Archives for posts with tag: motherhood

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Quietly and methodically, I pushed open the door. Muscle memory, knowing exactly which way to turn the handle and how far to inch it open. Just enough to squeeze through. Barely breathing and moving my body with control, so as not to make even the slightest sound. A routine of silence and careful movement engrained in me.

Tonight, my movement stops suddenly. My eyes are greeted by a pile of pencil shavings gathered on the white carpet. My head turns up, a blanket half falling off the top bunk obscures the bottom bunk and I am too short to get a good look at the occupant of the top bunk.

It was him. My top bunk occupant. I know that. He asked for a pencil sharpener before I sang his goodnight song.

You must have a conversation about how there’s a better way to dispose of these at night.

Then, I paused.

Pages and pages of his drawings.

His comics.

His self-illustrated fiction stories.

His desire to be a video game designer.

That was how he spent first grade. There are piles of these works and pieces strewn about his desk and bedroom. At first glance, it appears to be messy chaos. When I look deeper, I see a collection of carefully created art work.

He cradled a stack of multi-colored papers and a sketchbook under his arm as he climbed into bed. Balancing up the ladder with the free arm, careful not to drop his blank canvases.

I didn’t pay much attention at the time. No, bedtime is a circus, and I am usually struggling to stay afloat and keep them moving through the routine. Wrangling them from balls of energy running circles around me, to bouncy balls instructed to stay in their beds, and finally to restful angels with black eyelashes dusting their faces, restful, recharging, asleep.

He must have been furiously drawing to gather that many shavings. The artist in front of my eyes slowly morphs from a sweet-faced seven year old into a serious and focused artist.

When he made his way down from his top bunk and into the living room, he was clutching his sketchbook.

“Mommy? Remember when we were, um, watching, that behind the scenes of Inside Out last night? Well, I was wondering, what do you think, which one of these is better?”

He opened his sketchbook to two different pages with sunsets.

“I like them both. One is more realistic and one is more abstract,” I replied.

Beaming, he nodded, “That’s what I was doing!”

This is a passion. He is a creator. He possesses an artist’s soul. From drawing, to sewing, to beadwork, to building legos, to playing piano. Art is always flowing from his small fingertips and into the world. I watch my hyper flips on the couch can’t sit down during dinner little boy, transform into a focused diligent quiet young man.

He sat through an hour of interviews at the end of Inside Out learning how they developed the film. Just listening to these professional break down their artistic process. A seven year old was as enthralled with this process as he was the actual film.

“When I grow up, I am going to work for Pixar!”

The shavings can stay. The shavings will go unmentioned. I will simply vacuum them up, on my own time. Keeping any seeds of doubt or hesitation away from him. Embracing his artistic collateral damage.

 

 

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It’s here. The options for escape, narrow and tough to find. They vanished quickly if you were not fast enough. We will be swarmed relentlessly. Surrounded and closed in. Minutes seem like hours. Hours seem like days.

Summer break.

At the beginning we were bright eyed and bushy tailed. Naïveté. Sweet, foolish lady. We had plans and activities. So much room for activities. By the end, our reserves are depleted, we are weary.

May and June are filled with excitement. The finish line is here. No more lunches or homework or rushing out the door or calls from school nurses or pickups or drop-offs or projects. Freedom!

You have so many plans. You have events around your town bookmarked on your phone. ‘Top Twenty Things to Do with Your Kids this Summer!’ Kid’s painting on the promenade. Movies in the park. Museum events. Play dates. Squirt gun painting. Festivals all over your state. Blueberry picking, we are going to pick and eat blueberries.

A month goes by. We’re fine. We can do this. We aren’t that tired, yet. Surely, they’ll wear themselves out. How many times can they say “I’m bored?” How many YouTube videos of people opening toys can they watch?” We learn, there is no cap on these. How many times can they fight over the same toy? There is a whole room of toys. This is just a phase, an adjustment period.

Museum and zoo and beach trips will cure these issues. Adventure is out there! We’re going to explore the whole damn city.

We cover so much ground, it’s exhausting. We’re all sick of outings and adventures. It’s hot. They make us carry so many bags. So much sweat.

Ah, the sweet relief of escape. A three-week summer camp. Our break is well deserved, we are superstar moms. We imagine days of lounging quietly on the couch, eating grapes, watching shows. Out of the corner of our eye, we see it. An overflowing sink of dishes. Plans for sitting around flow down the drain. Collapsing on the couch again. Sweet relaxation. Small underwear on the couch, entangles on our feet. The sigh, and up we get, to gather up all the summer sweat laundry.

There is no relaxation.

Summer camp ends, wide eyed, we look around, “oh wait, me? I am in charge again? ALL day? And night! Ok, I can do this…Yes….Right?”

How many slime projects can one mom withstand?

How many smears of peanut butter can one mom find on her couch. The answer? It’s somewhere in the double digits.

How many “watch this moms?” can a mom’s eyes fixate on? “Wow the twentieth flip was as awesome as the first!”

How many fights can one mom referee before she lacks empathy entirely? “Figure it out kids, problem solve!”

Then the summer storms come. You’re all locked inside, together, boundless energy contained. It’s a powder keg. We start to panic. They sing their chorus of “mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom” until we have to look in the mirror, checking for bleeding ears. They’re blood free, shockingly.

“Devices! The lot of you! Mommy needs a minute!”

We wonder, is there such a thing as too much family time?

Then you spot it, one leaf, tinged orange or red, just a small piece of it. Fall is approaching, we think or hope. Back-to-school ads pop up left and right, confirming your hypothesis, they will head back soon. The finish line is within eyesight.

We pause, slow motion amongst the chaos of messy floors, couch cushions disrupted, underwear left on lampshades and uncapped markers on carpets. The kids never stop moving or growing. Growing? They’ve grown so much this summer. Nothing fits, they’re bigger and a little older looking. Our hearts ache, our babies are another school year older. We interrupt their summer shenanigans and hug them close.

“Don’t grow! Don’t go!”

“Mommy, you’re weird.”

A burst of energy flows through us. Feeling desperate to keep them this little for another week or two.

“Hey, did you guys want to go to the spray park? A picnic outside? Sandwiches for dinner? Water gun fight, sure!”

Don’t go! We long for Fall to take its time arriving.

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2:50 a.m., I was shaken out of my slumber. I felt jarred but quickly recognized the  rhythm of the tiny hand pats that disrupted my dreams. I lift the eye mask from my eyes, shifting it to my forehead. My eyes focus, as well as they can in a dark room without my glasses.

My three year old is the patter. A tender aged child.

“Mama. I need water” he mumble-whined. It’s his special middle of the night voice. It sounds muffled and far away. But I know it anywhere. This wake-up call is not a rare occurrence. At the minimum he does this once a week. Sometimes more.

“Mmm. Ok.” I murmur. Still asleep. I take the ear plugs from my ears and place them on my nightstand.

Gathering myself I sit on the edge of my bed. His little body against my knees.

“Ok. Mama get you some water. Then we go to your bed?”

I scoop him up in my lap. His face nestled in to my neck. It’s their spot. Always the right side of my body. The crook between my neck and shoulder seems perfectly molded for my children’s faces. No matter their size.

“Do you want one of your water bottles?”

“Yeah mama,” still his middle of the night mumble-whine.

“Ok. Let’s get you one. Then mama put you in your bed.”

“No, mama. I go sleep in your bed.”

I’m silent this time. Knowing better than getting him all worked up. The less we talk about it the better. It’s what works for him.

Carrying his 33 pounds, groggy across the house, I fumble through the dark kitchen cabinet and find a water bottle. No lid. I set him down on the ground and sigh. Squinting, luckily I remembered my glasses, I rummage through the clean dishwasher. Finding the straw and lid. Relief. The sound of water hitting the plastic fills the silence of the 3am kitchen. The city is eerily silent at that time. The cacophony of city sounds silenced
I hand him his water bottle and scoop him up. He finds his spot. Soft skin against mine. His breathing vibrating through my body.

“No mama. I sleep in you bed,” he noticed I took a different path. The path to his room.

“Mmm you’re a big boy. You have to sleep in your bed sweetheart,” I wonder in my head if I should just bring him with me. No. The doctor says to put him in his bed. I have an arbitrary cut off time. 4 a.m. If it’s after 4 a.m. I will just scoop him up and snuggle for a bit. He didn’t make my made-up cutoff.

I rock him. I sing to him. I reassure him he’s ok in his bed. Slowly I make our way closer to his pile of plushies and blankets.

“No. Mama. No. I sleep with you!” He continues his lament. My heart aches to cave. But we’ve already started. He’s in his bed.

“Mama tuck you in. Want another song? Which one do you think?” No answer. I sigh and pick rock-a-bye-baby. I don’t like the ending to that one. But it’s the first song that entered my sleepy brain. His eyes get heavy and close. I know he’s still alert though. I rub his face.

“Don’t go mama”

I sing one verse of the ants go marching. Then I kneel down next to his bed. Settling in. I’ll have to wait until his breathing slows and his eyes stay closed.

Every few seconds they flutter open. Checking in. The check-ins begin to spread out.
I sit there watching his face. My own eyes heavy. They keep shutting. But I know. I must wait. I sit until the breathing slows and eyes stay closed.

Back in my own bed, I keep hearing “mama” In my head. And my tired mind wanders to the children in Texas. The tender aged ones especially. Who are waking up scared and thirsty and seeking the comfort of their mama’s arms. And they’re not allowed. The caregivers aren’t even allowed to hug them.

Tossing and turning I finally fell back asleep. It was restless and sweaty with some nightmare where I was trying to escape some unknown villain.

Pat pat pat. I am jarred awake, yet again. I pull my eye mask off, for the second time in hours. A taller form hovers over my bed. My seven year old. The sun beams around the curtains.

“Mommy? I had a nightmare.”

Silently, I scooch over and pat the outside of the bed. I catch a glimpse of a small smile that spreads across his cheeks. His mind is settling. He has me. He crawls in, and buries his face in my pillow, inches from my head. I wrap my blankets around him and bring my hand to his head. I run my fingers against the grain of his freshly buzzed scalp. I like the scratchiness of that.

Again, my mind wanders back to the mothers whose children are being held in tent cities in hundred degree heat. I bet some of those mothers like how it feels when they run their fingers through their child’s freshly buzzed hair. I bet their seven year olds would still seek their comfort when they have a nightmare. Except now they are all living a nightmare and cannot manage to get into each other’s arms. Because, the American Government has separated them.

I feel blessed and heartbroken. I get to comfort my boys when their sleep is disrupted. The children at the border, their whole world has been uprooted and changed and disrupted and the very simple act of laying in their parent’s arms has been stolen from them too.

I work for a refugee organization. I have been there for over a year now and it is the greatest pride of my life. The thing is, no parent would choose to uproot their family and flee across hundreds and thousands of miles to an unknown future, unless the place they were living was absolutely terrible and unsafe. The idea of making that arduous journey while not knowing where exactly you may end up, is a beacon of hope compared to the circumstances that triggered the need to flee.

There is no luxury of planning this trip. There is no Traveolicity for refugees. They don’t have the option of seeking asylum from the comfort of their home, sitting on their Crate and Barrel couch with their laptop on their lap. That is not the situation. They are trying, with all their might, to save their children’s lives.

That is how these families end up here. That is why these families end up here. They seek safety and a better life for their children. I dare anyone who has children and thinks separating parents and children is acceptable, to consider that. Consider what you would do if your choices were, watching your children suffer or fleeing to a country that used to plea, give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I challenge you to consider. I challenge you to empathize. I challenge you to care. I challenge you to imagine how it would feel if you couldn’t comfort your babies when they cry in the dark.

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Yes, we wore these to see the film.

I have been waiting some fourteen years to see this sequel. My kids have been waiting a handful of years. I feel like their waiting pales in comparison to mine, so I argue that I was more excited than they were to see this film. We were all pretty into it though. And what’s more exciting than dressing up like characters together and going to see a film on a Saturday afternoon? For us, not much else. We are nerdy-nerds. And totally comfortable with that.

This movie did not disappoint. It was so engaging and funny. It has many feminist themes to it, including balancing modern mother and womanhood. Being a working mom. It covered mom-guilt and changing familial dynamics when a mom goes back to working outside of the home. It showed Elastigirl becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of being the star and finding herself again. This is something that many mothers will instantly recognize and relate to. So often, we lose ourselves, especially in the years when the kids are little. It is hard to shift out of mom mode and into woman mode, and it can be scary. At some point though, you find the balance and you begin to cherish your life outside of your kids. Or rather, you begin to give yourself permission to feel enjoyment without them and enjoyment with them. You begin to shed some of the crushing guilt, so that it becomes just this low-grade subtle guilt. I argue, it never really goes away, it sort of lingers in the background. We adapt and get better at managing it.

I couldn’t help but feel the twinge of guilt myself when today, my child said he would rather I quit writing and quit helping refugees so I could just devote all of my attention to him (and his brother, but he didn’t explicitly mention the still sharing my attention with another human thing) I explained to him I can’t do that because I like, no love, what I do. And I am doing exciting things. Mind you, this was at the Field Museum, and we were spending the entire day together, my attention and time was theirs. But littles, they always want more!

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Back to the film. Another one of my favorite things, and this goes for the first film as well, is that it explores marriage problems and joys that married couples with kids encounter. It didn’t shy away from those themes the second time around. It puts these issues in front of the audience faces with humor. It’s very relatable and I couldn’t help but look over a few times at my husband and chuckle. I think this is one of the key reasons why I feel so drawn to this franchise. They address these topics head on and they do it so intelligently. It all rings true and even though these are cartoons, adults will relate to Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl’s dynamics, problems, love, and bond.

Jack-Jack is certainly adorable. I cannot get enough of his giggle and they did a great job with presenting his multitude of powers. Perhaps, he is the most incredible of the Incredibles. It was precious and hilarious. Arguably, the best relationship in this film is Jack-Jack and Edna Mode. When you see it, you will understand. Perfection!

Mr. Incredible’s taste of exactly what motherhood entails was spot on and again, hilarious. Hilarious is a theme in this film! My husband is super hands-on with our kids and is truly my partner, but when it comes down to it, I end up carrying a lot of the parenting load because, they want me or they need me or because my schedule is more flexible (the perks of working remotely and being a writer). Moms will thoroughly appreciate seeing what Mr. Incredible’s transformation from cocky/confident about dealing with things, to totally wiped out because, kids are damn hard to take care of.

I cannot wait to see this film again and I know it will end up on our regular rotation of afternoon movie sessions on the couch. It was a hit with all of us. If you haven’t seen it and loved the first, go! You will not be disappointed.

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Motherhood is transformative. This is no mystery. Talk to any mom out there and she will have a story or twenty on how motherhood has altered the very core of her being. These changes happen on grand and micro scales.

You change our bodies physically, even if we lose all the baby weight, things are just, well, different. Doesn’t matter how many planks I do, I still pee a bit when I jump up and down. No, I don’t want to go on the trampoline. I am fun! I swear! I will just pee my pants a bit, thanks, kid.

You change how we see the outside world, we want safety for you when you leave our grasp. Don’t zoom down that hill on your scoot…..see, see that is why, you fell, it is too fast, you’re not ready! This is why you wear a helmet!

You change how we manage our time. I can work all day, take you to an after school activity, and arrive with one minute to spare. We aren’t late, we have a minute to spare! I am very aware of how to plan down to the minute. Minutes are very important.

You change our multi-tasking functions. I can cook a dinner while listening to stories about the world’s biggest shark and carrying one kid on my hip. It’s a whale shark. We are having pasta for dinner.

As I began reflecting on who I am as a short story author, I found my themes revolve around modern motherhood and womanhood. They are intertwined, much like my actual life. I am a woman navigating this fast-paced world while being a mom. This is a delicate balance, but one many women are familiar with.

I am one draft away from being ready to submit my first short story to Lit Mags. I have been working on it for months, yes short stories take months to create. Don’t be fooled by the short part. I’ve been published before, but not in this genre. I am brimming with anticipation and hopefulness that someone will find my satire smart enough to publish, and maybe even pay me for it. A writer can dream!

My children pop up in my stories. As main, supporting, and background characters. They are there in some capacity. I began to wonder what will they think of this as they grow? How will they feel about the stories, and hopefully one day novels, that so often are rooted in my real life.

Writers have to battle with how that comes across, the lines between fiction and real life. How those in our lives will feel about bits and pieces of real life being pulled into fiction pieces. We either embrace it or hide from it.

To my sweet boys, I cannot unravel my writing from you, ever. You are so engrained in my bones that it would be impossible for me to consciously uncouple you from my writing. You gentlemen, are my muses.

Arguably, you have made me a better writer. You have uncovered parts of my creative brain that simply didn’t exist before I took the time to get to know you. I  grew you from the cells in my body and brought you into this world, sharing every waking moment with you in those early years. Science has discovered that quite literally, your cells traveled through my placenta and implanted themselves in my tissue for years to come. They call it Microchimera.

You are me.

I find joy in your voices. I hope I do your voices justice in my stories. I find inspiration in your thoughts. I hope I turn those thoughts into something worthwhile in my stories. I find creativity in your tough moments. I hope I write about those moments with humor. I find my voice through your awe of life. I hope I truly convey the awe you have with this world.

As I head toward this new chapter in my writing career, I just wanted to thank you for being the inspiration. You have and will continue to inspire characters, plots, dialogue, messaging, and stories. So many stories. Thank you for unlocking a voice that would have remained dormant without you.

And now that I have procrastinated with this piece for you, I must actually finish the edits of this last draft. I have a deadline. It’s tomorrow. Yeah, mom procrastinates too.

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Life After Food Allergies

Your entire family comes to a halt when your son is diagnosed with food allergies. It’s hard on your son. Hard on you and your husband. Hard on your older son. You micromanage meals. You read every single ingredient on packages. You hesitate before parties. Who is bringing what? “Don’t feed him anything without asking me first.” You want to vomit when you send him off to school, alone. Your new normal causes a cosmic shift at home. You settle into the uncomfortable new normal. The allergy years rage on.

The day comes, the moment you dreamed about. Oral Food Challenge Day. You don’t sleep the night before, tossing, turning, worrying. Certain he will react. Heart races. Sweat oozes. Vomit feeling returns.

You sit in the hospital while hours inch by. You talk to doctors and nurses. You smile. Its fake. A thin façade one wrong tap away from crumbling. Mamas wear this veil often.

You restrain your hysterical son as they put the IV in. He bites you. He hits you. He yells “NO MOMMY, DON’T DO THIS!” The child psychologist they brought in to “keep him calm and talk him through this” is useless, slumped against the wall. You wonder how much it cost you to pay for her slump. You cling to your brave facade. You watch every second of the procedure, needle piercing that perfect skin you love to kiss so much.

When you walk out of Lurie Children’s Hospital, you are in a state of shock. He passed. He is done. You are done. Your family is done! It doesn’t feel real. Dreamlike trip down the hospital elevator. It was a long stressful day. You tried explaining to a three year old why he had to eat the food you swore makes him sick. He doesn’t understand any of this. You had to train him to be his own advocate. The cost of safety frightened him, maybe forever.

You buy the offenders. Banana. Avocado. Kiwi. Bring them home. House is stocked with forbidden foods. Old forbidden foods. He won’t eat even one bite of banana. Still insisting it makes him sick, that he doesn’t like that, that he hates them.

You offer to make banana cookies. Let’s make this fun! He helps. He smiles. Big brother helps, he is very excited, bananas are his favorite. You bake the cookies. Let them cool. Hand him one cookie. He takes a nibble, yuck! “They are gross mama,” he says.

You sigh, and let it go. Big brother likes the cookies. You like them even more and end up eating most of them. They taste like banana bread. You offer banana with breakfast. “No.” Banana with lunch? “No.” You let it go for a day, a week, “banana?” “No! Bananas make me sick, mama.” You smile. “Not anymore sweetheart, but we can try again later.”

You peel a banana. You don’t scrub your hands and handle his food at the same time. You wipe your hands on a towel, not panicking that he might have a reaction. You feel free. The burden of reactions no longer dragging you into the abyss.

You bring avocado back to Taco Tuesday. The whole family likes this. You never really stressed the avocado allergy, because toddlers and babies don’t have much time to get their hands on one of those. He tries that. “Too spicy” Normal three year old reaction. You feel a wave of relief.

You go to the closet to grab something. Your eyes linger on the epi-pens. “I should toss those.” You don’t You close the door. Turn off the light. Walk away. Maybe later.

You sneak a banana into your smoothie. He loves your smoothies. He drinks that. He doesn’t know. You feel sneaky but victorious.

School tells you they had banana with lunch. He wouldn’t eat it. “I no eat the banana mama.” “It’s ok. Maybe when you’re six!” “Yeah when I’m six!”

You thought the other side of food allergies meant life going back to the first normal. You were wrong. It laid way for another new normal. You slipped on a new worry: that you caused permanent damage.

You look in the mirror, shake your head. You fought for him. You took the punches and bites. You cleaned up the vomit. You rushed him to the ER. You demanded answers from doctors. You made lists. You made documents. You had a medical binder. You HAD to teach him to be safe. It was life or death after all. You are strong. The other side of food allergies is your next journey. He outgrew the offenders. He will outgrow the fear.

I wrote this piece specifically for a writing contest. Alas, I did not win. Such is the life of a writer. Moments of unadulterated joy and success followed by a dark pit of despair and failure. There are rarely middle moments of mediocrity. Or maybe there are, but they get lost in the whirlwind of highs and lows. In my younger years, I think this moment of failure may have destroyed a bit of me. I am sad, of course, but this is not the only thing I have going for me. It is part of the writer’s life. We don’t win them all. Not every reader will enjoy our writing. Maybe you will hate this piece below. I am not sure. I am not sure I care. I wrote it. It is true. It is honest. It is a part of my very being, always lingering behind my happiness. This sadness that engulfed me when my grandma died. A sadness that never quite leaves. It ebbs and flows throughout my day dreams and middle of the night over-thinking sessions. So here is a brief story about my grandma, her life and death. It is not the whole story, I need an entire book for that, but a glimpse into one of the relationships that shaped the woman I am. 

She Was Too Tired

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My grandma and I were always close. Summers spent climbing the trees in her never ending yard. Was the yard really as expansive as I remember? It seemed to go on and on. Sleepovers with cuddles on the couch. “Grandma can you play with my hair some more?” The answer was always yes. Her long nails, scratching my scalp for hours on end. Was it really hours? I am not sure, but to me, it felt like she had all the time in the world to play with my hair. Tantrums ignited by having to leave the comfort of her walls. Six-year-old me even ran away from home. Riding my bike across town. Knocking on her backdoor. “Can I live with you? Mom and Dad won’t let me do what I want to do.”

I have this photo of her, my grandpa, and my firstborn son. Sitting on the couch, smiles on all their faces. He was six months old. The only child of mine she got to meet. As I was folding hand-me-down clothing for my youngest son, I came across the onesie from the photo. I stopped. My hands shaking. My stomach began to churn. Gingerly twisting the fabric between my fingers. Tumbling back in my memory to that afternoon. She was on the other side of my camera. Smiling at me.

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When I was eight months pregnant with my youngest son, my grandma died. I was sitting in my backyard, watching my three-year-old son play in the sand when my phone rang.

When I walked into her hospital room, nausea enveloped by body. She was hooked up to so many tubes. A giant mask on her face. The hum of oxygen penetrating the empty spaces around us. My grandma, who I used to tell “you’s not fat grandma, you’s fluffy!” looked so thin and frail in that bed. The next few days were a blur. Me and my round belly, waddling back and forth from the hospital. Sitting by her side, with my grandpa, with my dad.

Then came hospice. We got her settled into her room. Everyone gone, only my parents and I remained. I walked over to her, leaned down, and kissed her. Whispering, “get some rest grandma. I will see you tomorrow.”

She took my advice. The next and last time I saw my grandma, whose very presence oozed warmth and grandma-ness, was in her coffin. Unborn baby in my belly. An unborn baby she would never take a photo with. An unborn baby whose middle name would be the very name she gave her own son, my dad. She was too tired to find out how the story ended. She needed her rest.

 

*Special thank you to my friends and personal editors who volunteered and helped me edit this piece. I am eternally grateful to you and your intelligently sharp eyes. Ashley, Taryn, and Amanda. A writer is nothing without a great editor. Thank you! Thank you to my mom and husband who both told me this was a great piece and are always cheering my writing on. I could send them a run-on sentence jotted on a gum wrapper and they would say it was great! Thank you for believing in my writing no matter what.* 

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It’s not hard to believe that the little snuggly burrito in this photo is the seven year old young man that shuffled out of his room this morning. Looking taller. Or maybe that is just my mom colored glasses, biased to the fact that you’re a year older. Your face aglow with joy as you took in our birthday tradition. A room. A kitchen. A house. Decorated to celebrate the wonder that is your life.

That’s how time works. That is why it’s not hard to believe. It slaps me in the face every year. Baby burritos grow into young men. Seven. Seven is official. Seven is maturity. Seven is making your own breakfast. Seven is needing less help. Seven is a mom’s eyes lingering over your dimples and less round cheeks. Lost in in a sea of memories of soft downy hair, soft blankets, and baby scent. Tumbling back in time to hours spent on a couch from three homes ago, breastfeeding you for hours on end. Two souls, unsure of the new life ahead, sleeping, waking, sleeping, waking, but not moving much. Taking time to discover motherhood and infanthood.

Seven is a mom rambling on about scenes from a lifetime ago. Seven is exploration. Seven is picking up your little brother to show him things too high for his three year old length to reach. Seven is moods. Seven is opinions. Seven is bubble gum. Seven is best friends. Seven is letting you fly on your own, just a pinch more. That’s hard. Seven is never sitting still. Oh, well, that has been every year. That is you. Not unique to only this year of life. Seven came too fast. Seven will end too fast. Eight will be here when I blink next.

Motherhood is a bittersweet exploration of life. Elation and indescribable joy tightly intertwined with heavy sinking sadness. Each year your child grows, you celebrate their milestones and joys while knowing in the very abyss of your soul that you are letting go in subtle delicate ways. That is my journey to honor. That is my burden to absorb. For you, sweet, caring, emotional, intelligent, stubborn, honest, funny human, I long for you to absorb the wonder that is seven. Seven is beautiful. Seven is you.

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What are you grateful for?

The last two years have been a whirlwind for my family. A lot of change, new experiences, opportunities, adjustments, and relationships. 2017 has carried a lot of that. I am still in disbelief that this year is coming to a close. We have had so much happen, good and bad, in these last 11 months. It feels like New Year’s Eve was just yesterday. Today is Thanksgiving, a day in which we are supposed to pause and be thankful for what we have experienced over the course of a year. It is not my favorite holiday, mostly because it has become centered around overindulgence during a moment when we are supposed to be thankful. I find it a little counterintuitive. I love the thankful portion of the moment, so I am going to break down the things I am thankful for this year. They are not in an order of thankfulness, more of a stream of consciousness. Taking time to pause and reflect on the good in my life.

  1. We met many great people in the six years living in the ‘burbs. I made friendships that I cherish with people that inspire me. That said, there was always something missing from me personally. I fell madly in love with the city and moving away from it proved that to me. I’m thankful we made the fast, and slightly impulsive, decision to pack up and go back to where our hearts remained.
  2. My work at Carry the Future. I truly love being a part of the work being done. I’ve spent the last six months under the leadership of a very smart, funny, strong, capable woman. For whom I have immense respect and admiration. When people ask me what I do and I reply, “I’m a writer.” The next question is usually what for or where. My favorite part of that moment is when I tell them I write for a refugee organization.
  3. The path my career is on in general. I am so thankful I made the decision to go back to working outside of solely caring for the boys I love so much. Being a stay at home mom for 6 years was a wild ride. I reached a point where I was ready to do something for me. I am immensely thankful for the opportunities I have found. And for the people who have taken a chance on me.
  4. The women in my life that encouraged me to “run for something.” That turned into running for a co-chair position on the PTO. My first experience in running for something. I was so hesitant and nervous, but I did it and I am eternally thankful to the women who, post-Election 2106, looked at me and said that they thought I should run for something, anything, out there.
  5. The dear friend and woman who approached me to run for Secretary of the PTO. I hadn’t set my eyes on that at all. I was doing my co-chair work. She came to me and said she thought I was more than capable to make something with this position. That my talents were needed there. I was again, hesitant (something I am getting better at). I took my time to think it over. Ultimately, I said let’s do this. I have been enjoying my time SO much as PTO Secretary. I love the role and the frequent work that comes with it. The other day I was finishing up a task and just paused to think how happy I am that I have taken the role and made it my own.
  6. On that note, all the women I’ve been working with in general. I wear a few hats these days and under every single one is a strong team of women. Sometimes I sit back and think, “wow! We really do and can run the world.” I am so thankful to be working with and learning from them.
  7. That Jackson has done so well adjusting to a new school and a new home. Being older, he takes note of things a little more than Alexander does. The nuances of change have more of an impact on him. He has done it all with such courage, humor, and confidence. I am so proud that he is my son.
  8. Alexander’s conquering of his medical issues and his amazing speech improvement. He doesn’t stop talking. I can close my eyes and remember how I longed to hear his opinions and now he never ever stops talking. He is shaping up to be as chatty as Jackson! I am so excited for him and so proud of him.
  9. We are entering year 10 of marriage! Which is crazy to think because I am only 32, but here we are. Almost 13 years together and almost 10 years married. Ups, downs, and all arounds. He stills grabs my butt like we just started dating, so something is working! HA!
  10. That I am in a place in life where I can give back to my community and world. I feel so thankful that I can be charitable and volunteer my time and instill these values in my children. Being a generous helper is something I want them to grow up knowing, doing, and loving.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your servings be calorically appropriate. May you take a moment to reflect on your year and focus in on the reasons to smile and say, “that was good.”

I wrote this piece the morning of the Las Vegas shootings. It began as a stream of consciousness. I had to do something. I had to get the thoughts in my brain out somehow. As I wrote, I decided it would be the piece I submitted for the Resistance Writing Workshop. I scrapped another piece I had written (and was stuck on the ending). After many revisions and taking into account my classmates’ and instructor’s edits/thoughts/ideas, then letting it sit for a while, for some reason unable or afraid to face it once more, then ultimately sitting down to dig in and edit once more, a title change, and some additions/removals to the body, I am sharing it below. 

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Mass Shootings from a Mother’s Perspective 

I remember precisely where I was when news of Sandy Hook broke in 2012. I was folding laundry in my bedroom, my oldest son, not yet two years old, napping. Maybe I was listening to music or something. I don’t remember that particular detail. I was oblivious to the terror taking place. A new mom, only a year under my belt. Folding, folding, folding, folding, and humming along. My phone buzzed, a text from my husband. Asking if I had seen the news about the elementary school shooting. I hadn’t. I checked the internet and made my way downstairs to turn on the news. That news morphed into an increasingly tragic narrative. Stomach churning at every confirmed update. How? Why? Babies, these are babies. Spinning, slow motion. My world changed that day. I was a mom now. That could be my baby. You see things differently when you have children, things hit you harder or in ways they didn’t before your heart left your body, walking around this dangerous, and all too often, hideous world.

I remember crying as I watched the news later that night, that narrative still increasingly tragic. The death count being confirmed. Something bubbling up inside of me. Outrage! Names and faces being shared. Acid in my throat! Babies. So many babies. Nausea!

My son playing on the floor in our living room, his little body giggling with joy and happiness. His chubby little face, smiling, dimples deep in those chubby cheeks, so pure and innocent. Christmas was around the corner. Those babies wouldn’t get a Christmas. Gifts were already under Christmas trees, awaiting joyful reactions in the early hours, groggy parents beaming, satisfied, happy. Now, those parents would wake up on Christmas morning, destroyed, something so profoundly important, shattered and missing. I wanted to throw up thinking of their pain. My heart physically hurt, looking at my child, thinking how much I love him and knowing how much they love their children. Those small, fragile bodies, laying cold in that school, alone, dark, parents unable to hold them. The image is enough to make me collapse from grief.

I really thought our country would change after that. I was hopeful. Surely, this had to be the last straw. The slaughter of 20 small children would force us to look in the mirror and examine our interpretations of amendments written long ago. When a single musket ball, which took minutes to reload, were the rights and arms referenced. I knew we would do something to take these firearms, that can slaughter and maim so many in a matter of seconds, out of civilian hands.

I was wrong. Nothing changed. People, lobbies, NRA, they fought back harder. “Guns don’t kill people!” Except, yes, they do. They kill babies and adults, children trying to get an education, and people trying to dance at a nightclub, and people enjoying a music festival, or a holiday party, or shopping at a mall, or watching a movie. They slaughter people. They tear human bodies to shreds. They make internal organs explode. They leave bodies riddled with gaping holes. They destroy communities.

This morning I sat on my couch in the dark. My three year old had crawled into my bed in the early hours, I had to rub his face to get him to fall back asleep. By then, my alarm went off, and I rolled out of bed, groggy, making my way to sip coffee and do a crossword puzzle. I made the mistake of checking my New York Times app, what was going on this Monday morning? The first headline put that all too familiar pit back in my stomach. It said there were 20 dead and 200 injured. An hour later, when I turned on the TV, the numbers had more than doubled, each.

I thought things would change after Sandy Hook. Yet, here we are. Again and again and again and yet again.

Since Sandy Hook, I have had a second child. That two year old I played with on the floor is now almost seven. The same age as those sweet babies at Sandy Hook. In first grade, those dimples, and humor, and all love. My sweet boy. Nothing about this fight has changed though. We have not learned, or rather the stubborn ones have been more effective at resisting than those of us who want real change.

A mass shooting is considered four or more victims. On average, every day in America there is more than one mass shooting. They may not all make national headlines, but they’re happening. And then there are these ones where casualties reach astronomical numbers. Can we truly wrap our heads around those numbers from behind our TVs or computers? I try to. I try to think of the hundreds of families who entire lives just broke into a thousand pieces.

Depressingly, I think overall, there is a disconnect. People move on. This will last for a few days, maybe weeks, until the next big news story breaks. We will move on, the viewers. The families and victims will always have an angry painful scar and deep gaping hole. There is no shifting focus for them. After some unpredictable amount of time, this will happen again. People will offer “prayers for fill in the blank!” Share images of skylines of that locale, or maybe a filter of the local flag over their profile photo. Temporary option chosen, of course. It is temporary for those not directly affected. Prayers for them. For a day. Prayers haven’t helped. They don’t do anything to change our reality. If they did, surely Sandy Hook would have been the last straw. It wasn’t, not remotely.

I crave change. I can feel the desire churning in my belly. Bubbling and brewing, confusion setting in over how this is still a debate. Every day I send my boys to school. Some days fear creeps up, whispering loudly behind my smiling goodbye eyes. Will today be a safe day? Who was that stranger walking by the school? Are the security measures enough? Parents living with the fear of their children not coming home from classrooms, places of supposed safety.

Our children live through active shooter drills. “Mommy, we all had to be quiet in the classroom. The police walked by to check doors. They wiggled the handle! My teacher got in trouble because she forgot to lock ours.” He was in Kindergarten. Kindergarteners. Five and six year olds.

The familiar fear crept up this morning. I dropped two small boys off at their schools. Kissed their sweet, innocent faces goodbye, my fear masked by my loving mom face. The thought of nightmarish possibilities lingered behind my smiling goodbye eyes. The lump in my throat was my escort home.

We cannot police minds. We can try to search for warning signs and suspicions. See something, say something, or so it goes. Mental health does play a critical role in these incidents. It is a factor, but it is not the only one. The ease with which people can access these weapons designed for war, capable of mass murder, plays an even larger role. The type of weapon used plays a role in the outcome. This man, I won’t say his name, I refuse, would not have been able to stab nearly 500 people in a matter of minutes. It is as simple as that. The slaughter that happened wouldn’t have been an option with a knife.

Over 500 hundred people were injured at this festival. 500. Close your eyes for a moment and think about how large that number is. There are less than 500 students in my son’s entire school. That is how massive the carnage is. Almost 60 people were slaughtered, and that number may rise in the next hours, days, weeks, months even.

When will we learn? What will it take? When will “The deadliest mass shooting in US history!” finally be a large enough total? What is the magic number? Will someone you know be a part of it? Will I?