Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

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. 

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. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Still learning to be brave

Last weekend I was traveling through an airport and saw a guy going through security who was pale, bony thin, sitting in a wheelchair. He had no weight to his face and in his eyes I saw desperation. I knew with almost 100 percent certainty this young man was fighting cancer. I knew because in him I saw a shocking resemblance to my late husband, Matthew. He looked the same when we took that last trip to Florida to spend time with the kids at the beach. I know it was hell to go being that weak and sick, with medicines and feeding tubes and having to explain it all to airport security. He also looked that gaunt, that frail in those last several months. He, too, looked as if the life was being sucked from him by the minute. His eyes, once vibrant and beaming, also showed tired, frustrated despair. God, I remember that look. 

Weak, but still strong enough to hold our 'baby'.
I stared at this man and couldn't look away as I held back tears. I wanted so badly to tell him anything or say anything to let him know I understood his sadness and appreciated his pain. I appreciated his suffering and that he probably doesn't know it or feel it but he is fighting a noble fight. 

I didn't say anything though. I chickened out. I wasn't brave enough to interject and meddle in this stranger's life. I couldn't because it was too close to what I knew and had become accustomed to for the last couple years. 

I wanted to say something to him because I never got to say the things I needed to my own husband when he was still alive. I never got to express to him my love for how bravely he endured his fight. I got caught up in all the "doing" during that time. I was too busy worrying about the kids' schedules and logistics —practices and games, homework and dinner. I ran around here and there, errands and grocery or the pharmacy, hurrying through bath and bedtime routines each night so I could flop in bed at night and zone out or fall asleep to Mad Men episodes on Netflix. I didn't go to as many chemo appointments as I should have with him —and the ones I went to—I often changed the subject from sickness to something I saw in a magazine or I tried to make jokes with him rather than focus on our reality. I wanted to push aside that sad atmosphere and avoid talking about the grim fate that awaits people who sit in that room. I was such a coward. 

I thought I had more time. I was apparently terrible at reading the faces of all those doctors who always seemed to project a small sliver of hope that he'd beat the odds. Matthew had had numerous health scares over the course of time that were a direct result of his 1995 kidney transplant or related to the medicines he took over the years. But he always got better. Cancer was a different beast. But I kept telling myself he'd beat that too. 

I never wanted to accept that I'd run out of time. That we'd run out of time. But I did. We did.

Matthew was always the strong, sensible one, always knew what to do in every situation or how to handle things when they went awry. In 20 years, we had a shit ton of awry. But I don't ever remember a time where I doubted his ability to take care of it whether it be when our boat broke down in the middle of the Ohio River with me and the kids stranded in it; or the time his family business was in such financial distress that he chose not to take a paycheck in order to save some of his employees. He was strong in every single thing he did.

That didn't change after he got sick. Yes, he was scared. I will never forget diagnosis day when he fell to his knees in our bedroom as if being sucker punched with a fate we never imagined. I was never the strong one, never the one with any idea on what to do or where to turn. I didn't know what to say. I didn't have an answer and couldn't come up with anything positive to say or a silver lining. My heart went dark that day. I could only cry with him, there at my feet, realizing I was going to lose him.

I didn't know yet when I woke up on that Sunday before Thanksgiving 2017, and walked downstairs that morning, that I was already a widow. I didn't know the time had expired on my window to let him know how much he was loved and how brilliantly he handled being so sick for almost two years. How despite being so scared to leave us, he magnificently endured as the life was being ripped from his body each day. 

I've realized, too late, how steadfast and brave he was in the face of death. He tried every day, knowing he'd never see them to their next birthdays, to show our four children even the weakest smile. He even tried to smirk for the nurses when they took his vitals or drew blood for the umpteenth time. He nodded appreciatively to friends and strangers who said they were pulling for him. After he lost the use of his speech, he still managed to send his friends an upbeat text or message me a "love you" following his request for more morphine.
He clenched my hand so tightly before I went upstairs to bed the last night I saw him alive. I didn't say anything. I didn't know about the time constraint I was under at that very moment, but maybe he did. He shed no tears and he said no words. He only used quiet bravery that last night, to endure a little bit more. Which is what I will always remember. I see now—in the culmination of months and months of his suffering and miseryhe showed me what being brave really was.

I am still learning to live free of cowardice— to live bravely for as long as I have left. I'm going to hopefully show my kids, too. If only all of us on this side could be so brave in living as he was in dying, we'd all be pretty ok.

This post was originally published Feb. 26, 2019 here at Cure Magazine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

My emotionless curse

Has anyone ever wondered if they were meant to be an emotionless human being? Like maybe showing feelings and expressing emotions just aren't your thing? That was me. Growing up and well into adulthood, I shoved feelings and hurt aside. I tried not to let things bother me or I'd act aloof or stoic about any hurt or sadness I was confronted with. I hated feeling weak. I hated looking 'sad' or seeming pathetic to others or to myself. I don't remember crying in front of anyone as an adolescent. I know I'm still the same today I try not to cry in front of friends or familyand if I do, it's a rarity. I have been described quite often as lacking feeling or at least just doing a hell of a job at hiding it. 

It's my curse.

Even now, a year and a couple months after my husband died, the tears of anger and sadness I've shed behind closed doors have all been for HIM, not me. I was mad he didn't get a fair chance against cancer. That he didn't get to see his baby graduate kindergarten. That he won't get to walk his daughters down the aisle. That he can't watch his son become a man. The anger I hold because he didn't get more than 41 years is worthy of every tear I shed for him.

But there are times that emotion shit comes at you out of nowhere and makes you 'feel.'

Inside the library the other day, I saw a young woman with a little boy probably about 2, and on her other arm she grasped a car seat holding a new baby girl. She looked exasperated as she tried to get the toddler to obey and follow her out but instead he stood defiantly blocking the checkout counter. I know her arm probably felt like it was going to fall off. I know she didn't want to raise her voice in front of these strangers waiting in line. I know she probably couldn't wait til bedtime when she could have her arms, legs and mind to herself in peace. 

I was behind her as she walked to her car and could envision her possible frustration of getting that toddler buckled in only after fumbling with the pumpkin seat with his baby sister in it first. I can guarantee she was getting ready to bust out some snacks or reach for that sippy cup probably stuck under the passenger seat. She was probably hoping the paci in the baby's mouth would hold off cries until she got home. For that brief second I was her. I remember being her. I could close my eyes and find myself standing there, just 10 years ago right here in her placealbeit with one additional baby girl car seat in my arms. 

I hurried to my car and slammed the door shut and I started to sob. There was no floodgate that could have halted the sea of sadness I felt sitting there gripping the steering wheel. I couldn't have held these tears back they were for me. I was sad that I wasn't her anymore. I wasn't that young mother who rocked her babies to sleep at night. I wasn't the woman who had a healthy husband to snuggle with in bed. I can't go back and be that me who thought she had it rough with a toddler and two newborns in her arms. I wished I could go back to being blissfully unaware that things could ever really go horribly wrong. 

I'm not trying to be sad here or get sympathy if anything y'all should laugh because as I was pulling out of the library parking lot still staring at and crying at this stranger's life, I nearly ran over an elderly lady walking to her car. Seriously, I slammed on the brakes an inch from running her down. And if you think old ladies cannot give a proper death glareI would direct you to my local library. But I was wrapped up in 'feeling.'

And those tears felt ok. It felt good to 'feel.' While it was out of sadness, it was a relief to connect with some of the hurt I've been holding onto for a long time now. I want to remember it because it means I remember what I had. What I had was good. 

It wasn't a curse today to feel that emotion. It felt more like a blessing.

This post was first published Feb. 19, 2019, here at Living the Second Act. 
This post was also published Feb. 20, 2019, here at The Widow Wears Pink. 
I remember her

Monday, February 11, 2019

A wax job, the gym and an old love story rolled into one

I got waxed today. Yes, if you are wondering details about that one let me just say, yep it's exactly what you think. Ouch. Ouch as in remember that movie where Steve Carell's character gets waxed and he yells those Kelly Clarkson obscenities? Totally accurate.

This is apparently what the single people do these days. Even single, widowed people like me. From what I understand, this is one of the many normal, routine things people do when they are 'out there.' I haven't been out there since 1998 and back then I was armed only with a cheap, pink razor, slim hips and dreamy, pre-breastfeeding boobsand it all worked like a damn charm.

But time has changed things a bit. It's a little sexier out there this time around. They do selfies and sexting and sit at certain bars to go home with people after catching a 'vibe.' They join Tinder and Bumble and other dating sites that sound Disney-like yet are so dirty you have to shower after just opening your web browser. They flirt at the gym, too. And I'm a complete moron at the gym and only know how to use a treadmill, so I got no game there. The other day someone approached me at the drinking fountain near the ab machines and started talking to me. You would have thought I was trying to do my best Elmer Fudd impersonation, because I seriously didn't know what to say let alone how to make coherent words come out of my mouth. Yep –he gone!

My twins were watching me page through a dress catalog tonight. They were pointing at and picking out all these beautiful, fancy dresses for me. I told them how mommy would be a little overdressed for cafeteria duty or my work at the preschool in any of these outfits. I just don't have anywhere to wear them, I said.

"What if you went on a date," my daughter asked. "With that guy?"

I haven't told the children I have already been on a few dates. The counselor we see told me months ago to ease them into news like this and obviously proceed with caution when I do decide to introduce them to anyone. They only know the name of someone who had been texting me lately but I never made a big deal of it around them because when and if it became nothing I wouldn't hurt or confuse them. I said he and I were probably just friends now. Mommy is not everyone's cup of tea, I say out loud, if only to realize that truth myself.

Then there's the Internet. Weeding through Internet dudes interested in a widow with four kids is not pretty y'all. Neither are they, though. Some are creepy. Some are probably married. Some only want a quick hookup and nothing more. I found myself conversing with a guy the other night whofrom his tiny online photoseemed to be quite perfect. Good looking, great job, loves The Office (that's a deal breaker y'all) and not married. We talked a while. Then I realized he was from Canada which is not close to Kentucky. Annnnnnnd that was the end of that. 

It's too hard though. It's exhausting and sometimes it's heartbreaking too. Because when you do start going out and liking someone enough to want to make out with them (Lord, do I miss a good makeout session) things usually just crash and burn or go sour. It's something I take personally that leaves me wondering about all the things I know are wrong with me. It puts me in a funk and I hate it. I hate being out here some days, sweating on a treadmill or ripping (literally) every hair from my 43-year-old body for the sake of getting a date.

I'm in the second year of widowhood now. This is it. This is normal life now. The second year is when it really starts setting in that your person isn't here and never will be again. 

I had a persona date for everything. A valentine card every year. I had a person who loved me and didn't want to leave me. (Ok, well maybe he may have wanted to leave me a couple times during 15 years, but I know he truly loved me). He loved me even when I had no makeup on. Even when I had an extra 10 pounds in these yoga pants. He loved me when I told him how much debt I racked up in college. He loved me enough to pay it off, too. He loved me despite the most horrific deal I made with a car salesman back in 1999. He loved me when I told off an asshole boss in 2001 and quit my job when I didn't have a backup plan. He even loved me when I peed during every contraction during the last hour of labor with our firstborn. In fact, he told me he loved me more then. He loved me despite my foul mouth. He loved me despite my bad Italian temper. He loved me despite all the inappropriate things I said and did.

Even when I never found time to shave (or have a beautifully manicured hoo-ha courtesy of some Kelly-Clarkson-inspired f-bombs) he still loved me. 

And I just don't know if that kind of love happens twice in a lifetime.

This post was also published Feb. 17, 2019, here at Filter Free Parents.