Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Sunday, June 17, 2018

To my kids, on your first Father's Day without a father

Dear Brayden, Mia, Therese and Payton,

He didn't want to leave you.
He wished to stay an eternity with you. 

This wasn't in our plan. The plan that automatically pops in your head when you see two blue lines on a pregnancy test. The plan that is set in motion that day in the delivery room when you realize what the words 'elation', 'euphoria' and 'love' really mean. The plan you figure out after calculating how much to save each year so you can take your kids on vacation and just watch them play on the beach every summer 'til they’re 18.

There was a kink in our plan but I promise we'll get it straightened out. I know it's sucky and scary and rocky right now. I know I yell at you and I get frustrated a lot. He hated when I yelled. I'll try and do better. I know I'm tired and sometimes I cry in the car if Luke Bryan comes on the radio. It's because we've got a Luke Bryan concert story. I'll tell you about it when you're older. I know I get quiet when you tell me how much you wish daddy were here to play Legos with you. Don't stop telling me those things though, because I want to hear them. 

I miss him, too. The daddy that used to play, laugh, talk and joke with us. I don't want to forget him. Yesterday I couldn't remember for the life of me whether or not he liked Rice Krispie treats and that kills me. I know that your daddy loved Kool-Aid- especially grape Kool-Aid. He would sometimes order a Shirley Temple at fancy restaurants. I'd joke about how he acted like a child sometimes. He was a big, goofy kid, your daddy. I'm trying so hard to keep and grasp all these memories I have for you because I'm our only memory keeper now. I'm holding the memories of him for you- like the memory of how he nervously asked me to marry him atop the revolving restaurant overlooking the city all those years ago (as if I'd say no!?). Like the memory of his surprised face when he saw his firstborn child was a boy. Like the memory of the smiles he elicited from you kids making gestures and silly "faces" with his hand. Like the memory of his laughter on the boat. Like the memory of how much he enjoyed sitting outside having drinks on the river at LBYC, where I'll probably take you all for lunch today to honor that memory.

I found this book in the study. One of our friends gave it to your daddy before he died. It's a journal for someone to tell their life story as a memory for their loved ones. The pages prompt the writer to tell all about their childhood, adulthood, about beliefs, values and their memories young and old. The questions ask things like, "What advice about life would you like your family to remember?" "What do you consider to be your life's greatest gifts?" "What is the one thing you would never change about the way you've lived your life?" "Is there a poem, passage or quote that has been meaningful in your life?"

As if my heart needed shattering one more time, I turned the pages to see the book was completely empty. The pages are all blank.

The book came too late. He was too weak, too sad, too heartbroken to fill out these pages. I know he felt like it was going to be goodbye. He wasn't ready for goodbye. He didn't want to leave you. 

So I promise today, dear children, I will find the answers to all the questions about your daddy's life and I'll write it for you. I'll keep it for you. I'll talk to his family, I'll ask his friends. I'll go through every email or letter he ever sent me and I'll compile your daddy's life story. I'll finish writing his story. I'll give you all the memories I have. You'll always know that you had the greatest daddy ever. 

You'll always know he never wanted to leave you. And someday, I promise, you'll get to have an eternity with him.

This post was also published June 18, 2018 here at Today Parents. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thanks to all the kick-ass fathers

This year will mark the first that my children don't have a father to celebrate Father's Day with.

His favorite place - on a boat, 2014

And they had a real kick-ass father, too. He was the one who went tubing with them off the end of the boat, crashing into the wake during those summer lake trips. He was the one who drove them for "special time" to get a treat or to buy a cool gadget or to hike at grandpa's farm. He was the one who made pancakes on Saturday mornings and wrestled on the floor with them before bedtime. He did all those 'fatherly' things right.

This Father's Day, four children in a small city in Kentucky will instead visit his grave and whisper their Happy Father's Day greetings toward the clouds. The Father's Day crafts and cards their teachers will have them make at school will all end up weighted down by rocks ontop of a silver headstone at a cemetery off Ky. 16.

These past several months have been a blur of emotion - a tidal wave of grief and sadness, anger and fear. There have been countless times my children have felt the stinging absence of their father during this time. I saw it in their sad eyes at Easter mass this year, as we sat in a pew behind a father holding his newborn son. I saw it when they noticed the little boy in front of us in line at Dunkin Donuts, who was holding his father's hand as they ordered munchkins and milk together.

With his mini-me at grandpa's farm, 2011
I saw it when the twins left for their father-daughter dance at school wishing daddy was taking them instead of their uncle (sorry Justin!). 

I see it in my little one's eyes some nights when she cries to be "normal" again and have her daddy back home. I see it when my son glances over to the sidelines during the soccer games-- yep, it's still just me here, buddy, and I'm sorry. But I can tell you with every piece of honesty in my being that he would have given anything to be here watching your game, too.

Now more than ever, I notice other fathers with their children. I study their interaction and painfully watch every touch, every smile, every word between fathers and their children. I envy it. I miss it. I wish it for my own children again. But as painful as it is to see and although it usually brings me to tears, I also celebrate it.

Adjusting to life with twins, 2010

These fathers-- who only by beautiful chance and luck get to be alive and well here with their children every day-- are doing a good job. Simply by being present. They are cheering them on at soccer games, they are devoting time to coaching their daughter's basketball team, they are treating their son to donuts on Saturday morning. They are giving piggyback rides and wrestling on the floor. They are laughing and loving on their kids every day.

So this Father's Day, I want to thank all those fathers out there who are doing it right. Thank you for loving them right. Thank you for spending time with the most precious commodity you have in life. Thank you for being a father and cherishing that role. Thanks for being a kick-ass father-- the kind who might be wishing from Heaven that he could be here doing it too.

This post was originally published June 13, 2018 here at That's Inappropriate Parents.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

It's good to be the beautiful mess

I found a chunk of hair the other night.

There was a trail of hair clippings leading to a huge 3-inch chunk of beautiful, sandy-brown, curly hair in the hallway bathroom. The hair was intertwined with those sticky Bunchem craft ball things that you mesh together to create God-knows-what because they only end up stuck in hair or in the dog's mouth. Of course, the trail led to the only person in this house that could be responsible for cutting these precious locks from her curly head—and she was already fast asleep in bed.

I found her in bed and ran my fingers through her tangled, curly locks as she slept, seeing the spot where it was shorter and wincing at the thought of those scissors snipping through that mane. I wanted to wake her up and scold her for doing this. I wanted to ask her why in the world she would cut her beautiful head of hair? In a house full of perfectly straight-haired children, my 5-year-old is the only one gifted with naturally curly, textured hair—how could she butcher that?

But as I sat there looking at her sleeping, I took a deep breath. We've had a lot of "scissor incidents" in this house over the years, mostly Barbies, but at least she still has hair left. I will probably look back someday and laugh about it.

The next morning, I told her scissors are for cutting paper only and she's not allowed to use them on her body. Or on hair. I asked her, "why didn't you ask me for help getting those sticky things out of your hair?" She told me, "I cut it because I hate my hair."

I realize how many times a day we call this child "curly Shirley." We usually laugh at how she squawks and gets angry anytime someone draws her with curly hair—crazy and wild. We joke with her about how she gives new meaning to the term "bed head" when she wakes up. We have to plug our ears at the blood-curdling screams when we try to brush it. She refuses to wear headbands, barrettes or bows. Her crazy, curly locks match her feisty, spunky personality perfectly, though. It is the one unique, distinguishing feature that makes her HER. It's what we love most about her.

But she hates it. She sees it as being different. And she doesn't want to be different. She doesn't want people to point it out or call attention to her. She wants to be just like her sisters, do the things they do, wear the clothes they wear and play what they play—and have straight hair like them, too. She has spent all of her five years in the shadow of two big sisters. She's trying so hard not to be that awkward little third wheel who tries to squeeze in next to them.

When I was younger, I remember how I looked up to my two older sisters. They were the cute, short and sweet cheerleader-types. Everyone liked them. Everyone had a good story about one of my sisters. I was the gangly, taller sister with a raspy voice and the obnoxious laugh. I went through a short-hair phase in fifth grade that made me look like an ugly boy (think Ralph Macchio as a girl). There was nothing "cute" about me. For years, I tried to fit in and be as popular and well liked as my sisters were. For a while, I didn't really like "me" either. It wasn't until I was a grown up that I even started to be OK with who I was. Thankfully, there are many people in my life who love me —if only for being the beautiful-yet-ugly mess of a person that I am today.

Being different isn't easy. My little one is finding that out already. This is just one tiny learning experience in the big challenge that will be loving herself her entire life.

I want to assure her she can only be the best by being herself. She needs to rock her crazy, messy, curly-headed mane and be proud of it. Life is too short to waste time worrying about what you look like compared to all the others. I want her to be happy and in love with who she is her whole life. I want her to be content being the beautiful girl that God made and gifted to us. Because nobody else can do it better, my sweet and crazy, curly-haired child.

This post was published April 27, 2018 at Her View From Home.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Closing a chapter on a crappy book

You know when you are reading a really good book and you don't want the book to end?
The kind where you can't wait to get to each chapter? But then sometimes the book has a really crappy ending and you are left sitting there saying, "Seriously? That can't be it."
I suppose sometimes if the book has a sequel, it can redeem itself. Maybe.

This is how I'm feeling as I pack up the last box to leave this home. We're at the end of our chapter here. We're closing this book. The kids and I are moving from a house my husband and I bought five years ago, with the promise of "never moving again." It was supposed to be our "forever home." We had four kids under the age of 6 when we moved in. We were so happy to have found a home in my husband's childhood neighborhood and only a mile from the school we wanted our children to attend.

The yard here was huge, perfect for kids to run around in. Countless shoes lost a battle to the dirt and mud in the creek and woods behind us. The well-worn wooden playset and sandbox here saw action every single day - or at least every day that it wasn't raining, snowing or 30 degrees out. The kids drove me nuts chasing the dog up and down these stairs, scratching up all the hardwood floors along the way. Daddy riled up and wrestled with the kids on these carpets (precisely at bedtime, of course). Lots of diapers here. Lots of Band-Aids. Lots of Legos probably lost and buried in the bowels of this home (as the new owners will soon find out). Memories of bare feet, sidewalk chalk and popsicles in the summer and snow angels and snowball fights in the winter here.

The dark cherry kitchen cabinets and outdated tile backsplash here were going to get an HGTV-style facelift, too. I was hoping to one day channel my inner Joanna Gaines to make this a gourmet kitchen for cooking, baking and entertaining (actually, since I suck at cooking and baking, it was probably just going to be an entertaining kitchen). We were going to add another bathroom upstairs so the girls wouldn't have to share one sink as teenagers. That stupid swingset was supposed to one day be the very spot where we'd put in a pool for the kids to splash around in with friends for the rest of our summers in life.

But if I've learned anything in 42 years, it's that you shouldn't get your hopes up and make too many plans in life. Because life doesn't let you make plans. The chapters aren't written by you.

This chapter here ends with the reality that no more kids need diapering. No more children will be learning to ride a bike. Santa Claus is just a fairy tale now to (at least all but one of) them. Someone else will get to decide whether to put a pool in here. My kids' father isn't here to see his daughters at the top of this staircase banister all dressed up for prom night in 10 years.

We're at the end of this chapter. It seems like a crappy book, doesn't it? Her husband f*ing dies and her kids don't have a father anymore, she's got to move 800 boxes out alone and she never even got to swap out that hideous tile backsplash. This can't be the ending.

I don't know the next chapter. I don't know if it will be happy or sad. I don't know how many more moves we will make or if this one will be the last. I'm sure wherever we go there will be Band-Aids and Legos and scratched hardwoods and infinite memories of the best daddy there ever was.

But I hope, my friends, that I get a sequel. I hope I can find a way to redeem this crappy ending. I'm not going to try and control it. We're going to do our best to live out a best-seller from here on out. Thanks for reading along though, as our chapters write themselves.

This post was also published May 17, 2018 here at

Saturday, April 14, 2018

See you in my dreams

I had a good dream last night. I'm surprised I even remember it because I never seem to sleep well enough to even dream most nights anymore.

I found my husband there in the dream. He was alive. He was healthy. He could talk again. We were in some sort of warehouse or empty place. He was on a dock surrounded by water and he was talking to me but I don't know about what. I was only listening to the sound of his voice and the expressions on his face. He was smiling.

I hadn't seen that smile in so long. I was hugging him and I wouldn't let go. I felt his strong arms around me again and I know I was breathless— silly I know—because it was a dream, but it felt possible. Cancer wasn't here this night. Cancer hadn't touched him. It hadn't taken anything yet, his speech, his smile, his body and strength. I was yelling, hello! and asking if he was OK, was everything OK? I can't remember if he answered me, I only remember the hellos and the hugging.
This is one of those dreams that you absolutely don't want to wake up from. That kind that when you do open your eyes, reality slaps you across the face and leaves you defeated to start another day. My husband and I left so many things unsaid when he passed away nearly five months ago. There were so many feelings unexpressed, words unspoken and countless sorries that never made it out of our mouths. There was never a proper goodbye.

I flounder around most days getting the kids where they need to be, acting like I have it all together, trying to smile and joke with friends or elicit a laugh from my son before he goes to bed. But between it all, I'm only looking for him. I stare at cardinals in the trees way too long, stupidly wondering if it's him chirping a message at me. I study the sun rays and clouds to make sure nothing meaningful is spelled out in them. I went to his office a couple weeks back. It was cleaned out and empty because new ownership is downsizing and soon the building will close. Sitting behind a desk where a once powerful, vibrant, healthy husband and father spent his days for the past 15 years— I sobbed. I grabbed all the leftover pencils in his drawer, if only to have something concrete he once touched. I took a Kleenex box from his window sill, knowing it was something he probably stared at from this desk not so long ago.

None of this will bring him back though. None of it brings any closure. None of this is a goodbye.
I clutch a rosary in bed at night—probably one of the many that came to this house while he was sick over the past two years. But not really to pray it. I guess I'm just hoping there's some magical way that out of all the billions of people out there, that some spirit or some force will descend here and get my message to him. To get him to me. To bring him to me again.

I never got a goodbye. I didn't say things I should have. I never apologized for so many things and I didn't offer forgiveness or ask for any either. I never got a goodbye.

I suppose this is why I look for him in my dreams. It's why I keep my eyes shut a little longer every morning. So I don't have to do the goodbye. I can just have that hug again. I can see the smile again. So I can just endure here with only those hellos again.

This post was originally published April 12, 2018 here at Cure Magazine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

When dreams take a backseat to reality

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a jockey.

Like any other 8-year-old girl, I obsessed over horses. I read books about them, I drew pictures of them, I wrote stories about them. My favorite book was Black Beauty. I watched the movie The Black Stallion over and over and imagined that I was Alec the shipwrecked boy stranded on that island with a beautiful racehorse. I even lied to my fourth grade pen pal and told her I had a pet horse in my backyard (sorry to "Julie from Colorado," but I'm a big, fat liar).

The only time I was ever on a horse was during a trip to Disneyland in third grade when my sisters and I stood in line for the pony rides. It was probably the most thrilling five minutes of my childhood. But when your eyes itch and your face feels like it might explode in a barn because you are allergic to horses, it is probably time to find a new dream.

So I took the reins instead of what my mom told me I was good at. I was going to be a writer. I spent many nights in my bunk bed writing stories, drawing illustrations and coming up with silly characters. I won't lie, a lot of the stories had the word "fart" in them and usually involved a main character running away from home on her horse, but at least my imagination was always running with them.

I loved writing essays in school. I filled countless diaries. I craved spelling and grammar tests. I soaked up every Beverly Cleary book in the public library and cherished my paperback collection of Anne of Green Gables. I took all the writing courses they'd allow in college and got an internship at a newspaper. I loved hearing stories and telling them. I grew up in a small Indiana town, but I dreamed of going to a big city, living amongst the skyscrapers, walking to a high-rise office building where I'd bury myself in books and a pen would forever be in my hand. I was going to be a writer in a big city somewhere, someday.

But we all know dreams have a way of slipping through your fingers.

Just before college graduation, I bought a one-way plane ticket to Seattle. I was headed to a beautiful, Pacific Coast city to find myself a job no matter the cost. The ink on my rejection letter from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz still fresh after I had requested an interview to come join his PR team. "He doesn't know what he's passing up," I told myself. "I'll find something better."

But I never got on that plane. I met a boy from Kentucky not a couple weeks after who was headed to New Jersey for a job offer there. I didn't think we'd make it long distance, living 50 states away from each other. In hindsight, I probably should have just gone with him, but we only knew each other a short time and I had less than $100 in my bank account, which probably wouldn't even get me cab fare anywhere. So I stayed in the Midwest, where I landed a small newspaper job and after a few years, we got married and both moved into a two-bedroom farmhouse in the Bluegrass State. Long story short-- it's been 20 years, four kids and one unimaginable loss later and I still wonder about that dream I had all that time ago.

I found that plane ticket the other day in a box of keepsakes in the basement. It reminds me of the choices we make and how impactful they are at every chapter in our lives. If I had taken that flight, I tell myself, I probably would have found a great job. I would have met someone there and started a different life. We probably would have walked our kids to the Pike Place Market every weekend and I'd probably have learned to snow ski. My office would be in one of those skyscrapers overlooking the Space Needle, I think.

There's sadness that comes with envisioning that dream ever could have been reality. There would have never been a love story with a boy from Kentucky-- that boy who turned into the husband who adored me for 20 years (except for that time I lost the car on Valentine's Day weekend in '99 - he didn't adore me that night). I would never have experienced a laughter so intense that night he and I went to Drake's bar with our friends that night in August 2014-- the night I got kicked out for doing cartwheels and splits on the dancefloor, wet my pants and almost broke my ankle. That was a night for the books.

I wouldn't have had these four brown-eyed children who drive me crazy in love every day and wake me in bed at 5:30 a.m. with knock-knock jokes. I wouldn't have learned how to ride a tractor and bale hay on a hazy summer afternoon. I wouldn't have learned how to pull up and anchor a speedboat onto a houseboat (albeit not very well though). It means I probably never would have held a gun or learned to shoot one, nor would I have realized what an excellent shot I am at hitting a bull's-eye from 100 yards away.

It means I wouldn't have met the close friends I have here who join me every month for Monday night martinis after our kids go to bed. It's hard to think about a life without those friendships and the laughter we share. How could I ever have been happy without them?

Sometimes the chances at a dream can just pass you by.

I accept that now. I can't uproot four kids from everything they know here in Kentucky to plunk them down in Chicago or Atlanta. It would be about as likely as Channing Tatum knocking on my door tomorrow to whisk me away to L.A. (but hey, a girl can still dream, right?)

So I have spent a good chunk of the last decade pondering the what ifs - reassuring myself and rationalizing the choices I made. Despite the fact I don't live in a high-rise or get paid to write about celebrities or take my laptop to Central Park to muse, my job here is just as important. Maybe even more important.

My priorities now are my children and making sure they grow up to be decent human beings. I read them books and tell them stories and listen to their (never-ending) ones. I taxi them to and from swim lessons and gymnastics, knowing these things make them happy. I keep myself just content enough by watching my twins (from outside the barn) take horseback lessons. I jot funny things down for them to read someday when I'm gone, because I don't know if they'll know who I really was outside all the yelling and nagging for them to clean up or to get along. The reward for all this won't be in a plaque on the wall or recognition at some fancy dinner – but I hope in the smiles of four happy kids who will be four amazing adults someday.

My son said his dream is to be a football player. He wants to be the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. I keep telling him he'll have to work hard, but he shouldn't ever give up if that's what he wants. In my head, I know what he's chasing could be an impossible dream, but it's my job to tell him it's attainable. I hope to the heavens above that he can do it.

Because you see, that's when he's going to buy his momma a penthouse apartment in New York, where she's going to write books about a little girl and her horse.

This post was published on April 11, 2018 here at

Friday, March 23, 2018

Because a dog doesn't care

I'm staring at a dog who hasn't left my side in about six hours or so. Her big, brown eyes stare at me every now and then. She gives exasperated sighs and looks longingly between me and the window at the side of the room. She will exercise her fierce German Shepherd bark at any package delivery guy or someone passing by with a poodle. But she always comes back to where I lay or where I sit. Every few minutes, she gives me a lick on the hand. She is ever hopeful I'll get up.

She is not any man's best friend. She's my best friend.

I admit I don't have that many friends. Sure, I know a lot of people and have countless acquaintances. I really have only a few good friends - people I can confide anything to and they won't judge me or lecture me or tell me how to "fix" myself or my problems. (Trust me, I know there is much to be fixed). But I don't expect any of my friends to be the friend that Juno the dog is for me at this point in my life.

Because a dog doesn't care when you lay in bed half the morning and by noon you still haven't eaten breakfast or gotten out of your jammies. She won't tell you to get up. 

A dog doesn't care when your cheeks are tear-stained and you have no makeup on and you look like a garbage truck hit you (and smell like it might have, too). She still looks at you like you are beautiful.

A dog doesn't care when your hair isn't brushed and you haven't showered in maybe 36 hours. She doesn't care that you don't have energy to put deodorant on or brush your teeth. She gives you kisses anyway.

A dog won't care that you ate Nutter Butters and peanut M&Ms for dinner after your kids went to bed. She's just happy you let her have a bite.

A dog doesn't care that you talk to yourself in the bathroom, or in the laundry room to combat that lonely feeling of not having a person there to recount a rough day. She only tilts her head to listen more intently.

A dog won't care or tell you to get off your phone after you've spent hours on it reading sappy stories or going through old pictures. She's just happy to have your free hand petting her head.

A dog doesn't care when you grip her sides so tightly and cry into her fur because you feel a sadness and emptiness so profound at nighttime, when you crave a warm body next to you. She's just thankful she gets to sleep in your bed.

I don't bound out of bed these days. I am not myself. I'm a shitty friend and my mothering skills are severely lacking. Some friends fall away at these sights, sounds, smells of grief. But my best friend Juno stays. She is just the friend I need. And she's ever hopeful I'll keep getting up.

This post was originally published March 23, 2018 here at

Packing memories and a big tv... leaving behind the hurt

I sold my house in a day. I listed it on Thursday and within 12 hours I accepted an almost full-price offer. I should be happy. I should be ecstatic. But I only had tears when I read the contract. I balled at the conditions of the sale—which in addition to the appliances they want, included the “living room tv set.”

They don’t know that big tv was the last thing my husband bought. They don’t know that months ago he joked with his friends, saying, “if I’m dying, I’m going to at least buy a big ass tv and enjoy it until then.”

Cancer may have taken his strength, his hair, his ability to play with his kids, his freedoms, but it couldn’t take his sense of humor or courage in the face of death.

We are leaving a house we spent five years in —raising kids and babies, laughing with friends, falling off bikes, crying, singing, making messes and living life. Until we didn’t anymore.

The kids and I begin our fresh start next month at the new house. We will make new memories. We will bring cookies to our new neighbors. We will smile and invite friends to pool parties and laugh again— I hope.

We can hopefully leave a little bit of our heartache behind. We don’t want to bring the pain with us. We don’t want to drag the hurt.

...But you can bet your ass we’re bringing that stupid tv.

Friday, March 9, 2018

On a spring break in March 20 years ago

Twenty years ago today I was on a plane headed to Florida—it would be my last true "spring break" trip. I was a senior in college. It was back when boot-cut jeans, chunky shoes and dark lipstick were the fashion. Seinfeld and Friends episodes were still new and the Backstreet Boys were still boys.
My best friend-roommate Lisa and I were young, innocent coeds, armed only with our magical, early-20s, pre-baby, unicorn-fantasy perky boobs and $50 bucks between us. We had our bikinis and our Steve Madden black slip ons, ready to enjoy sun and responsibility-free nights at tiki bars.

That boy was going to be down in Florida with his friends too, that cute boy I bumped elbows with a couple weeks prior at party on campus. He had beautiful eyes, strong cheekbones and a quiet demeanor. He smiled a lot, I noticed, but he hardly talked. This kind of person was perplexing to a girl like me — who was never without a story or a loudmouth laugh. He intrigued me. I had to find him. I HAD to know him.

It was on that Florida trip that I found him. He was among our mutual friends. He was someone I probably unknowingly brushed up against several times in the course of four years at the same college system but never formally met. He was the one. I knew it when I saw him laugh with his buddies playing sand volleyball. I knew it when I saw him swim laps at the shady spring break hotel pool as everyone else stared at his ease in the water. I knew it when he was calm and quiet at the end of a long night out drinking. I knew it when he sat and talked to me while every other boy in the bar was busy watching a wet T-shirt contest off the balcony. I knew it the first time he kissed me, 20 years ago in that bar on that Florida trip. I knew it when he still wanted my phone number even after I mistakenly called his pink travelers checks “France money.” We were babies back then. I didn’t know shit about the world and zilch about living in it. I only knew he was the one.

Lisa and I are leaving on a plane today for Florida. We will take our 40-something, not-so-perky-anymore boobs and our tired, motherly bodies to a beach where we will try and forget responsibilities and real life for a weekend. We will joke about this midlife spring break, where we will probably turn in after two glasses of wine— worlds away from all the young, innocent coeds that surround us staying out til all hours at a tiki bar —living a life with so much promise, vitality ... and heartbreak still ahead.

I will remember a boy I met 20 years ago on a trip to Florida. I’ll remember how lucky I was to have found the one back then, even if I only got to know him for a short time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

5 things I learned as a school cafeteria volunteer

I got suckered into volunteering at the school cafeteria again.

It's a two-hour time period in which a rush of children in kindergarten to eighth grade phase in and out with tornado force– eating, spilling, screaming and obliterating the linoleum in a 200-square-foot room. Because my children go to a small, private school, there isn't a ton of cash floating around to help the few part-time paid employees who brilliantly attempt daily lunch duty. So they rely on parent volunteers every day. I know there are many parents whose work schedules don't allow them to come and volunteer. To you, I say– you lucky freaking duck.

I'm one of those parents who feels a little guilty being home in jammies on weekdays when the call from school comes in about a shortage of cafeteria volunteers. I wonder if you can go to hell if you lie about having plans instead of agreeing to come put in a couple hours at your kid's school. I think yes, I'll definitely go to hell if I lie to this sweet lunchroom lady, so I always go in to help. I've been there about three or four times this year. I think I'm starting to look really good in an apron.

Luckily the apron with pockets stuffed with napkins and straws is the only ridiculous item you have to wear – no hair nets or gloves required. Usually yoga pants and junky gym shoes are your safest bet in here, especially when you step on a grape. Or cheese. Or jelly. But we'll talk about that later. Volunteers are either are stuck behind the food line dishing out fixins, cleaning trays or out at the tables helping the children. Being out on the cafeteria floor is like a jungle, where you can get overwhelmed by the demands of dozens of wild, ketchup-faced 6-year-olds who have to go potty, need a napkin, spilled their yogurt or have to go potty again.

I kind of envy the parents who have never set foot in the lunch room– the parents who send their children to school thinking their kid is behaving beautifully, eating everything on their tray and cleaning up their area afterwards. Bwaaaaaaa! I used to be you too – and it's with sincere honesty and concern that I tell you, you are horribly mistaken.

Let me just say, your kid COULD be an exception to everything I'm detailing here, but trust me, he's not. So like it or not moms and dads, here are the top five things I've learned about your kids while volunteering at the school cafeteria.

1. NOBODY's fruit is getting eaten. Ok, maybe like one kid out of 20. But otherwise it's true, all those delicious strawberries, blueberries, apples, all the freaking grapes you lovingly cut up and put in those partitioned containers... nope. Those healthy, antioxidant-packed fruits are going straight in the garbage can. And seriously with the raisins? Come on, those aren't happening either and you know it.

2. Your kid is only eating the treats. Some of your kids are literally running on the empty calories from a bag of Doritos and some ice cream they bought from the freezer at the end of the lunch line. I realize now this is why they are ravenous when they get off the bus. I've watched many kids devour ice cream while the food on their tray sits uneaten. I saw a kindergartner who only ate a pack of Scooby Doo fruit snacks the entire lunch period.

3. We could feed a small, starving village with what goes in the cafeteria trash can. The school recently implemented a "share table" this year, where kids can drop their unopened items for others to take, but I only ever see a few things actually make it to that table. One time I watched a sixth grader with two uneaten oranges throw them in the trash can. I told him he needed to tell his mom that he didn't like them, so she wouldn't pack them. He looked at me like I had two heads. Another child went through the lunch line with a tray he bought, then went straight to the trash can to dump everything except the Goldfish crackers. My own kid tried to pitch an uneaten banana once – that was milliseconds before he saw how fast his mom could sprint across the floor to bat it out of the trash can like a soccer goalie defending a World Cup title. I could build a house out of all the unopened string cheeses, celery and carrot sticks – insulate it with PB&Js and then top it with a roof made of chicken patties. I could fill an Olympic-sized pool with the unopened water bottles, half drank pouches of Capri Suns and once-sipped Gatorades– all of which are repeatedly tossed out.

4. If your kid's food isn't in the trash, it's all over the floor. Seriously, there is a carpet of pretzels, crackers, raisins and unidentifiable chunks all over the place in here. If you pack your kid Jell-O or pudding, please include an apology note with it addressed to the volunteer who has to bend down and clean it off the floor because that crap doesn't wipe up with a push broom. Neither do the pull-back tab applesauce cups, y'all. Why don't you just send a Honeycrisp and a meat mallet in their lunchbox? Same thing. While I'm thinking of it, we need to talk to the Gogurt people about the whole yogurt-squeezing-everywhere situation. It's 2018. I feel like there's an easier way to consume our probiotics. And please don't get me started on the plastic straw wrappers from those juice boxes.

5. Your kid has no sense of appropriate volume level in the lunch room. I thought the lunch lady was bonkers wearing a whistle around her neck like some wrestling referee. Nope, ownership of that whistle is the only controlled thing going on in here. It is her one hope to quell the roar of children who all get up simultaneously from 100 metal chairs running for recess. Your child is also spending at least 97 percent of his lunch period gabbing with the kid next to him, which is another reason why neither of them had any time to eat.

Some people might say kids are spoiled, wasting food like that or acting like slobs. I suppose some kids would rather ride a porcupine bareback through the schoolyard than pick up a wrapper off the cafeteria floor, but I don't think it means they are spoiled. There are many children here who get financial assistance or help with lunch costs. I'm sure those families appreciate all that's offered to them. I am sure parents here are teaching their kids about healthy foods and encouraging vegetable consumption– it's for sure the most agonizing part of my dinner routine. My guess is public school lunchrooms might mirror our lunchroom situation if we compared the two. Bottom line – they are kids, so their decision making and judgments (and manners) leave room for improvement no matter where they go to school. 

As parents, it's probably not a bad idea to ask your kid about lunchtime at school. Find out what they like to eat, what they didn't like or threw away (or what they saw my kid throw away). Help them appreciate the value of food and how it fuels their bodies from morning reading class all the way to their last math class. Tell them to say please and thank you to people who help them and remind them about picking up after themselves, too.

In the end, it won't matter though. We will keep coming. We will put the apron on and come home with sticky shoes and smell like fries and peaches. The school needs volunteers. It can't run without them. But more importantly, it kind of feels good to help your kid out. And it doesn't hurt that your kid, whose face is probably covered in ketchup, is pretty cute too – even though he just spilled his applesauce all over the floor.