He was supposed to be napping. That is, Kate and Mister both wanted to nap, and it was the proper time in the afternoon for Teddy's nap. Kate was lying down on the loveseat on the cooler middle floor, but Mister was upstairs, trying to nap in the room next door to the disagreeable, not-interested-in-napping beast. Eventually, the wild banshee screams (alternated with wide, blue-eyed flirtatious smiles) convinced Mister that he was serious about getting up and playing downstairs.
Fortunately, once he got his freedom, Teddy could write a book (or he could once he learned a few things about language) on how to be a low-maintenance baby. Mister brought him down and deposited him on the living room floor in front of Kate and then went back upstairs to continue his nap.
Kate turned her head and stretched out her legs into a more comfortable position on the couch and said, "Hi Teddy." He stood by the edge of the couch, gave her a toothy grin and babbled, "Gaga-baou-ba-GA-ga?" Gosh it was cute. But Kate was too tired to get up and play. She lay on the couch and watched him crawl back and forth, popping up on the couch like a little jack-in-the-box, and then sitting down just as abruptly to crawl somewhere else. Sometimes, he'd walk along the couch, but inevitably, the couch would not be going where he wanted to go, and in such cases, he'd stand for a moment, undecided. Then, when he didn't just crash over in his haste to move onward, he would carefully and thoughtfully lower himself down to an almost-sitting position and then pop forward on his knees to take off again. Occasionally, Teddy launched himself forward before his arms were ready, and Kate couldn't help but laugh at his over-enthusiastic and terribly awkward inchworm scramble.
But at one particular moment, Kate noticed Teddy's bright gaze on her. He was standing with one hand on the couch kitty-corner to her own, where he had been investigating a binder. He gently lowered himself a few inches, paused, and farted. Charming. Then he stood again and gave Kate a delighted giggle. Kate lifted herself slightly and motioned to him. "Come over here," she called, "you can do it. Come here, buddy!" And, as if it were just what he'd always done, Teddy lifted his hand off the one couch, and walked five steps forward to the other.
delighted to walk outside (about a month later)
Kate was stunned. He did it so naturally! (Of course, so many people do.) He wasn't instantly a proficient walker, but this was the breakthrough. Several consecutive steps--that's what he needed to get his confidence up to keep trying. And Teddy certainly was pleased with himself. He stood giggling by Kate's head and drooling onto her arms as she praised his success. Tired as he might be, there was now not the remotest possibility of a nap. Teddy was ready to practice walking all afternoon. Up, down, up, down, crash, and roll, he kept at it...and though sometimes he got a couple consecutive steps, he never had the same success as that first time.
As Teddy passed Kate again, on yet another round about the room, Kate scrunched her nose. "Whew! You're stinky," she accused. Hm...she thought, as she felt body pressing heavily into the couch, I hope it can wait until your Daddy gets up from his nap...
The morning of the Millers' departure arrived far too early for Kate. She awoke Sunday morning with a queer feeling in her stomach. Being too sleepy to discern what was wrong, she decided to give the bathroom a try--thus demonstrating her possession of a quick and intuitive brain since she subsequently retched for the next ten minutes. Usually throwing up makes one feel better. Unfortunately, "usually" is a far cry from "always." Kate felt horrible. She was too tired to get up, and too uncomfortable to go to sleep. She felt hungry, but the thought of eating was disgusting. At least Teddy was sleeping! She eventually decided on a change of scenery and went to the kitchen to make herself comfortable sitting on a living room couch with a cup of tea and watch the outline of Pike's Peak slowly emerge from the darkness.
Later in the morning, she and Mister watched The Philadelphia Story, and Kate even laughed at Tracy's outrageous impression of a high-handed and glib heiress. But they barely made it halfway through before Kate resigned and said she just wanted to lie down. Things were serious when not even Katherine Hepburn could keep Kate distracted from her physical ills. Mister scrapped their travel plans and heroically devoted himself to Kate's comfort and rest.
Monday morning, Kate felt somewhat repaired--enough, she claimed, to make a go of the journey to St. Louis. With the lovely weather, and the windows rolled down, the fresh air boosted Kate's spirits and she felt better and better by the hour. It had been one week shy of two months since they left Virginia, and though she wasn't exactly looking forward to being back, she had missed their home and their bed! They spent a brief and uneventful night at the cousins' house in St. Louis (who weren't even there!) and left the next morning for the journey home. Kate prepped for the day of air-conditionless driving by fixing her hair in what she called, "French Piggies." She was feeling almost all better, and hopped into the driver's seat for the first leg.
By sunset, Kate had returned once again to the wheel and zoomed through silhouetted hills of West Virginia. She irrationally loved West Virginia. All day, the noise of the open windows made conversation difficult, but now she didn't even mind. Kate was an idealist at heart, and had never been in a place more suited to its theme song (the one she assigned to it). She hummed as she drove, "Country roads / take me home / to the place / I belooooong / West Virginia / mountain Mama / take me home / country roads." Of course, if they ever stopped in West Virginia, she might not like it so much. But she loved driving in the evening, where there were hills and little traffic. And she had these beautiful open drives and pleasant times in the car with Mister has her sole West Virginian experience. She fondly remembered their first excursion through the state, getting lost on the lane-less back roads, alternately talking with Mister about philosophy and playing "Cow!"
"Cow!" was a simple game, but none the less amusing for it. One rolls down one's window when passing a field inhabited with the appropriate ungulate, and calls their vernacular name (experienced contestants use a variety of methods from belligerent yells to charming calls). For each cow that looks toward the passing vehicle, the contestant receives 1 point. For each cow that responds (generally with a "moo") the contestant receives 2 points. The game's one limitation is that it generally only supports two contestants--one for each side of the vehicle. But it does support the possibility of team play, as long as the contestants are in an optimal seating arrangement. Kate was by no means a "Cow!" prodigy, recording a grand total of zero points that day (and for no lack of opportunity!). But it was fun, and her view of West Virginia was even boosted by this first experience of enjoyable failure.
Kate and Mister arrived home in the wee sma's of Wednesday morning. And when they walked in the house, Kate reaped the full benefit of the hard work she put in the week before they left. The tile was beautiful, carpets were spotless, granite countertops in the kitchen sparkled. Everything smelled good. There were no leaks or mold or bugs. It was beautiful, even at 2AM, which is one of the ugliest times to be awake. Kate and Mister relished their own, familiar bed and pillows until noon (with some minor interruptions from Teddy.) And then...what, but Mister had to turn around and pack again!
Only just arrived home, the following afternoon would take him away again for the rest of the weekend to a teaching conference in Baltimore! Kate hardly knew what to think--she had known it was in the schedule, but something being written down is very different from it actually happening. But the weekend itself went by in a flash. Kate had plenty to do to fill her time. She had another baby shower to prepare for on Saturday (and another baby blanket to finish!) She pulled out her scrapbooks and finally finished their wedding album and started on Teddy's first year album. And of course, there was lots to unpack! And this time, they were staying put. With no pending flights and holidays at home, the suitcases could be relegated to the basement! For Kate, this brought both relief and some confusion. What will it be like? she wondered. I'm not sure that I've spent even two months together without either traveling or having a big group of guests! What if I go crazy? This possibility made her consider. Could living at home for more than two months at a time without travel make one slip off their proverbial rocker? Hmmm..., she amended, What if I'm already crazy?!
One of the delights of Kate's summer was that she got to spend lots of time with her dear college friend, Emma. She and her husband were now living in Denver, and they were also expecting a girl--and Emma was due a mere 4 weeks before Kate! When they got together, they did a little bit of hiking, a little bit of walking, and a whole lot of talking about everything ranging from college memories and theology to baby development and piano students. Now that they were back from the mountains, Kate only had a couple days to finish the baby blanket she was making for Emma's baby shower. She felt a compulsion about finishing it before they left--it was one more project to cross of her list! She had plenty of time to work on it, but she ran out of yarn in Wyoming and...well...it was sheer foolish procrastination, and now she felt stressed about it. And the stress was compounded by the fact that she had another blanket to make for a shower the following Saturday, back in Virginia. 'Tis the season...Kate thought, considering all the expectant couples she knew.
The shower was Saturday morning, the day before Kate and Mister were starting on the trek home. Kate was thrilled to be able to go and encourage her friend. But baby showers had the same emotional effect of graduation parties and weddings. It was the large crowd focused on one person, who wants to visit individually with everyone but sometimes doesn't get in more than a "thanks so much for coming." They weren't too awkward, but Kate generally left with feelings of vague dissatisfaction, wishing she had made more of the time by speaking encouraging and meaningful words....while at the same time wondering if she had spoken too much and sounded too solemn on such a joyous occasion. Kate tried to convince herself that it was meaningful just to go and she was glad she was able to. So for the next couple days, she knitted constantly and mentally prepared herself for too many new faces and not enough time with Emma.
When Kate pulled into the drive, she had a stunning wave of memories. Emma was living with this family when she had gotten married over five years before, and Kate had stayed here with her for the week beforehand. What a splendid time they had! They did everything together--packing, organizing, running last-minute errands, and belting favorite while driving with the windows down.
Kate walked in the house and said hello. She remembered only a few faces from the wedding, but she instantly recognized the house. Outside, she spied the trampoline where she had spent long, sweet phone conversations with Mister. (By that time, they were very serious even though they had only dated for a couple months. And there he was, spending spring break in Florida and missing out on her first meeting with his family! After Emma's wedding, Kate planned to join the Millers on their drive to St. Louis, and then hitch another ride back to Hillsdale.) Inside the house, she remembered eating breakfast at the kitchen counter...the letter blocks on the hutch...reading her Bible on the couch...the scented candles in the bathroom...the room where she stayed...the table where Emma's lavish bridal shower brunch had been hosted. Kate nodded her head and smiled. Oh yes, she remembered, These people do know how to do parties! The food, decorations, games...they take the standards and put on the ritz!
And so it was. Kate followed Emma outside to a gorgeous, sumptuous brunch buffet and felt like she had just walked onto a movie set. The sun was shining, the clouds were perfect, the tablecloths were white, the grass was green, and Emma fit the picture perfectly, looking model-like with her curled blonde hair, stunning smile, and bright pink maternity dress. Kate sighed. She felt frumpy and enormous. She was due a month later than Emma, but felt obviously bigger than the guest of honor. It doesn't matter, She scolded herself. Nobody cares about how big I am. I'm here to celebrate Emma's little girl. Kate watched
Emma, trying to forget about herself for a moment and concentrate on Emma's motherhood. She quickly got into the mood, thinking, She'll be such a fun, creative mother! Kate remembered Emma enthusiastically exclaiming over a wide variety of new discoveries--from plants and flowers to books on ancient history! Kate thought of her own current experience with Teddy, With a baby, she'll get to discover things all over again. And of course, an extra month feels SO LONG right now, but our girls will be so close in age! I hope they'll be great friends...
Kate held her friends' children close to her heart, hoping they would be good comrades for her own kids. But she couldn't help but feel that this would be unlikely unless Mister was able to find a job relatively close by, which wasn't necessarily unlikely, just unknown. She hardly knew what to expect from this coming school year--a new baby, a new degree (for Mister), a new job, a new home. All exciting, life changing events; all at the same time!
The baby shower was fun in its own way. But Kate left (as she expected) feeling vaguely sad. She said goodbye to Emma with a big baby bump hug and hopes that she would return again soon. And the sadness was greatly mitigated by the confident knowledge that she and Emma had used their time well. We've had almost two months together! Kate reminded herself. We've had lots of special conversations and funadventures.The last time we were at this house together, it was the night before her wedding. Now, over five years later, I get to celebrate her baby! And we have shared so much in between. Kate finally realized that she didn't need to say anything more meaningful than what she had already lived. This time didn't need to be, and couldn't have been, anything more than it was--a shared celebration of life.
Fortunately, only a few days after Kate and Mister's arrival back in Colorado, Kate's cold subsided to a mild stuffiness. They and Mom and Dad Miller drove to Frisco to spend a few days up in the mountains. This was starting to be a sort of tradition--Kate couldn't think of a time when they had visited Colorado and not gone to spend some time in Frisco. This year, it was special blessing because it was hot in the Springs where the Millers had no air conditioning, and absolutely perfect in the mountains, where one didn't need air conditioning. While they were there, Mister planned a date with Kate to take her up one of the ski lifts.
The day was perfect--sunny, with a nice breeze, and pleasantly cool in the shade. They chose Breckenridge over Vale or Copper, since it was closer and Kate had never been there before. They knew that Lift 7 was running, but getting up to the lodge at Lift 7 was another matter entirely. After looking at their map, Mister took a turn leading steeply up the mountain. At each switchback, Kate breathed a little more heavily of the cool air through her open window and clutched her door handle a little tighter. She had always been prone to car-sickness, but this sort of wooziness was almost unprecedented. I'm just FINE, Kate tried to convince herself, I just need to think about something else.
"These houses must have such a great view!" she said, attempting to sound cheerful and interested in her surroundings. "I bet they could just walk out and ski down the hill any time they want!"
Mister made a non-committal sound, and eventually replied. "Hmmmm. I don't think this road connects to where we want to go. It does on the map, but...not here." He looked over at Kate, who gave him a weak smile.
"Okay." She said gamely, "Let's go back and get the right road."
They drove back down the windy road, only to pick another, equally sickening climb. We're going on a DATE! Kate reminded herself, This is FUN! Right...FUN! I'm having FUN! Kate felt genuinely ill by the time they pulled off into the dirt parking area. She got out of the car and just stood to get her bearings while Mister grabbed their bag with sandwiches and water.
"I'm sorry, Dear." Mister said as they started walking toward the lodge, "This is definitely not starting out the way I had hoped."
Kate smiled at him. "It's okay, I'm already starting to feel better, and after I find a bathroom, I'll be good to go. Don't worry, this will be fun."
on the lift
After hitting the restrooms, Kate and Mister lunched out on the patio of the lodge, looking up at the ski slopes and surrounding mountains. Truly, the day was absolutely perfect for such an outing. Kate loved ski lifts--the height, the motion, the feeling of the open air blowing against her face. She impatiently waited for the attendant to explain how to get on and off the lift. As if they didn't already know! But she was surprised at how different it felt to get on (and especially off) the lift without any skis or slippery snow to help! On their way up, Kate and Mister marveled at how different it felt to ride up a lift without heavy skis and boots and wearing summer clothes! The views were postcard worthy--green stretches of ski runs, huge evergreens, picturesque patches of snow--Kate relaxed as she looked around. She felt as if time slowed down in such places to give ample opportunity for one to appreciate every detail.
our special discovery
At the top, the ground was still surprisingly snowy. There was a rough road that one could walk along, but that was hardly Kate's style (nor Mister's!) They were explorers, and as explorers they were duty bound to scale the snowy summit! Of course, this didn't happen, though it was briefly considered. The snowy summit was at least a couple hours away from being scaled, and both Kate and Mister were tired and in search of a more relaxed form of exploration. They tromped across a large patch of snow and were mostly successful in staying atop the firm crusty layer. On the other side, and over a small rise, their efforts were rewarded by the stunning view of a snow-lined mountain bowl, surrounded on all sides (except where they entered) by beautiful peaks. Kate and Mister stood on the large mound and simply looked. Curious rocks dotted the mound. Marmots scattered in all directions. The green moss, black rock, white snow, and blue sky were a gorgeous combination, supplemented by a fragrant breeze bearing the scent of melting snow.
They spent a leisurely time exploring the area, exclaiming over this or that, and generally doing something. Finally, they both admitted that they should probably be getting back. They held hands on the way back over the patch of snow...until Mister broke through the sturdy top layer and sank two feet into the cold. Back on solid ground, Mister asked, "So, was that a good date?"
"Fantastic!" Kate exclaimed. Then she was unsure because of the query. "Was it nice for you too?"
"Absolutely." Mister affirmed.
"What makes a good date anyway?"
"I don't know. Good conversation. Maybe being outside. Being relaxed and leisurely with you."
Kate grinned. Then it was definitely a great date.
Kate was excited. Tomorrow, she would see Mister again! It had been almost two weeks (far too long) and Kate knew that both she and Mister had been suffering from various forms of exhaustion and bad sleep. Of course, she would be sad to leave Louise and her family, but it would be a momentary sadness that would pass as she got nearer to the airport. And she was hopeful that Teddy would sleep well this last night--he had eaten lots at dinner, played hard, and gone to bed easily. With this auspicious beginning to the evening, Kate and Louise lingered after all the guys had gone to bed...talking and playing Taboo and pretending it was any old night. It was quite late when they finally went to bed. (Which, in their married motherhood, meant around 11PM. In college, they would have had another 3 or 4 hours to party!)
After Louise said goodnight, events took a turn for the worse. Before Kate had even finished brushing her teeth, an evil, milk-crazed fiend took over her son's body and loudly demanded to be fed...and again...and again. 2AM, 4AM, and 6AM, Kate tried in vain to pacify the creature, but even in between feedings, there was little peace. He grumbled and whined and sometimes sang to himself in that loathsome, toneless way typical of such fiends. In the middle of the night, Kate sought refuge in the living room couch, which ordinarily was quite comfortable...but under the circumstances, even its soft embrace could not block out the complains issuing from the bedroom and lure her into sleep. Eventually, she went back to bed and at last fell asleep...about fifteen minutes before a rather-too-cheerful Teddy re-inhabited his body and decided it was time to get up. Kate bought herself an extra fifteen minutes by scratching her finger on the side of the pack-n-play netting, dozing while Teddy tried to touch his finger to hers. But eventually she forced herself to sit up with a groan. At least, she thought, I don't have to leave till this afternoon. I'll have to be sure to get a nap when Teddy sleeps.
But the morning was full of organizing and packing and Kate felt compelled to continue working through nap time to be sure to be ready to go when the time came. She had so many mental checklists, she knew she wouldn't fall asleep even if she did lie down. Items floated in her brain--Make sure I have ALL Teddy's bottles...get our stroller out of the van...camera?...water bottle?...did I leave anything in the bathroom?
By the time she said a tearful goodbye to Louise and Company, it was nearing the hottest part of the day. Kate got in the car, rolled the windows down, and set her ice water between her knees for easy access and the cooling effect. She felt terrible, but tried to tell herself otherwise...Considering just how badly I slept, she thought, I feel AMAZING! Of course, she admitted, that's not saying much...BUT who cares anyway? I'm on my way to see Mister. And that brought a smile. As she drove and her water warmed up and her throat began to feel scratchy, she fixed Mister's arrival at the airport in her mind, and hung on to the image of him walking out the doors.
She passed mile markers and landmarks that she remembered from her drive North. The little town where she had stopped for gas and a bathroom, the exit to Cheyenne, the Colorado border, the huge dirt-bike park... at each site, her throat hurt worse, and she felt more and more tired. Should she stop for a break? But Teddy was peacefully sleeping in the back, and she felt in no condition to deal with a screaming baby if he awoke and for some reason didn't want to get back in the car for another hour. She approached Denver and the turnoff to the airport...the gas was getting low, but there should be enough to get to the airport, pick up Mister, and back to a gas station. She didn't know if the flight was early or late, but if it was on time, she would be arriving the ideal 10-15 minutes later to pick him up without worrying about waiting. The approach was slow, and Mister's airline was at the very end of the line. She pulled over and called his phone. It was off. Bad, bad, bad....She waited nervously, knowing that sooner or later, an airport policeman would come tell her to move along.
She made the long round once...twice...it was 45 minutes later and the gas looked really empty now. On her third drive round the airport, Kate fretted about the gas. Would they run out before they got to a gas station? And then a sudden thought struck her: I forgot the stroller! I can't BELIEVE I forgot the stroller! How COULD I have left it in their van?! Gaaaaah.... She could have burst into tears right then and there. Everything was going so horribly wrong.
Driving slowly, to take up as much time as she could, she gradually made her way back to the pick-up spot. She sat for a moment, called to check on Mister's progress, and then got out to make Teddy a bottle--ever a good stalling technique. Kate was just dumping the formula into the bottle when a lady in an officer's uniform walked over. Kate felt like screaming, but decided in favor of a more mature response--ignoring her.
"What are you doing?" asked the officer, in a tone that assumed a pregnant lady making a bottle of formula was clearly up to no good.
"Making my baby some formula."
"You can't just park here."
"If you're not picking someone up, you have to leave." The officer was practically trying to corral Kate back into the driver's seat.
"I am picking someone up."
"Well, where are they?"
And a beautiful, deep, resonant voice piped up from the other side of the car. A voice that practically said, in fearsome and awe-inspiring tones, 'Leave my wife alone!' Mister opened the door, set his bags in the backseat with Teddy, and strode to Kate's side. "I'm right here," he said to the officer. Kate clung to him for a moment and whimpered into his shirt. "Come on, Dear," he said after a kiss, "Let's get out of here."
Kate and Mister did, in fact, make it to a gas station on the remaining fumes in the tank. And there, Mister ate heartily of the pulled pork and baked beans that Kate had brought in her cooler bag. He relieved Kate of the driver's wheel and drove back to the Springs. Kate felt terrible. "I'm so sorry," she sighed as they drove out of Denver, "I wanted to be excited and cheerful for you, and instead I'm an absolute wreck!" Mister murmured something encouraging about it being a long day for everyone and sleep helping her outlook. But by the time they pulled into the driveway at the Miller's, Kate knew it wasn't just exhaustion. And the next morning confirmed it. She had a terrible, awful, raging cold.
One day, Louise took Kate to Casper, ostensibly to show her around their favorite sites, but mostly just to go to a particular ice cream shop. They had a leisurely lunch, and then went in search of their real sustenance...the cool, creamy sweetness always so acceptable in pregnancy. And this, Kate realized when she walked in,was no ordinary ice cream shop. The room was bigger than many restaurants she had been to, and the ice cream counter stretched on and on, featuring literally dozens of flavors and many of them quite exotic. She browsed the selections, pausing by usual favorites and intriguing new possibilities: Black Cherry with Chocolate, Triple Chocolate Fudge, Boisenberry, Espresso, Salted Caramel, Coconut Swirl, Lemon Cheesecake...her list of potentials grew too long to keep in mind. She tried some samples and got a small cup of something berry-ish. Creamy berry ice cream with chocolate chunks had never failed her yet. And this shop knew what it was about--the quality of the ice cream was fantastic, the portions large, and the prices lower than anything Kate had ever seen before.
An intriguing neon green called to her from the counter, and she went to sample the Green Apple and Gummy Bears flavor...and promptly got a dish of the same (to share with Louise, of course.) I'm not sure I've ever had ice cream I liked so much! but even as she thought it, she remembered special ice cream shops she had been to--in Alaska (oh, that Ginger ice cream!) and in Cincinnati (mmmm, the Black Cherry with Chocolate fudge!), and in Germany (oh, the Kiwi gelatto!)... But Casper would definitely rank among her top ice cream destinations. She felt a ridiculously desperate love for ice cream. She knew it was absurd... but even so, she found herself wondering how many universities were in the Casper area and if there were any economics positions available. I could live here. Kate thought as she took another heavenly bite and feeling a little bit like Esau, selling his birthright for some delicious stew. I could definitely live here...
On the drive to and from Casper, which was about 30 minutes one-way, Kate worked on finishing a baby quilt she had started for Teddy over a year before. She dared to start a second, with more girly colors, even before the revealing sonogram that justified such an action. But this was not the only project in hand. She had a knitted afghan she was working on. It was turning out to be huge and rather a liability in a car, but she was close to being finished with it. And it would feel like huge accomplishments to finish all three of these projects (though Baby Girl's quilt wasn't even close) because they were creations made from scraps and leftovers and supplies that were lying around, lonely and forgotten and unmarked for any particular use. Whenever Kate was able to take such things and make something beautiful and useful, she felt particularly accomplishing and virtuous.
the view from the precipice
And yet, she still had her doubts. What real good does this kind of knitting and sewing really do for anyone? she sometimes questioned. Maybe my time would be so much better spent doing something else. Am I just procrastinating? Ignoring the things I ought to be doing in order to "accomplish" something that's really just fun and relaxing for me? These questions haunted her, not just as she knitted and crocheted, but also as she worked on their scrapbooks--three of them. The first, their wedding album, Kate was determined to finish before their fifth anniversary. The second was a baby album for Teddy (a gift from Mrs. Mortte in Williamsburg) in which Kate planned on preserving memories and pictures only of the first year. The third scrapbook was their family scrapbook, which was woefully behind and documented their married life together until an abrupt stop at a major hike in Alaska the summer of 2012. If she didn't press on and try to catch up before the baby came, all posterity would wonder what happened to Kate and Mister after those pictures taken on that daring precipice...
on the precipice
Kate had baby blankets to work on too, for two baby showers coming up in consecutive weekends. She had plans to learn how to cook Indian food. She wanted to read the books on her shelves that she had never read before. How contrary the mind is! These desires and plans, current and future and hypothetical projects all conspired against Kate's sense of self-worth and accomplishment. In her more despondent moments, she abhorred her own shallowness, that she could think that such things somehow really mattered. What kind of accomplishments were they...really?
One evening while in Wyoming, Kate took a walk while she was talking to Mister on the phone, and she voiced her concerns.
"Sometimes it all seems so meaningless," she complained, "I can't help but think there must be something important for me to do, and that I'm just sitting around knitting and ignoring it."
Mister thought for a moment, trying to gauge the seriousness of his wife's self-accusation. "Kate," he finally replied with gentle firmness, "the things you do are meaningful. They are useful and beautiful and improve and enrich our lives in so many ways."
Kate grew quiet and stopped on the sidewalk where she stood. "Do you really think so?" she asked, knowing that he did, but needing the extra reassurance.
"Yes, I do." He paused, wanting to give full understanding to her emotion. "I also think that very occasionally, you do use your projects as an excuse to avoid doing some other chore, but you also are perfectly aware of it each time. You don't need to worry about being blind to your duties."
Kate laughed in assent and relief. She felt like she had been going crazy with indecision.
"Work on your projects when you have good time for it," Mister encouraged her. "And enjoy the time that you get to spend doing something both enjoyable and useful. And just make sure that you're not neglecting Teddy or Louise and her family, or those other things that you already know you need to do."
Fully affirmed in Mister's value of her creations, Kate cheerfully moved on to talk about the excitements of the day. A few days later, when she had finished the afghan and Teddy's quilt, she saw what Mister saw--beauty and usefulness. She could hardly understand what her problem had been. How could I think that these things are a waste of time? she wondered. Especially since I usually only work on them when doing something else already, like watching a movie. And of course I'm not blind to my duties...as long as I want to please God and do what He wants, I know He won't make it hard for me to know what that is. Life is good! she exulted. One can't miss...
And once again, the sometimes sinister pregnancy hormones magnified both the doubts and the confidences that Kate encountered in her everyday life. One day, everything she did was meaningless, and the next, each moment was fraught with meaning. Without Mister around to anchor her every morning and evening in the firm reality of humanity's significant smallness, Kate reeled between her emotional extremes and often wished that life could just slow down (or even stop) for a genuine, deep, and delicious rest.
the large afghan, with alternating cables and 4-strand braids
Kate's sleep was quite varied while she was in Wyoming. She and Teddy were sleeping in the same room, and he was still waking up hungry in the night. (Kate maintained that if she went back to bed afterward, it was still night and not morning.) But this made for some early mornings, and generally exhausting days, especially if her pregnancy insomnia kicked in and she was unable to sleep for hours while her son was sleeping.
some people wake up more easily than others....
Louise sometimes had trouble sleeping as well, and one evening, when everyone else had already tucked in for the night, they chatted about their various sheep-counting techniques. Kate tried to describe how she fell asleep, "I pick a focus point out in the distance..."
"Wait," Louise objected, "what distance? Are your eyes open?"
"No, they're closed. I just imagine a point...way out in the black space inside my eyelids. Then, I slowly bring that focus point forward toward my nose."
"How do you move a focus point in black space?"
"I don't know, I just imagine it... I guess kind of like watching a car in slow motion coming straight toward you. I focus on the one spot, and it slowly moves towards my nose. Then I imagine it passing through my face and behind me. And if I focus on trying to keep the spot in my mind's eye, I usually fall asleep at that point."
Louise shook her head, not sure what to think of her friend. "Wow. All I do is read for half and hour or till I'm sleepy, and then I go to sleep."
Kate laughed, and looked at the clock. "Goodness! Speaking of sleep...."
One redeeming thing about getting up early in the morning was the cool air blowing in from the corner windows in the living room. Either Kate, Louise, or Tuck would make everyone espresso lattes in the morning, and Kate would sip hers on the couch, close her eyes and curl her legs up under her (increasingly difficult, but still possible). And she would imagine that she was back in Alaska breathing in the fresh, cool fragrance of summer. It was a fragrance not just of Alaskan mornings, but also late evenings, and green-gold forests where the sun streamed through a canopy of birch leaves. It was the smell of running freely through the woods on a dirt trail and getting sprinkled with soft misty rain. She wasn't sure what made that smell--probably some combination of plants--but it was so beautifully nostalgic (and so deliciously delightful even if it wasn't) that she actually anticipated her morning times of waking up by the window. These moments of simply sitting and smelling the air calmed her and lifted her spirit like so much magical pixie dust and prepared her to be enchanted.
And Kate found Wyoming in general to be delightful. She had visited Cody the year before, shortly after Louise had given birth to Isaac. They were able to hike some and see parts of Yellowstone, and the Buffalo Bill Museum. In Glenrock, the terrain wasn't so generally interesting, but as soon as she drove out on the highway the trees opened up to reveal hilly fields of white grass, riddled with strange bumps that looked like miniature canyons. This was the area of the Oregon Trail, and she couldn't help but think of the difficulty those travelers must have had with the incessant up and down of the curiously steep, short hills. It was not at all hard to imagine away the road and envision the world of Owen Wister's Virginian, who rode hundreds of miles back and forth, slept under the stars with his saddlebags for a pillow, and had his own secret, favorite spots out in this vast open wild. It wouldn't be a life that Kate wanted for herself--especially since she could barely get comfortable on a soft bed with three pillows (at least) surrounding her! But she could easily see the charm of the idea. And then of course, there were the antelope--herds of antelope trotting carelessly across the hills, graceful in motion, but looking comical with their great white fluffy backsides bounding up and down as if they were wearing diapers.
The first couple days of her stay were very busy, since Tuck was in charge of running the Boy Scout day camp in Casper...and of course, that meant that Louise was in charge of planning it. Kate helped stuff envelopes and fold t-shirts and make name tags. By Monday morning, they were officially ready, and left Kate to settle herself until their return in the late afternoon. It was nice to have some quiet time to relax and recover. Three adults and three little boys in a small house filled with all kinds of day-camp equipment...there was bound to be some chaos! But after two days of a quiet house to themselves, Kate missed Louise and her boys, even if they did make life feel a bit crazy with their loud, enthusiastic play. (Kate figured she'd have to get used to it sooner or later.)
And even though the boys were clearly tired when they got back from day camp, they could still be crazy. The evening of the second camp day, Hank was jumping around, playing with the couch cushions. No one really saw exactly what happened when all of a sudden he was lying on the floor screaming, blood running out of his mouth. He had slipped or tripped or fallen and bit all the way through his lower lip. Kate wasn't sure what to do, so she packed up Louise's dinner, which she had barely touched, and then just sat at the dinner table and kept feeding Teddy. All four of them bundled back into the car to go back to the Emergency Room in Casper. Kate wished them well, and tried to settle herself and Teddy for the evening. She had forgotten to bring her journal, but she found Louise's and figured she wouldn't mind a guest entry or two.
After a description of the past few days and the accident, she tried to write just what she would in her own journal: It's definitely been a crazy couple of days. There's always SOME craziness and I know when I share my Crazy with friends, it's easier to see the fun and humorous side of it. I'm just so glad to be here, sharing life. It's what good friends do, and when being with Mister isn't possible, this is one of my favorite options.
The thought of driving to Wyoming with Teddy made Kate a little nervous. Not because of the drive--she loved driving and seeing the scenery and listening to music, and generally being prevented from doing anything else. She was nervous about Teddy. Traveling with him had been so easy in part because he was simply good natured, but also in part because through all those hours, there was someone in the passenger seat who could grab toys or make formula as needed. On this drive, she was solo.
Mister was attending a two-week seminar at Duke University in North Carolina, and after dropping him off at the airport, Kate would continue North to visit her dear friend, Louise, and her family. It wasn't even that far--another three or four hours straight up I-25.
Hard as she tried to prevent it, her pregnancy emotions overcame her, and she cried many times on the way to the airport. (Not to mention the couple days leading up to Mister's departure.) Two weeks was a long time, maybe the longest continuous time they had ever been apart. Kate knew that she was getting a far better deal than Mister: she got to go visit her best friend, see a new place, eat good food, and play with the kids. Mister on the other hand, would stay in an uncomfortable dorm room, be responsible for his own food and cooking, attend lectures that would probably be very dull, and be surrounded by people he didn't know. But all this, instead of making the separation easier, simply amplified Kate's sadness. Saying goodbye, she got out of the car, and sniffed out her usual (and by the this time, almost traditional) complaint, "You're always leaving me...."
And Mister replied as he always did, smiling kindly and wiping her eyes, "Yes, but I always come back."
Kate sniffed again and her voice rose to a slightly panicky squeak, "But what if you don't?!"
Kate nodded dumbly. For some reason, this reassured her.
By the time Kate was back on the road and actually on her way to Louise's house, she felt much better. What a chore it was to be such a basket-case all the time! Emotions and hormones raging hither and yon...what could she do? The immediate and most attractive solution of napping all day was hardly practical. She left the question unanswered and drove on her way, calmed by the open scenery and the puffy clouds ranging all across the horizon.
Teddy had started to fuss when they set out, but she had used up her panic reserve and simply turned on some music. Teddy clearly like music from only 4 or 5 months old, and when few options remained, it was always the best for a distraction. She turned the volume up and delighted in the empty road, seeing herself in a birds-eye view, zooming along the mountain rimmed plane with windows down, belting out the Dreamgirls soundtrack and bobbing her head to the funk beat. "Steppin' to the bad side....Ooo, Ooo, Oooooooo...."
Stepping to the bad side? she thought as she momentarily stopped singing. Should I be playing this for Teddy? And, if I can't play this for Teddy, I won't be able to play a lot of my music...and maybe I shouldn't listen to it either!...But the music I like is good, and has such a great groove, and I want my children to like it. No, having different standards for herself and her kids was not the right answer. Kate had given lots of thought to what music she listened to, and felt comfortable defending her selections.She looked in the rear-view mirror, which didn't show much except the handle of Teddy's carseat, which was fortunately still there. Sometimes she could see a foot sticking out to one side. Well, she thought, he's quite now, and probably asleep. So she turned the volume back down slightly and kept singing, having made a mental note to talk to her kids early and often about good and bad music and what to make of the lyrics.
Teddy took a long nap, and awoke at the convenient time when Kate was beginning to be desperate for a restroom. They took a break at a tiny town store, and she fed him Cheerios as he stood outside and cooed at the passers-by. He was delighted, and Kate was glad for the chance to stretch. Even though the drive was pleasant, she knew her back and leg would be hurting the next day. While they were stopped, the rain started. First, there were just a few drops, but by the time the Cheerios were packed up, the diaper bag was closed, and Teddy was back in his carseat, Kate was standing in a downpour. She carefully pulled out and got back on the highway, windshield wipers on high, slapping the rain and adding frantic motion to the distracting roar of the sudden storm. Then she saw the DOT sign, WARNING: HAIL STORM 3:00-6:00PM
Considering the massive hail storm that she and Mister experienced in Colorado Springs, she most certainly did not want to be stuck in the middle of a desolate Wyoming plane when one came up. She looked at the clock--2:00PM. She probably had at least an hour and a half to go. She suppressed a strong urge to step on the gas. Easy, Kate, she admonished herself, you'll be fine, just be careful, and you'll be fine.
And she was. She drove through heavy rain, but missed the hail. Louise's house was exactly three turns off the interstate, in a small town called Glenrock, not far from Casper. A reunion with Louise was always the same: squeals and hugs, little bounces, and general exclamations of giddy delight. They all went inside, leaving Kate's bags to be brought in later by Louise's husband, Tuck. Louise's two boys, Hank and Isaac were excited about having another little boy in their midst, even if they were hesitant about sharing their rooms and toys.
Isaac was almost exactly one year older than Teddy, and Kate looked forward (with some trepidation) to seeing how the two of them would interact. Of course, it would be different with a brother and sister one year apart--but she braced herself to see the hard work ahead of her in keeping two unreliable little ones in line. So far, Isaac seemed to enjoy Teddy, and was offering him toys by alternately shoving them in his face and then snatching them away again.
Kate and Louise chatted and watched the boys play until it was time for dinner. Louise had never met Teddy in person and couldn't resist the usual comments: "So this is Teddy! I can't believe he's getting so close to walking! Look how big he is!" (Kate had seen already, but never minded looking again...)
25. The Engagement Hike (May 2014) Almost exactly five years ago, Kate had been small (comparatively), spry, and fit. She had trotted up this trail behind Mister, casually checking to see if there were any lumps in his pockets that could indicate the size and shape of a ring box. (She later discovered said size and shape wrapped up in Mister's sweatshirt in the backpack...all in the natural course of getting a water bottle. But she wisely didn't let on until later.)
Now, she was large (practically elephant-sized), slow, and decidedly not fit. She did not trot. In fact, even thinking about "trotting" made her impulsively tuck a hand under her belly for support--even though she didn't need it for the careful, heavy, pachyderm steps she was taking. Nevertheless, this was a hike she wanted to do, though she continued to question the sincerity of that resolve for the next several hours. The hike was the 7 Bridges Trail in Cheyenne Canyon, continuing past the bridges and toward a meadow, where they would cut up the side of the mountain, scale a rocky outcrop on the top of the hill, and survey the Springs on one side and the continuing mountain range on the other.
the "non-proposal" rocks
She was surprised at how much she remembered--the different styles of bridges, particularly steep and windy switchbacks, bare patches where Mister had made her run during the thunderstorm 5 years ago, and the large rocks where she had tried to entice him into "taking a break" (which in her mind, meant stopping to get out the ring box.) She even remembered the nondescript spot where they broke off the trail and bounded (oh, to be spry and fit again!) up the side of the mountain.
What she did not remember was the heat and the sun. Of course, when they hiked the trail before, it must have been cloudy since there was a thunderstorm on their way back down. And that had made the whole hike more perfect than perfect! Kate had never been one to dream too many dreams about her wedding or perfect dates or the like...but she had thought when she was younger that her ideal proposal would be on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. And it was God's special gift to her to grant this seemingly unimportant wish, to have thunderstorms both over the Springs and beyond the mountains on the other side. Kate and Mister had sealed their love and promise to each other on the top of the mountain in perfect safety, and then began the descent before the rain came their direction. Kate remembered all this fondly. What wouldn't she give for some rain now!
Mister kept a bottle of ice cold water in hand (which they filled up in the creek running through the canyon) for the sole purpose of dousing Kate whenever she looked overheated. No thunderstorms were in sight this day. Kate had at least expected more shade along the trail, but the sun beat down mercilessly, making her drag her steps and stop frequently. Finally, they made it to the flat area...the true moment of commitment. Would they go up the side of the mountain, and scale the rocks to reach the proposal site? Could she?
Kate knew she would regret it if she didn't at least try. So, like the Little Engine that Could, she huffed and puffed and hauled her heavy load up the mountain, scrambled through scrub oak, scraped her legs, climbed the cliff, and eventually, made it to the top. There were good flat rocks to sit on, perfect for reminiscing and sneaking sweet kisses. When the happy couple cared to look around, the glorious view of the Springs greeted them, framed beautifully by the pine covered mountains. This too, she remembered. And it was all worth every painful step...and the atrocious sunburn she'd have on her shoulders for the next week, too!
Exercising was never high on Kate's List of Fun. Of course, she liked doing active things like hiking, skiing, or going for walks. But exercising for the purpose of being fit? Important, sure. But definitely not fun. And now, with her back/hip pain, her desire to exercise seemed to have a kind of inverse relationship with its importance. After all, who wants to go hop on an exercise bike for forty minutes when they can barely put on their shorts without falling over? And yet, it seemed that however much she didn't want to, that was how much more important it was for her to just go do it. The stationary bike in particular seemed to be what was most helpful, allowing Kate to exert herself at a more constant rate and giving her the most control over which muscles she was using, which should help hold her spine and pelvis in the right place. (This, from a physical therapist online.) Kate hoped rather than believed this to be true. There were so many different and varied painful spots in her lower back and hips, she gave up trying to actually understand what was going on. But for the most part, the biking did at least help in some fashion...sometimes.
The rest of the sometimes, it didn't seem to do anything except make her feel exhausted and dehydrated. Some days, there was no rest from it--sitting hurt. Standing hurt. Lying down on either side hurt. (And lying down on her back made her feel hotter and claustrophobic...and like those pathetic beetles that can't flip themselves back over.) These days worried her, especially in the midst of a seemingly long string of them. But mercifully, they always ended, making what was only "sometimes" quite bearable in hindsight, while it had been rather unbearable as a present "always".
after the hail storm
Mister and Kate tried to take advantage of the better days to occasionally go out together. Unfortunately, their first date was crushed...rather literally, by golf-ball sized hail. They were in the car, under some tree cover, but the storm was so quick and ferocious that Kate worried about the windows breaking in. They still went out once the storm passed, but it was hardly a good time for a walk in the park.
One day, when she was feeling better and in an adventurous and daring mood, Kate suggested going for a real bike ride on a real bike. Kate enjoyed riding bikes, but she also was slightly terrified of going down steep hills--one of few fears that remained from a terrible childhood accident. But from what she had seen of the nearby Santa Fe Trail, it was nearly as wide and flat as a road. She was pretty sure that even in her unwieldy pregnant state, she could manage to stay on board even if she encountered a mild decline.
The day they went was perfect, sunny and breezy. Kate and Mister took off on the trail heading South toward the heart of Springs. They passed parks and crossed back and forth over a small river, generally riding in smiling silence. Once, Mister attempted a comment, which Kate asked him to repeat twice and still couldn't comprehend. When they finally stopped for a break at a park, she asked him again.
"Well," he said (repeating the comment from when they were passing a skate park), "I just said that it was your chance to bust out some moves..."
Kate looked at him. "Oh."
Clearly, bike rides were not the time to have deep and meaningful conversation...or actually, any conversation at all, except during brief stops. But that wasn't necessarily bad. In spite of not talking, there was still plenty of communion together and sharing in the vibrancy of life that still made for a very good date. And this was augmented by several minutes walking and biking around the University of Colorado campus in the Springs. Mister talked about his memories there, potential job prospects, and ideas for the future. It was fun to just sit and muse and dream together about the future. Maybe they would end up in Colorado...maybe somewhere else. But wherever they went, they would be together, which made the dreaming beautiful, extravagant, and sometimes quite silly--the best kind.
Beginning on their return from the campus, Mister led Kate back and forth through some neighborhoods. "The Metz family lives somewhere around here," he said, "It would be fun to stop in."
Kate didn't know very many of Paul's "people" from growing up, but she had met Mrs. Metz in particular several times and had always enjoyed her. And by this time, she was glad to stop in for a longer break before making the rest of the trek back. They rang the doorbell, Kate feeling her usual fluttery excitement that she always felt when unexpectedly dropping in on someone. Mrs. Metz was home and received them with gracious and hospitable delight. Once they were settled on the couch with a glass of water and an apple, Kate felt they could stay far longer than they ought. They told Mrs. Metz about their future prospects and jobs (more pragmatically this time), their church, and about Teddy. Mrs. Metz, in turn, talked about her son (just graduating from the Air Force Academy), his plans, and some of her own, now that he would be moving away from Colorado. It was easy and relaxed and familiar. Kate enjoyed it immensely, all the more because it was impromptu.
When they left, they rode back in silence. But in the car, they reflected together on their time.
"You know," Kate said, "even though we didn't talk much during the ride, it felt like a really nice and memorable time of shared experience."
"I think so too," Mister agreed. "In fact, I was thinking about activities in general that we could do together or that we could do with friends, that can be memorable like this and bonding without needing a lot of in-depth conversation."
Kate laughed, "I guess sometimes we can certainly over-emphasize the in-depth conversation! But hiking is definitely one of those activities...or almost anything outdoors. There's always something new and different and unique about it each time, even if you end up doing something you've done before!"
"Going for walks...playing sports..." Mister suggested.
"And group activities, like in the olden days when they had corn huskings and quilting bees."
Mister looked at Kate. "You're going to host a quilting bee?"
"Well, no, probably not." Kate looked a little sheepish. "But it would be memorable! ...and bonding."