That Time I Was Homeless 

I hid a lot from Dave during the early years of our relationship. 

I was afraid that he would find out about my childhood in poverty and think, “There is no way I’m having kids with this person.”

Dave grew up middle class. Went to private school. Got brand new shoes every year. Always had food. 

I was once homeless. Not on the streets, or even in a shelter. 

But my dad, on two occasions, moved us into people’s basements. People I didn’t really know. We had nowhere to live.

My stuff in boxes. 

My mom always made the most of it. She hung sheets on the unfinished walls to make it look like wallpaper. She turned cardboard, fabric, and hot glue into toy boxes. Once built a bookshelf out of milk crates and a board. She made little spaces for our school clothes and hung our backpacks on nails. 

I saw a folder once on my teacher’s desk. It was opened. My name was on several of the papers. I saw the word “transient” and quickly memorized it. When I saw the dictionary definition, I was stunned. 

There were times we didn’t have food. I watched my mom turn items you wouldn’t donate to your enemy into dinner. I wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities, because they cost money. And we didn’t have a vehicle to get there. 

My mom made sure we were always clean. Trimmed nails. Clothes that fit, with no stains or holes. She dug through yard sale boxes to find toys and books. She once secretly saved up for 6 months for camp registration. She handed me $5 of spending money for the week, and I knew it meant she was stretching the spaghetti sauce with more water so I could buy candy that week. 

I moved 16 times before graduating high school at 16 years old. 

Dave moved two times. Went to two schools. 

I once went to three different schools in three weeks. 

“Transient.”

Before Dave, I shared some of my past with a guy friend over lunch. “Were you, like, abused and stuff? Raped or beat up? You can tell me.” “No, of course not. I was just poor.” 

I didn’t lie to him. I honestly did not remember all the sexual abuse. The emotional abuse. The spiritual abuse. I didn’t remember the atrocities at the hands of my father. I just remembered all the ways my mom had been a fantastic mom. 

“I’ve never met anyone as poor as you were. That’s some crazy shit. Makes me uncomfortable.” My friend’s words kept me from opening up to anyone else. 

Including Dave. 

When I finally told Dave, I was able to start stripping off those labels. 

Weird. Poor. Transient. 

A few years ago, I added new labels. 

Abused. Victim. Damaged.

Dave wouldn’t let those labels stick. He asked older people he respected for their help. He read books and articles. He stepped out of his comfort zone to help me. He admitted that he couldn’t relate to me, but he sure tried. 

Then one day, I started a story with “That time I was homeless” and Dave started laughing. He teased that I had stolen my life from a Dickens novel. And I knew everything was going to be okay, because we were both laughing in our kitchen. The one we’ve had for 11 years. At the kitchen island he built. That was filled with jars of spaghetti sauce I don’t need to water down. 

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived 2 dozen lives. But I’m blessed the last few have been with him. 

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Elizabethan Quips | Christmas List

“Bess, what do you want for Christmas?”

“A puppy. A real one.”

“We can’t get a real puppy. We can get a stuffed animal puppy.” 

“I want a car. A real one.”

“You can have a toy car.”

“I want to stop being allergic to things.”

“What else?”

“All the food in the world. I want all of it.”

“Sweetie…”

“I want to become a shape! A geometry for Christmas!” 

“You know what? Mommy’s just going to surprise you! Go play!”

“I want to marry Blippi and Batman.”

Of course you do, sweet girl.

Grahamism | Christmas List

“Graham, what’s on your Christmas List?”

“What’s a Christmas List?”

“It’s a list of the things you want for Christmas.”

“Is this a trick question? Am I supposed to say ‘Jesus’ and ‘Family’ and stuff like that?”

“No, it’s a list of gifts you want. Like toys, books, pajamas.”

“Do I get everything on this list? How many things do I say?”

“You won’t get everything. It just gives Daddy and me some ideas.”

“Is this a list about how I want a walking, talking robot? Or a list about Legos and Captain Underpants books?”

“Legos and books is a great place to start.”

“I’m really confused about this. I just make a list of all the stuff I like and then see if I get it? Do other kids do this? This seems really weird! I feel like this is a trick question and I’m supposed to write ‘Help All The Homeless People’ on here.”

I love him so much. 

4y, 11m, 17d 

I started a blog.
Almost five years ago.
“Family and friends, we invite you to read about Adelaide. It’s raw. It’s coherent. Barely. I’m tired of copy-paste-message-copy-paste-message-caffeinate-copy-paste-cry. Here is an update.
Signed, The Ballews”

I started a blog.
Five years ago.
This month.
“Family and friends and strangers, wait, what? Well, we invite you to read about strong-willed parenting and recipes and quirky family moments and pottytraining and complaints about random things that don’t matter.
And updates about Adelaide.
Signed, Us (But really only me. The ‘we’ and ‘us’ are just for aesthetics.)

I started a blog.
Close to five years ago.
Toward the end of October.
“Family and friends and thousands of strangers, I’m writing about abortion and molestation and human rights and strong-willed parenting and medical bills and miscarriage. The miscarriage is too much? You were okay with funny-things-my-kids-say but this-is-how-my-kids-died crossed the line. I apologize, complete stranger. I dabbled in trying to make money. You didn’t care. Not in a rude way. In an apathetic without contempt way. I will go back to…
Updates about Adelaide.
Signed, The Woman Called A Heartless B**ch By Strangers Who Disagreed With Her On (insert any topic of your choosing)”

I started a blog four years, eleven months, seventeen days ago.
“Family and friends, all twelve of you, I offer a smattering of topics. I’m starting to rethink this online journaling schtick. Most of my posts seem out of place in the current blogging world. I will continue to post here and there and anywhere I feel safe.
And the updates about Adelaide, they will continue.
Signed, Lady Finally Realizing She’s A Tidbit Penner, As Opposed To An Official Blogger”

I started an online space.
Autumn of 2012.
“People who still read these things, I hope you like these things I write. I write about my journey as a special needs mom. A mom who lost two children. A mom who kept four children. A mom who likes books. Craft beer. Breastfeeding in public. All things Jane Austen and most things made with sugar. Here are some quotes from my children. And there’s that thing about being a sexual abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will keep posting updates about Adelaide. And my undying affection for Gilbert Blythe, as L.M. Montgomery wrote him.
Signed, The Woman Who Was No Longer Trying To Squeeze Into The Quintessential Mommy Blogger Jell-O Mold”

I started typing things out that had previously just been bouncing around in my mind.
One October.
Several years ago.
“Reader, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to type these things. You occasionally read them. I promise to keep learning about myself. I expect nothing from you, but I’m happy you are here. I will write whatever I wish to share. 
And Adelaide is in kindergarten now.
Signed, Lyndse”

A Letter to My Children On Their First Birthday

Dear Laurence & Flannery,

Today is your first birthday. I had planned on doing something to commemorate the day, but I’m sitting here in the clothes I’ve worn since Thursday and trying to remember when I last brushed my teeth. It’s not because I’m grieving that I’ve basically fallen apart this week, month, year. It’s because you have a baby brother. Yes, I’m taking care of a newborn. And I’m not taking such great care of myself these days. I’m working on that. While still wearing maternity shorts, which is fine. I’m a mom of six and showing myself the grace I didn’t dole out with you or your older siblings. 

We announced last year, on your due date, that another Ballew was forming in my womb. We almost lost him, too. But he was born earlier this year. At the right time. We named him Lewis Rhys Mullins. 

You were born too early. And, as your older brother, Graham, pointed out to me — we couldn’t have all three of you. The math is tricky on these things, but Lewis came along when you were still supposed to be growing inside of me. Graham asks me how he can still be so sad you are dead, when he is so happy he “could explode into a million pieces about Lewis, but we wouldn’t have Lewis if they were here.” And I don’t have an answer for him. Because I feel the same way. 

Lewis didn’t take away the pain from losing you. He actually complicated things a bit. I was grieving and rejoicing in the same moments. There were no clear lines in my journey when we saw the two pink lines on that test. It was all muddled up. Then, we almost lost your brother. And I was trying to grieve losing you, rejoice about Lewis, but wrap my head around what I would do if I lost three babies in one year. 

I missed you everyday. Thought about what life would be like with all five of my kids. Then a sixth came into the picture, and Graham was the only one who vocalized what was in my heart. I felt…guilty. 

On the anniversary of your death, I was pregnant with your brother. It was surreal. I wasn’t sure how to feel. And some days I still don’t know how to feel. I felt both of you move inside of me. I delivered you. I buried you. I drove by your grave, because Graham wanted to make sure no one had stolen it. One of your sisters, Elizabeth…we call her Bess, asked when you were “coming alive” and coming home to live with us. She asked why we had to drive away and leave you in that cemetery. Then I felt your brother move. I carried him longer than any of my other children. I delivered him. And I woke up three times at the hospital crying, thinking I was having a repeat surgery they did after I lost you. And I looked down at your baby brother and my feelings were absolute love. I loved all six of you. And I could only have four of you here with me. 

Bess brings her twin babies into the kitchen to eat dinner with us. She tells me you both will be alive again like Baby Jesus and we will all eat dinner together when you come out of my tummy. She’s almost four years old and a bit confused. Your sister thinks she died as a baby, too, but didn’t stay dead like you did. Your brother sometimes forgets your names. Other days, he talks about you all day to remember how much he loved you. He calls you “the babies who died” and Lewis “the baby who lived” and I’m left to go switch the laundry. 

I apologize that this letter isn’t fluffy or poignant or precious. It’s just how I feel after being up all night for thirteen straight nights with your baby brother. He’s getting teeth. Graham and Bess are obsessed with him, like they would’ve been obsessed with both of you. They are already planning his first birthday party. Today would’ve been yours. With family gathered around two high chairs. With two smash cakes. Your dad thinks Flannery would’ve had red hair and green eyes. We often think about you, Laurence. What would you have looked like covered in cake? 

I don’t believe in a baby heaven. I don’t believe you two chose Lewis for us. I don’t believe your dead relatives are fighting over who gets to hold you. I do know I’ll see you again someday when there’s a new Heaven and a new Earth. I don’t know what you’ll look like. Just like how I don’t know what Adelaide will be like completely whole and healed. She’ll have her gorgeous personality and love for life, but she’ll be walking and dancing and talking. I honestly don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I’m pretty busy trying to figure out how to keep her from peeing out these diapers that don’t fit quite right and learning sign language so I can try to communicate with her. 

But I do think about you. My fourth and fifth children. Your lives were short, but you were loved every moment by this family. And even though Graham — and all of us — don’t know how to wrap our finite brains around it, we do wish all of you could be here today. Somehow. With Baby Lewis reaching for your cake. And Adelaide shouting for cake. And Graham and Bess fighting over who would get to hold two babies in the family photo, while the other was left just holding one baby. We all wish we could have three babies today.

You are missed and loved and cherished. You matter, because you were created in God’s image. You were just born too early for this world. This crazy Earth that wanted you to breathe oxygen, when you still needed water. When you still needed umbilical cords. When you still needed me. With all my extra pounds and tears and hormones and the times I yell when I shouldn’t and the times I keep my mouth shut when I should speak up. I’m not a perfect mom, but I love you. I couldn’t save you, but we saved your brother. It is what it is. 

Happy Birthday my loves,

XX Mommy 

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Doing Life Together

We throw that expression around quite frequently in the church. Join a LifeGroup, so you can Do Life Together. 

I refused to join a LifeGroup for almost two years after we started attending our church. Mainly because I’m not great at doing life with anyone other than my husband, kids, mom, mom-in-law, some relatives, and a few friends. I’m not competent in relationships where so much action is required. 

Five years ago, we joined one. Not because the Lord told us to do it. Not because our Pastor was often asking people to join. Not from some video that spoke to us. 

We joined because a guy I had attended college with asked us four times. Four. Dave and I figured that if he could keep asking us, knowing we were going to hem and haw our way out of the conversation, then we could at least humor him and show up. One time. 

That’s all Dave and I committed to one another. We will try it once. And if I hate it, we never go back. I had never been to a Sunday School class. I was nervous and worried and fearful I would say something stupid. 

And I did. I said several stupid things that first day. I had slept two hours a night for several nights leading up to that Sunday morning. It was bad. Embarrassingly bad. I don’t think a coherent sentence came out of my mouth.

So I told Dave I wasn’t going back. And Dave said he thought we should try one more time. I told him he was a liar, because our agreement was one and done…if that’s what I wanted. 

The second week was better. I was less awkward. I said fewer dumb things. I thought, “Okay. We can do this a third week.”

Several weeks went by, and we decided that we were going to stay. Try “Doing Life” with these people.

Then the pediatrician said, “Adelaide needs an MRI to rule out brain issues, since she’s not meeting milestones.” 

I sobbed. Our LifeGoup prayed. A lot. 

Then the pediatrician called. “They found a posterior fossa cyst in her brain. She needs to see a neurologist. They will probably do neurosurgery.”

I felt like all the air in our house had been poisoned. It was one of the hardest days of my life. 

I bawled. Our LifeGroup loved on us. A lot. We had known these people less than 3 months. People offered to bring meals. People offered to pay our gas to drive across the state. People offered to watch Graham. We didn’t take them up on any of it. Dave and I are pretty autonomous. And we were beginning to feel like a drain on the group. And we hated that feeling of being the needy ones.

They barely knew us. We hadn’t gone to the extra things. The breakfasts. The dinners. The stuff families do. We showed up on Sunday morning and that was the extent of our participation. 

We weren’t harboring any ill feelings toward them. We avoided the extra stuff because I felt like I was constantly putting my foot in my mouth. And I was running on no sleep. And Graham was so incredibly strong-willed. Just a really tough toddler. 

But it didn’t seem to matter to them. 

They didn’t have a scale, with weights on one side and the Ballews’ contributions on the other. It didn’t matter to them that we were the newest members, yet the neediest ones. They just kept pouring into us. 

Over the years, we still haven’t done enough. I know they aren’t keeping track, but I do. We made meals for members who had babies. They brought us meals for two living babies and two dead ones. We helped a person move. They offered to help my mom, who they had never met, move. We offered to help members during emergencies. They took our kids while we were at the ER. Fed them, changed diapers, texted updates. We gave money when offerings were taken up. We were given more money than we’ll ever contribute. Ever. 

Even though it’s been a blessing, I still feel like I have no idea what Doing Life means. Unless it means that others treat you better than you treat them. And they don’t even blink when you need them. 

I feel like the last five years have almost been their own lifetime. Dave and I actually use the expressions “Before Adelaide’s MRI” and “After the twins died” and “During the case” and “Before Bob’s tumor” in conversation. Does our LifeGroup regret all they’ve done? All the time they’ve helped us, prayed for us, and included us? Doing Life with the Ballews seems like an exhausting venture. 

If they do regret it, you’d never know. And maybe that’s the beauty of this whole LifeGroup experiment: there really aren’t scales. No one is keeping track. And I think if my college friend could go back, knowing how high maintenance we would be, he still would’ve asked four times. And I don’t think he would’ve stopped asking if we hadn’t caved that one time in July and shown up to Room 318. Where I still say dumb things. And we still have a prayer request every week for our baby girl. 

Wash Feet

I was giving Adelaide a bath, when she grabbed the washcloth from me. I assumed she was going to chew on it. She mouthes everything, especially cloth items. 

But she surprised me and ran it over her legs. Then she plunged it into the water, brought it up, and rubbed it over her legs again. One at a time. 

My eyes brimmed with tears, watching my girl scrub her own legs.

And then the tears actually fell as she put the washcloth on her feet and said, 

“WASH…………………….FEE……………T!”

And she scrubbed her own feet for about 15 seconds, before trying to put the washcloth in her mouth. 

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Game Time

Adelaide brought this puzzle to me. The pieces are in another room. She put it on the couch next to me and stared up at me. 

“Adelaide, do you want to play a game?”

She eye-gazed the puzzle and clapped. 

“Adelaide, where is the cat?”

She eye-gazed the cat.

“Where is the dog?”

She looked it over, then eye-gazed the dog. 

We played until she had eye-gazed each one. She got them all correct. I even tricked her by using mouse and house separately. 

Sometimes we have no idea what’s going on in her head. 

Then she surprises us. 

Two In Diapers

I’ve had two kids in diapers for more than 3 1/2 years. But Bess’ diapers, right before she pottytrained in the Spring, weren’t that much smaller than Adelaide’s. 

I can’t help but laugh when I pack the diaper bags for Adelaide and Lewis. It reminds me of Buddy the Elf every time. 


It doesn’t help that Adelaide loves singing, Santa, sugar, and tall socks. 

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Paterson

Gorgeous. Brilliant. Affecting.

Made the list of movies I will watch over and over again. 

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