Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Suck it 2017

I'd love to be the first to say goodbye to 2017. It was a year of sadness, of heartache, of pain, of fear, of misery and profound grief. I'm still figuring out the way to picking up the pieces of my heart that were shattered every which way in 2017. I know there has to be goodness for us around the corner. I know there has to be happiness, a light at the end of a dark, scary tunnel. 

Thanks to all the friends and family (and perfect strangers, too) who helped my family get through the shittiest year of our lives. I hope I can offer you all payback of some sort— if only through my words. 

Love and peace to you and your families in 2018!

xoxo, Andrea and kids

Monday, December 25, 2017

New Christmas traditions, cards to Heaven

I'm going to be honest. I was thinking this was going to be the worst Christmas ever.

When your husband dies within a month of the holiday and you are grieving every day for the smile of a person who has been in your life for two decades, the last thing you want to do is go shopping, eat bon bons and sing Jingle Bells. I asked my youngest if she thought Santa would bring her some new socks, since hers could fit Thumbelina, and she said, "All I want for Christmas is my daddy." That sound you hear right there? That is the sound of a heart shattering into a million pieces again.

So this was the year for new Christmas traditions. We left school a little early. We jetted away to Florida to sit in the sun and build sand snowmen. We talked about daddy on the beach. I laughed with the kids about how daddy used to brag how his sandcastles were better than mine. We ate pancakes at fancy restaurants overlooking the beach and I may have had a mimosa or two by at least 10 a.m. We had ice cream sandwiches for breakfast on Christmas Eve because I didn't feel like fixing anything. Our Christmas Eve dinner was Burger King from an airport on our way back home to catch Santa at our house.

We kissed 80 degrees goodbye and got home to Kentucky late-- just in time to enjoy iced up windshield wipers and a blustery gust of cold air to knock a certain blonde child's BK crown flying out into the night. Crying ensued. I told her some poor kid who doesn't get Christmas gifts is likely going to come upon that crown and she has just made him a king tonight.

When there is no food in the house on Christmas Eve and no milk and no ingredients to make cookies, you have to be creative in what you leave out for Santa.
But we aren't creative, so we put out some stale biscotti sticks and a couple orange slices out for him, along with a glass of week-old egg nog. You also need to find eight carrots at the bottom of the crisper and throw those on the deck for the reindeer, of course.

The kids were so wound up from seven packs of Twizzlers on the airplane and the fact that the dog hadn't seen us in a week, so they didn't get to sleep til well after 11 p.m., which meant after unpacking, Santa couldn't come til after 1 a.m. Santa was so hungry by then that she ate stale biscotti for dinner. And orange slices with egg nog. And eight carrots off the deck.

New traditions can mean going easy on the stocking stuffers and presents because after all, if we've learned one thing this year, it's that STUFF doesn't mean anything on Christmas. We are alive. We are healthy. We are together. We love each other. At least that's what Santa thought when she hit the pillow at 2 a.m. Visions of happy children were still dancing in her head when she bolted upright frantic at 5 a.m. realizing that she left the ELF on the FREAKING shelf, and everyone knows that the elf goes back with Santa on Christmas Eve. So on the first Christmas ever that my children slept in (parents everywhere know this to mean 7 a.m.) I was running downstairs to hide the elf and then lie awake waiting for the next two hours for THEM to wake me up.

New Christmas traditions might also mean you scrap pretty, matching holiday dresses and bows for your children's attire at Christmas morning mass because you don't have the fight in you this time. You say yes to candy cane sweatpants and jeans at mass -- because you know what? God, Jesus, Santa, Buddha -- Tom Cruise -- none of them could possibly care what the kids and I are wearing this year, right? But I saw all you moms who matched your kids and brushed their hair and put them in tights and dress shoes. You did it girl, I commend you. But I just couldn't be you this time.

New traditions mean your kids bring Christmas cards to daddy at the cemetery, where we shiver and huddle around to tell him the fun stuff we got from Santa. We bring him letters we anchor down under a mini (fake of course) Christmas tree. We tell him how we hope he's warm in Heaven, having some big ham dinner hopefully watching us eat our frozen chicken nuggets for Christmas lunch because no restaurants are open and of course - we (ironically) have no groceries.

Santa gave in a little this year -- she swore no phones and big BB guns for little boys-- but then she realized that little boy is now the man of the house. His heart was broken this year so the trade off was for just a little smile. Some happiness or glimpse of hope that life can still be happy. So Santa told him not to shoot his eye out and that mom is in charge of the phone and always has the password. I heard him tell his sisters, "best Christmas ever." That was before he read the note from Santa telling him he had to text his mom emoji hearts every day.

If only dad were here, they say, it certainly would have been the best Christmas ever.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

To the woman who scoffed at me and my kids tonight

I could feel your eyes on the back of my head all night. I know you and your husband were staring at my kids and me from the moment we were seated next to you at dinner tonight. I’ve been getting stares a lot lately. I’m getting used to the stares, the comments and the judging. I’ve been hearing “you’ve sure got your hands full, don’t you?” several times a day. I get “are they all yours?” at least once a day — twice at the airport alone last week. I get glares with, “how are they so close in age?” at least a couple times a week. I am asked “isn’t anyone else joining you?” quite a bit these days, too.

I know your husband was probably annoyed when my 5-year-old bumped him as she tried to get out of the booth to go to the restroom. I was just happy she had to go before the meal arrived. I’m sure you probably judged how I let them play iPads at the table and how they were probably too loud and started bickering about who got to have the turtle stickers instead of the pirate ones that the waitress brought over. 

I know you may have thought I could have done better at disciplining them, that maybe I snapped at them too many times — I don’t exactly have what they call a “quiet” voice. You’re not the first to notice.

But I heard you when we were getting up to leave, as I was standing within a foot of your face. You muttered to your husband and nodded disapprovingly at me and said, “and she has FOUR kids, FOUR!” Your husband was real subtle, when he craned his neck to turn around to stare at us, too. I felt so hurt as I watched both of you, stone faced and expression-less, glaring at my kids walk past you.

Yes, you surely noticed that I had no wedding ring on. I know. So from your point of view, you only saw what looked like an unmarried, impatient woman with four loud, ill-behaved kids. You see, I know all this because I can be a pretty bad Miss Judgypants myself—I’m not proud of that but it gives me a damn good sense of when someone’s got their laser eyes on me. So trust me when I tell you that you were really wrong about me, lady. 

Your disapproving looks — your evident distaste for us as we walked away made me so mad. I could feel my throat close up and my face get hot. I was so hurt and all I wanted was to hurt you back. I have never felt as worthless or as incompetent as you made me feel tonight, lady. We are in the holiday homestretch and I only wanted to scream at you and put you in your place— and people who know me can appreciate that my reservation in doing so was a Herculean feat for me— just ask anyone about the confrontation I had with the neighbor who honked at me the other day.

But I didn’t. I didn’t tell you anything. 

I took hold of my youngest one’s hand and marched all four out trying not to cry as they happily bounced out the door, asking me innocent questions about the crescent moon and about alligators in that pond over there.

You see, if you would have used your nosy energy instead to look deeper at me rather than judge me, you’d have seen I am a woman literally hanging on by a thread every day that I wake up.

You might understand why I took my kids for a mini vacation to Florida this week, in order to get away from the countless memories and reminders at home of their daddy, who died last month. I took them out to this seafood restaurant here if only to get a much-needed glass of wine and eat a decent meal —something other than the mac and cheese and Cincinnati chili that we’ve been surviving on for weeks now.

Smiles before you saw us tonight
You didn’t see that by 6:30 p.m. tonight, I was all out of shits to give at that dinner table. I don’t think I had even showered or brushed my hair and to be honest, I don’t know if I was technically wearing a bra. It was one of those jog/sleep tank things, so there was some coverage, but since we ran out the door in a hurry to catch the sunset before dinner, I just didn’t have the energy for much else, lady. By the way, they were smiling and behaving with each other in that sunset beach picture, but you didn’t see that either.

You see, I’m just trying not to break down looking at that guy across the room helping cut up his kid’s meal. I’m trying to hide my grief beneath the bags under my eyes due to not sleeping for a solid month — I don’t want people to see the redness under my sunglasses from the crying that came after I saw that man playing football with his son on the beach earlier. 

I’m trying to keep it together in front of my kids instead of moaning about how I won’t ever be one of these couples walking hand in hand with their loved one at sunset. You didn’t know that just days ago, I reluctantly took off my beautiful diamond engagement ring he gave me 16 years ago and that beautiful wedding band he inscribed with “Home to You” and I locked them away in a safe so I wouldn’t tear up anymore looking at my left hand.

I’m just trying to get through every f-ing day, lady.

I don’t have the slightest idea how to do the widow thing, the single mother thing yet, ok. I don’t know how much to talk about him or if I should cry in front of my kids or not. I don’t know if I should shield them from seeing other children play with their fathers or what I will tell the twins about their school’s father-daughter dance coming up in January—on what would have been his birthday. And I certainly don’t know what to say when my kindergartener tells me she wishes someone would punch and kick her til she dies so she can go see her daddy. These worries consume me every day and no doubt my kids see the worry too.

So cut me some slack, lady. Cut my kids some slack, too. It’s not their fault their daddy got dealt a shitty hand and he can’t be here to help me. I’m sorry if you witnessed them at their worst behavior. I’m sorry if I did some crappy mothering in front of you tonight. I’m sorry if I looked like a bra-less sea creature that crawled out of the Sarasota Bay. But what I’m most sorry about now is not telling you all this to your face.

This blog post was published Dec. 27, 2017 here at
It was also published Jan. 2, 2018 here at the TODAY Show. 
It was also published Jan. 8, 2018 here at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
It was also published Jan. 9, 2018 here at Australia News 7.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A final love letter... sort of

It's been a few weeks since you left. The flowers from the funeral home that made this place look like a greenhouse have all wilted. The kids are in school all day so the house is quiet. It's just me and my supersonic memory of the past 20 years keeping me company right now.

I took flowers to your grave the other day —I was running out of places to put white lilies, pink orchids and plants with plastic butterflies attached to them. I don't know what words to tell you when I'm there, so I only stare at the dirt where you rest underneath. I mutter how unfair it is. We didn't get to finish our love story. We didn't even get through the thick of it. You left during the rough patch. Our really, rocky patch. So here I am trying to hang on to the good parts of a love story we had and wondering what to do with all these memories.

Everywhere I go is a memory of you. Of us. Painfully awesome reminders all around here of how much we once loved each other. 
As I leave the cemetery, I look across the street at the little garden shop you liked to visit —where we found a bunch of crap to put in our first house all those years ago. Do you remember when we came to look at the Christmas trees decorated and aisles of fun ornaments we browsed that holiday season after we got married? I remember there was a guy dressed as Santa and we both sat on his lap and took a picture. We were laughing so hard. We looked so stupid. When you're in love I guess you don't care how stupid you look.
I had to drive past the corner grocery store to get home—your family's oldest store in a string of locations you owned in the region. It's on this corner that your funeral motorcade paused and stopped for a brief time to acknowledge this is where four generations of independent grocers has come to an end. It's right here where you, the president of your family's grocery business, stood in the July heat for hours slinging hot dogs with your store employees during the Fourth of July parade each year. With nothing but smiles, you served and thanked customers with a genuine heart. Some guy who inhales on and tosses his cigarette here on the sidewalk waiting for the bus doesn't know this corner is sacred to me —and he apparently doesn't know that he shouldn't f*ck with cancer. As I drive away, I still hear you laugh when your friend Eric jokes you are overcharging people for those hot dogs.

I had to visit the lawyer's office the other day —just one of the many depressing things widows need to do in order to get their shit together and carry on. The office is next door to the newspaper I used to work at when we were first married. I blink back tears recalling the day I snuck in the work bathroom here on my break to pee on a pregnancy test in 2006. I was pregnant with our first child. I couldn't contain my excitement, anticipation and joy of what we had yet to come. I could barely wait to tell you that night when you got home from work. We had so much love that day.

It was at this same office years ago that I met a maintenance man who had a leprechaun tattoo on his leg. Of course I chatted him up and found out he was a huge Notre Dame fan who had never been to my hometown of South Bend where our beloved Irish play. I came home and told you that man said it was his dream to take his son to a football game there. Knowing that we had alumni tickets for that next weekend's game, you didn't hesitate in telling me, "Give him our tickets.” That’s how you were, hon. You didn’t mind helping other people, selflessly giving what you had—and in this case, easily making someone’s dream come true. I loved that that’s how you lived your life.

So many places are playing Christmas music right now and I wish they would stop. Nobody but me knows about the years we conquered our long-distance relationship with promises of Christmas visits —anticipation of hot chocolate in front of a fake fireplace listening to Bing Crosby. I counted down the days in that lonely, little Missouri apartment until you drove nine hours to deliver me a Christmas present in 1998. I forced you to listen to every song on my Harry Connick Jr. Christmas cd that year (and made you like it, too). Some of the holiday songs remind me of the Christmas mornings you sat on the couch taking pictures of our children tear into their presents, screaming about new Barbies and electric scooters. Those pictures have forever frozen in time the love I felt for you on those mornings.

I've had to tackle your side of the closet, hon. It sucked. Every one of your T-shirts, your sweatshirts, your ratty gym shoes - they all have a story. They each have a memory more vivid and painful than the last. Remember your ugly, green Notre Dame hat that was so tattered and worn? The one I begged you to throw out and even hid from you for a while so you wouldn't wear it in public? I look at it sitting on a shelf with your other hats and my heart aches thinking of ever parting with it now. I see your goofy face in that hat and I never want that memory to go away. I wish someone would explain to me how a shitty hat can make your heart break into a zillion pieces.

I opened your sink drawer to look for the Aquaphor and saw your toothbrush in there. It's just another thing I can't bring myself to get rid of. If I did, I think the finality of your life here would set in and I'd lose it. I picture all the times you bragged about how pretty your teeth were. I remember the times we raced each other brushing our teeth and you made fun of how the toothpaste always ran down my chin. It was fun to laugh with someone before bed who didn't care that his wife looked like a rabid dog. I look into your vanity mirror and only see your laughing face all those times you watched me wriggle and squeeze my way into a pair of Spanx or a skirt that wouldn't zip over my butt.

I found your wedding ring in there, too. The simple white gold band you hadn’t been able to wear for a good year and a half because the weight you lost made it fall off your finger. I looked at the inscription I had put inside it before our wedding 15 years ago, “Loving You Always.” Neither of us knew what that meant back then. It’s clear now. The love we had will always remain somewhere in me. I’m not going to care about the crappy times or the fights we had about stupid shit or over the people who got caught in the cross hairs of a temperamental marriage ... those things will never erase the times we had pure love. I wear your ring on my middle finger now. It's a reminder of the “loving you always” part of an unfinished love story.

Our bedroom is excruciating to be in because it’s where I found you that last morning. It’s where I looked into your beautiful eyes one last time before forever shutting them. Your one-in-eight-million, two different colored eyes. The right one is blue, the left is green, I remember you telling me the night we met. He’s rare, I realized then. I close my own eyes and picture you wearing that green sweater the night of my 30th birthday —when we laughed at the terribly inappropriate hibachi grill chef all night. I wanted to sit on your left side to see how that sweater brought out your green eye —my “favorite” eye.

There were probably a lot more shenanigans —tickling, laughing, and snuggling the kid-who-just-peed-her-bed in this room than "bedroom" things between us the past several years. It doesn't take me long to find those memories below the sadness that surrounds this space every day. Remember that night you came in and burst out laughing because I was stuck in the middle of the mattress that collapsed in when I jumped into bed? I don't want to forget that laughter because it makes me remember that love story again.

I remember our story with each picture I look at, each friend who comes to visit —even in writing thank you cards this past week. I've been sitting here addressing and licking hundreds of envelopes and my mind goes to a joke from a Seinfeld episode we loved about toxic envelopes that only you would appreciate. Nobody really understood the fact that ours was a love story born out of our mutual fondness for sharing and laughing at pointless Seinfeld quotes. From what seemed pointless though, we built a pretty good story. We only knew each other a short 20 years, but I think we packed enough good in there to help me get through each day— to get through every painfully awesome reminder of that love we had. Four of those reminders greet me every morning at the breakfast table and pray for you at night. These reminders —your daughter's toes that are exactly like yours, your son's grin that mirrors yours, your baby girl's nose that's just like her daddy's —will never allow me to forget our short love story.

Rest well dear husband, we'll always hold you in our hearts as we carry on down here—you know, going to the grocery, to school, to soccer... yada... yada... yada.

This story was published 12/15/17 here at 
This story was also published via Twitter 2/23/18 at Notre Dame Magazine @ndmagazine.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Christmas "I told you so"

This year's Christmas decorating has been a little slow going. Normally I've got the tree up by Thanksgiving and all the pumpkin crap thrown into the creek behind our house to make way for red and green lights and pine cone wreaths on all the doors. But my mood has been sluggish the past couple weeks since Matthew died and I am not very holly jolly. Let's be real. I've been downright grinchy and bah-humbug.

The kids have been asking where the damn elf is and when are we putting up the tree and can they have candy canes for freaking lunch. Deep breaths. As much as I'd like to hibernate in my bed with Friends reruns and fast forward time well into the middle of January (my 40-somethingth birthday is in early January that I won't be observing), I know I need to suck it up and carry on with the tradition of making this "the most wonderful time of the year" for four kids.

We passed a neighborhood store with Christmas trees stacked up outside, waiting in all their green, piney glory to be taken home for the holiday. My mind flashes back to mine and Matthew's first Christmas together, when I brought a real Christmas tree home to our farmhouse we had been living in for just two short months. My husband repeatedly told me it wasn't a good idea because he was allergic to pine trees and wanted to deny me my desire to wake up to that glorious pine scent every morning. I fought him. He lost.

I told him about the Christmases of my childhood, crammed in our family car, headed to the tree lot where my sisters and I would give dad the thumbs up from the car on which big, fat tree to pick. I told him I couldn't live without the colored, sparkly lights on that real tree that brought back memories of my Christmas wonder as a child. So we kept a real tree up and my poor, newlywed husband coughed, sniffed and itched his way through an entire month saying, "I told you so." I feverishly tried to keep up with the pine needles, telling him it couldn't be that bad and he must be exaggerating.

Needless to say, that was the last time we had a real tree and I've been putting up a fake, pre-lit one in my house ever since. Until now.

Mom! Let's get one, can we get one? Can we, can we, please? Hmm, I think. I suppose we could, kids... yes, you know what? Mom had a real tree as a child and there's absolutely nothing like a holiday house filled with the pungent smell of pine you can experience from any room. So as it ended up, my awesome neighbor volunteered to deliver to us one of those Christmas trees as a gift. Genuine smiles and excitement all abound here when he brought that tree through the front door. The smell alone brought me back to the time I was 8 years old, giggling with my little sister trying to stay awake for Santa on Christmas Eve. The year I got my first Cabbage Patch Doll, a Peaches&Cream Barbie and brand new corduroy culottes I wore the hell out of. It reminded me of Christmas dinners at my sweet grandmother's house with all my cousins and nougat candies and egg nog before bed. The smell of a real tree is pure Christmas magic.

It's also the smell of hives. Seriously. Hives and itchy skin and watery eyes and many, many whiny children.

It wasn't 10 minutes that this beautiful Douglas Fir was sitting in our living room that all three girls started in with the itching. One twin was itching her neck so bad she looked like she was a back-alley crack addict. The other twin started coughing. The youngest started whining about her legs itching. I tried playing it off, saying, it's probably just dry air in here, just go in another room. I vacuumed the needles up. But apparently putting the needle-fresh aroma in the air can make it worse. Now they are all rubbing their eyes, itching their legs, necks and arms and I'm pretending this is not happening as I get out the magical, twinkling lights. I'm stranding this tree up to the tune of White Christmas, all the while trying to ignore the sound of unhappy children crying about the beautiful beast before us.

This time I lost. After a couple hours, I took off the lights and dragged that divinely-scented holiday tree upstairs and out to the second floor balcony overlooking the street. I decorated it with the multicolored lights that remind me of that amazing Christmas of 1984. I sat there as long as I could to drink up the scent before my toes froze and I had to come inside and close the door.

My children have inherited a big fat allergy to real Christmas trees from their Daddy. Their once-again-always-right Daddy. Their no-doubt-laughing-in heaven Daddy. I will have to enjoy this tree through the window. The only lesson here is that there is no statute of limitations on "I told you so's." They most definitely can come from the grave.