An Unspoken Prayer: Evolution of a Friendship

Tenley and me at the cherry blossoms last year - 4 years into a lifelong friendship.

Why is Kathy holding that baby? I think to myself as I see my slight, blonde friend swaying back and forth with a baby I’ve never before seen.

“What’s with the baby?” I prod as I come up beside her.

“Oh, hi,” Kathy shrugs, “Tenley is giving a talk today and she asked me to hold Troy.” She nods down at the baby boy in her arms. He looks to be about 3 or 4 months old.

Who is this poser Tenley? Why would she ask my friend Kathy for help? I’m the one with a baby, not Kathy. I feel a prick of jealousy, but I don’t want to let on that I have no idea who Kathy’s talking about. She obviously thinks I know this Tenley.

A few weeks later, at a church gathering, I see Tenley sitting at one of the concrete picnic tables with her husband and baby boy. People are milling around but no one has snagged the seat next to Tenley and her family. I whisper to Dustin, “We should go say hi to that new couple.” We are quick to welcome new comers, so Dustin doesn’t think this is out-of-the-ordinary. I am, however, partly fueled by the desire to know whomever Kathy knows. I don’t want to be left out in case she’s moving on to new friendships. After a slightly awkward introduction, we move away politely.

Months later, it seems that I haven’t seen Tenley at church, or elsewhere for that matter, so when she calls me, I am surprised.

“Hi Sally. This is Tenley.”

I haven’t forgotten her unusual name, so at least I don’t embarrass myself by asking, “Who?” Instead I talk with her like we’re friends. After we exchange the normal niceties, she asks if I know anyone who would like to do a babysitting exchange with her. She’s an apartment manager, as am I, and needs a babysitter for a couple of hours a week to complete her management tasks.

Why does this girl even care? The job is lame. It’s not like it has to be done well, I think. Then I surprise myself when I hear something else coming out of my mouth: “I would love to do a babysitting exchange with you! I could use a few hours a week to take care of our apartment building as well.”

I can feel the look on my face questioning my words. After all, my face knows better. I don’t like babysitting. The only child I love is my own.

The babysitting exchange is born. Tenley drops 6-month-old Troy at my apartment on Tuesday mornings for 2 hours, and I pick and choose between various mornings, afternoons, and sometimes I opt for a date night babysitting trade instead. Usually it’s pretty easy besides the fact that Troy never will hold his own bottle so sometimes I have to juggle feeding Troy a bottle and nursing Claire. Other than that Claire and Troy enjoy watching each other and over time, they begin to play.

Because the kids like each other well enough, and because we have something in common (apartment managing) we decide to try a play date where we all hang out for a morning. I’ve never really hosted a play date and the only one I’ve ever been to, the mom served us all a gourmet lunch. I’m not sure what protocol is so I decide I should serve lunch, too. I open a can of soup and then try to make lunch seem a little more gourmet by broiling the ham and cheese sandwiches. Tenley only eats about half of the lunch and leaves early because Troy is fussy. I figure we should just stick to the babysitting exchange. We don’t really need to be friends. The set-up we have works. Why force more?

Before long, we’re hanging out every week. Then Tenley asks all of us to come to dinner. Then we ask their family to come to dinner.

Suddenly I realize that Tenley has become my best friend.

Later, Tenley says something in passing that makes me wonder if something is wrong. I don’t get the chance to ask her about it. It stews in the back of my mind. I can tell by the way she mentioned it that she doesn’t actually want to talk about it, but I can’t stop thinking about her. I should have at least asked her if she wanted to talk about whatever is bothering her.

I'm picking Claire up from an afternoon at Tenley’s. I’m 8 or 9 weeks pregnant with Avery (baby number 2) and feeling nauseous. I think I’ll just dash in to get Claire then hurry home to make dinner. My morning (day) sickness begs to be fed often and dinner time is no exception. When I get down on the floor to pick up Claire’s various socks, shoes, and stuffed animals, I remember that I should tell Tenley that we can talk about whatever is bothering her any time, so I do. She resists, but I push just a little, and then we really talk. I talk through the nausea because all that matters is that Tenley needs me. I have the thought that this moment in our friendship is probably one of the reasons I introduced myself at the party and then said yes to babysitting her baby.

Even if it was just so we can have this important conversation today, it is enough.

A little over a year and dozens of playdates later, my beautiful Claire is diagnosed with Leukemia. My world shatters and amongst the pieces I find wonderful friends. Tenley and her family are the first visitors to the hospital. She immediately seems to have a great respect for Claire’s new immunity problems. I know she won’t visit if she or Troy has the sniffles or a scratchy throat. I trust her. She calls me every couple of days just to check in. She seems to understand when I shut down socially.  

One day when we can’t go anywhere because of Claire’s compromised immune system, Tenley and Troy give us a ‘heart attack.’ We watch them through the large living room windows. They tape colored, paper hearts all over the window. Some are covered with obvious Troy scribbles. Some have happy writing from Tenley. Still others have photos of Claire and Troy from our camping trip earlier in the summer. I ache to be helping them heart attack someone else. I wish fervently that we didn’t need it, but try to enjoy it just the same.

Later, when Claire has to be hospitalized, I arrive home from the hospital to take the night shift at home with Avery. I get home late and exhausted. I eat a dark, lonely dinner. Less than half an hour later, there is a soft knock at the door. It’s Tenley. She’s holding two cups of Starbuck’s hot chocolate. With the liquidy chocolate, she offers her company and a listening ear if I need one. I accept them all gratefully.

Now, a couple of years from that moment of crisis, I think back to the beginning of a friendship. I think of the playdates, the babysitting, the shared meals and outings. I think of my fatigued heart with blood continuing to pulse painfully even though I would much rather be dead. And, I think of the relief a friend can bring. I assume Tenley thinks I was an answer to her prayer when she moved to Seattle with a newborn and some challenges of her own, but I know better.

Tenley was the answer to a prayer I had not yet prayed.


A Year in Words and Photos: Unicorns and Snow Angels

A little report on our favorite February activity this year:


Snow fell softly all night long, deceiving those of us who thought driving in it would be peaceful. Despite the blizzardy drive home Wednesday night, by morning, the world did indeed look peaceful – enveloped in a cocoon of white fluff. 

Our opportunity to go sledding was finally upon us. Luckily, I had purchased the bright pink and purple snowsuits from the local thrift store only a week before with sledding on my mind. And, even more luckily, Dustin had thought to spend Christmas gift money on two shiny new sledding disks weeks ahead of time. Thank you, Great-grandma Bluhm!

Outfitted in almost all the proper snow gear, we crunched out onto the fresh expanse of powdery snow. Because of the wind chill, I predicted the girls would last 20 minutes at the most. But, after trudging to the top of the park hill to glide down again and again, an hour-and-a-half later we had our first tears from cold fingers. Apparently we need more appropriate gloves or mittens if we want to last any longer, but the snow suits and the snow boots the girls had already been wearing as regular footwear for months definitely made for a more enjoyable snow experience.  

Unicorn hats, silly grins, thrilling speed, whispery snow angels and a mound of a snowman thrown in for good measure, at last we succumbed to the cold and headed home for hot chocolate in our newly-acquired unicorn mugs.

And to think that last February we were here.


Thoughts on Death While Eating a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy’s

A week ago, I had the distinct impression that I am going to die soon.

To clarify, Mormons use the word ‘impression’ lightly sometimes, and I believe I’m using it lightly here. At least, I hope I’m using it lightly. I mean, I am pregnant, which we all know can lead to irrational thoughts, and I’m hormonal, which leads to emotional outbursts. This all leads us to the moment when I was sitting across from my beautiful girls at Wendy’s, of all places, and I started sobbing.

Well, sobbing could be a strong word. I was quietly weeping. Tears were blurring my vision and a lump filled my throat to capacity as I tried to memorize every detail of my girls’ beings:

First, Claire: Her large, increasingly dark eyes. Her paint-chipped fingernails – a different color on each nail. Her long, silky hair pulled back into two amateur French braids.

Then, Avery: Her almond-shaped brown eyes with long, curly eye lashes. Her small face that somehow is still the full-face of a toddler. Her unruly curls slipping out of her pigtails to frame that face just so.

And, I cried some more. All this while Claire and Avery licked the last bits of chocolate frosty from their spoons.

Recently, it became clear to me for the first time that if a family is separated by death that it isn’t only the people who are left behind who mourn. Before the girls were born, Dustin and I would occasionally discuss what the other would do if one of us died. I always insisted that I wanted to die first. No way was I getting left behind on earth to finish out the rest of this life without him. I now believe with all my heart that those who pass on miss us just as intensely. Especially if that death was premature. And, the thought of being separated from my children for the rest of their lives . . . Well, it paralyzes me and causes me to sob in Wendy’s.

Nowadays, if Dustin and I talk about dying and what to do about it, I apologize to him beforehand and reiterate how strongly I love him, but he will just have to go first. I simply cannot leave my children without a mother.

I won’t.

This finds us back at the beginning of this babbling post. Last week I had a powerful thought that I could die at any time. (I guess that’s just a fact anyway.) Today, I shared the thought with Dustin. He laughed at first and then asked me to stop talking about it. But, I couldn’t let it go. I told him that if I do die that I’m going to haunt him. I’m not giving up without a fight. I’ll need him to get married fairly quickly to a woman who will love my children. A woman who will love him. How does one replace oneself? I almost wish I could hold try-outs now. Hmmmmm.

So, now you know what the pregnant woman eating a frosty at Wendy’s is really thinking about.

You’re welcome.


The Ten-Week Grudge

    April Fool's Day 2008 - The day before the grudge began

Once, I was mad at Dustin for 10 weeks straight.

Ten. Weeks.

Luckily, the day before the 10 weeks began was just about perfect.

It was April Fool’s Day 2008. Dustin and I spent a lovely afternoon on the campus at University of Washington. We were there to admire the famed cherry blossoms. This became a tradition ever after. Each spring we caravanned to campus with various friends to view the beauty of God’s creations. Thirty, one-hundred-year-old cherry trees line a grassy walkway. If you stand atop the staircase above them you can capture a breathtaking photo of the massive trees frothed in all their blossoming glory.

We did this. In the photo, my very pregnant face is the first indication that Claire would be arriving sooner than later; however, when I look at the picture now I think of the powerful onslaught of hormones that were about to be released with our first baby the next morning. That day, in that photo, I loved Dustin madly, and could never think of being angry at him for longer than an hour. Less than 24 hours later, through an all-night labor and 3 hours of pushing, I was livid. I remained so for two and half months.

Suddenly Dustin could do no right. He was exhausted after Claire’s birth. He was exhausted. He said, “I was standing next to you all night, Sal. At least you got to lie down.” Then, we got home, and he didn’t know how to change a diaper, and he thought I should nurse Claire every time she cried. Can you believe he voiced an opinion on when to feed the baby? Also, during any night waking, he was useless and fuzzy, fumbling fingered. You know what I mean.

So I was mad. But, that’s not all. I just felt mean toward him. I didn’t really like feeling that way, but I couldn’t seem to make it go away. It was like there wasn’t room enough in my heart for the new, encompassing love I felt for Claire and the comfortable love I had for Dustin. I had to make a choice.

I chose Claire.

Oh, how I loved Claire. Claire had made me a mother! A mother! Something that only a short time before had seemed mountains away. I held her close, rocking her in my mahogany rocking chair. I pompously loved her more than any other mother could love her newborn child. My hormone-laced tears would flow freely when certain thoughts crept in. For instance, the fact that she would someday be bigger than a newborn had me in convulsions. I had pitying thoughts toward other women who actually chose to never have children. Who would do that? I thought as Claire and I rocked in our pretentious chariot. I vowed to treasure every. single. moment. I had heard too many older mothers vocally long for the younger days of their children. I would not be one of those mothers. I would value these days even if it killed something else entirely. Possibly even my love for my youthful husband.

Nevertheless, as big and encompassing as this fresh-skinned love for my child was, I missed loving Dustin. I missed feeling tingly with love for him. I missed our late night movies and bowls of ice cream. I missed wishing he would come home early from school. In effect, I was longing for days of yore with my husband just as those older mothers long for a visit to their grown children’s childhood. All they really want to do is hold those small children again and tell them, “I love you even though you spilled an entire gallon of milk on the carpet and it smelled for 8 years until we could afford to replace it.” But, they can’t because the adult children laugh it off now and can’t even remember the incident. So the mothers remain tortured in their longing for resolution to their long-ago outrage.

So, ten weeks into being a mother, I was lounging placidly in our living room as the gray, Northwest sunshine poured in through the windows. I was thoroughly enjoying the delightful rolls of babyhood and patting myself on the back for doing it with such gusto. At this precise moment, I had a thought about my husband who was sitting at the kitchen table:

“He’s going to get older, too.”

Hmmm. What was that?

“Right now, Dustin is young, but someday he will be old and you will be nostalgic for your youthful love just as you will yearn for your babies. Enjoy his moments of youth, too.”

My universe was silent as the powerfully gentle thought crushed through the hormones glazed across my usual forgiving nature. Then, panic bubbled out from inside my heart. I was missing something. I had a front-row seat to Dustin’s first days of fatherhood and I was ignoring it. I was shoving it to the side to make room for my own swollen ego.

I turned my head, just slightly, to see my husband working studiously over his books and laptop. Less than a year into graduate school, a new baby and a hormonally unstable stay-at-home wife weighed on his sloped shoulders. Swallowing the sour milk taste of mother pride, I set Claire in her swing. Slowly. I glided the few steps from the living room to the table. Dustin didn’t even look up. In the past, he recognized my closeness unconsciously and relaxed his tense shoulders for the certain shoulder rub. But, not now. He must be used to not being touched. I reached out to massage his right shoulder. Then I grabbed the left. He started. Just a bit.


He looked up at me, maybe warily, maybe hopefully.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

His face showed relief and fatigue at the same time, “You don’t need to be sorry.”

“But, I am. And . . .”

Again, he looked up.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, Sal,” he squeezed my hand on his shoulder.

Then, Claire gurgled. Dustin understood the conversation was over and turned back to his work, but I restrained myself. Instead of rushing to be a part of her babyhood moment, I massaged the youth back into my husband’s shoulders until they were no longer sloped. I silently renewed my vow to cherish each moment, but this time I was thinking of my time with Dustin. Only then, did I go to Claire who was happily sucking her fingers.

She hadn’t missed me at all.

    University of Washington campus, April 2012 - 4 years after the ten-week grudge