In late 2018, Patrick and I had the opportunity to travel to Chile to visit my brother who now lives north of Santiago as an astrophysicist (his actual job). The first stop on our South American adventure was to make the long trek down to Patagonia as a trio.
After a three hour flight south from Santiago and nearly five hours of driving the gravel “La Ruta del Fin del Mundo” or “The Road to the End of the World” set to this playlist, we arrived in the famed Torres del Paine National Park. The region is home to flamingos, pumas, penguins and even a famed giant sloth, but it’s one silly looking dude who’s clearly the star of the show here: the guanaco.
The guanaco is a relative of the llama, a South American deer if you will. He’s really not much to write home about compared to his roommates, but here, he’s king. We were quickly trained to focus our eyes to find one and while they have a population of more than 3,000 in the park, day by day went by without a sighting.
On day three, amidst what felt like hurricane strength winds we found a guanaco. He was on top of a ridge looking down on us shining with the true Simba status he deserves.
We’d quickly learn from our guide that you nearly always have to look up to find the first guanaco. Guanacos live in herds and while famous to us park goers, they aren’t exactly on the top of the food chain. See earlier puma mention. Guanacos appoint a sentinel, or look out, to stand at the highest point nearby and watch over the other guanacos as they graze below. Find the sentinel and you’ll likely spot his friends.
It was my favorite moment of the trip, as evidenced by this 100% genuine reaction to my brother when we saw him. The idea of the sentinel has stuck with me since. We all need a lookout. As Lauren Daigle might say, look up child.
I hope you have a greater lookout that you turn to for counsel. I know I do. I was reminded of these pictures this week as we enter days, weeks, maybe even months of uncertainty. Whatever you do next, look for the sentinels. Look for the helpers. Look for the stories of the people showing immeasurable care.
Maybe even put on your best guanaco impression and go be that sentinel. Your herd needs it now more than ever. And while you’re at it, wash your hands too.
This is a story of how our littlest guy made his way into the world on Sunday, July 21, 2019, but before we get there, I think you should understand a thing or two about Sundays in this house.
Pink sprinkle doughnuts. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Sunday mornings as a kid. On the mornings we made it to church (sorry, Jesus, it wasn’t every Sunday), we would stop by Dunkin’ to pick up pink sprinkle doughnuts before heading home. At home, my Dad would fill the kitchen with smells of bacon, eggs and hand-crafted-letter-shaped pancakes for each of us.
French toast and a fruit platter. That marked the next Sunday chapter I can recall. The first year Patrick and I dated he was on soccer scholarship which meant his parents gave him a monthly stipend (thanks, Roger and Corky). For some reason, two 18-year-olds found that spending that stipend on a ritual of Sunday morning brunch at Five and Ten in Athens was the best use of money for the first year of our relationship. #millennials
Quiet neighborhood miles with Charles Osgood and Jane Pauley. In recent years, Sunday mornings have meant a long-ish morning run and getting home in time to cook breakfast and watch CBS Sunday morning together. Can you tell we’re aging?
Sunday mornings are my own little slice of heaven. I feel closest to the big guy upstairs thanks to simple, quiet routines, so it should come as no surprise that it was on a Sunday morning when the next chapter of our lives took root.
Early in the afternoon of Sunday July 21, 2019 (12:06 PM to be exact), our little nugget, Beckham Matthew, made his way into this world.
Before we make our way to Sunday, we’ll start with a few things I expected on how we would get there…
Expectation: I’d gradually start feeling contractions, labor at home for several hours and only then would we head to the hospital.
Reality: My water broke in the living room and chaos ensued.
Expectation: I’d labor naturally, using all of the props. I was so concerned about the availability of the props. I even planned to bring my yoga mat and essential oils to really calm myself down. Charming, right?
Reality: I was hooked to an IV immediately and I left my yoga mat at home.
Expectation: I’d labor drug free.
Reality: After 12 hours on Pitocin, nope. Just nope.
Expectation: Pushing would be the most terrifying and painful part.
Reality: Not quite.
Expectation: New babies are not cute.
Reality: Well maybe just this one.
Saturday started like any other Saturday in our house. I went to barre class. I bought us chocolate croissants at the farmers market. I showered AND washed my hair (thank goodness). Patrick made several trips to Home Depot to get started on a swing in our yard. I struggled to find something to cook for dinner on Pinterest, finally settling that we were going to get takeout.
They say God laughs at our most well laid plans and boy was he just chuckling at mine.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1: 2-4
Expectation number one: Labor only starts with your water breaking 10% of the time. Reality: I was in the 10%.
I stood up off of the couch to stretch out the babe sitting under my ribs…and I felt a gush of liquid. I looked to Patrick and said “uh-oh.” He knew exactly what that uh-oh meant.
After having packed a bag weeks ago, I spent the next 20 minutes frantically running around the house, half clothed, while tossing everything we owned into an already packed bag. Four pairs of pajamas, six bras and a bag of gummy bears? Yes, I will need those. We did enjoy the gummy bears. Thanks, Kristin.
We called the OBGYN’s office who put me through to the doctor on call. It turned out it was my favorite doctor in our practice and she’d be there until Monday morning. Since I had tested positive for Group Strep B, I needed to come to the hospital right away to be put on antibiotics.
Expectation number two: Zen labor. Reality: I’m how far dilated? Are you sure?
The next few hours moved quickly and not at all at the same time. We were admitted right away and I was checked to find out I was not having contractions and only 1 cm dilated. Since my water had broken, we made the decision to start pitocin right away to try to move things along.
What this meant was that I was hooked to an IV, hadn’t eaten and went from zero contractions to pretty wild ones in a matter of hours.
I’ll stop here to let you know that despite my expectations slowly diminishing by the hour, the nurses at Piedmont were an absolute dream. We were the only people in labor that night at Piedmont so not only did we have an exceptional care team, but we also had the attention of every soul on the floor. Our nurse took the time to create a boy/girl pool on the whiteboard and I’m pretty sure everyone working the floor stopped by to love on us and make a guess over the course of the evening.
By midnight, my contractions had really ramped up, though they were still not consistently timed. Another expectation myth busted. It was at this point that I was super thankful to have thrown the wireless speaker into the bag along with 47 bras. Patrick queued up the babe playlist I had made on Spotify while I hung onto the birthing ball and Patrick’s knee for dear life.
Expectation number three: say no to drugs. Reality: I’ll take whatever you have.
By 4 AM, I was experiencing contractions every 90 seconds and it felt as if there was no relief in-between. I decided that I’d hold out until my 6 AM check and if I was 7cm dilated or above, I’d hang on, if not, we’d call the anesthesiologist.
At 6 AM, I was 4cm dilated. I can’t express to you how defeated I felt in this moment. Everything I thought would happen, had gone the opposite. I sobbed that I couldn’t do this and even told Patrick I would be carrying zero more children in the future. In this moment, both Patrick and our nurse reminded me that the goal was a healthy baby, not an artificial “I did this naturally” medal. Encouragement is a miracle worker, friends.
By 7 AM the epidural was in successfully (how that was possible during 90 second contractions, I’ll never know) and I finally felt some relief. To not feel your body’s pain is a weird sensation. I did not care for it whatsoever, but I was thankful for the ability to breathe again.
Expectation number four (I’m taking liberty for my husband here): No way I’m cutting the cord and stay above shoulder height. Reality: Let’s do this thing.
By 10:30 AM, the doctor checked and I had progressed to 10 cm dilated and 100% effaced. She looked at us and said “OK, we’ll start pushing on this next contraction.”
I’m not sure how to push. I’m not sure I even really know what that means. Are we sure it’s really time? Stay above my shoulders. Let’s take a nap instead. Take your wife’s leg. What. Is. Happening.
Thankfully, the nurses again came to our rescue and talked us through every step. After less than 90 minutes of pushing, including 30 minutes of break time for oxygen to keep mine and baby’s heart rate steady, our little guy made his way into the world.
Remember the no other laboring mamas thing? Still true. In fact, it would take until 9 PM for another baby to be born at Piedmont. By this point, we had a flurry of people in the room and it was a pure celebration, set to that Spotify playlist.
I can recall thee songs during that 90 minutes: 1. Lauren Daigle’s “Look Up Child”, when the nurse shared “I love this song” 2. Ingrid Michaelson’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, our wedding song, and the look Patrick gave me when it started playing and 3. fittingly, Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” I have no idea what was playing at 12:06.
My “no cord cutting husband” cheerfully cut the cord, admitted to me that he “looked” and announced that we had a sweet little boy on our hands. The room had overwhelmingly voted girl. I was in shock, not just that he was a boy, but the simple fact that this baby had been a boy all along and I had no idea. I’m not sure why that was so mind blowing for me, but it was.
We gave him the only boy name we both ever agreed on: Beckham Matthew. Beckham simply because it was under 100 in popularity on the Social Security website and we both liked it and Matthew in memory of my late Uncle Matt, who spent nearly every Christmas with our family growing up – most of that time spent in our kitchen. That entire 90 minute period still gives me chills to think about. I’ve never felt more calm or confident it my life.
Expectation number five: Rough looking baby. Reality: Beautiful little boy.
The doctor placed baby Beckham on my chest and he was absolutely perfect. He wasn’t red. He wasn’t jaundiced (later we’d learn he was a 0.0 on the jaundice scale and the nurses assumed it was broken). He had a head full of the softest, slightly strawberry blond hair. He weighed 8lb 1oz and was 20.5 inches long. Say what?
My first words to Patrick were “he’s not ugly” followed by “let’s have another one.” My first words to Beckham were overjoy to share with him how long we’d both waited to have him in our lives. I simply could not believe that this moment had finally arrived. It was perfect and I’d give all of the money in the world to relive it.
While I could share plenty on how the last few weeks have been less than glamorous, I’d simply be sharing what ever first time parent knows to be true: this gig is HARD. Labor, that’s the easy part.
Easy like Sunday morning.
Beckham, my prayer for you is that you always look up. That you make plans and then throw them cheerfully in the wind when God sends you in the opposite direction.
I pray that you’ll trust the path laid forth for you and that you’ll allow Patrick and I to guide you as best we can from this moment forward.
I pray that you’ll always find joy in easy, Sunday mornings and that you’ll like sprinkles and pancakes and French toast and chocolate croissants. Maybe you’ll even be a chef someday like the great guy who shares your name.
Welcome to the crew little buddy, we sure are glad you’re here.
Some people love margaritas, others a nice glass of pinot, myself, it’s always been a glass of champagne. I even keep the mini-bottles in the fridge at all times.
So naturally, the first question I asked after hitting “purchase” on airlines tickets to France was “so we can plan a trip to the champagne houses, right?” Thankfully, my non-champagne fan of a husband responded with an immediate “of course.” We quickly looped our cousins, Will and Ashley who are stationed in Germany, in and began planning a weekend in champagne country, to coincide with Easter.
While the champagne region in France is quite large, La Route Du Champagne is nestled between the towns of Reims and Épernay, to the northeast of Paris. Since we would be coming from Paris, we booked a trip on the TGV train from Paris East to Reims. The ticket was roughly €15 each way, per person and is an easy 45 minute ride. The TGV app was a breeze for both booking our tickets as well as presenting them onboard the train.
After arriving in Reims, we took a short walk over to our hotel, Hotel Mecure. It was inexpensive, comfortable and central enough to be able to walk about town. They also had a parking garage, as Will and Ashley drove in from Germany to meet us.
I’d read it’s easy to do Reims/Épernay as a day trip and while that’s certainly true, if you’re planning to see any of the town or multiple houses, I’d certainly recommend doing at least a one night stay.
We wanted to be able to see a mix of big houses as well as some of the smaller ones. On our first day, we walked along the water to Veuve Clicquot, our “big house” stop on the trip. Ashley was able to get us in for a tour a day or so in advance. For €50, we received a full tour of the caves as well as two “tasting glasses” of champagne.
I was thrilled to see on all of our outings that unlike wine tastings champagne “tasting” means a full glass that must be completed before you move on to the next.
Through the cave tour, we experienced the process of making champagne, as well as heard the story of Madame Clicquot Ponsardin. “Veuve” translates to “widow” in French. To imagine a widow, taking over her late husband’s family business, at the age of 27, in the year 1805 is nearly unfathomable, and to experience the brand Veuve Clucquot has blossomed into today is just remarkable. Nineteenth century girl power, let me tell ya. You go girl.
The next day, we opted to explore by car, taking in the full Route du Champagne between Reims and Épernay. The drive is about an hour from end to end, but we made a full day out of stopping between the tiny, countryside towns.
Before heading out, we checked with the local tourism office. They offer day tours of the region, which include a stop at one of the houses for a tasting. Luckily, the woman in the tour office pointed out a few of her favorite houses, as well as the one the group would be visiting that day. As it turned out, this was really the only way to get into a smaller house without previous arrangements.
After a few calls, the family at René Fresne invited us to join the tour group later in the day, free of charge. We had the pleasure of joining the tour with Hervé, the head of the family’s house. After tasting three very full and very tasty glasses of champagne with no bus on which to depart, we were able to stick around and spend time with Hervé who told us more about his family’s history, his business and his life in France. It was the most special little treat.
After leaving René Fresne, we made our way towards Verzy, where I had talked a big game about some crazy trees I read about in the Atlas Obsucra. It was a fun little hike, but I expected a bit more out of these guys.
We continued on to the Perching Bar, also in Verzy. The Perching Bar is a champagne bar nestled in the woods and up a few rope bridges. Admission was around €15 each, but again, this included a glass of champagne. The views up top were incredible and the bar had heat plus really fun swings.
We ended the evening with dinner and a walk around the town of Épernay. This is the home of some of the bigger houses you’ve likely heard of, a la Moët & Chandon andDom Perignon. Most required reservations well in advance and were a bit pricer.
Back in Reims, we ended the weekend with Easter mass at La Notre-Dame de Reims. The cathedral began construction in 1211 and until the mid-1800s served as the site to crown France’s kings. While beautiful, cathedrals built in 1211 don’t come with heat, so it was quite a chilly little morning. While we didn’t understand a word, thank goodness for Catholic tradition. We at least knew exactly where to be and what to do. It was a great way to celebrate my favorite season of the liturgical year. Something tells me Jesus would have been more than OK with an Easter weekend spend surrounded by family, celebrating each other with bubbly at every turn.