Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Monday, February 19, 2018

Please don't tell a widow to "get over it"

I recently put sheets on my bed.

Well, it was really just putting sheets on a mattress. A mattress that hasn't had a set of sheets or a comforter on it for nearly three months. It's been 90 days since the day he left. It's been 90 days since the blood-stained carpet was ripped up and thrown out. It's been 90 days since the sheets and comforter were washed and donated to Goodwill. Not too many days after that, all the bedroom furniture was sold and the walls were painted, too.

It's been 90 days that I've been in a carpetless, empty room (save his favorite ugly chair) laying on a mattress with only a throw blanket to cover up with at night. I want to erase my memory of a day that will forever be a nightmare that plays over and over. I wish I could undo the grief my children and I have felt since that day.

Many an internet stranger have left comments on my blog posts that I have written over the past couple months. There are people out there who have never dealt with a devastating loss, yet apparently are experts when it comes to losing a spouse. One guy commented, in a roundabout way, that I needed to "deal with my grief" instead of projecting my feelings of hurt and loss on everyone else in writing my stories. One woman berated and judged me for "taking off my wedding ring too soon." One woman told me, "blah, blah your stories are boring and sad." (Strangely I feel like this bitchy, mean lady and I could've been friends maybe in an alternate life).

But I'm not going to be mad at discouraging comments people write me. I know there are life lessons one can take from internet trolls who criticize you when you are down. The troll serves a purpose here, too.

So, I will address the grief question. I am going to humor that know-it-all who has never known the reality that is walking into a room to find their spouse and best friend dead on the floor. I wonder if having to see, hear and remember daily the screams of their spouses' parents and siblings at the knowledge of that death would be part of the process of "dealing with grief." How about questioning what you could have done differently that morning 90 days ago, and if anything you did differently could have changed the fates that day. Is that "dealing with grief?" Does the every day recollection of your son's tears the morning his father died hold any weight in the "dealing with grief" category?

I want to know if pulling out every shirt, every pair of pants, every hat from the closet— and holding it close to breathe in the smell of them one more time before you donate it—if that is "dealing with grief." I wonder if it's normal to live in your husband's ratty, old college sweatshirt... morning to night. And is it ok to keep his deodorant in the vanity drawer, just so you can hang onto one last olfactory link to the person you slept next to for almost 20 years? Are those indicators of "dealing with grief?" I wonder if the woman who questioned me about my rings would care that I take my wedding rings out of the wall safe every couple of days to look at, hold and remember the days those diamonds were on my left hand ring finger. Could that be classified as "dealing with grief," too?

I wonder if choking back tears when your daughters tell you they want their daddy is "dealing with grief" ... Because I do that almost every day, too.

I would argue that any person who just lost a spouse—no matter how long they were together—will agree that "dealing with the grief" is probably more painful than having a limb chopped off and probably just as messy. The tears from "dealing with grief" can come on as fierce as a hurricane and harder to stop—but you still try to hide them with assurances of being "fine." Dealing with the grief means sometimes you have to put on a happy face for your children, your coworkers, your neighbors—because if they knew the profound sadness of your heart, their heart just might break, too.

I've connected with quite a few young widows the past 90 days. Some of them blindsided by the death of their spouse, others had time to prepare for getting their hearts obliterated. Our stories seem to vary widely—some of their husbands died of cancer, like mine. Some died from suicide. Others died from heart attacks or aneurysms. But if you really look at all of us, our stories are the same. We face an unimaginable grief every day. We try and relate the unexplainable feelings of loss to friends around us. We try to explain any and all of it to children who can't even tie their shoes yet. We see the people who tiptoe around us not to offend, or we deal with those who tell us to "just move on," or "get over it." (Note to friends of grieving widows: Telling someone whose heart was ripped and shattered to pieces to "move on" is a huge no-no).

We are "dealing with grief" every. day. we. wake. up. What it looks like will be varied. It can present as empty smiles. It can be tear-stained cheeks. It can be a laugh one minute and wailing the next. It is "why God"s alone at night or busying herself with her childrens' extracurriculars. It can be pajamas at 2 p.m. and it can be ratty sweatshirts as a daily uniform. Yes, there are countless books about coping with grief—but to be honest, there are zero rules to follow. There is no timeline for how long it will last. There are absolutely no guidelines for "dealing with grief."

We can't undo it. There is no getting over it. There may or may not be a way to move on from it. Grief is now a torturous life experience sewn into our hearts. How we move forward, carry on and exist from here out is every widow's choice. She will know, and she will decide how "dealing with grief" will look in her life.

And sometimes it may be just as simple as her putting sheets on a bed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Today, on Valentine's Day, I wear ashes

Today I wear ashes.

Today I’ll put red food coloring in the kids' mac and cheese to do something fun for my little valentines.

Today I will avoid the grocery like the plague for fear of shedding tears at the sight of rose bouquets.

Today I’ll take the dog on a walk. She will probably be the only one who kisses me today.

Today I’ll eat red and pink peanut M&Ms and smile remembering how you hated when I breathed on you after eating them.

Today I will take a valentine card to your grave because I can’t imagine not giving you one.

Today I’ll sit alone on the couch without you.

Today I wear ashes. Because I pray to God they’ll get me back to you one day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What I know about love

Wednesday is the 14th day of the second month of the year. Valentine's Day. "Love is in the air," they'll tell us.

For so many people, it means flower deliveries, fancy dinners, wine and chocolates. Lingerie and sex too, I suppose, for the lucky ones (those not in the doghouse). Restaurants will be booked, Macy's will probably sell out of red panties and heart-patterned boxers and social media will be flooded with love stories and pictures of red roses in vases atop desks.

These are the things I have enjoyed for so long too, but now they all vanish this year. It's ok I tell myself, this is part of the grief crap. It's part of that "Year of Firsts" after your husband dies, when you don't have a love anymore. I will probably look through all the sappy cards he had given me the past 19 Valentine's Days (we met a week AFTER Valentine's Day in 1998) and I'll reminisce about how we fondly remembered this day as our firstborn's due date 11 years ago. I'll envision the bouquet he sent me across the country on our very first Valentine's Day as a couple and all the chocolates he surprised me with in between. But I'll get through it. I'll be ok. It's just another day now. 

I'm not the only one feeling like this, I realize.

There are countless people out there right now, wishing February 14 would just. go. away. So many people are hurting and struggling because of lost loves. Many of them go unnoticed— behind that grocery cart as she stares at those red, cupid boxes of candy at the checkout, standing in front of the Valentine card section at Target, realizing she doesn't have anyone to buy a card for anymore. She's invisible to that couple holding hands in the parking lot, too. They don't see the knife that just pierced her heart right then.

Since my husband has been gone these past couple months, I've been writing about it. In response, I've gotten dozens of messages from widows (and widowers, too) from all over the country, sharing their stories of loss with me. I don't know why. I am the last person on Earth qualified to give any advice, pep talks or suggestions on anything related to life in general, really. But still, they continue to reach out. I joined a young widows group online. One story is more heartbreaking than another. One widow's anniversary was Valentine's Day. Some of these women and the stories of how their husbands were taken away, make my story look like an episode of Punky Brewster with a hint of cancer thrown in. My heart aches for each of them, especially their children— many younger than mine —begging for answers about where daddy went. I know too well, the lack of answers that hold that silence.

The heartbreak is palpable through the emails. The keyboard is usually stained with tears after the exchange. So many of them frozen with fear, with grief, with anxiety and heartache for their future and for their children. Many of them not knowing the best way to carry on. All of them wishing it were a nightmare to wake up from.

I don't have answers for any of it. I'm still figuring out the way, too. I only tell them to lean on friends and family and people in their lives who offer help —knowing full well that it's not easy to do. I wonder so often if these women are alone in their grief, maybe they don't have people to lift them up and help with their burdens. Maybe she doesn't have any friends to bring her a pot of soup or take her kids for the afternoon so she can cry alone. I really don't know how to help these new people in my life.

So, I write. I'm writing you, asking YOU to help them. There are so many heartbroken people that need kindness, encouragement, an ear to bend. So many are hurting every day—not just on this made-up, Hallmark card day of flowers and candy—but every single morning they wake up without their lovers. So this Valentine's Day, please, look for them. Be that kindness, that encouraging word, that ear. Be the love they feel that day.

My 8-year-old daughter was humming this morning while coloring. I stuck my head around the corner to hear her better. I don't know how she came across this song, but I smiled when I recognized it as The O'Jays' version of "Love Train." I laughed when she sang it out of tune, "People all over the world, join hands, start a love train, love train."

Out of tune or not, the message couldn't have been more clear if it were spelled out on a conversation candy heart. LOVE. Pass it on.

This blog was originally published here at on Feb. 13, 2018, where it was requested to run exclusively.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Wrapped up in Daddy

My son hasn't said much or talked much since his father's death a couple months ago. The counselor said he's at the age where he will be closed off. He may be angry or cranky at times, likely for no reason. He is old enough to understand this heartbreak, but doesn't know quite how to process it. He's also a pre-teen, which means these would all be normal characteristics that I'd be getting used to anyway. But I don't like when he doesn't laugh. I don't like when he doesn't smile. I don't like that he doesn't talk or ask questions about his dad. 

The girls talk about daddy all the time. One of the twins is certain that he sits next to us at mealtimes. She insists on giving me one extra hug and kiss each night, telling me, "that one is for daddy." My little one draws daily pictures of her daddy as an angel, and even wrote him a thank you note for coming to his funeral (I'm doing a kickass job at raising polite people over here). She told me the other day, "I really want a daddy," to which I didn't have an answer.

They miss him so much. I do too. And I say, "I miss your daddy," so many times a day that I probably don't even know I'm uttering it out loud. One of the twins told me, "Mom, quit saying that all the time." I feel like I just want to keep him here, keep his memory fresh for us so that he doesn't fade like some worn-out T-shirt.

Speaking of T-shirts, I have been hanging onto a pile of his old shirts in a corner of the closet that I knew I didn't want sitting in a heap forever. His college shirts, his workout shirts, some shirts he wore to bed. Some friends of ours said they would have them made into a blanket. While I hated the thought of cutting into the fabric of the shirts he wore regularly and the scraps just thrown out, I agreed.

What resulted is a beautiful tapestry of my children's father that I know we will cherish forever. All the pieces of who he was, are woven together in a cozy quilt for my children to snuggle under - his favorite pastime. There's the T-shirt he wore to every country concert we ever attended - that thing could have walked around by itself. There's the green Irish shirt he wore to mow the grass or work out in. There's the red Coca-Cola T-shirt he wore out boating all the time. There are several firefighter T-shirts from the days he volunteered at the firehouse. There is that one navy Notre Dame shirt that touts the football team's undefeated 2012 season (undefeated until they got spanked in the championship game by Alabama). He still wore that shirt proudly every weekend though. There's that smaller, blue Colorado Rockies T-shirt he wore most days when he lost the weight after he got sick that sparks different memories for us, too.

All these pieces of him, memories of him, sit close to us here in the living room now. We call it the Daddy Blanket. Any time they want to feel close to him, any time they want to be near him, they cuddle with this blanket. For them, it's like having him here to watch movies with us. It's like he's near while they build a sofa fort with the blanket ontop. They all want a corner of this blanket.

I caught my son under this blanket the other day watching TV. He wasn't talking. He wasn't laughing. But I did catch him smiling. 

This post is also published here at Today Show Parents.

Love in every T-shirt

Friday, February 2, 2018

Cherish that Superbowl husband

I was cutting coupons today when I noticed how all the manufacturers are selling the Superbowl foods pretty hard right now. Hot dogs, chips, salsas and dips—they made my mouth water, but also my mind wander. It traveled back to Superbowl 2003 when my husband and I were only married a couple months. We went to a party with a bunch of other young and innocent 20-somethings who only had football, beer and chili on their minds for a day.

I remember he laughed with his friends, ate tons of chili, drank booze, bet on the game—basically just enjoyed life that day. He and the guys even went outside for an impromptu football toss in the snow. I remember feeling a little slighted that he was doing all that instead of really paying attention to me. He didn't really "check on me" to see if I was having fun. He didn't bring me a drink or ask if I wanted chips. I don't know if I was pouty toward him that night—probably, because everything was about ME back then, you know.

My perspective has obviously changed over the years. I suppose it's a damn shame it's too late now.

Early February usually means a lot of sarcastic lamenting on social media from wives whose husbands will be preoccupied with the game, with the guys, with food. We'll see the silly memes and read the Twitter jokes about that age-old Superbowl husband and wife dynamic. I'm all for jokes—we were that couple too. But if I could make just one request this Superbowl Sunday to all those wives/partners out there, please hear me out.

Let him drink beer. Let him shove pizza in his face and laugh with the guys. Let him be present with his friends for the length of that game. Watch him, too—but not with glaring or resentful eyes—and really see him. Don't see him as having "more fun" than you or not doing his household share or not playing with the kids. See the gift that is HIM, being here. Being alive. The ability to eat, drink, laugh and be present here, right now, are unexplainable gifts. Cherish the beauty in that stubble on his face that you get to kiss on later. Smile at the greatness of his dad bod—even if his is a belly that has ingested too many Doritos, because believe it or not, you are lucky you get to snuggle it later. Listen to and enjoy his laughter. Look and really see the person you are fortunate enough to share life with and have next to you, warm in bed each night.

Acknowledging the realness of your partner, flaws and all, will probably make you a more grateful, happier person. A person who won't have any regrets, especially when he's no longer here. Regrets like how you wished you had just one more Superbowl to soak in everything that made him HIM.

This post was also published Feb. 3, 2018 at Perfection Pending by Meredith Ethington.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I can't 'pray,' and that's OK

I wrote this post tonight—intermittently between helping the kids with homework, wiping my dog's vaginal blood from carpets (for the humor in that, please read my previous blog), attending my son's indoor soccer game and meeting with a Craigslist lady who bought a card table from me. So forgive me if it's all over the place.

OK, I'm not a big "feelings-y" person. I don't like hugging all that much and I'm not great with emotions and crap. I never was. I was raised Catholic and so with that came a lot of praying and repenting and feeling guilty and kneeling and all that. My extended family is pretty big on prayers —from Indiana to the Holy Land and back— boy do they love those prayers! But to be honest, I really don't know how to pray. Yes, I know how to lay in bed and give thanks for my kids, who are healthy and beautiful. I recite the bedtime prayer to them at night. You better believe every time the thermostat dips below freezing, I'm praising the heavens above that I have a house with heat to sleep in. But other than that, I'm not great at that thing called "Prayer."

I go to church every Sunday, and drag the kids along even when they just want to be in their jammies playing iPads. But I persist. I'm determined to get some meaning, some purpose from this twisted ass life I'm in right now. I want to be better at mothering, at friendships, at prayer—but every Sunday I feel numb, like a person simply going through the motions inside that church. I'm standing, kneeling, sitting up—trying as hard as I can to focus. I'm doing my best to get something out of it other than the free donuts afterwards. I don't know if any amount of holy water on this old girl will ever be enough to soften and heal this cracked and broken heart that only dwells on sadness, resentment and grief right now.

That was until I got a sign.

The past couple weeks I have been feeling so angry that I'm here doing this alone and he's not here. I have questioned my faith a lot, wondering why my husband got this shit hand—what did he do to deserve death so early? Why couldn't it have been me?

Then last night after the kids were in bed, I took the dog out. I stood in the front yard staring into my bedroom window, where my husband's last breaths were taken. And I got angry. I started wondering maybe there's nothing after we're gone. Maybe everything is here in this life, and we only have this brief amount of time to live and love. How unfair and sad and crappy is that? Then I started to think that if that's true, then my husband is just laying there in that box—being nothing anymore. I started sobbing. I kept saying over and over that it wasn't fair. This isn't fair. I went to bed crying and mad at the world, mad at God, mad at myself for so much time wasted in this stupid, unfair life.

This morning on the way to school, I got the usual amount of questions, but especially about dad today. They always want to know everything I don't have answers for—where is he? what is he doing? can he see us? are dogs up there, too? One of the twins said she hopes that she will turn back into a child when she dies so that daddy will recognize her. I told her that daddy will absolutely know her no matter how old she is. I told them that maybe daddy would be able to see our baby that I miscarried several years ago. This was big news to them, and they wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl and what was its name and how old was he or she. I told them I didn't know, but maybe daddy knows now.

It wasn't 45 minutes later that I got a text from a friend I haven't seen all that recently. She's one of those praying friends. She'll pray up a storm for everyone in Kentucky no matter who they are or what they believe. She texted me, "...I was praying for you this morning and the kids. I just saw Matthew in heaven with a child and he was so happy. Did you have a miscarriage?... I believe he is up there with that child and they are waiting on all of you."

Like I said, I don't like feelings and mushy crap. I'm skeptical and I'm a big 'Negative Nelly' most days. But my eyes welled up with tears because I don't know how at that moment she would have known I needed to know about him. I needed to know he was OK and that I was wrong about him just being in that box six feet under. All the tears of sadness and anxiety I cried last night must have been heard.

I can't pray to save my soul y'all, but I can sure as hell cry. After reading her text, I looked at the prayer card I taped to the fridge last week—it came in the mail from a complete stranger. It reads, "Tears are prayers too. They travel to God when there are no words to speak."

That's when I realized—I'm killing this shit called "Prayer."

This post was excerpted and published here at Today Parents on Feb. 1, 2018.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Toasting to a birthday in Heaven

"Dear Daddy,
I hope you have a good heaven birthday... Love you."

We are sending birthday cards to Heaven this morning. Today would have been my husband's 42nd birthday.

He and I have been celebrating our January birthdays together for the past 20 years. Twenty years of him rubbing it in that I was two weeks older than him and he would always be younger than me— and he was right. He will always be Forever 41. We had two decades of his favorite bananas foster cake, steak birthday dinners out with friends, wine toasts, terrible surprise parties, homemade birthday cards made from construction paper and birthday balloons delivered to his office. Let's not forget the countless "backrub coupons" and "vouchers for peace and quiet" that piled up in his sock drawer over the years that he never got to redeem. I'd tell him, "it's the thought that counts."

Yes, we will sing the birthday song at his grave—that's where we decide he might be able to hear us best—and leave him cards and balloons. We're going to tell him how we've been doing (he's not going to like that Mia has a new second grade boyfriend or that Payton got in trouble with the teacher last week). We're going to tell him that Brayden got straight As on his report card again and went snowboarding for hours on a recent snow day. We're going to tell him that an anonymous person from our church community did something really huge and generous for our family and I guarantee it's because of who HE was and the legacy he left here, so we'll tell him we're eternally grateful that he was ours.

Even though I've got a headache the size of Texas today and would like nothing better than to cry in bed all day... I've decided we're NOT going to be sad today. We've decided to celebrate his birthday. I tell the kids we're going to do all the things daddy would have wanted to do today.

So after leaving the cemetery later on, we're going across the street to his favorite family-owned restaurant, where they serve big steaks and smoked ribs. They have a couple of his favorite bourbons in there, too. They make kiddie cocktails with cherries in them and they wipe the crumbs from your table between courses. We decide we better warn them we are big crumb-makers.

Daddy loved laughing. It might be why he found me in the first place. We loved laughing at anything —stand up comedians, The Office episodes, his friend's Michael Jackson jokes or houseboat trip storytellings —his laughter was contagious. If he laughed, you laughed.

He loved watching scary movies—even though he would cover his eyes through the entire movie—he was always up for something scary. (We didn't sleep for weeks after seeing Insidious).

Daddy loved making homemade chocolate chip cookies —eating half the raw cookie dough and of course making a big mess in the kitchen. It was one of his biggest challenges —getting just the right amount of chocolate chips in there but still get the cookie to be soft and gooey. Lord, did he love chocolate chip cookies.

Daddy also loved going to the gym and working out, but we decide that maybe Sunday should remain a day of rest, so we're just going to leave that one alone today.

Daddy used to love having his car washed, so we're going to take his car to get spiffed up and shining bright for his birthday. Bye, bye backseat Fruit Loops and broken crayons, we're headed to Johnny's Car Wash today. His will be the cleanest car cruising along the interstate next to all the dirt and snow covered trucks on the road.

He loved the beach and boating, but since we can't do those things in January, we've decided to wait and do those on his half-birthday in July.

Above all else, there was one thing your daddy loved to do, I tell them. Daddy loved snuggling his kids. Whether it was taking a nap on the couch together, reading a book or letting the girls brush and put barrettes in his hair while being forced to watch a Disney movie, this was his number one thing to do. There was no place he'd rather be than cozy under a blanket with his kids any day.

Nope, we're not going to be sad today. We're going to celebrate Daddy's birthday with all things HIM. We're going to laugh, watch scary movies, cuddle on the couch, eat well and binge on chocolate chip cookies all night. We're going to toast the shit out of some bourbon and Shirley Temples and raise our glasses to the heavens—"To FOREVER 41."

Happy Birthday to our dear, Daddy Matthew. We love you to Heaven and back.

This post was also published here at Perfection Pending on Jan. 22, 2018.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Today's descriptors: Bleeding and hanging on

For those of you out there that tell me you enjoy reading my posts because I am "real, raw, open and honest" about life... this one's for you. If you do NOT enjoy real or raw, please close the blog now. You have been warned, because I'm about to get pretty real here.

Ok, some may remember that I wrote in a post recently how I was "literally hanging on by a thread" some days… and I was actually criticized from internet strangers worldwide for many issues it seems, but one guy questioned my grammatical correctness in using the word "literally” to construct that sentence. I was told that there was no possible way for me to "literally" hang on by a thread.

Well, my dear internet stranger who called me grammatically stupid, I'm about to make you eat crow.

Let's just start out by saying that turning 40-something last week didn't seem so bad. For like a day. But pretty much after that, it's been kind of sucking. Let me just say that when you get your period on your birthday, you may think it's a sign telling you, "hey girl - you still got this whole womanly, motherly, healthy childbearing thing going on girl! woot! celebrate it!"

But no. It's not. Because that was like eight or nine freaking days ago, and I don't know if this is like a precursor to getting old lady uterus stuff, but I've been bleeding pretty solid now for a scary long time and I'm starting to think this sh*t aint right.

I'm not new to this friends, I've been doing this since I was 13, so I'm not joking when I say that nobody should be losing this much blood from her hoo-ha, ever. Not even with the birth of my last child five years ago—she came out at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday and by 9 a.m. Thursday morning, I high-fived the nurse, put on a panty liner and I went home. Meantime, this past week has been like a never-ending battle scene from Braveheart up in here.

And just to make sure things don’t get too boring, our dog has apparently reached her womanhood too—because she started bleeding this week as well. So I’ve seriously been following a German Shepherd around the house dabbing her peepee and wiping up blood spots with Resolve carpet cleaner wherever she goes. She sometimes goes on the brand new white carpet I had put in my bedroom last week, too.
So there was that.

Meantime, I think my kids can smell fear—or blood—one of the two, and have gone batsh*t crazy with each other, fighting like pit bulls. I barely have a voice from scolding and time-outing and reprimanding this week. Today the drama was over Legos. Because the 742 sets of Legos we have upstairs aren't possibly enough to share. I hear some yelling and a slam of a door. I get my intimidating mom stomp on up the stairs and bang on the locked door telling them to "open this door at once!"

That's when I see that all three girls are behind me and one of them has slammed the bedroom door shut locking all of us out in the hallway. Now, I know that all houses have those little, skinny key things that you put ontop of a door frame for just such an occasion, and if Matthew were here, he'd know where it was or figure this out because I can't find any such key in this entire house. I stomp back downstairs all the while telling them they "messed with the wrong mom today," and "nobody is getting snacks for a week!" I come back with a skinny nail and try jamming it in there—seriously why is a bedroom lock on a house built in 1995 so damn hard to crack? I realize now if there's ever a home invasion, everyone needs to make it behind Payton's Fort Knox bedroom door. I will call this the Panic Room now.

Still locked. I need a breather. I google how to break in doors. My browser still fresh from looking up "menstrual synchronization with dogs," probably. At this point, my body has no blood left in it and I'm running on just plasma and Baileys/coffee. Not to mention Web MD is wondering what the hell is going on in northern Kentucky after seeing my search, “42-year-old woman bleeding” for several days now.

I brilliantly remember that the locked bedroom door is connected to the outside second-floor balcony. After ruling out trying to shoulder-hold one of the girls to climb up to the balcony, I triumphantly tell the girls to wait inside because mommy is going to climb up over the balcony outside and into the room. I retrieve the 8-foot ladder from the garage and prop it up under the porch and get to the top "DO NOT STAND" rung. I stand on it. I'm now grabbing onto the snow-covered porch railing spindles and readying myself to throw a leg onto the balcony. I'm a little short, so this is going to take some major upper body strength. I ponder on the last time I was at the gym. It was not recent, friends. Just before I hoist myself up and over, I see the now-evident dry rotted spindles I'm holding onto and I calculate my weight and the speed at which I could pull myself over before said spindles snap off and send me backward onto the snow-covered concrete below.

For a second, I picture myself laying half dead (wondering about which panties I have on and the amount of blood I've already lost and how I couldn't possibly spare anymore) and whether the girls would know my phone passcode to call anyone or if they'd just go back to playing Legos. So I'm hanging off my second story balcony with only one leg touching the ladder realizing that maybe I probably shouldn't die doing this today. There's been enough bloodshed between the dog and me today. Maybe the locked door is just going to have to get the better of me this time. I decide to let this battle go.

And THAT, my internet grammar police friend, is how a woman can LITERALLY be hanging on by a thread some days. Do not ever question my use of that word again.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is how we can teach our children to change the world

My 10-year-old son recently taught himself how to play Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano. He only took piano lessons for a few months last year, but after his daddy got sick and things got complicated around here with one-parent logistics to and from piano, soccer, basketball, his sister’s gymnastics and just everyday life, well, he couldn’t go anymore. But he still tinkers around on the piano every day.

He gets straight As at school. He is a pretty good goalie for his soccer team, and he even scored 8 points for his basketball team last weekend. He can solve any Rubik’s Cube you put in front of him, and he could probably tell you anything you want to know about the solar system. He creates hand-written thank you cards and he is usually pretty well-behaved. He’s a good kid. I keep thinking he’s going to change the world someday, I don’t know how, but he could.

I’m not saying this to brag. Stay with me.

Recently, one of my writing pieces online got a lot of nasty comments directed toward me — and my children. A serious amount of downright hateful, judgmental comments were written about us. Being a writer, especially a writer who puts her words out there for the world to see, you need to have thick skin. I’ve got that, trust me. I usually try to make intelligent, dignified comments in response to feedback on my blog. I sometimes even refrain from responding altogether and move on with my day. But once someone brings my children into a fray of negative, false or wicked assumptions, all bets are off.

One woman I have never met— someone who knows not a speck of information about my life —called my kids “bastard children” in a comment. My four little people, whose hearts are shattered after losing their father to cancer not more than two months ago, are apparently despicable in her eyes. I know nothing of this woman — I don’t know if she is married, has children, has ever lost anyone significant or if she even has a f*cking dog (my guess would be no, but maybe a snake though). I know it would be wrong of me to judge her in turn for making that comment, so I won’t. However, I don’t think I would be far off in saying if this is how a woman feels about innocent, unknowing children, there is no doubt a special place warming up for her someday when she meets her demise.

Another man commented that I shouldn’t have had kids—or at least not “so many” of them, if I “can’t control them.” Again, someone I’ve never met and who has never seen my son’s elated high fives after getting the winning basket at the tournament game, a person who has never looked into the pure, loving brown eyes of my daughters is basically telling me they probably shouldn’t have existed. That’s not a stretch; he really was not a fan of children as evident in his spiteful comment.

I know what everyone will say to all this, “Why do you care what strangers think?” “Don’t let them bother you,” they’ll tell me. So let me explain the reason: I’ve got just enough crust on this heart of mine, just enough disappointment in humanity to buffer the blows I get in life, but my children don’t. But it’s the thought that these types of people—cold, uncaring, heartless people—exist in this world that bothers me. That many of these people have children of their own who they are (with actions and words) teaching to be mean. That is what bothers me.

These people exist and we most likely interact with them unknowingly every day—they may be our coworkers, store clerks, bus drivers, CEOs or waiters—they are anyone and everyone in the world. Some of them are bound and determined to be cruel, and in turn people around them learn it and feed from it, too. It creates a ripple effect where an entirely new generation of cold, unkind, nasty people are unleashed out into the world. That is what is so hard for me to digest.

When I was growing up, my mother used to say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” She used that phrase so much I thought it was an Indiana state law. Today, where comments and social interactions are a simple click away behind a smartphone or anonymous computer screen, I often wonder about the gratification people get by being nasty to one another— usually at the expense of a person’s feelings, their self-worth, their heart breaking. Why is it acceptable to step on another human being under the guise of “opinion sharing” or “freedom of speech?” Shouldn’t we be practicing and teaching our children self-control, tact and a genuine respect for other people, no matter their differences in opinion? Maybe mom’s old saying should be a law.

I look at my son playing that piano every day after school and, with sadness, I wonder how anyone could already have disparaging words for him. Who could have negative comments about a boy who only knows the life experiences of riding bikes, building forts and walking his dog? How could anyone see him as anything less than I see him— a child who still thinks people are nice and there is still good in the world?

I know that soon—sooner than I can blink, he’s going to be out there in this world with a lot of mean people. People are going to tear him down, put him down, criticize him or berate him. I don’t like to think about what nasty comments my daughters will also hear someday either. But I know it’s coming. What makes me so uneasy is that I will never be able to shield them from it. Nobody with children ever can.

But you know what? We can teach our kids to be kind. We can teach them not to be critical of someone. We can teach them to smile at a stranger rather than scowl at them. We can teach them that every opinion doesn’t always need to be heard, especially if it’s one that can damage a heart. We can teach them, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.

Those will be the little people who grow up to be kind, respectable adults. Those will be the people who know their words can either harm or heal. Those will be the people who will choose to share words of love over words of hate. Those will be the kind of people who can change the world.

This post was published Jan. 12, 2018, here at, where it was requested to run exclusively.

Monday, January 8, 2018

When your kid calls you old on your birthday

Another birthday has come for me. Another year that I'm running from my 40s.

My son told me I’m old today. Wince.

I guess for a 10-year-old, anyone older than a teenager seems ancient. I remember telling my mom the same thing when I was his age. My mom, with her 1980s shoulder pads and ruffled jean skirts, worked hard to take care of four kids and a household while juggling a secretarial job. She was 40. I never could have imagined that in a blink I’d be the one with four children just trying to keep up with much of the same… minus the shoulder pads.
Getting old is tough to swallow. Literally – I almost choked on a piece of celery the other day and wondered if I had good enough panties on for when the EMT guys showed up to resuscitate me. Things aren’t as perky as they were in my 20s and 30s, my skin has seen better days (sun damage from years of baking in the sun with baby oil). The fabulous metabolism I once knew has long since packed up and took with it my ability to eat an entire pepperoni pizza and a root beer float without gaining a pound. It’s hard to lean over and put on socks some days without feeling like my back might go out –too many attempts at roundoff back handsprings at bars, I think. The miniskirts, cut out tops and butt-showing-shorts young girls wear now don’t look as cool as I thought they did many moons ago when I smuggled them places to change into after mom dropped us off. I find myself swearing my daughters will never leave the house looking like that.
I miss those mix tapes
My son can't believe there weren't any cell phones when I was his age. We actually looked out the car windows and counted cows on road trips – in the back hatch of a station wagon most definitely not seatbelted, flailing around like rag dolls. No iPads back then, son. We played in tree houses, built backyard forts and traded Betty Boop stickers. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and made up 17 different ways to play tag with our friends. We roller-skated up and down the driveway and drank watered down Kool-Aid and generic vanilla creme cookies for snacks. There were no organic, gluten-free, sugarless, colorless snack options when you played at a friend's house. If you were allergic to it, you just didn't eat it. 

We watched the Smurfs on Saturday mornings and we learned all our life lessons about drugs and premarital sex from ABC after-school specials. We walked door to door for five hours to sell one box of chocolate bars for 50 cents apiece. Our moms sewed together our ladybug, bumble bee or Raggedy Ann Halloween costumes and we used old pillowcases to trick or treat. 

We sat inches away from a thousand-pound wooden box on the floor to watch The Cosby Show before bed on Thursday nights. We grew up with posters of Ricky Schroder and Corey Haim on the wall. I’d listen to my jambox all night to catch a Rick Astley song on the radio that I only managed to tape half way through on a cassette. We even had to stick our fingers into those cassette holes to rewind it back up if the tape came undone.
Prehistoric times, my son thinks. I may as well have told him I grew up with dinosaurs in the back yard.
I tried to get my son to watch Back to the Future with me, telling him this was the biggest blockbuster when I was his age. There's something about 1980s Michael J. Fox that makes me feel warm and fuzzy, like the world is still ok. My kid tells me it looks, "old timey." Ugh. I try to rock out to "Careless Whisper" to my childrens' blank stares. They act like they don't know me when I pretend a drum solo to Air Supply's "Makin Love Out Of Nothing At All." One time, before a soccer game last fall, I blared "Eye of the Tiger" on the car radio. I tried to tell the kids this anthem is the reason people win games, it’s how they get excited about their potential and accomplish their dreams of becoming a champion. It’s how you beat Apollo Creed! I yell at them. Unimpressed, my son declares, “this music sucks.”
He forces me to realize these are all things I mused as a 10-year-old, too. I hated my parents’ music (the tune of Rockin’ Robin, anything Buddy Holly or Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons is still like nails on a chalkboard to me). I remember thinking how ancient my parents seemed when they told us about dime store bubble gum and baseball cards. Mom used to tell me how surprised they were to get a block of wood and a single candy cane wrapped up on those late-1950s Christmas mornings. They wore saddle shoes and thought Ricky Nelson was dreamy. I will never act as old-fashioned as them, 10-year-old me promised. I’ll let my kids wear whatever they want and let them go to sleepovers whenever. I remember telling myself I’d never say, “when I was young…” to my children. I vowed all those impossible promises that adolescents declare.
So here I am, one year older– definitely not wiser. I  still fumble through parenthood basically repeating all the things my mother told me 30 years ago. I can’t help but reminisce about the good ol’ days to my children like some grandpa on a front porch rocker. I tell them about a time when life was simple – back when we had a (sane) actor for a president, when my allowance was $1 a week and I babysat for $2 an hour. Yes kids, once upon a time there was a pop star named Michael Jackson and he was bigger than Justin Bieber – but probably made the headlines just as often. I tell my kids about how I never complained about what was on my dinner plate, and if I did I probably went to bed hungry. They hear about how I stuffed books in my pants before my dad came up the stairs to give me the whooping I deserved for sass-mouthing my mother. I tell them how lucky they are to get a brand new pair of shoes, because when I was little, the only “new” crap I got was a gently used training bra from the girl up the street.
This all sounds familiar, I think, recalling the stuff my mom said to me back in my bedroom in 1986. This is how that beautiful circle of life of parenthood goes around, and it’s what is going to happen to my son someday when he has his own kids. Maybe his kids will laugh because there were no flying cars or microchip computers inside everyone’s heads “back then.” He'll probably be uncool because we weren't able to clone our dead pets or something. I suppose they’ll say he’s old-timey because space travel to and from Mars wasn't possible in 2018. I know he’ll get his someday.
I just hope I get to see him wince on HIS 42nd birthday, when his kids tell him how bad his music sucks, that his movies are lame, his clothes are ugly and that he's old, too!

Cheers to 42 y'all.