Toddlers, the 8th Wonder of the World

Toddlers. One of the magical words of the English language that has the power to evoke a plethora of emotions. Before a person has children of their own, oftentimes while watching other people’s kids from afar, one of their first thoughts is probably along the lines of “snot-nosed brat.” And then they have their first born and spend all their time admiring just how “smart and creative” their child is. Basically perfection. Until their second comes along and they begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, their child is not going to be the next up and coming president (although we do have some pretty low standards for that role these days). Anyway, once the third, or more, come about, you go so far as to wonder just who the hell these demons are and when was that pivotal moment of them taking over your house.

Just your everyday tantrum

As I’m personally on my third bout of “toddlerhood” in my household, believe me I’ve been through the entire gamete of emotions associated with this delightfully crazy era of life. Yet unfortunately I’ve learned, through experience, that there just is no book, no friend’s advice (or warning, however you want to look at it) that can wholeheartedly prepare you for this trying stage. Because unless you have toddlers of your own or have lived through this, when people try to describe the pure unedited shit show that takes place on a daily basis, trust me when I say: you simply won’t believe it. There just is no way these supposed horror shows could really happen. Because you know that you’ll be a good, supportive and caring parent, so obviously being an award-winning parent would never lead to this unimaginable insanity. With that said I thought I’d share just a few of my own personal experiences and tell you what no publisher will ever print because it could potentially lead to the end of the human race.

Did you know that in order for a toddler to brush their teeth it is a requirement that they put toothpaste on EVERY surface of the bathroom? For some reason a “rice-sized” amount on a brush just doesn’t cut it. Nope. It needs to be smeared all over the sink, countertop, light switch, walls, vanity, mirror and yes, even the floor. I’ve tried various types of dispensers. Didn’t matter. I tried being the only one allowed to put the toothpaste on. Yeah, nope. That didn’t matter either. Apparently this is just one of the many magical powers that toddlers are blessed with having.

Now let’s talk food. For starters approximately 49 percent of their allotted food ends up anywhere other than in their mouth. This is still true for my almost seven year old. Although maybe he’s brought the percentage down to about 32. I’ve determined that that is the only possible explanation for them demanding a snack five minutes after they just ate a real meal. And then repeatedly every 10 minutes until it’s actually time to eat again.

The majority of the time, toddlers are simply incapable of hearing you. You could be standing directly in their face screaming at them and you might as well be screaming at a wall. I’ve had the hearing checked on my middle child and I ask my oldest at least once a day if we need to get his checked. Most days I feel like I’m stuck on repeat as I’m literally repeating everything I say a minimum of three times. However when you get to that point when you’re legitimately worried about their hearing, this is what you do. Get a piece of candy. Be at least two floors apart and I personally like to try being behind one to two closed doors from the subject in question. Next, as slowly and quietly as you can, begin to unwrap the candy. Within two to three seconds, the toddler will immediately begin yelling from afar, “Mom, what are you eating?!” and they will sniff you out like a bloodhound. It works every time, because toddlers are indeed deaf…until they’re not.

She’s driven me off the edge a few times.

They also have the uncanny ability to bring you to an edge you never could have dreamed existed. A place where you are so tired you can barely put together a intelligible sentence and you haven’t seen any semblance of patience in days. You’re to the point of wondering what exactly you’ll need to pack in your runaway bag. Or every time you get in the car (without kids) you think, “what if I just keep driving? How long until they notice?!” Even if running away is simply going to a gas station so you can go to the bathroom in peace. You’re so desperate for five minutes of alone time that you’re willing to risk catching any million of the possible diseases derived from all the unthinkable filth in that public restroom. Trust me, this edge exists. I’ve been there often. But toddlers are smart little shits, and one of their super powers is knowing exactly when you’ve reached that edge. Like a dog can smell fear, toddlers know just when you can’t physically or emotionally continue. And then they strike. They come up to you, give you a giant bear hug squeeze and call you their “best fwend.” And once again, they’ve got you trapped under the spell. Until the next edge appears, and the cycle repeats.

I’m sure we all know a few adults that make us whisper under our breaths that they seem to have a split personality. You just can’t understand how they can be so nice and happy one minute and turn into an angry beast in the blink of an eye. Oh, if only toddlers had merely two personalities. Instead, they have the incredible ability to be laughing hysterically, get instantly angry and bite their sibling, cry huge crocodile tears after getting bit back and be hugging again all in a span of 30 seconds. Trust me, there isn’t even time to attempt timeouts or give a lecture about the importance of being nice. As sane adults, our brains can’t even compute everything that happened because four very different emotions just occurred before you could get your first disciplinary word out. But that’s okay. As someone with three kids, I’m to the point I don’t want to be involved unless there’s blood and someone needs the ER or a trip to the police station to be put in jail (something I threaten often out of pure desperation.)

She climbs all the dressers trolling for lotion.

Toddlers also have physical abilities that most adults would never believe unless they saw it for themselves. Because in actuality, they’re half mountain goat. Sir Edmund Hillary (one of the most famous mountain climbers ever) has nothing on the scaling ability of a three year old. Sure he climbed Mount Everest but could he have climbed walls? When someone tells you to strap down every piece of furniture you own, Do It. Even if you think it’s ludicrous. Trust me, you won’t believe their mad skills until you witness it first hand.

As a parent living through the toddler years, you will endure the impossible. Say the unthinkable and spend way too much time pondering if that really and truly just happened. There will be shitastrophes that give you nightmares for years. And meltdowns where you’re absolutely positive the end of the world is coming because what else could be the cause of such pandemonium. Your friends without kids might never believe your stories. Your parents, who’ve been out of this phase in life for quite some time, might insist you’re exaggerating. But the rest of us know. And we get it. However on the flip side of this insanity is all the laughter, memories and experiences we gain from this time in our lives. There will never be another one like it. And just remember, as I like to try and remind myself on a daily basis, it’ll always be better than the upcoming teen years.

Just think how sane and bored we’d be without toddlers?!

Rural America – My Happy Place


For the first 18 years of my life all I could think about was getting the hell out of dodge, dodge being my wonderful hometown of Mt. Carroll, Illinois. I hated being stuck in the “middle of nowhere” with nothing to do, no stores to go to and nothing but cornfields to look at. Yet these days, with each trip back home, it gets harder and harder for me to come back to the golden bliss of suburbia. (And just in case you don’t actually know me, that’s me being sarcastic). Now don’t get me wrong, suburbia or not, I do love my home. With our move last summer we were able to get a house with a bigger yard for the kids (and myself) to play in, and over the past several years, I’ve made some great friends. But while Deer Park is where I currently live, it’ll never actually be my “home.” Not like Mt. Carroll was and even still is in my heart to this day.

Now to an outsider, it may not seem like much. I remember the first time I took my now husband back home with me, he was like, “wow, this is it?!” as I gave him the tour in all of three minutes. But where he sees rundown houses, I see beautiful old homes built with character and filled with memories. Where he sees only a Dairy Queen, I see the place where I spent so many summer nights hanging out with friends. Where he sees a deserted, dilapidated school, I see the place where I spent the most impressionable 13 years of my life. The place that not only formed the mold of who I would become as an adult but also the place where I met and grew to love some of the best friends that I still have to this day.

Mt. Carroll isn’t just a place where I was raised. It’s the place where I grew up. And what I didn’t have the sense to know or appreciate as a bratty teenage girl, as an adult I’m finally able to understand everything that it gave me. First and foremost it gave me roots. But not just because my family is still there. It’s more than that. It’s the entire community. It’s being able to walk into a store, see the mom of a fellow high schooler that I probably haven’t seen in over 20 years and still have a 15-minute conversation together. Or running into an old teacher and giving her a hug and filling her in about my kids. It doesn’t matter if you still live here or not, people welcome you back at all times with open arms and smiles.

The kids and I on a recent trip back home.

Growing up in Mt. Carroll also gave the adult me a different perspective on the beauty and importance of simplicity. People back home just aren’t the same as they are in the suburbs. They seem to live in the the moment a lot more and stress a lot less on keeping up with the Jones’s. I’m the first to admit it’s easy to get sucked into the uppity idealistic suburban lifestyle, but it’s comforting to be reminded of what’s truly important in life every time I go back home. For example, during my last visit, my dad made a pit stop on our mule ride to “look for rocks.” My first thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But honestly, I think I had more fun than my kids looking for all the “pretty” things. I had forgotten that I used to spend hours by myself looking for fossils or fools gold as a kid – something my own kids most likely will never spend time doing (unless it’s with Grandpa.) Because in here, nature has been replaced by things like sod, manicured lawns and parking lots.

High school besties, circa 1994

I often wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by not raising them in a rural community. Sure the suburbs have better schools and way more opportunities for them, but where the country lacks in educational opportunities, it makes up for it with offering experiences and life lessons that aren’t taught in a classroom. I went to school with a lot of farm kids. Kids who learned at a very early age what it meant to contribute to the family, join in the hard work and still go to school and participate in extracurricular activities. These kids weren’t coddled. They knew what was expected and they did it. No excuses. I certainly never knew anyone who had a stay-at-home mom that also had a nanny, something that seems to be extremely common where I live now. As kids we played outside. We got dirty. We laughed. We built forts. We were kids. Yet my kids’ free time is spent begging for any kind of screen time. Or complaining how bored they are despite having the entire Toys R’ Us store in the basement.

I’m sure these differences in the generations aren’t just related to the environment. It’s the technology craze we live in, the need for instant gratification. Regardless I still believe suburbia is perfecting the art of raising lazy, entitled brats who would rather stare into their phones all day than play outside or pull their share of the family load. Unfortunately kids that expect handouts eventually grow into adults that expect the same thing.

Forever BFF’s, circa 1997

Country living isn’t just about working hard, however. There’s always time for play. From preschool to senior year I went to school with the same group of kids. Ed Sheeran nailed it in his song “Castle on the Hill” when he sings, “But these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home.” No other statement could be more true. This small group of kids were my life for the first 18 years. They were my influences, my confidantes, my partners in crime. And as a result, incredible friendships and bonds were formed that I still maintain to this day. Will my kids be able to say the same thing? In our district’s high school, there’s almost 2,000 kids. That’s more than my entire town. While I know my kids will make friends, when they’re 40 years old will they still keep in touch and even hang out with the friends they had? For their sake, I hope so. Because while I’ve made some incredible friends as an adult, my best friends are the ones that I grew up with. The ones that saw me thrive and also fail. The ones that stuck by me through the horrible middle school years and then again through the hormonal teenage years. These are the friends that know me better than anyone because like the song says, they’re the ones who helped raise me.

My partners in crime for life

I suppose I could ramble on forever about all the wonderful things I love about my hometown and also just the rural lifestyle in general. Obviously I wish I would have appreciated it more growing up but I guess that’s all just part of the aging and maturing process. I will forever be grateful for the memories, the experiences, the lessons (both good and bad) that my country-living youth taught me. And while my family may live in the heart of suburbia, I certainly will do my best to give them plenty of opportunities to make their own country memories and experience the beauty in nature and simplicity. Home is where the heart is, and my heart will forever remain in Mt. Carroll.

“And I’m on my way, I still remember/ This old country lanes/ When we did not know the answers” – “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

Four Decades and This is All I Know

A recent practice run for my birthday. Cake, wine and a kid-free moment. Perfection.

Okay, folks. “F” day, as I like to call it, (or my 40th) is right around the bend. And as I’ve been sitting around being depressed about it lately, I’ve also been trying to think about if I’ve actually learned anything in my four decades. Overall I still think I’m pretty clueless but I do think I’ve figured out a few things about myself personally and also just about life. So go ahead and read carefully because my wisdom is pretty mind blowing (just kidding, I really don’t know shit). But here goes (in no particular order):

  • Every once in a while it’s okay to treat yourself to a dinner that costs as much as a week’s worth of groceries. It may seem asinine and reckless, but there’s something unbelievably satisfying about eating not just a phenomenal meal but also having it served to you. And don’t forget not doing any of the cleaning up! I may be a meat and potatoes farm girl, but it is nice experiencing how the other half lives every once in awhile. Treat yourself.
  • Some days are harder than others. Some days it takes every ounce of your being to peel yourself out of bed. And on those days if the most productive thing you’ve accomplished is simply taking a shower, than so be it. Give yourself a high-five and call it a win. Tomorrow is another day.
  • To me, one of my favorite things ever is finding a great book that I just can’t put down. Even when it’s 11:00 pm and I know I should stop. And then when it’s suddenly 1:00 am and I still haven’t stopped. But you know what, screw it. I survived months on end of barely a few hours of interrupted sleep. So when I find a book that I just can’t put down, I’m going to relish it. I may regret it when I have to wake up in a few hours but I’ll always appreciate the enjoyment it brings me in the long run.
  • Stay off the scale. No, seriously. All it does is mess with your head, and the only thing that matters is a) if your pants fit and b) that you’re healthy.
  • Along those lines, I’ve also discovered I’ll never do any form of a diet. I just can’t. I’ll exercise for an extra two hours a day (well not really because who has two entire hours to work out in a day?!) before anyone can make me give up alcohol, pizza or my seasonal candy corn.
  • As a lifetime resident (to date) of Illinois, death, insanely ridiculous taxes and asshole toddlers are the three guarantees of life.
  • I’ve started to accept the fact that I’ll always hear phantom crying or someone calling “Mommy” every damn time I take a shower. I’ve finally accepted these delusional noises and have stopped actually turning off the shower to check. But they’re never going away.
  • My dad was right.
  • Despite whatever crazy article one might find on the Internet, kids can definitely survive on peanut butter and mac-n-cheese daily. And it doesn’t even have to be organic.
  • There is no such thing as a miracle face cream. Over the past 10 years I have personally tried a countless number of prescription and over-the-counter products, all in the hopes of reversing the signs of aging. But let me tell you, whether something costs $10 or $200 these “smile lines” are coming in fast and furious, and unfortunately no product is going to make me look 21 again.
  • At the end of the day, stuff will always just be stuff. But if that stuff makes you happy then who cares. Buy the stuff.
  • A person should never be too old for an impromptu dance party. Music makes the world go round, and it does wonders for livening the soul. Just make sure it’s loud enough.
  • Don’t ignore the small stuff. Oftentimes it’s just as important, if not more, than the big stuff. (Remember from my previous post?!)
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or 40, the drama never leaves you.
  • It’s okay to “Waste a Moment.” Thanks, Kings of Leon for that wonderful life lesson. Not every second of every day needs to be filled with something productive. It doesn’t matter that your to-do list is a mile long. Take five minutes every day and fill it however you want. Watch the birds. Read a blog. Pet your dog. Sometimes nothing is everything.
  • Kids can go way longer without bathing than adults.
  • The older I get, the more I want to move back home… with or without my family depends on the day.

In reality this list could go on forever because obviously the past 40 years is not solely limited to the 17 bullet points here. But I hope this list is a gentle reminder to everyone that we’ll always continue to learn no matter how old we get.  Hopefully through what we learn, we’ll continually improve ourselves and most importantly never stop having fun. Forty is a big year. I’m no longer in the reckless crazy years but nor am I in the era of being more concerned with how others perceive me than how I perceive myself. So here’s to 40. I’ll raise my glass, shed a few tears, probably drink too much and dive head first into the next four decades.

Memories on Wiker Drive

Amy's Camera 182
Whitebread Christmas 2003

After being on the market for quite some time, my dad and his brothers finally sold my grandmother’s house. She’s been gone for over a year and a half and while obviously I knew this was coming, it still hit me like a ton of bricks. This is it. This is the last outstanding item that belonged to my grandparents. And while it’s ultimately just a house, it’s still the house that my cousins and I filled with long-lasting memories over the past several decades.

I don’t really know what I’m hoping to accomplish from this post except to simply leave behind a sampling of memories so one day, when I’m old and (more) delusional, my kids might be able to understand just how special my grandparents were to me.

My grandparent’s house was a place that:

  • Every Sunday she would cook the world’s worst pot roast. Grandma, you would be proud. I’ve actually found a roast recipe that is not just edible but it’s delicious! I think of you every time I make it.
  • I would walk through the door and do my best not to immediately plug my nose from smelling the disgusting cigarette smoke that blanketed every surface (despite that they only smoked “in the kitchen”). Grandma, I promise you, it smelled everywhere!
  • The echoes from my grandpa yelling “Jean!” and my grandma responding with “Bob!” will forever remain in my treasure chest of unforgettable voices.
  • There was never a shortage of Casey’s donuts stashed away in the freezer.
  • One never was fully able to dry themselves properly after a shower thanks to my grandmother’s love for paper-thin towels that were practically the size of a washrag. Why, grandma, just why?!
  • My grandma and I would stay up until midnight eating Fiddle Faddle and watching Lifetime movies and Love Connection. How did that show go off the air? It was the BEST!
  • My cousins and I would jam to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her boombox…the only cassette disc I believe my grandmother owned. And yes, she truly owned a legit ’80s boombox.
  • Once upon a time, my cousin and I had such small butts, we could both fit in our special chair that we claimed every Christmas. Boy, do I miss those small-butt days!
  • Speaking of Christmas, my grandpa would make all of us cousins line up in front of the tree so he could take our picture with his Polaroid. Oh how we moaned and complained, but today, looking back at those pictures, we’re reminded of some pretty terrific times. Thanks, Grandpa. You were right!
  • We all risked the imminent reprimanding we’d be getting to experience the brief  joy we got from turning on their (now) vintage dripping oil lamp and playing in the oil. Why was that thing so damn mesmerizing?
  • No matter how small of a chore I (or any of my cousins) ever did for my grandma, she’d always slip me a $20.
The last picture my cousin and I took with our grandma, September 2016.

Grandparents are extremely special people in so many way,s and I can only hope that someday I’ll leave behind my own legacy of memories to my grandchildren the way that mine left to me. And if you’re lucky enough to still have your grandparents around, don’t forget to remind them how awesome they are.

Women: Real-Life Super Heroes

Last week the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Throughout the day, I saw so many memes and inspirational posts supporting women and our awesomeness. And while I know I’ve always been surrounded by incredible women, it really got me thinking about just how incredible they truly are. I’m sure it’s safe to say that the majority of all women are pretty damn special for one reason or another, but lately I’ve just felt that all the ones around me aren’t just special, they’re extraordinary.

For starters, one of my girlfriends, that I have been so incredibly lucky to be included in her circle of friends over the past two decades, just beat cancer. BEAT CANCER. Not only did she beat it, but she kicked its ass. And while she was busy kicking its ass she also worked a full-time job. Was a mother of two. A wife. And the most amazing part about her life’s hiccup is that I never once heard her complain. Granted, I’m sure she had her moments but her mantra even during her darkest moments was that of “I got this.” And she did. And she continues to kick ass to this day. Wow. I don’t think there could be a better role model for any of us.

Another dear friend of mine is in the beginning stages of going through a divorce. She’s scared, confused, hurt and lost. Yet this woman continues to push forward. She continues to put her family’s needs ahead of her own. Instead of lying down and wallowing in the unknown shit storm that is looming just above her head, she goes through her days with her head held high and gets shit done.

And no one can even whisper the words “strong woman” without thinking of my own stepmother. That woman endured every parent’s worst nightmare. But she continues to make a choice each and every day to live. How easy would it be for her, or anyone that went through what she did, to merely give up. Because undoubtedly by losing a child, she ultimately lost a piece of herself. But not only did she not give up, she finds happiness in her days. There is a special kind of power in her strength, and I will forever be in awe of her.

Then there’s my grandma, one of my favorite women in my life. At Christmastime she took a turn for the worse, and no one expected her to make the new year. Hospice was called in and our mission, we were told, was to merely make her comfortable. Now fast forward two months later, and she’s being kicked out of hospice. Is that even a thing?! After literally being on her deathbed, my soon-to-be 88-year-old granny decided “hell no I ain’t going anywhere” and is back to rocking away her days watching Fox news. I think my grandpa must have put in a request for a bit more alone time with his buddies before he gets reunited. What other explanation could there be?

I could ramble on with super hero stories about all the women that I’m blessed to have in my life. But even if you didn’t beat cancer or get kicked out of hospice, the strength that comes with being a woman is unfathomable. And I think we often forget that or even take it for granted. But this kind of strength isn’t something that’s learned over night. Or even taught. It’s something that’s earned. And we have the scars, both internally and externally to prove it. Because giving up is not in our vocabulary. There will always be days where we want nothing more than to tell the world to “F off” and we momentarily give in to the pain, the desperation, the loneliness. But it’s fleeting, and we ultimately get back up and surge ahead.

We are women. We are warriors. We are survivors. And we get shit done. I salute you all.

A Lesson from the South

My family and I recently got back from our annual “escape from this horrible winter weather” vacation (or trip as I like to call it because is anything really a vacation when kids are involved?!) in Florida, and as per my usual motto these days, I’ve been trying to do a little reflecting on my experience to see if I’ve learned anything. Now I’ll start by saying this is the fourth year we’ve done this. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever pictured myself as the suburbanite mom vacationing with the herd down in Florida every year, but here I am…living the all-American dream. I suppose I vaguely remember the years spent daydreaming about wandering the countryside in Europe or experiencing some exotic safari in Africa. Now my daydreams consist of a flight where A) no one screams,  B) no one gets sick and/or especially C) no one has any blowouts. Oh, times have changed.

Anyway, I digress. Now this time around, I decided to truly take a step back from my insane preparation. In the past, I’ve literally started packing a month in advance. With three little kids, it’s amazing the amount of shit, that for some reason, we as parents think they actually need. Even though they really don’t. So not only did I decide to scale it down this time, I also decided to procrastinate and wait until the last minute to pack. (I’m starting to sweat just thinking about how crazy I’ve become!) Last minute. Bare bones essentials. And yet I still remembered to pack that thermometer And believe it or not, not only did my new packing technique work, but I was also amazingly less stressed. So there’s my first lesson I learned from this trip: Calm the F down, girl. You’re going to Florida for a week… NOT the Arctic for a year. If you forget something, you can always *gasp* just BUY IT.

The next smart move I made on this trip was that I made NO plans. That might seem crazy, because who goes on vacation and doesn’t make plans or research for weeks on all the different must-see places to visit?! I don’t know if I was just too busy this go around or just didn’t give a rats ass, but who cares. It was glorious. We did check out a few beaches (that I spent about 20 minutes looking up the night before) and found a gator place for the kids, but that was the extent of it. And every time we asked the kids what they wanted to do the next day, all they ever said anyway was POOL DAY! So every morning when the first kid would wake me up at 6:30 am begging to watch the iPad, after being woken up anywhere from one to three times in the night due to someone needing covers, someone needing their baby or someone just wanting to tell me they pooped, it made it all just a little bit easier knowing that I had no place to be that day. So, lesson number two: ease up on the planning. No one gives a shit if you drop a few hundred bucks to check out some tourist attraction. Everyone is just as happy (and the parents are way more relaxed) practicing cannon balls in the pool all day. DSC_9346

Now, with all this extra time on my hands I found myself doing two things. First, reading. Can I just say I read over two entire books last week… in the daytime! It was heaven!! I highly recommend it. Secondly, I found myself actually watching my kids. Now this one was a hard thing for me to truly recognize. Because sure, of course I watch my kids 24/7. But I don’t really see them. I learned there’s a huge difference. I watch them to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. I watch them to make sure they’re behaving (well enough that they’re not killing each other). But I don’t always watch them closely enough to know what they’re thinking or feeling. This past week was different. I took the time to listen to my two girls sing the chorus – well “let it go, let it go, for the first time, let it go, let it go” to the song “Frozen.” Over and over. I watched my middle one confess her love to her younger sister and try to hug and kiss her. I watched my youngest then swat my middle child away. I watched my son push himself until he was able to swim the length of the pool underwater. Last week I admittedly saw a lot go on with my kids. And I loved it. But I feel like on any other given day, most of what I saw might go unnoticed or pushed aside by whatever first-world, stupid problem I think I have at that moment. So my third lesson for the week is to simply slow the hell down and take a look around me. Focus on what’s in front of me and not just what’s next on the calendar.

DSC_9404I feel like so much of my time is spent running here or there, focusing on what each kid has coming up next and who needs to be where that I’m never actually focusing ON my kids themselves. Additionally in between the daily chaos of life, I’m always waiting for that next “big thing.” When is the next kid getting into school? What are we doing for the summer? When is the registration deadline for X, Y or Z? And it goes on and on and on. My husband thinks I’ve gone deaf lately because most of the time when he says something to me, my first reaction is, “what?” And it’s not that I don’t hear him, it’s that my brain is split into so many directions at all times that it just takes me a second to process what he just said, find an answer, all the while I’m still thinking ahead to the next thing I need to be doing.

Our lives are only so long and our memories (at least with a brain like mine) can only hold so much. Sure, there’s definitely some big events that are worthy of an entire page in our life’s scrapbook. But I’ve realized there’s also so many small things that are just as deserving. I don’t just want to remember that we took a trip to Florida in 2018. I want to remember my little girls singing. Or my son as he cheered with pure jubilation that he beat his mother at bags. (I blame the beers.) I even want to remember my son screaming in the way back of our rented minivan (because that’s what everyone wants to drive on vacation) that the shell he had coveted from the beach earlier that day had a live creature, and it was attempting to escape. (Poor guy never dreamed he’d meet his demise in the Publix parking lot.) While small and seemingly meaningless, these moments comprise the true pages of a person’s scrapbook. They tell the real story, something a date in the calendar can never do.

Grief – The Monster in the Closet

As I was doing my nightly social media patrolling the other night, I came across something that literally left me breathless; an old (young) coworker of mine suddenly lost her husband. Yet less than a week ago the couple had been celebrating finding out the sex of their first child. So not only did this poor woman lose her beloved, their unborn child lost its father as well. Their lives have been forever changed. I knew that feeling.

I have, thankfully, never experienced the loss of a spouse. I won’t pretend to understand her specific grief but I have been in a similar situation where my world was unexpectedly shattered. Becoming lost in my own memories, I began reading through the pages of comments people had posted on her page. Notes offering condolences, prayers, and apologies. People rehashing favorite memories. And various expressions of faith reminding this young widow that her husband is now in a better place and it was just “his time.” I was in her place once. Sitting at the computer trying to see through the blurriness of never-ending tears and read the hundreds of comments and private messages from people, some even strangers, saying how sorry they were for my family’s loss. Yet as heartfelt as those messages were, for me it was still an internal battle of trying to find comfort in the words versus hating God and everyone on the other side for not being the ones stuck on the shit side of the fence. Graduation 003

I recently read Sherman Alexie‘s memoir, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and while there are so many incredible passages in that book, one in particular really struck a chord with me. It read:

“Jesus, I thought, is there a better and more succinct definition of grief than It hurts a little to breathe, but we’re ok?” (241).

The funny part of that line is it’s actually something his sister told him as she was describing her reaction to a nearby forest fire. The more I thought about the significance of that line, the more I realized that grief does kind of act like a blazing fire burning deep inside a person’s being. It can strike out of nowhere, yet in a matter of seconds it has the power to take over and destroy anything in its path. It forces all living things to flee and makes exceptions for no one or anything. Can’t the same be said for grief? Grief is completely unbiased and doesn’t care how much money or notoriety a person has.  It can thoroughly suck the life out of a person’s soul if they let it. I know because I’ve been there.

To extinguish a fire takes a lot of work and is typically not something that can be done by one person alone. It’s a group effort, with each person playing a particular role. (I watch “Chicago Fire” okay… I’ve seen how firemen work!) And it’s the same for grief. Without the help of family and friends to guide you through to the part where you finally are okay, it’s so easy to lose yourself in the part where it’s physically hard to breathe. For me that’s been the hardest part. I don’t like asking others for help. I don’t like actually talking (which is SO different from writing!) about my feelings. I do my best to bury anything that makes me uncomfortable. I bury it under layers upon layers of anger, ignorance and fake facades. People say that grief lessens over time. It doesn’t. For me it’s been almost eight years since tragedy struck my family. Yet my feelings and grief are just as intense as they were that day. The difference is that I’ve merely gotten better at controlling it. The difference is that every once in awhile I give in to the grief, let it consume me to the point where I can’t breathe. And then I let it out. And slowly the tears stop. I begin to breathe and even begin to remember happy memories. The point is that I don’t let it stay buried forever. Over the years I’ve learned that those intense waves of grief always come back no matter how much I try to bury them. But I’ve come to expect that, and in an oddly human way I even want them to. Because I’ve discovered that part of grief is remembering – obviously the bad, but more importantly, also the good.

The cool big sister always giving the good presents.

Every person has a story, something that changed them, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. It’s inevitable. But the key to surviving the monster that is grief is to not let that one moment, that one story define you. Be the one that remembers, not the one that is consumed. Be the survivor.