Homes & Gardens. Which is to say they’re setting the bar entirely too high for amateurs like us.

This has necessitated us having conversations like this:

Really Snotty Lady at Plant Nursery in Minden: You know that shrub is really high maintenance, right?

Us: It is?

RSLAPNIM: Uh, YEAH. It has to be trimmed, like, two times a year.

Us: …?

RSLAPNIM: Do you…like working in the yard?

Translation: You both look really lazy. Pretty dumb, too.

…and also necessitated us taking Harper to a plant nursery.

It was like the Seventh Circle of Hell but with way more screaming plus the smell of manure.

I wouldn’t recommend it.

—-

So what have YOU been up to lately?

The Power of Story Will Save the Day

Morris Lessmore loved words.

He loved stories.

He loved books.

His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.

But every story has its upsets. 

One day the sky darkened.

The winds blew and blew…

…till everything Morris knew was scattered – even the words of his book. 

–William Joyce, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

—-

We’re having another miscarriage.

I had no intention of writing about it so soon. The urge was there, believe me, but I talked myself out of it. Give it a week or two, get some perspective on it, I told myself. I actually wrote another post this morning – a pretty funny one, if I do say so myself.

If I was being honest with myself, though, what I really wanted to do is pretend it isn’t happening, and not writing about it would more easily allow me to do that. This blog is in many ways a record of a large portion of my adult life, and by not writing about the miscarriage here, I could omit it from at least one small part of my personal history. Good enough for me.

But that’s not fair, somehow.

To any of us.

So here we are.

The facts: I found out I was pregnant on June 28 and was positively ecstatic. We suffered our first miscarriage in January of last year. We’d stopped “trying” for a baby soon after in anticipation of my knee surgery in January of this year, and we had to wait a while after the surgery because – no surprise – I was on some pretty heavy narcotics. (I say “trying” because we’re Catholics, and so in our world, there’s Trying Not To and then there’s All the Rest of the Time.)

I went in for bloodwork the following Monday, and everything looked peachy. I was so relieved. A little nervous, sure, given what happened last time, but realistically, the chances were pretty small that such a thing would happen again.

I started spotting on the Fourth of July.

I freaked out a little at first, but I told myself over and over again that this was normal, that it didn’t mean anything, that there was no way this could happen to us a second time. There was much Googling, as you might imagine.

I went to the doctor on Monday, and more bloodwork confirmed it.

About five percent of women experience two miscarriages in a row. Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets.

I would dearly love to tell you that I am at peace with this situation, I am not angry, I do not feel cheated and I am resting comfortably in the knowledge that a divine plan is unfolding before me.

Unfortunately, none of that is true.

I am a Christian, and while I know there are plans in mind for me, plans for my welfare and not for woe, it does not feel that way at all. I’m not just crying out to God, I’m howling in sorrow and despair.

Last night, I opened my Bible, and it fell open to 1 Chronicles. I looked down, and the first thing that caught my eye was chapter four, verse 10. Blake later told me it’s called the Prayer of Jabez and that several years ago, someone wrote an entire book based on it. (It rings a bell, but this may have been one of those things that was a much bigger deal in the Protestant world.)

“Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! Help me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!” And God granted [her] prayer.

So that’s where we are. Trying not to lose hope, praying desperately to be “free of misfortune, without pain” and doing anything to keep from breaking down, including taking Harper to the Build-A-Bear Workshop and buying her an overpriced teddy bear in pajamas and a doll stroller, which she then used to try to mow down pedestrians at the Louisiana Boardwalk.

You do whatcha gotta do, man.

We’re gonna be OK. It may just take a little while.

 

 

 

Summertime

In April, when I abruptly made the decision to pull Harper out of preschool, I may have seemed outwardly confident that I was doing the right thing for our daughter and our family, but inside, I was terrified. Incessant worry kept me up every night. Will she miss her teachers? Will she be lonely without her friends? Will she get enough intellectual stimulation? Will she get enough social interaction? Will an extrovert like her suffer from being home all day? Will she be happy?

Will I be enough for her?

Harper’s school was the wrong one for all three of us, but it was really great in a lot of ways. The thing they did best, and one of the aspects about which I could never complain was the academic component – from an academic standpoint, I think Harper’s as well or maybe even better prepared than any two-year-old anywhere. So when we quit, I was determined that we would not lose any ground and we would keep up her school lessons at home throughout the summer.

MUCH research and consideration went into this effort. I checked out homeschool curriculae, I made laminated flashcard-type things with scrapbook paper and my Cricut, I bought art supplies and workbooks and puzzles and who-knows-what-else. Much to everyone’s surprise, she actually tolerated “school time” each day, but something just didn’t feel right to me – something was missing for both of us. So I asked a homeschooling friend of mine, a mom of four and Harper’s Tae Kwon Do teacher, for some advice. And what she said flipped a switch in my brain and dramatically altered the course of our whole summer.

“Your job at this point,” she said, “is just to teach her how to live.”

How to live.

I don’t need  free printables from Pinterest for that.

So I put aside the Highlights magazines and sorting games and lacing toys and instead, I’m giving Harper…a summer.

No big family vacations, no set-in-stone plans, no real schedules, just summer.

We sleep late.

We eat waffles for breakfast at 10:30.

We walk to the park and play with the hose.

We stack blocks when we feel like it and spend a lot of time brushing dolls’ hair.

We take naps in the afternoon before Da-Da gets home. We pick berries.

We watch Disney movies and splash in puddles.

We crawl in and out of the teepee.

We make Steve do our bidding.

We go to the pool and eat nachos.

We spray Lola Mowis with water, but it’s so hot that she doesn’t mind very much.

We read Pig Kahuna and Little Blue Truck and Who Dat and Joseph.

We eat popsicles.

A lot of popsicles.

Academically rigorous? Not hardly.

Fun?

You better believe it.