She Made Me Strong and Fierce

Last Sunday, I was writing out my Christmas cards. Okay, I was addressing envelopes. Because honestly, even though I know some people will judge me, I do not have the mental energy required to personalize every single card.

Happy Holidays! Love, My Family!

I address envelopes in alphabetical order because, as a traditionalist, I keep an address book. It is the easiest way to not miss anyone if I start with A and go all the way to Z.

When I reached the Ss, I cried. I whimpered and tears filled my eyes. Aunt B passed away last month, and the sadness is still fresh. I had cried the week before while putting presents in the basement because her present from last year is still down there and wrapped. We never made it to her house for a visit like we usually do in December. I had excuses. Now, I have regrets.

Aunt B loved me. I knew it. She loved me as a child, although we shared no blood. When she passed away and I needed a day off, I had to explain. “See, Aunt B was my godfather’s wife. They divorced in my early teens. I didn’t see her for years. I didn’t see him either. He skipped all my important events. She didn’t come in case he was there, figuring he “won” me in the divorce. She didn’t know. And when she saw me again at my bridal shower, she cried tears of joy. Aunt B was back in my life. Anyway… She passed. I am not okay. I’m going to say goodbye.”

So she’s not really your aunt then?

I mean, maybe not by definition, but she is my family. I love her and she loves me. And what else is family but that?

I was nervous about going to her service. I did not think anyone would recognize me. It has been twenty years since I had seen her son. I met her granddaughter at Sunshine’s first birthday party. She was coincidentally dating my brother in law at that time. So I would probably be familiar to her in a I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it sort of way. But otherwise, I could be anyone crashing a funeral. What if I was not sad enough? What if I was too sad?

Thankfully, my mother offered to go with me. My older sisters also came to pay their respects to someone that was part of their childhoods.

And they did know me. “She kept all of your letters,” her son said. “I’d love to get them back to you.”

I cried quietly in the back of the parlor. I let my mother hold my hand. She held my whole body while I sobbed in the parking lot. “I just got her back,” I cried. “I loved her. I just got her back.”

This time of year is difficult. It is filled with joy and anticipation and love, but it always reminds me of loss as well.

“What will you be doing for Thanksgiving?”

This is a simple question.

But the answer is great.

I never leave home for Thanksgiving. See, Thanksgiving was a Grandma holiday. All of the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, everyone… We all went to Grandma’s for dinner. She set up three tables. The dining room for the adults. The living room for the teens. The kitchen for the kids. It was a big event. Grandma was not a great cook, but she had foods we were used to, we expected, and we appreciated.

In 2007, I was a senior in undergrad. I came home for the holiday as I usually did. But Grandma would not be cooking. She was in the hospital, recovering from surgery to remove a tumor.

Dad asked me if I wanted to go see her before break ended, and I wavered. Hospitals trigger my anxiety. The smell, the fear, the death lurking around each corner… It is all too much for me.

In the end, I went.

Grandma passed away less than two weeks later, having never fully recovered from her surgery. A blood clot traveled to her heart. She went quickly. Death had been waiting for her around that corner. She was gone.

I will never forget what happened when I found out. Saint Daddy had left my dorm room about twenty minutes before. It was a Sunday in December. It was dark outside. My roommate was not back from her boyfriend’s. I was watching American Beauty and typing an essay for Women’s Lit that was due before noon the next day. My phone rang. It was my sister. Strange. “Grandma’s gone. She died. She died.” She repeated herself because the words made no sense. I dropped the phone to the floor, and I sobbed. Audibly. In that quiet dorm room. I called Saint Daddy, and he offered to come back. I told him not to. I would find someone on campus who would help me feel less alone.

I did. I had friends in a dorm across campus who told me to come over immediately. We watched something funny that I cannot remember. They offered me silence and companionship, and I was grateful.

In the morning, I went to my Women’s Lit professor and asked for an extension. She told me not to even worry about the essay. She asked if I needed a ride home. She was willing to drive me three hours to be with family. She contacted my other professors. She told me I could miss her final, which was the following week. She was my professor for four other courses in undergrad, I was taking Women’s Lit as an independent study, she knew what kind of student I was, and she did not need more evidence of my dedication to know what grade I would receive in the course.

She did not drive me home. I gratefully accepted a few extensions, but all of my work was in before the semester ended. I took all of my finals. Perhaps that is why the offer was made. I was not the kind of student who would take it unless I was completely shattered.

But I was shattered. Thin, spidery lines of weakness spread over my person. I was destroyed.

Grandma was, and will always be, the strongest person I know. As I grow older, I learn more about her, and I am even more in awe of her. She was born at a time when being a woman came with few choices. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Her class ring is in my jewelry box and mentioned in my will. She married, at 18, a man 11 years older than she was. She had four children, peppered with a few miscarriages. She worked long hours on factory floors to help feed her children. She developed fierce lady friendships. Her dear friend, whom I knew as Nana, loved us all. Nana’s piano is in my dining room. She stopped her car to pick up trash in the streets, she threatened naughty kids with her shoe, she gave us presents of things she found in her house, and she rounded up all of her grandchildren for movie nights followed by hamburgers at McDonald’s.

Grandma never missed a concert, a performance, a party, or a graduation. She picked us up for sleepovers. She was the emergency contact at school, and she answered the call a few times when my belly was upset, bringing me to her house where she provided saltines and cartoons until Mom came.

We had picnics in the backyard. She pummeled ramen soup to bits. She taught me every card game I knew at her coffee table with hot tea and butter cookies. She reminded me that seven is the Lord’s number, so we always shuffle seven times. She took me with her to performances at the city’s concert hall. She had season passes, and I was her favorite date, she said.

When I quit my first job, I walked to her house, ashamed. I believed she would berate me for giving up. We had recently talked about how much I hated it. Instead, she told me that she knew I did what my heart told me to do. When I missed home my first year at undergrad, she wrote me letters to remind me that home would be there but I was in the right place.

She was tough and loving. I am lucky to have had her in my life.

When we lost her, I began to think about all of the things I would no longer have. She would not be at my college graduation. She would not be at my wedding. She would never hold my children. She would not know the person whom I was to become.

There would never be another Thanksgiving at Grandma’s.

Saint Daddy and I bought our first home eight months after Grandma passed away. We lived three and a half hours from our families, and we decided together that we wanted a holiday we spent at home.

Thanksgiving is that holiday.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Staying home. Staying home because on December 2, 2007, I lost one of the greatest people I will ever know. I carry her with me at all times. I gave Sunshine her name. But the holiday would always have been filled with sadness if I did not make a huge change.

The thing, what my Women’s Lit professor even tried to tell me, is my grandmother is never not with me. Whatever I believe when it comes to afterlife does not matter ultimately. Because the memory of Grandma is always here.

Grandma helped shape the person I am. She made me strong and fierce.

And sure, I have mental illness, but it turns out, Grandma had her demons too. But she lived at a time when it was not okay to acknowledge it.

But Grandma showed me how to be a mom. She showed me to how to keep going. She showed me how to love yourself and your family.

This time of year is filled with joy and with the remembrances of loss.

I am so lucky to have known people worthy of being missed.

Have You Found Your Thing?

When Sunshine was less than a year old, a coworker stopped me in the hallway to comment on how quickly I had lost weight.

“I cannot believe how good you look for having an infant. I never looked that good again after having kids. But look at you!”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been running again.”

She said, and I will never forget this comment, “I just don’t see how you can do it. You’re away from her all day. Don’t you think you should be spending that time with her instead?”

She had taken off from work when her children were little, she said. You cannot get that time back with them, she said. Maybe you should reconsider, she said. You have your whole life to get fit again, she said.

But for me, running is not just about fitness.

I was never fit growing up. I was the pudgy one of my parents’ older children. I was not athletic. I wore the same sizes as my older sister until we hit puberty, and then, I was a size or two larger. I did not enjoy sweating or being outside or sunshine. I was a homebody through and through.  In undergrad, I put on the freshman twenty-five without any issues. I loved food and sitting around watching reruns while I drank a Coke and ate salt and vinegar potato chips or graham crackers smothered in gobs of creamy Jif.

There was no shame in my emotional eating game.

I did not become active until sophomore year. I had a horrendous roommate, and the rec center on campus gave me somewhere to go. I worked out and discovered cottage cheese and egg white omelets and portion control.

Saint Daddy and I did not see each other for six weeks that spring because of how our spring breaks lined up and he did not have a car and I could not drive. He called me one afternoon, wanting to see my new room after I had finally convinced res life to let me move out of that situation, and when he walked into my room with a cherry gelati from Rita’s in his hand and his roommate trailing behind him, he thought I had given up eating altogether.

I did not. I was eating well and working out. Food was still delicious, but it was more fresh fruit than processed carbs.

My fitness level fluctuated a lot over the next few years.

I took up running about a year after Saint Daddy and I got married. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and told me that I should limit my caffeine intake and take up exercise and see if the combination of the three helped curtail my daily panic attacks. He said, “The trick with exercise is to find something that works for you. That something is not what works for everyone. But you have to find your thing and love it. Then it’ll become part of your life.”

One day, I had off from work and Saint Daddy did not. I put on my sneakers, a pair of New Balance that my dad had gotten me during a BOGO event four years before that day, and walked to the park near our home. I ran two laps on the path around the park, and I went home.

Two days later, I did it again. But I did it faster. Without even trying. I thought, “I wonder how fast I could do that…” Two days later, I did it as fast as I could. I impressed myself. I did not know how far I had run, but I knew I had run.

Shortly thereafter, I looked up a Couch to 5K program, and set out to impress myself some more.

I did give up caffeine. I have been caffeine free since 2010, no easy feat for a full-time working mom with multiples. If I have more caffeine than the amount in a small cup of decaf coffee, I suffer from heart palpitations, chest pains, and nausea. Another doctor said it is an intolerance. Sometimes, I call it an allergy because people understand that term better.

And I ran.

I have been running since 2010. I am pretty good at it. I cannot run very fast. I cannot run very far. But I run with heart. That is what makes me good at it. I am a runner. The kind of runner that gets irritated by the term “jogger.”  I have been properly fitted. I have opinions on running brands. I actually use the treadmill in my basement. I rarely miss a run.

When Sunshine was born in 2013, I went back to running.

It was not only to get my body back. It was to get myself back.

When I run, my only competition is the person I thought I was. The person I thought I was did not run at all or could only run for a quarter of a mile at a time or could not run better than a twelve minute mile or did not have the endurance for a 5K. She certainly could not run a half marathon.

But I am not the person that I thought I was.

And running has helped my mental health immensely. Because I am constantly beating that person that I thought I was, I know that I am strong and capable.

Is it perfect? No. I run three times a week. I used to run four times a week. But I still have panic attacks. I still wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. We still sit on the aisle at the theater. I still hate driving. Running does not cure my anxiety.

But it helps me to remember that I am the one in control of it.

I often think about that conversation with my former coworker. I have since switched jobs. I have moved on. I will likely never see her again. We are not friends on any social media platforms.

But I think of her. I think of what she represents.

This is my love letter mommas everywhere.

Find your thing.

Run or dance or draw or take bubble baths or go out for a drink with your friends.

Find your thing that helps you feel like a person. Find your thing that allows you to feel strong and capable and brilliant. Find your thing that helps you to see the good in yourself and in the world.

No one asks Saint Daddy how he can stand to be away from our children for an hour or two each week so that he can go to the gym. No one wonders how he manages to stay in shape or read or write or tutor or sleep or eat.

Mommas of the world are not required to explain to anyone why they need time for themselves.

That coworker was right. Sunshine was only a baby for a little bit. She is very much a kid now. But giving up my thirty minutes of sanity three times a week was not going to slow down that time. It was also not going to make me a better mother.

I believed then, and I believe now, that I am a better mother because I know what my thing is. I am more present when I am with my children than I would be otherwise. I feel happier because I have taken care of me. Running is how I take care of me.

Never let naysayers tell you that you should not have something for yourself just because you have babies. You do not deserve that guilt or that anxiety.

And for me, comments like that do fuel my anxiety. Now, I can look back and see that giant grain of salt. But in the moment, with my infant at home and me missing her dreadfully all day, I allowed that thought to consume me. It was unfair of her to make something simple into something so sinister. Saint Daddy understood. I understood. Sunshine was thriving. That was all that mattered.

And, mommas and daddies, taking that time for you does not make you any less of a loving parent. If anything, it makes you that much more capable of being exactly what your children need.

Have you found your thing?

It Is All Sunshine’s Fault

Almost every mother I know will tell you that her first child was an angel. Her first child lulled her into complacency. Her first child somehow convinced her that parenting was easy. She could do anything. Her first child did not yell or climb or throw things.

There are exceptions, of course. My best friend’s first was difficult from birth. She has had plenty of rough moments with him.

But, for the most part, moms agree that baby number one was a breeze.

That is certainly the case here.

Sunshine arrived on the scene two weeks late after a rather uneventful pregnancy. She cried at night if she was not in her swing for the first six weeks, but once she overcame that six week growth spurt, she slept on her back in Saint Daddy’s grandmother’s cradle next to my side of the bed. I could easily reach her there for her middle of the night nursing sessions, which we were both pros at by six weeks. She nursed once or twice a night, and I placed her fresh diapered and full bellied into her cradle where she slept happily until her tummy told her it was time for more noms.

At three months old, I transferred her to her crib in the nursery, which adjoined our room. I expected a fight, but she accepted it beautifully. She hit all of her milestones at a delightfully average rate that caused me not even the slightest concern. She grew on her growth curve; she took to solids right at six months. I did not think too hard. It seemed natural and fitting and completely intuitive.

She did not require baby proofing. She was not a climber. Sunshine did not put random things in her mouth. We put a baby gate up to keep her in the living room and made sure she could not pull items out of the entertainment center, which would cause us more work. But she was not destructive. She did not like messes.

Sunshine was pure bliss.

I told people that Sunshine most assuredly was not completely human. She was too easy, too good-natured, too smart to be completely of this world. At least half of her was alien. It was the only explanation.

In deciding to have a second baby, Saint Daddy and I knew that we were pressing our luck. It seemed unlikely that our second child would be as calm as Sunshine. We referred to this hypothetical child as Sunshine’s Little Brother or even, sometimes, by the name we would eventually bestow upon Sleepy. We knew that Little Brother or Sleepy would rock our world.

When people would ask me if we planned a second child (a question I will always loathe), I would tell them that we were trying to decide if it was worth tempting fate. There was no way we could possibly get two little aliens, nature and nurture be damned.

But of course, I always knew that, if I was having one child, I would be having two. It is not that I see anything wrong with only children, but being raised with so many siblings, I knew that I wanted my children to always have each other in the way that I always have my siblings. We would press our luck. We would see what happened. We would try anyway.

And we did.

But then there were two flickering heartbeats inside two little seahorses.

We never would have had three children. No matter what, at the end of that second pregnancy, one of us was getting “fixed.” That was the agreement. But God wanted Saint Daddy and I to have three babies. That is why he sent us twins. We would not have had a third otherwise. He knew it.

Ideally, as Saint Daddy said, exactly one of them would be a boy. But if he had to choose two of the same sex, he wanted two girls. Saint Daddy makes such a wonderful little girl daddy. Worst case scenario, we would have two boys on our hands. Worst case.

And then, we did.

Our sons were nothing like Sunshine from the first day. We struggled in the hospital with nursing. Sleepy was too sleepy to care about eating. Grumpy was a gassy baby and needed extra care. They woke frequently and at random intervals. Saint Daddy and I separately considered running away. It was a very difficult time for us.

I turned to pumping, which strained us further at the beginning. I spent hours of each day with my breast pump. Saint Daddy took on a lot of the burden.

Then they needed solids earlier than I would have liked. Grumpy reacted poorly to foods, but I could not figure out which ones. Our world was a blur and time was meaningless, and it took too long to figure out. They did not sit up until almost the age that Sunshine was when she started to crawl. They crawled quickly enough after that, but they did not walk until much later than she did, late enough that the doctor began to worry me about it.

Their language development is right on target. But one thing the pediatrician does not measure is their capacity for destruction. Sunshine ripped exactly one book in her first two years of life. Grumpy and Sleepy destroyed two books this week. And by destroyed, I do not mean ripped a page. I mean that they bent them open and stomped on them until their spines cracked and their pages fell out.

They rip apart toys. They throw. They break. They slammed a toy into the television, destroying pixels in the lower left hand corner. Grumpy has been to the hospital for stitches. Sleepy terrorizes the dog.

They are watched, but they are sneaky and unstoppable sometimes.

My best friend often tells me that Sunshine did not prepare us for human children. Nope.

Sunshine might be part alien, but our sons are one hundred percent human.

They are destruction and danger and tears.

Sometimes, I feel incapable of knowing what they need or what they will do next. I love them and hug them and try to teach them, but I know that I have my work cut out for me. Sunshine gave me such a beautiful feeling of complacency. Nothing could get me down when I was only Sunshine’s mother.

But Grumpy and Sleepy are why we cannot have nice things. They are the reason that my China cabinet’s drawers are on the dining room table and why Saint Daddy had to put a lock on the sliding door that leads to his office. They are the reason why we own giant gates and hid our movie collection. Grumpy and Sleepy are why Sunshine’s crayons, which she draws with nearly daily, are put away in another room so they cannot eat them or break them or, now that they have the dexterity with which to do so, color on my walls with them. They are why I do not sit comfortably on my couch in the evenings so as not to tempt them to higher heights.

Right now, Sleepy and Grumpy are throwing toy cars at each other’s heads in the living room. I have already learned that there is not anything worth doing about it. One of them may get hurt, and I will comfort him if he does. But I will also say, “Maybe you will learn not to participate in those sorts of shenanigans in the future.”

Then again, what do I know? I thought parenting would be a breeze.

And it is all Sunshine’s fault.

The Case of the Missing Library Book

I hate feeling like a nuisance.

My brain regularly tells me that I am a nuisance to people, and I go out of my way to not actually be one.

Yesterday, I had to be a nuisance.

Sunshine is doing really well at school. She loves going and she is learning so much already. She has been able to identify letters for a couple of years, but her ability to recognize letter sounds has exploded in the last month. Her teacher is going awesome things with her already.

She is a little overwhelmed by the long days. Sunshine’s only experience outside of our home were 2.5 hour days of preschool, three days a week, the year she was three. We allowed her a mental health day on Friday to reset and recharge. Kids need mental health days too.

But Sunshine has been flustered by one thing. She has not been permitted to take out a library book since the very first day that they visited the library.

Sunshine was really excited about library class. I took her to the public library for the first time when she was barely three and it became a regular event for us that summer.

When she climbed into her carseat at the end of that school day, she told me all about library. They got a tour, she picked a book, and she brought it home.

“I picked the Grinch, but they must’ve known I already have it, so they gave me a cat book instead. I like cats too.”

That’s wonderful, baby. You love cats! And you don’t need the Grinch book. We already have it.

That night, I read her library book with her. In it, a cat named Chester goes to the library and learns how to properly care for the books. I found it an apt choice for her first book from her school’s library.

After reading the book, I told Sunshine to put it in her backpack so that it was ready for the next day she had library class.

I saw that book in her bag every morning when I put her lunch into it and every afternoon when I checked her take-home folder. That was the case until library day rolled around again.

Then the book disappeared, but Sunshine did not have a new book.

Didn’t you want a new book today?

“They wouldn’t let me get a new book because I didn’t bring back my first one. It must’ve been lost.”

Did you take it out of your backpack sometime today?

“I gave it to the aide. She must’ve lost it. I couldn’t get a book.”

Sunshine’s disappointment was evident. She loves books. She loves libraries. And I know she could not have loved watching her new friends select books when she could not.

I told her that I was sure it would be figured out before next library day. Maybe the aide set it in the wrong pile. She had plenty of books at home.

I try to project a calm outlook about these sorts of things. I do not want to overreact, especially in front of Sunshine or her brothers.

It’ll be fine, baby. They’ll figure it out.

But on the next library day, Sunshine still did not come home with a book. This is when I talked to Saint Daddy about it.

It doesn’t make any sense, I said. She carried that book back and forth to school for two weeks. What do they mean that she never returned it?

“I’ll email her teacher.”

Here is where my nuisance idea comes in. Teachers are busy. I know how busy they are. They have hundreds of things to deal with every day. They make countless decisions. They are responsible for so much every single moment of their day. There is so much to think about. Their jobs are difficult.

The last thing I would want to do is give Sunshine’s teacher one more thing to think about.

But on the same token, Sunshine did return her book. She did not deserve to be punished for not doing so.

Thank you.

Sunshine’s teacher said that she had borrowed How the Grinch Stole Christmas and never returned it.

I picked Sunshine up from school a few days later, and her teacher met me in the office to discuss the case of the missing library book.

I told her that Sunshine had mentioned thinking she had borrowed “the Grinch,” but that the school must have known she already owned it and sent her home with another book instead. She did not bring home “the Grinch.”

Her teacher offered to email all of the parents to see if maybe their child accidentally brought home Sunshine’s book.

A week passed.

The librarian sent an email to Saint Daddy and me. Sunshine owes this book.

Saint Daddy said I would explain what I believed happened.

I became a little flustered. I felt like a nuisance. It is one book. Should I just offer to pay for it so Sunshine can get books again? Is that the right thing to do? But what if another kid does have Sunshine’s book? Can it be located?

I told the story, a little more briefly than I did above. I hit send.

My cheeks flushed.

I know this probably seems like such a small thing to become so agitated over. I sent that email at the end of my lunch hour, and when I went to my next meeting, someone asked me if I was having a bad day.

No. Not really. I was just nervous. What if I was accused of lying? What if what I said made no sense? What if it does not help? What if Sunshine never takes home another library book from school again? What if the mistakes of adults result in punishing my child?

I needed closure for that event.

With anxiety, even small things can incite large responses. And the best way for my responses to end quickly is closure. The wait for that closure is filled with a million what-ifs. Waiting means my brain begins to wander. My waiting brain has too much of an opportunity to destroy me.

I needed a response. I needed it quickly. I needed Saint Daddy to say something to me.

By the end of my meeting, the librarian let me know that the book Sunshine brought home was on the shelf. She said she knew who checked it out and that she would check with his family to see if they had Sunshine’s book. However, she was clearing Sunshine’s account. Sunshine would definitely be coming home with a book on her next library day.

Even now, writing this, more than twenty-four hours after it happened, I am realizing how minor this whole event was. It was a non-event. Emailing about this issue was entirely appropriate.

I know that.

However, anxiety often means putting more stock into an event than it deserves. Anxiety means that I think other people think about me in the same obsessive way I think about myself or in the exact opposite way.

Saint Daddy recently told me that I sometimes operate in extremes.

That is true. I do.

That is my anxiety. That is what anxiety does for me.

I do not imagine that it works exactly the same way for everyone, but that is how anxiety affects me.

I have begun working on my awareness of that. I am trying to find my equilibrium. I am trying to remind myself that sending an email is not that big of a deal. Not in the grand scheme of things.

I am glad that Saint Daddy and I solved the case of the Missing library book.

Sunshine deserves a library day. It was worth being a little bit of a nuisance to do that for her.

Behind the Wheel Fears (Part Two)

I learned to drive ten years ago. I had my accident ten years ago. I am afraid of driving.

Driving is one of those anxiety-inducing triggers that I must face every single day. I have to drive. I have to take myself to work five days a week. I have to pick Sunshine up from school five days a week. I have to run errands, go to ballet, and take my children to the doctor.

To be a functioning adult in suburbia, I need to drive.

I will always hate it. I will always be afraid of it. But I will always do it.

I know that everyone who battles anxiety must have a few triggers that they cannot avoid. That they must face every day. That they need to overcome in order to exist. I cannot avoid this trigger in the way that I avoid other ones.

Late last week, I was driving to pick up Sunshine from school. Her school is in a complex located just off one of those highways that run through commercial areas. The flow of traffic is steady, broken only by the occasional red light.

I was driving along, listening to Taylor Swift, Sunshine’s favorite artist, thinking about how much I did not like the book I was reading at the time. Maybe I should give that up and find something else. I was driving 40 miles per hour. A car waiting to turn right at the next light turned in front of me. There was plenty of space between our cars. She made a good decision. Without hesitation, the minivan behind her also made the same decision. This time, there was not enough space between us. I braked slightly, but the minivan did not speed up. My car rushed toward its rear bumper. I slammed my brakes, they squealed against the road, I hit my horn, my heart race, and I checked my options.

There was open space in the left lane, so I quickly pulled into it and passed the minivan.

My heart was in my throat when I pulled behind the last car in the parent pickup line, put my car in park, and picked up my phone.

I texted Saint Daddy.

“Driving seems like such an outmoded way to get around. There must be a better way to do it. Someone should get on that.”

I am always afraid that I will be in another accident. My accident was entirely my fault. Although, Saint Daddy did say that he had noticed that my Breeze did not maneuver turns well. He wished he would have warned me. Even if he had, though, I am sure the same thing would have happened. I did not think I was going too fast.

I am not worried about my driving, though. I know that my accident made me a hyper-aware driver. I check my mirrors, I pay attention to my blind spots, I wait my turn. I am not 100% sure if the opposite of an aggressive driver is a passive one. I do not even really know if I would consider myself to be the opposite of an aggressive driver, but I trust myself behind the wheel.

What I hate about driving is not me; it is them.

Driving is unpredictable because I do not know what other drivers might do. I was being perfectly safe and cautious in the right lane. Sunshine’s school was less than a half a mile away, so I would not have gone into the left lane of my own volition in case I had to be aggressive in getting over again. I am not interested in high emotion driving. The minivan, though, is something I could not predict.

I do not know what went on with the driver of the minivan. She made a dangerous choice, but I do not know how much thought went into it. The minivan turned out of a medical complex, the same one where I take my children to their pediatrician. Maybe she had received bad news. Maybe she was distracted and not thinking of the task at hand. There are a hundred maybes for that one driver.

And there are millions of drivers on the road.

I cannot even begin to imagine their maybes. I cannot even begin to fathom their what-ifs.

I hate driving because it is unpredictable. At any time, a white minivan could pull out in front of me. A red SUV could slam on its brakes. A black sedan could swerve into my lane.

I have to be hyper-vigilant, and I feel the weight of that bearing down on me every time I get behind the wheel. I cannot know, and that lack of knowledge threatens to throw me into a hurricane of thoughts I cannot control.

My children ride in the car with me. Recently, I drove Saint Daddy somewhere and dropped him off. I then drove our three children home with me. It was dark and raining. While we were near home, I was not very familiar with how to return to our safe little nest. Sunshine was telling me all about My Little Pony. Grumpy and Sleepy were taking turns shouting out nonsense and giggling. I missed a turn, and I tensed up.

It was early fall. 70°. And my brain told me to watch for black ice.

What if you’re in an accident with your babies in the car? What if you destroy part of them like you destroyed part of you? What if you give them scars to carry? What if you’re the problem?

Black ice!

The thought was absurd. I knew it at the time. “There’s not going to be black ice right now. What’s wrong with you?”

But how do you know?

I fought against my anxiety as I “uh-huh”-ed everything Sunshine said about Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence and their cutie marks. I told my anxiety about science as I found my way unto the bypass, a road that meant familiarity and increased speeds.

In the rain? You’re going to crash!

It meant more people around if there was a problem but also more headlights coming the other way.

Those bright lights are blinding, aren’t they? How are they even legal? You’re never going to see the turns in the road. You’re going to miss your exit. Look at that big puddle!

I hydroplaned a little bit. I always remember what Saint Daddy told me to do when that happens. I gripped the wheel, I let off the gas, I avoided my brake, and I felt traction come back under my wheels. Grumpy called for me “MA-MA!” Sleepy yelled, “DAD!” Sunshine kept prattling about the ponies.

I managed to make it to our exit and down the steep hill that led to home.

Sunshine began asking me about the reflective plastic in the middle of the road, and I explained to her that they helped drivers know where their lane ended to help everyone feel safe.

I wanted to make sure that Sunshine felt that safety, even though I rarely do in the car. Having the responsibility of three tiny souls while I drive only adds to that lack of security.

It is easier for me as a passenger. I can read or play on my phone and ignore the parts of being in a car that make me feel tension.

But I have to drive. I will always have to drive. It is a fact of my life that I cannot avoid.

I had thought that, by now, ten years later, a lot of my fears related to driving would have begun to disappear, but they have not. I am sure that is because of the unpredictable nature of my fellow drivers. I will never be able to control that variable.

So what can I do?

I make sure my babies are as safe as possible. The law says to rearface them until they are two, but science says to keep them that way until as close to four as possible. So that is what we do. Sunshine was three months shy of her fourth birthday when we switched her. Her brothers are still riding in the convertible carseats we strapped them into when we left the hospital with them right after birth. The law says to use a five point harness until four, but science says to keep them harnessed as long as possible. At the rate she is growing, Sunshine may fit in her convertible carseat until she is eight and she will be harnessed until she grows out of it. Grumpy and Sleepy will get the same seat Sunshine has when they are ready for an upgrade. Safety is worth inconvenience. Safety is worth the cost of a seat that will last longer. Safety protects my babies if something horrible does happen because of those variables that I cannot control.

For this reason, safety helps me handle my car anxiety.

I was not wearing my seatbelt when I crashed my car. Because of that, I lived and I walk. But I always wear it now.

Safety measures bring me traces of sanity when I feel powerless to overcome my thoughts.

There was no chance of black ice on that night, but my brain often tells me the impossible might be true.

I will drive, and I will be afraid. But at least I know some things that will help. And sometimes, that is the best I can hope for.

Twin Fears

Two years ago today, I went for an early ultrasound. A dating ultrasound. Standard practice. I had one with both of my pregnancies.

Sunshine’s was at 5+0 weeks. She was just a fluttering lump of cells, nothing discernable. But her heart was beating, and it was magical.

My second one was at 7+1. I was far more sick the second time than I was the first time. I could not find ways to quell my nausea.

I bloated quickly. If it is possible to begin showing at conception, then that is what I was doing. My BFFL said my face looked different at just six weeks. She knew it was a boy based on my face alone. My best friend knew I was pregnant before I told her because I looked “five pounds heavier” mere weeks after conception.

Sunshine said it was twins. I will never forget that. When Saint Daddy and I told her about my pregnancy, just shy of the five week mark, she said it was not a boy or a girl but both. Two babies, she said.

At that first ultrasound, at 7+1, I was nervous. I think every expectant momma in the first weeks feels that. She knows she is pregnant. She saw the test change before her eyes. She felt the early symptoms, but she had no real proof that a baby was coming.

I refer to it as pregnancy limbo. The momma knows, but she has little to show for the knowledge and she does not really want to tell anyone. So she is walking around with a big anxious secret, unsure of what the future might hold.

I once tried to explain that to Saint Daddy, but he did not quite grasp what I was saying. Mommas know it. I am sure.

Saint Daddy and Sunshine came with me for that ultrasound. Saint Daddy rarely missed any of my appointments. He is quite proud of being at all but one for Sunshine. The second time, he missed a few more. In his defense, I had a lot of appointments the second time. No one can blame him for missing a few.

We went back into the ultrasound room. The tech was very nice. She asked me some questions about how I was feeling. She assured me that the intense all-day nausea, the exhaustion, and the discomfort were all excellent signs of a healthy pregnancy. We would know soon enough, she said, just how healthy it was.

When I laid down on the table, I never imagined what I would see. Pregnancy limbo involves a fear that there might be nothing to see whenever an ultrasound occurs. Pregnancy limbo is a scary time. I prepared myself for the worst possibility. I steeled myself for it. I could never be ready for that devastating news, but I refused to be blindsided by the possibility of it.

Miraculously, I never had to use that preparation. I am lucky, I am grateful, and I am blessed.

What I did not truly prepare myself for was Sunshine’s guess that there were two babies in my belly.

I had laughed about it. I had told my best friend about it. I had told my BFFL about it. They laughed with me. “Could you imagine?” “Where would you put a second one?”

So I laid down on the table, I lifted my shirt up, and I waited.

The tech put jelly on my lower abdomen and she pressed the wand against me. The screen in front of Saint Daddy, Sunshine, and me remained black. She would not turn it on if she had bad news. I knew it. I held my breath. I prayed to God that it would be okay. That the baby would be okay.

We had already been calling the baby our Seahorse. That is what that ball of cells becomes next, a seahorse. Come on, little seahorse, be there. We want to see you.

I am sure it was only a minute, but it felt longer. But then, she turned on the screen. I let the air out of my lungs. That screen turning on meant our seahorse was growing, its heart was beating, the pregnancy was going well.

The tech told us all about our seahorse: the heartbeat, the size, he was measuring on schedule. It was exactly as expected.

“And then, this one.”

And she flipped her wrist ever so slightly up, and suddenly, there were two seahorses on the screen.

If you saw me tell this story in person, I would not be shy about the language I used at that moment. In the interest of keeping this a little more PG, however, suffice it to say, I dropped the f-bomb. Not angrily. It was in complete surprise. HOLY FRIGGING POOP! I said. Only not quite that way. IT’S TWINS! IT’S TWINS! SUNSHINE WAS RIGHT! IT’S TWINS! SHE SAID IT WAS TWINS AND IT IS TWINS! HOLY FRIGGING POOP!

I am sure everyone within a mile of that room heard my exclamations.

I laughed and I cried at the same time. It was so many thoughts and feelings at the same time.

The first thing I heard outside of my head was Saint Daddy. “We’re going to have to get a new car, aren’t we?”

I spent three days in a mystified stupor. I wanted to tell the world, but I was terrified.

I remained terrified throughout my twin pregnancy. I was prepared to carry a singleton. I had done it before. We could afford a second child. We bought the perfect car and perfect house for a family of four about a year beforehand.

I am a planner. It is one way I tackle my anxiety. I had planned this pregnancy. We had planned for Saint Daddy to begin working outside of the home again within a couple of years. We had planned. We had planned. We had planned.

We did not plan for twins, and I was terrified.

My mom carried twins once. Just briefly. Between two ultrasounds, one twin disappeared. This was completely normal. Six months later, the remaining twin arrived healthy and thriving. That remaining twin was me. And here I was carrying twins myself, and I worried about the possibility that I would face a similar story.

One of my colleagues learned that I was having twins, and she stopped me outside of an office to tell me about how she had lost a twin and survived. She wanted to reassure me that one healthy baby was worth the sadness.

But the second there were two seahorses, I wanted two healthy babies. I wanted two healthy babies in a way I had never expected to want them, and I was terrified that one would be taken from me.

I was selective about whom I told about the pregnancy. When my cousin texted me a congrats around ten weeks, I cried. I wanted another ultrasound before people knew. My mom called to apologize for telling her sisters. She did not realize how I was struggling. She made a mistake, but she was too excited not to share.

I prayed.

After a reassuring thirteen week ultrasound, I felt comfortable going public. The chances of losing either baby after the first trimester were slim. I never stopped worrying about it, but I breathed more easily.

Then I worried about pre-term labor. I read that gaining weight quickly could help prevent that from happening. I needed to build up my fat stores before my stomach ran out of space and I ended up eating less than I needed to support the three of us each day. Twenty-five pounds by twenty weeks was a daunting task. I had gained only three pounds in as much time with Sunshine.

But I did it.

It was one way to handle my fears. To feel like I had some sort of control.

I worried about bed rest. Saint Daddy and I could not afford three children, and an extended maternity leave was not going to help matters. I needed to work as long as possible.

I needed to rest. I needed to stay off my feet. I needed to lower my stress. And I needed to stay pregnant.

I had to give up running, one of my coping mechanisms, early in my pregnancy. Doctor’s orders. I needed to stop picking up Sunshine and carrying her. Doctor’s orders.

I needed to attend many appointments, miss work, take frequent breaks.

Then, Grumpy was breach. I would have to have a C-section. I had a beautiful natural delivery with Sunshine. It was all I wanted.

Part of my desire to have a natural delivery was because of my squeamishness in regards to the human body. IVs make me lightheaded. I do poorly with them.

However, no matter how I delivered my twins, I would need an IV. They would want me ready for immediate surgery. Twins meant considering a lot more “just in case” scenarios. Even if A and B are both head down, my doctors would want me ready for an emergent cesarean. It was not unheard of for a Baby B to flip around as soon as room became available.

I would also have to deliver in the OR, even if both babies came vaginally. The OR is big enough for the team of medical professionals needed for twin deliveries. It is big enough for two babies to come at the same time.

That was nerve-wracking enough for me.

But then, Grumpy was breach and a C-section was guaranteed. And not only would I definitely need an IV, but I would definitely need a spinal and I would definitely be having abdominal surgery while wide awake and I would definitely be strapped to a table and I would definitely have a panic attack while all of that was happening. That was a definite.

I was horrified.

My entire pregnancy came with fear. Fear that there was nothing. Fear that I would lose one. Fear that they would come early. Fear that I would panic on the table.

I was afraid.

The only fear that was actually realized was the last one. I did panic on the table. But my anesthesiologist recognized what was happening and she gave me something to lower my adrenaline-fueled response.

I lived in constant fear. I could not even talk about most of my fears.

I was happy. I was excited. I wanted to meet my sons. But I was terrified.

My boys were born at 38+0. I had a textbook pregnancy. I went on modified bedrest at 33+1. We passed all of the tests with flying colors. My delivery was perfect. My recovery went well.

My sons are amazing. They are perfect and beautiful. I love them with all of my heart and soul.

They were worth every fear, every tear, every moment spent in prayer.

I would never choose a life free of fear if it meant a life free of them. They have taught me so much about myself in the two years since I first saw them on that screen, my tiny flickering seahorses.

I am lucky to know them, to love them, to have them.

The end of my pregnancy was not the end of my twin fears. I am sure I will have new fears cropping up all of the time.

But my sons? They will always be worth it.

I Did It For Grumpy

I am not fascinated by the human body. When people share the intricacies of the human heart on social media, I block the page from which it originated. I am squeamish and squirmy about blood, cuts, wounds, holes in the body. I recognize that the human body is beautiful. A miracle. It is amazing what our bodies can do. I am the awe of the process of bringing new people into the world. Having twins made that even more pronounced. A single human being can create two lives simultaneously. Wow! Just… Wow!

But I do not want to watch it.

This squeamishness is why I waited until Sunshine asked me to before getting my ears pierced. The very idea of sticking pretty metal through holes in my body? No, thank you.

Hospitals make me uncomfortable. They smell of my anxiety. Something about the air in a hospital. It seems unnatural. I tense up as soon as I smell it.

Yesterday, I experienced both of these events together, and I did it all for Grumpy.

Grumpy and Sleepy recently learned how to climb onto the couch. Sunshine was not a climber. I recently told my best friend that Sunshine only learned to climb onto the couch six months ago. Slight hyperbole. But really, she was not a climber.

Sleepy is a climber, and Grumpy? He likes to do what Sleepy does.

The boys both love climbing onto the couch and sitting there like big boys. Saint Daddy and I say that they like being “Kings of the Castle.”

Yesterday, Grumpy climbed onto the couch while I watched America’s Got Talent on Hulu and painted Sunshine’s toes. I snapped a picture of him, looking adorable as King of the Castle. Saint Daddy came home from the gym. Sleepy was wandering around the dining room with a ball, saying, “ball, ball, ball.” Saint Daddy entered the kitchen, and Grumpy fell off the side of the couch.

He had fallen before, but this was different.

He screamed. Not cried. Screamed.

I jumped up. Saint Daddy called, “What was that?”

I picked up Grumpy, and there was blood dripping from near his mouth. I took him to Saint Daddy for a look. I knew me, and looking would make my woozy. I would have to sit down. I would need cold water and five minutes, and Grumpy needed love. He did not need to be patient.

Saint Daddy said there was too much blood. He did not know where it was coming from, so I took Grumpy to the entryway to assess him in better light.

The bleeding was coming from the bottom of his cheek, near his mouth, not his tongue. I worried he had bit off part of his tongue. But this was external.

Saint Daddy looked again.

There was a hole in Grumpy’s cheek and something was inside the hole. One of us needed to take Grumpy to the hospital.

And suddenly, I had Grumpy in the car, covered in blood, only half a water bottle of water, no dinner for either of us, my cell phone at less than 20%, and on our way to the hospital.

Two of my big stressors. Wounds and hospitals.

Motherhood.

I held Grumpy in the waiting room while a kind older woman asked solicitous questions about him. She hoped he was okay. She would pray for us.

When we went back to be admitted by a nurse, Grumpy panicked. He was in pain. He did not know what was going on, and I know he was starving. The oxygen monitor was a nuisance, he refused to settle long enough to be weighed, and he screamed bloody murder when the nurse put a hospital bracelet on his leg.

I tried to comfort him but he did not know how to hold his head. He wanted his thumb, but it hurt to put it in his mouth.

We went back to a room to wait. My cell battery drained, and I switched to power save mode, hoping it would last well enough to keep Saint Daddy updated. I texted my best friend and my oldest sister. I wished we had a book or a toy for Grumpy to focus on.

I tried to keep us both calm.

I was being calm for him.

Yesterday, I talked to a coworker about how it is easier to put my anxiety aside when I have to do it for someone else. Even something as simple as ordering garlic knots after we already ordered. I could do it for her, but I could not have done it for me. No worries, I’ll do it for you.

No worries, Grumpy, I will do it for you.

I sang to him. Twinkle, twinkle little star… I explained to him that we were in the hospital and that the people there all have one thing in common. They all want to help other people not feel pain. And they were going to help him not feel pain. I tried not to look at his injury. I tried not to cry.

The PA came in with an assistant. I laid Grumpy on the bed, and she cleaned his face. I had to hold his arms over his head while he screamed and cried and writhed. I felt helpless. I could not stop it. It had to be done, but I hated it. I saw his injury up close. Two clear punctures.

I began to feel light-headed. I quelled my nausea.

The PA said that there was something in the wound. She asked what did it, and I told her that he had a toy dinosaur in his hand when he fell. She was mystified that parts of the dinosaur could be in Grumpy’s face, but she would get it out.

She said she needed a scalpel to clean the wound better.

Here is another example of his need outweighing my anxiety.

I said, “I won’t be able to watch that.”

She said, “You can wait in the waiting room.”

I said, “No, I can’t do that either. He’s my baby, and I’m going to be here with him.”

Grumpy and I waited again. When the PA came back, she brought a nurse to help hold Grumpy and a papoose to secure his arms and legs.

She numbed his face and used a scalpel to clean his wound. I looked into his eyes the entire time.

“Mommy’s here, baby. I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here. I’m so sorry, baby. I wish I could stop it, but I can’t. I love you. You’re doing such a great job. You’re being so brave. Almost done.”

It felt like it lasted forever as the PA removed the dinosaur and stitched his two punctures. The nurse brought him a freeze pop and a stuffed cat, and he was discharged.

We stopped at CVS to pick up Grumpy’s antibiotic and something for Grumpy to eat, since we both missed dinner and I wanted him in bed as soon as possible. He saw a display of toy cars, and I let him choose one. A white convertible with blue stripes. I bought him Fruit Loops and let him munch on those as we waited for his prescription.

Grumpy became immediately attached to both the car and the Fruit Loops.

We arrived home to great fanfare. Everyone was still awake. I gave Grumpy a wipe down to remove any blood, got him changed, and put him in bed.

Saint Daddy and I decided to use the baby monitor for the first time in six months in case Grumpy needed us. He whimpered in his sleep a few times, but he did not need us.

Babies are strong and brave and resilient. Grumpy is a tough guy.

My mother’s heart was hurting. I am so glad Grumpy is okay. It could have been much worse. But I wish it had never happened. I wish I could have prevented it.

I am mad at me, and I will never get the sight of his tiny distressed eyes reaching out to me from that hospital bed while I stood feet away. They searched for me, they begged me, and I felt helpless to do anything for him.

My anxiety makes everything about last night the stuff of my nightmares. Blood and wounds and hospitals. Not enough water, being alone, nothing to occupy my brain.

But I did it for Grumpy.

My anxiety is no match for the love I have for my son.

I hope to never have to relive that experience again, but with three children that seems unlikely. However, I will do what I must for my babies, my own issues be damned!

You Will Always Be a Part of Me

“What’s it like having so many siblings?”

I have been asked that question countless times in my life, and I almost always respond in the same way. Well, Janet, what’s it like only having one?

How is anyone who has only ever lived their life one way supposed to know precisely how to compare it to a life lived another way? I have always had many siblings. By the time I was old enough to truly be aware of it, there were four of us and another on the way. By many standards, three siblings is “so many,” so I know next to nothing about what it is like.

What is it like?

Loud. Having many siblings is loud. It was always loud. There was always talking and yelling and screaming and singing and laughter. Everywhere. Sometimes simultaneously. There was not much room for silence growing up. We sang so much, a habit garnered from our mother, that there was a strict “no singing at the dinner table” rule that we followed on all days of the year, even holidays. Many of us still sing regularly. Saint Daddy used to comment on my singing about what I was doing. He rarely does anymore. Although, he recently called my toothbrushing song “catchy.” Sunshine often shouts “stop singing!” in my direction.

Violent. We fought. We scuffled on the floor. We threw things at each other and ripped items out of each other’s hands. My oldest sister once, in a fit of rage after I refused to do her chores, cornered me in the kitchen while holding a knife asking why I would not just die. My younger brother once pushed my head into the coffee table and sat on it until I stabbed him in the leg with a fork. A few of us carry scars on our bodies from encounters with one another.

Supportive. We would go to bat for each other over anything. My oldest sister once landed a punch for my second oldest sister. When a girl behind me in the lunch line started making fun of my hair and my oldest sister heard her taunts, she stepped in. “That’s my sister. If you have something to say about her, you can say it to me.” The girl did not say another word. When my almost junior prom date spread a rumor about how “lucky” he was going to get because he knew the girls in my family were “easy,” my brother, who is a year younger than me, let him know his opinion on the matter.

Open. There is literally nothing off limits at a gathering of my siblings. This may be something we also picked up from our parents, but we do not hold back when it comes to topics of discussion. We never did. None of us ever had The Talk because it was all just a fact of life. Now, as adults, we are still very open with each other. I can tell my sisters anything, and it will be okay. I trust them.

Cramped. My parents packed us in places. Mom drove a minivan, we all had assigned seats, and it felt like there was always a sweaty arm pressed against mine. If we took friends somewhere, laws were stretched. I remember sitting on the floor next to the sliding door of that white van with the fake wood panel. There were no seats. It was not safe, but it worked. On the vacations that Dad could hardly afford, the whole family often shared a single standard room, sneaking past hotel staff to sleep two at the head and one at the foot of the double bed for the kids, two on the floor, and a pack and play tucked in the corner.

Hilarious. We have a million funny stories and a hundred thousand jokes. One time, that same brother who confronted my junior prom date spent a month trying every possible combination in an ultimately successful attempt to open up the Master lock on my trunk where I kept my PS1. He wanted the victory almost as much as he wanted the gaming system. At the time, it was an invasion of privacy. Now, it is a humorous anecdote. As a child, he was convinced, as the first boy with three older sisters, that when he reached whatever age I was at the time, he would magically also become female. I would tell him, “You’re right! Whenever you become my age, you will be a girl.” And I would laugh and laugh and laugh.

Lonely. This probably seems surprising. But there were a lot of us, and we splintered off. I had two older sisters and two younger brothers and then three sisters after them, and I felt, at times, cut off from those people. I often felt glossed over and ignored. I have a not so pleasant New Year birthday that was easy to misplace in the commotion that was the holiday season. I noticed my sisters’ joint birthday parties as much as I noticed my delayed presents wrapped in Christmas paper nearly a month (or even longer) after my birthday.

My childhood was a million perfect and imperfect moments. It was tears, struggles, knowing too much too soon, fun, games, fireworks shooting over the sound wall in our backyard, warm tomatoes fresh off the vine, a metal swingset, long bike rides with Dad, extended family get-togethers, sneaking warm Diet Cokes so Mom would not notice and blaming it on my brothers, blood, noise, sun tea, breakfasts with Mom, and lunch at Grandma’s. It was beautiful.

I love my siblings. Each and every one of them. In many ways and for various reasons. I love them for our shared roots and for the branches they have grown. I love them.

We are all very different. It is surprising that eight people raised by the same two people can end up so diverse.

My oldest sister is a mother of two. She was a crazy teenager. She hated the world. She was much older than I was when she was able to name her anxiety. She did the stay at home mom thing, scraping nickels up to be with her boys. She is one of my closest friends. I adore her.

My second oldest sister is a single mother of four. Her oldest has a very rare health impairment, and my sister never stops fighting for her. She works a busy job, on her feet for many hours, to provide for her children as best as she can. She is strong and courageous. She says the most inappropriate things sometimes, and I would not have her any other way.

My first brother dealt with heart issues in his teen years. His long-term girlfriend cheated on him and broke his heart. But he came back from it stronger than ever, marrying a woman who sees his worth. Somehow, despite being the kid who lied about everything, he became incredibly level-headed. He writes wonderful fantasy fiction that impresses me constantly.

My next brother is the father of three amazing children. His oldest was “born in the wrong body,” and his support of my nephew is a work of beauty. He deals with demons of an epic scale sometimes. He allows those demons to eat him alive, and somehow, he manages to come out a victor more often than not.

My next sister is battling demons as well. Her story is unfolding all of the time. I miss her. I may never stop missing her. I will forever remember late night talks on our bunk beds. I will never forget the person she was, and I await the person she will become.

My first teenage sister is wonderful. Like many of us, she carries her ghosts with her. She is trying to find her way. She is kind and empathic. She loves animals and her nieces and nephews. She called Sunshine to talk about her first day of school, and Sunshine loved hearing from her. Her soul has always felt older to me. She will do wonderful things.

My final sister, the baby of the family, is almost always on the edge of something horrible. It put a blockade before her a few times before. She has collapsed. She has given in. And she has risen above. Her heart is battered, but it is not broken. Her fight, what she does, is notable. I do not envy her, but I admire her.

Today, we had a rough day. Modern technology makes it very easy to share with large groups thoughts best kept to ourselves. We fought and we fought hard. There are a lot of us with a lot of opinions and a lot of demons to battle. I often say that mental illness runs deep in my family. It does. We carry many demons. Sometimes, we sic those demons onto the people we love because they will love us anyway in the end. I told Saint Daddy at one point that my hackles were raised. My siblings had triggered my anxiety to the point where I was crying at work and trying to pretend that I was not. I felt berated, belittled, and bedraggled. I wanted salvation in the worst way, so I tried to extricate myself from it, but I was back where I started anyway.

Which makes sense because, as with all parts of my life, I started with them.

I could not imagine my life without these people. I love them with a depth that would hardly have seemed fathomable to my childhood self as I lived a loud, cramped, violent, lonely life.

But now, in my early thirties, I am glad I have them.

“Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.” — Carol Ann Albright-Eastman

Thank you for being a part of me.