Happy 4 months Anaberry!
It was about 10% instinctual, the rest has been the proverbial “building the plane while flying it.” Maybe 10% is too high. Then again, the CIA doesn’t believe in stating percentages as it sounds too firm. But, being a human with the ability to apply critical thinking, I think 10 sounds about right.
I’m not solely talking about knowing what to do in the first couple of months with a newborn— how to change diapers, calm her down, manage the schedule. I’m talking about being a father, making a connection, protecting a child, leading the family. Some of that existed naturally, in some areas more than others, but many of my actions the first two months came from a sense of duty rather than instinct or connection.
People talk often about how you ‘fall in love’ immediately when you meet the baby. I did have that. But I fell in love with the miracle which came from Meghan and our love for each other.
But that’s changed now. Around 2 1/2 months, Anabel started looking at me directly. She began to turn her head when I was speaking to Meghan across the room. She lifts the corners of her mouth to a curled smile when I sing to her. Her gaze has steadied. She initiates conversation with me, as incoherent as it may be.
I don’t believe it always starts out naturally for dads. Or, at least it didn’t exactly for me. I love Meghan, but did what I needed to do out of a deep love for my wife, and her instantaneous, instinctual love for our beautiful baby girl rather than my own instinct. I questioned how was I to be, to act, to serve, to lead?
That 10%, however, has risen steadily, day-by-day, and now it’s nearly impossible to think of my life without Anabel.
I love this girl.
Dr. Sara says, ‘you’re perfect’ and I agree.
You are healthy, smiley, and playful. You coo, squawk and bat at your toys on the play mat with excitement. You love the light up toy on top of the play mat and your mobile. Your sneezes are still adorable. You are 22 inches long and over 9 pounds! You are nearly sleeping through the night only waking up once between 330 and 530 :) You are attentive and love to be talked to. You have different cries including a ‘fake’ cry. You go to work with daddy sometimes and all the women there love to hold you while daddy has meetings. You are stubborn. You don’t like a bottle.
This month a lot of ‘firsts.’ You attended your first graduation ceremony when I finished my Master’s degree and took your first flight to California to visit Aunt Kate, Uncle Ty and cousins Wyatt and Emmy. Aunt Kate adored you, Wyatt was intrigued by you and Emmy loved to play/pull your hair. You were an angel on the flight, hardly making a sound. You visited the beach and Mimi helped you put your toes in the water. You had your first real scare when Emmy squealed in her high pitched voice a little too close to you. Your eyes got big, your first frown appeared followed by a brief cry. It was the saddest but most adorable moment.
You know I’m your mom and sometimes when you cry you just want me. I have never felt so special than when you snuggle into my shoulder and your crying ceases. I love being your comfort.
"To be a child is to know the joy of living. To have a child is to know the beauty of life."
One month has flown. I still have to remind myself that I am a mom! Every inch of life has taken on new and deeper meaning with your arrival. You have changed so much in such a short time. We love to watch you grow but I am already mourning the loss of moments passed. One of the most memorable moments in the first month was your dedication at the Mile High Vineyard Church on Mother’s Day: May 11, 2014. All of the Williams family was here in Denver to witness your dad and I commit to be Godly examples to you, pray for you and raise you with the values we believe are true.
There is nothing I want more than for you to have a life filled with purpose, redemption and love. You are 21 inches long, over 8 pounds and have not lost a lock of your hair! Your eyes are the most shining deep blue and you are showing them off for longer periods of time now. You have the most adorable sneezes. You love to be swaddled in ‘your bag’ for bedtime after daddy reads you a book. You don’t really know you have a big monster of a dog for a sister but we take walks with her almost every day. You like to be outside. You are a sweet baby who rarely cries if you’re not hungry. You are gassy ;) You are very alert and have had more visitors than I can count come to meet you.
You are loved beyond measure.
She procrastinated a bit, but she arrived.
It’s odd having a date in your mind, a date completely life-altering, come and go. For 9 months, we thought about March 27 — the day our baby girl would be born. But March 27 came and went, without a new little human in the world, and nothing really changed at all. It’s almost like planning a wedding, then, when it gets near, telling people, “It might be a few weeks — we’ll let you know.” But now the 27th is just another date in March, because our little one was born April 3 at 12:54am.
Meghan was a champ. I mean, I know this girl is tough — I’ve seen her tramp weeks on end in the Annapurna Mountains with hardly a complaint, finish a yoga teacher training class while planning a wedding and working full-time, hammering through hundreds of hours of clinical hours while completing her Masters (again while working full-time) and being pregnant to boot. I’ve seen her dominate the Courage Classic, a 180-mile bike race over Vail Pass. But I’ve never seen anyone handle something like this - natural labor - with such focus, determination, and grace. She was in active labor for about 6 hours, in varying degrees of difficulty, and when it was all said and done, Meg had done it all naturally and we had a sweet, healthy, 7lb 13.5oz baby girl.
As is the custom at Mountain Midwifery Center, we went home just five hours after delivery on a beautiful, dark snowy morning. The spring storm left 5 or so inches on the ground as we carried out our baby girl in her new car seat, wrapped in a blanket, taking her first nap in the fresh Colorado air.
Along with Meg’s mom and sister, we were fortunate to have wonderful staff with us that evening, as well as a fantastic doula named Barbara, who was especially helpful in active labor at our house before we left.
It took us a couple days to settle on a name — such an epic responsibility to give a person a name, a name they will have for life. What if Apple Computer had been named Mango Computer? I mean, I’m not comparing her to a multinational corporation, only saying that names have power. I had so many thoughts for each name we had on the list - what profession it sounded like, how people would say it or not say it, what nicknames people would use, how she would write it, where people would think she’s from seeing it on paper, whether she would like it, and if it would suit her personality.
A million different scenarios played out for each one in the first couple days, and I, prone to over-analyzing, just couldn’t help myself.
We finally gave her the name Anabel Jane Williams, meaning ‘lovable gift from God.’ The name gives homage to Meg’s grandma, Anna, and also to her mom (JoAnn), my sister (Joanna), and my grandma (Jean). Looking at her, we know it fits.
In the first couple of days, we had a ton of visitors drop off food, support us, and give love to baby Anabel. It is certainly times like this that make us feel so grateful to have such wonderful friends and family.
Nearly three years in to marriage, and a combined 57 years on earth, Meg and I have brought a new life onto the pale blue dot. The next adventure begins.
“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” -Charles Dickens
"I have a chronic case of Walter Mitty syndrome…I am constantly foiling imaginary bank robbers and enemies. I waste hours every day envisioning a life far more dramatic, far more macho, than the sedate circumstances in which I usually exist.
That’s part of the reason why I wanted to start a family. When you start a family, you’re signing up for drama. You’re signing up for worry. You’re signing up for life-and-death. You’re signing up for a life that means something more, even if it isn’t as fun a life as when you were single and drinking Coors in the Giants Stadium parking lot. Kids make your life significant. They give your life a spine.” - Drew Magary, Someone Could Get Hurt
We’re having a baby.
My good buddy Marcus Naramore recently gave me a book on “21st century parenting” from a writer at Deadspin, and the quote above made me laugh really hard - it’s perfectly suited to me. It may not quite capture the feelings of Meghan, but I know for most new dads, the above rings true.
We’re expecting towards the end of March - the 27th to be exact. When I mentioned the date to a coworker, she said: “Oh, nice…an Aries!” which I didn’t really understand. All I know is that sometime in the next 10 weeks, Meg and I are going to be parents of a brand-new human; a precious baby girl.
Meg is now at 30 weeks - the cutest pregnant lady I’ve ever seen and the hardest-working woman I know. She is working as a resource nurse for the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital and finishing up her NP degree from CU Denver. She’s done an amazing job balancing it all, and has even been accepted into a nursing honor society for her grades and effort in the program. But I have to say - we’re stoked for May when she finishes everything up. I am, indeed, a lucky man.
As for me, I’m working as Marketing Director of TEDxMileHigh and loving the work. We have five amazing events and substantial programming scheduled for 2014, but more important is the caliber of individuals I work with at the organization - they inspire me daily.
And as for the baby - I’m enormously, immensely excited. I’m also anxious, nervous, and, at times, rather exhausted thinking about what exactly I need to do. From what I’ve heard, this is normal for a first-time dad - as it is for a first-time mom. There’s a million thoughts going through my brain simultaneously, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m better off sticking to one task at a time.
This life we’re signing up for - this life of drama, of laughter, of worry, of joy, of sorrow - is beautiful and significant. This new aspect of life we’re signing up for arrives on March 27.
It’s been 14 months since we returned from traveling back to Denver. This may also be the last time I use traveling as a life marker. It’s interesting how people use certain events to measure distance and time in their lives. The time each milestone, or marker, lasts depends on the situation, but it seems like every couple years there’s a new line in the sand from which all subsequent time is measured. Big events can be stacked, but there’s almost always one that’s the deepest, the most relevant, the most impactful.
Our time in the last few months has been taken by a combination of school and work, especially for Meg who is putting in an unbelievable amount of energy into each. She is an amazing doer. No, an amazing accomplisher. She can’t help but do everything excellently, with all her energy, to finish always a job well done. I’m extraordinarily proud of her.
Meg also recently competed in the Courage Classic, a race that raises money for the Childrens Hospital. With her sweet new Bianchi, she and a few close friends from work (Kate Dodt, Jen Alpern) did over 150 miles in the mountains over three days, including climbing over 5 passes of 10000ft each. I went to bring more cowbell, and supported their awesomeness as they dominated Summit County.
I’m one year into my job at TEDxMileHigh. For me, I haven’t had nearly the kind of busyness that Meg has had, but starting a new job in a new industry, at an organization with a startup mentality, run by a core team of 4, has been challenging. It’s pushed me in areas that highlight both my strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn’t be happier to have that type of position: one that is never boring, has room for growth, and allows me to learn daily. And if I’m not learning, it’s my own fault.
Whether life is busy, or slow, the following quote is always on my mind, and I leave you with this:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt
This blog, and our year abroad, would never be complete if we didn’t mention how we spent the last three weeks of our time in New Zealand.
After camping in Spirits Bay, and moving down to the Bay of Islands, Meghan and I were running low on funds, without jobs or a place going back to the US, and unsure about how we could spend the next three weeks of our lives in New Zealand. I knew a friend from John Brown University that was now living in Auckland with her husband, so I gave her a ring, hoping that they would be kind enough to put us up for a couple days in the city while we adjusted and figured out our return home.
Instead of a couple days, they invited to stay until our departure. Spending three weeks with Emily and Erlo Jones was, without a doubt, one of our most shining memories of New Zealand. We were worn out and tired, having traveled 20K+ miles, and they took us into their home, and into their lives, for those three weeks. I’ve rarely experienced the kind of hospitality, generosity, friendship, and humanity that were showed to us during that time in May. Erlo and Emily continued to go to work during the week, but allowed us to use their home as a base to search for jobs, find housing upon our return, and relax as we transitioned from travel back to life in the US. They ate with us, took us to their favorite vineyards, showed us around Auckland, and watched movies with us. They showed us where we could go to hike in the rainforest just west of the city, how we could spend our free time, and made sure we were always comfortable. They had also traveled extensively, and understood that bringing people in is one of the most amazing gifts someone can give.
We had a lot of experiences in New Zealand of amazing hospitality, but Emily and Erlo showed us a deeper level invitation—they showed us love.
During the last three weeks, with wifi in the house and Emily and Erlo’s goodwill, I was able to solidify a short-term teaching position from New Zealand upon my arrival to Denver. Meghan got her job back at the Children’s Hospital, and we found housing through a friend of mine. And we didn’t have to do it from some crazy hostel in downtown Auckland.
Three weeks is a long time to share your life with a couple that you barely know. Emily and Erlo did it with grace, without self-interest, and out of love. We couldn’t be more grateful for our time that we shared with them, how much they let us in, and the friendship that was built.
It’s May 2nd and I’m sitting cross-legged with a taupe fleece blanket covering my head, my feet, and my identity. From the outside, I am a chess-piece, wooden and lifeless. Inside, my knees ache from hours of acute angles and rigid posturing, my back upright and still, chin lifted and eyes closed. In the dimly-lit hall, 70 other pawns silently sit on a chess board of blue mats, legs crossed and identities equally shawled. There are enough people in the room to field 7 baseball teams, yet the only audible sound is the muted inhale and exhale from an indiscriminate few. I open my eyes for an instant and glance around the room. It’s more oil painting than reality, surreal beyond a sunny day in Northern Auckland, and my heart is racing with anxiety.
A token Indian voice comes on the speaker and tells me to ‘reemain avhare, avhare’ of the breaths entering and exiting my nostrils as we finish out the session. ‘Patiently and persistently,’ he whispers, ‘and you are(d) bound to be successful, bound to be successful.’
After nearly 300 miles trekking, 17,000 miles in the air, and 8,000 on the pavement, we needed a break. We traveled to 8 countries in 9 months and toured New Zealand from top to bottom. We have learned organic farming and gardening techniques. We’ve juiced. We’ve watched sheep being sheered. In a few weeks, the United States would beckon in the all the ways we love and hate, by way of that wonderful catch-all of civilization: LA. So when we caught word of a 10-day silent retreat in northern Auckland, we jumped on it. It would be a perfect way to still our minds before Lady Liberty tips her torch in our faces to test our grit on the world’s stage.
We heard about Vipassana meditation from a friend of ours in Lake Hawea, near Wanaka. It was founded by an Indian named SN Goenka, who has been teaching the technique since the 60s. He is now world-famous and does teaching in all parts of the globe.
Vipassana is meant to be ‘non-sectarian,’ universal in utility, and grounded in nothing more than the individual and reality itself. We are Christians, so a 10-day retreat that isn’t based on God’s word sounded unusual, if not heretical. Even so, we prayed on it, talked about it, and even read reviews from other Christians expressing their thoughts and feelings on the practice. After all was said and done, we decided to go for it. It would be ten days to pray, to listen, to quiet our minds, and hopefully learn something new.
The retreat is set in locations all around the world, and is supposedly run completely on donations. Their conference building near Auckland is set in a beautiful little valley and is quite modern and clean with extremely good facilities for being 100% reliant on the generosity of past students.
Each student who attends the course gets their own private room, which is basic, but clean. During the course, one must follow a very strict policy of no talking, reading, or writing of any kind. For ten days, students must be silent, austere, and practice up to 10 hours of mediation per day, starting with a 4:00am wake up call for first session at 4:30am, finishing in a 9:30pm session in the evening.
In accordance with the rules, Meghan and I were disallowed from talking with one another, and we also had to refrain from eye contact of any kind. I wink at Meghan like twice a day, so this was, at the bare minimum, a challenge of self-control. The point of the retreat is a complete disconnect from society, for 10 days, to renew the mind through nothing more than heightened awareness.
We lasted two full days. It turned out that the techniques taught were extremely useful in quieting my mind, but completely against the belief that I have in Christ as my savior. Buddhism is about reaching enlightenment by practicing goodwill, being gentle, and working to ‘know thyself’ through hours and hours of meditation and self-reflection. The methods we were taught in the two days are not intrinsically wrong, but their ultimate goal is. The goal is to eventually become your own Buddha, to find heaven within yourself, to save yourself from the world.
From the beginning, we were determined to test our mettle and stick out the 10 days, but by the end of the second, Meghan and I made the decision, separately, to leave. Neither Meghan nor myself returned for the final session on the evening of day two because we were both so convicted about what exactly we were doing there. So we told our ‘managers’ and sat down together in a small room to discuss with a more enlightened middle-aged male who was a Goenka trainee and leader at the Auckland Vipassana. Without speaking or winking, Meghan and I had both made the decision to leave, and were going to tell the other as soon as we could. Yet we ended up being in the same room, and told the guy that our faith was in Christ, not in ourselves, and that we need not save ourselves from the world when we have faith in God.
Knees aching, we lifted ourselves up and drove away with no place to go but away. We ended up sleeping in Colin the Concerto that night, but despite the tough sleeping arrangement digs, we slept peacefully knowing we made the right decision to cut short our days at Vipassana. Reflecting on the previous two days, I firmly believe that Vipassana can only truly be for Buddhists. People of other faiths have something to learn, but will struggle keeping everything in line.