I’m So Alive and So Lucky

Yesterday I had myself a pity party. You know the kind. I had that tunnel vision. I focused hard on my problems and shut out everything else.

I sent my children away from me and crawled into bed. I was starting to get a terrible headache. I felt it coming, and I let my worries in the door with it.

I wallowed. I cried. I ignored phone calls from people I love checking in on me.

I’ve talked and talked about cherishing time with our children, but last night I couldn’t wait to put them to bed.

My husband brought me pain meds and water, and I snapped at him like a brat. I took the poor-me attitude all the way to sleep. I was angry, sad, selfish, and alone.

Then, something happened.

In the middle of the night, long after everyone else had gone to bed, I had a nightmare. It was horrific, and I woke up with my heart beating out of my chest. I jumped up, and went to check on my kids. Each of them were sleeping soundly in their beds, completely oblivious to my terror.

I tucked our girls in a little tighter, kissed their foreheads, and then crawled into bed next to our son. My beautiful, healthy, sleeping in heavy pajamas on top of his covers so he won’t have to make his bed in the morning, freckle-face, snoring son.

As I calmed down and watched him sleeping, gratitude hit me so hard it took my breath away.

I’m sick, and I’m hurting, but I’m so alive, and so lucky.

I can’t always care for myself or my children, but I married a man who became a wonderful husband and father. He has the patience of a saint and I know I don’t deserve him. I’m lucky.

Our house is a mess because we’re lucky enough to have happy, healthy, energetic children.

We’re lucky we got to have children at all. So many people can’t.

I can’t drive anymore, but I have family and friends lined up to help out.

I still have a job, despite missing work days every week for years.

I keep having to travel to see different doctors, but we’re insured, so I have the luxury of seeing as many as I need to until we figure this thing out.

Even as I sit here now, fighting waves of pain and nausea, I know how lucky I am.

I’m thinking and typing so much slower than usual, but I’m doing something I love in sharing my perspective with each of you.

I’m in a comfortable bed, in a beautiful home, safe and warm, and sheltered from the cold.

I have a glass of clean ice water beside me, medication healing my body, and food in my kitchen for when I’m ready to try to eat.

I’m sick, and I’m hurting, but I’m so alive, and so lucky.


What the Parenting Books Don’t Tell You

Being a mom is all-consuming. It’s just so freakin’ hard. Everyone tells you how wonderful motherhood is, and that it will change your life. Sure, they’re right. It’s amazing. Everyone tells you to hang on tight, because it goes way too fast. That’s sort of true. The days are long, but the years are short. Everyone you’ve ever met who has survived this thing has told you to enjoy every moment. You’ll try, but probably won’t. You can read parenting books and research published by child psychologists, watch horror stories on the news, and baby proof until you’re blue in the face. It won’t matter.

One day you’ll wake up to the warm sensation of your toddler pissing in your marital bed, and you’ll realize the experts failed you. No one adequately prepared you for this moment. You’ll look over at the love of your life, snoring because he’s sleeping on his back again, and feel a rage unlike anything you’ve felt before. You’ll consider letting him sleep. It’s not because he deserves to get some rest. It’s not because you know how hard he works all day and don’t want to disturb him. Those are the reasons you have happily let him sleep soundly through a decade of middle of the night cries and feedings. This time is different. You’ll watch him for a minute, marinating in toddler urine, and you’ll realize you’re smiling like a lunatic.

You’ll scoop up your youngest child, still sleeping sweetly in your arms. You’ll carry her into the bathroom, consider running a bath, but instead settle for wiping her down with baby wipes before taking her back to her own clean bed. You’ll also consider climbing in bed with her, leaving your spouse to soak until morning, just as he did the supper dishes he promised to do before bed. Instead, you’ll change the sheets together. He’ll thank you sleepily for taking care of things and you’ll remember he’s not so bad. You’ll drift off to the rattle of the worn out washing machine, and you’ll pray it lasts just a few more months.

I’m pretty decent at math. I didn’t finish my college degree and I don’t have any fancy letters after my name, but I do still have my mathlete shirt from High School, so just trust me on this. In theory, ONE family of FIVE people, should create ONE load of laundry per day, maybe TWO. After all, THREE of these people are still fun-size! In theory, even with towels and bedding, ONE family of FIVE people should have a manageable amount of laundry.

I don’t mind folding clothes. I love being alone. I love listening to 90s music or true-crime podcasts while completing mindless tasks. A few minutes to myself to fold ONE load of laundry each day just doesn’t sound like torture. We have even recently reduced our wardrobe and simplified into one big family closet. So tell me, parenting experts, where in the atomic F-bomb does all this laundry come from? I currently spend more of my life gathering, washing, changing, folding, and distributing clothing than I do sleeping. I also spend more time exaggerating than I do sleeping.

The parenting books didn’t prepare me for the laundry. They didn’t tell me that little girls change 17 times a day if you don’t fight them on it or move their clothes to your closet. They didn’t tell me that boys start smelling like a locker room at age ten. They didn’t tell me that the potty training years would completely wear out a washer and dryer set and my patience.

No one told me that bringing a sick child into my bed for two nights would take six weeks of sleep training to correct. They didn’t tell me that giving in for a night or two would create a family bed situation that no one else seems bothered by. When I woke up this morning, our bodies were splayed out in the shape of a big C. I took it as a sign and started the coffee. The parenting books never told me about the magic of coffee, and I didn’t start drinking it until I was almost 30. If I would have had coffee when I was having babies, I could have conquered the world. It’s too late for that now, though. These are the survival years.

I’ll change the sheets, let the dishes soak, savor the good times, wash the bad down with coffee, and maybe write a useful parenting book when I get a minute.

To See Myself Through My Child’s Eyes

My middle little took this picture. She immediately screamed, “Mommy, look at this! You look so beautiful right now!!” I glance at the screen and think, “Ugh, that’s terrible!”

I see a huge pooch that carried three babies and lingers still, four years after it has been retired.

I see nasty hair that hasn’t been washed in a week, surviving on dry shampoo and bobby pins.

I see a double chin and a grin I forced when I realized she was taking a picture.

I see a pointy nose I’ve always hated, amplified in a profile view.

I see my favorite jeans, still way too tight even after losing over 20 pounds in the last couple of months.

I see a cluttered counter and gold fixtures I still haven’t found the time to update.

“Someday I’m gonna be pretty as you! You’re a good mommy!”

My sweet middle little.

She just sees a good mommy, pretending to put on makeup, because the littlest little begged.

She sees mommy in a new shirt and her favorite jeans, ‘dressing up’ to take her girls to a movie. Dressing up means pants with buttons, even if you have to lay flat on the bed to button them.

She sees a counter full of things that make mommy happy. She sees glass fish and a sunset picture. It’s not clean, but it’s mommy’s special spot.

She sees a mommy who threw her dirty hair up in a hurry, then carefully bathed her baby girls and braided their hair, making sure they felt special for their fun day out.

She sees her own face, a couple decades older, worn and rounded from bringing babies into the world, but still so happy.

I think the best thing I can do, in my quest for self-acceptance, is just to see myself through my child’s eyes more often.

As the littlest little’s shirt reads, I may not be perfect, but I’m pretty awesome.

He Doesn’t Know What Today Is

He doesn’t know what today is.

He doesn’t know that I lost my favorite person in the whole world 18 years ago today. He doesn’t know that’s when I learned for the first time how unfair life can be. He doesn’t know that I sat down the next day and journaled for the first time. I found catharsis in that moment, and I haven’t stopped. He doesn’t know that.

He doesn’t know how many of the thousands of journal entries that followed were about him. He doesn’t know that I wrote about our forever shortly after we met. He doesn’t know that I scribbled hopelessly that time he broke my heart. He doesn’t know about the lyrics, poems, and pages of nonsense those notebooks hold. Those journals sit in a box in our home, but he doesn’t pry, and I don’t share, so he doesn’t know.

He doesn’t know what today is. He doesn’t know how my heart was hurting again on this day ten years ago. He doesn’t know that I was lost in thoughts of love and loss, and what it all means. He doesn’t know that my heart was with my mother, 60 miles away, on the eighth anniversary of losing her second sister to cancer. He doesn’t know, because I didn’t share.

He doesn’t remember where we were ten years ago. He doesn’t remember that I was bouncing a crying baby in the middle of a food court at the mall. He doesn’t remember that I was sad that day, and that our fussy three month old baby could sense the difference in me. He still doesn’t know why I finally said yes, after he had asked no less than two dozen times in the previous year. He doesn’t remember tilting his head and smiling at me as I struggled with that baby. He doesn’t remember leaning over for a kiss and saying, “Marry me.” He doesn’t know that I looked at the man I had loved so fiercely for so long, looked at the beautiful baby boy between us, remembered how short and unfair life can be, and chose Happy.

He doesn’t know what today is, and he might not remember Valentines Day or our Anniversary. It doesn’t much matter to him what day it is. He doesn’t buy flowers for special occasions, but he stops on the side of the road to pick me a bouquet that will kill his allergies just because it’s a Tuesday and he knows I’ll smile. He doesn’t buy heart-shaped candy wrapped in red foil, but he keeps a stash of dark chocolate in the back of the freezer for when I have a bad day. He doesn’t always remember how long we’ve been married, but over the years he has never once left my side without kissing me and telling me he loves me.

He doesn’t know what today is, and I don’t really need him to. I’ll eat my chocolate, look at our beautiful babies, remember how short and unfair life can be, and choose Happy. He’ll notice I’m not myself, cook my favorite meal, and make sure I know that I am loved.

Seven Things You Should Let Go

     We live in the age of too much. We’re buying too much. We already own too much and owe too much. We’re doing too much. We can’t take care of ourselves because we have too much on our calendar, too much on our plate. We go to bed and can’t sleep because we have too much on our minds. Anxiety ridden, overwhelmed, and approaching a milestone birthday, I decided it was time to let some things go. I found a way to exhale, and so can you.

  1. Let go of what you thought your life would be. My entire outlook shifted when I started embracing this idea. I had a preconceived notion of what I thought my twenties and thirties would look like, and sometimes I still find myself grasping to that idea. The truth is, raising humans is a whole lot messier and more challenging than I ever could have imagined. It’s also a whole lot more beautiful than most people give it credit for.
  2. Let go of wishing the days away. I couldn’t wait to grow up. I couldn’t wait to get out of school. I couldn’t wait to buy a house. I couldn’t wait until my babies slept through the night. I couldn’t wait until they could crawl. I couldn’t wait until they were potty trained. I couldn’t wait until they could reason. I can’t wait for bedtime. I can’t wait for the weekend. I can’t wait for Summer. Stop. The years go by fast enough without us always looking ahead. It’s time to be present. Our time here is finite, and you only get to live this day once. If that means getting down on the floor to play with your kids for a while instead of cleaning, try it. Your sink will be full, but so will your hearts.
  3. Let go of expert opinions. Breast-feed or don’t. Sleep train or don’t. Work outside the home or don’t. Homeschool or don’t. The fact that you worry over these decisions means you’re already doing it right. Every child is different, and you are the only expert when it comes to your own child. We were born with instincts. Use yours to raise yours.
  4. Let go of society’s beauty standards. I could talk for hours about the beauty of a body that has changed and stretched to bring life into this world, but you know as well as I do that it’s easy to get caught up in what you see around you. Yes, many people are much taller and thinner than you. Yes, a ton of famous people have flat stomachs and perfect skin. Just remember that there are also people with enough training to photoshop a turd into a ribeye, so things aren’t always what they seem. Your children will think you are beautiful unless you teach them otherwise.
  5. Let go of your jam-packed calendar. Just by being a parent, you are already doing all the things. If you have a desire to volunteer, do it. If your child has a passion, follow their lead. If you are running ragged seven days a week to please others, I’m going to share a secret with you. It feels really freakin’ good to stay home all day once in a while. Learn to say NO. Moderation is key. If you want your children to be active, go outside. If you want to give them social skills, talk to them as equals. You aren’t making them better people by participating in every single sport and activity available. You’re making them tired.
  6. Let go of the clothes you hate. It will just end up on your closet floor again next time you try it on. If you hate it today, you won’t suddenly love it tomorrow. Let it go. If it doesn’t make you feel good, let it go. While we’re at it, let go of the jeans that don’t fit. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Simplifying your family’s wardrobe will change your life. Around here, less laundry means more Netflix and cuddles. Mama’s happy and everyone wins.
  7. Let go of toxic relationships. I saw a video the other day of Will Smith talking about surrounding yourself with people who “fan your flame”. You have to decide if the people around you are fanning your flame or pissing on your fire. If we are all here trying to become the best version of ourselves, doesn’t it make sense to let go of relationships that bring us down? When we talk about friendships and bullying, I tell my kids that if someone is making them feel bad about themselves, to just walk away. Sometimes, as adults, we need to hear the same thing. Walk away.

     It doesn’t happen overnight, but you’ll find that letting go will give you the space in your mind and in your days for freedom of choice. You can choose what to do with your time and your energy. You can read, write, run, cook, paint, learn to sew, meditate, Netflix and chill, whatever. You do you.


Six Tips for The Sex Talk

My son’s freckled face burned red. His tiny ten-year-old body sank into his seat as he stared intently out the window at the fields full of cattle passing by in a blur. I glanced over at his dad, white-knuckling the steering wheel and undoubtedly wishing he could be anywhere else at that moment. It was time. I’m a serial researcher, and I think of myself as ready-for-anything. I had read the topic to death, so I knew in my heart that I was ready. According to their body language, my husband and our son were less than receptive. I had received a text from a fellow fourth-grade mom, detailing the ugly truth she had been faced with. Not only did our kids know about sex, they were talking about it at school. Honestly, I should have known it was coming.

When I was in fourth grade, my parents were called to school after my teacher found a note we had passed around the classroom. It featured some beautifully drawn stick figures with out-of-proportion anatomy, each body part labeled by name for reference. There were conflicting accounts of who drew which parts, but the handwriting labeling PENIS and VAGINA was unmistakably mine. The arrows drawn between the stick figures, which I still deny having drawn, clearly demonstrated “how to do the sex”. I would give an obscene amount of money to own that drawing today. It should probably be included in some health textbooks, but the brilliance of it was lost on my parents and educators at the time. My first golden opportunity for publication was shredded by an angry man in a purple room. It’s very difficult to take angry people seriously in such a cheerful room, even when they outnumber you 5-1.

My son’s fourth grade year crept up on me a little too quietly. I hadn’t thought of my own month-long grounding for a long while, and my biggest worry as he started the school year was that his handwriting was atrocious. I wasn’t as prepared for this step as I had thought. I just thought I had more time. I really thought if he had questions, he would ask me. I guess I was forgetting the fact that he became the smartest guy in every room around the time he turned ten. The only people in his life who he believed to be as smart were his friends at school. So, it makes sense that he might seek his pre-pubescent knowledge from like-minded fourth grade geniuses.

“Do you know what sex is?” I had asked the question several minutes before and it still hung in the air, unanswered. I turned around in my seat so I could see him. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and nodded. Yes, I already knew this much. “Do you have any questions for me?” He shook his head quickly, and I knew he must be telepathically begging me to stop talking. I told him that it’s normal to think about, but inappropriate to talk about at school. He nodded, hoping this was the point of this conversation and that it would be over soon.

There are a few suggestions I have for anyone beginning this conversation. I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I stuck to these points and made it out alive.

  • Create an open dialogue early. As soon as our kids learned about their bodies, it was time to teach them about privacy and what is appropriate and normal. I also taught them very young about good touch and bad touch. We live in a cruel world, but we aren’t totally defenseless when we face evil. We have education.
  • Use textbook terminology. I didn’t want to seem uncomfortable with any aspect of this conversation, even if I was. Penis, Vagina, Sexual Intercourse. These are facts of life, and shying away from the words can send the wrong message.
  • Start with the basics. Because I intend for our conversation to be ongoing, I didn’t see any use in overwhelming him with too much information or too many details at first. I found out he had figured out some of the basics. I filled in the blanks for him, and gave him some time to think.
  • Share your beliefs. For some, this may include abstinence until marriage. Our son was over a year old when I married his daddy, so I would feel hypocritical lecturing on that note. Instead, I told him that sex is very serious, and can have far-reaching emotional and physical consequences. Because we live in a very small community, we choose to teach our children acceptance and inclusion in matters that they may not actually encounter for years to come. This is why I brought up same-sex relationships during this talk.
  • Teach consent. We made sure he knows that when the time comes, he can love or marry whoever the hell he wants to, as long as they say yes. Every sexual predator you are seeing in the news was once a son (or daughter) who needed a parent to teach them about consent. I’m not saying it would be a cure-all, but it would be a good start, and I can certainly do my part.
  • Be approachable. I knew he would either be too embarrassed or overwhelmed to ask any questions right off the bat. I told him he can always ask either one of us absolutely anything, and left it at that.

Every kid is different, but this is what worked for us. If and when he has questions for us, I hope he’ll feel comfortable asking. At the very least, I’ve made sure that if he draws dirty pictures at school, he’ll do it accurately, even if his handwriting is the absolute worst.


Why I’m Forgiving the Mom Fails

I’ve been a mom for over a decade. I’m acutely aware that these years are going too fast. I understand the notion that this day with my children will be lived only once, and then will be gone forever. I get it. As much as I miss rocking my sweet snuggly babies, I also already miss the stages they’re in now. I know how much I’ll miss my son’s ornery glances, and the fact that his entire face is a tell when he’s fibbing. I’ll miss my middle little’s enthusiasm for every single part of life. She’s just as excited for spaghetti as she is for Christmas, and I know that zest is not eternal. Every time my youngest masters a word she has always said wrong, I mourn the loss of her funny toddler dutch.

I try every day to soak in the good while it’s happening, but I’m well aware that my brain is incapable of remembering the important things. I’m 60% song lyrics, and 30% useless trivia. There are far too many beautiful moments with my children for me to keep them all up there in the 10% left, especially when I can’t seem to forget my many parenting fails. Those suckers seem to stick like glue. If you think I have a single cell to spare for things like remembering to turn off the oven, you’re wrong. You know, once you get a few too many browser tabs open, it’s difficult to keep track of the life and death ones.

I realize my absent-mindedness is a combination of having a creative brain and three children. There’s no app or planner that can fix the way my mind operates. Believe me, I’ve tried. Instead, this year I will take too many pictures. I’ll write down their funny quotes, and record every story. I’ll forgive myself when I have a bad mom day so that I can make room in the memory bank for all the times I’m getting it right. I’ll give myself the gift of grace, and the presence of mind to know that we’re creating memories for our children as well as ourselves. Each of them only gets to live this day once, and it’s gone. What can we do to make sure these memories are keepers?