Friday, December 13, 2019

A Full Cup

"You can't pour from an empty cup."

I don't remember when I first heard that phrase, but it was some time after the birth of my daughter.  And initially, it seemed like a light bulb going off in my head.  Well... no wonder I feel so bad!  I'm not sleeping, my child needs me 24/7, and I'm not taking any time for myself. I'm trying to pour from an empty cup.  

But eight years into this parenting thing, I think I might be wrong.  It's not that my cup is empty... it's that it's too FULL of things that I can no longer pour out. 

It's a feeling of being stuffed to the brim with something that's scratching and clawing and dying to get out.  Ambitions and ideas and a potential life that I no longer have time for. The dreams of my youth that I replaced with diapers and wipes, sippy cups and parent teacher conferences. 

It's seeing others doing the things I wish I could, seeing them playing out the dreams that I chose to pause in my own life. Sometimes all that fullness burns inside me and leaves me feeling spent.

Spent.  But not empty. 

Empty would be easier.  Empty you could fill up with food or booze.  Empty you could attempt to ignore by becoming an expert on Pokemon or Minecraft or any of your kid's current obsessions. Empty you could cover over with Netflix binges and entirely too much time on Facebook.

It's the fullness that gets me. 

It sits heavy on my heart, my lungs.  On the bad days it flows up behind my eyes and clouds my vision.  The what-ifs and the should-ofs blind me to the beauty of what IS in front of me.  So I force those feelings back down and they leave a slime of guilt in their wake.

Because what I chose SHOULD be enough. 

But I can't swallow it away.  The feeling of untapped potential. The feeling that there should be, there MUST be, more to me than just my children.  My family will always be number one on my list.  But I just don't think they can be the ENTIRE list. 

So I tell myself, maybe in ten years.  Maybe they'll need me less.  Maybe then it can be about me... and those guilty feelings will be less intense.  Maybe then I'll let it out.

Maybe then, I won't feel like I'm so full I'm suffocating. 

"You can't pour from an empty cup."  Yeah.  But lately I've been having a hard time pouring from one that feels so achingly full. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Shattering the "Fine"

"How are you guys?"

"Oh, we're fine.  How are you?"

I'm a pretty habitual user of the "fine." Life could be a giant dumpster fire right now, and the majority of the people in my life are going to get the "fine."

Why do I do that?

Is it because I simply don't feel like explaining what's really going on?  Is it because I don't want to bother/burden the other person with my drama? Is it because I feel like if I isolate myself, then the negative feelings will go away?

Why do I default to that automated generic response?  I'm not 100% sure.  But I know that I'm not the only one.

Thankfully, I'm friends with a few people who I think are *really* good at shattering the idea that we always have to be "fine."  The one I want to tell you about today is my friend Emily.

Me (left) and Emily in our 2nd Grade class photo. While I know that Emily has just gotten better with age, I still make questionable "cat sweater level" fashion choices.


Although Emily's done some blogging before, she's recently started a new adventure she's calling "Clean Living with the Crazies."

Don't let the name throw you off.  This isn't another diet blog about attempting to eat "clean" and eliminating all processed foods from your life.  This isn't another blog about how everything in your home is giving you cancer, so you need to remove all "chemicals" from your life immediately and stop poisoning your kids with Red Dye No. 40.

So far, "Clean Living with the Crazies" is a blog about mental health. Not only ideas of things we might be able to do to improve our mental health, but a place where Emily is putting it all on the table. For example: her most recent posts describe her experiences with postpartum depression after the birth of her twin girls.   

(Already interested?  Visit her Blog, or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.)

Emily's going to write about ADHD and anxiety, she's going to write about about Bipolar Disorder, she's going to write about PTSD... and in a world where the majority of people only share the "happy, shiny, polished" versions of their lives online, I think this is amazing.

Sometimes reading about how things aren't always "hunky-dory" for someone else makes me feel better about the times things are going less than stellar in my life.  And because you haven't all been fortunate enough to have known Emily since Kindergarten, I wanted give you the opportunity to read her thoughts.

I also wanted to make sure that, in case you needed to hear it today, it really is OKAY not to be fine.

---

("Clean Living with the Crazies" - Blog, Facebook and Instagram.)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Three Recent Surprises


  • My daughter has a new best friend.  This 8-year-old was over at our house earlier this week, and he asked me if I'd ever heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I told him that I had, and he told me that he finished his novel on November 11. My first reaction?  Wow!  This kid has done something that I've never even been brave enough to attempt.  My second thought?  I like this kid even more that I thought.

  • My husband was out of town for a few days last week.  While he was gone, I was a little down.  When my daughter asked me what was wrong, I told her that I really wished I could give her daddy a hug.  She ran out of the room, and came back a minute later with a pillow stuffed under her shirt.  "Here!  This is kinda like hugging Daddy!"  Yes, my sweet girl.  Just exactly.

  • Earlier this week, I took my son to the library to kill time while big sister was at Girl Scouts.  I had to shush him... but not because he was screaming.  I had to shush him because he was shouting out the names of the colors he noticed around the building. If you've read any of my other posts about our journey with "expressive receptive language disorder" then you know how awesome that shushing actually was.  Best shush of my life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sneaking

It sneaks up on me. The laundry. Empty to full hamper in seconds. I sigh and start another load.

It sneaks up on me. My inevitable aging. During a routine trip to the bathroom, my reflection catches my eye. Have I always had those lines around my mouth?!?

My hair has been far less devious. A slow creep from red to whitish-gray since the birth of my daughter 8 years ago. My boss at the time pointed out the first one.

"You have a gray hair!" she laughed.
"NO! What?"
"Kids will do that to you," she said and smiled in the way that makes it impossible to tell if you're being teased or not.

It sneaks up on me. The shift in a friendship.  Geography, kids vs. no kids, different life priorities, increasing dependence on social media to stay "connected." Suddenly you realize how long it's been since you've seen or actually talked to a person.  And in the same breath you realize how that fact isn't nearly as upsetting as it would have been a few years ago. 

It sneaks up on me.  The intermittent pain.  Neck, back, knees popping.  I sleep wrong and end up hurting for three days.  I spend too much time playing on the floor with my kids, and it hurts to get up.

It sneaks up on me.  The changing seasons.  Driving home yesterday, all the leaves were red.  It's almost as if it exploded into fall over night in my neighborhood. 

Do you know that Fleetwood Mac song "Landslide"?

Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don't know either, Stevie.  Some days I don't know if I can handle the laundry, much less the life changes... and I'm pretty sure that's why they choose to sneak up on me. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Except Joanna"

In October 2004, I went with some friends to a John Kerry rally. 

I wouldn't say I was a HUGE Kerry supporter, but I'd never been to any event like that and I wanted to go.  Plus, my boss had given me a pile of tickets to use.  Not to mention, I'd heard that actor Ron Livingston was going to be there. (And since I can't count the number of times I've seen "Office Space" - that seemed enough of a reason to attend. Ha!)

I don't have many concrete memories of that evening.  I remember it took a bit to get through security, but once we got inside the arena... the excitement was contagious.  Ron Livingston WAS there, and I know he talked about how important it was for us to vote in the upcoming election.  Kerry said all the usual things you'd expect a Presidential candidate to say, but really hammered home that each person here tonight could use their vote and make a difference.

As we were driving the 30 miles back to campus, my friend Joanna looked a bit sad.  She eventually shared that watching the rest of us get excited and inspired by the speakers was hard for her. She felt like every time someone said that EVERYONE could make a difference, there was an unspoken "Except Joanna" playing inside her head.

In October 2004, Joanna was not an American citizen.  Joanna could not vote. 

Being the super unhelpful friends we were - we lightened the mood by giving her crap, and we turned "Except Joanna" into a inside joke for a few weeks.  Joanna and I lost touch when I graduated the following year.  And to be honest, I'd forgotten about that night until a couple of weeks ago when "Except Joanna" turned into "Except MY son."

---

I was at a meeting with the other parents in my son's preschool class.  His teacher was going over what a typical day would look like in her classroom.  As she rattled off her list of activities, all I could think was... MY son can't do those things. 

My son can't start each day practicing writing his name. I can barely get him to hold a crayon without throwing it across the room.

My son can't sit nicely on the carpet for story time and then talk about his favorite part of the story with the group.  When he does consent to looking at books, I have to keep taking them out of his mouth. 

My son can't bring toys from home and share why they are special with his classmates.  He simply doesn't have the words.

"Except my son."  "Except my son."  "Except Joanna."

I'm sorry that I didn't have the right words back in 2004, Joanna.  I googled you once and learned that you became a citizen in early 2009.  I wonder if you've been to any other political rallies. I hope that you haven't had many life experiences that made you feel as excluded as you did that night almost 15 years ago.

I also hope that with each passing year, there will be less activities on the daily school schedule that cause me to worry about my son feeling the same way. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

"ASD MOM" and Me

As I was leaving the library the other day, I noticed that a maroon van had parked in the space next to mine. The first thing that caught my eye was the large yellow sticker on the side of it indicating that the van may contain passengers with autism that might be unresponsive to verbal requests/commands.

"Well, that's kind of awesome," I thought to myself.  "What a smart way to keep your children safer."

Then as I walked past the van to get to my own vehicle, I noticed that the license plate said "ASD MOM."  All of a sudden, my stomach started to hurt.

Is that mom completely defined by her child(ren)'s diagnosis?  As a parent of a young child with his own disorder... I really hope not.  And does she have other children?  Is ASD MOM able to take off that "hat" if she needs to and just be there for her other kids?  How do they feel about that license plate?

Or has the diagnosis permeated their lives so much that there isn't even a hat to remove anymore?





My daughter started school today, which means that yesterday was the last day of her summer vacation.  I'd like to say that we spent the day doing fun stuff together, but we didn't.  I spent yesterday being "her brother's mom."

Did she and I get to spend the afternoon at the pool soaking up the last bits of summer?  Nope.  I spent the afternoon in a therapy waiting room listening to her brother scream at his Speech Pathologist through the closed door.

After therapy, did I get to take my daughter out to enjoy her favorite dinner? Did we talk about what she was excited about in the upcoming school year?  Another no.  I spent our normal dinner time at a meeting with my son's new teachers for the preschool program he'll be starting next month.

Yesterday felt like a day I should have spent soaking up my daughter, but I didn't. Was I being a good mom?  Yes.  Absolutely.  I just wasn't being HER mom.

Did I know that having a second child meant that my attention was going to be divided?  Of course I did.  When I began to realize that my second child wasn't developing on a typical path, I knew almost immediately that my attention was never going to be divided EVENLY.  What I didn't realize was how often I felt like I was going to be removing my preferred "mom hat" to put on a different one.

Does the fact that I don't want to wear the "IEP hat" all the time make me a shitty parent?  Does the idea that I wanted to spend yesterday with my daughter (instead of doing tasks directly related to my other child's delays) make me a monster? I don't know.

I'm not native to the "loss of self" that comes with motherhood.  I'm aware that my identity has been completely, irrevocably changed.  And even 20 years from now, when (fingers crossed) neither of my kids are living at home... I know I won't be the same person I was before I had children.

Maybe ASD MOM is just proud of her child and wanted a public way to express it. Maybe ASD MOM has gotten to a place on her journey where she waves the diagnosis in her life around like a badge of honor. Maybe I'll get there someday.

But maybe it's also acceptable to know that I will never put my child's diagnosis on my license plate.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

End of Summer Stomachache

My daughter goes back to school in a few days, and my stomach hurts.

About this time every year, I start to have this sinking feeling that we didn't do enough "fun stuff" during her summer break.  It feels like the time is slipping through my fingers, and we just blew it.

In an attempt to combat these feelings this year, I started writing down fun things that my daughter did (or that we did as a family) these last couple of months. Theatre Camp, Rainforest Camp, swimming and splash pads, visiting friends out of town, trips to visit both sets of grandparents... nope.  Didn't help.  I'm still feeling pukey.

If you asked my daughter, I think she'd tell you that she got to do everything she wanted this summer minus one big thing with her aunt that we just couldn't work out logistically.

So why am *I* having such a hard time?

Probably because this isn't really about the end of summer.  You guys, I blinked... and my oldest child is almost eight.  And in 10 years, she'll be almost 18.

And then we'll *really* know if I "blew it" or not.

Am I doing stuff now to build those skills she's going to need in 10 years?  Can she entertain herself alone and play well with others?  Yes.  Can she feed herself?  Umm... does opening a can of Pringles count?

Does she understand that actions have consequences? Does she pick up after herself? Does she tell the truth?  Most of the time.

What it really boils down to is this: In 10 years, will I have done all the things I needed to do to create a human who is ready to leave me?  Or maybe even more significant, a human who CHOOSES to leave... but still finds enough comfort in the feeling of "home" we created to desire to come back occasionally?

Sandwiched between the games of Battleship and the afternoons of too much screen-time, am I teaching the lessons that need to be taught?  Are we balancing the chats about "which super power you'd like to have" with enough *big* conversations?  Am I saying the right things?  Am I imparting enough wisdom?

My God... is there any way of knowing?  Probably not.

Maybe one of the secrets of parenthood is to get comfortable with the perpetual aches. The ache of constant worry, the ache that occurs after you lose your cool with the little people you love the most, and the ache of realizing that no matter what you do... you have no idea how these kids of yours are going to turn out or what they'll remember about their childhoods.

What is it people say about using your mind to reduce your pain? Breathe through the ache.

School stars in a few days, and all I can do is keep breathing.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Origami

The other day, my daughter watched a video of someone doing origami on YouTube and decided to attempt it herself. After getting stuck and frustrated, she asked me for help.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that precise folding and creating sharp lines has never been my strong suit, so I attempted to finish her project.  It was a big fat fail.  In fact, she had moved on to something else before I even accomplished all the steps in the video.

Even though I doubt my daughter will be make the effort to create another crane or lily anytime soon, I find myself thinking about origami a lot lately.

The question that keeps popping up in my mind is:  Do you think a person starts out as a flat piece of paper?  Or do you think that we each start out as a fancy folded piece of art... and growing up is what unfurls us back into a simpler/truer form?  When I think about my life, I guess I'm not really sure if I'm being "folded" or "unfolded."

Maybe both.

I can remember making these definitive black and white statements about myself /my beliefs back in high school.  (You know, with the unwavering assurance that you *completely* understand the world that could only belong to a 16-year-old.)  Things I said I'd do, or things I was positive that I would never do.  Lines that I drew around myself in the sand that were going to be these hard and fast rules for my life.  Maybe those were my first "hard folds."

If so, quite a few of those have already come undone.

And maybe I had to be "unfolded" to make sure there was enough paper for the new folds.  The complicated shapes that I never planned to attempt.  The sculpted corners of my life that only happened because I was nudged in that direction by my own misguided life choices... or by the people that love me the most.

And, my God... some of this folding hurts.

Sometimes I want to push back against the bending paper of life with all my weight and force it to stay where it always was.  Sometimes it feels like bending that corner into it's new location is going to crush me.  And even when I know in my heart the paper HAS to be creased, sometimes it feels like the entire thing might rip in half in the process. 

I don't know if the end goal is a life that resembles a beautifully folded sculpture, or the peace that must come with being a flat sheet of paper that's finally smooth and free of all of life's creases. 

What is am sure of is that I should probably get comfortable with being "unfolded" and "refolded" for the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Getting High on Good Deeds

Scrolling through social media a few weeks ago, I stumbled onto a post about a 6-year-old boy named Bentlee who loves trucks.  Bentlee has special needs, and the poor little dude recently broke his femur and had to have rods put into his leg.  But his mother wasn't creating a "Go Fund Me," she wasn't organizing a "meal train" to give her more time to take care of her other three children... she was asking for photos of trucks.

Apparently Bentlee LOVES semis (he calls him "beep beeps") and his mom thought that getting photos of trucks in the mail (and then hanging them up on the wall) would lift his spirits.  

I'll admit, lots of times I scroll on by stories like this one ... but this time I wanted to do something.

My daughter and I spent an evening putting together a package for Bentlee.  She got out her markers and created a super-colorful semi picture for him.  I printed a photo of my husband's truck, and a photo of a truck belonging to a friend of ours.  My daughter carefully selected about 15 of her "Super Truck Collector Cards" that she thought Bentlee might like.  We each wrote him a letter, and then we mailed it off.  

And I felt great.


This kid lives about 170 miles south of my family, and I will never meet him. I don't expect that he is going to send us a letter back, or that I'll even hear if he liked our package of stuff. But it doesn't matter.  That feeling of doing something nice for someone else was exhilarating.  And this isn't the first time I've felt it.

About a year ago, I convinced my "pack-rat" daughter that the play kitchen set in her room was just taking up space.  After unsuccessfully attempting to give it to a couple of different people I know in real life, I decided to just give it away for free on Facebook.  The set wasn't in bad shape, but my daughter had covered it in stickers that I couldn't peel off.

The woman who replied to my post saying she wanted it told me that her husband could meet me that same afternoon in a public parking lot across town.  SOLD.  I decided at the last minute to throw in a basket of fake food and play dishes/tea set stuff.  When the man arrived, he couldn't stop smiling.

"Oh my gosh!  This is awesome!  And it's bigger than I thought.  And all this food! Are you sure you don't want any money for this?!?!"

I laughed and said no.  We squeezed everything into the back of his car as he told me how much his daughter was going to love it.  Then he thanked me one final time and drove away.

Then I was the one who couldn't stop smiling.

Sometimes life feels really hard.  But somedays are all about trucks or kitchen sets and getting high on doing good deeds.  You know, as weird as it sounds... I think I'll try to give things to strangers more often.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Waiting Room

She's ready for him, and he'll go in alone this time.

The sessions are more productive when I'm not in there, so I'll sit in the waiting room with whatever book I threw into my bag before we left the house.  Sometimes, it's quiet.  I'm able to read, and the break from reality found in the pages of my book feels almost rejuvenating. 

Today, the waiting room is busy. 

There's a young mom with a boy much smaller than my son.  He's screaming, but I can't really tell if it's in joy or frustration.  Mom is able to distract him with the cup of crayons they keep on the small table.  He's lining them up one by one on an empty chair, and she's proclaiming the color names in a voice that sounds like a cross between a sports announcer and a Sergeant at Arms. Her eyes stay locked on her son, and I can tell she's searching his face and hoping for some mimicking.

He's silent.

And while I'm sure she's relieved he isn't "bothering" the other people in the room, I'm equally sure she'd give anything to hear even a garbled version of the word "blue."  Instead he starts making angry guttural sounds from the back of his throat.  The sounds get louder and louder, and she exhales audibly when it's time for them to go back and start their session. 

Directly across the room from me is another mom. She's got her head down, staring at the phone in her lap.  One of the therapists approaches her with a couple of sheets of paper. 

"I just wanted you to see these," the therapist says.  "This is a sample of his handwriting when we first started, and this is a sample he gave me just now." 

I watch her face fall, and avert my eyes back toward the book in my lap. 

Another mom enters the room carrying a baby who isn't walking yet.  The little girl babbles and I smile to myself and wonder what "she's in for." As if this place was a prison rather than a hub for all sorts of pediatric therapy offerings.

And while I hope my son is having a positive, beneficial experience when he's here... maybe it is a prison... for me. 

It's harder to escape my negative thoughts here.  I feel guilty when I think things like, "At least my kid isn't doing THAT angry growling thing."  I feel my anxiety skyrocket when I realize how my kid refuses to hold a crayon/marker and will likely have the same handwriting issues as the other patient here today.  I look at that baby and I beat myself up for not having my son evaluated sooner. 

These thoughts, these prison bars, close in on me.  And even though I know things could be SO MUCH WORSE... I wish I was anywhere but this freaking waiting room.

My son runs back into the room with his therapist. 

"We had a good session today, " she says with a smile.  "And he didn't hide under the table this time."

Now it's my turn to audibly exhale.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

7 AM Tears

It's barely 7 AM and he's on the floor crying.  Face down in the living room carpet, his little body is shaking with sobs.  I keep calling his name and he occasionally looks up - his face red and his eyes filled with hurt. 

"I'm so sorry, Bug," I keep repeating as I sink into a chair a few feet away.  "I'm so sorry I can't understand you." I begin to cry along with him.

Five minutes ago he was happy and smiling. Five minutes ago I asked him if he wanted something to eat.  I suggest all his favorites and he pushes them away.  Then he points to the kitchen and says... something.  It's a "word" I've never heard before and it doesn't sound like anything. He keeps repeating his request, and I'm just not getting it.  I ask him to show me, he refuses.  The more I guess incorrectly, the most upset he becomes. Finally, he just gives up and cries.

His exasperated and frustrated cries are the worst.  It's not like an "I'm too tired" or "I'm whining because I didn't get my way" cry. These cries instantly increase my blood pressure.  They cause me physical pain because I feel like I'm letting him down.  I mean, if your own MOTHER can't understand you...

It's kind of like I still have a newborn.  You remember that newborn "guessing game": Hungry? Tired?  Dirty diaper?  Gassy?   Only it's much worse, because a three-year-old has so many more possible wants/needs.  And I can't seem to figure it out.

Did you ever see the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus"?  There's this scene where Glenne Headly is explaining why she wants, no NEEDS, to spend money on sign language classes.  It's this emotional monologue that ends with her crying and shouting: "I want to talk to my son! I want to talk to my son!" 

I want my son to talk to ME.

So I just keep trying.  I just keep hoping for more mimicking and more new words.

I'm aching to be bored by an endless monologue about dinosaurs or whatever cartoon he likes. I'm longing for future conversations.   

He's stopped crying.  It's time to try again. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

16 Birthdays

16 birthdays.  You've missed 16 birthdays.  16 occasions we didn't get to celebrate with you, 16 cards I didn't get to send.

What would you have done today to mark the occasion?  Would cheesecake still be one of your favorite desserts?  (Would you have remembered what I meant if I'd texted you about the "cheesecake that tasted like sweetcorn?" God, I hope so.)

Where would you be celebrating today?  I can pretend to guess, but I really have no idea.  15 years ago, I didn't know that I'd move to the Chicago area, get married, have a kid, move back to Iowa, and then have another kid. I certainly wouldn't have guessed that I'd currently be a "stay-at-home mom."  Given that I couldn't foresee my own future... it's hard to imagine what path your life would have taken.

But sometimes I pretend to know.

When we were little, you had the most unique aspirations for your future career.  Most kids would answer that age old question with "teacher" or "fireman." Not you.  I can remember you telling people that you were going to be a forensic scientist.  Or a missionary.  Or a truck driver.

Sometimes I pretend that the reason I haven't gotten to talk to you in over 15 years is because you're somewhere where we simply can't communicate.

Maybe you're a missionary in Belize.  You're horribly busy making the jungle a better place and the internet access is almost non-existent.  Maybe you're an over-the-road truck driver.  You're seeing the entire country, but you only use your cell phone for work and like HELL you'd pay to use a computer when you stop for the night.  Maybe you DID become a forensic scientist, but you work for the government and your entire life became classified.  Maybe you ended up in witness protection.  Just typing that makes me smile, because I think you would have liked that sort of "adventure."

I realize how irrational this sounds, but it's nice to imagine you're still around.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm fooling myself.  Maybe we wouldn't even be close anymore.  Maybe our paths would have diverged so much that I wouldn't really know what's going on with your life outside of what you chose to post on social media.

16 missed birthdays.

You know, I can remember your 16th birthday.  We celebrated it riding on a marching band bus somewhere between Iowa and Florida.  I can see this photograph in my mind of you sitting in your bus seat wearing *more* than one party hat. Wish I could find it.

I can remember celebrating one of your birthdays in middle school.  You had a giant sleepover at your house and I ate so many "Nacho Cheese Doritos" that I STILL can't eat them to this day.  I remember another friend of ours was pouring different kinds of soda into the same plastic cup and announced that she was serving us "mixed drinks." I felt so grown up.

I can remember your Mom prepping for another one of your birthdays at your kitchen table.  She was making an ice cream cake roll.  We were circling the table like vultures watching her prep the deliciousness - and then I felt crushed when I realized her creation had to go into the freezer for what seemed like an eternity.

So many birthday memories.  I guess that's how I'm celebrating you today.

Happy happy birthday, my friend.  You only had 20 of them, and that just wasn't enough. 




Thursday, May 30, 2019

Getting My Hands Dirty

I have made five batches of homemade slime with my daughter since May 18th.  But it hasn't exactly been a "team effort."  Her contribution has been selecting the color and adding the glue to the bowl.  The bulk of the work has been mine. No matter how much I encourage her... I'm the one who has to put my hands in the goop.

As I worked on a bright pink batch the other morning, it occurred to me that this slime-making process feels a lot like parenting feels lately.

I'm the one who has to kneed it, and determine if we need more shaving cream or contact solution.

I'm the one who has to touch it before it's perfected and ends up with the sticky gunk under my fingernails.

I'm the one who has to put in the time, and make it "acceptable" enough for my daughter to want to play with it. 

Parenting is hard, and while I'm very grateful that I'm getting helpful "ingredients" from outside sources (my husband, my parents, my sisters, my friends) it feels like a lot of it falls on my shoulders. And on the really bad days, it feels like I'm tackling these messy parts alone. 

I guess what really made the connection in my head between parenting and slime-making is that I'M putting the work in, but I'm ultimately doing it for SOMEONE else. 

The things that I teach my daughter about respect and responsibility are going to (hopefully) make things easier for her future teachers.  The things I show her about kindness and empathy are going to help make her a more loving person toward her future friends/partners.  The things I preach to her about working hard and not giving up are going to help her future employers know they can trust her with the big projects and that she deserves that raise. 

So the next time I'm sticky, covered in slime, and muttering under my breath... I'm going to try to remember why I'm *really* getting my hands dirty in the first place. 




Friday, May 24, 2019

Romanticizing the Past

My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary earlier this week by going out to dinner.  We'd been given a gift certificate a while back to a nice Italian restaurant, but never managed to make the time to use it.  Not only I was exhilarated at the thought of a "kid free" meal, but I was also excited because I hadn't been to this particular establishment in almost 15 years.

The one (and only) time I was there was on a first date. (NOT with my husband, in case you were curious. Ha!) I remember the food being great, and I remember it was the first time I had calamari as an appetizer. It was also one of the nicest places I'd ever been taken on a date.  I'd been talking this place up to my husband for a while.  He's a bit of a foodie, and I was pretty sure he'd like it. 

We got there, and the food was... just okay. Hmm.

I think I may have romanticized my first experience with this restaurant in my head.

Don't get me wrong, the food wasn't horrible.  But will we make the time to go back there again in the near future?  Probably not.

The whole experience got me wondering how often I'm guilty of this whole "romanticizing the past" thing.

Were Saturday morning cartoons *really* better in the 1990s than they are today? Or was I just viewing them through a different "lens" than I view cartoons now?

What about TV?  Were those shows I grew up with actually better than what's on today? Or do I just have fond memories of watching TGIF on Friday nights and SNICK on Saturday nights because they felt like more of a "treat" than watching television does now?

And don't get me started on music.  I'm convinced that many people feel the best decade for music was whatever time period they were in high school/their early 20s. I read a study once that said the majority of people actually STOP seeking out new music/artists once they hit their 30s.  I know I'm guilty of this one.  You're going to hear "PopRocks" (1990s and 2000s pop and rock) on the satellite radio whenever I'm in control of the dial.

While I've only been a parent for 7.5 years, I know I'm going to be having wistful thoughts about the past when it comes to raising my kids.  My first grader is already talking about how much she wants a cell phone when she's a teenager.  (Kid, I didn't have my own phone until COLLEGE.  Calm down.)

So is all this romanticizing harmful?  I don't know.  So far, I don't think I've hurt anyone with my rose-colored views of certain past experiences.  Will I be able to to stop?  I don't know that either.  But maybe I should try.

If nothing else... perhaps we'll be able to have a tastier anniversary dinner next year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Big Kids at the Playground

I took my kids to my daughter's school (after hours) recently to play on the playground equipment.  At the same time we pulled up, so did a car of three teenagers.  I didn't really pay much attention, as my youngest is a "runner" and diverted my attention away from them pretty quickly.

My daughter noticed them though.

I'm doing that "mom trick" where you're trying to keep one eye on each kid, and I can see her circling them.  She's giving them a wide berth, but it's obvious to me what she's doing.  And I think it's obvious to them too.

This playground has a triple slide, and each of the teens is sitting in a bedway.  Finally I hear my daughter speak.  "You guys just going to sit there?" They laugh.  "Are you too scared to go DOWN the slide?" she continues.  They laugh again.  She climbs to the top and one of the teens immediately moves so she can go down.  She turns around and gives them a look that seems to say, "See? It's not that hard!" before she runs over to another section of the playground.

I'm taking in the whole scene and laughing to myself.  I know that some parents are bothered when older kids hang out at playgrounds, but these three seem pretty non-threatening.  Or maybe it doesn't bother me... because I'VE been the big kid on the playground.

I have memories of hanging out at parks and playgrounds with my friends when I was in high school.  I feel like we usually went at NIGHT, but I could be mistaken.  I don't know if I can pinpoint why we chose to hang out there. Was there really nothing else to do in our small town?  I know I had at least one friend who was vocal about how much she loved to swing.  Maybe we were just going along with her.  Or maybe it was more than that.

Maybe even at 17, we were trying to go back to something familiar. Something easier. You know, playground rules. No pushing.  No cutting in line.  No throwing the sand/woodchips.  No bad words. Maybe we just wanted to pretend we had the ability to temporarily escape the drama of high school.

I like to think that's what those three kids were doing.  I can't imagine being a teenager in today's social media world. It was bad enough to find out on Monday morning that your friends hung out over the weekend and didn't invite you... it would be WAY worse to see it playing out in "real time" on Instagram.

I'm not sure how old those teens were, but maybe they were seniors.  Maybe they are graduating high school in a couple of weeks and are on the precipice of some big life changes.  Maybe as much as they "can't WAIT to be done," they are also a little nervous about the next chapter. 

So if they want to linger a little bit longer in childhood while they still can... that's fine with me.

Just go DOWN the slide so my first grader leaves you alone, okay?   

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dear Bunny

Dear Bunny,

I am so sorry.  You didn't sign up for any of this.

Someone gifted you to my daughter when she was about 3, I think.  It seems kind of rude to tell you, but you were never her favorite.  You lived a quiet life in the toy box. You only ventured out for special occasions like "Stuffed Animal Tea Party" or "How Many Bunnies Do I Have, Mom?"

Just before she turned 4, and I found out I was pregnant with her little brother, I instructed her to empty her toy box.  I asked her to pick a handful of things that she would be willing to give to the new baby.  You got picked.



I've been trying to imagine how that felt for you.  Were you happy for a new assignment?  Were you sad she was willing to give you up so easily?  Were you just excited to get sprung from the toy box for a new adventure/some fresh air?

My son took to you right away.  His "B."  You've been sucked on.  You've been thrown into the toilet.  You've been tied up in a pillowcase and tossed into the washing machine. You've been used (many, many times) as a surrogate Kleenex. You've been loved.

And that "love" has taken it's toll.  You don't look like you used to.  Your fur isn't as soft.  You've completely lost your blue bow.  And most recently, your right ear split open.  I promise I'll fix that, but I'm not a doctor and you're probably going to have a scar.



What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Do you focus on the flaws? Do you see the scratched up eyes, the worn fur, the spot where the bow used to be?  Are you tired?  It's exhausting to be so needed.  Trust me, I know.  To be pulled and thrown and stepped on.  To be covered in someone else's germs.  To just want to be left alone (and not touched) for 5 minutes.

When you look in the mirror, do you see the bunny you USED to be?  Because I hope you can focus on the love. I hope you can see that you are so much realer than those toys shoved in the bottom of my daughter's toy box.  I hope you can see that your beauty isn't tied to your appearance.  Your beauty, your value, is in all those messy moments you shared with my son.

You will never be the same bunny you were before you met my kids.  And that's okay.

You're living a life you couldn't have imagined when you were "born" in that toy factory in China.





“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” 

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. 

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” 

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” 

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

- The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams



Want to read more of my work?  Check out my essay "Mrs. Norton's Daughter" in WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series.  

Click here to get your copy today!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Plans vs. Reality

When I was in college, a friend once told me she hated making big plans.  Her reasoning was if she made plans, and then they DIDN'T work out, the expectations she created in her head wouldn't be met, so she would be disappointed and sad.  I thought this was pretty deep coming from a 19-year-old.

I also remember thinking it was kind of depressing.

I love making plans.  In fact, I think I thrive on it.  When we first started dating, I remember my husband saying that dating me was causing him to "plan ahead" more than he ever had in his life.  I remember laughing and making some joke about how I've always been "type A."

But lately, I keep thinking back to the outlook of my college friend... and wondering if she was right.

I recently thought something positive was going to happen to me, and it didn't.  In fact, I was so sure this positive thing was going to happen, that I made other plans BASED on the fact that it would happen.  And worse yet, I shared these plans with other people.  Now not only do I feel like I didn't deliver on a promise that I made, I am (to quote my friend) "disappointed and sad."

And yes, yes.  "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."  I've heard that idiom, I understand that idiom... I just can't seem to APPLY it.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I made all these plans in my head about what type of parent I was going to be be.  And, big surprise, none of these plans involved being so exasperated with your favorite 7-year-old that you end up shouting over something stupid.  Falling short of my expectations of motherhood makes me disappointed and sad.

When I was studying journalism in college, I made all kinds of plans.  Where I wanted to live, what type of writing I wanted to do, the types of organizations I wanted to work for.  None of those plans included my current "stay at home mom" gig.  Sometimes when I think about my current career prospects, and how they don't match up with the plans I made, I am disappointed and sad.

So where does that leave me?  I'm not sure I have the ability to STOP making plans.  I have some "fly by the seat of their pants" friends, and honestly?  They give me anxiety.

Maybe I need to start viewing my plans as more of a road map.  They can give me a sense of direction, but they need to allow for detours.  They can give me an overview of  my journey, but I'll still need to allow for an unexpected pothole or construction zone that might slow me down.

What is it that my GPS says when I make a wrong turn?  Recalculating? Maybe that's it.  I'll keep making plans.  I'll just work on being more open to "recalculation" along the way. 



Want to read more of my work?  Check out my essay "Mrs. Norton's Daughter" in WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series.  

Click here to get your copy today!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Grieving for the Future

It's been a beautiful Easter weekend in my neck of the words.  The sun has been shining, the grass is finally looking green, and the temperatures are almost making me forget that never-ending winter we just finished.

It's also been giving me flashbacks to some of my childhood Easter memories, which mostly involve my grandparents.  When we were little, my Grandma Betty would buy us these frilly Easter dresses that were usually made from fabric printed with giant flowers.  (Some years she even got the white hats and gloves.)  She'd take us to church with her or we'd go with our parents. Then we'd end up out at her house later that afternoon for a big meal that always included ham (my favorite) and an egg hunt in her giant backyard.

The egg hunt, while super fun for my sisters and I, always seemed to result in fighting between my Grandparents.  Grandma Betty prided herself on keeping things EVEN between her three girls, and Grandpa inevitably would forget where he hid some of the eggs... which would result in her yelling at him when we didn't have the same number of prizes at the end of the hunt.

(Side note: He'd usually find the missing plastic eggs a few weeks later when he ran over them with his riding lawn mower and shot pink plastic scraps across the yard.  Ha!)

Now, I'm not naive.  I know that even if they were still alive, we wouldn't have been able to recreate the Easter from my childhood.  And I'm so happy I have those memories of my grandparents stored away in my head.  But, if I'm being honest... I've been grieving a little bit recently.

An essay I wrote was published in an anthology last week.  I wish I could share that news with my Grandma Betty.  She'd be, to use her words, "just tickled." And while part of me really wants to believe that she is still able to watch over us and be part of our special moments, it's not the same as being able to talk with her.

I would have loved to give her a copy of the book and listened to her praise my essay.  I would have loved to see the look on her face when she read another contributor's essay about yelling at a nun or the one about kissing a pig.  I am so curious if she would have stumbled over the word "transgender" in one of the other essays, and if we might have had a conversation about it. I think it would have been an awkward conversation, but maybe she would have surprised me.

It struck me that I do quite a bit of this "grieving for the future."  I grieve for the future moments that my grandparents won't be there for.  I grieve for the future moments that my friends who died way too young aren't going to experience.

What do you do with those feelings?  I don't pretend to have all the answers.



But, as far as the anthology and my Grandma?  I'm going to donate a copy to her local library. I'm pretty sure she would have been "tickled" about that too.



Like this?  Then you'll love my essay "Mrs. Norton's Daughter" in WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series.  

Click here to get your copy today!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

On Repeat

My 7-year-old daughter is in her bedroom, listening to music. I don't recognize the song, but she's playing it on repeat. I hear her start to sing along... with gusto.  Because it's 2019, and I almost always have a mini-computer (that also makes telephone calls) within arm's reach, I google the words she's singing.  It turns out that she's singing a song from "Tangled: The Series," which is a cartoon on the Disney Channel that she doesn't even watch anymore.

I hear her sing it a couple more times... then she moves on to something else.

And I have a flashback.

It's late 1995/early 1996, and I'm listening to my new Meat Loaf CD.  Is Meat Loaf appropriate for middle-schoolers?  I don't know, but I'm guessing it might have been on my Christmas list. Either way, it's the "Welcome to the Neighborhood" album.

But maybe that's not the best way to describe it.  I'm NOT listening to the album, I'm playing my new favorite song, track #10, over and over and over again - "If This is the Last Kiss (Let's Make It Last All Night)."  Again?  Appropriate for a middle-schooler?

I'm dancing around in my room, singing with the same gusto my daughter would emulate 23 years later, when I hear my Dad shouting from downstairs.

"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!" he bellows. "EITHER PICK A DIFFERENT SONG OR TURN IT OFF!!!"

I don't remember exactly what happened next.  I think I just turned it WAY down.

I've repeated this pattern several times in my life.  Find a new song, fall in love with the new song, play it over and over until I can sing all the words (and all the instrumental parts, ha!), and then I move on almost as quickly as I became consumed with it.

I read an article last year that called this behavior "extreme re-listening."  While the word extreme might come off a negative, I guess I don't see the problem.  Listening to music can be an intense, emotional, and personal experience.  And if you've found a song that you can connect with - put it on repeat.

I asked my daughter later that night about the song from "Tangled."  She said that she'd never heard it until earlier that day, but she really liked it.  "I guess I got a little obsessed, Mom," she said.

That's alright kid.  I promise not to shout at you for your "extreme re-listening" habit.  (But, let's not listen to any Meat Loaf lyrics for a few more years.)





Like this?  Then you'll love my essay "Mrs. Norton's Daughter" in WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series.  

Click here to get your copy today! 


Monday, April 15, 2019

"Will Work for Apples"

You guys... It's finally here!


I am thrilled to announce that "Will Work for Apples" is now officially on sale!


Teachers rock!

Teachers have an impossibly hard job. We expect them to do everything! Educate our kids, tie their shoes, facilitate their arguments, grade their papers, sharpen their pencils, and more! And when a teacher isn't doing all these things, they're usually taking continuing education classes, coming up with lesson plans, figuring out new technology, answering student and parent emails, and buying supplies for the classroom. All without anyone really noticing.

That's why we wanted to write a book that celebrates the teachers who made an impact on us. This book includes stories from 39 different writers and is a thank you to the teachers who made a difference in our lives and in our children's lives.

Ready to get your copy? Check out the following links!





"Will Work for Apples" on Nook (Barnes and Noble)


Attention Davis County Readers! 

"Will Work for Apples" will also be available for sale at "Making Memories Flowers and Gifts" in Bloomfield, Iowa later this month. 


Thanks so much for your support!  Can't wait for you to read it... and give us an online review!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Joy Bubble

I feel like I've been living inside a "joy bubble" lately.

Spring is here and it seems like the winter weather that slammed the Midwest this year is FINALLY gone.  My son has a new speech therapist/education plan, and things seem to be going well.  My sister just got married a week ago, and it was such a happy occasion that brought together members of my extended family.  (Plus, the anthology that is going to feature my essay is getting closer to publication - which is beyond exciting!)

During my sister's wedding reception, we received word that a family friend had passed away earlier that afternoon.  She was only 48.  I won't claim to have known her well, but I feel like I've known her dad and stepmom my entire life.  Her death was very unexpected, and it poked a big hole in my "joy bubble."

I also recently found out that a good friend's grandpa has been hospitalized, and that another friend's mom was diagnosed with cancer.  Then, through Facebook, I learned (in the same 24 hour period) that a different friend's stepmom died suddenly and that a woman I went to high school with passed away after her own battle with cancer.

It feels like the top of my "joy bubble" has been blown off entirely.

Since I was a little girl, I've been a worrier.  To combat that, I've always tried to rationalize why I don't need to be anxious about certain things:

- Watching "Friday the 13th" for the first time?  Calm down, Nicole... Camp Crystal Lake isn't real.  And you NEVER have to go to sleep-away camp if you don't want to. 

-  Hurricane Andrew/Katrina looks super scary on TV?  Relax, Nicole... we don't live anywhere NEAR an ocean.

The older I get, the harder it is for me to rationalize away the holes in my "joy bubble."

No matter how much kale the internet tells me I should be eating, I'm not convinced there is actually a way to guarantee you'll make it through life "cancer free."  No matter how much I want to pretend otherwise, the fact that I have two little kids who NEED a mom isn't going to prevent me from getting into a bad car accident.

The fact that our family friends were SUPPOSED to be with us last weekend celebrating didn't stop them from instead facing the Earth-shattering emotions that must have accompanied the news of the death of their child.

So where does that leave my bubble?  Do I "patch it" up by attempting to ignore all these negative things? Do I bust out my "childhood rationalization plan" and lie to myself to alleviate my anxiety?  As I'm writing now, the lyrics from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem" pop into my head.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in..."

Maybe our "joy bubbles" are supposed to have cracks. Maybe that's how the light gets in and shines on the parts of your life that make you happy.  Without that light sparkling off those people you love and drawing your eyes back to them in times of sadness... maybe we run the risk of losing our joy entirely.

So I'll keep sitting here in my bubble with the top blown off.  I'll just relax and let life patch it and re-crack it... just like it's doing with everyone else.  But I am going to try to spend more time focusing my attention on where the light is shining.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Words From a Stranger

"I see a lot of good things here. Lots of positive things we can build on."

It feels like the nicest thing that anyone has said to me recently... and she wasn't even talking about me.  My son has a language disorder, and he's just finished playing with his new speech pathologist. She's a warm, bubbly woman with a big smile.  She keeps talking to me. 

"He's making sounds, he's saying a few words.  It's so much easier to build on this than with a child who is completely non-verbal.  He's going to do great." 

Her words feel like that first breath when you come up for air after swimming underwater.  Your lungs are on fire, and it's sweet relief.  It's all I can do not to stand up and hug her. I think she senses this, and pats me on the shoulder before she walks away. 

I can't help thinking about how these words from a complete stranger affected me so deeply.  Almost everyone who knows about my son's verbal/behavior delay has said something uplifting.  I feel like my husband tells me almost DAILY that it's going to be okay.  But for some reason, hearing these encouraging words from someone who has only spent about 10 minutes with my kid mean so much more.   

Why is that?

It reminded of the another time I can remember a stranger's words making me pause.

Before we had kids, my husband and I used to go to the grocery store together every weekend.  I'd make a big list, and we'd either divide and conquer or go up and down all the aisles together depending on our mood.   The life we'd built with each other was still fairly new, and everything we did together was still an adventure. 

I remember pushing our cart up to the checkout to unload it, and finding something dumb my husband had snuck into the cart. I called him out on it, and he gave some long explanation about why we *really did* need it.  We laughed and kept piling our groceries onto the belt. 

The cashier was young.  Probably just a high school kid working his first job.  I remember he smiled at us and said, "You guys seems really happy.  Most people come in here and they look tired or sad, but you two are really fun." 

Of course, NOW I know that kids and jobs and keeping up with the housework and dealing with life's other stressors can suck the joy right out of a trip to the grocery store.  But at the time, I thought maybe he was right.  Maybe our relationship WAS special.  Why did I need a stranger to point that out to me?

Why do I have a tendency to think:

"She's just saying that because she's my friend..."
"He's just laughing at my joke because he's friends with my husband..."
"This situation is REALLY bad, and she's just downplaying it to make me feel better..."

Why am I more willing to trust the words from a stranger than those from my family and friends? Maybe it's because they don't have any stake in the game. They have no reason to spare my feelings, so I assume they are being completely honest.  Anyone else ever feel this way?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Name Doodle Evolution

I'm 4-years-old, and I'm in our basement drawing on my chalkboard easel. I'm sketching out people and houses and a car (that looks nothing like a car).   Then my Dad asks me if I can write my name.  I scrawl the letters individually... but in the wrong order.   I make the "N" - then jump to the other side of the board to make my "I".  I make all my letters and Dad says I did a good job.  I'm proud of myself.

I'm older now.  Caught in that odd age where I'm still playing with dolls... but starting to get interested in boys.  I'm in my room playing with two dolls that my Grandma Betty gave me.  One doll is named Stacey, and Grandma crocheted her a beautiful purple dress.  The other doll, Charlotte, has a matching dress in pink.  I'm sitting on the floor with a notebook, doodling out the names of the dolls.  Stacey is a blonde, so I give her the last name of a light-haired boy in my class that I like.  Charlotte has jet black hair, so she gets the last name of a DIFFERENT boy that I think is pretty cute.   

Jump ahead to high school.  I'm sitting at the kitchen table, practicing signing my name on a scrap of paper.  My mom dug out my social security card, and she tells me it's time to sign it. I'm getting ready to start my first real job, and I have to bring it along with some other paperwork. I'm nervous that I'm going to mess up when I write on it.  My signature is fat and bubbly and barely fits on that tiny line.

Now I'm sitting in my new office, in an entirely different state than I grew up in. It's almost time to punch out for the day, and I'm just killing time.  I fish a piece of paper out of the recycling bin and start doodling what's going to be my "new" name.  I've just gotten engaged, and everything feels exciting.  Signing a different last name than I've written my entire life looks really odd.  I keep practicing.

Fast-forward a little bit, and I'm sitting at that same desk trying not to fall asleep during a conference call.  I start doodling names on the legal pad where I was taking notes.  Only this time, it's not my name.  It's the name we've chosen for the child growing in my belly. I print it.  I write it in cursive.  I write all three of our names together like I was signing a Christmas card or something.  "Love, us."  I think it looks pretty good.

Nearly 8 years later, I'm sitting next to my daughter, helping her "test out" the new metallic markers we just bought.  I start doodling my baby sister's name... and what her "new" name will be.  She's getting married in less than a week.  I laugh to myself and wonder if she's been doing the same thing recently.  I laugh again because, unlike her, I'm VERY thankful I didn't choose a partner that would require me to remember the correct way to make a cursive Z.

My daughter dismisses me from the "marker testing," so I re-read the document again. It's not a social security card, yet I'm still kind of worried I'm going to mess it up.  It's got some legalese, but it's pretty straight forward.  It's the contract for my first REAL piece of published writing.

No doodling this time, just signing.

(Hey, 4-year-old Nicole... I got all the letters in my name in the correct order. Dad wasn't watching when I signed it, but I think he'd still say good job.)

Friday, March 22, 2019

My Parents Are Turning Into MY Grandparents

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 3
My Parents Are Turning Into MY Grandparents

My parents were "promoted" to the title of grandparents back in 2011.  At first we called them "Grandpa and Grandma."  Then when my daughter started talking, she changed their names to "Papa and BUCKY."  It was hilarious, and we have no idea why.  But "Bucky" vanished almost as quickly as she arrived, and we went back to Grandma again.

I knew that my parents would be excellent grandparents.  Even though they were living over 300 miles away when my daughter was born, they made the trip to visit her eagerly and often.  When we'd drive back to my hometown to celebrate her birthday, she'd be lavished with more gifts than any kid needs... which I think is in the "Grandparent Handbook."  When my daughter got older, she'd go visit them for a week by herself. This week always included hanging out with Papa as he ran errands and picking out her own "prizes" from the store at least once or twice.

Again, none of this is really surprising.  What has surprised me recently is catching similarities between my parents... and the way I remember MY grandparents.

When I was growing up and my Grandpa Walt and Grandma Florence would visit us, they would usually sleep in my bedroom.  (I can only imagine this was because I kept my room WAY cleaner than my younger sisters.)  Every time they'd stay over, my Grandpa would leave "rent" money on my dresser on the day they left to go back home.  It was never a crazy amount, but it always made me happy... especially because I never really felt like I'd done anything to earn it.

Earlier this month, MY dad attended a special event in my daughter's classroom and he stopped by my house afterward.  While he was there, he stuck some money into the envelope my daughter was using to save up for a computer game she wants to buy.  Not only was she thrilled when she discovered it, which made my heart happy... but it reminded me of Grandpa Walt's "rent money."

I've noticed it with my mom too.  She is constantly asking about and making time to attend my daughter's events - even though we still live two hours away from my hometown. My daughter's "theater camp" is giving a performance?  Yep, she'll drive the 224 miles round trip to be there for the 10 minute skit.  You bet.

I have a feeling that my parents always going to be in the audience, just like my Grandma Betty and Grandpa Paul.  Grandpa Paul sat through more school concerts and plays than I can count - and I know for a fact that he couldn't hear ANYTHING that was happening.  But he was there every time, smiling.

Watching my parents "shift" into MY grandparents makes me realize that I'm likely "shifting" into my mother as well... but I "probably should have known that already."  (And that's an entirely different post.  Ha!)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My 7-Year-Old is a Sh*tty Babysitter

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 2
My 7-Year-Old is a Sh*tty Babysitter

Okay, calm down.  Before you call CPS, I didn't actually leave the house and put my daughter in charge of her 2-year-old brother.  What I *tried* to do was go to the bathroom in peace. I knew I was going to need more than a couple minutes to get things "accomplished" - so I asked my daughter to please watch her brother while I was in there.

Seems like a simple enough request, which of course, meant she had several follow-up questions.

"What do I HAVE to do?"
"How long are you going to be? Like hours and hours?"
"Ugh, really?  Can't he just watch TV?"

Even though my daughter's response didn't exactly inspire confidence, my husband was at work and she was my only option.

So I'm in the bathroom, doing my "thing"... and it's surprisingly quiet.  No crying or shouting. No thuds of toys being thrown against the closed bathroom door.  Looking back, this probably should have been my first clue that something was up.

I finish up, and head back toward the living room.  The first thing I spot is that there are about 30 packets of fruit snacks on the kitchen floor.  Kind of annoying, but manageable.  The next thing I see is that one of our big "toy storage tubs" (which is currently the only decorating theme in my house) has been dumped all over the living room.  Eh.  Pretty typical.

The next, really ODD thing I notice, is that there are little tiny rocks all over the armchair.

"Kate?  What are these tiny rocks?" I ask, thinking maybe my son shook them off someone's shoes, or squeezed one of those squishy toys until it exploded.

"Oh, that's cat litter."

"WHAT?!?!"

"It's okay, Mom.  I *watched* him like you said.  He didn't pick up any of the poop... I don't think."




Oh. Em. Gee.  So, yeah.  My daughter probably isn't going to be advertising her babysitting services in the future.  Private detective, maybe. Or perhaps she'd be a good documentary filmmaker. Don't they follow the "observe but don't interfere" motto?

No matter what ends up being her future profession, I probably should have known that I needed to elaborate on what "watch your brother" actually means.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sometimes Water Bottles Are JUST for Water

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 1
Sometimes Water Bottles Are JUST for Water

There are a lot of special events in my daughter's first grade classroom.  I think it's great.  Recently they were celebrating "Cuddle up with a Book" day, which meant that the kids were able to wear pajamas to school.  They were also encouraged to bring a pillow, a blanket, a stuffed animal, a couple of their favorite books, and a clear liquid drink in a container with a lid.

My daughter was pretty excited, so we planned what she was going to bring and packed everything up the night before.  After some pretty intense begging, she talked me into letting her bring ginger ale as her special beverage.

The next morning, we're running around in our usual pre-school craziness.  I pack her lunch, dump some ginger ale in the water bottle she normally takes to school, make sure she's got her backpack, and drop her off.

Fast-forward to that afternoon.  She's emptying her backpack, and I notice she has a little ginger ale left in her water bottle. "Do you want this babe, or should I just dump it?"

She looks at me with a glint in her eye and grabs the bottle.  "Stand back, Mom."

"Wait, what?" I ask confused.  "If something's going to happen, go stand by the sink."

She moves over the sink, flips open the top of the water bottle, and WHOOOSH! A stream of ginger ale shoots up in a high arc and splashes against the underside of the cabinets above my sink.

"WHAT?!?" I exclaim. "DID THAT HAPPEN AT SCHOOL TODAY?!?"

She tells me that it did, and it was *so* high it touched the ceiling in her classroom... and then her teacher had to call for a custodian.  I didn't know it was possible to be mortified and genuinely belly-laughing at the same time until that very moment.

My husband laughed too, and then turned to me and said, "I can't believe you put it in her regular water bottle."  When he saw my confused face, he gave me a little lesson about how the carbonation had no place to go and that I should have consulted the insert that came with the bottle.  Really?  Like I still *have* an insert from a bottle we bought over two years ago?!?

After that impromptu "science lesson" - I immediately sent her teacher an email:

----------

I just wanted to apologize for my daughter accidentally decorating your classroom ceiling today. I had NO IDEA that some water bottles aren't designed to handle carbonated beverages. (And here I thought she could "get away" with bringing ginger ale for the special day today. Ha!)

Again, sorry for the unexpected excitement!


My daughter's teacher replied almost immediately.


Hi Nicole,

No worries!  I didn’t think to mention that to the kids about water bottles with clear pop in them.  I think it just threw us off—it was like it happened in slow motion.  Really, no big deal!  I felt bad that she didn’t really get to drink much of it!

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Saints, people.  Elementary teachers are saints.

Well, they say you should never stop learning... even if it IS something I probably should have known already.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

United Methodist Memories

All my early memories of the United Methodist Church revolve around music.

I'm sitting with the other members of the children's choir, wearing my blue robe, and I'm so excited.  We're about to sing a song called "The Birdies in the Treetops" - and our kind-hearted choir director is letting my best friend do her really awesome "bird call sounds" before we start singing.  I see members of the congregation looking around, confused as to where the tweets and whistles are coming from.  I feel like I'm part of an inside joke, and I'm proud to be standing there next to her.

I'm older now, and I'm squeezed into the pews next to my family.  It's the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and it's my favorite.  We're all holding our candles, and passing the light down the pews. It feels exciting and dangerous to be holding "fire" in church.  Everyone's faces are illuminated in candlelight and we're singing ALL the verses of "Silent Night."   It feels peaceful and safe, and it's the only place I want to be.

Now it's the summer of 1997, and I think I'm the saddest I've ever been inside this church building.  Our pastors are moving away.  They are leaving, and I'm only 13 years old and I don't really understand why this is happening or how church assignments work.  The adult choir is singing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand...

I feel choked up and heartbroken.

-----------

There's no music today, but I still feel heartbroken.  

Yesterday, delegates for the United Methodist Church voted to uphold the church's stance prohibiting LGBTQ+ members from being ordained. They also voted for a plan that does not allow same-sex couples to be married.  I'm not 13 any more... but I still don't understand. 

The church's official website proudly displays the words: "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." I don't understand how ANY type of exclusion fits into that mantra.  

This past Christmas was the first year I took my daughter to a candlelight service.  I felt like she was finally old enough to sit still and enjoy the music. I was right. She liked it, and I'd like to take her again.  But she's also an inquisitive child.  

Just this morning, she asked me about Rosa Parks and why she was famous.  As I'm explaining the concept of segregation, she asked me what would have happened if someone with black skin and someone with white skin fell in love.  I explained that at that time, it would have been against the law in some states for that couple to get married and be together.  

She scoffed.  "What?  How can the people in charge tell someone who they can love?!?"

Well... supporters of the UMC's "Traditional Plan"... you want to answer that?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Magic (Sibling) Moments

A few months ago, my daughter was sitting in a plastic toy shopping cart in our living room watching TV. All of a sudden, my son came up behind her and gave her a push.  Miraculously, she didn't fall over or crash into anything.  Instead she started laughing like crazy.  And then my son laughed.

And they kept doing it.  She'd climb inside, he'd push her around the living room, and they would both giggle like hyenas. And it hit me that this was one of those magic moments. This might have been the first time my daughter was actually EXCITED to have a little brother.  This might have been the first time that she was including him and he was actually responding.

And the moment felt bigger somehow because it wasn't something that I constructed.  This wasn't an activity that I took the time to set up, hoping that it would manage to hold their attention.  This wasn't me forcing them to share toys or play in the same area.  This was my two kids, coming up with their own game, and genuinely enjoying each other's company. 

Fast forward to this week.

I asked my daughter if she would play with her brother so I could clean up the kitchen.  She clearly wasn't interested, so I suggested they could play "Roll the Balls Down the Hall." It's a pretty self-explanatory game at our house... which usually morphs into "Throw the Balls at Each Other" within a couple of minutes.  She perked up, and started gathering the balls for the game.

As she's piling balls in the hallway, my son starts lining them up.  When my daughter picks them up and starts rolling them - he screams bloody murder.  When she retrieves them and attempts to help him line them up - he screams bloody murder.

"Ugh!" she sighs dramatically.  "I wish he'd just PLAY!"

Oh, sweetheart.  You and me both.

I had visions of all sorts of "sibling moments" when I was pregnant with your brother.  I could picture future-him bothering you when you had friends over for a sleepover in middle school.  I could imagine you two building Lego castles together or you reading him a book before bedtime.  And I don't know if  the "disconnect" between you two has to do with your age gap... or if it's all just his speech/language disorder.

But I DO know that I hope you keep trying.  Because even though those bonding moments are few and far between these days, I have to believe they will happen.  I have to believe that in 10 years, when you're both teenagers, you'll roll your eyes at each other behind my back over some "annoying" thing that I just said. I have to believe that someday, he'll have enough words to be able to offer to beat up that guy who breaks your heart.

No matter what happens, you two are going to have a shared history.  Here's hoping it's full of at least a few "magic moments."

Monday, February 18, 2019

Library Love

A couple weeks ago, my two-year-old poured his juice INSIDE my library book.  I freaked out.

Initially, I was upset because this was a brand new book (just published in early 2019) so the copy I'd borrowed was pretty pristine.  According to the book jacket, it also cost $27.  Ugh.

I have never defaced library material in my life.  In fact, I'm the kind of person that unfolds the dog-ears other people have put into the books I borrow.  I don't even let my son check books OUT at the library because I know what kind of damage he does to his books at home.  If he had wrecked a children's book, maybe I wouldn't be so embarrassed.  But seriously, how often is juice spilled into an adult non-fiction book?

Later, when I'd calmed down, I attempted to process my overreaction.  I've come to the conclusion that it has nothing to do with the book or with the likely fine I'm facing. It has to do with my feelings about the library in general.  You see, the library is one of my favorite places in the world.

I have vivid memories of happily going down the stairs to the children's area of my hometown library.  First, I'd get one of the "paint stirrer shelf markers" from the desk, and then I'd head over to the shelf with all the Roger Hargreaves's "Mr. Men" and "Little Miss" books.  If I found one I hadn't read, or one worthy of reading again, I'd mark my place in the shelf and settle into one of the bean bags on the floor. Not that I didn't check them out and bring them home, but there was something about reading IN the library that felt extra special.

I have clear memories of Mrs. Harding, the first elementary school Librarian I had, reading us stories when our class would visit the library.  Not only did her voice bring the books to life, she had toys and puppets that went along with the story.  Her "Clifford the Big Red Dog" stuffed animal was my favorite.

Due to participating in "National History Day" projects in middle school (and completely exhausting *all* the research materials available in my hometown), I also visited multiple public libraries in the surrounding area when I was a kid.  Bless my Grandma Betty who drove me to a couple of other counties and got a library card in HER name so we could check things out.     

The high school library was the place that Grandma Betty worked when I was a little girl.  That library was the place that I "pretended" to do research with my Model U.N. friends.  That library was the home of the little stage where the speech and drama kids got together to goof off and rehearse the upcoming play.  All happy memories.

After an unpleasant first semester of college working in food service, I was lucky enough to land a job working part time in the Business Library.  I kept that job until I graduated. My last semester there, the Head Librarian asked me if I'd consider getting a degree in Library Science because he wanted to write me a glowing recommendation.  At the time I felt like I was *beyond* ready to be done with school, so I turned him down.  Wish I could go back.

A decade later I was working in a public library in Illinois doing marketing and public relations full time.  That little girl who skipped down the stairs to grab a shelf marker couldn't believe that a grown up version of herself was going to the library every day and getting PAID for it.  It felt like magic.

Maybe that's it right there.  My son intentionally poured juice on my magic.  The magic that books give me to "go" somewhere when I have to stay where I am. The magic that books give me to simultaneously lose AND find myself while reading them.  The magic that sometimes happens when you read the words of someone else and realize that you're not alone.

Hmm.  Maybe I didn't overreact after all.   Keep your juice away from my magic, kid. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sick Days of Old

We're two weeks into February, and someone in my family has been sick since February 1st.  First my daughter, then my daughter AND my son, then my son AND me, and now just my husband. (I think.  I still have a sore throat, but I'm choosing to ignore it.) 

We've had fevers, we've had some pukes.  We've had stuffy noses and we've had runny noses. We've had Vicks VapoRub slathered on our chests and the bottom of our feet.  We've taken children's Tylenol, children's ibuprofen, and entirely too much DayQuil and NyQuil.

You know one of the things I miss most about childhood? The "sick days" of old. 


Now I'll give my husband some credit, he did make a medicine run (that included some caffeine to help me stay awake to parent) after work one day.  But his job includes crazy overnight hours that have him sleeping most of the day and working most of the night.  So I've been mostly solo for these recent "sickness adventures."  

I just miss being able to lie on the couch, cover up with a blanket and doze in front of the television.  (When I inadvertently tried that last week, my son woke me up by sneezing in my face. Ugh.) 

For me, sick days growing up always equaled 7-Up, Townhouse Crackers, and Dimetapp.  I still like two of those three things; I can't really stomach anything grape-flavored anymore.  I guess I just miss being a kid and having someone else take care of me.  No matter how crappy I felt, being wrapped up in a blanket on the living room couch in front of the TV felt like a safe place.  No matter what else was happening in the world.

Case in point, I have a very vivid memory of being home sick from school on April 19, 1995.  How on Earth can I remember that?  Because it was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing.   I can remember my Dad encouraging me to watch TV with him in the middle of my "medicine head fog" because he said this was big news that was going to be talked about for a long time.  Of course, he was right.  Now, at only 11 years old, I had no idea what was happening.  But it felt important, and I felt important to be watching it.

I wonder what sort of "sick day" memories my kids are going to have.  

My daughter seems to like Ginger Ale and Club Crackers better than 7-Up and Townhouse, so maybe those will be part of her future "sick day nostalgia."  When he's older, I plan to remind my son how hard he laughed whenever I would blow my nose... and how he would try to grab my handkerchief and emulate the silly foghorn-like sound.  

And while I hope they each have their own pleasant "sick day memories" - fingers crossed we can take a break from making any new ones for a while.