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 just.in.case. 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.

000_0002
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Tide – The New Four-Letter Word

So this weekend #2 and I made a quick run to Target before heading to gymnastics. As I was in my usual self-checkout lane, I noticed two young girls in the lane ahead of me. To me they looked about 10, but considering I think they were alone I’ll guess 16 and 12. The 12 year old approached the college-aged Target employee, giggling like she had just heard the word vagina for the first time, and asked if a person could eat Tide. My head instantly shot up because there’s no way I overheard that right. But the employee immediately replied, “no, absolutely not.” So I asked if that girl had really just laughingly inquired about eating Tide. “Yes, she did,” answered the employee. Now take a deep breath and just let this sink in. A young girl, basically a baby, just asked a complete stranger about eating Tide. And she was laughing!! Like it was some kind of hilarious joke. What. The. Hell.?!

IMG_1633
Just say no!

I told my husband about this, and his response was “yeah, the Tide pods challenge. Idiots.” Um, say what?! So of course I immediately Googled it, and an entire string of articles from various reputable news sources popped up. First of all, how did I not know about this? Oh wait, maybe it’s because I do everything to avoid the news since I just can’t handle the constant barrage of shit stories that seem to have taken over. From having months left to get our act together and save the planet to yet another psychopath killing their child to some insanely idiotic comment made by a top leader of this country… and the list goes on. I know ignorance isn’t the answer, but most days I’m just trying to salvage what little bit of sanity I have left. So anyway yeah, I typically ignore the damn news and hadn’t heard of this challenge.

But hearing that girl and reading those articles, all I can think of is what is happening to our kids?!! Since when did challenging each other to eat detergent become a laughing matter or deemed fun? Whatever happened to the innocent challenge of daring someone to spray paint their initials on some bridge in the middle of nowhere? (Please note, I do not condone vandalism…just saying.) As a parent myself, I know we can’t automatically put the blame on parents either, because I’ve heard too many stories about horrible things happening to good kids that come from good families. And by good I mean loving, caring families. Families where parents pay attention and actually talk to their kids. But even so, I know that sometimes that isn’t even enough.

While my kids are all still very young, I’ve already learned that kids “learn” and unfortunately believe a lot of what their friends tell them. Case in point, my first grader thinking that sticking up the middle finger will kill all the birds. I can’t even begin to explain that one. But when he told me this, I was just thrilled that he had actually asked me about it (well more like told me what he knew to be true). But even so, my husband and I were then able to set him straight and remind him that he should not, and cannot, believe everything his friends tell him.

I worry about my kids – a LOT. I know all parents do, but I’m probably a little over the top with my anxiety and constantly assuming something horrible is going to happen to them. But my worries are typically things like I didn’t get their car seat buckled tight enough or I forgot to turn something off and my house is going to burn down or someone is going to choke as the result of the monster-size bites my kids seem to think is acceptable eating behavior. I sure as hell have never considered the possibility my kids might eat a cleaner or chemical for FUN. But hearing that girl and reading those articles about this ridiculously stupid and dangerous behavior, it begs the question that as a parent what do I do so it’s not my kid who’s asking the stranger in Target about a potentially life-threatening “game?” Well first, I consult my “How to Raise a Perfect Child” manual…oh wait, that’s out. But really, what do I do? How do I make sure that my kids don’t turn into reckless idiots? I don’t really think that there is a clear cut answer. However, I do know that there will be no back row parenting for me. I may not be able to keep up with all the moronic ideas kids come up with these days but I can make damn sure that I’m fully present for my kids. If I could put my kids in a bubble I would – so long as I could remain on the quiet outside. The alternative, I suppose, is that I’m left to talk to my kids. To never stop asking questions. To never stop caring. To never stop reminding them that they can always talk to me and my husband. And to never stop observing.

Parents aren’t miracle workers. Or magicians. Or all knowing. And just like these kids, we’re constantly learning. We too make idiotic mistakes, Lord knows my list is long. But we don’t give up and we don’t give in. Our job as parents is to love and protect our children as best we can. And to remember that knowledge coupled with open communication is a key factor to protection. Because what they don’t learn from us, they’ll eventually learn from their friends. And while I’ll never be able to control what they learn outside the home, I can certainly control what they learn inside.

 

 

 

Amy, Are You in There?

Scary Mommy featured an ad campaign ran by The Boppy Company that used the hashtag #NeverNotaMom and showed all these different moms going about their days – working both in and outside of the home – but all with one thing in common: each one had their young children in tow. And it’s true, while women may hold many titles – wife, employee, sister, aunt, or even my favorite “domestic engineer” – first and foremost always seems to be mother. The ad nails it when it says,

“Being a Mom is Never Not a Balancing Act.”

Ain’t that the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I think motherhood is a damn grand title that I’ve been personally blessed to have earned. It’s brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined, but at the same time it’s also definitely drug me down to the fire pits of hell and shown me where little people like to fraternize with the devil.

Now obviously I would never give up that title for anything in the world. But due to its extreme domineering role, for me personally I feel that everything else I am – or used to be – has gotten pushed aside or buried to the point that most days I’ve forgotten that I used to be anything BUT a mom. And I miss being ME. Who was I? Who am I? Do I even know? Am I the same person? I know I’m in the deepest part of the trenches right now having three young kids, and chaos is the everyday norm. And each year as they get a  teeny bit more independent, things should get a little easier. Or do they? Because like everyone reminds me, the bigger the kid, the bigger the problem. Awesome. Can’t wait.

The other day, a friend asked me if I missed working. My immediate answer was YES, everyday! But then I thought about it and realized that it’s not the actual work I miss but just what it meant for me as a person. I miss the adult camaraderie. I miss using my brain for something other than trying to keep track of schedules or meal planning. I miss the social hours after work (especially that one). I miss having nonhuman responsibilities. But you know, at the end of the day maybe all this is just me being selfish. Because isn’t motherhood the epitome of self-sacrifice? I knew that going into it, or at least I think I did. Or, maybe this is just me entering into the first stages of my midlife crisis. Whatever it is, I just know that lately I’ve missed Amy.

I know I’m in there somewhere because once in a while when I’m around my friends or just alone with my husband and we’re actually talking about something other than our kids, I find myself laughing or offering my adult opinion or even just feeling relaxed, a feeling that doesn’t come up too often these days. Okay maybe it’s the bottle(s) of wine we’re enjoying that elicits these behaviors, but even so these brief breaks from parenting are proof that “Amy” does actually exist.

Obviously it’s not like I can go out every night or even every week, but I decided to make it one of my (many) goals for 2018 to try to better balance being a mom and being Amy. Honestly I have no clue how to realistically do that but I know I have to try. Parenting is hands down the biggest and most important job a person will ever have. But it shouldn’t have to be at the sacrifice of losing one’s identity. Because I’m more than just a chauffeur, maid, cook or crazy mom. I’m a music lover, a book nerd, a beer snob, an antique fanatic. I’m also a wife, a daughter, an aunt, a sister, a cousin, a friend  – all things that so often get buried under the pressure and responsibilities of motherhood. But in a way the underdog titles add up to something greater than just being a mom. Because they came first. Those titles and those passions make up who I am as a mother. And without them, I would not be the “mom,” “mommy,” and “mama” that I am today. So while I’m #NeverNotaMom, I can’t forget that I’m also #NeverJUSTaMom. That one simple word makes all the difference.

 

Today is Not That Day

In a conversation I had with my father a few years ago, he asked if he’d told me about his new favorite line. He hadn’t so I asked him to share. One of his good friends had recently completed a triathlon, and along the way she saw an elderly woman holding up a sign that read:

“Someday you will not be able to do this, but today is not that day.”

“Imagine,” my dad had said, “some little old lady who used to do those marathons herself, but obviously can’t anymore, standing there with that sign. That’s awesome.” It’s a total cliche, but of course, I too, thought it was pretty awesome. But it wasn’t until I had actually really thought about those words for a few days that I understood the greatness and how they’re applied to my own life.

That said, however, my first thought when trying to apply that to my life today was, “gee, some day my kids will be able to wipe their own ass but today is most certainly not that day.” Which then of course segued into me thinking, “but hey, some day I might not even be able to wipe my own ass but thankfully, today is not that day.” But somewhere inside me I heard the wise words of my husband reminding me that life simply does not revolve around poop (even though at this stage in my life I swear it does) so I once again thought how that phrase could apply to me today. I realized the list is long, but it’s all about perspective. Everyday that list will change, but it’s solely up to me if I want to focus on the “shit” (pun intended) side of things, or if I want to instead, focus on the positive and remind myself that they’re still just little kids who need me. Because deep down I know that someday I’m going to miss being needed even if it is just for a good ass wiping. At least that’s what people seem to tell me.

Everyone walks down their own unique path in life, and those paths help define who you are. For me, if there’s one thing that my own life has taught me it’s that while today may “not be that day,” tomorrow very well could be. So while most days I feel like I’ve done nothing but cut up food into minuscule pieces, changed diapers, counted to three at least 1,047 times, ran the kids here, there and everywhere, on top of putting away the same toys over and over and over, I have to remind myself that this is my current world of greatness and I need to appreciate it for what it’s worth. The minutes may not always be that great and maybe not even some of they days; but the weeks, months and years most certainly are.

I wrote this a few years ago but recently updated it since I felt the story was still relevant and an important lesson that I often lose sight of on a daily basis. Because it’s easy to forget what actually matters and lose focus on the big picture when you’re in the thick of everyday life filled with screaming kids, to-do lists pages long and just constant pandemonium. But at the end of the day, when the kids are in bed and I’ve finally sat down for the first time, it’s imperative for my sanity that I force myself to take a deep breath and remember that today may “not be that day,” but I should always be grateful for whatever that day brought me because tomorrow, that day will be gone.

 

The Day I Believed

IMG_1455
A handful of my Guardian Angels

Do I believe in God? It’s a pretty simple question, right? Eight years ago I would have had a prompt, definite answer. Because I used to. I used to pray every night when I was a little girl. As I got older those prayers turned into long (one-sided) conversations with my mother – asking her advice, telling her about my days. Throughout my entire childhood I remember interrogating my grandma every time I visited her, asking about her experiences with God, what she thought Heaven was like, what happened when you died… and the questions went on and on. Thankfully, my extremely religious grandmother was always happy to answer to the best of her ability. Today, however, my beliefs are skewed. Life changes a person. Things happen that make you question everything you once believed in. So if someone asks me that question now, I honestly don’t really know what my answer would be.

Now I’m a fairly cautious person. But my “mom brain” is most definitely pretty solid, and trust me when I say I forget A LOT. As in most days I can’t remember what I was thinking by the time I’ve walked to the other side of the room. However for the most part, my overall anxiety keeps me fairly on my toes when it comes to safety. Yet something different happened today.

I decided to make lasagna for dinner, which required the sauce to simmer for a fairly long time. But as with so many moments in my daily life, I got in a hurry. It was time to pick up Jaycob from the bus, the girls were up and needing a snack, and we had to hurry up and hustle out the door to get to swim practice in time. With some work, I quickly assembled the lasagna, threw the pan in the sink, picked up Jaycob and got everyone gathered up and out the door on time.

As I was pulling out of the driveway I was stopped short by a very funny feeling. I wasn’t sure what or why, but I felt with all of my being that something wasn’t right. I immediately put the car in park and ran inside. I looked around briefly and sure enough, my stove burner was still burning. Without hesitation, I quickly turned it off, gave the dog a pat on her head and ran back outside.

I sat in the car for a minute, my heart pumping like I had just got done running a marathon, trying to process what the hell just happened. A million different “what if” scenarios were racing through my head… none of which were good. With shaking hands, I turned around, looked at each of my kids, smiled and told them I loved them. I took a deep breath, and we headed off to swim.

I don’t know what sparked that uneasy feeling in my stomach today. More than likely my subconscious was more aware of me not following my own rules [turn stove on, turn stove off, close safety burner lid and done], more than even my conscious state was.  However today I choose to believe in something bigger. Today I choose to believe that I have a Guardian Angel (well, who am I kidding, SEVERAL of them) who is indeed looking down on me and lending a helping hand in keeping me and my family safe. And maybe nothing would have even happened. But I’m all too familiar with “what ifs” turning into realities. So today after eight years, I said my first prayer – a prayer of thanks for whomever up above just saved my ass from having my house blow up or whatever other crazy, horrible thing that could have happened. Today I’m putting aside all of my anger towards The Power(s) at Be and simply saying my prayers. Because you never know who’s listening.