Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Saying goodbye to that miserable me

My son and I were tossing football in the yard the other day and he caught me off guard after he ran straight for me and slammed the football into my stomach. This was his classic quarterback handoff and I was supposed to run with itwhich of course, I nailed. Then he said, "dang mom, your abs are rock hard!" After laughing because my 12-year-old son actually noticed his mom's physique, I told him, "damn straight boy."

But a few years back, this exchange couldn't have been farther from reality.

When I met my late husband Matthew in college, I was about 115 pounds. And it was probably after eating a cheeseburger and three amaretto sours. I used to run miles around campus every day, did cartwheels and handsprings at parties and bought tiny low-rise jeans from clothing stores WITHOUT EVEN TRYING THEM ON. Ahhhh. Youth and metabolism were on my side back then. It was a dreamy time.

Over the years, I had always been able to keep a steady weight. I wouldn't say I was ever overweight but after three pregnancies, stress from mothering four little ones and having a slight addiction to Oreos there's no way that 115 was going to be sustained. And it wasn't. Just before Matthew got sick, when we had some rough times and we were in counseling for the umpteenth time... I started getting umm... thick. And the scale at the doctor's office didn't lie either. Some people didn't notice it too much, and I joked about having "winter weight that stuck on for the summer" but I felt dumpy and big.

I had given up. At pretty much everything my communication with my husband in my marriage, my patience (or lack of) with my kids, and especially my body. I just didn't care anymore.

So I made brownies. Like EVERY freaking day. I'd say they were for the kids but I easily ate half the pan. I looked up new dessert ideas on Pinterest and I made ice cream shakes after dinner. I'd eat Entenmanns chocolate donuts in the morning and sneak into the kids' Halloween candy after they went to bed (Butterfingers = my Kryptonite). If I felt bad about myself before, I was really feeling shitty by this point. My back hurt, I hadn't run in ages and I couldn't stand looking at myself in a mirror. I hated me. Not even the Walgreens clinic nurse who performed my health insurance screening that month could wake me up with talk of "bad cholesterol" and the hideous number she wrote down for my weight.

I'm the big, miserable pumpkin at that party.
Meantime, Matthew was working out at the gym with his buddy pretty often and was trying to stay healthy (he'd been losing weight around this time, which we thought was because he was going to the gym but we'd find out soon cancer was looming around the corner). And even though he and I weren't on great terms every day, he'd still always ask me if I wanted to go with him. I said no. He tried to help me make myself feel better. He saw the misery that I tried so much to hide. At the back of my head I knew nobody was going to get me out of this funk except me. But I just didn't want to. It was almost like punishing myself for feeling like the inadequate wife, mother, daughtereverything that I was convinced I was. If the rest of me was going to be shit, so was my physical body, I thought.

Matthew and I didn't talk about it much (we didn't talk about much of anything then) and his work kept him busy and the kids kept me busy. It wasn't until a beach vacation we took alone that December where I saw pictures of myself that I didn't recognize. I begged him to delete them from his phone. How had I been I ok looking and feeling this miserable every day? Not long after that, he got his diagnosis and life went into even more of a tailspin for us. At that point, food continued to serve as a comfort to fixing every aspect of my life that was broken.

It wasn't until last fall, a year after Matthew died, that I finally realized I didn't want to continue that way. I didn't want to be frumpy and unhappy and feeling like crap every day as the sole parent to four kids who deserved a better mom. I also knew I didn't want to be alone forever. Because after my kids are grown and gone someday, I don't like the thought of withering away alone and unhealthy in a bed covered in Chips Ahoy crumbs (Hey, we've all seen My 600-pound Life, so that's totally possible).

I started running again. I started going to the gym and lifting weights. I tried so hard to eat healthy and drink water. I tried to have self control when I wanted cake or brownies with the kids. I won't lieI might have had a bite or two but I had come a long way from eating half the pan.

I'm down 15-20 pounds from those cringe-worthy pictures. I still try to run or swim every day. I go to the gym when I can. Some days I don't feel like doing anything. I still have my weaknesses (peanut M&Ms) and I cheat (because martinis and Moscato still have sugar in them). It would be easy to go back to inactivity, poor eating habits and misery, sure. But I don't want to go back to that big, unhappy girl. Being healthy was a choice I thought my kids deserved. It was definitely something I wished I would have done when Matthew was still alive because he deserved a happy, healthy wife. But mostly I can admit, I deserve it. We all deserve to be our best healthy, happy selves.

And being fit is also a sure way to adequately nail a football handoff from your son.

Won't choose misery again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The butterfly and me

So, lately I've been talking to butterflies. And birds. Sometimes maybe a praying mantis or two, I won't lie.

Let me just say that most people who have lost a loved one cannot deny they have looked for signs that might tell them the whereabouts of the loved one who is gone. We scrutinize cardinals that fly into our front yard trees. We stop and stare at butterflies. We study ladybugs who happen to appear on the windowsills. Any tiny inkling that our loved one is near or watching over us, you bet your ass we're going to look for it. It might seem ridiculous—looking at birds in the yard —seeing them as anything more than a damn bird looking for a worm out here. 

But somehow it makes us feel good. It makes us feel safe. It makes us feel watched over. It gives us a fraction of peace about not having our physical person here with us anymore. It's like hearing a comforting, "I'm here," from a ghost.

For me, as I near two years since the death of my husband, I'm always looking. You see, I never got a goodbye. I woke up one Sunday morning in November and he was gone. I will forever regret that I never got a chance to say goodbye.

So after my late husband's death, the kids and I moved to a new house, closer to school friends and more playmates than we can count. In the year and a half we've been here we've seen a beautiful red cardinal flying around in the trees surrounding our house so much that you'd think I was fertilizing the yard with cardinal birdseed or something. The kids gasp "LOOK, there he is!" when it perches on the deck just outside the window while we eat dinner. "Daddy's checking on us," they'll say to me. I nod and smile, sometimes with tears in my eyes, because I believe it too.

Then we have the butterflies. Last fall, at one of my son Brayden's last soccer tournament games of the season, I wore sunglasses despite the clouds to hide tears because his daddy wasn't there to see his goalkeeper son play. He'll never be here to cheer him on again. Then I felt like he wanted to prove me wrong. Because during that game, a butterfly started to fly around him in the goal. It was just hovering around him —almost pestering him. I looked around, pointing, "Does anyone else see that butterfly!?"

This summer when I took Brayden on a lake trip with his buddies they all went cliff diving off the rocks into the water below. Watching and filming his jump on my phone, I watched a yellow butterfly float around my son as he climbed up to the top and it stayed there and flitted around him for a while until he jumped. "Look at that butterfly hovering around Brayden!," I yelled to everyone on the boat.

Sometimes it's hard being at the grocery store. No amount of time as a widow will ever erase the fact that I was a grocer's wife and my husband lived and breathed and loved those stores. So being in there some days is like a little gut punch. Today I walked out of the grocery store defeated, missing him—then I got in the car and closed the door. A little brown butterfly was flying around the console and flitting against the closed windows. "How the hell did you get in here," I said, apparently to what I now believe is my husband. I laughed at myself for thinking a butterfly was a dead man and I opened the window to let him out.

Then tonight after fixing and cleaning up dinner, after homework and breaking up fights, I was sitting on the pool deck for the only five minutes I had alone before I commenced my taxi service to gymnastics and soccer practice. Another mundane, exhausting day without him in the books, I thought. And then a monarch butterfly almost divebombed my head and flew up and down the pool deck, flitting around me in circles, skirting the top of the water and landing not far from my feet. He just sat there, pulsing his beautiful wings —for what seemed hours but was probably only a minute. "You again?" I said to him. "God I miss you," I whispered a damn butterfly. I had been thinking all morning if I've been talking enough about daddy to the kids. Do I tell them enough stories? Do they want to hear me tell them daddy's jokes or funny stories?
I kept staring at this butterfly, for what, I think? An answer? This is ridiculous. 

"... just keep checking in on us ok?" I finally hear myself say.

Because that's what our loved ones do when they're gone, I think. They check in on us. Or at least we like to think they do. We get these seemingly ridiculous signs that tell us our loved one is ok. We look like crazy people talking to birds and insects and especially to butterflies on the pool deck. 

We're looking for just that slightest hint of a sign of our person. We're forever looking for "I'm here."

This post was published Sept. 24, 2019 here at Living The Second Act.
This post was also published Oct. 15, 2019 here at The Today Show. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A little boy who turned 'HOT' in a blink

So it begins.

Alright, last night my son was accosted by some girls at soccer practice asking for his phone number … and last weekend some of the soccer parents told me they overheard the boys talking about some girl from a neighboring school who called my son HOT. And now I'm having some issues - especially with the word HOT.

First, I'm pretty sure hot is the word I used the other day in a lusty conversation I had with a friend about Avengers actor Chris Hemsworth. Hot is how I will forever describe Brad Pitt in my 90s guilty pleasure movie, Legends of the Fall. Hot is the vision of Ryan Gosling's abs in Crazy, Stupid Love. It is also the descriptor I could use for how my crotch feels during my kids' late afternoon August soccer games, but we're not going to talk my body temperature here.

In any case, HOT is not what I think of when I look at my nearly 13-year-old son - the boy who was
once a 6-pound, 8-ounce colicky baby who never slept.

Now I'm stuck in this odd stage of parenting an almost-teenage-boy who will always be a baby boy to me. Because he's still that little boy who cried when I turned off the lights and left his room the night he first slept in his big boy bed. He's the little boy who sucked on a paci (that he called a 'fafa') until he was almost 4. He's that tan-skinned, brown-eyed boy who played 'garbage man' in the street every day after preschool. He is that little boy who I'm sure wore a Buzz Lightyear costume at the dinner table for weeks straight and who learned how to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom all by himself at age 5. He's the child who loved catching butterflies and squealed in delight when Caillou came on tv.

He's the boy who I'd find hiding with his blankie and books in a marker'd up cardboard box in the living room at our old house. He is the child who sweetly stuttered well into kindergarten and spent Saturday afternoons making pillow forts on the couch. He's still just that boy whose little hand always gripped mine when we walked through the grocery store parking lot to the car what seems like not so long ago... isn't he?

He's the boy who became a big brother at age 2 but still refused to poop on the toilet for another year. He's the precious child who believed in Santa til he was 10 and probably still believes in the Easter Bunny (because... chocolate, duh).

He's the sweet boy who lost his father way too soon, forcing him to be the only boy left in this house of girls. 

He'll always be that sweet baby boy to me. No matter how fast he grows (I still have a quarter inch on him), no matter how quickly he evolves into the breathtaking young man so many people are noticing, he's always and forever going to be my little boy.

Not HOT.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Kids, here's your back-to-school advice

It's the first day of school tomorrow. Lots of parents are scrambling around tonight, getting shit together for that early morning alarm. Or at least this parent is. Uniforms out, backpacks packed. Summer homework books and reading assignments all completed albeit at the last minute. 

One of the twins complained tonight about ALL the pictures I'm going to take tomorrow morning. She begged me not to take any. I said no. She asked if she could take the bus instead so I wouldn't be hurriedly shoving them all out of the car at the entrance of school to take the obligatory 'back to school' pic. I said no. Then she asked if she could have her own room (I'm guessing maybe she thought a third question would somehow get a 'yes'?) but still, the answer was no.

After they all went to bed tonight, I thought about all the things I said (yelled) to the kids today. About the loud car ride to Kmart earlier for the 8-pocket binder we apparently missed on someone's school supply list, the mad rush to get to three different soccer practices tonight, the screaming I did about slime in the garage or the military-type showers I marched them into in order to get clean quickly and in bed. But none of this helped or prepared them for school tomorrow. Or for life the next day or the next day. What the hell am I teaching them? Maybe how to be first out of a damn shower and into pjs for fear of their lives, I guess.

Somewhere along the line seriously WAYYY down the line I forgot how to be a damn parent. A helpful, loving and patient parent who can model for her children exactly what she hopes they could be someday as grown ups and parents themselves. Just "keeping them alive" doesn't seem quite enough anymore. I'm like a really mean drill sergeant or even a shitty boss you don't want to see every morning at 7 a.m.

I found an old notebook my late husband Matthew used in grad school at the University of Notre Dame. We had only been married four years. We didn't have kids yet. He often read business and management books and enjoyed delving into pretty much anything that dealt with how to be a good boss or more importantly, a good person. He excelled at that, anyone will attest. So I flipped through it and found his chicken scratch writing on a page about something he read about Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame football coach whose tenure was alive and well in the mid-90s when we were in college up in South Bend together. Matthew noted that Holtz said everyone who is successful has gone through adversity, and that the crisis is a chance to make you stronger. Then he wrote Holtz's three rules to always follow:

1) Do what is right
2) Do the best you can
3) Treat others how you'd want to be treated

And I wanted to wake up all the kids to tell them, to show them how their daddy helps me parent still. You may have had a little adversity in your short, little lives and we've got the crisis thing down pat it seems, but THISthis advice is what I want for you, children. These are things maybe your mom isn't so great at but your dad was superb at. Because I know sooner than I can blink there will be no more 'first day' of school pictures. The practices will be over. I won't have anyone to cook noodle dinners for anymore. I won't be ordering anyone around these barracks and there won't be anyone to boss around. But I hope I will at least be able to say I was the best parent I could have been. I gave them life advice to live by and I helped model that behavior for them.

Pictures or no pictures, tomorrow is my first day, too. 

This post was also published Aug. 18, 2019 here at Filter Free Parents.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Five easy ways to find your kids this summer

Some of you may have kids home this summer like I do. While I do try and force them outside to climb a tree or ride a bike, sometimes they are squirreled away somewhere in the bowels of this house playing iPads or mesmerized by Fortnite worlds. I find we've got way too many unfinished chores, unmade beds and overall a messy house. It's hard to find a kid to help me get anything done around here. I've been a mother nearly 13 years now and I'm pretty good at yelling and whistling for them. But sometimes no matter how hard I yell up the stairs or holler for them from the kitchen, not one of them will come answer me when I want them to. It's maddening.  

Well, I have found there are some alternative methods to wrangling up your kids when you want them to appear. Every one of these works like a charm. If you haven't already discovered these tactics... you're welcome. Here are the TOP FIVE EASIEST WAYS TO FIND YOUR KIDS – when repeatedly calling or yelling for them just isn't working.

1. Can't find your kid in order to get him to pick up his pool towel off the floor? Or to carry his laundry downstairs? This one is easy. Turn on your shower. Let it get good and steamy, then get undressed and step in. Start lathering up your hair with shampoo, feel the warm suds running down your back. Ahhhh, it's relaxing isn't it? Nope. BOOM! All your kids (or at least three of them) will be peering through the shower glass at your naked ass. Someone is probably whining. Another might tell you what she thinks of your boobs. But there they are – all of your spawn in that room, staring at you in the shower.

2. Need to give your kid a lesson on how to flush a damn toilet? But every time you come upon the situation at hand, you find yourself screaming, "WHO THE HELL LEFT THIS SITTING IN THE TOILET BOWL?" This is also easy. You're going to have to have saved up pretty much your entire breakfast and lunch, and all that coffee in between and rush to your bathroom. Sit down on the toilet and just when you are ready for release, BOOM! There are your kids. They should be either standing right next to you, or if you closed the door, they will be the ones banging the other side of it. This trick will also be good for when you are yelling for someone to come learn how to change out the toilet paper roll.

3. You've been hollering for someone to come pick up the pop tart crumbs that have been all over the kitchen floor since breakfast. Yep. I've been there too– every damn day. Here's what you're going to do. Open the pantry door, step inside and close the door (or leave it ajar – either works) then you're going to quietly as possible tear open a corner of a Hershey's bar. Some of you freaks (like me) are going to dip that chocolate bar into a can of JIF peanut butter in order to create your own homemade Reese's treat. And that first bite is going to taste so good, friend. But that's all you're going to get. Because... BOOM! All your kids are standing at the pantry now, and they too, are asking for a bit of your Hershey and or peanut butter homemade treats. And snacks. They want all the snacks.

4. Want to know how to get the kids back down in the basement to clean up the Orbeez beads left all over the playroom floor? Or to pick up all the scraps from the craft you just told them to do because it was more "enriching" and "educational" than if they had just watched a Henry Danger episode? Ok, you're going to need your phone for this one. I know many of us don't use this function on our cell phones, but there is a green button on the home screen menu with a telephone icon. Click in there, choose someone from your favorites list, and hit "call." As soon as that person picks up and you are connected, BOOM! Your children will no doubt be in that playroom – at volumes you only thought possible inside the Cincinnati Bengals stadium. (It's a good idea to pre-text the caller to let them know you will be hanging up on them after about 6 seconds into the call, though.)

5. This next one is almost too easy, I'm almost embarrassed to list it because it's widely known among mothers as a perfect way to summon your children. I believe it's probably in all the mothering manuals or maybe featured in the What to Expect When You're Expecting series, too. This one is a great way to get your kids to come no matter the situation. This has even been known to rip a 12-year-old from a Fortnite battle, it's that powerful. You are going to need to be pretty tired for this one.

Ok, wherever you are in your house, be it near a couch or in your bedroom, maybe in a sunroom wicker chair... lay down, get cozy under a blanket maybe – start reading a couple sentences of a book if that's your fancy. Then as you tire, close your eyes and just start to absorb the silence around you and feel the weight of a nap setting in your bones... and then... BOOM! There are your children, right there at your head, probably chanting "mom, mom, mom" in unison. You won't know what time it is in that moment or how much time elapsed since you shut your eyes (guaranteed it wasn't more than three minutes, my friend). They will ALL be right there. Probably asking you what's for dinner. They might tell you there's a spider in a remote corner of the basement (where all the Orbeez go to die). They may ask you to change the toilet paper roll. They could be begging for snacks.

But hey, congrats, you’ve got them all here – you did it. It really was that easy all along.

This post was also published July 8, 2019 here at Filter Free Parents.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

I'm not in the mood for Father's Day

Father's Day is here. Ugh. I've never looked so forward to Monday morning.

Facebook and Shutterfly throwbacks are reminding me of what I was doing on Father's Days in years past. Smiles. Hugs. Kids sitting high atop broad shoulders. Father's Day used to be fun for us. We'd make daddy silly cards, we'd give him coupons for backrubs or for an hour of peace and quiet (yeah, basically our daddy got a lot of empty promises for Father's Day). We used to have fancy breakfasts after church or attend backyard grill outs or take our boat on the river to feel warm June breezes wash over us. My kids would play on the swings or run around the yard and their daddy would watch from the deck, maybe a drink in hand.

That was back when my kids still had a daddy. Their father has been gone a year and a half now. This will be their second Father’s Day without him. Their second Father’s Day bringing cards to a cemetery. There's something about seeing his name etched in stone there, that makes him forever here, "with" us. Now they make cards asking him about heaven or color pictures of him with angel wings that we'll set on his headstone where he rests next to his grandparents. 

I apologize if this seems bitter, but there are just some days in which the daddy-kid thing really gets to me. I'm usually able to hold it together when it comes to the feelings I have seeing children with their fathers. For example, a couple months ago at school drop-off, I looked in the rearview mirror as we pulled up to the school entrance and I saw a little girl in my daughter's class lean up and give her daddy a kiss before she got out. It took every ounce of tear-duct strength not to let the floodgates open while my kids were still in the car. But I held it together. It crushed me, but I kept my shit together. 

But as far as Father's Day goes, I just don't have it in me to hold anything back. I don’t want to spend the day crying either. So this year, it's going to be just another Sunday in June. I'm aiming to avoid seeing kids and their daddies together. I'm going to log off Facebook – with its "on this day" memories and happy family pictures of kids and dads. I'll call my dad back home in Indiana and tell him to enjoy lunch out with my mom. I'll send a card to my father-in-law, too. The kids and I are going to skip church, because they usually ask all the fathers to stand for a round of applause. Nope, can't see that today. 

We will take our cards to the cemetery. I'll probably bring Kleenex just in case, because I still can't shake the feeling that my kids' daddy shouldn't be in here. He shouldn't have to be underground amongst people who were born in the early 1900s. He wasn't old. This daddy wasn't ready to leave.

We're going to spend Father's Day in a dark movie theater instead. We’ll sit in reclining chairs and eat popcorn, candy and soda til we bust. We're going to close out the world around us, a world where dads are still alive and breathing, grilling, playing, loving and laughing. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad for the people who still have their fathers. I'm just in no mood to watch them revel in it today. 

See you all on Monday.

My daughter's picture of daddy's room at the very top of heaven. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Be a friend... or get out

I don't have many friends. I never have. Something about who I am—what I say, what I do, how I carry myself, etc—I'm guessing are all reasons for this. Sure, there are 600+ people on my 'friends list', but I think I only have a handful of people that I call REAL friends—people I trust with my every thought or to reach out if I ever needed something. I was out the other night with one of these friends. We chatted and swapped motherhood stories. We drank wine. We laughed (way too loud) in public. Since she is a great friend and friends are honest, she told me that there are some people out there talking about me behind my back. Judging me. Maybe criticizing or saying things about what I do, what I say, where I go (and with whom), and possibly how I may or may not be screwing up my kids.
I didn't ask her your name(s). Because I don't want to start treating you shitty. And I know that if I knew who you were, I would most definitely treat you pretty shitty and kick you out of my life. You may go to church with me. Your kids probably go to school with mine. We might live in the same neighborhood. We may both drive SUVs. We probably have a lot of similarities—but I can assure you of one that we don't... and that's the simple fact that you've never had to find your best friend of 20 years dead on the floor on a random Sunday morning. You didn't have to bury your kids' father. You don't hear the words your children say to you about that at bedtime. You probably have never cried alone in a bathroom for weeks solid nor felt an aloneness so sobering that you didn't want to be around anymore. You don't feel the overpowering guilt of still being here on this Earth when the better half of a marriage and the head of your family is still in the ground after a year and a half and will be forever. You realize that you will never be able to let go of your love for your dead spouse no matter how many dates you go on. I make it well known I don't think I'm a perfect mother. I rarely make great decisions. You don't have to like me. You don't have to like my foul mouth or my short temper. You don't have to concur with any of my decisions—especially the one that allows me to go on a date and smile and laugh again with someone. But you don't get to judge me. My real friends—the ones who love me no matter what I say or do—they don't and they won't.
So if you can't be a REAL friend to me, please go ahead and get out. Hit unfriend. You're the last thing I need in my life. Bye.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Kentucky mom to blobs and more

My twins were created 10 years ago today. 

In a little plastic dish that now sits in a box of keepsakes in my basement. I've never really talked about it before outside of my close friends and family. It was back during a time when back-to-back miscarriages left me thinking I was only going to be the mother of one little boy, who was just 2 years old. My late husband Matthew and I thought how great it would be to have a brother for him. Neither of us had brothers. We both always wanted a brother. 

But sometimes what you get in life is nothing like you imagined, but always meant to be.

After figuring out that anti-rejection meds and immunosuppressants for kidney transplant recipients like my husband will do quite a number on the reproductive system, we reached out for help. We were now even more thankful at the fact we had our son amazingly conceived on the first try after drinking too much one night five years into our marriage. (They should put that in fertility brochures: "Go drink your face off and have fun with each other. It works.")

After months of shooting myself in the stomach with drugs (actually since I'm deathly afraid of needles, I'd turn my head as Matthew iced my belly and stuck the needle in something he took way too much pleasure in) my uterus was ripe for the pickin'. On that morning we went to the clinic, after all the papers were signed and we were scrubbed and prepped, I remember telling my husband whatever we created, we were going to do our best to bring to life. Nothing was going to be left behind. No matter 10 or one or none. Whatever we got was meant to be.

I woke up groggy from the extraction process. Matthew's process was... um... easier than mine, let's just say. We had years of jokes about that one, but I know some things are better left unsaid (I can't believe I actually just said that). They told me to take it easy and rest that day. We left for Churchill Downs and attended the Kentucky Derby with friends instead. And as thousands of people around us cheered for a Derby-winning horse named Mine That Bird, I was giddy inside at the thought of what might happen to us that Christmas. 

Long story short, we got three good ones that they implanted a few days later. Two of them took. They gave me a piece of paper an examination report that showed two blobs two clumps of billions of cells. And they sent us on our way.

With just a picture of those two blobs.

Y'all know the rest of the story. Our son never got the brother we wanted for him. Despite my adamant prediction for two boys, the heavens turned those blobs into two amazing girls born just after Christmas who couldn't be any more opposite one another. I was a mother of daughters now. "Lord, what the hell are you doing up there?" I asked (usually at 3 a.m.). A while later, our frozen cycle was implanted but none took. It seemed as if we were done, they said. There would likely be no other way to conceive. We were done. 

But we all know that sometimes "fooling around and having fun" can trump any medical prognosis you've been given by one of the country's top OBGYN/fertility specialists. And so one Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and zero medical interventions later, our youngest daughter joined the family, to the home she always belonged to. 

"Ahhh, I'm starting to see what you're doing Lord," I said.

As Mother's Day approaches this year, I exhaustedly celebrate being a mother of four. This little piece of paper reminds me that the plans I make are never as exquisite as the ones already designed for me. Despite what I've lost recently, I stare in awe at what I still have what I wouldn't deserve in a million years the son who brilliantly came to us first, the magnificent girls that only a blink ago were those blobs in a petri dish, the baby girl who we never knew could be but became.

Plans and designs, worries and doubts, miscarriages and births, failings or winnings. They're all just meant to be.

This blog was first published May 7, 2019 here at Living the Second Act.

Monday, April 8, 2019

What he would have told the 'new guy'

A friend of mine told me the other day to "quit writing sad stuff." And because he's a friend and I love and value his opinion, I'm going to try and take his advice. So, this is my attempt at some 'happy shit.'

Something recently popped up on my Facebook feed from a widow support group – an open letter, "To the future man who will date my wife" – written by a widow from the perspective of her deceased spouse. Sounds depressing right? At first it made me kind of sad. For example:

"She has an infinite capacity to love you with her whole heart and soul the way she loved me. I can promise you that to be loved by her... is heaven."… "I know that at times it will be extremely challenging to love my wife. It is hard for anyone who is dating or married to a widow... it comes with its own unique challenges."

Ok, the sentiments above are very beautiful and heartfelt, but I actually started to giggle halfway through the article. I laughed out loud thinking about how this bleeding heart tribute "from husband to new guy" regarding his wife was absolutely nowhere close to what my late husband Matthew would have ever said to any "future man" who had the balls... errr guts... to take on dating HIS wife.

And since I'm pretty knowledgeable about who my husband was and the relationship we had, I'm going to tell you straight up what a letter from my own husband would have said. It likely wouldn't have any foul language in it, because unlike me, he rarely said a swear word – he was pretty PG. I'm thinking the following admission is probably going to clear my social calendar out and scare anyone away from me for at least a good year, too.

Let me start out with where I almost spit out my oatmeal.

"I can promise you that to be loved by her is heaven."

LOL. That one is sweet, and likely true about many a wife out there. But nope. My husband's letter would have gone something like this, "Dude, being loved by Andrea might be heavenly for a bit, but if you piss her off, she will suck your will to live with one glance of her soulless, black eyes." (He used to say my dark brown eyes looked black when I was mad.)

He'd probably go on, "She is amazing at backrubs and at other things (in that department), but Lord almighty, if you make the slightest comment about that second piece of Cheesecake Factory dessert she's devouring, you may as well get comfortable with celibacy for a few months. You won't be getting any love from her then, my friend."

He probably would have definitely said, "To be loved by her is LOUD, friend. Get earplugs. She lives, laughs and breathes all loudly. She doesn't know when to close her mouth. She swears like Andrew Dice Clay. She has no tact. She will threaten grade school basketball (and soccer) referees with bloodshed if she's slightly annoyed."

He wouldn't be wrong in that admission– I have an intense love for my children and their sports endeavors and sometimes I get just a little too excited about them. And sometimes I use a lot of ...sentence enhancers to show that excitement.

Again, more chuckles when I try to envision Matthew saying, " will be extremely challenging to love my wife."

Lord of all things, if I know one thing, his letter instead would have read, "GOOD GOD MAN, RUN! Run while you still have time!"

My husband used to joke, "most women are a little crazy, it is just a matter of to what degree." He wasn't misogynistic by any means – don't get me wrong. But he'd not be stretching the truth to have said that I am pretty loco. Sometimes I'm over the top. Sometimes I overreact. I jump to conclusions. I let anxiety and paranoia get the best of me. I'm working on it all though, and is one of the reasons why I write.

But to tell some guy that I was "challenging"... well, that would be an understatement. I am stubborn as hell and I don't like to admit fault. It was the biggest bone of contention in our marriage for sure. How many times did I go to bed mad because something he said hurt my feelings or ticked me off, when I was probably the one who instigated in the first place? A lot. I was no good at "I'm sorry" either, so that was just fuel on the fire of unforgiven things we shoved under the rug for years.

I can just hear his heart-to-heart with a fictitious future guy, "Do not ignore her if she says, 'she's fine' and she's eating Nutella with a spoon from the jar. She wants your attention! Or quite possibly she just wants you to tell her she has the ass and pout of Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima. So no matter the chocolate shirt stains she's rockin,' just tell her!"

He'd be right. Just let me have the dessert. Matthew always knew that chocolate cheesecake cheered me up and he would drive 30 minutes to go get it for me if that's what it took on any given day.  

"Allow her to share how she is feeling."

Oh holy hell, my husband probably would have been laughing through tears at that one. He hated having a "feelings" talk. But so did I, which meant both of us spent an entire marriage not communicating our feelings all that well. And when I did get into any emotional talks, he probably would have rather been at one of his kidney biopsies.

I'm thinking he would have warned the new guy, "Ride out the 'feelings' talk as best you can, because if she stays in a good mood tonight, she might make you a shake and sit on the couch watching the game with her ice cold feet and butt next to you. Yes, her butt's as cold as a polar bear's and her toes are consistently the temperature of the Arctic Ocean... but man she makes a mean Oreo mint shake, she loves sports on tv and she is a good cuddler."

"You also get the benefits of a spouse who knows how to love someone, how to build a life together and endure unimaginable pain and come through it a new and stronger human being."

Maybe my husband might have been in agreement with the author on this one. He might have said, "While she wasn't the best at showing love, it didn't change the fact that she did love me." 

And he'd be right. 

As for the unimaginable pain of seeing him sick and dying and realizing the soul crushing truth that the father of my children was gone– well, there was no other choice for me than to emerge a "stronger human being." Was there really any other option?

"She's more beautiful, compassionate and resilient. ...She is an amazing woman. Any man who has the opportunity to love her is a blessed man."

Now this, I don't know about yet. I don't know what Matthew would have said about that one. He used to tell me I was beautiful. He even said it through laughter when I tried to squeeze into Spanx on my 35th birthday or went through that unfortunate acne phase after our son was born– I definitely didn't always feel beautiful. I wasn't always compassionate either. One night early in our marriage, he was out drinking without me and came home drunk and fell halfway down a flight of stairs. After realizing he was ok, I admit I laughed a bit and told him "it served him right." He always used to joke to our friends that I left him too long at the bottom of those stairs. 

I don't know if he would have said I'm amazing. I hold out hope that I can show him I'm at least trying. I'm mustering energy and faith in myself to keep getting up and carrying on every day for the kids. I hope I can say someday he would have said those words about me. 

He may not have said any man would be "blessed" to have me, because I'll be honest, that's a little too pious a description to use in a sentence about me. But I know with absolute certainty he would have told him that life with me won't ever be dull. We had a lot of fun over the years. And that truth doesn't make me sad. It makes me happy as shit.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How about we say it before it’s too late?

Luke Perry died. It’s all over the news and people’s social media feeds. And it’s sad and it seems unfair because he was so young. Yep.
But seeing all the celebrities and his friends and acquaintances all giving their condolences and sharing this outpouring of love for this guy makes me wonder. How often had they talked to Luke, reached out or got together with him? ... When was the last time they saw him to share all these feelings and love with him when he was still alive? I have a feeling I know the answer.  

Standing at my late husband's funeral receiving line over a year ago, I watched hundreds of people wait for hours to come up to me, my children, my parents, his parents and sisters—to tell us what Matthew meant to them. At first, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that they all came and waited outside in the November cold for us. But then, I got really angry that he wasn’t here to see all these people who loved him so much. 

His buddies from childhood swimming days that he hadn’t seen in 20 years that he always used to talk so fondly about, teachers from his past who told me how amazing he was in school, old coworkers who shared with me how much he influenced their lives for the better. 

I stood there thinking, “Shit! look who’s here! Look who came all the way from Texas... and look, it’s Dan and Joel and Keith and Paul from college! God he loved you guys! Hey it’s so-and-so who we haven’t seen since that concert we went to years ago!”

But it didn’t matter then. None of it mattered really because he was in a damn box behind me. He deserved to see and hear and feel all this love while he was still alive.

But this is the way it goes, right? Someone dies—unexpectedly or tragically —and everyone pours out the love, the praise, the admiration and heartfelt sentiments for the person who now can no longer hear it. It makes us feel better, but it should maybe make us try harder to do that shit right now, while we all still have air in our lungs. 

Don’t wait to tell your friends that you love them and that you admire them, adore them and would miss the hell out of them if they died. Call someone you love or miss and tell them to meet your ass for lunch, no excuses. Catch up and laugh and smile or talk about old times. 

Don’t waste another opportunity to share your heart with someone while you still have time.

This post was published March 5, 2019 here at Today Parents.