margin.

Photo cred: Unsplash / By Milada Vigerova

We are in the midst of a string of rainy days. It’s been this way for weeks: three days rain, one day of clouds, two days rain, one day of clouds. Welcome, Spring. (I’m over you, by the way.)

Along with incessant rain comes the beginning of the school year. As buckets in the sandbox fill with water, the family schedule fills and drips over with bentos, three different school dismissal times, PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and all manner of official and important-looking papers — which, by the way, I’m unable to read completely. A baby and little sleep have simply sealed the deal: I have no margin. I’ve spent my last penny. Suddenly, I’m just done.

When Bryan came home today, I sort of lost it. I hate losing it. I’d rather keep everything together: neat and tidy. I’d rather be limitless, have no need of boundaries or rest or margin. I’d rather be self-sufficient and not meet my husband at the door with tears in my eyes and a desperate plea to lock myself in the bedroom for an hour. But almost as soon as I sat on the bed, I knew those were ridiculous desires. I don’t have limits and needs because I’ve done something wrong, I was made with them. I’ve been designed this way. My needs have purpose that go beyond my own heart and into the realms of my spouse, family, and community. Perhaps the lack of margin I’m facing this April is the opportunity for a child to have an important conversation with dad. Or the time for dad to really study the baby’s face before she grows. Perhaps my limits will be the place Bryan and I meet each other to discuss, relate, and serve one another.

Certainly, when I reach the end of myself, I can see clearly how I’ve been working out of my own effort. And enjoying it! See how capable I am! Who needs naps, quiet, rest, or the Word of God? Who needs prayer and margin when you have coffee? Until, all of a sudden, it’s spent. Until, all of a sudden, the third rainy day in a month of chaos just snaps me and I meet my husband at the door crying. Even in the confusing haze of exhaustion, I can look past the sadness and see the truth: I needed reminding. I am not all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present. I have limits. I have a cup that needs refilling. I have a heart that longs for refreshment from my God, and even my body knows the truth.

Slowing down is hard, And slowing down correctly is even harder. I can rest up these legs with couch-surfing and binge-watching, but only part of me will end refreshed. It’s harder to walk the steps toward a quiet heart and really listen deeply to the words of life.

He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. My cup overflows. I’ll be seeking these things.

a real life look at my real life: our bedroom.

I’m sitting in the creaky glide-rocker we bought on sale at Nebraska Furniture Mart when we were newlyweds and found out we were pregnant with Jones. Our duplex was still in boxes, and our first purchases for it were this rocker and a micro-suede loveseat that my kiddos jump on in the playroom next door. The space heater is pointed at my feet, my white robe is draped over my desk chair (lovingly named “the passion killer” by my husband), and another blanket sits rumpled under my heels. There is a basket of belongs-not-in-this-room-but-I-don’t-know-where-else-yet items by the bookshelf, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be finding their home for the next six months. My dust-covered desk houses infant gas drops, a lotion bottle, an empty tissue box, a Bible, one baby bootie, and pictures of my loves. A lonely pen lays on the ground, waiting either for my foot or my daughter’s fingers. Most likely, she will pick it up and use it to defame some of the pretty notecards I keep tucked away in my desk. Next to the pen is the crib — borrowed from friends, with bumpers that don’t match the pink sheets, neither of which match anything else in this room. It is full of blankets — clean blankets, used blankets, blankets that have been spit-up on. A noise machine and a basket of diapers and breast pads sit in the corner. I just noticed a deflated pink balloon on the floor (from where?!), next to a basket of (clean! folded!) laundry. That basket has been well-loved and well-used in this house, evident from the duct tape holding both handles together. Bryan’s suit jacket hangs on the door (when was that last used?), along with some of my pajamas. My Christmas present sits in a box on top of the armoir, untouched except for the five minutes I took it out last week. Is this a sufficient picture of my real life? My real bedroom?

I’m sitting in this corner, tapping away, while I wait for Ivy to settle into sleep on our bed. That bed that smells like me and my milk, with sheets that need a desperate wash but will remove all scent of comfort for that little thing trying to grunt her way into dreamland while I wait in the corner. I know — KNOW — that if I leave the room before she’s deep and peaceful, I will close the door ever-so-quietly, tiptoe down the hall and the stairs, and breathe a sigh of relief in the living room, it will all be quickly succeeded by a sharp cry from the monitor. BUT, if I sit here and listen to her grunts, she may sleep somewhere other than my arms, and I’m willing to wait for that. (So far, me sitting in the corner has also worked for that crazy 45-minute mark of naps that mothers know all-too-well.)

Right now, I feel like a success. I folded that laundry basket that stared judgingly at me from the corner, though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I listened to my little lady talk about the names of the ponies on “My Little Pony.” And I sat in this corner waiting for Ivy to sleep, an act of love to this dear little one. It’s good for me to remember that loving Ivy right now looks like feeding her, holding her, responding to her cries. Someday, she will require a listening ear and a hand to brush sand from her knees, but in this season, she needs these little things.

Like right now, as she’s crying and not grunting anymore, so I must go.

(I said it would be a real look at real life, didn’t I? Abrupt endings and such.)

lessons from Ivy.

I’m thinking God knew what he was doing when he decided to give me another baby. (Surprise, surprise.)

Last night, it occurred to me while I was bathing 3/4 of my children that I’ve been much calmer about Jones’s homework since Ivy arrived on the scene. And also about sibling squabbles. And whether or not Harper chooses to wear the appropriate shoes and socks when we go to pick up Ezzy. Really, I’m calmer about most things. (Except the bane of our parenting existence: dinnertime. For some reason, our kids really suck at SITTING and EATING, and must leave the table multiple times without asking or saying why, or move around in their chairs enough to spill many liquids, or chew unholy amounts of food while jumping in their seats. It’s ridiculous. And I am not calm about it. At all.)

Ivy has spared the family from my controlling and perfectionist nature, which was making a strong comeback in the months leading up to birth. (See yesterday’s post.) I was all about the clean house and the routine and the bedtimes, and I wasn’t about to give an inch on anything, because I have one of those kids who will gobble up a foot of inches before I even know what’s happened. I wasn’t demanding anything… yet. But I was toying with the notion that I could exert my will over the reactions and behavior of my children, which is a surefire way to have NO FUN in mothering. Kids are people, too. They can’t live life on their own yet, and sometimes they can be quite rude, but they are entitled to think their own thoughts and feel their own feelings. A mama shouldn’t get in the way of that — but I was starting to think I could clean house, cook meals, AND control children. Yikes.

But this baby is helping me change directions. I’m too tired to try to control things I know don’t belong to me. Sleeplessness is setting me straight. You don’t want to finish the last problem of your homework? Well it’s not my homework, it’s yours, so just tell your teacher why it’s not finished. You want to keep fighting over that toy, despite my attempts to help you work it out? Take the toy upstairs and figure it out there; I’m here if you need me. You want to put rainboots on over those bare feet, in January? As long as you are okay to not climb on anything while we’re out, then be my guest, girl. If your feet get cold, we’ll talk about the benefits of wearing socks.

Babies help you cut down and simplify. Usually, this looks like cooking easier meals and streamlining your cleaning routine. This time, Ivy girl is helping me cut down my expectations of the precious little people in my house, and also of myself. She is helping me simplify my emotional load, because I’ve remembered I’m not responsible for anyone’s feelings but my own.

She has no idea what a gift she’s given her siblings, in allowing me zero control over her needs and wants. Thank you, little lady. I look forward to the other lessons in my future.

all production halts.

I felt so on top of things before the birth of this little lady. Though pregnant and waddling and all that, I had a to-do list that I finished each day. I wrote thank you notes. I called for hair appointments. I attended PTA meetings at the youchien. Now, I breastfeed and I hold a baby while she sleeps and I sit. I also snack and watch TV. I’m sure there are other things that I’m doing, but they somehow escape me now. Last night, I kindly reminded myself that there are three other little persons in this house that I have nursed into climbing up trees and running through the park and using the remote without my help. (TV is so central to our life right now, with winter cold and new baby and tired mama. Thank you, God, for Netflix — and I really mean it.) I watched them dress for bed and brush their teeth, baby in arms, and I felt better to see my efforts of the past 8 years before me, tall and bright-eyed and doing a few things each on their own.

Nothing stops my brain cells like birth and new baby. I feel all my creativeness sucked right out of me with the milk. Last night, those tall things with toothpaste in their mouths reminded me of something I couldn’t put words to, but it made me feel better. It won’t last forever, perhaps? Or, it’s just a phase? I think it was more along the lines of these people are precious, and that is that. I’m too tired to remember any long, theological mantras to guide my days. I suppose LOVE must be enough. One word. All production halts, and we love.

Sacrifice.

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It’s taking some adjustment, this new baby in our house. I didn’t realize how much I’d come to enjoy the tiny tastes of independence that children give as they grow: the showers alone, the writing time at my desk, the hour of quiet on the couch while kids busied themselves upstairs. I think perhaps the most difficult part of this first year for me will be the constant companion, the always being together. We are in the midst of a boundary-less relationship, this baby and I, and I don’t do so well without some guidelines for personal space. Ivy-girl doesn’t seem to be getting the message.

Yesterday, while sipping coffee, I penned this in my journal: Today, I am overwhelmed by the care of a newborn. I don’t want to wish time away, but I’m not happy to be where I am right now, I wish it were over and she were older and not so needy. This is hard pill to swallow.

There are women who have dreamed of motherhood and pined for a baby in their arms from their first babysitting job — they are gifted in the care of children and long to put that gift to good use. I have never been one of those women. Though I wanted to know motherhood, it was more in the way of curiousity, then later conviction over God’s way of working in family and world. God flung me upon the rocks of mothering, and I smashed into a millions pieces, fear and guilt and longing for rightness broken wide open, exposing the worst parts of me. It was total trial by fire. I’ve grown up through mothering, and it wasn’t an easy passage. I’ve learned how my giftings of discernment, sensitivity, and deep thinking can be used in this phase of small children, though they certainly made me feel at first like I wasn’t cut out for the job. I grew into hoping for a big family, because I wanted my kids to have sibling-friends and I wanted to throw big parties together when they were older. When I think about who I was when I started, I sometimes can’t believe God decided to give me four children.

And yet, here I am, two weeks into caring for my fourth newborn — and while I have the comfort of knowing what I’m doing, and total affection for this little one, I have nothing to make the sleepless nights, the round-the-clock care, the inseperable nature of newborn care any easier. Birth was still hard and painful, and mothering will continue to be a sacrifice, no matter how many times you’ve been around the block.

I have been reading Psalm 128 in the discouraging moments, like yesterday. I want to remember that my children line up like olive shoots around our table, spilling milk and getting down before they’ve been excused and laughing at silly jokes. This is God’s blessing to me, these beings that call forth my best self, sometimes a self I didn’t even know existed.

Yesterday, I also penned this in my journal: I will rejoice in this path for my life, rejoice in what You have given me. There will be a beauty unmatched in this sacrifice, and I. want. that. beauty.

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I am very aware that there are countless women who long to be mothers, and yet, are not. I am not sure how my words in this post would be seen from that standpoint, but wish to say that when I struggle with what God has asked of me in this current phase of life, the thought of how blessed I am to have four children is never far behind. I have not known the pain of childlessness, but I want to express that it is not outside of my thoughts.

she’s here!

Ivy Ann O’Donnell made her way into the world at 7:30a on December 17th.

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7 pounds, 8 ounces, and blue eyes (we think) to boot. She was adamant on carving her own way and breaking the mold set by her older siblings, who were all born on in the 40th week of pregnancy, 4 days after due date, and on even days (20th, 22nd, 10th). SHE decided to remain breech until late into the pregnancy, and then wait till exactly the 41st week, arriving on an odd-numbered day. She’s telling us much already about her personality and how she will refuse to sit quietly in the shadows as the “baby of the family.” :)

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Her siblings LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE her and can’t understand why we haven’t come home yet. When they come to visit, Ezra (5) creeps close to just watch her with an unending smile, Harper (3.5) talks in a squeal about her cute cheeks and commands us all to stop what we are doing and look at them with her, and Jones (almost 8!) is quick to give advice to the other two about being quiet and gentle. They are all eager to help in any way, except diapers — adamantly refused by all three. :) Jones says I make the best hot water bottles for bed, so could I please come home so he can stay warm while he sleeps? Harper is taking up my space in bed with daddy, so I’m pretty sure she misses me but is okay that I’m not home yet. And Ezra? Ezra is just such a happy-go-lucky guy, and his demeanor right now reminds me so much of his babyhood — all smiles, very little talk and noise, just thankful to soak it all in. It seems little Ivy has touched a special place in his heart, and he has vowed to be her protector. First he said Jones will take care of Ivy, and he will take care of Harper, but now he’s changed his mind. :)

Daddy is rather wiped out, I think. He has been running around this week, visiting me, dropping off and picking up kids, finishing up his commitments for the year with BEST club and English teaching. Yesterday marked his last meeting and the last day of school for the year, so today, we are all resting — even the weather whispers rest, with a quiet rain falling, keeping those four (plus Iggy) inside today.

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My milk came in yesterday, so Ivy and I are doing little other than drinking and eating, both of us. Simultaneously counting down the days til we can go home and wishing we could soak up this quietness forever. Because once we arrive home, it will be anything but quiet! :)

a place i’ve never been.

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I can’t stop thinking about birth. I suppose it’s normal for where I am right now: four days past my due date, the magic day in all previous pregnancies during which I met my long-awaited babies.

Jones was due on March 16th, and my doc induced my 4cm-dilated-for-weeks body by breaking my waters in the hospital at 1p on March 20th. Contractions began at 3p, skipping over early labor straight in the hard work of active labor. I was shocked, assuming that things would begin slowly and I would have time to adjust to the rhythm of labor before intense concentration would be required. It wasn’t so. I remember wishing the nurses would leave me alone and quit coming into the room to ask me questions. I had the urge to push around 9:00p, but because I hadn’t hit that “magic 10″ mark, they wouldn’t let me, so I labored for 45 minutes, trying to keep a baby in that wanted to come out. When I did finally get to 10cm at 9:45p, I had no urge to push but they told me I needed to because I was almost done. I couldn’t get the hang of it, and Jones didn’t make his entrance into the world until 11:45p. I will NEVER forget those two hours of pushing, nor the feelings of being messed with or told that textbook lessons should overrule my bodily instincts. I knew I didn’t want to do it that way again. Still, it was a relatively short labor for a first-time mom, active labor to birth: 8 hours.

Ezra was due on October 18, and I woke up on the 22nd with some mild contractions and (TMI, boys) the tell-tale bloody show. Labor didn’t seem much like labor, though. Contractions were uncomfortable, but very manageable, and they puttered out around 3p, despite the walking and activeness I’d kept up throughout the day. I was exhausted, so I napped. No contractions for four hours, which meant discouragement and tears. My midwife told me to come by, so we said we’d stop after we ate dinner. Once we left the house around 7p to eat, contractions started up again, about the same mildness as before. We stopped at 8p, encouraged to maybe be in labor again, and the midwife said we could come stay if it would make us more comfortable. We went home, left our little dude with a friend, and by the time we were back at her house and hour later, I was in that active-labor zone of don’t-touch-me-don’t-talk-to-me-this-is-serious. Ezra was born at 11:45p that night, after an intense 2-plus hours of amazon-woman groans and cries. Luckily, I only had to push 30 minutes with this stocky little guy, and I was so encouraged that my midwife cared more about how I felt and how I sounded in birth, rather than centimeters, dilation, blah blah blah. I think she only checked me once, and when I felt like I had to push, she said, “Go ahead” (in Japanese, of course — she did attempt some hearty “Good-o Job-u” in English, though). Active labor to birth: 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Harper was due on June 6, and on the night of June 9th, I went to bed around 10 but was kept awake with mild, annoying contractions. By midnight, though, I was able to sleep through them, and even slept in til around 9a, when a crazy strong contraction got me up and out of bed quickly. From that point, I would have one contraction so strong I felt I needed to leave for the midwife’s house NOW, then have about three that were mild enough that they made me think labor was probably puttering out again. We left the house around 10:30 for an iced latte and a stop at the park close to my midwife’s — I wanted to pass time/be in nature/see normal people doing normal things. We arrived at her house at 11:45a, and I labored by the window, never getting past the urge to be up and moving around with this birth (eventually, she would be born while I was standing, even). Around 1p, I started to get hungry and asked for an onigiri (rice ball), but one contraction later, I told Bryan to tell her to forget the onigiri, the baby was coming NOW. My midwife hurried up the stairs, listened to the sounds I was making, and prepped the room — no need to check me. After a few pushes, she told me baby’s head would come out with the next contraction, and I thought she was lying. I actually said, “You’re lying,” which everyone else in the room found amusing. Then I asked why they were all laughing, this was hard — but sure enough, my first baby girl fully entered the world just minutes later. Active labor to birth: 4 hours, 15 minutes.

These stories make it seem like labor is short for me, when in fact, I feel like labor is a weeks-long process for my body, with many starts-and-stops before things really kick into gear. With all my pregnancies, including this one, I’ve had labor symptoms from week 37, and yet I have gone past my due date each time. And these are not “false alarms” in the sense that they are not real contractions and I just can’t tell the difference, so I think labor is beginning. These are real, and they stick around for a few hours and get closer together, stronger, and longer — and then, they just reverse and begin to get weaker and shorter and further apart until they are no more.* Every time, my body has done this, so I’ve just realized this is how I will labor. In the end, there is the benefit of a shorter active labor, but at the emotional cost of wondering every few days if your contractions will actually stick around, or die off again, for weeks. You’d think my body would’ve taught my mind a lesson by now, but I still kept up hope this time around that I wouldn’t be looking toward Christmas, wondering if I’d be home to celebrate or not. But today, I am. Today, I’m letting go — once again — of expectations I didn’t know I had, in exchange for a new reality and the maybes of the coming days and weeks. I had today in my mind — four days past my due date — as the day I will probably not pass, but it looks as if I will. I want to reset again, and look for things to be thankful for in this, another few days or weeks of being pregnant.

*This experience, in medical terms, is called ‘prodromal labor.’ There are some excellent online resources that can help a mother explore this topic in depth, in order to understand what is happening to her body. Some health care professionals will see these symptoms and assume that labor will not continue on it’s own, thus beginning medical interventions such as pitocin, breaking waters, etc, that could eventually end in unwanted results. If this is you, and you are wanting a natural birth, reading up on these symptoms is great idea! This article is a good place to start.

that brave girl, Mary.

As promised, those deep thoughts on waiting for a baby during the holy waiting of advent.

A church-going child of the 80s and 90s, I spent many-an-advent listening to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums. Tender Tennessee Christmas wraps me in a nostalgia I can’t describe, much to my husband’s dismay (side-shaved-ponytail-sporting, chuck-wearing, crowd-surfing punk that he was, he just can’t get Amy Grant — I play it when he’s out). This morning, though, I was listening to a song from a later album Breath of Heaven while sipping my coffee, thinking about that brave, strong, courageous young girl, Mary.

I thought of her belly feeling heavy, as mine does now, and how she traveled miles and miles on a donkey’s back, and how her own back must’ve ached. I thought of my struggles with fear over labor and birth, though it’s not my first time around the block, and how she was so young, her first child, away from mother and family and things most familiar. I thought of how I’ve woken up with contractions in the middle of the night, my first thought, “Please Lord, not in the darkness! Not in the night watches. I want to birth in the daylight” — and how most of us assume that this was not so for her. And I find myself hoping that God wrapped the dark around her like a blanket, and it was a comfort to her rather than a terror. Did you uphold her, God? Were you with her, right next to her?

I have been struggling with many fears recently, in relation to the pain of birth, the unknowns and lack of control, the crazy-brained days of a newborn. How on earth will I integrate a baby into this already busy family? How will I be able to continue to give love, assurance, attention to my current babies, when there will be one little one, so in need of all of me? (Though Harper still assures me there are TWO babies in there — one for me, and one for her.) While listening to this song today, thinking of our brave predecessor, who carried and birthed and nursed our Savior, my fears of what a new baby will cost me seemed so small and insignificant. What a load she carried, what a cross she bore, to be the tender mother to the Son of God, watch him grow and fulfill his purposes, then suffer as only a mother can when her child breathes his last.

Today, it seemed obvious that I have little to fear, with Mary’s God on my side. The same God who carried her through, gave her a place to welcome her son and humble people to greet him in his first hours — this God is also with me, and the holiness of that simple birth, thousands of years ago, makes my own birth such a small offering. I want to see it as such: something I can give, something I can thank Him with, as we open our hearts to make room for His son.

we be ready.

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Thirty-nine weeks.

I tried. I tried really hard this time. I attempted to leave things for me to do up until the due date so I wouldn’t find myself sitting around, whining about not having had a baby yet. BUT I’M READY. All the stuff is done. I’m now clawing at the edges of my mind to retrieve something, anything, that needs to be done, making up a to do list just to keep myself occupied and sane. All to avoid waking up like I did yesterday, with zero labor symptoms and nothing on the agenda except “birth a baby.” It makes the day unbearably long. It makes me grumpy and listless and zero-fun to be around. I powered through. I somehow managed to pay attention to my three-year-old’s chit-chat just enough so that she wasn’t scolding me for not listening. (That GIRL. She’s going to give some man a run for his money. In the far, far, FAR future.) Then Jones came home from school and there was SOMETHING TO DO. In my parenting opinion, overseeing homework is as bad as having to do homework (maybe double when it’s in your second language and you are only slight steps ahead of your own child), but it was SOMETHING. We did multiplication flash cards, finished his math test together, and wrote in his enikki (daily diary with pictures). Then he told me he thought he was going to be touban (in his case, class leader for the day), but the teacher accidentally skipped him, so he spent the first period of school crying silently with his head on the desk. I knew he had been studying the pattern and had figured out when it would be his turn, worked out in his mind what he’d have to do. I had to excuse my hormonal self from the table to go cry in the kitchen for the sadness of my son that morning (which he was already over). When I wiped my tears and we finished homework, I sat and stared at the wall until it was time to do the next thing.

We. be. READY.

Somehow, for some reason, I thought God would give me a pass this time. I mean, all of my other babies have been overdue, and this is the LAST ONE. C’mon God! Can’t you let her come a little early? Like a ‘thank you’ for finishing my birthing years or something?

On another note, Jones came home with his first notes from a girl today. All they say is arigatou (thank you), but still. They are NOTES, from a GIRL. I don’t know if I’m ready to enter the mind-splitting worlds of sleepless newborns and crush-developing young boys. But it looks as if I’m heading there anyway. Perhaps worry over which girls are digging on my super cool, English-speaking, studly little man will push out the boredom of birth-watch.

Nah.

Coming soon: deeper, more reflective thoughts on the coolness of waiting to have your own newborn during Advent, the season of waiting for Christ. Sometime. If it begins to feel ‘cool.’

HappenINGs.

Starting the last weekend without dad before baby makes her arrival. At 38 weeks along, I felt rather stoic about Bryan’s departure today –  it was a ‘let’s just get this over with and get you home’ kind of good-bye. It was the only way I could keep from breaking down and weeping at his feet, “Don’t you ever leeeeaaaaave meeeeeeee!! Everrrrrrrrr!”

Simmering a soup of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage on the stove. This, and garlic toast, will probably complete my meals for the weekend. The other dish I’ve been going to is mikans (clementines), bananas, and raspberries with plain yogurt. Kids will eat cereal, grilled cheese, popcorn, mikans by the bucketful, and a special treat of Dominos pizza. Gotta live simple while papa is away.

Picking up tiny paper scraps and random drawings, everywhere. It seems that all three of my children are in a ‘paper phase.’ If I need to occupy them right now, I just set out pencils, scissors, and a variety of paper (different sized notebooks, colors, etc). They will draw, create, cut, and generally trail. paper. everywhere. for hours. I’m not certain what to do with the fruits of their labors, as there is no way I’m storing all of their output for ten years to come. Actually, I already know, I just don’t want to write it on the interwebs — I throw most of it away. Unless it’s particularly cute, or somehow displays in particular their creative prowess.

Laughing with Jones over Captain Underpants. It certainly gets a boy to read! And it’s ushered Jones into another comic-creating phase.

Prepping for labor, in every way possible. The bags are ready, the plans are in place, and my body seems to know it. As per usual, I’ve already begun having contractions, though not regular and certainly not sticking around. I feel crampy and achy all over this week, but it’s anybody’s guess as to when things will begin in earnest. JUST NOT UNTIL AFTER SUNDAY. Anytime after daddy gets back, baby girl. Let’s stick it out until then.