friends

Late Summer 2013

A catch-up.

The boys developed a love of washing windows, which I hope remains with them always.

A pool party, with dear friends.

To celebrate the end of summer we took the kids to Coney Island.

It was terribly hot …

and so much fun.

Sophie and Andy rode the ferris wheel …

while the boys had to watch (sometimes, being little is hard).

Of course, they managed to find rides suited to them, too.

Nini and Pop Pop joined us.

And still to this day we’re asked to go back, at least once a week.

We had tea parties with Colleen.

In September, Sophie tried out soccer.

We went to the Preble County Pork Festival, a family tradition, with lots of family.

The boys experimented with sharing sandals.

We went to Woodfill Elementary’s Big Top Festival.

And we took naps on the porch.

And in mid-October, it was still warm enough and green enough to climb trees.

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” —Celia Thaxter

My Dad’s Retirement

Work, for my dad, started early—in life and in the day. He grew up on a hog farm in Lewisburg, Ohio. He helped with the hard work of the farm, and my grandparents paid him and his siblings for the work that they did. He went to college, taught, got a master’s degree and taught some more. He was good at his work, but he never let it define him. Case in point: In 1982, he started working for McGraw-Hill Book Company. I have postcards from the early 80s from places like New York City—places my dad traveled for work. I remember going to the airport with him, getting on his plane and stepping into the cockpit. I remember a pilot giving me my own pilot wings. I remember watching his plane leave the airport and I remember the excitement of postcards in the mail. I don’t know if I simply associate Harry Chapin’s “The Cat’s in the Cradle” with my dad’s decision to leave his district manager job or if the song truly influenced him but he did leave it after three years. And most of his career, from 1985 to 2013, was spent with Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, most recently as Vice President of Business Operations. He did a lot of good there.

In June, he retired.

We attended a banquet for all the Great Oaks retirees late this spring. His speech made me teary.

And then in June, Kyle from San Francisco, and Katy, Tom and Colleen from North Carolina, came to town to celebrate.

These were some of the best summer days and nights.

We celebrated many things that week. We had dinner at A Tavola followed by cake and gifts at our house to celebrate Father’s Day and my mom’s birthday.

Our immediate family toasted and gifted my dad after dinner at Troy’s Cafe. My mom gave him two engraved bricks that both say “But it’s Baseball! Gary Gebhart”—one’s at home, the other, at Great American Ball Park.

For weeks beforehand my mom gathered one word from people who know my dad—one word that describes him. She then made The List.

The List
caring
major league
sincere
genuineness
animates
thoughtful
worker
lists
builder
fanatical
awesome
smiley
OBT
stupendous
committed
loyal
trustworthy
quick-witted
magnanimous
friendly
organized
considerate
realistic
smiling
farmer
finisher
comfortable
conscientious
industrious
tenacious
Kotter
nice
loving
egalitarian
friends
baseball
glasses
passionate
kind
right
quick
interesting
helpful
respectful
genuine
witty
cute
card-maker
dedicated
baseball guru
photographer
inspirational
detailed
pliable
humorous
high-fives
perspicacious
dependable
late
funny
brotherly
Xenia
generous
Carnac the Magnificent
courteous
kind-hearted
diligent
fun
sports guru
brilliant
hospitable
family
supportive
selfless
beloved

The next day family, friends and colleagues attended a party at my parents’ house.

My dad and brother-in-law spent days preparing Detling Field for a ballgame. We played a bit but then …

a downpour.

Still, an enjoyable day, complete with Eli’s BBQ sandwiches for all.

Now my parents are both retired. My dad still works, but it’s work of his choosing. He gardens. He works in the yard. He works out. He attends services at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. He volunteers at the Freestore Foodbank. He tutors a kindergartener once a week at South Avondale Elementary School. Every week he and my mom go on a date—Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Findley Market, a concert in a coffee shop. Next weekend they’re going to Colonial Williamsburg to see the Threads of Feeling exhibit with my grandma and my sister and her family. They went to Hawaii.

My dad stopped by the other day, after tutoring, just to hang out, to play tickle monster with the kids, to be beat in Bingo. This time for him is so incredibly well-deserved. And I’m just so thankful to be a part of it.

“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” —Harry Emerson Fosdick

My Online Stranger Friends

Before my first pregnancy, I was a message-board virgin. Once pregnant, a friend directed me to Baby Center. There I found Birth Clubs. I was due in July, and by becoming a member of July’s Birth Club, I could chat with hundreds of other moms also due in July. I found the questions, advice, links to other sites and debates addicting.

Then, I had a miscarriage. I posted a message to my Birth Club saying goodbye. The message was quickly pushed down the list by women worried about caffeine, venting about morning sickness and debating circumcision. Ready to log off, I noticed another message directing women due in July who had a miscarriage to the TTC (Trying to Conceive) After a Loss Bulletin Board. I was sad. I was curious. So I searched for the board.

Within this message board were threads. The women from my Birth Club had formed the December ’06 Angels thread. I paused after reading the word “angels.” In my mind, my child wasn’t a winged supernatural being waiting for me in heaven. Rather my child was a sesame-seed-sized embryo, something that resembled a tadpole more than a small human. But my image wasn’t purely biological. Intertwined with it was the painful knowledge that this embryo would never grow into a human being and experience the thrill of new love, the wonder of a shooting star or the simple pleasure of passing mashed potatoes around the dinner table. It was that sense of loss, the “what could have been,” that saddened me the most.

Still, no matter how often Andy and I talked, no matter how many cards I received, no matter how many “I went through that” stories I was told, the idea of being able to talk to women going through the same thing at the same time I was going through it intrigued me.

Clicking on the thread I saw that posters used the word “angel” a lot. Tickers and graphics cluttered the signatures of each post. Emoticons expressed moods. Acronyms were so commonplace at times I thought I was reading a foreign language. Glitter fonts were common.

To join, I needed to fill out a form with the following information: My first name, my logon name, my birthday and age, where I was from, the date I miscarried and any information I wanted to include about it, my TTC history, how many children I had, my angel’s EDD (Estimated Due Date) and where I was in my menstrual cycle.

I hesitantly filled out my form and with one click told complete strangers more information about my body than most of my closest girlfriends knew.

Women immediately posted condolences and welcomed me to the thread. And then they offered me something Andy couldn’t. These women, brazen with anonymity, actually talked about, in vivid detail, the horrific amount of blood that is lost and the intense cramping that’s common. After telling them I had decided to get a D&C, they questioned why I had to wait a week. They shared secrets on how to get through the day, the next hour, the moment. They posted things no one else I knew wanted to talk about or, perhaps more accurately, knew how to talk about.

I bonded with these women, these strangers.

Passionate about the board, I quickly learned the 91 acronyms. DH=Dear Husband. BFP=Big Fat Positive. DPO=Days Past Ovulation. HPT=Home Pregnancy Test. 2WW=Two Week Wait. BFN=Big Fat Negative. OPK=Ovulation Predicator Kit. CD=Cycle Day. US=Ultrasound. CF=Cervical Fluid.

Almost daily I posted updates about myself and personal messages to individual women. I wished testers good luck, scorned the unwanted AF (period) and congratulated the BFPs. Kathy, who took charge of our thread, constantly updating our information, created a folder for us to place pictures on an online photo-sharing site. There I looked at images of homes, children, vacations and faint lines on HPTs. Our losses—and hopes for the future—instantly brought us together.

Several months later, after what felt like a forever 2WW, I took a HPT. DH looked at it and smiled. I had a BFP.

Of course we couldn’t wait to tell our parents, siblings and friends. But I also couldn’t wait to tell the women on my board. Notes of congratulations in 24-point glitter fonts filled my screen as well as comments telling me to try not to worry. Many posters sent me virtual “sticky baby dust” and hoped my “little bean” would hold tight. I hoped so, too.

My first appointment at six weeks went well. My obstetrician confirmed the pregnancy and, after a physical exam, said everything felt fine. We schedule an ultrasound five days later.

This time, Andy held my hand and lowered his head as the technician moved the wand around, unable to find a gestational sac.

Thinking maybe my dates were wrong I had blood drawn and tested. I then had to wait a miserable 48 hours to have blood redrawn and tested. My Hcg levels had to double for the pregnancy to be viable. I started bleeding before I even got the results.

And so my sad story repeated itself, all over again: Crying in my Honda Civic in the medical office building’s parking lot after the ultrasound, the phone calls, the sick days from work. It may have been a different type of miscarriage, because it was so much earlier than my last, but it was a miscarriage all the same.

I shared my story with my online friends. Messages of condolences and virtual {{{{HUGS}}}} filled the thread. But I needed more this time. Or maybe I needed less. I needed a break.

Andy and I booked a trip to San Jose del Cabo on a Wednesday and left the following Saturday. It was, perhaps, the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done. For four nights and five days we drank rum and Diet Coke, watched pelicans skim the ocean and played Scrabble, the Spanish version.

It was exactly what I—we—needed.

But on the plane ride home, I realized I also—still—needed my friends—and my online, have-never-met-before women.

I wasn’t sure how they would take my three-week absence. Surely, I thought, they had forgotten me. It took two nights to skim through the many, many posts that had appeared during my break. I caught up on the new BFPs, the unwanted AFs and another poster who was going through a second miscarriage just like me.

“What’s wrong?” Andy asked on the second night, plopping down on the couch next to me, wondering why I was—again—crying. “They didn’t forget about me,” I said, reading the kind notes wishing me well and urging me back.

Fast forward seven years. Most of us are still in each other’s lives. We’ve left Baby Center and formed a private page on Facebook. I’m, at times, terribly neglectful with it as life pushes it aside but still, I try to skim at least a couple times a week. As a group we’ve had children, lost children, moved, found new jobs, divorced, found new loves, succeeded and failed. And it is crazy to me—crazy—that I know so much about a group of women I have never personally met.

And yet, it works.

Like today. Today was a blah day—I had no motivation to do anything. And while I respond to posts every once in awhile, I haven’t posted with this group in months. But today, I did. And today, like every other time I’ve infrequently posted, I received many kind replies, replies of “you’re not alone,” solid advice and encouragement.

The Internet can be a terrible place (just read comments to the essay I wrote here). But it also can be quite wonderful. Thanks to social media I found a gently used winter coat and snow bibs for Sophie today—a friend of a friend, responding to something I posted on Facebook.

Some say technology has made it impossible for us to truly interact with each other. Perhaps. But, perhaps not. Because of technology I’m friends with women from many different places and backgrounds, who are experiencing many different things—the only thing we have in common is a miscarriage around the holidays in 2006. And I imagine I will be part of these women’s lives as they are a part of mine for many, many years. Maybe someday we’ll meet. Maybe we never will. But they have impacted my life in ways, 10 years ago, I would have never imagined.

They say it takes a village. And it does. It’s just that my village, which consists of family, friends and now, online strangers, is so different from the villages a century ago. And yet, I’m so grateful for it—grateful for all its strangeness and grateful for all its beauty.

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” —Bill Gates

Sophie’s First Sleepover

For months Sophie has been begging to have a sleepover. She’s still so young, though—I feared no one her age would be allowed to spend the night or that if she spent the night at a friend’s house, we’d be called around 2am to come and get her.

Then my new friend Sarah had a fantastic idea. Andy often games on Friday nights. As such, every once in awhile I’ll have girlfriends over for tea/wine after the kids are in bed. Sarah suggested we get together on a Friday night and let the girls have a sleepover in Sophie’s room—just until it was time for Sarah to go home.

So we did!

Sophie was so excited. They wore their pjs and cuddled up in their sleeping bags on the floor of Sophie’s room. Madeleine brought two kinds of popcorn and I made pink milk. They played board games and watched a Barbie movie and “The Last Unicorn” on the little portable DVD player we set up in Sophie’s bedroom. Eventually, around 10:30pm, they both fell asleep.

Sarah gathered Madeleine up in her sleeping bag, and took her home. Sophie crawled up in her bed, and fell asleep.

It was the perfect 4- and 5-year-old sleepover.

“The older you get, the few slumber parties there are, and I hate that. I liked slumber parties. What happened to them?” —Drew Barrymore

A Morning Spent Sledding With Friends

a snowy, early morning view from our deck

Madeleine, Sophie and Charlie

Angel and Mya

Zoey, Madeleine and Mya working hard to get back up the hill

Andy and Owen

Andy took the boys home, and Sophie and I went down the side of the big hill a couple times—she loved it.

James spent most of the time holding a cold piece of buttered toast begging someone to take him home.

friends

the trouble with sledding

Jack

Owen

Angel and Mya

Angel and Zoey

down, down, down

Madeleine

Sophie and Madeleine

Mya

Sarah and Jack

I like that there’s a local sledding hill. I like that we can wake up and meet our friends there, Sophie’s friends there. I like how, when it snowed again earlier this week, Owen, while looking out the window said, “It makes me happy, Mommy.”

Snow makes me happy too, little man.

“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” —J.B. Priestley

A Play Date for Owen and James

Sophie has reached the age where, every single day when I pick her up from school she asks, “Am I going on a play date? Can I have a play date? Is someone coming over? It’s been SO LONG (meaning three days) since I’ve had a friend come over!” and on and on. She goes on play dates now. She has friends over. She loves this.

Of course, the people coming over are her age—her friends. And while she is, honestly, very gracious and patient and sharing with Owen and James, all bets are off when she has a friend over. They scurry up the stairs and shut her bedroom door—no boys allowed. I allow her this, though. For when she plays with her pop beads, for example, with the boys, the game typically involves the beads being tossed about her room. But when she plays pop beads with her friends, for example, without the boys there, she actually gets to make things. She deserves this.

But still, I sometimes feel sorry for James and Owen, left outside a closed door, upset they can’t get in. But a couple weeks ago, they got a surprise—Sophie’s friend Madeleine’s younger brother, Jack, came for a play date, too.

The boys loved it. They loved having someone for themselves.

They also loved that this someone was younger than them (being that they’re the youngest in our house). Owen read books to Jack, over and over, and James tried to give Jack his bottle, over and over.

It almost made me wish they did have a younger sibling to interact with.

Almost.

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” —Henry David Thoreau

Today

Last night, tired of folding laundry, I sat down on the floor of my bedroom, back against my bed, opened my laptop and looked. I looked at the pictures of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook and I cried heavy, messy tears. I don’t know what’s right. I don’t know if it’s right to look at those children’s faces and whisper “I’m sorry” to the screen over and over and over (too many times over). But having spent all my time not crying in front of my children, I needed to mourn. So I noted a little girl’s ladybug wings and I thought about another little girl’s headband, how a parent had taken the time to adjust it just so, and then I read about the twin who lost her sibling and I cried heavier tears, messier tears until Andy came up (with more laundry to fold) and closed my computer.

“Stop,” he said. “Stop reading. Stop.”

I have never handled violence involving children well—not in books, not in film, certainly not in real life. Horrible things happen every day but this. This. This is almost too much for me to handle. And I write this as someone not directly involved. I write this not understanding how someone directly involved is supposed to handle such horror, such grief.

I’ve given money, signed several petitions and have read many articles, essays and opinions on all sides of the matter trying to form my own. I think it’s honorable to have the courage to take a tragedy and use it as a springboard to better our country and better ourselves. But I don’t claim to know how.

So while I don’t feel qualified to talk about how grieving loved ones must feel or the merits of gun control or the state of mental illness support in this nation (although I commend those who do speak up, with the hopes of bettering), I do feel qualified to talk about today.

Today I was one of the lucky ones. Today I was able to walk around with only a dull ache in my heart, like the buzz of a distant fly that follows you around the house, and surround myself with goodness.

Sophie and I dressed in our holiday finest and drove north, for a benefit concert to raise money for the Coleen Mangan Lunsford Memorial Library in Belmopan, Belize, a project close to our family’s heart.

There, in the church where my parents were married, where my sister was married, where my grandma volunteers countless hours …

where a beautiful, handmade cross dedicated to my Grandpa hangs …

and a large Christmas tree shines bright …

and greenery adorns the organ …

we listened to the voice of Richard Lewis fill the church with Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Adolphe Adam’s “Oh Holy Night.”

He was joined by vocalists and musicians Alex Wunder, Catherine Lewis, Ken McFarlan and Susan Trissell, with songs like “Let it Snow” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for a beautiful and needed release.

I read about Belize and the library project.

I bought homemade toucan cookies for my kids …

and T-shirts …

and raffle tickets for baskets filled with goodies (which Sophie managed to draw her own name for, and win).

We passed out programs.

My grandma helped give out handmade cookies and punch during intermission …

which Sophie enjoyed.

People from all over came …

to be with family …

and recognize the countless hours volunteers (largely my uncle Corey, Aunt Ann, and cousins Ben and Kelsey) have spent collecting books for children most of us will never meet and build a library for an elementary school most of us will never visit.

Sophie and I had to leave soon after the concert finished so that we could meet Andy, Owen and James, along with close to 30 of our friends (including many children) at Ferrari’s Little Italy for our annual holiday dinner. We were loud. Two tables were covered with pizzas and pastas and lasagna and salads and chocolate milk and glasses of beer and wine. There were crayons and Matchbox cars and books and swirly dresses and bottles and nursing covers and sippy cups and so much life.

I’ve long struggled with our messy, beautiful, horrific world. Although my eyes glistened while singing “Silent Night” with Sophie in church today, I struggle with religion, too. Still, I needed that moment. I needed to be surrounded by family and beauty in a place rich with history of things gone right.

When we came home from our holiday dinner, it was bedtime. Pajamas, toothbrushes, stalling, books, sips of water, lost blankets, found blankets, medicine for a fever. The sweet normalcy of bedtime.

Once my children were asleep, I got online, for the first time today. Rich-with-talent writer Eros-Alegra Clarke had posted a poem.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World
by Adam Zagajewski
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
(Translation: Renata Gorczynski )

I will try.

“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.” —Charles Dickens

Dinner Dance Party IV

Every year we get together with a few friends for a dinner/dance party. This year’s theme was “foods that rock” and the dinner was hosted by our good friends Marty and Angel.

Wine accompanies every course. And the food is prepared by Angel’s incredibly talented brother, Stephen Spyrou. Check out his catering business, Vertigo Catering. He’s on Facebook, too. The food, and presentation, are nothing short of amazing.

We started off with white truffle popcorn with parmesan cheese.

Tuna tartare with limon salt and pop rocks (pop rocks!) followed.

Next, arugula salad with pine nuts, halloumi cheese, kalamata olives and lemon vinaigrette.

Then, herb crusted pork tenderloin (which I failed to take a picture of).

lemon zinger tea and whiskey sorbet

poached pears with blue cheese mousse

maple bacon milkshake—this was so good.

Finally, flourless chocolate torte laced with tequila.

Next, we rocked our glow-in-the-dark necklaces and danced.

And admired Angel’s fabulous eye lashes.

Thank you, Stephen, for another wonderful dinner party. And seriously, if you’re hosting anything, large or small, check out Vertigo.

I want a maple bacon milkshake now.

“Truffle isn’t exactly aphrodisiac but under certain circumstances it tends to make women more tender and men more likable.” —J.A. Brillat-Savarin

Welcome, Emma Louise Den Herder!

Our friends Christine and Mark welcomed beautiful baby Emma into the world May 23. Christine is a wonderful mom. I know these first few months probably weren’t always easy but every time I’ve seen her she’s seemed so relaxed, laid-back and super-active with her son Connor. She inspires me.

“Every child begins the world again …” —Henry David Thoreau

Welcome, Alice Lillian Turner!

Our friends Alan and Melissa welcomed their beautiful baby Alice into this world March 15 at 2:55 pm. She weighed 7 lbs 11 oz and was 20.5 inches long. At John and Corie’s wedding, we finally got to meet Alice—and spent much of the next day visiting her.

Alice

Matt and Quinn

friends

Sophie and Quinn

“Babies are such a nice way to start people.” —Don Herrold