Archives for posts with tag: parenthood

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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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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?

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Depending on the moment, down to the second, my desire to have a third child has been susceptible to change. Are both boys peacefully sleeping on me? Their dark eyelashes dusting their skin? Chests rhythmically rising and falling with a small snore escaping their perfectly tiny noses? Oh, the urge to create another perfect tiny human radiates through all my bones, sinew, and joints. Are both boys in the middle of a literal knock out fight, screaming, “THAT’S MINE!” and punching each other? My uterus curls up into a ball, holding a small knife out, yelling, “come near me and someone gets cut!” That is how easily I could switch between the idea of adding another human to our brood.

I love my boys. I don’t have a desire to have a girl specifically (people ask that a lot), but sometimes the lure of newborn scent and snuggle is tough to resist. Reflecting on baby photos of my rapidly growing boys can make me tenderly remember those hours rocking them in gliders, nursing them to sleep. Pressing down the memories of desperate desire for sleep and the battles of breastfeeding. The urge pops up every so often, while I simultaneously and loudly lament, “I am definitely DONE having babies.” The thought was there: the consideration then the dismissal. Shooing away my husband as he hugged me and said, “let’s make a third!” But the choice was ultimately mine.

Until last week. Last week that was taken away from me by my own body. Or at least, I learned about this new version of me. Without getting into the nitty gritty details of that, because I am not sure I am ready to, the bottom line is this: my ability to have more babies has become very unlikely. Writing that out sent a chill through my body. I can describe the moment I received the news. I happened to answer my doctor’s call in the middle of the park last Thursday morning. All of the children running around me in slow motion, voices distorted, my head spinning. Knowing when I hit the red end button, I had to turn around, with a smile, and ask my boys if they wanted to go grab lunch yet.

I am only thirty-two years old. I know I have two gorgeous, funny, adorable, sweet, snuggly, happy boys. I know that. I love them more than anything in this world. I live for them, if it wasn’t clear through my countless articles and posts I have written. I am thankful they’re mine. This doesn’t mean a part of me didn’t die last week, literally. It did. Even if I have already produced two amazing tiny humans. That part of my life is dead now, over. There will be no more newborn scents or wails drifting through our halls. There will be no more onesies or swaddles. There will be no more little genetic combos of my husband and myself.

Until last week, It was my choice to make or not make. That was a power piece I held. If two years from now, both boys in school full time, I missed that baby stage so much, I could have added another to our bunch. That was always a possibility. Choice. I had a choice.

I have anxiety, so of course, I have been replaying a lot in my own brain the last few days. Living in my head. Yesterday I let myself breakdown entirely. Today, I have emerged from the fog. I gave myself one day of mourning and now it is back to my usual routine. As I walked to the grocery store, headphones in, I thought about the fact that I started having babies when I was twenty-five. These days, that is considered young. I remember my OB saying to me “you are the youngest woman in my practice, except my teen moms.” This used to annoy me. Today, I am eternally grateful. What if we hadn’t decided to try for Jackson when I was that young? What if I had said no to Jason about trying to have Alex just before Jackson turned three? What if I had insisted on waiting? The thought breaks my heart.

I feel like I lost a little piece of something last week. Regardless of the fact, that at this moment in life, I didn’t want another baby, it was still my choice to make. I had more time to make that choice. Who knows where we will be in a couple years. Maybe maybe maybe. This doesn’t change our family in any literal sense at this moment, but I do feel different. I feel broken. I feel like a failure. I feel trapped in my own body. I feel like I am incapable. Of what? I am not sure. A female’s worth doesn’t revolve around baby-making, I know that. I am so much more than “just a mom.” There is more to me than that part of my life, but it is a part and a big one.

Back to that internal battle, only this time it isn’t over whether I want another baby or not. Rather, it’s that I am not broken because I can’t have another baby. It’s that in time, I will accept this new normal of my body and life. For now, I just look back at the serendipitous moments that led to me having two children before the ability to do so was prematurely snatched away from my grasp.

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My oldest son is finishing up Kindergarten next week. I have been having an internal struggle with this stage of life we are leaving behind. The idea of First Grade seems harder for me to accept than Kindergarten was. There is still something that makes them feel so little while they are in Kindergarten. It is their toe dip into the big world of education. With First Grade looming in the wings, I cannot help but feel that there is one last piece of babyhood I am quickly losing my grip on.

My son will not be having a Kindergarten graduation ceremony. It is just how things worked out at his school this year. I am a little sad about that. I have even toyed with the idea of staging my own at home. (I am only half joking) I am sure I can find a cap and gown on Amazon in a pinch. I am not above doing something silly like that!

Recently, I overheard some people talking about how they find no value in any childhood graduation ceremonies. They even went to far as to say High School graduation is unimportant. I could not disagree with them more. I find value in celebrating these kinds of events. I cherish those moments. I am not a perfect parent and I never pretend to be. We all have our moments. When it comes down to it though, I cherish these important moments of my children’s lives. I go out of my way to create happy moments together.

We try our hardest to use positive reinforcement with our boys. I said we try. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we end up yelling. Every parent loses their patience once in a while. However, we value the concept and practice of positive reinforcement. This morning we cheered on our toddler who cleaned up a mess he created yesterday. He got high-fives and a ton of praise. Despite the fact that he was being straight up destructive when he threw my container of ear plugs around my bedroom. His face was a big cheesy grin when he heard us praise his clean up job. As a parent, you learn when to let go of the lesson and bring on the encouragement. It can be a balancing act, but you adapt. When you think about it, staging small graduation ceremonies for Preschool, Kindergarten, Middle School, and then the big one in High School, creates the ultimate method of positive reinforcement. You are creating happy and celebratory memories. You are encouraging them to work hard and follow through.

Childhood memories have value later in life. Close your eyes and think back to your happiest childhood memory. Maybe it was a family vacation, maybe a certain holiday, maybe it was a normal day that ended up being so silly and fun, maybe it was a graduation ceremony. The examples are endless. There is even a chance you had a hard time picking just one happy childhood memory. The Wall Street Journal examined the importance of childhood memories. The research determined that when children are able to recall childhood memories, they learn to cope better and have an easier time adjusting later in life. It helps them to develop their own sense of self. This allows them to reflect on their lives and see if they have stayed the same as a person or if they have changed and grown. When they recall happy memories, for example, a large happy life event that involves their family (think Kindergarten graduation ceremony), they learn to value family moments. The reason all of these internal changes occur is because children learn from their recalled memories as they mature.

There is a point in having a graduation ceremony for a child. There is lifelong value in that. Sure, it is not the only way to promote healthy, happy, and positive memories. There are so many opportunities in childhood for happiness. It is one way though. One which should not be scoffed at. How miserable are you as a person to scoff at a happy little afternoon for a child? When we value creating happy moments for our children, we are preparing them for a lifetime of living and learning.

I will do my best to make my son’s last day of Kindergarten memorable, even without a structured graduation ceremony. I always have him hold up signs on his first and last day of school. I started in pre-school. I already have my supplies to make next week’s sign. We will do something fun after I pick him up. He can choose dinner that night. I am not above having a box of goodies for him to open when he walks back through our door a First Grader. I am so proud of him for working so hard this year! Kids work hard in school. Their brains are growing, synapses firing, they create and absorb new knowledge! That is something to celebrate and encourage. What value is there in making a child feel like the work they accomplished is stupid and a waste of time? None, there is none. What will create a better world? Lifting up these tiny humans who will one day be in charge. Lifting them up high and celebrating their lives, happiness, joy, and success will only make our world a better and brighter place.

If I had my way, I would throw my children a graduation every year. I cannot wait to see how they both grow over the next school year, even if a piece of me is sad to watch my babies grow. I cannot wait to be a part of the happy childhood memories that will shape their adult selves.

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My sister-in-law gave me the sign pictured here for my birthday this year. Today, I found myself thinking about the quote, and how much I feel pulled to it today. I may not be able to single-handedly write the world into saving itself, but I will share my stories, and try my hardest to affect change when and where I can.

Yesterday my son was involved in a bomb threat. My six year old son was at his school, ready to participate in his after school club when some maniac called in a bomb threat. Right now, his school educates children pre-k through eighth grade. Someone wanted to harm, scare, evoke terror, and cause chaos for children that young. Let that sink in. The targets of this terror were small children just trying to learn and play.

I walk to pick him up every day. Yesterday, I took my time walking there with my two year old. I was working on teaching him how to stop at every parking garage and intersection. I turned it into a game. We were having fun. Completely unaware what was going on. As we walked down the stairs to the park near the school, I noticed fire trucks and commotion. I truly thought it had something to do with the construction site nearby. We started to walk by it, to get to the school. Two firefighters stopped me and told me I had to go around through the park. As we turned around, I overheard two other adults say the name of my son’s school and that it had been evacuated. This stopped me in my tracks. Things slowed down a little for me. I scooped up my little one and approached a fireman. He did not have a lot of info to give me. I asked him to please ask if there was someone who could come speak with me. I needed to get to my child.

It felt as if I stood there forever. I am sure less time passed than I think. I did my best to one hand text my husband and mom. He called me to get more details and let me know he was on his way. Another fireman came and spoke with me. I again explained my child had been in that building and I needed to know what was going on and where I could find him. He said they had been talking to the head of the school, and that the kids were sent to two different locations. He would try to see if he could get any information on what kids went where. I stopped him one more time and asked him to tell me what was going on. Why this was all happening. He turned and looked at me, he was silent for a second, then quietly said “There was a bomb threat.” I can tell you, even typing that right now brings a lump to my throat. I know my heart sank. I remember I exhaled a large amount of air as my body sank a little. I rolled my head to one side. That feeling of exasperation. I was still holding my youngest son. I did not ask any more questions at that moment. He probably should not have told me what he did, and in my brain, even in the chaos, I knew that. I think he looked at me and saw a scared mom holding another child, then he did the human thing and told me. He walked off to go investigate further. Then a lieutenant walked up and asked the parents gathered there “who is missing a child?” I raised my hand. There is that lump again. I was missing my child. He then asked each parent who raised a hand how many children they were missing. He rushed off to speak to other officials. When he came back he gave me the best information he could. The children were in two locations, but he had no way of knowing which location each child was sent to. He gave me the two spots. One was across the park, it was the closest and I started there. My son had on a bright orange shirt. It is Spirit Week and it was Athletic Clothing Day. As I began to walk across the park I saw a bright orange spot. I knew it was him! Then I saw his after school club instructor. I did not run or act scared. I continued to calmly walk up to him and said hi with a smile on my face. I was not sure how much information anyone had, especially the kids. I saw some other parents. I shared with them what the fireman had shared with me.

My son had nothing with him, of course. They left everything and just evacuated the building. The school completely evacuated in under three minutes. This was during after school activities, meaning staff and students were all over the place and not in normal situations, they were still able to get every human out incredibly quick. After we stood around for a while and I spoke to some other parents and faculty, I decided we were not going to stand around and wait for an all clear to retrieve his bag. Meanwhile, my husband had immediately jumped in a cab to get to us as fast as he could. As we walked away he arrived. We then ran into two other families we know. We took all the kids for ice cream and really had a nice time. Some calm after the storm.

When I got home and called my mom to update her I started telling her the story and I broke down. The panic had remained at bay, allowing me to function and keep my children safe. As we chatted, it suddenly came to the surface. The tears came flowing and I choked up as I tried to tell her all the details.

After the phone call, I sat down on the couch but I could not stop shaking. We started to talk to our son about what happened, the truth behind the sudden emergency. We did not want him to go to school today and overhear the word bomb, not knowing what he had really been involved with. He explained to us what happened when the alarms went off. How they did not take the elevator, they took the stairs. The stairs they took were “different and we left the building in a secret exit.” He said all the children were screaming, including him, on the way down the stairs. An hour later at the dinner table he brought it up again, telling us how he was feeling. He said he could not stop thinking about it. We answered his questions and reassured him again he was brave and we were so proud that he listened to his teachers. Everyone did an amazing job staying safe. He was safe and the school, police, and fire departments were making sure everything was ok.

I ordered him new shoes recently. The packages arrived yesterday afternoon. As I unpacked the new shoes last night, I paused for a moment. I looked at the shoes and thought about how if this had not been a threat, had it been real, and ended in pure tragedy, that I would have opened those boxes of shoes for a child that I may have lost. We do not always think about those small details in life. A new pair of shoes is just something that is needed or something that is fun. Not every threat ends with an all clear. There are parents who had new things for their child, and that child never came home. It makes me sick. It breaks my heart.

I am so angry today. I am angry that my child and all the other children had to experience this. I am angry that someone caused terror and chaos for families. I am angry that this is the world we live in. I am angry that my panic after getting home was not misplaced, because every day you see headlines about threats being followed through and people losing children and loved ones.

The other side of that anger is pure gratitude. I am thankful that it was a threat and my child got to sleep in his bed last night. I am thankful for the teachers, staff, and administrators who care for our children and do their best to keep them safe. I am thankful to all the firemen I spoke to. I am thankful to the fireman who told me what was really going on. I am thankful to the fireman who took the time to ask how many children each parent was missing. I am thankful to the police department who searched the building, are investigating this, and have been there today to keep an eye on the area. I am thankful to my mom who told me it was one hundred percent ok to breakdown once I got us home safely. I am thankful for the friends we grabbed ice cream with, helping us all return to a bit normalcy so quickly.

I sent him to school today. I even chaperoned a field study. The day progressed as usual. I overheard some children buzzing a bit about what happened yesterday. This did not stop us though. The kids are learning and laughing today. We are not being oppressed by the fear this horrible person tried to create. To say this is not in the back of my mind would be a lie. It is still there. I did overthink while in the shower this morning, wishing I could keep him home. I know that would not help him get over what he went through, it is just my maternal instinct to keep my children as safely close to me as I can. While this story may not save civilization from destroying itself, it is our story. It happened. It happens every day around the world, too often on a much more tragic scale. There is a human side to these events. There are new pairs of shoes waiting to be worn when a child arrives home safely from school.

 

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Last week I was lucky enough to be accepted as a RedTri Spoke Contributor! I am so excited about this opportunity to share my voice in their community.

In Defense of Downsizing takes a look at what happens when you look into your heart and family and make choices based on the answers you find. I explain our journey to living with less space and more time together.

I hope to remain active in this contributor community. I will always share with you whatever work I am fortunate enough to submit and have published.

Do you have any pieces that have been published on different sites, blogs, communities? Share your links below!

I have written a few times here about how I feel about the current political climate. I have written about my Women’s March experiences. I wrote about why I marched. On my other social media outlets I have written and posted rather extensively (or annoyingly to some people, sorry definitely not sorry). It is not something I plan to end anytime soon. However, I want to touch on how this is making our children feel. Or rather my six year old in particular.

Let me rewind a bit, to last summer when I was young and naive. When I thought there was literally no way this would be where our country is. Surely, enough people could see and hear what I could see and hear. Well, they did popular vote-wise, but do not get me started about my feelings on that. My then five year old told us at our kitchen table he liked (vomits a little) Donald Trump. We both were very shocked. Neither of us had ever said anything remotely nice about that garbage fire. However, being parents who have an open door policy on discussions here, we asked him why. He said matter of factly, “I think he is funny. He is like a cartoon!” We both let out a sigh of relief, this we could work with. We explained he does look and sound funny, for sure.

Then came the Clinton campaign commercial with women reciting all of the terrible, sexist, disgusting, and misogynistic comments he has said about women. I had him watch it. After, I asked him how he felt about it. I asked him if he thought those were kind things to say about women? I am a woman, his grandmas are women, his aunts are women, his cousins are women, how would he feel if we were the women Trump was speaking of? Would he be ok with mommy being called a fat pig? Making fun of my looks. He said those things were very mean and he would not like that at all. From that moment on his view on the funny sounding orange cartoon character shifted.

Fast forward to this week. During dinner we caught maybe two minutes of a Showtime documentary about the election and Trump’s campaign in particular. During those 1-2 minutes they happened to show the violence that Trump called for at his rallies. He saw protestors. He asked what they were doing. I said they are protesting Trump, like mommy did when I went to D.C. Then he saw one of them get punched in the face by a Trump supporter. Then he saw it again as they slowed it down. He kept asking questions. I frantically urged my husband to turn something else on. This was too much. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We moved on to something else.

During our bedtime ritual of all reading books together, I could tell something was bugging him. He seemed a little bothered, agitated, just not paying attention to the book. I stopped reading and asked him what was wrong.

“What if Donald Trump does bad things to our country?”

I was a bit startled, as that is not what I assumed was the problem. But I immediately knew, the brief 2 minutes had been burned in his six year old brain. I calmly explained checks and balances to him. That there are other parts of our government around to prevent the president from having all the power. He cannot do whatever he wants. He has other people to answer to.

“Ok. But what if he is sneaky about it?”

I said that is a fair point, but there are a lot of people who do not like him. A lot of people watching him. To make sure that he is not sneaky. Then I said it is nothing he has to worry about. I promise nothing too sneaky will happen. All eyes are on him.

I am sorry that show came on. I really am. I wish I had gotten it turned off a few moments sooner. My husband said to me later “he has to learn about checks and balances.” I let him know I briefly explained that. We also decided we need to be far more careful with our watching of news coverage around him in particular.

Our kids are watching and listening. They always are, we know this. The thing is, we shouldn’t have to feel like our children cannot be privy to what the Commander in Chief is doing. We shouldn’t have to explain to them the leader of our nation won’t be allowed to be too sneaky because we are all watching, but in the back of our minds not even believing that whole heartedly. I was always happy to let them be around when Obama was speaking. I never felt that he was going to make them afraid. My son never felt anxious during story time over something Obama said or did. There are times, during some of the countless mass shootings, that I turned the tv off, sure. That was more to do with the evil going on and not anything to do with how it was being responded to.

I am sad that we have to have these hushed conversations about the current situation. However, I will not stop telling him that I am protesting this. I will let him know that I am being vocal. When he has questions I will answer them and I will reassure him. I will try to shelter him from the worst of it. I will try to make him feel safe. Our children are watching. The next move is ours.

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I have been a mom for just shy of six years now. By just shy, I mean six years ago today I started going into labor. Tomorrow will officially be six years. I have learned, grown, changed, and loved a lot in these last years. These are some of the things six years of motherhood has taught me.

That I want my children to grow up in a world that values love, kindness, equality, social justice, empathy, and generosity. It can feel like an uphill battle some days. When everything around you seems filled with ugliness and hate. That doesn’t mean that I will stop wanting them to live in that kind of world. I will always strive and fight to shape that kind of world for them. I will send them out into the world with those values, hoping they too will be agents of them. 

Perfectionism is a nuisance. You cannot control everything at every moment. Life and children are unpredictable and sometimes you have to let more shit go than you care to. I cleaned up the whole kitchen and living room on Wednesday. Spotless! By that evening they had scattered toys all over the kitchen floor. They are still there. I sighed as I walked by them to start writing this. At some point I will get to it, but I am sure when I turn back around, they will have recreated the same mess. You have to let it go. 

Humility. You are not above wiping a poop covered butt (and even back, cause that shit, haha, can and does get everywhere) You will find yourself in the middle of situations you never thought you would be in. Being urinated on. Catching vomit in your hands. Getting poop under your fingernail. Changing a diaper in the trunk of your SUV in the parking lot of a pumpkin farm. Wiping up a half spilled grande pike roast from the floor of Whole Foods that your two year old knocked over when he moved your cart as you were trying to pick up the box of his minecraft figurines he dropped everywhere. So now you have minecraft toys, a box, and a giant puddle of steaming hot coffee all over the grocery store floor. These things happen on the regular. Stay humble folks, there is no prize for being prideful. You will be wiping up floor coffee in public. Or your own version of that scenario. 

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Generosity. Be as generous as you humanly can. With your love and praise for your tiny humans. With your family. With your neighbors. With complete strangers. I have seen it pay off in these last 6 years. My almost 6 year old has started random acts of kindness. He has asked me why I buy coffee for the car behind me. Why I roll down my window and hand cash to the homeless man with the sign on the street. I explain why in detail. This week at school he brought his Pokecards. Some friends didn’t have any and wanted them. He was planning on trading with another kid. He did. Then he gave out cards to his friends that did not have any. Just because he wanted to, because they wanted some cards too. He received nothing in return. Save for my adoration and praise when he told me the story.

Selflessness. You have to give so much of yourself when you are a parent. At least you are supposed to. We all do things differently. I give a lot. It can be exhausting, but then I think about how if I did things differently. If I wasn’t around to give them 200% of myself and then another piece just to be nice. I would not feel right. I want to be around and be the face in their memories when they look back at their childhood. When it all clicks about the magical times, the birthdays, the random normal days, the dinners, the laundry, the hugs, the books, the kisses, the songs, the errands, the treats, the love. You learn to put other people ahead of yourself. Which can be a hard thing to learn to do.

On that note, you also need to take care of yourself. Self-care is crucial. A trip to D.C. to march for yourself and fellow humans. A epsom salt bath. And yes, lock the damn bathroom door. Pilates in the morning. Putting them to bed a half hour early because they are bat-shit crazy that night. Ordering dinner, even though you have things to cook, they wore you out and you just don’t feel like cooking that night. Order that pizza, and bask in the glory of little to no cleanup. Self-care can be huge things, like 4 day trips, or they can be tiny little minutes throughout the day, locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes. It comes in all shapes and sizes.

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Love. True unconditional heart growing mind blowing all consuming love. It is a love like I have never experienced. Sometimes I watch their faces and I literally feel like my heart might explode with joy. Sometimes I still look at them and think “they are mine! How is that possible? How did I create these two super cool humans?” It still takes my breath away, that I get to have these two dudes in my life. I am not sure I will ever quite get over that. It is amazing.

The value of words. We talk through things a lot here. Taking time to use your words to explain things to your children will really strengthen their understanding of life. Even if you don’t feel it is sinking in in the moment. They absorb these life lessons and they take them out into the world. I tell my boys “everyone is different.” When they have questions about why someone does something differently than we do. I always explain it as best as I can, then sum it up with “that is ok because everyone is different.” When the oldest was four, some kids at school hassled him because he doesn’t like ketchup and wouldn’t eat it. He got frustrated and finally told me that he said “I don’t like it and that is ok, because everyone is different.” Words matter. Words sink in. Talking through things sinks in. They are very intelligent.

To say sorry. I am a firm believer in apologizing to them. Sometimes moms lose their shit. We do. If you say you don’t, you’re lying, sorry. It comes in different forms for each person, but we all get pushed too far sometimes. If I feel guilty that I snapped on them or was short, or yelled over something totally stupid, I will go and talk to them and say I am sorry. This is not every time they get in trouble. Sometimes they do naughty things and they have to be reprimanded. But I can feel it in my heart when I know it was more me than them. Then I do go say sorry. The oldest and I can have real conversations about human emotions at this point, and we do. We talk through it. The little one, a hug with kisses and saying “mommy loves you I am sorry” will suffice at this point.

It is ok to talk to children as if they are humans with thought processes and feelings. I try not to baby things down for them too much. I explain things to them. I am not a huge baby talk person. I have always interacted with them as the red blooded people they are. I think this has shaped them for the better. I can see it in the oldest. He has a grasp on reality. The things he can discuss blow me away sometimes. I encourage him to think through his thought process. I can explain something and then ask him what he thinks/feels/wants from that situation. I have explained to him what is happening if I think he feels anxious. I explained homelessness to him. We have had conversations about dissent. We talk about body autonomy and consent. They know the actual names of genitals. My motto is if I keep that conversation going and trust them with actual knowledge that it will pay off down the road as life gets messier.

Sometimes we cannot do it all. We just can’t. It’s a fact. We want to. We feel we need to. This leads to being burnt out. I know, I have been there. Sometimes you have to take a step back and delete some shit from your life and schedule. Sometimes you have to say no we are not going to do that. Today we are going to be lazy and relax and enjoy one another. There is nothing wrong with taking some time to just be. As a family. I am still working on this. I am not great at taking things off of my plate. It is a work in progress.

Children love their mother so much. Sometimes I can feel their love radiating off of their little bodies. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes moms just need no one to touch them for, maybe, 2 minutes. That would be nice. Then you hear their little tiny human voices saying “mommy” and they just want to nuzzle in and you realize how very loved you actually are.

My favorite most calming thing in the world is when either boy hugs me and snuggles in to the right side of my neck. I call that “the good stuff” and love when they hug me tight, their little cheek against my neck. That is my calm. That is my heart. That is my motherhood.

I am not a perfect mom. I feel like I am failing a lot. I am hard on myself. I always think I can do better (I should reread that perfectionism paragraph, huh?) I am just being honest here. I do know that I have grown so much since having children. I have become a better person and woman because of them. They have shown me where my heart actually resides. They have made me cry. They have made me laugh. They have made me angry. They have made me insanely happy. They have made me stronger. I am thankful for these last six years. I feel lucky that I get to take this journey with them. Even as I shouted to my husband last night “You are getting a vasectomy!!! I do NOT want a third baby, they are crazy right now!” Yes, they were being insane. Fighting over Mario toys, tears and yelling, all as I was trying to make their dinner plates. No one could eat until the fight was resolved. It was ridiculous. It was so loud. It was frustrating. It was all mine. My crazy, loving, obnoxious, kind, silly, frustrating, kind, hilarious, adoring, and imperfectly perfect family.

I am looking forward to where the next six years of this journey takes me. Thank you boys. Thank you Jackson for making me a mommy. Happy start of labor day my sweet boy.

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