Earlier this summer, Dan and I drove to St. Louis to meet one of my best friends and her sweet family. On our first day in St. Louis, my friends husband attended a conference, so Dan and I met Heather and her sweet boys, Westin and Henley, at the zoo. It was at least 189 million degrees that morning, but none of us cared. Okay, that’s not completely true, we cared a little, but our excitement to see each other outweighed most of the heaviness of the heat.
After watching ducks we looked for SEVERAL animals that were for sure smarter than us. Since it was about 257 billion degrees out most of the animals had decided to stay inside their enclosures were we couldn’t see them. However, the lack of animals couldn’t stop us. Dan held the map, and led us around the zoo from one exhibit to the next. Heather and I followed with the boys, confident we were going to see something. We were so excited to be together, and nothing was going to ruin our day together.
As we were walking around, we noticed that the zoo had a dinosaur exhibit. It didn’t take much thought to decide that two boys, one wearing t-rex tennis shoes, were going to have to see the dinosaurs! So, we made our way over to the dinosaurs with excitement for what we were about to see. On our way we stopped we stopped to see a polar bear and penguins. (Am I the only one that finds it ironic that POLAR bears and PENGUINS were out when it was 368 billion degrees?) Things were looking up.
As we entered the exhibit, Heather and I were both in our own little world. We were talking to the boys about dinosaurs and ignoring everything else except the fact that there was a small exhibit to our left.
Heather and I led the boys down a path that took us to an exhibit that allowed us to dig for dinosaur bones. I am not sure Westin or Henley really understood what we were digging for, but both boys thought it was really cool to play in the dirt with paint brushes. After both boys were sufficiently covered in dirt, we decided it was time to see the other dinosaurs. So we started to walk back up the path and back to the large exhibits.
Henley took the lead with me pushing the stroller right behind him. Heather walked a bit behind us with Westin, and Dan followed behind. The first dinosaur we were greeted with was atomtronic and life size. He was massive. I am not sure what kind of dinosaur he was, so for the purpose of this story, we are going to call this dinosaur Gary.
When I say Gary was massive, I need you to understand… Gary was massive. Multiple stories tall. While this was probably cool on some level, Gary was VERY lifelike, and he was not in any kind of enclosure. Then out of nowhere, Gary spit fire. Okay, so not really. Gary spit water. However, if you would have heard Henley and Westins response, it may as well have been fire. Both boys immediately started screaming. Heather grabbed Westin, and started to calm him. I immediately picked up Henley and took him to Heather.
We need to pause this story here – Dan would tell you that there were signs that warned us that Gary spit, however Heather and I still do not remember said signs. I am not sure how we missed them! Oh goodness. I guess this is your warning, if you go to the St. Louis Zoo, you need to know – GARY SPITS!
Anyways, we could have left the exhibit as we were right by the entrance, however that would have been super smart and clearly after watching Gary spit fire our brains had been rendered useless. There was no exiting, we had to go forward. So Heather held Henley in her arms and walked calmly and slowly hand in hand with Westin through the exhibit. Every dinosaur felt more lifelike than Gary.
Again, I am sure on some level this was awesome, but we had just spent lots of time looking at very really animals in enclosures. Gary and his friends were life-size. They moved. They made noises. Some of them were hiding in bushes were you least expected them. Some of them spit fire…eh…water.
Dan and I watched my sweet friend remind her babies they are safe because she was right with them. Over and over again, she told her boys that the dinosaurs weren’t real. Over and over again, she would stop, get down on Westins level, and look him right in the eye. She would wait for him to stop panicking and then she would tell him she loved him so very much and she knew that he could be brave.
After many heart to heart encouraging talks and a few tears, we somehow we made it out of the dinosaur exhibit. After the dinosaurs, I looked at Heather and promised to help pay for whatever counseling the trauma her boys just endured caused. We laughed, and then, determined to not let that trauma ruin our day, we looked to Dan to help us find more animals. We lasted only a couple more hours until the exhaustion of being in 962 billion degree heat got the best of us, and decided it was best to go cool down.
After a few hours cooling off in our hotel rooms, we met that night for dinner. When asked what we did that day, Westin quickly said we went to the zoo. I asked Westin what animals we saw and Westin started rattling off a few. Henley quickly followed with “DINOSAURS SPIT” with the biggest eyes. Heather calmly responded, “What happened when the dinosaur spit?” Henley acted out the action of spitting, and Heather said, “Did Melissa get you and take you right to Mommy?” Henley looked at Heather with big eyes and said “Yeah”. Heather asked “Where you safe?” Henley responded “Yeah”. Heather asked “Where you brave?” Henley responded “yes”. Heather asked “Where you loved?” Henley responded “yeah”. Dinner continued, but this conversation happened a couple more times.
The next day, Dan and I met Heather, Westin and Henley again. We played for a few hours at a museum before going to lunch. As we walked into the restaurant, Henley once again told Heather that dinosaurs spit. Heather calmly responded, “What happened when dinosaurs spit?” Henley again dramatically reenacted the Gary spitting fire….er….water at us. Heather, without missing a breath, said “Henley, did Melissa get you, bring you to Mommy and make sure you where safe?” Henley responded “yeah”. Heather asked “Where you brave?” Henley’s eyes got bigger “yeah”. Heather asked “Where you loved?” Henley responded “yeah”.
Lunch continued, but no matter how hard we tried to change the subject, Henley continued to tell us that dinosaurs spit. Each time, without missing a beat, Heather lovingly reminded him that “Melissa picked you up, took you to Mommy where you safe. You were always loved. You were so very brave.” Over and over again.
Weeks later, Henley was STILL reminding Heather daily that dinosaurs spit and weeks later, Heather was STILL reminding Henley that he was safe, brave and so very loved. Not only did Heather remind him, but there were days that Westin reminded him. One sweet day, Heather sent me the sweetest video, Henley was in the back of the car and he said “Mama, dinosaurs spit, but I safe. I brave. I loved”. I still cry when I think of sweet Henley’s little voice saying those words.
Days before Dan and I drove to St. Louis for a completely random trip to see one of my very best friends, we made the decision to stop trying to grow our family. While getting in the car to go hug my friend and her sweet boys was everything my heart needed, what I really wanted to do was crawl into bed and cry. The trip was the best thing for my heart, but every corner was filled with “reminders” of things Dan and I won’t get to call our own.
The last few months have been some of the hardest I have ever faced. The deep gut wrenching sadness isn’t something I can truly put into words. I have questioned my faith. I have questioned God’s goodness. I have questioned my purpose. I have questioned my legacy. The questioning hasn’t stopped. It’s like I am in a sea of nonstop unknowns.
Life has felt very cruel lately. I guarantee you, there were no signs. If Dan and I would have saw them, we would have jumped ship long ago! It feels like someone has taken me into a dinosaur exhibit, and Gary really is spitting nonstop fire at me. There is no way out.
However, just like at the zoo, I am not alone. On my darkest days, there are people in my life who have literally held my hand and reminded me “You are safe, you can get out of bed.” On the heaviest days, there are people in my life who have reminded me “You can face today (or the next hour), because you are brave!” On the most impossible days, there are people in my life who have reminded me “You may not babies walking on this earth, but you have deep purpose.”
In the past few months, I have learned it is incredibly important to keep talking. Talk to your spouse, talk to your friends, but most importantly talk to your medical professionals. I learned that feeling things like “maybe the world would be better without me” isn’t a normal feeling. I have learned that dark thoughts are not okay to keep to yourself. It’s not okay to hide the ugly things from people who love you. I have learned that mental health is just as important as physical health. I have learned that not all therapists are created equal and not all counselors are automatically safe places. It’s okay to leave a therapists office and not return.
Most of all, I have learned that while I still may not always feel completely loved, completely safe or completely brave… taking small steps is the only way out of the fog. I have a long ways to go, but I know there are better days coming.