Just as the van door popped open, Aria’s spunky little self popped out. She lunged into a big jump, and stopped. She put herself right in front of me, and partially lifted up my shirt. “Is there a baby in there?” She had my attention, but I said nothing. She turned her head, pursed those lips, winced those eyes — all in a perfect Aria way, and blurted “I think there is.” She dropped my shirt, leaped from the van and ran to the park. She left me stunned. I quickly text Joe the words of our 3.5 year old. Only to find out days later, what she said was true. I was pregnant. Pregnant with a little life, our fourth baby. Joe and I kept this secret to ourselves, it was a big month, Christmas Concert was upon us, Naomi’s birthday, Christmas, ICF Reunion, hosting Grandma’s wedding, it just seemed like it was the right decision. We didn’t tell family, didn’t hint to the girls, there was no talk about a baby, it was a secret just between us.
I was filling up my coffee at MOPS, when a mom I barely knew tapped me on the shoulder. “Congratulations!” she whispered into my ear. I turned around, very confused, “Huh?” is the only word I could get out my mouth. She smiled that big smile, and repeated “Congratulations! Your three year old is spilling the beans all over her classroom.” Now very stunned. I repeated, “Huh?” Now, she’s confused. “You’re not pregnant?” she asked. I didn’t know how to answer that. I pulled her into a hallway and whispered, “I am pregnant, but she doesn’t know that!” The mom, smiled back, “Oh yes she does, and she’s telling everyone it’s a boy!” I am floored.
On Friday, January 2nd, our home was filled with laughter, song, cheers, and grand celebration— my 89.5 year young Grandma got married to her beau, Thom Thompson. Great grandkids threw petals, Anjuli shot pictures, Jessica made the cake, Leonie and mom put together a host of finger foods, Joe walked ‘Great Ama’ down the aisle, Sam performed the ceremony, and Malina and I colored the ceremony with song as I held a fever-spiking Aria close — all with our home as the backdrop. It was a heart-full kind of day. It wasn’t until the house was cleared and clean, and Joe and I were about to settle in to a late evening of us, that’s when I called him into the bathroom. Spotting. Nothing too alarming for this optimist mother of three, but spotting still stops time and shines a spotlight onto a very scary fear. The spotting continued, and I continued to tell myself it’s just spotting, it’s going to be okay. But nothing was okay, the increased spotting had my full attention. When Monday morning arrived I called the doctor for an appointment that afternoon. I was just shy of 10 weeks, or so I hoped. There was a moment that morning, Aria was sitting outside on our back deck playing with Sophia, Zarina and her Frozen friends. I sat down with her. I wanted to know. “Aria,” I said, “remember how you talked about a baby in Mommy’s belly?” She glanced over at me, suspicious of my question. With a huge sadness in my heart, I asked her, “Is there still a baby in Mommy’s belly?” She looked right at me, turned her head deeply into ponder, and pursed those lips like she always does, “Noooooo.” My heart shattered. “No?”, I asked her, “Where did the baby go?” She paused, with her eyes glued on mine, “I think he’s up with God?”
In a small room, Joe held my hand, and both of us held our breaths, Dr. Hari confirmed what Aria confirmed for me earlier that day. Our little miracle stopped growing at 6 weeks. No life. No baby. One of the emptiest moments of my life.
Joe and I came home to my mom and three darling girls. I’ll never forget my mom’s sobbing tears when we shared the news, “I didn’t know. I could have helped you.” We tried to explain it to the girls. It made little sense to them. It didn’t matter, it made little sense to me too. Over the next few days, things became very difficult. The flu was raging through our home, and just hours after leaving the doctor’s, it was my turn. High fevers for both me and my Aria. The next day, things quickly worsened. That evening, Joe took Aria to Urgent Care, and Anjuli took me to the Emergency Room. This was the night, the night my little baby let go of me. All that I hoped for died.
Over the next couple days, the kindness from others became a wave of strength. Love in the form of flowers, texts, meals, cards, chocolates, phone calls, soups, cookies, hugs, packages, homemade breads, teas, and lastly— a pomegranate tree. My friends bought me a pomegranate tree, and put it on my front door. These gifts bouyed me in the midst of my brokenness. If these gifts were life preservers, my mother was the rescue boat. She tirelessly took the reigns of our home, and cared for me and the girls. She gave me the gift of rest and healing. Each day she’d peak in on me swallowed up in my giant sea of pillows and blankets. She’d offer tea, soup, a sweet kiss, and a nod that the girls are fine. And every so often she’d whisper the importance of naming the baby. I wasn’t opposed. Seemed like a good way to honor that life. But nothing felt right. I think it was my mom that finally reached out to Aria, “What do you think we should name the baby?” In her perfect Aria way, she plainly stated “Wantun.” Let me translate: Lantern. I knew almost instantly, that was it. I loved it. Lantern: A beacon, guide to the lost, a marker for home, a light in the darkness. His name is Lantern. Aria declared it was a boy, why not?
10 days or so passed, I was ready. Ready to plant this tree, to give this story some life. I picked the spot closest to where I lay my head each night, and the first thing I see out of our window each morning. We planted our tree in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. As neighbors emerged from their homes and flooded into our yard, we shared our story about the tree and our little life named Lantern. One day, this tree will be dancing with pomegranates, beautiful ornaments that to me will always look like dangling red Lanterns. Aria Ellen (3.75 years): While I was pushing our cart through Target, you and Naomi were holding onto the side rails, but suddenly, you fell from the cart, a hard fall onto the ground. As always you were pretty tough. You explained how you were trying to jump off the cart. I got down on your level, “Aria, I am sorry, I didn’t know you were about to jump off. I’m so sorry, are you okay?” You looked deep into my eyes, “It’s okay mom, I believe you.” As I was getting up, you squeezed my hand, and pulled me down. “Mama, do you know why I believe you?” It was almost like you wanted to tell me a secret. I came back down to your level again. You looked right at me, and with that sweet sideways head tilt of yours, you said “because I love you.” I just cannot fully explain you how you move my heart, Aria. You are a special girl. *There was a night this month that you prayed, in tears, that God would give you gymnastic classes. “Mommy and Daddy don’t know how good I am,” you told Ama. Some kids pretend to be ballerinas, teachers, or veterinarians; for months, you’ve pretended to be a gymnast. Finally, your prayers were answered! We enrolled you at Gyminny Kids in 4SRanch, and Aria, when we told you about your class with Coach Brian on Wednesday mornings, you shouted with excitement, jumped up and down, put your hands over your mouth, and almost cried. You were soooo happy. *We had a trip to see Dr Martinez. Everyone needed a checkup. The doctor discreetly explained how you needed a shot. It didn’t fool you. You looked right at me, your eyes got really big, “I’m going to get a shot?” I shyly nodded. You hopped right off that examination table, found your feet, and started jumping up and down in excitement. You cheered, “I’m going to get a shot! I’m going to get a shot!” You read that right. When the nurse prepared your upper arm for the shot, she told me “You might want to encourage her to look away.” You jumped right in, “I want to see the shot.” And sure enough you did. You watched every second. The nurse was in awe. I was too. *On a typical trip to ChickFila, I juggled the needs of you and your sisters. This time, in the middle of lunch, you needed to go potty. Our table was pretty close to the bathrooms, I felt comfortable asking the mommy at the next table to watch Juliet and Naomi while I set you up in the bathroom. My plan was to come back out, watch your sisters, then head back into the bathroom in a few minutes to help you finish up. You changed that plan. Out at the table, everyone heard your god-awful scream from the girl’s bathroom. I ran. When I found you in your stall, you were trembling, terrified. You were crying so hard, I couldn’t understand you. You pointed at the water in the toilet. I looked closely. There at the bottom of the basin, sat a shiny penny. Your shiny penny. Did I retrieve it for you? Naturally, like any good mother, I did nothing of the sort. Juliet Mae (18 months!): You are bright eyed, my little one. Bright with personality! Bright with shine! *You are a talking machine. It seems silly to list all the words you say, you say so much. Of course still much of it is adorable babble, but your most common phrase is “Hi baby!” Rain or shine, you see a baby, and you shout “Hi baby!” You are very social. You search for interaction. You thrive on connections with others! *Have I mentioned you love singing? It’s so darling. I hear your voice and my heart melts. *If you’re not in our mudroom putting shoes on and then taking them off the very next second, you’re in the bathroom. You love climbing up the stool, hoisting your body up to the sink, and playing with the faucet water! Washing your hands is right up there with eating as your favorite thing to do. You know the steps: Wash. Soap. Rinse. Dry. You do this over and over and over. If only mommy could tolerate the royal watery mess. *Here’s a mommy confession: You three girls and I were roaming Target when Aria announced she had to “go potty right now!” With the three of you dangling from every side of the cart, we rushed straight to the nearest bathroom! As we approached the checkout, I knew we couldn’t take our cart any farther, so I got a clerk’s attention and asked her if I could leave our item-filled cart there. In the bathroom, something felt wrong, very wrong. Instinctively, I started counting heads. One, Two, Three… something’s missing. I counted again, One, Two, Three, Juliet’s missing!! I ran out of that bathroom so fast. Back at the checkout stands, there was my cart, and my Juliet! You were just sitting there in the cart. Terrified of my mistake, I kissed you, kissed you, kissed you the rest of the afternoon! Naomi Mariam (5 years): You are asking so many questions these days. Questions like “Mommy, is God the sun?” We talked about creation for a while, and then you ended with “and God holds us all in his hands.” *You asked Aria, “Do you know what sister I’m thankful for?” Aria said “Juliet?” You said, “No you! And Juliet too!” *”Mommy, I’ll sure miss you when we’re at our IKEA class, but you know what, we’re sisters, we stick together. I’ll take care of my sister, cause I know ALL the rules.” *Your prayers one night: “Thank you God for this great day, for our family and our friends. Thank you for Aguy (our World Vision child), please keep her safe in Africa. Protect her in the middle of Africa. And please remind her that you are enough for her. And that even though she doesn’t have a mommy and a daddy, she still has you and that is sooo important. Thank you for keeping us grateful and happy with what we have, even when people in Africa have nothing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” In the middle of your prayer, I grabbed Daddy’s arm, squeezed it, and we looked at each other, both of us in awe of your tender words to God. *While Daddy was trying to saw the metal IKEA hanging track, the saw broke and an important piece fell through the crack of our back deck. Daddy’s spirits were crushed. You jumped up, “I’ll get it!” And sure enough you did. You crawled through this tiny space, under our deck, and found many treasures, including the missing part! You were not even a pinch scared, instead you were overjoyed-happy to save the day! *You have ballet, Aria has gymnastics. This has been hard for you. We’ve had many talks about it. On our drive home from gymnastics you said, “Mommy, how would you feel if Auntie Anjuli got to be in gymnastics and you didn’t.” Look at you getting all smart on me — making a comparison that I could relate with, and better understand your point of view. Smart girl. *As you were walking through the garage into the house, you grabbed Juliet’s hand to help her up the steps and you told her “I can already tell we are going to be the best of friends!” Maertz Family Memories: *On January 1st we celebrated our Maneevone Christmas. It was the only time that worked for everyone, why not? I felt a huge tug inside: “offer to make Christmas dinner.” In a clan full of chefs, I often default to let others display their “gifts.” But I kept feeling that tug. So in a gift to my mom, I did it, I made Christmas dinner. I kept it simple, a spicy sausage Italian soup. If this was day one of 2015, I knew this year was going to be a brave one. Two weeks later, in a room full of 50 other mommies, the weekly MOPS question was posed, “Does anyone have a pregnancy announcement?” With huge tears, I stood up, “I’m not pregnant, but I was. And I was so excited to tell you all.” In efforts to honor that life, and in hopes that my openness would befriend another mommy who’s shared the same story, I spoke openly about my loss. *In a strange string of events, days after we lost baby Lantern, Daddy received news that the State Department did not pass him onto the final stage. Days into this new year, Daddy and Mommy were ready for 2016. *After ten years of sharing Tuesdays, Mondays and Thursdays with a beautiful clan of women, Mommy enjoyed a weekend getaway to Laguna Beach to celebrate the first of us to turn 40! Girls flew in from Montana, Colorado and New York, and together we chatted, cried, yoga’d, drank bubbly and lots of coffee, lounged, painted toes, did each other’s hair, sang every thing Sam Smith, traded clothes and stories, decorated our lips with the same delicious color lipstick, cackled into the free-est kind of laughter, yacht’d it up with the best of Orange County, danced into the wee hours, and peed our pants into a fabulous three day weekend sleepover! These friendships are for a lifetime. *Mommy turned 37! Enjoyed a Monday night with the prayer girls, they love me so sweetly. Enjoyed our first “birthday club” gathering at Nok Thai. On my actual birthday, it was fabulous, we started by watching Homeland into the first hour of my birthday! Joe let me pick lunch, so naturally we went to Pho. Joe was speechless. That afternoon we hit up Ikea! Celebrated by re-creating a space in our home, a mudroom-office (initiated because we had no “place” for stamps, they were always getting lost!). At the end of my birthday, I started a new tradition, and sure hope it sticks. I walked to a neighbor’s home and gifted her a potted plant of pretty flowers. I want my girls to remember that some of life’s best joys are when we love others.