The rocking chair

I rocked my daughter to sleep tonight. She sat cradled in my arms, and we sang together.

“Rock a bye baby, on the tree top …”

Our rocking chair creeks and we sway forward and back.

“Rock” – creek – “a bye” – creek – “baby” creek…

And the right arm is broken.

“On” – wobble – “the” – wobble “tree” – wobble…

The chair was a gift, handed down from when my parents moved from my childhood home. I remember the chair sitting in a corner of my parent’s bedroom. The slider door on the left, and the chair on the right.

I remember the last time I was rocked. My legs ached from growing pains. My mom held me and rocked me until the pain subsided.

And I remember the chair in pieces. The arm on the floor. A crack where it was once afixed to the seat. He broke it the day of the big fight. And after that, things were different.

When we came home from going away the chair was glued back together. But the image of it in pieces is fused in my mind.

I thought about not taking the chair. But the idealist took over. “A loving home can make it right!” I thought enough rocks could ease the painful memories.

It hasn’t though. I rock, and it creaks. And instead of taking me back to a place of peace, I go back to hiding under the pool table. And instead of seeing my daughter’s face, I see shards of wood strewn across the floor.

My husband tried to fix the arm. But the glue wouldn’t stick. I lean forward, and the wobble gets worse. I know one day I’ll lean hard enough and it will totally break.

I hate that chair. I stare at it, and see that no amount of love can fix it.

Wayfair had a sale. Rocking chairs – 50% off. I put it on the credit card. It will be here in a few days.

Maybe I’ll regret it. But no one else asked for the chair. No one has else tried to keep it. We tried to glue it all together and it all fell apart.

When the new one comes, I’m not sure what we’ll do. A fire? A baseball bat? A slow dismantle and tears? A simple move to the basement? I just don’t know.

All I know is that I can’t look at it anymore. And in a few days, I won’t have to.

COVID killed my life

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. There is a light at the end of this tunnel.

COVID has killed a lot of things.

Hear me out. I promise there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

Of course, COVID has killed almost 200,000 Americans. The level of life that has been lost is unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced. This virus has also killed jobs and industries. I drove by our movie theater last night to see it totally shuttered. I’m not sure how many restaurants will not make it out of this pandemic, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. COVID killed off relationships and school ties. It’s hard to calculate the greater risk. Do I see an old relative and risk spreading an illness? Or do I wait and wonder if it’s my last chance to see them?

COVID kills. But what if COVID also helped kill things in a good way?

Before COVID I let my stress levels get high from taking on too much responsibility. I was so busy, and it kind of sucked. I would come home and dread seeing my family because my emotional energy was depleted from meaningless tasks.

Before COVID I didn’t love the mother I was. I wanted to look at Carly and feel joy, but I didn’t feel anything. I hated how much I didn’t feel anything.

Thankfully, COVID killed the excess things I did not know I did not need.

You can’t be stressed out from volunteering when you can’t volunteer. You can’t be stressed out from too many meetings, when there are no meetings to attend.

After COVID hit, I spent less time on tasks that were not fulfilling my soul or helping my family. I spent more time surrounded by my daughters and my husband. For the first few weeks I felt utterly trapped. But as time went on and the quarantine continued to stretch, a new light flickered inside me.

Thanks to COVID (and 25 mg of Zoloft) I started feeling rested again. Renewed joy sparked inside of me. Instead of feeling stressed out all the time I felt relaxed. I hadn’t felt relaxed – honestly – ever in my entire life. My husband told me he has never seen me like this, and I’m certain he hasn’t.

When I had no choice but to stop taking on excess responsibility I was finally free from the things that I let weigh me down.

Of course I realize my privilege here. I’m privileged to be able to work remotely and have childcare available. I’m privileged to have a spouse who splits our household division flavor. Our family stress has waned while I’m certain there are many who are under much greater duress.

And don’t get me wrong. My anxiety over being pregnant and potentially getting COVID was remarkably high. But what pregnant woman/new mom wouldn’t be a little more stressed out right now?

My maternity leave ended, and I went back to work this week. I’m working with my husband and my therapist to make sure I keep my stress levels down. For the first time in my career I’ve started taking breaks. I work for a while, actually take lunches, and stop to pick up the girls and cuddle them for a few minutes. Then I go back to remote work.

Life has forever changed for us. I don’t know what a new normal will be, and I don’t think our old ways will ever return. How do you live through a pandemic and come out unchanged?

For all of the negatives this virus has brought us, it is not without many positives. I can see many lights shining in this darkness. Like Noah’s raven I can see the water starting to recede.

COVID killed my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by I’m not thankful for it. I have emerged from this renewed, refreshed, and reborn. The drowning waters have subsided, and my life is beginning anew.

The Hypervigilante

If I were a super hero, I’d be “The Hypervigilante.” My power would be seeing every detail, pointing out potential issues, and making the world a ‘perfect’ place. A hallmark of PTSD is living your life on guard. Once upon a time in Gotham city, the Joker invaded your life and took away your sense of safety. Now, you spend every day in a high state of escalation.

Noticing everything has made me amazing at so many things. I’m great with data details, which helped me escalate in my profession. I specialize in possible sources of gluten contamination, which is why I don’t get glutened very often. “Did that bread touch my salad?! Take it away!”

Yet I am exhausted most of the time. It’s the little switch I struggle to turn off. I jokingly say, “I live life at a 10.” The sentence I don’t say after is, “Because I don’t know how to live life at a 5.”

In the age of a pandemic, my super power came in handy at first. I could see every threat better than most, and as a result I kept my family safe. However, as March stretched into April, and now July goes into August – life at a 10 is taking its toll.

What makes this stage of my life unique, is that I’m now no longer alone in my vigilance. As COVID has killed 150,000 in our country, many other Americans are also living life at a heightened state with me. We question our grocery store trips, getting our hair done, what to do for child care, and whether we should try to dine out for the first time in months.

Talking to my mother-in-law I said, “I’m use to living in this state, and I’m exhausted. So I can only imagine how exhausted everyone else is.” I’ve spent a lot of time explaining PTSD to people. After living through this pandemic together, I’ll never have to explain trauma to people again. We are living through this thing together.

Out of thin air we lost so much. Doctors and presidential candidates were taken. The memories we wanted to create were stolen. Grandparents have yet to meet their new grand child, graduates never got to celebrate their accomplishment, and weddings were moved to backyards instead of dining halls. It’s sad. It’s exhausting. And we’re all tired together. This way of living cannot subsist for much longer.

We were meant to be social creatures, embracing each other’s company. For some time we can embrace life at home. But slowly, the embrace is feeling like a choke hold.

“If only everyone would wear a mask!” I scream in my head.

“Stay six feet away from me and my children.” I whisper to myself when anyone comes near.

“If only the nation had better leaders who could wrangle us together!” I shout to my husband.

If only we could all be vigilant for a few weeks, instead of this dragging on for months.

If only … If only… If only…

Until then, my practical prayers have turned to asking for miracles, and my hypervigilance stays on track until exhaustion wins over. The hypervigilante stands on guard. Trying to keep my family safe.

Welcome to the world Georgia Quinn.

We woke up at 5:00 a.m. like we typically do. The night before I was in quite a bit of pain. Del and I were in the middle of arguing about nothing, and every time he’d state his case the baby would make a sharp move that caused me to cringe. “She seems to only be moving when I say what I think,” he joked.

On my morning walk I started timing my contractions. Braxton Hicks seems to be something that my body loves (although I’m not as big of a fan). The week prior I thought I was going into labor because I was having contractions three minutes apart for an hour – and then they just stopped. But from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., they went from every eight minutes or so, down to seven, then ranged between four to six minutes.

Around 7:00 a.m. I told Del to pack the car. We had a 9:00 a.m. check up with my obstetrician, so we were weighing whether to go to the hospital’s labor floor or go to the doctor’s appointment. We opted to go to the doctor’s appointment early.

Del’s mom has been watching Carly, and she came over at 8:00 a.m. I wasn’t sure if I was really in labor or if it was Braxton Hicks. But at one point Del was taking a very long time to pack something in the car. Instinctually I yelled, “You need to hurry up because we have to go!”

On the walk into the obstetrician’s office I had to stop walking when I had a contraction. When they did the COVID screening at the front door they asked if I needed a wheelchair. Every woman was giving me the look of “Girl, you’re in labor.”

My obstetrician did the normal checkup. He checked to see how dilated and effaced I was and said, “No change since last week.” In that moment I thought Braxton Hicks was going to drive me to insanity. Then a contraction hit me, and my obstetrician said “I was just kidding. You are five cm dilated and we’re admitting you right now.”

They wheeled me to the labor floor. They got the usual IVs going and did all the paperwork. And then my body took over.

After 45 minutes I told our nurse that within the next three contractions I was going to deliver the baby. I told her to call our doctor now and get him in here.

I did one more contraction and knew I was closer. I did another and I knew I was closer still. I asked her to check whether I was at 10 cm, and she said with one more contraction I probably would be. The last contraction took hold and the doctor walked in. He checked me over and said, “You’re ready to have this baby.”

From the time the doctor walked in to the time he left – it took nineteen minutes. I pushed twice. Before I pushed the first time they did a quick reminder of what I had to do. I repeated it back and gave it everything I had. While pushing out I let out a gigantic scream. To which the doctor replied, “You held that note a long time.” I waited for the next contraction to hit and then did one more amazing push.

Georgia Quinn Belcher came into this world at 11:09am. She is perfect. Dark hair, silver eyes, and my chin.

They handed her to me and she breastfed right away. My greatest fear is that she would not eat well, and God decided to settle that for me right away. Its a gift for which I’ll always be grateful.

Through this experience I learned how amazing my body is. I told everyone my due date of July 2nd was wrong and I was going to give birth sooner. I was right.

When I doubted whether my Braxton Hicks were real contractions, my instincts took over and told Del to pack the car faster.

When they asked if I wanted pain meds I said no. First of all, I’m not sure they could have gotten them to me fast enough. Second, my body told me I could do this. I went through 10+ years of severe neck pain. I knew I could handle a few hours of labor.

I knew she’d be there in three contractions and she was.

I knew I could push her out quickly and I did.

My body has a history of trauma. Trauma from others, trauma from accidents. Sometimes I’m frustrated at my high cortisol levels and the fact that I feel everything. However, all of those moments led me to this one. They have put me so in touch with my body that my labor was nothing short of a very fast miracle (Why have a meeting that could have been an email?).

Once again God made a beautiful thing out of me.

Welcome to the world Georgia Quinn Belcher. Our down to earth queen. The fifth in a line of amazing George’s. You will take hold of this world and make it better. You will be fast and furious, and your father and I can’t wait to help you get there.

A letter to Baby Belcher II

Baby Belcher two. Our precious, strong, fiery child. We are excited to meet you. We dream of who you will become, and we talk about how we can help you get there. When daddy and I go on walks we both dream you will have dark eyes and dark hair, like mommy. We imagine a quiet child, with fire deep in her belly. A good fire, yearning to take lead.

Dear child, you are coming into the world at a tough time.

A few months ago, a big sickness hit the whole world. To keep each other safe, we stayed inside for a long time. We tried to only go outside for food or if we really needed to get something. It was a scary time for the whole world, and many people got very sick. Many more people lost jobs, and homes.

More of the world also learned that people with darker skin are not always treated well or fairly. A man named Mr. Floyd was killed by a police officer, mostly because Mr. Floyd’s skin color was different. Because the whole world had just sat together in sickness, we finally saw this event differently. People from all over our country stood together to say, “Stop treating people this way because they look different.”

I wish I could lie and tell you you’re being born during a time of peace. I guess, in a way, you are. Mommy, daddy, and Carly have had many peaceful moments at home. However, many more big and small people are fighting. A few great leaders have helped along the way, but other big leaders have made these days harder and longer than necessary.

The truth is, little girl, right now the world is on fire. It burns with sick people, mean people, and with years of those with less yearning for more.

My little girl, do not fear the fire. See it, listen to it, and learn to dance with it. Take it in your hands, and use it to make our world better for as many people as possible. Be a queen. Lead. Listen. Be humble. And see that after the fire and smoke – there will be great stillness.

Daddy and I will lead you through the stillness. But it’s your job to take charge on the other side. Take hold of this earth, replenish it, and subdue it. Your time is today, and it always will be.

Maternity pictures

It has been very strange being pregnant the last few months. A pandemic, protests, a continent on fire, and so much more I’m simply forgetting in this moment.

To be honest, it’s scary thinking about giving birth mid-pandemic. I worry that in my last few weeks I may get sick, and have to be separated from a newborn. Our family has gone to great lengths to stay safe. We’ve bought all of our food online, we haven’t hung out at anyone’s house, and we’re wearing masks wherever we go. If you had told me in 2020 we would be living through a pandemic I’m not sure I would have believed you. I studied the Spanish flu in school, never thinking I’d see parallels of it in my own lifetime.

We have also been incredibly fortunate in many ways. Del and I have both been able to work from home. At work I’ve been thrust into data on the pandemic. It’s both stressful and fascinating. Del’s parents moved to Jackson right before the pandemic hit. Grammy has been able to watch Carly since schools and daycares are closed. I’m incredibly grateful for this extra time we have had with family.

Tomorrow I’ll be 38 weeks pregnant. I got Carly out of bed today and sat with her. I looked at her and cried, thinking that it wasn’t long before she was no longer our only child. I’m going to miss all of the time we had with just her. Thank you Carly for teaching me how to be a mommy. You are more than I ever dreamed.

Yet, we’re also incredibly excited for our second child to come into this world. I’m sure there will be difficult times, but I know there were also be so much joy. Who doesn’t love baby snuggles?

Like we were able to do with Carly, my talented husband Del took maternity photos. A COVID maternity photoshoot. Although it’s hard to tell, downtown Jackson is fairly empty. Even though it’s empty, it sure is beautiful.

Dear Baby Belcher two, we are all excited to meet you soon.

On building a COVID legacy…

Legacy is an important thing. A well examined life means thinking about the future, but it also means reflecting on the past. It means asking “How did I live my life, and what do my actions say about me?” Many things define a person. Good or bad, right or indifferent, we can use many things to define our lives. Some use family and friends, others use cars and money. The most common measuring stick is our actions, and how we have chosen to treat others along the way.

When I was getting divorced nearly ten years ago, I had several people tell me I was being too kind. I had one person told me I should have tried to get alimony from my ex. I had another person tell me they would never give an ex-spouse a dime of money. My philosophy was that I wanted what was fair, and I wanted him to get off my back (duh). So I quickly gave up more money than the average person. I also did one other thing: I tried to never do anything I thought I would regret. When I look back on getting divorced, I have no regrets about my actions.

The last few weeks have been tough for my family and I, and tough for many people we know. In mid-March, we were supposed to attend a gala. Instead, we stayed at home. In late-March, we were meant to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday in Wisconsin. Instead, we stayed at home. Sunday was Carly’s second birthday. Instead of having that Sesame Street party, we did a fifteen minute online get together. I have left the house a handful of a times in a month; mostly for prenatal care.

No person I know has not lost something due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every person has had events cancelled or delayed. Many have lost jobs or work. And some have lost so much more. As the death toll continues to rise, as of yesterday, our country has lost over 23,000 lives. In the next few weeks and months, we will lose more.

It isn’t just those 23,000. It is their loved ones who suffer, and they must suffer alone in their homes. If just 25 per lost life are sad or hurt over those 23,000 – that would mean about 575,000 are feeling the pain of a loved one lost. That is a few under every man, woman, and child in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (pop. 592k) feeling a sudden loss.

And what about the 580,000 Americans that have tested positive for COVID? Given the lack of testing, delayed tests, and those who could never afford treatment – that number is grossly underestimated. What if we do the same math as before? If 25 per sick person are impacted in some way by those 580,000 – it would mean 14.5 million American lives ‘impacted.’ What is impact? Just living with knowing? Holding their hand as they suffer? Bringing them a tray of food as they are quarantined inside?

While the numbers are large, the impact is exponential. And the unknown consequences of a world living through a pandemic will live on for decades. We all know that after this life will never be the same again. We are living through a trauma together.

Michigan is a following a ‘Stay home, stay safe’ order. My family has taken that to heart. We stay at home, and we only leave if it is essential. When we do go out, we wear masks and gloves. In our actions, we support our governor, white ribbon workers, and we are doing everything we can to lessen the spread of this pandemic.

In a few months, I want to be able to give birth to our new baby, and not be scared I will have to be alone in the delivery room because the pandemic has lingered.

In one year, I want our daughters to be able to receive safe childcare where the threat of COVID is minimized.

In five years, I want to know I worked with my community to re-build our lives after this pandemic.

In ten years, I want to look back on our lives and know we did everything we could do prioritize the lives of the people around us.

In twenty years, I want to tell Carly that I put aside childish desires (like a gala, or a birthday party) for the health of a stranger I do not know.

In thirty years, I want to tell my grandchildren I was not petty or silly. I want to tell them I did not protest over dirt, knowing those in Syria and Yemen do not even have their own land to fight over during this pandemic.

In fifty years, I want to tell my maker that I did unto others as I would have them do unto me. I will tell Jesus I said kind things, I put the needs of others above my own pride, and that I did it with as much love and compassion as possible. I will tell Him that my legacy was one in which He could find great delight.

How do we see others?

How do we choose to see other people?

And what does that mean about how we see ourselves?

At counseling a while ago, her closing remark to me was, “You are doing almost everything right. And you need to start focusing on the good things you are doing.”

Like people, my view of others and myself is simple and complex simultaneously. In a moment it is black and white, and then upon reflection there are more than fifty shades of gray. There are back stories, weird moments, genetics, parenting, feelings that should have been squashed but came alive, and who even knows what else?

“Jenn is the worst. An inconsiderate and selfish thief who cares nothing for her family or for others.”

While also…

“How sad she must feel to cause herself and others such pain. She can’t be a true narcissist. I hope whatever is causing her pain ends soon.”

And on myself…

“I’m so glad I’m not as inconsiderate as <insert name of person I’m judging>.”

While also…

“What does <insert name of person I’m feeling insecure about> have that I do not? Smarter? Kinder? Better looking? A better soul? What do I lack? Where have I failed?”

In moments and thoughts my brain will drift between strange extremes. Others and myself are the best, worst, deepest, most shallow people I know. I make others and myself the hero and villain at the same time.

The truth of a person, is of course, somewhere in between those shades. Maybe they are gray, but maybe they are purple, green, orange, fuschia, turquoise, or something else? We are bright shining examples of the best of humanity is some areas. We are just plain damn average in most areas. And in other areas, we are dark, gray, weak, and struggling.

Yet it all begs the questions, “How should we view ourselves?” and “How should we view others?”

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7, 1-5 (NIV)

And also…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13, 34 (NIV)

A person who is truly self-reflective, is often freer from judgement. The ability to look within, see your own flaws and then ask “Why am I judging this person?” is a skill. But it is also something that is demanded of us. Being cruel is easy (I know, because I can be great at it). Yet taking the plank from our own eye is the only thing that gives us a clear view of the humanity of others.

Of course, Biblical context is everything. In John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples a short time before Peter will deny him. He is telling the church that will be built what is needed of us. After betraying him, and after denying him, Christ did not falter to lay down is life for his disciples. Let’s be honest, I’m probably not ever going to reach that level of grace and forgiveness. But I let myself be inspired by His gift.

We steal, because we are lacking. We lie because we are empty and filling a void. Others are worthless, because we feel worthless. That is not how God sees us. He tells us simply that he loves us, and that in return – we are to love others. With his remaining moments, God asks us to see us and others as whole people who are worthy. Worthy of love, beauty, and redemption.

I pray I can be better at seeing myself and others with such light.