Saturday we walked. Our family of four, along with thousands of other people, and found their way to Norbuck Park at White Rock Lake in Dallas. And, honestly, just getting there was no small feat for us – getting everyone up early, fed, dressed, coated in sunscreen, driving almost an hour, riding the shuttle bus, finding the starting line in the sea of people and tents.
But then we started walking. It amazed me that so many people care so much about helping more babies have healthy starts in life. And I wondered how many stories of pain and grief and struggle were walking all around us in brightly colored shirts lifting up the babies born too soon.
Along our 5-mile route, there were signs in honor or in memory of the babies. I pointed out the first one to our 5-year-old, James, because I wanted him to understand why we were taking this “big walk.”
“Look, honey. Do you see that sign with the picture of the baby? That baby was born too early, but look – there’s another picture of them as a big kid. Isn’t it amazing how they grew up so strong!”
He seemed to get it. Then came another sign, this one with only a picture of a tiny baby, almost completely obscured by tubes and wires and gauze.
“What about that baby?” he asked.
“Well, that baby came too soon and went to God.” I could feel the tears prickle in my eyes. I looked at him to see if I should say anything else.
After all, it was just a week or so ago that I had talked to him about the big walk we were going to go on, to help other families who had a baby come too soon like his brother. And, there in the darkness of his room as we snuggled, sharing breath with our heads close together, eyes shining in the dim glow of his nightlight, he had asked, “My brother?”
He was confused. We’ve always been open and honest about Brennan, our baby who died, but it also doesn’t come up every day, so I understood. And it feels like a part of my calling as a mom is to keep Brennan’s memory alive –if I don’t persevere in speaking his name and remembering his life and telling his story, it will fade from all consciousness.
But that night, I just tried to answer simply, “Yes, you had another brother. He came too soon and went home to God.”
We kept walking. The last time I participated in a March for Babies, James was in a stroller, and I had enjoyed chatting with another mom, who was pushing her twins along. And it hadn’t seemed like 5 miles. It passed in the blink of an eye and the retelling of birth stories.
But this past Saturday, I felt every step. I don’t think I had really noted that it was a 5. Mile. Walk. I had brought the stroller for Ethan, our 19 month old, but didn’t have anything available for James. Poor kid. He held up for the first mile, then we jostled our arrangements, pulling out of the steady stream of mothers, fathers, kids, grandparents, dogs, strollers, and wagons. We put James in the stroller, where his long legs nearly touched the ground, and tried to persuade Ethan into a carrier I could wear. He agreed to that for almost a half mile, then we had to rearrange again. So we settled into a rotation for Ethan between my arms or Andy’s shoulders or the stroller. James would get to ride in the stroller for a while, then walk for a while, and finally get a ride on daddy’s shoulders.
And in the midst of all of this, I was passing around snacks – raisins, graham crackers, squeezable fruit pouches, cereal bars – and water. I wondered if my family would ever forgive me for dragging them into this.
For all of our logistical difficulties, the day was beautiful – overcast and cool, with many sweet breezes to rustle the leaves of the big trees and propel the sailboats on the lake. My husband uses an app that tracks his speed and route for his bike rides and he had turned it on for our March. I feel like our 2.5 mile/hour pace was incredibly respectable.
James enjoyed grabbing water bottles at the pit stops and ended up watering a tree toward the end of the walk. I shook my head, while appreciating the ease of that task for boys.
We finally completed our loop, passing under a bridge and pausing for a family selfie before heading back through the March for Babies arch. There was music blaring and snacks offered. There were lots of teams enjoying hot dogs, hamburgers, or boxed lunches, but we headed straight for the shuttle buses since it was close to lunch time and we needed to get our crew home, fed, and into bed for naps.
That night, as James and I lay in his bed as a part of the night-night ritual, he started talking about our day.
“There were so many signs,” he said.
“I know. Too many babies are born too soon. We raised money to help that not happen so much,” I replied.
“Yes. Do you know how much we raised?”
“No, how much?”
“We raised $401.”
“Wow! That’s a lot of money.”
“I know, baby. I’m very happy that we were able to help so much.”
I am so deeply grateful to everyone who gave toward our family’s efforts this year – Chuck Aaron, Martha Myre, Sue Dillon, Mary and Gary Wright, Patria Lopez, Jared Williams, Kay Anderson, and an anonymous donor. I know that there are a lot of asks out there and many good causes, but your choice to support this March for Babies helps our family do good in Brennan’s name. And for however long we are able to do that, he is not forgotten. The Dallas March for Babies raised $879,407 and you helped make that happen.
I am also deeply grateful for the less tangible, but no less meaningful ways that my community has supported our family – prayers, hugs, listening ears, shared tears.
One of my favorite gurus is Glennon Doyle Melton and she has a word for this – it’s brutiful. It’s brutal and beautiful all at once and wrapped together and that doesn’t mean it’s worth any less. By the grace of God, we take the broken, shattered things and transform them into means of grace and love. Glory be!
So, if you ask me how the walk went, the answer, more simply than this long recap, is this – It was brutiful.