Category Archives: Lele Marie

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 


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, 


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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Gorgeous. Brilliant. Affecting.

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

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Nursery Rhyme Time

Me: “…and they couldn’t put Humpty together again!”

Me: “…The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes, when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!”


Me: “…half a pound of treacle! Stir it up and make it nice. POP! goes the weasel!” 

Lew, I’m with you. Nursery Rhymes are puzzling at best. 

Room Switcheroo (part 1)

We’re moving Graham into the girls’ room, and he’s gaining Lewis as a roommate. It’s basically Christmas over here. Graham’s been wanting to share a room with a brother since Bess was 3 days old. It dawned on him that she and Adelaide would be together, and he would be alone. 

Since Lewis has almost outgrown his bassinet, and Adelaide has outgrown her crib, we decided it was time to get our room situation figured out. It was actually my mom who recommended switching the kids’ rooms. She knew Dave was designing and building a loft/bunk/trundle special needs gated bed for Adelaide and Bess. “Why not move the rooms? The girls’ bed will take up less space, so they can be in the smaller room. Since Lewis is taking Bess’ old crib, it just stays where it is!” Perfect!

Even though Dave is still working on the bed, I decided to start switching the rooms. I don’t have the space to pull stuff out, sort, purge, and put it into the correct room. So I’ve been winging it by moving everything around, creating piles, and trying to make a bit of progress everyday. 

Enter Graham and Bess. Who started throwing stuff. Literally. They misinterpreted my piles. It became a free-for-all. I lost control of the situation quickly when Lewis needed to nurse. Then Lewis had a growth spurt and all progress stopped. 

So now I’m trying to move furniture, purge, and clean up my helpers’ mess. They really did think they were aiding me in this monumental task. By creating Mt. Everest in each room. 

I’m trying not to stress about this…which is what women say when they are stressing about it…but I know it will all be done before Adelaide goes to school in the fall. 

I also moved her crib, diapers, and rocker into her new room so she can get used to her new space. Our kids have never lived in other rooms. So I didn’t want her to get a new room and a new bed at the same time. 

She’s had 4 naps and 3 nights in her new room. She seems to be sleeping well. 

“Adelaide, do you like your new room?” 

She may not be verbal, but she can still communicate. 

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Memes Are Lazy 

I once made the mistake of reading the comments section of something on the Internet. (I know. Don’t lecture me. It’s right up there with that time I wore gaucho pants with knee high boots.) I honestly think that’s the first place the FBI should be trolling for suspects in any crime ever committed at any point in modern history. 

The article was about something important. Don’t remember what. Maybe how One Direction was breaking up? Or the Iran Deal? Either way, the comments were a mixed bag of everything from fake prayer chains to that guy who thinks he know everything about boy bands and/or nuclear weapons.  

But someone wrote: 

“Memes Are The Lazy Way Out!” 


It didn’t concern me that it had nothing to do with Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, John Kerry, Philip Hammond, Sergey Lavrov, Federica Mogherini, Javad Zarit, or Ali Akbar Salehi. (Confession: I had to use Google on this one…I didn’t know the names of those British boys.) I was most put off by equating memes with torpescence. 

Has this person never searched for the perfect meme? It takes sweat to keep scrolling through all the cliched ones even your great-Grandma has printed out and handed to a friend at church (totally not kidding…this actually happened) to finding that treasure. 

The perfect rejoinder. 

If we are friends and I’ve never sent you a meme, there’s a chance we aren’t that close. 

And if I’ve never sent you a GIF, our relationship is most likely a sham. Much like most One Direction songs and the entire Iran Deal. 

How Will Your Kids Remember You? 

We have photographs of Dave’s great-Grandparents in our kitchen. Up in that empty space above the cabinets. Right next to my vintage Sandwich Glass canisters. Their faces without smiles. Their bodies rigid. Slight blurs where people moved. You can’t tell what kind of people they were from their photos. Dave’s Grandma scribbled notes on the back for us, so I know who is who and when they came to America speaking Czech. 

Dave’s great-Grandpa came to the States, fought in WWI, then died of a heart attack while working his farm. Leaving his wife without a husband and girls without a father. 

Adelaide is in Summer School. I think they call it Kindercamp. She’s transitioning from the preschool to her new k-4 elementary school. Getting to know her new teachers, classrooms, and routines. We can’t leave our little city when Adelaide is in school. At any moment, she could need us due to a seizure or a meltdown. So that means no trampoline parks, bounce houses, play dates with friends in neighboring cities. We’re on call 5 days a week from 7:40 to 1:50. 

So we decided to come up with a fun tradition for Adelaide’s Summer School days. Donuts and hashbrowns. After we drop Adelaide off at school, we drive through and get a donut for Graham and a hashbrown for Bess. 

We are proud frequenters of our local donut shop. It’s one in a chain, but you can’t tell. In a world of gas station and grocery store donuts, I enjoy driving through a place that uses one of those hoses to sense your vehicle and makes a huge ding. They push the sliding glass window open and take your order face to face. The menu sign is wood with vinyl stickers. The donuts are no nonsense. Their Facebook page has 100-and-some-change followers and hasn’t been updated in 8 months. 

Grandma Tracy makes donuts from her mom’s recipe, and tells me stories about the beloved matriarch. She tells me about meals they made, how she stored her potatoes, how she canned meat, the little sweets she made for them, the dresses she sewed, and how they always had fresh milk. How life was different on the farm. “Those poor city kids’ moms didn’t know how to stretch the rations like we did. And we always had meat. Mom always made sure we had meat.” These stories are fascinating to me. Grandma was raised by a single mom during the Great Depression. 

I chuckle thinking of all these articles written for my generation. 

How will your kids remember you? Are you on your phone too often, making them feel unimportant? Do you put your phone away too often and miss those photos of everything they’ll want to remember? Are you making enough memories? Do you hug them often enough, but not too much that they’re uncomfortable? Are you reading enough books, while also making sure they play outside? Are you reading enough books outside? Will they remember you as a fun mom? Caring mom? Adventurous mom? Even-tempered mom? Confident mom? Strong mom? Godly mom? Graceful mom? 

I wonder if Dave’s great-Grandma even had time to think about her legacy while she was doing the wash by hand, canning everything in sight for winter, and raising a daughter with special needs. Grandma Tracy’s sister couldn’t walk. Only attended school through the 8th grade. Had leg braces. But learned to cook fried chicken. 

In May and June, we ate lots of donuts, while wearing pajamas. My kids may not even remember it someday, and it’s sad that I even wondered if they would. It’s embarrassing to admit that I actually wondered if they would remember me as the mom who let them eat donuts in pajamas. But the mantra of my generation is “Are you making memories?” Like we’re manufacturing them in a factory. 

The question needs to be asked: Do I do things with my kids so they can have a good time…or am I wanting them to remember me someday as a good mom? I think it depends on the day. I hate to even say that aloud. 

In previous generations, I think moms focused more on keeping their kids safe, healthy, fed, and educated. My generation is pressured into focusing on keeping our kids entertained and showing everyone now, and our kids later, that we succeeded in it. Like we’re simultaneously the activity directors  and marketing team of a Summer Camp. 

Grandma Tracy remembers the trips and dancing and candy. But she mostly reminisces about the day-to-day tasks. The love shown through doing what needed to be done. “She played with us in her own way. It was a good childhood, but nothing fancy. And we never once doubted she loved us.”

I have the advantage of an easier life and more time to play. But the motive behind the play matters most. Playing with my kids because I desire to spend time with them, not because I want them to think of me as a doting mom. Planning something exciting for them because I want to see them enjoy it, not because I want to be seen as an adventurous mom. Making a tradition so we can share an experience, but not expecting that to be part of my mothering identity.

I don’t know how my kids will think of me when they’re grown, but I’m done thinking about it. I’m done wondering if I’m messing them up. And I’m done over-analyzing all I do in hopes of giving them some idealistic childhood. I’m bucking the trends of my generation. 

I’m just going to keep loving them well and collecting my vintage glass, which I’ll pass onto them someday. Bess will probably sell it all to buy hashbrowns. 

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