Friday, December 23, 2016

You've Got Mail: 2016 Herrington Christmas Card and Letter

{Went with the captioned Polaroid style after I couldn't get a good picture of even just the kids to save my life.}
Happy Holidays from the Herringtons!!!

Whew. As usual, it’s so hard to know where to start, so hard to know what to share in this limited space. 2016 has been an amazingly full year, not without its hardships, but generally really wonderful.

Peyton is still working his Friday-Sunday schedule and is home most of the week- cooking soups or making French toast, helping with homeschooling (he’s done the bulk of Graves’s kindergarten year so far), teaching Annie and Graves to play chess, and reading aloud Harry Potter.

Annie is seven and in second grade this year. She’s a really intentional, determined, smart, and stubborn little person. She’s very literal and much prefers informational books to fiction. She wants to be a Wildlife Rehabilitator when she grows up and she wants all her clothes to have animals on them now. She pretty strongly dislikes math, but she reads a ton. She’s a night owl and she loves to dress up and play action figures with Graves.

Graves is five and he’s just a riot. He’s still often getting into mischief and still making my heart burst with his sweetness. He “damages” (as Annie would say) a lot of things and it’s not unusual to find him with his hand in a literal cookie jar. He is one of the most caring people I’ve known in my life. He adores babies and says he wants “a hundred thousand” of them one day. He’s very much an empath and picks up on other people’s emotions quickly. He’s also infatuated with Star Wars. He’s learning to read and while he doesn’t have Annie’s focus, he seems to be a much more easy going student than she is.

We’ve had quite a few fun adventures this year!

Back in the Spring, Peyton and I took a week long trip back to New York. We had the best time and our hearts felt so full being back in that special place. It made us both realize that we wanted to position ourselves to be able to spend part of every year there, as a family, as soon as we could. Annie and Graves had a wonderful vacation with all four of their grandparents.

Annie and Graves both experienced their first Summer as Briarwood Dolphins. Signing your children up for swim team may not seem like a big deal to some, but this Summer activity was deeply significant to me due in large part to the fact that this pool holds some of my all time greatest memories, not the least of which was meeting and falling in love with Peyton.

And this Fall we spent a week driving, camping, and hiking across about two thousand miles of America...with an infant! We actually hit five national parks and more importantly we learned a lot.

The biggest event this year was, of course, welcoming a baby in June. Sarah Lamar was born at four o’clock on a Sunday morning. Her birth, much like my whole pregnancy, was hands down, the hardest, most humbling experience of my whole life. But she is everything I imagined and everything I had waited so long for.

She was in the world five hours before she had a name which still blows my mind because it’s simply so unlike me in regards to a decision of that scale. We finally settled on Sarah Lamar, with Sallie as a nickname. Once it was decided I couldn't imagine her as anything else. It's incredibly special because she's the fourth in successive generations of Sarahs (me, my mother, and my grandmother who was truly one of my best friends) and the fourth in successive generations of Lamars (Peyton, his daddy, and his grandfather). Clearly, my mother and my father in law are some of the most special people we know, but Bump and PopPop were some of the very biggest influences in our young lives and we carry so much we learned from them into our lives now so it feels so perfect to honor them in this way. I cannot wait to tell her about their strong legacies of hard work, tenacity, faith, spunk, overwhelming love for their spouses and children, humor, and integrity. As far as Sallie, I knew I HAD to pick a name with a cute diminutive and when I realized not only the "ie" but the double consonant (linguistic nerd, sorry!) matched Annie's name it seemed beyond perfect. I love that it's "cutesy" but also a little old-fashioned. Our plan  is to go back and forth between Sallie and Sarah Lamar until she tells us she has a preference, just like we did with Annie (admittedly,  it's not quite as seamless).

Sallie’s little life has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I truly didn’t know how desperately I wanted her. And I’ve never enjoyed a baby this much. With Annie, we struggled with the reality of unexpected parenthood and carelessly thwarted plans until the moment we held her in our arms. I fretted about schedules even though she slept beautifully and I tried to determine what her cries meant even though she rarely cried. I was trying so hard to prove my worth as a mother. To the world, to Peyton, and to myself. With Graves, two kids was a hard transition and I struggled to learn his ways and bond with him initially. I spent a lot of time exhausted, anxious, and paranoid everyone was judging what were my very best efforts.

This time I've worked incredibly hard to be honest with myself and with Peyton. And I'm in my early 30s instead of my mid 20s. I know the hard times (and good times) are just a blip in the span of a lifetime with our Sarah Lamar. If she's asleep, she's asleep. If she's awake, she's awake (and typically in one of our arms- I ain't worried about Babes getting spoiled). And if she's crying, I almost always nurse her. The time when the solution to life's problems is that easy is unbelievably short. I'm able to be present in organic, non artificial ways. My lifestyle is much more simplistic, my anxiety is better managed, I more often notice ordinary wonders all around me, and I know where my worth lies (and it's not in how well I mother them, as important a vocation as it is).

That said, I can’t write this letter without acknowledging the dark cloud that hovered over me her first few months of life. I told myself so many days during the pregnancy that if I could just get through the hard stuff, it would be perfect once I held our sweet new baby in my arms and sniffed that baby smell. And honestly, my physical healing was amazingly fast and I felt such relief not being pregnant anymore. But my mind and heart felt very, very broken.

I struggle to write this because it seems awkward and strange for a Christmas letter, but it’s always been very, very important to be transparent and I’ve always been very, very concerned with doing my part to push back against the stigma surrounding mental health. With that said, after Sallie was born, I felt like I was drowning in sadness. I realized that, actually, the good stuff felt almost painful. One of the big ways this manifested itself was that sentimental and beautiful things just tire me to pieces. They were such a heavy weight. If you know me well, you know I'm probably one of the most sentimental and nostalgic of all your friends and also that I've basically devoted my life to searching for beauty and documenting it is some way. So this was a lot to bear.

I came up with some action steps- making time for writing, not allowing myself to get isolated, prioritizing sleep- but ultimately I ended up with a prescription in my hand and a pill on my tongue. I mentioned to several friends that this felt a lot like when I finally decided to supplement with formula with Annie. I gave it my very best, but in the end what was the very best wasn't necessarily what I would have chosen. I could not, COULD NOT, let Sallie's baby days be a sad fog.

Julian of Norwich says "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” I believe Julian's words. And I trust that I too shall be well.  I’m much more well than I was this Summer but it’s certainly a continuing, often circuitous, journey.

As we look ahead to 2017, I find myself very excited and very peaceful. The children and I have found a home at Northside Baptist Church and I’m sure we will join at some point in the very near future. I’m so grateful for this place. I am grateful when we get home and I nurse Sallie and she smells like a different Northside lady's perfume every week. I’m grateful when I’m struggling to be on time and someone tells me she knows how hard it was to get anywhere by yourself with three young kids. I’m grateful when these people surround us with God's kind of love, which is what they promise to try to do when you join the church. I’ve seen the Lord’s provision in so many ways, not the least of which is this special place.

That said, not a Sunday goes by that I don’t miss our church in New York, the church that transformed my understanding of the Gospel- sometimes desperately. And I miss the city, in general. So it’s unsurprising that one of the things I’m most looking forward to this upcoming year is all five of us spending the entire month of April in New York.

I’m also looking forward to the mundane, ordinary things that are adventures themselves- Annie becoming more proficient in the kitchen; Graves developing into a reader in earnest; experiencing Sallie’s toddlerhood; and spending lots of time with friends and family, people who represent the main reason we currently choose to call Mississippi home.

I hope your 2016 was full of abundant joy and learning and growth and that 2017 holds the promise for even more of each of those. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sarah Denley, Peyton, Annie, Graves, and Sallie

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