“Go back to sleep, sweetie,” I groaned at my nine month old daughter. My soft pillow and warm blankets weren’t ready to surrender me to the day yet.
She giggled and patted my arms. I pushed her back against the bed, ready for a few more snuggles. She squirmed and leaned her little body against me. That’s when it happened: she slapped a paste-like-goo onto my arms.
The warm squish made me cringe. Curdled milk made my nostrils flare. I popped awake, and sat up to find my youngest daughter, Lexi, sitting in a diaper explosion. Her hands were coated in poop and she was smearing it all over me.
It was a moment where patience truly was a virtue. Patience is a word parents often hear. It’s difficult to find at times and can wear thin, but the best way to stretch it is with a positive outlook. If I’ve learned anything from motherhood, it is to bear down, push through, and definitely laugh at myself.
I read numerous parenting books, listened to advice from family members, baby-sat a lot of little ones, but nothing prepared me for: What to do When your Child Paints You With Poo. I froze for a minute. How can I even clean this?
I thought my eldest broke me in as a parent, but Lexi seemed born to defy everything I learned. Her sister had fallen into a sleeping routine with no problems, ate like a horse, and enjoyed going places. I knew no two kids were alike, but mine resembled polar opposites, night and day.
Lexi slept an average of about four hours a night, two of which she needed to be read to in the nursery rocking chair or she would wake up screaming from colic. She didn’t enjoy meals or going out. All she wanted was cuddles and singing.
Waking up covered in poop after another short segment of sleep left my mind clouded. I blinked in disbelief. My sore throat and itchy eyes made me sigh, but her bright smile softened me. She giggled until her chubby cheeks were as red as apples. I slapped my hand on a smudge of poop and shook my head, unable to control the laughter that consumed me.
I scooped her up in my arms. “Okay little poop monster, we need a bath.”
I flew her into the bathroom and got the tub filled. We didn’t often take baths together but I cuddled her to me as we washed off. I sang all of her favorite songs and she hummed along, adding in her own baby words on some of the notes.
It made me think back to when she was born. Her father and I had decided on another homebirth, a decision that is not meant to be easy. My first homebirth was well researched and planned point-for-point in case of emergency. We lived near a host of hospitals and trusted our midwife. Things went well the first time, so we had prepared for round two with our second child.
Any woman who considers home birthing should do her research, have the correct support, and mostly, believe in herself. It’s difficult and gets scary toward the end. If you’re not in the right mindset, it’s not a good idea.
Even with my bright outlook on the practice, and the trust I had with the midwife, Lexi’s birth had some complications. The labor was nearly painless. The opposite of what I had experienced with her sister, but once my water broke and we neared time to push, the pressure on my hips stabbed like a pain I’d never felt. Natural labor feels like a bomb is going off inside of you, this was different. My midwife got me prepped for pushing and my husband got behind me to help support my body as I began to bear down. After what felt like hours, we still had nothing. I pushed and pushed, but no baby.
This was nothing like before. My first laboring experience had been painful, but the pushing brought relief and a healthy little girl. This time, my body grew weak. My muscles started giving out. I’m sure the neighbors will never forget the screams.
The midwife locked eyes with me. “Her head is crowning, but it keeps going back in. I need you to get ready to push as hard and long as you can without stopping.” The authority in her determined sapphire eyes grasped me. I nodded and obeyed.
That last push was the most excruciating experience of my life. I could sense it was our last chance. If I couldn’t do it then, we would have rushed to the hospital, or worse. I determined to get my baby out, safe and sound. Breathing in as full as my lungs would allow, I gripped my husband and tensed every muscle in my body. My eyelids fluttered. My face burned. The veins in my face and neck bulged so far I thought they would pop. The midwife reached in and pulled out my second little girl, my Lexi.
It took a while to get her breathing, but within minutes she was cuddled against me. The hard work paid off. Pushing through the pain to find the smile gave me one of the greatest gifts. I didn’t fight to bring her into this world to grimace at poop. A bath was all it took to clean that mess, and changing the sheets, just like after her birth.
Now that she’s a little girl, Lexi is a healthy ball of energy. She loves to give super tight hugs. She especially enjoys making people smile. Her life began with a positive attitude, and it’s been a constant theme in our daily routine. When things get rough, we bear down and push through. Once we get through the hard stuff (or clean off the poo) we usually find a good laugh waiting on the other side.
Jessica Marie Baumgartner is a current member of the Missouri Writers Guild and snagged a few awards with her writing. She has published numerous articles and personal stories featured in a wide variety of publications including: “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers,” “My Wandering Uterus,” “Circle Magazine,” “Guardian Angel Kids,” and many more.
I Know It in My Heart is the title of a book that chronicles the grief of a child and the mourning of an aunt who provides love and care for her bereaved niece when “no one else could.” It is a poignant line in the story, uttered by a lonely child named Liamarie who exhibits wisdom beyond her years. It is the center of a compelling narrative that takes readers down the dark roads of doubt and death and yet with grace leads them to pathways of hope and life.
Written by Mary E. Plouffe, I Know It in My Heart is both a moving memoir and a powerful guide through grief. Plouffe is a clinical psychologist who uses her education and training to expertly lead her young niece through the complex and confusing grieving process. But she uses the understanding of a mother’s heart to give solace to a sad and terrified child.
Calling herself “a solitary soul,” Plouffe claims she does not share easily. But several years after her sister Martha’s untimely death due to cancer, Plouffe takes pen to paper believing that her family’s pain, if shared, could help others endure the painful loss of a loved one.
“I wrote this,” says Plouffe, “because I know that if Martha could have given me instructions before she died, she would have asked me to use her story to make a difference.” While the loss of life is a universal theme, the narrative that tells of each individual’s experience is unique. In Plouffe’s case, the story begins with the bleak diagnosis Martha received on a cold January afternoon. Doctors found a very large aggressive malignant tumor and recommended an immediate mastectomy. Plouffe travels to Virginia to take care of her then three-year-old niece Liamarie while her mother undergoes surgery. It is the first chapter of their profound journey together. It is the beginning of “not just how we got through the horror,” says Plouffe, but also “how we got back.”
After the mastectomy, Martha receives chemotherapy and radiation and could have stopped treatment at that point with what appeared to be about a five-year survival rate. But Plouffe remembers Martha saying on several occasions that “Five years is nothing. I need twenty. I need twenty years to raise Liamarie.”
With that thought propelling her forward, Martha chooses to proceed with a Phase II clinical study at Johns Hopkins. She opted to be part of research being conducted to determine whether a “stem cell transplant procedure would increase long-term survival rates for patients with high-risk primary tumors when it was done as part of the initial treatment plan, before any recurrence.”
During the extended time for the procedure, Liamarie lives with her aunt in their home in Maine. She adjusts well to what everyone thought would be a brief temporary situation, and bonds with her aunt and develops close relationships with her uncle and three cousins.
Martha hoped the procedure would extend her life. Instead it ended it. Unexpectedly and without warning, Martha’s lungs went into Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and she never recovered. At the conclusion of the book, Plouffe discusses the controversial nature of the treatment and questions, in retrospect, the advisability of the decision to proceed with the bone marrow transplant. But the book primarily focuses on and recounts her immediate response to her sister’s untimely death. In her heart, Plouffe knows that as she grieves, she must be the one to support Liamarie’s father Herb, and to guide her niece through their shared journey of grieving, growing and remembering. She becomes the mother figure for the tiny child who calls her “Mary Beth.”
Liamarie lives with her father but Plouffe visits often and after one of her first trips, describes her sister’s home as a “house full of her absence.” It is this absence in her life and in Liamarie’s life that she must accept and endure. She writes movingly of how her love of music and her ability to put her thoughts into words help her through her grief. But if grieving is difficult for adults with their maturity and ability to cope, it is much more frightening and challenging for a child who cannot possibly fathom the permanence of death nor begin to understand why the terrible tragedy happened.
Perhaps that is why this young girl sometimes looks for answers in imaginative play and in her favorite fairy tales. A small petite youngster with big brown eyes almost “too big for her face,” Liamarie often turns those beautiful eyes toward Mary Beth as she seeks understanding. In her favorite fairy tales, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White,” this grieving child finds hope because in each of these magical stories, the main character dies and comes back to life. Liamarie imagines and wants to believe that this scenario can come true in her situation.
“Over and over again we would come back to the same concern. Stories have magic. People die and come back to life,” says Plouffe as she recounts the experience.
“People have magic too,” Liamarie would say.
And each time, Mary Beth had to take that hope away.
“No, Liamarie. Not that kind of magic,” Mary Beth tells her.
But in so many tangible and intangible ways, Plouffe gives hope through her mother’s heart that embraces little Liamarie as her own child and through her professional role as a practicing psychologist. Perhaps what makes I Know It In My Heartso compelling is the juxtaposition of a heartfelt narrative with the clinical exposition. The profound journey of Mary Beth and Liamarie engages and enthralls the readers because it is a moving story of life and death. But the explanation of the grieving process at various stages informs, enlightens and helps those who are grieving just as Plouffe hoped would happen when she wrote the book.
The magic of mother love and professional wisdom that Mary Beth beautifully combines and effectively imparts to her niece lead the little girl with the big brown eyes down a pathway through pain to a place of happiness. About five years after her sister’s death, Plouffe and Liamarie are sitting on a couch, giggling and laughing and gently pushing at one another in jest. A memory of Martha flashes through Plouffe’s mind and she says that Liamarie must have seen an expression of sadness cross my face. And then the little child speaks.
“It’s ok, Mary Beth. Mama wants us to be happy. I know it in my heart.”
About the author of our book review: The mother of six grown children, Lori R. Drake is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, the Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland and the Daily Reflector in North Carolina as well as other publications. She has received four Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Writing Competition. The founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina, Lori is working on a book about her innovative school that has since closed. She currently teaches communications classes at her local community college.
Mary E. Plouffe Ph.D is a clinical psychologists and author who lives and works in beautiful southern Maine. She has been in private practice for 37 years, treating adults and children, and consulting to schools, treatment centers, and the courts. She was on the faulty of Maine Medical Center’s Psychiatry Residency Program, supervising residents’ psychotherapy training, and teaching courses in both Child and Adult Divisions. She received her Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from the University of CT, and also hold a M.Ed in Counseling ( Rehabilitation) from Boston University. As a writer, she has published essays on NPR, Mothers Always Write, Brain, Child Magazine, Survivor Review, Story Circle anthology, among others, and has written op-eds for the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News. Her memoir, I Know it in My Heart: Walking through Grief with a Child was published in May of 2017 and has been a finalist or winner in the 2017 International Book Awards, the 2017 Living Now Book Awards, 2018 Story Circle May Sarton Memoir Award, 2018 Reader’s Choice Book Awards, 2018 Maine Literary Awards, and 2018 Forward Indies Book award. The book is currently a finalist for the Independent Publisher’s of New England Book Award in Narrative Non-Fiction. Further information can be found on her websites: www.maryeplouffeauthor.com; www.maryplouffe.com; and on her Facebook Mary E Plouffe author page.
Seasons are important. I learned this while we lived in Colorado for a short time earlier this year. There’s something special about a portion of time that visually fades away and morphs into another before your eyes. It urges you to reflect and to shake off feelings and habits you need to be rid of. They can be packed away in the rubbermaid bins with the beach towels, and for a minute you feel you are capable of doing and thinking some things differently if you need to. As you start to assess and rid yourself of the unneeded figurative elements, you begin to layer on cozy and soft material things…maybe because you already know you are entering into a time of renewal and rawness and you need the coverage to protect yourself as you grow your new skin and brace for change. A scarf can wrap around a few more times if you need the strength or support…a warm cable-knit hug. Boots are comforting because they make you brave…you won’t slip or slide in your new season, even though you don’t know where it will take you just yet. You are equipped for new terrain. You do away with being exposed to everyone, everything, and every element…you are actually physically forced by nature to cover up, bind up, stay home and turn inward. You drink the spiced coffee, read the book, bake the thing and add some cream. You light the fire, add another layer of plaid, burrow, retreat, write, read, eat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Unless you live with me.
If you are in my house and I am your mom, then you are being told a million times “It’s fall! It’s autumn! It’s a new season! You hear me? NEW!! See look, here at Walmart…the plastic leaves and stalks of brown corn and wheat…there are leaves and plants that actually look like that right now somewhere on this great earth and it’s happening now!!” You are forced to watercolor coffee filters orange, red, and yellow and you are felting acorns and cutting salt dough into pumpkins and maple leaf shapes. Things start to smell wonderful inside your house, with lots of maple syrup flowing over butter on top of pumpkin pancakes and butternut squash muffins fresh from the oven. Your mom is telling you all about harvest season and trying to read to you aloud ten times more than even normal about squirrels and pie and plants you’ve never heard of and making you drink hot tea even though you just got in from getting the mail for her and there are sweat droplets beading on your back. Your parents also buy you new flip-flops, a new float for the pool, and a new swim-suit because those things happen to be on sale while all this is going on, even though in the stack of Jan Brett books you are being forced to look at all you see are sweaters, mittens, and hats. It’s all more than a bit confusing.
And it’s exhausting for me. Because as your mom, I am now not only mother, cook, caretaker, teacher, and all that that entails, I am now Season Simulator and must make sure that you get at least some bit of what a change in season can do for our life and for our hearts. I’ll be danged if geography is going to keep us from reflection and renewal, but boy it would be nice if your other Mother would throw us a freaking bone every now and again.
In a life that is seeking honesty, truth, and beauty, I find it repugnant that I am led to feel like a poser when the seasons are supposed to be changing and in our environment they are not. A trip to the fabric store and I am in tears on the way back to the van because every print on every sign, every quippy little saying is just a dream that I will not see with my own eyes and have to imposter for my kids so that they can at least see it in their imagination.
Welcome to my mind. While it’s sometimes hard to admit, I think too much, feel too much, and I want it all, all the time, but especially at the time that it SHOULD be happening. I’m trying to create a sense of renewal and seasonal change in my home and for my family to experience but it feels false and transparent as it is accompanied by sizzling stale air and the grass and leaves that are still green and buzzing with new growth. Geography is making a liar out of me and I hate it for that today.
So enough. I surrender. Grab your sandals and let’s hit the beach. The waves come and go, pull up and back, bringing change in their own way. There is some renewal to feel there in their sound and rhythm. We can layer on sunscreen and hats and glasses and rashguard shirts and pretend that the breeze that blows is 30 degrees cooler and that it is blowing something new in for us other than thunderheads. Some people would be jealous that we can do that right now…breathe in lungs of sea air for a few hours. However, I think in their heart they would understand that they would actually feel a little bit cheated, a little bit behind and inauthentic, and grow a little less each year without a smoke-filled chilly breeze whispering crackly secrets into their subconcious that can only be heard with earmuffs on.
Kimberly Braunschneider is a homeschooling mom of five children ages 5-14 who loves to cook, read, write, craft, and enjoy the sunshine in as much spare time as she can muster up.
Into the big green chair in our bedroom, I would climb each morning, pulling one leg up under me while using my right foot to slowly rock back and forth. First reading from a morning devotional, then writing in a journal with my favorite pen, I’d sip a hot cup of coffee, while I’d slowly wake up to face my day.
The previous two years had included two surgeries, my dad falling twenty feet from the roof of my parent’s home while we were visiting, and our two oldest sons graduating from college and moving to different states. Now I found that chair more and more often throughout the day. I’d rock back and forth while I watched the birds in the big old birch tree out front, the neighbors and their pets rushing here and there, and the seasons as they slowly changed.
In the evenings, it became easy to click on the TV across the room. Click, click, clicking the remote, I tried to find something. Maybe a new life? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the life I was living as a home schooling mom. But our children were growing up and moving on, and the homeschool mom part of my life was becoming obsolete.
When one of the four bedroom in our house became empty and we didn’t have enough children living at home to fill it with even one occupant, I grieved that our household was getting smaller after all those years of bursting at the seams.
But this did not change the fact that the bedroom was empty, that it had the potential to be a place of me, and that I hated the wallpaper. In what seemed like a good deal at the time, I said to my husband, “I’ll clean all the wallpaper off the walls, if you’ll paint.”
Days later, I had no fingernails, but I had ripped, pulled, complained and scrubbed until every trace of wall paper was gone. Eventually the room was painted a calm “Almond Brittle,” a new light fixture was hung, and my roll top desk, little shelves, and file cabinet were moved into their new places. Favorite framed cards and sayings were ready to be hung on the walls to inspire me.
Plunking myself into that big green chair in our bedroom, I cried. I had always longed for a space of my own, but I longed for all my kids home even more. Silly me. Really, I was immensely proud of them and had been their loudest cheerleader as they found their way. I would never wish either of our two oldest back to the top bunk in that bedroom down the hall.
Our master bedroom looked empty now that all the office furniture was gone. My husband and I pushed our bed and dressers here and there, back and forth, looking over the whole room and shaking our heads. “No, this just doesn’t seem right.”
Looking at that green chair, I realized it didn’t fit our room anymore. It was big and clunky and faded and old–like I was feeling.
We banished it to the basement.
Both my husband and I eyed the TV. It was convenient and comfortable to lie in our bed at night click, click, clicking the remote, but without a word, we both gave a nod of our heads and exiled the TV to an upstairs’ closet.
These changes may seem small, but they were a new beginning. I was reminded that my life couldn’t be found in the green chair or the TV or turning the clock back to when we all fit in this nest we call home.
You won’t find me staring out the window. And, you won’t find the green chair in the basement. Our youngest son snagged it for his apartment when he moved out.
Kristi Scorcio is the proud mom of four children who each have chosen unique paths to places far from home. Krist and her husband live on the east side of Wisconsin and are busy plotting the next chapter of their own adventure.