Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Perpetually Broken Heart

Don't let the title deceive you - I am a very lucky woman with a very beautiful family and life filled with laughter and good memories. (Watch our video at the bottom!)

But yes, I have, and forever will have, a perpetually broken heart. Let me explain.

I have been reading all evening that Brittany Maynard, an advocate for Death With Dignity, has passed away. And I've realized yet again that growing up brings along with it a very large path shaded in gray where the answers in life are not so clear.

When we're growing up, we are taught that choices are black and white; all or nothing; right or wrong. We are taught to take the theories and lessons taught to us and keep to them, not questioning the reasoning behind it. Then we grow up and see that nothing in life is truly black or white, but instead an eternal shade of gray.

I don't know Brittany. I can't say that I even know how she felt, because I myself have never (thankfully) had brain cancer. But my mother did, and I was one of her main caretakers during her illness.

My mother was beautiful, inside and out. I loved her smile, loved her laugh. Within months, this monster in her brain had stolen those from her. From all of us. So many people have rushed to judge Brittany, saying her decision was cowardly and wrong. Even those of us so close to brain cancer have no right to judge her because we have not walked that path. I can say that I don't think she was cowardly at all. Mom had stage IV inoperable glioblastoma brain cancer, and it ravaged her pretty quickly.

May 2004, right before diagnosis

July 2004

December 2004, on my birthday

February 2005

Every brain cancer is different. It will affect each person differently, and no two stories will be exactly alike. She is absolutely right though, that with her exact diagnosis, the end did not look anything but bleak and terrifying for her. You can see from the pictures of my mom, everything changed for her. Physically and emotionally, she was slowly robbed of dignity a piece at a time.

I never knew what the end would hold for my mom. She and my dad tried to shield us from that truth, although I could have easily researched it. I chose not to. Partly because I didn't believe she would die, and partly because looking it up would make it seem real. I wasn't prepared for either. Prepared or not, my mother's last months were devastating to say the least.

We were surrounded by family and friends non-stop; that is the silver lining on the eternal rainstorm that is brain cancer. As each day passed and more obstacles presented themselves - inability to walk, loss of 99% of her speech, unable to use her right side, bedridden, seizures (the list goes on and on) - a new kind of awful presented itself. I don't know that she would have chosen what Brittany did, because my mom is the type to fight tooth and nail until the last breath, but I do know that if she had been shown a reel of her final days, she would have been beyond mortified at what we had to do to care for her. 

I know my mom, and I know that she would have absolutely hated being in that position and having us there to be an active part. She would not have wanted that. I know that faced with the same outlook and knowing what I know after having been there at her side, I wouldn't want those same memories for my children or my husband. And yet not being in that position, I don't know what choices I would make in regards to my care. No one does until the situation is their reality. Brittany's family will miss her more than any words can explain, just as they would if she died after a few more weeks or months. But their last memories with her are beautiful; time spent as a family and checking items off her bucket list. I wish those were the last memories I had with my mom.

I wish that I could describe it to those who are judging Brittany. I wish I could relay to them the reality of those last months, weeks and days. What caring for someone with this diagnosis is like, to even offer a glimpse of what it must be like for the person with cancer if this is what caregivers experience. I want to tell them what my last memories with my mom are like, and how I would pray that my husband and children NEVER have to experience what we did. I won't, because even detailing it would strip my mom of the little dignity she had left at the end and I cannot do that to her. Telling the world those details would remove the beauty of her fight, the good moments that we had with her. I won't do that to her. I never have, and never will. So trust me when I say that Brittany knew what was ahead for her and it was not pretty. It was so ugly that even almost ten years after mom died, I won't say out loud what daily caretaking involved out of respect.

My heart goes out to the Maynard family. Sitting here tonight, my eyes are filled with tears and I know that no choice is an easy choice when dealing with cancer. May she rest in peace.

I hope my mom was there to greet her, and that the family knows so many people are thinking of them now. I'm really missing my mom tonight, just as I do whenever the holidays roll around. And without her here, yes, I have a perpetually broken heart.

This was the video done on our experience when we did the 5K a few years ago.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Constant Smile...

Tuesday night, both of my kiddos got grounded. They were fighting over having to help the other one turn on nightlights. My son came and said his sister was being rude and selfish and pushed him. I called her downstairs and asked her what happened, and if she pushed her brother.

She said she hadn't. Now, I can tell when the kids are lying, especially when my little girl is trying to cover up something she did. She was not lying. She was genuinely hurt that her brother had said she'd pushed him. He maintained his story, and I said since I couldn't see and since they continued to fight - and one of them was lying to me - they were both grounded from their much-loved half hour of television the next night as well as dessert. (I'm so mean, I know!)

They went to bed with tears in their eyes. I went up a few minutes later to tuck them in. I assured them both that I loved them very much and that I knew they could do better tomorrow. Then they went to sleep and after my favorite television show, so did I.

I woke up yesterday morning to two happy kids, although I was questioning my ability to read them the night before. Just as I was debating whether my daughter had been the one lying, my son came up to me.

"Mom, it was me who lied last night. I'm really sorry. She didn't push me. She bumped me but I was so mad at her and just wanted her to get in trouble."


I asked him what he thought he could do better next time, and he apologized to his sister. I asked him to explain to her what she might do so that in the future, they didn't fight about the same thing. He asked her, politely, to say "please" and "thank you" when he helped her - after saying he would always help her because he loved her.

I interrupt this post for a moment of mommy pride! I thought that would be the highlight of my day. Nope.

Came home last night after work and I have a terrible cold - right before our biggest work event of the year this Saturday! All I wanted to do was lie down on the couch, so after dinner, homework, and getting the kids situated with coloring/playdoh/etc. (and by this time my son was not feeling well), I took the opportunity to relax.

"Mommy, why are you laying down?" my little girl asked.

"Because I don't feel well, sweetie. I have a headache."

She disappeared for a few minutes, which isn't unusual. She had taken her toy shopping cart which usually means she is going to raid the cupboards and ask me to play grocery store (which is a totally fun game. Except when I have to pay her in real money, and she pays me in money she drew on cut up pieces of paper. Smart kid.)

She comes back in with the cart and wheels it over to me. 

"I brought you some snacks. Some healthy ones. Here's a yogurt and string cheese. And a spoon. And  mommy, when I'm sick I like cookies so I brought you Oreos and milk."

She had a big cup of milk and the entire package of Oreos tucked in there with the yogurt and cheese, all on top of a decorative napkin.

These are just a small example of the many moments of motherhood when all the memories of sleepless nights, constant running around, dirty diapers, and sibling fights dissipate and I remember all over again how blessed I am to have these two sweet kiddos. There are times when I get done listening to them argue with each other and wonder, "What in the hell am I doing wrong?" Then days like yesterday happen and remind me that none of us gets everything right all the time - we all make mistakes and we all get frustrated. Even kids. Especially kids. And yet underneath it all is this beautiful, sweet little person I get to love.

Oh, and in case you were wondering... we ate the cookies first. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Brain Cancer Looks Like

This is my mother. This is the face of brain cancer.

Beautiful, isn't she? 60 years old and secretary of a school she loved dearly with all her heart. 

With the ALS challenge, I've been watching a lot of videos. A lot of heartbreaking videos about what the disease does to people; does to families (and I encourage you to donate whatever you can at - they have done a phenomenal job raising awarness and funds). 

My mom didn't have ALS - she had brain cancer. So before this post gets confusing, let me explain: watching these past few weeks what people go through with ALS made me think about the injustice that so many awful diseases present the world with today. Robbing good people of the opportunity to live long, healthy lives. And thus, reminded me of my mom's journey. I want to share with you the face of brain cancer, and how it changes over time. The picture above is what my mom looked like right before her brain cancer diagnosis in 2004.

This is her three months after.


Still smiling even when the rest of us couldn't. Lying in a hospital bed in our living room. Diagnosed in mid-April 2004; told on July 3, 2004 that she had days, maybe a couple weeks, left to live.

I remember when the next photo was taken; right after Mom had been given those three days or so to live. I was sitting there and every second that ticked by, all I could think was "That's one less second with her now." Brain cancer isn't the only disease, sadly, where families go through moments - or months - like this; wondering what tomorrow will be like or how much time is left.

The cancer robbed her of her hair; the steroids added on weight. Her physical appearance changed so much. What didn't change was that infectious smile. Even in the hardest moments, she smiled and pushed on and crushed any of the survival numbers the doctors uttered. Three days turned to three weeks turned to three months turned to 13 months. Friends and family visited and she began sitting up again, battling back.

She was surrounded by love. All of us were surrounded by love. The pictures below show how she changed over the months. Her skin became fragile from the medications and she bruised so easily. Her hair grew back in tufts - curly tufts. She lost use of her right side. She stopped saying more than a word or so at a time, and most of the time, it didn't make sense. 

But she pushed on, and that's why I share these pictures. I don't want the year she fought to be hidden. I don't want her bravery and her gusto to be forgotten. I don't want to erase the days where family and friends reminded us how good people can be and how loved someone can feel. She didn't fight for herself; she fought for all of us. And hopefully, someday, someone will find a cure and the timeline photos of brain cancer warriors will all look like their "before" photos.

I even took a picture towards the end where mom was smiling - the last time she smiled at us. (I'm not posting that though; I want that photo to stay something special.) She was beginning to really sleep more and had stopped talking, and this particular day she started smiling again. I wanted to capture that smile once more because I wanted to remember that even in the worst of times, mom was a fighter.

Love and miss you, Mom. Sending a hug to all the warriors and caregivers of all diseases, and those who are missing their loved ones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Favorite scenes of parenting...

Each night as I walk around and sneak in the kids' rooms for one last kiss goodnight and to drop off toys that littered the floor moments before, I try and take a peek at what they did in their rooms in that half hour before bed.

What I find are usually some of my favorite sights (well, minus when there is food or juice snuck in there). I love to see how their minds work and what they've created with the oodles of toys they are lucky to have.

So instead of being angry at the messes next time, I challenge you to take a look around and see not the dolls littering the floor, but the creativity that brought them to life earlier that day, or what is most important to them in the vast array of toys. I promise you, the smile will be worth it.

I love that she tucks barbie in with whatever she can find to make a blanket - in this case, a leg warmer. She loves playing "mom" and taking care of all her dolls.

This doll was actually my mom's. I adore how she puts all the jewelry on and really dresses them up! 

This is how I know which Lego's are his favorite - they earn a space on an out-of-reach shelf.

And of course, he washes and rearranges his trophies often. 

He collected these vinylmations on our trip to Disney. He adores them.

He learned this from me. Dart stick to televisions. And it makes a fun game to try and launch them at people on the screen... 

An army of Skylanders, arranged in order from smallest to biggest. 

Impromptu summer math equations, done on a sticky note stuck to the headboard. The kid loves school. He's soooo my child.

It's a party of Squinkies and Playmobil and Little Pet Shop randomness! 

And, the one thing my daughter cannot live without - paper and crayons. This is a picture she's making for her first day of school, for her new teacher.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Perfect Little Personality

I’d been in labor for thirteen hours already, the steady drip of Pitocin pushing my body to its limits. Induced at 6 p.m., I’d arrived at the hospital 42 weeks pregnant only to find that early labor had already started.

That sums up the personality of the daughter who would arrive just moments later. For 42 weeks I carried her, the last two filled with pleas for labor to begin so I could be done with pregnancy and move on to mommy-dom with my second born. Scheduling the induction was heaven for me; arriving to the hospital to find I had been in labor and not known it set the pace for a little girl who would continue doing what she wanted, when she wanted – and not when people told her to.

The doctor sat in the back of that birthing room filling out his paperwork as nurses darted around preparing. The contractions were awful (it is so true that you forget the pain until you go through it again), and knowing now from my first-born how labor felt, I recognized the urge to push.

“I feel like I need to push,” I said, my sleepy husband at my side and the doctor still calmly filling out papers in the corner of the room.

“Go ahead,” he said, looking up in his clean, blue scrubs. “Nothing will happen for a while.”

I hated his words because I was sure they were true. My previous labor had gone on forever. Three and a half hours of pushing alone to bring my baby boy into the world. I had resigned myself early to the notion that I would be going through the same process again, but the doctor’s reassurance made the already angry, sleep-deprived and sore pregnant woman slightly more hostile – and determined.

I buckled down and gave the strongest push I could with my husband holding one hand and a nurse the other.

“The head is crowing,” someone called, and the doctor jolted up from his busy work and darted towards the bed.

“Stop pushing!” he said as nurses tried to dress him for childbirth. They got the gown on him while they fumbled with the gloves. Two fingers in one space and none in another, he had to try again to get them on and get ready, all while continuing to tell me to not push.

Telling a pregnant, miserable, in labor woman to “not push” did not go over well.

“What do you mean don’t push?” I yelled back. (Yes, yelled.)

“Don’t push yet,” he replied, still getting ready.

“I can’t stop,” I screamed. “No way I’m going to stop! Nurses deliver babies all the time! Somebody better get a catcher’s mitt and get down there because this baby is coming!”

Half ready, the doctor managed to catch her on her way out with my third – and final – push. They immediately placed her on my chest and I relished in the sight of the dark, curly haired peanut crying out about her sudden eviction. I took in every centimeter of this daughter I’d dreamed about having since I was a little girl.

Her feet were huge just like mine, and she had my dad’s beak lips (they come to a little point in the middle and look like a beak from the side). The rest of her was all daddy. She had long fingers – much longer than I’d seen on other babies – and her long, monkey toes the same. Her dark curls rivaled daddy’s hair, and the fur covering her ears and back, well, let’s just say that wasn’t from me!

I kept thinking of the phrase my mom had uttered so many times while I was growing up, before she passed away three years before my daughter was born. “I hope you have a daughter someday who is just like you!”
How sweet, you say, right? That’s not how she intended it. She said it each time I mouthed off or threw a fit or refused to clean my room. (I heard it a lot.) She always smiled as she said it, though, but I knew what she meant.

It wasn’t long before I came to see that mom’s wish had come true. Now, I love my little girl with all of my heart. She is sweet, beautiful, funny, snuggly, and smarter than I give her credit for. Then there’s her stubbornness, sneakiness, whininess that drives me crazy – and which I still love. She is the daughter my mom wished me to have, and the master copy at that! She has a strong head on her shoulders and while her obstinacy drives me absolutely bonkers at times, I also admire it because I hope that she will be a leader instead of a follower in life.

Like the day she was born, she proves time and again that she will accomplish what she wants to – like when she comes into the world – when she’s good and ready.

She first walked at eight and a half months. Well, that’s not completely honest. She took her first steps at eight months and was full-out walking by eight and a half months. I didn’t want her to walk that early. I wanted her to stay a baby for a little while longer, since she would be our last. No such luck – she wanted to be on the go!

When she was about two, she wasn’t saying words at all. She’d said some in the past but became suddenly silent and we worried that something might be wrong. I called the doctors, talked about specialists, set up the appointments… and a few days before, she began to talk. A few single words followed quickly by words put together, because she was ready to and not because we wanted her to.

And now she never stops talking. Ever.  (Just ask her teachers. And her daycare provider. And her grandparents. And anyone passing by on the street.)

Potty training was an adventure. Her brother learned right after he turned three but everyone kept telling me that girls learn earlier and I should start trying. Oh, how she and I battled for the first six months after she turned two! It was a constant struggle with no success. She knew when she had to go and would stand there and make a smiling face like, yeah, I know what I’m doing and you can’t stop me. I gave up around two and a half years old, figuring I’d just wait it out.

A few weeks later, at a friend’s party, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, I need to go potty. I’m going to use the big potty.”

And she did. She never had a potty accident, even at night, from that first potty success on, because she had decided it was time.

She’s five now and will start kindergarten next week and I’m worried about her numbers and letters and reading. Her brother loved learning, loved reading, loved writing. She loves coloring as long as she doesn’t have to learn anything while doing it. (Isn’t it amazing how two kids can be so completely different?)

Recently, she started asking us how to spell things because she is not quite ready to sound things out, but she memorizes the words we spell out for her. I watched her write I watched her write “I love Mom” the other day on a piece of paper and reminded myself, silently of course, that she will accomplish everything she wants to accomplish in life when she’s ready, and not a second before. Including reading and writing.

And that’s what I love most about her. Keep doing what you’re doing, baby girl, and I will try my hardest to remember that you will when the time is right, because I always know you can.

Your #1 Fan

Friday, August 15, 2014

Football=No. Because Mom Says So.

For a laugh -- my son keeps asking to play football. I like football (in particular, the New Orleans Saints). I even have fun playing in the backyard. But the mama in me fears my little guy who is on the tiny side going out to play "real" football (not the flag kind, he insists) and getting smushed! I keep saying no, and he keeps coming back. Last night when he asked, I said no because football is dangerous. Then, he replied "Not any more than eating your cooking." Touché kid, touché. Here is tonight's reasoning as to why he should get to play football:

An Angel in the Clouds

My daughter looked up at the sky the other day and noticed a cloud that stood out among the others.

"Mommy, see that cloud? It's an angel. It's Grandma Bailey."

These moments bring a smile followed quickly by my holding back tears. I love that she talks about her grandmother - my mother -  but my heart aches that she will never truly know this beautiful woman. I regale both kids with stories about her. There was the time I pledged the hardwood floor and she slid along it. There were all the nights she told me her made-up bedtime stories that I cherished. There were the days and nights spent bundled up and watching whatever athletic activity I had going on.

She was my heart and soul. Ten years ago, I suffered a break up no boy or relationship could rival. I lost her to brain cancer. 

I remember the days of crying over first loves and bad dates as she comforted me during what I thought were the worst times that could ever find their way into my life. (Those were the days, right? When break-ups were the worst part of daily living!) Then when that moment - truly, the worst moment of my life - found its way into the depths of my heart, the one person I needed comfort from was gone. 

I think about this a lot now, mostly because of my babies and the one year anniversary of my friend Katie's passing. The kids know Katie was my age. They're starting to ask questions. What did Grandma die from? How did Katie die? Could mommy get that? Could mommy die before she's old?

Me (left) and Katie (right) back in 1997.

The woman I'd usually run to for answers to such difficult questions is no longer here to answer them and I'm forced to be a grownup (even though at 34, in these moments I don't want to be). The answers to all those questions are yes; but I would never want to put that idea into their head. I would rather they worry about what's for dinner or whether soccer practice is still on. I assure them that this is why we eat healthy and exercise and go to the doctor when we're supposed to; so that mommy can be here a very long time with them.

It's funny how quickly life changes. At twenty, we feel invincible, like nothing can happen to us. I know I did. I know I wasn't always as kind to people as I should have been and I broke rules I shouldn't have broken. I put myself in situations that I cringe thinking my children would put themselves in someday. (Now I totally understand why Mom always waited up for me. She probably did the same stupid things and hoped I would be better. Oops.) And I learned a great many lessons about life that I wish I'd learned in much different ways because those lessons have a lasting impact.

We don't know what life will bring. I certainly didn't wake up that August day last year expecting a call that my 33-year-old friend had passed away. A friend who had, just months before, designed the beautiful cover of the book I put together with other brain cancer caregivers about our journeys (you can see the cover here). A friend with whom I'd been meaning to make dinner plans to catch up with, but we always had to reschedule because of life. A friend who I'd lost touch with for many years, after being best friends through college, and had just begun to reconnect with.

As I sunk down the wall in my kitchen after hearing her sister's broken-hearted voice tremble on the other line to say the unthinkable, I again felt that heartbreak that comes with such a loss - as did those who knew her. I reconnected with old high school friends and reminisced about the good old days in the weeks after Katie's passing, and then went on with life. Just like with mom, I found myself not talking about Katie much because it can be uncomfortable to bring the topic up with those who knew her. And talking about it to people who didn't (like my husband, even though he is so kind-hearted) just isn't the same. I wanted someone who could remember our silly stories, crazy movie marathons, love of cheese popcorn and Ace Ventura, and driving in her convertible with the top down. But at the same time I didn't want to talk about it, because it was a reminder of just how fragile life is.

I write this because this is the time of year when life changes in our household. We get caught up in school and work and activities and running everyone around from this practice to that one. We rush through dinners and fall asleep in front of the television and go through the days instead of actually live them. We chat with friends when we find a spare second. We - well, at least me - only stop to think about how we can live life differently when, sadly, a phone call comes that shatters the invisible peace surrounding us. And after awhile, when the memory has been pushed aside for brighter things, we go back to going through the motions and forgetting to live in the moment.

Moments like those where you're rushing from picking up kid 1 and rushing kid 2 to something, and your daughter notices a cloud that looks like an angel.

An angel that reminds you just how fleeting life can be, and to take advantage of every moment and opportunity to show people how important they are to you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Most. Fun. Photoshoot. Ever.

In our house, we don't take normal family photos. Ever. Most people dress up. I tell the kids to pick out their favorite outfit and accessories. This usually results in jeans or athletic shorts for my son and a Minecraft or video game related t-shirt. For my daughter, it's usually a skirt, leggings, mismatched shirt, five necklaces, four bracelets, three hairbows and a purse. For my husband, well, he dresses nice all the time so he is usually putting us to shame ;)  But that's the joy of our family photos - I have these images that capture who we are at that particular point in time. We aren't the family that is color-coordinated and put together all the time. We are discombobulated and goofy and lucky if we have matching shoes - so that's what our photos should reflect!

So this year, we did a superguy theme, as that is our current living room decor. My plan is to print out two of the photos and put them in 8x10 frames, and then if scroll all the way down, we are going to make several movie posters for the living room! My plan is to print them out poster size, modpodge to a piece of wood and sand the edges for a vintage look. I will post that when I actually set aside the time to do it! 

Couple notes: I took the photos myself (with the help of a tripod and a son who can run really fast), and added a grainy look to them so they look older. The clouds are natural - that's why I rushed home from work one night and forced everyone to pull out their favorite superhero gear and head a half hour out into the cornfields! And finally, on the posters, I blurred all the names (including my very clever piece on the bottom where I used friends and family as the producers, directors, etc.). But you get the point.





Monday, August 4, 2014

The Family Pet

Written for WriteOn (Writing Group) in April 2014

Wanted to share a little poem I wrote a while back. ;)

She rises with the morning sun
Yet doesn’t make a sound;
She tiptoes, checking on the brood
Paws hardly touching ground.
Sometimes she feels forgotten
As they’re running out the door,
All day she’s waiting anxiously
To see them all once more.
She’s toted where the family goes –
To work, to parks, to sports;
She protects and watches over them
On duty to report.
Her hair could use a brushing
Since it’s been a week or two;
But someone’s always busy,
There’s always one more thing to do.
When it’s time to potty
She’s been holding it awhile;
Her nails are painted sloppy pink
By a toddler with a smile.
She’s dressed in fluffy clothing
Of the princess variety
By a four-year-old fashionista
Who wants her “friend” to come to tea.
She gets to eat when she’s remembered,
But more often than not
She’s scavenging what’s left behind
From plate or bowl or pot.
They use her as a pillow
As they pull and poke and tug;
I’ll treasure being their favorite pet
For as mom, I get the biggest hugs.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Create a really awesome photo display somewhere in the house - Decade Bucket List #19

I love photos. Like, love them. Old ones, new ones. I am a photo queen. The photo-razzi. People are stunned when I show up somewhere without a camera, that's how bad my obsession is. 

I wanted to create a really awesome photo display somewhere in our house where I can swap out photos every now and then. I now have three spots ;)

The first is my upstairs hallway. I made a giant photo collage (I left some space to add new photos as I wish). I love it! I bought the letter "R" at Hobby Lobby for $3 (clearance) and hated the pattern underneath, so I bought some scrapbook paper, ripped it into pieces, and mod-podged it to the letter. I added a burlap rosette with some bling and it's perfect!

Next, the living room. We are a superguy family. We just did the coolest photoshoot ever (see the pics here) and we are going to add those to the currently empty frames. I bought another "R" on clearance and again mod-podged paper I like that matches our American superhero theme.

And finally is my dining room. This one still needs some work, but it's getting there. The cabinet was handmade by my dad and grandpa many moons ago.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

School Days, School Days

This year, I will have a kindergartner and a third grader. And I will spend every day wondering where the time went. They will say goodbye again to full days at the daycare provider's house - a daycare provider named Ms. Cathy who also happens to be my best friend and more like a teacher/aunt/grandma to my kids than anything else - and begin full days of learning at their school.

Their usual "Ms. Cathy says" will be replaced by "My teacher says..." The struggle my daughter and I have as I try to help her sound out letters and she defiantly tells me she doesn't need nor want to learn will be eclipsed by her desire to come home and read everything because her teacher taught her. I will again be schooled on why I shouldn't do something this way or that because their teachers tell them how it should be done. 

And I will again smile at their constant lessons because, though I wish I could keep them little forever, they are growing and becoming wonderful little beings because of the teachers in their lives.

I remember when my oldest started kindergarten. He couldn't read yet and barely knew his letters and though we worked with him (though probably not as much as we should have), he just didn't care much about learning. He wanted to be adventuring! I worried and worried those first couple months of school because I'd heard about so many kids his age who were already reading, and here he couldn't even sound out the word "and". Not only was I worried, but he was.

In December of that year, he read me an entire book. Sounded out the words and while not all were correct, we got through it - and he did it. I cried when we were done. All the worrying, all the hours of frustration because he just didn't get it... gone in three months because of a teacher who knew what he needed to learn.

At the end of his first grade year, we learned he was reading at a beginning 4th grade level according to testing. He'd asked to read Harry Potter and I thought, sure, go ahead, thinking that he could definitely sound out the words but the comprehension would be lost.


He read it and understood it. (And I learned quite a lesson about having faith in your kids.)

I know all children are different, and respond differently to various teaching styles. We've been lucky to have teachers that seem to really be able to reach our kids and get them excited about learning.

Our daughter has had a strong start thanks to Ms. Cathy and her wonderful Pre-K teacher with learning letters and writing. Yet it's not just about the reading that I'm excited about now as my daughter enters kindergarten. I'm most excited to see how she grows as a person, because I think that's my favorite part of them heading to school. I send in a timid, shy, nervous little kid to that giant, decorated classroom for the first time. I go home and cry a little while they try and sort out the newness of everything around them and make sense of all the big-kid stuff. We repeat this every day for a year but I find that way before the end of the year even approaches, my child isn't timid, shy or nervous anymore. They're outgoing and excited; they're asking more questions; they're testing me and their dad about math and writing and more.

At the end of the year, when their teachers are exhausted and ready for summer vacation, I hope they realize that my children's lives are forever changed because of the time spent in their classroom. Who these children are is shaped in part by the love and patience and guidance of teachers who do so much for so very little thanks. And years from now when they are recalling stories of their favorite teachers, your name won't just echo off their lips. It will echo in my heart, too.

Thank you for all you do for all the children in your classroom, teachers!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Like You ... And Her ... And Her

A couple springs ago, I went shopping for a swimsuit (which, let's face it - no matter what size a woman is, this absolutely SUCKS.) As I was browsing, I heard one twenty-something girl say to her friend (while looking at me), "If I was that big, I'd never put a swimsuit on."

Ouch. Double ouch, actually.

Now, I'm not huge. I could stand to lose a few pounds to get healthier, and yeah, there are some parts I don't absolutely love, but I was pretty okay with myself. My body has the reminders of bearing two babies and I no longer fit into all the clothes I put away before I had them, but I still could find clothes I liked that I thought I looked pretty good in.

Me in all my full-bodied glory -- I'm the one on the left. Luckily those chickies weren't there to hear my singing, which is far more offensive than my body size.

But in that moment, I really felt ashamed. Obviously I was some creature, there to disturb these girls' image of perfection. I sort of pretended to look for a minute, then slowly eased out of the department and started to head home. I felt horrible and I can't lie - it really hurt.

As a mom, I worry a lot about what my daughter will face as she grows. She came home this year from pre-school upset because a friend had said, "You can't come to my birthday party this year." First, the girl's birthday wasn't for quite awhile, and second, the next day everything was back to normal. Yet still, as a mom, I wondered how we will survive all the upcoming years of girl-drama if this is already starting at four years old?

When I really thought about it, I realized how many of my daughter's insecurities came from her seeing my own. 

"Honey," I'd say to my husband over dinner, "I haven't heard from so-and-so in a few days. I wonder if she's upset with me over something." My daughter hears this and instantly, the idea is pushed into her mind that if someone doesn't speak to her it must be because they're mad and she needs everyone's approval, not because they are busy or tired or just living life like is usually the case.

"Ugh, I look horrible in everything today," I whine as I stare in the mirror after a particularly awesome weekend of cookouts and fun and laughter with friends, because in my mind I still heard those girls - random strangers, by the way, who knew nothing about me - and their ugly words. 

"You look beautiful, Mommy," my daughter smiles, playing with her stuffed animals on my bed. "Don't put makeup on. Then you're not you." I frown in the mirror and toss on a baggy shirt to hide my flaws before adding mascara, because I just can't see what she does.

I used to hate the gym because I had to work out among women who were trained and fit and it was so intimidating. I'd walk into a party or a crowd on the street and feel intimidated by any slim woman in a pretty outfit because surely they're looking at me like I've just let myself go. I was positive they were internally rolling their eyes, wondering why I didn't work out more or try harder. I spent summers avoiding tank tops and shorts because, honestly, I'm paler than Casper and I have some dimples in my formerly-athletic legs. I didn't want to look at myself, so I thought, why would I show that off to anyone else? 

Two weeks later, my daughter comes into my room and, at four, says, "I look chubby today," as she twists and views herself in the mirror, trying (yes, trying) to pinch a piece of skin. My daughter was four and wearing slim pants - with the buttons pulled tight because she is so slim - because she is super-active and while she eats like a horse, she stays skinny (she has the metabolism both my parents did when they were young. And she lovvvves snacks. She'd eat an entire box of Hostess Cupcakes if I'd let her.). I told her not to say such things and that she was beautiful and healthy and strong, and she looked at me.

"But mommy, you are beautiful and healthy and strong and you say that."

Bam. Sucker punched by my own words. Is this what I want my daughter to learn from me? To fear what other people think? To think she's not good enough because she doesn't look a certain way? To seek other's approval instead of her own? Not at all. It was time for some change.

I tested out the waters a little over the summer of 2013 and found a comfort level with clothing. Then summer 2014 rolls around and it's hot. Really hot. (Though I can't complain after the Polar Vortex winter we had here in Chicago this winter.) I start heading out to my son's baseball games and two games later, realize that it is just way too hot to wear t-shirts and capris. But tank tops? And, God-forbid, shorts? They were still sort of a "yikes" for me. Yet the weather won out and I threw on a tank top and prepared for the onslaught of disgusted stares that surely must be coming my way.

Prepare yourself for the tanktop photo - I know, it's awful right? Avert your eyes! :)

And another one - tanktop and shorts?? I'm wild and crazy.

Nothing happened. No people running from the bleachers or making snide comments within ear shot. No one judging my freezie pop (only stopping to ask how much it was and where I got it). 

Life went on as normal. My kiddos still took pictures with me, the baseball moms didn't sit elsewhere in disgust. All the moms sat together and laughed and had a good time, and I started to realize that the only one who cared what my arms looked like in a tank top or what my thighs looked like in shorts was me. 

As women, we're fed this constant stream of what we should look like by the media, and most of it still isn't real. I am amused by articles like one I've seen recently where a woman is size 10 and considered plus size -- yet when I go to the store, plus sizes start at 16 or 18 or 20. So now they've got slim women they're calling "plus size," and that notion is pretty unsettling because of the double message there. If at a size 10 she's plus sized, what am I? (For the record, I think this woman is beautiful - but I wouldn't consider her plus size.)

Now, I have nothing against skinny and slim woman. I think they're gorgeous. I also think that any woman, regardless of size, who dresses nicely in clothes that fit looks pretty beautiful. So why couldn't I think the same about myself?

Those summers when I wouldn't don a swimsuit and get in a pool with my kids, I did get disgusted looks. From my kids. Because their mother wouldn't go swimming with them, preferring to watch from the sidelines. I missed out on the fun of being in the pool, choosing to sit out. So I donned a swimsuit this year at the splashpad and get this: no one cared! The kids went about their play and us adults chit chatted and had a picnic, and not one person hightailed it out of the park because I had a swimsuit on.

Me and cutest little red-haired baby ever (not mine) at the splashpad.

I learned from a slim friend recently that she is incredibly self-conscious when she's at a party or walking around town, because she is sure that women who weighed more than her (and by women, she meant women of my size, she clarified) were staring at her and mad that we didn't look like her, and that we all thought she had an eating disorder. I've seen her eat (and she eats very healthy). I've also seen her drink. And eat (a lot) of chocolate. I've never looked at her and thought she looked anything other than pretty, even sans makeup. This woman who I think is beyond beautiful has been worried that I'm embarrassed to be around her because she's too thin, while I've been worrying she is embarrassed to be around me because I'm too fat.


Seems like we're all here thinking that everyone else thinks we're too this or too that, when the truth is that the only people who a) matter and b) are judging us on weight is ourselves. Sure, sure, there are men and women out there who do have strong opinions about overweight or too thin, but from what I've seen it's a very small percentage - and basically like saying that all doctors are bad because a handful make mistakes when most doctors are excellent at who they are. You can't judge a whole group by a few bad apples - and that's what I think many of us, as women, tend to do. If some random person is an ass about whether you're too thin or too chubby, guess what? Who cares?! Seriously? Will their opinion of you ever matter in the grand scheme of things? And if they're judging you for your outside, consider how insecure they might be to have to make such comments.

So my challenge to you is this: wear the tanktops. Wear the shorts. Put on the swimsuit. Eat healthy but enjoy some good things (like amazing lemon-tinis and chocolate in moderation. Well, moderation most of the time.). Be proud of who you are and more importantly, be proud of who others are. Make sure your friends know how beautiful you think they are and that it is not based on their size, but on who they are. Make sure you tell yourself how good you look. Stop saying you're too fat or too thin and just be happy that you're alive to enjoy whatever body you have. Smile at a stranger or give them a compliment and mean it.

And quit walking around thinking, "Oh geez, is she thinking about my rolls?" like I did when I went to baseball games. Because guess what? She's not! She's thinking about whether her son is about to hit a homerun and how hot it is outside or if there's going to be another game that day or if the dishwasher was run or where she is going to plant flowers this summer or why her kid insists on hitting his jockstrap repeatedly to show he's wearing it. She's not thinking about whether your arms flap a little when you're clapping because quite frankly, she doesn't give a damn! She's just excited for you that your kid just got a single.

Look at these beauties - every one of them!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails