Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Birthdays and fish funerals all in a day

It's the twins' birthday today. I swear when they put those two scrinchy-faced babies in my arms that late December day in 2009 I never thought time would fly so fast and they'd go and turn 10 on me in a blink. But they did. Diapers, late-night feedings, toys and bottles, tantrums, walking, talking, sassing, tears, giggles, stitches and staples, antibiotics, vaccinations and band-aids, first days, last days, in between days. Happy times, sad times, heartbreaking times.

We've come a long way in 10 years but life is still fun, exciting, magical and brilliant because of them. They are LIFE.

I got sucked into old videos and pictures on the computer tonight. I remember the medicinal smell of the O.R. at the hospital where I gave birth to them. I remember the nurses throwing scrubs at Matthew, telling him to hurry because they were coming fast. I recall the sheer amazement on his face at holding two little girls in his arms. I'll never forget his smitten look. He was so excited for life with them. I remember how they left me alone in the room with them hours after they came out and I just said, "happy birthday girls." I was so scared. I didn't know if I could be the mom of girls.

This morning I woke up and kissed them and told them "happy birthday." I had a fun 'nail polish and makeup' party with their friends planned but first we were going to eat donuts for breakfast and bake cupcakes together. I went to the laundry room to feed the dog and screamed. They all came running to see all three of their pet goldfish dead. The festival goldfish they brought home after winning this past summer. We were so proud (me really, I was proud) at keeping them alive so long. I had killed them. Because last night in a flurry of running around, hanging streamers, blowing up balloons, vacuuming and doing laundry, I decided to clean out their fish bowl and I put them in a small cup of water just for a bit until I changed the new water out. But as life goes, I got side tracked and long story shortI went to bed and forgot to put them back in their bowl. So the girls got three dead fish for their birthday.

"I can't believe you killed my fish on my birthday, mom," one of them told me.
"I can," the other one said.

So we had a fish funeral before a birthday party today. We said goodbye and sorry (mostly me) and told them to be happy in whatever Heaven fish get to be in. There was some whimpering and a couple tears (mostly me) and we came back inside. It's almost like this kind of thing is supposed to happen to us. Like, why WOULDN'T we be standing out in the rain burying three dead fish in the mulch bed on a Sunday morning, right? It's so very … us.
But we still had smiles today. We still laughed today. We ate cake and blew out candles. The girls put on makeup and fought over pink or purple sprinkles on their ice cream. We still celebrated today.

Because that's what life is all about birth and death, ups and downs, happy and sad, shit happens, good happens. It goes fast. It sometimes drags. You are scared most days. But that is LIFE. They are life. And after 10 years I'm just excited to still be in it with them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

November 19 feelings

It's November 19 again. It's the 'Deathaversary' as we widows call it. Two years ago on this date is when I lost my husband and my kids lost their father. I know. It's stupid to sit here and stare at this Shutterfly calendar and ponder this arbitrary date— a Tuesday. It wasn't even a Tuesday when he died. It was a f-ing Sunday. But it's just a date. It's not like he's in the afterlife abyss sitting at a desk looking at calendar dates too, let alone watching us cross off the days on our dumb calendar.

But it's here again. And it's not just on November 19 when I want to crawl in bed with my head under the covers and do absolutely nothing and say absolutely nothing to anyone or remember anything at all about it. Because there are a lot of those days throughout the year. The price of loss doesn't come knocking for you just on one date a year.

My little one asked the other day if she could go see the counselor. Yes, a second grader is requesting therapy y'all. Is that good or bad? I asked her why and she said, "because I'm having feelings."

I know, little one, me too.

Feelings of guilt lately because I've been finding some happiness in the heart of someone who isn't your daddy. Feelings of inadequacy because your daddy would have been so much better at the homework hour than your impatient mom. Feelings of heartache because your brother out of the blue said to me with a smile last night, "I remember how dad used to hang his towel on the inside of the shower door." That's right buddy—he did. It's because he hated being cold in the bathroom and if it saved him one second of being wet and cold, he was going hang that damn towel inside the shower.
Even mixed feelings of laughter and despair find me - like when I see a card that little one wrote and left on the junk table:

"Deer dad
We all wish you could come back
A boy Luke likes me.
I wish you could see him"

Yep. All these feelings can go kiss off. I wish they'd leave us the hell alone. And then again I don't. Because the feelings are also what make me still feel alive. The feelings are what tells me it was all real. The feelings keep him real and here with us. So we're rolling with these Tuesday feelings. November 19 feelings can hurt, yes. But being alive to feel them is sure worth it.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

When our anniversary became an ordinary day


Today was supposed to be our 17-year wedding anniversary. We used to do fancy dinners. We did trips. We did sappy cards. We did... other stuff. Not today. Last night I went to your grave because I guess I thought we'd always be together every anniversary. Sitting there picking grass in front of your headstone, I realize October 26 has turned into just another day now.

According to the Internet, the traditional gift for 17 years of marriage is furniture. I thought about how if you were here I'd tell you that and I'd try to get you to buy me a new chair or something. Actually, there's a cool sofa table thing I saw at a home store I am thinking of getting. I took your silence and the absence of signs (no butterflies, no lightning and thunder) to mean you don't care if I buy it. I'm probably wrong on that one though.

The kids visited here a couple weeks back with your mom and walked around the gravestones. They came back telling me how somebody stole the ceramic angel flower vase off your grave and at first I wanted to be mad. But then I kinda laughed. And laughed some more. Because I think you'd have probably laughed too.

It made me remember the time you told me you were driving home from work and you saw a guy pushing one of the Remke Markets grocery carts down the street, away from the store. Knowing that those carts are pretty expensive, you pulled over and asked him where he was going with it. You laughed when you told me the man (who clearly realized he was caught with stolen property) told you he was "taking it home to fix it" because it was broken, and that "it was ok, because he knew the owners." LOL right?

You politely told him you were the owner and that you'd like him to just put it in the back of your truck so you didn't have to involve police in the theft of one of your carts. You didn't say a word even when the man accused YOU of being a jerk by asking for it back. I was so fired up and pissed off about it back thenbut I remember you weren't. You were always good and calm about stuff. Even when someone was right in front of you trying to steal your shit, you just let it roll. I tell the kids about it. I tell them about your compassion and your tolerance for others, even when people were being jerks. Be that way too, I tell them.

I still get fired up about stuff. Like on the way to the cemetery, I was stuck behind an old lady who thought the speed limit was 2 mph. I think I may have mumbled an explicative under my breath. I'm sure I tore around her at some point and gave her my best exasperated, annoyed look. Seems dumb now though doesn't it? Like, "Hey lady I'm in a fucking hurry to go wish my dead husband a happy anniversary, so move it!" When I was pulling out of the plaza by the gas station later on, some guy honked at me thinking I was going to ram into his car. "For God's sake I see you! Calm down," I screamed (ironically) at him through the window. I guess that was easier to yell than "Can't you see my tear-stained cheeks from all this crying I'm doing!? Cut me some slack it's my fucking anniversary!"

But this is the way I am. I never was like you no matter how hard I have ever tried to change. Why does my mood get so dark and my temperament go from zero to blow up in a blink? I know there are probably a million reasons why, but today there's only one that's evident... I wanted more anniversaries. I wanted years of clinking wine glasses over the table and plane rides together to tropical all-inclusives. I wanted to be old together. I wanted all of it with you. It makes me mad we never got it. Our kids never got it. Our youngest started crying at bedtime the other night and asked me, "Why did daddy have to die?" And I got so mad because after almost two years, I still don't have an answer. I don't fucking know.

The kids and I decided we wanted to do laser tag today and we all shot each other up and laughed a lot. We ate at a loud hibachi grill with your dad, yummy but nothing fancy. I probably won't buy any furniture today either because it's raining cats and dogs and I don't have the patience to fight rainy mall traffic. I brought our son to the shooting range too. Because what better way to blow off some steam than shoot up shit? We blew off tension and sadness and anger over missing you because some days those feelings are palpable. I even took our son out on a date this weekend. We ate burgers and shakes. Afterwards we stood in line waiting at the cashier forever because the register was down. My patience was wearing thin, like it always is. But I turned and looked at our son, a mirror image of who you were, and he was smiling. Laughing actually, at the fact that these tiny, hellish inconveniences I experience are really no big deal. Just like you would have done. I didn't lose my mind because I looked at him—I looked at you. 

Many days I am still mad. Like fire out of my ears mad. Because you're still gone. We're still here doing this alone. And no special observance of a miscellaneous date in October will ever change that. But shooting up stuff with the kidsespecially with a boy who is a beautiful reflection of who I married 17 years agosure felt good. 

Happy anniversary hon.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Advice for the bride to be

Recently I was stuck in the waiting line to get help at the Apple Store at the mall—because of course when my husband died nearly two years ago, he took all the passwords and pretty much all the technological knowledge about our home computers, iPads and devices with him. I am a complete moron when it comes to figuring out anything in the 'general/ settings/ preferences' tabs on anything in this house. So I sat there waiting for someone to help me get through my Apple ID issues that were close to forcing me to toss my computer out a window.

And as the tech was trying to help me by completely re-loading my phone (which by the way didn't work) she sat a girl next to me who needed help getting her Airpods fixed. Airpod girl and tech girl started to chat and the topic turned to Airpod girl's upcoming wedding to her fiancĂ©, because you couldn't miss the huge diamond engagement ring on her left hand. She went on about wedding planning details and dress shopping, annoyances with wedding party attendants—the normal bridezilla-type stuff that old gals like me know don't mean shit in the long run. She went on for about 20 minutes, and it took everything in me to calmly and quietly sit there and listen... because "can you believe they wanted to charge $200 more for the dress at a shop in Columbus than at a shop here?!"

... But I broke y'all. I know, I know. I shouldn't push any bride off her wedding planning bitchfest soapbox and I don’t need anyone to tell me now that I should have kept my mouth shut because I know that. But I just couldn't help it. I looked at this girl and said, "You know, someday you'll see that none of this will matter. None of what you waste time and energy on worrying about now will matter one bit in the end." I told this poor, stunned bride-to-be that I was a widow who knew a little about weddings and more about marriage even if it was a little too late. The only thing that really matters, I told her, is whether or not you can see yourself in absolute thick and thin with this person forever—money or no money, job or no job, sick kids or healthy, miserable in-laws or perfect ones and God forbid someday fighting a terminal illness.

Will you still look at him with love and endearment when he can no longer speak and his body is weak and sick and on the brink of death? Will you hold it together when you bring him fistfuls of medicine daily, realizing there likely will be no more happy times with him on this Earth? Would you unabashedly say yes to do it all again if you knew you wouldn't get any more than 15 years together? Because, sweet Airpod girl, I was exactly you just 17 years ago, full of worry about church flowers and wedding photographer woes, DJ playlists that wouldn't be followed and a thousand other little crap things I wanted to go right but didn't. 

Nobody told me I wouldn't f-ing care someday. Nobody told me that my biggest regret would someday be time—time to share, time to laugh, time to travel, time to enjoy together with kids... time to love.

The health of your marriage and of your person is and forever should be what you care about. All the other things are just noise in the background. Ok, I won't lie, it actually will help if you can get him to write down all his passwords and computer wizardry tricks and shortcuts just in case... but truly nothing you fret about right now will ever matter. The only thing you should focus on and cherish together right now is your TIME.

This post was also published Oct. 28, 2019 here at the Today Show Parents page.
This post was also published Nov. 12, 2019 here at Love What Matters.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

As two years approaches, I grieve memories lost

A friend of mine told me the other day how that new song on the radio, "Memories" makes her think of my late husband Matthew. She said it reminds her of all the fun memories we all had over the yearslike summer lake trips before we all had kids, dinner and drinks out downtown, of him just having a good time with all of us. I remember them, too, I said. But I didn't, however, tell her about all the memories of him that are starting to fade.

I'm nearing the two-year mark without him. Fall used to be my favorite time of yearrunning with the leaves crunching under my shoes, the football games, my wedding anniversary. Now there's only an ominous feeling. Like waiting for a gut punch from someone lurking around the corner, ready to strike as soon the calendar flips to November. It was the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving when I became a widow. It feels like a blink but then it also feels like it's been a lifetime. I somehow got past the "year of firsts" where every calendar date was pure heartache to re-live. The first Christmas without him. The first Father's Day without him. The first kindergarten graduation without him. The first birthday without him. It all sucked. I cried a lot behind the bathroom door. I faked a shitload of smiles. I did a lot of self medicating with Baileys and Amazon Prime. 

The second year was just a lot of new normals instead. They still sting, but it's what we've grown used to, living every day without his presence, without his voice or laughter. The condolences are gone. Life has fully moved on around us, as I knew it would, despite my not wanting it to. There are pieces of him—of us—that seem to be getting lost amid what's here and now and I don't know how to feel about it.

I am trying not to forget his smell but it's fading. It's all but gone from the clothes I saved in the closet. That clean, soap-fresh smell. Even when he was working out, he always smelled good. I found myself in the deodorant section at the grocery store the other day for a really long time. I opened up and breathed in every men’s Right Guard stick on that shelf until I smelled the sport one, the one he wore for years, and I held it close to my nose. I didn’t cry. I wanted to. But there was a guy behind me browsing gift cards and a lady looking at shake supplements next to me, and I figured they’d find it really odd to see a woman weeping at the smell of antiperspirant in aisle 11.

It's getting hard to remember specific things about him and that scares me. Like what kissing him felt like. We hadn’t kissed in a really long time before he died. He was sick for a while and before then we had a rough patch where we fought so much and dealt with so much marital discord that the last thing he wanted to do was kiss me. He probably wished many nights to be away from me. That thought still hangs in the back of my head today because we never made everything right before cancer took him away. 

I hate that I’m starting to forget stupid little things. I couldn't remember if his favorite cereal was Honey Smacks or Fruity Pebbles. I know we had a cereal debate a while back and I'm kicking myself for not remembering how that one ended. I guess at the time, it didn't seem important. But now I'd give anything to go back just to know the answer. The kids asked me if daddy liked Rice Krispies treats and I can't remember. I know I used to eat an entire pan myself but I can't remember if he thought that was gross or if he wanted me to save him some. All these things seem insignificant to others but they aren't to me. They are huge pieces of a puzzle that was once whole but is now slowly being broken up and dismantled in order to be put back into some invisible box it seems. To be put away forever.

I am mad at myself for letting memories fade. I should have space in my brain to keep it all in. We were together for 20 yearshalf my life. I can remember the way my childhood bedroom smelled over 35 years ago, so why the hell can’t I remember his smell on the pillows, from just a few years ago?

He loved holding my hand. To pinch my fingers because they were cold. He first held my hand in 1998. A lifetime ago. I'm starting to forget the way his hand felt in mine now though. I stupidly wonder to myself if he could be mad at me for that. 

Because I've been holding a new hand lately. I haven't told many people. I’ve been seeing someone for several months now who’s really great. He’s smart and funny and he's irreverent and unfiltered like me. We like some of the same thingsBilly Joel and Seinfeld and binge watching comedy shows on Netflix. And he loves kids and I've got a shit ton of them. He makes me laugh and I've missed that. I think he genuinely likes mefaults and temper and all. He doesn’t take any of my stubborn or bitchy bullcrap all the stuff my husband either ignored or complied with just to please me all those years, but annoyed him to no end. He's the opposite. He doesn't let me brood or pout in disagreements, many of the things that stirred the pot during my marriage. I'm learning to deal with myself and relationships differently. It's like I'm learning how to be an adult with him—but then again, he and I have had entire text conversations with emojis that make me laugh. Some days I feel like a silly teenager again. But I dig it. He's just who I need. Did Matthew have a hand in sending someone like that to me? I wonder.

I still feel overwhelming grief some days. And it sneaks up on me. Our son is almost 13 now. He's a hair taller than me according to his recent doctor checkup. Sometimes the grief manifests itself as tears at the pediatrician’s office due to the aching desire to have his daddy here to see something as simple as his son's height surpassing mine. 

If we really want to talk about some super grief-y stuff, I've got a doozy I keep behind this computer. Sometimes I listen to the recording they emailed me of the 911 call I made the morning I found him. I collapse in tears at this desk every time because the despair in my voice that morning is so tangible it physically hurts. The memory of me trembling holding that phone, staring at him realizing he was already gone is still fresh in my mind. It's one memory that I don't think could ever fade. But maybe I don't want it to either.

Yes, two years may have blurred some of the memories. It has dulled the edge of the blade that used to expertly pierce my heart every morning I'd wake up realizing he was still gone. But two years has also shown me that I'm going to be ok. The kids are ok. I've chosen to keep living and lovingas hard and as awkward as that might be some days. I run parallel between loving him, holding dear the memories I still have of usand with the idea that I can be in love with a new person who's willing to share the rest of this life with me making new memories. And there are days I fall more to one side and it scares me when it's the side without Matthew on it. 

I worry and feel guilt for still being here, breathing air, laughing and living life, especially starting to care for another man. Some people don’t like it either, I know this. Others have said, “it’s good to see you’re moving on.” But I wish they wouldn't say that. Because I haven’t “moved on.” I’ll never "move on" from the one person I loved more than words, the man who gave me the life I'm living now, who gave me my children. I’ll never "get over" him, they don’t understand. No matter how much time keeps adding onto that calendar day when I last saw him, no matter two years or twenty, no matter what memories have faded—I will never "move on" from the love I had for my husband. That is a truth that won't ever fade.

This post was first published Oct. 9, 2019 here at Cure Today.
This post was also published Oct. 17, 2019 here at Hope for Widows Foundation.
This post was also published Nov. 8, 2019 here at Love What Matters. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Saying goodbye to that miserable me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was also published Nov. 14, 2019 here at 9 News Australia. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The symbolic butterfly and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was published Sept. 24, 2019 here at Living The Second Act.
This post was also published Oct. 15, 2019 here at The Today Show.
This post was also published Oct. 30, 2019 here at Love What Matters.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A little boy who turned 'HOT' in a blink

So it begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not HOT.

This post was also published Nov. 7, 2019 here at Love What Matters.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 8, 2019

Five easy ways to find your kids this summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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