Moms Always Deserve Time Away

I am currently on a bus leaving my closest major city. I took a train to get to this bus station. I am on my way to the ocean during one of the coldest snaps on record. At the end of this bus trip is my best friend, whom I last saw in a hospital bed, and six other women who live my life in one way or another.

Saint Daddy drove me to the gas station across from the train station nearest our home this morning. I kissed my children goodbye, bought some hot tea, and boarded an express train to the city.

Before leaving work yesterday, I checked my email one last time and promised myself that I would not look at it again until Monday morning.

My friends and I have tickets for shows and plans to dance and eat and laugh for an entire weekend of limited responsibility and limitless fun.

We are all wives. We have all been married about ten years. We all have at least two kids, ranging in age from ten years to ten months.

We have spent the last eleven years supporting and loving each other from all over the country. This weekend, we meet up to celebrate life and friendship.

When I mentioned this trip to people, the resounding sentiment was “good for you” or “you deserve this.”

I never really considered time with my friends as something that I deserved, yet as a mother, the notion of me just going out for a weekend is one that seems to require justification.

Why is that?

The other question that I have been asked is “What are you doing with your children?”

Let me address that first.

I assumed that the cat and dog would take care of them. I gave the dog a pep talk about the importance of letting Grumpy and Sleepy eat their own food before eating it herself. As the cleaner of our two animals, I put the cat on diaper duty. She will be more thorough about avoiding diaper rash, I am sure. Sunshine will fend for herself like a wild animal. She will decorate her hair with bows and live on cheese sticks and rice crispy treats and the blueberry muffins she and Saint Daddy made together yesterday.

Wait! I guess I should have considered that Saint Daddy would make a viable option as a guardian for our children this weekend. I wish the dog would have mentioned something…

Since I work outside of the home and Saint Daddy works from home, he has always been our children’s primary caregiver. He is great at it. We both have our strengths. The other day, in reference to a scene from The Office, he said he is more of the day-to-day guy and I am more big picture. He does the dishes every day; I clean the windows a few times a year. He changes more diapers; I spend more time on reading skills.

And you know what? If Sunshine does not practice her sight words one time this weekend, Sunshine will be fine. Saint Daddy will feed her well-balanced meals, brush her hair, and get her to bed by 8:00. He does not need me to survive the day-to-day. He can survive just fine without me.

He wants me as his partner, and I complement him well. He is better with the schedules and details. I am better with holiday magic and childhood wonder. We parent as a team, and when necessary, we can both do it solo.

My children are fine this weekend.

Please do not worry for them.

Worry about me. I deserve this.

I am tired. These last six weeks have been difficult. Between Sunshine and my best friend being sick and work issues and deadlines and, oh yes, I began graduate classes at the beginning of January, I have had little time to process my world.

I have been overwhelmed with life.

I reached out for support and felt isolation. It is not anyone’s fault. It is probably my own. I blame no one.

I made my decisions. I chose to bear it for too long.

As a mother of two nearly two year olds and a five year old who works full time, my days are jammed. After work, I try to practice Sunshine’s reading skills, run, do my coursework, play with my sons, bathe little people, get everyone in bed at 8:00, and clean up the living room for our babies to destroy again the next day.

It is go, go, go until Saint Daddy and I get into bed.

We are tired. We are weary.

We are happy. One day, we will look back on these days that are moving so quickly and we will feel deep longing. Our lives are messy and beautiful.

But we are tired.

I dare anyone to judge that sentiment. We can love our children and be grateful for them and be the very best parents for their little souls, and still feel a permanent sense of exhaustion.

There are no breaks for parents. Not unless they give them to themselves.

This weekend, I am taking a break.

I miss my babies already. This is not selfishness. I am not pretending they do not exist. I am not shirking from my duties as their momma. I am not choosing myself over them.

I am recognizing that a tired momma is not her best self. A tired momma is not the momma my babies deserve.

In a very real way, I am spending a couple of days away because my babies deserve a momma whose mental health is not completely taxed by the constant pressure to do everything.

This weekend, there will be many fewer things for me to worry about.

I am great at worrying.

The thing I deserve is not really time away from my babies but time away from my worries.

I am halfway to the ocean. It will be cold outside but I will have friendship to keep me warm.

And when I return to my wonderful family on Sunday afternoon, I will be all the better for my time away.

We all deserve this.

Normal Twin Language Delays and Their Mother’s Anxiety

Sunshine began speaking shortly after she turned seven months old. Her first word was “duck,” but she picked up new words so quickly that it was hard to maintain a solid list. By her first birthday, she had multiple sentences under her belt. She could count to thirteen by fourteen months. She said “I love you” by eighteen months. She responded to questions. By her second birthday, she recognized twenty letters and could read her own name.

Once she knew a word, it was hers forever.

She was verbally advanced. We knew it. We nurtured her language development through talking and singing and reading with her as much as we could.

I told my oldest sister that she should not compare Sunshine to her second son, who was born exactly seven weeks after Sunshine’s birthday. It was not fair to him. Sunshine was very verbal. She understood language.

She still does. Now that her kindergarten teacher has put a few tools in her hands, she is advancing quickly with her reading.

Grumpy and Sleepy are altogether different. Grumpy spoke first. Coincidentally, his first word was also “duck.” He and Sunshine had both fallen in love with the same stuffed duck in their infancy. While Sunshine was seven months when she grabbed onto that word, Grumpy was nearly ten months old.

Sleepy did not find a word until weeks after that. It was “mama,” but he lost it. I posted a while ago about both boys calling me “dad” for months and breaking my poor mom-guilt-ridden heart.

That is another thing about my sons’ language development that separated them from Sunshine. They have lost words over time. “Dog” faced a similar fate. It was an early word for both of them, but they lost it along the line. Instead, they have used “cat” to mean any animal. They both agree that all animals are cats, even ones that do not look even slightly like our pet cat.

Timehop continually shows me videos of my very verbal Sunshine, who was born six weeks later in the year than Grumpy and Sleepy, and was therefore younger than they are when I watch these videos. Grumpy and Sleepy are not where she was verbally, and I have found myself tempted to compare, which is precisely what I told my sister not to do five years ago.

I need to take my own advice.

This post is for mommas of multiples. If your babies seem behind, do not compare.

I first questioned the possibility that twins might sometimes be delayed with our pediatrician when Grumpy and Sleepy were nine months old. They were late crawlers, especially compared to Sunshine. (There I go again, comparing them.)

The pediatrician said that many multiples reach milestones in the “late average” range, meaning that the concern is likely to be my own and not truly medical/developmental in nature. I did not find any research to support the fact that full-term twins walk later than full-term singletons.

For language, though, there is research that suggests that multiples do develop later. This issue is more likely to appear with identical twins, and may be linked to complications related to multiple pregnancies and deliveries. However, fraternal twins, like Grumpy and Sleepy, are also more likely to develop speech deficiencies than singletons.

The reasons why are so logical:

  1. Multiples spend more time with each other than anyone else. Since they speak at an underdeveloped level, they tend to mimic each other’s methods of communication. My best friend told me that she has a local friend with twins in speech therapy who was told that her sons are reinforcing each other’s poor language skills. It makes perfect sense. If language is developed mostly by interacting with people who speak it and their primary interaction is with someone who does not speak it well, children will struggle to develop language quickly.
  2. Multiples get less one-on-one time with adults than singletons do. This is actually the reason I believed my sons were late to sitting up on their own. I could not easily get on the floor and play games with them for as long as I did with Sunshine because there were two of them that needed my support. I blamed myself for their poor core development. It was not actually my fault, but mom guilt is real. However, much like the first reason listed above, multiples spend less individual time than singletons with people who do speak the language well, so the correct methods of speech are not modeled as much for them.
  3. Multiples also tend to simplify their language in the essence of efficiency. Because they get less individual attention, multiples tend to stick to short sentences. They also tend to be louder. I did not realize that was a legitimate twin thing until I began to research it. They do this so that they can say what they need to say in a way that will be quickly heard and understood. Unfortunately, it can delay their development further.

Grumpy and Sleepy also have what is called a Shared Understanding. This means that they understand each other and use sounds that they have developed to stand for objects that are not true language. Around their first birthday, they were referring to each other as “ahgugug.” Other shared understanding words that they have had include “dee” for anything that they like to throw, “guy” for sock, “psss” for star, and “guk” for boat. They both agree that those are the words that mean those objects. Shared Understanding is something that develops largely because twins spend more time with each other than with anyone else.

There is also research to suggest that the mental health of the parents plays a role in language development as well. Parents of multiples have a higher incidence of mental health problems than parents of singletons, and when parents have a difficult time taking care of themselves, they have a difficult time supporting their quickly developing children.

(Holy link share in this post!)

Here is the thing: Even with all of this information, it is hard not to worry. It is particularly difficult to know when that worry becomes something worth bringing up with a doctor. We are not at that point of worry with Grumpy and Sleepy. I feel like they will be fine. They are working on it. Grumpy is starting to pick up words more quickly right now. Suddenly, he knows that the animal that came with their Little People farm is a “cow” instead of a “cat.” He began saying “sock” the other day, which was a major turning point in the Shared Understanding department. Sleepy is always a couple of weeks behind Grumpy when it comes to language, so I assume he will catch up to Grumpy soon.

There are services for delayed children, whether they are multiples or singletons, and concerned parents should talk to their pediatricians about beginning evaluations.

I worry, though. Each time a Sunshine video comes up on Timehop, I cannot help but wonder when her brothers will get “there” because they are not there yet. It is not fair. I know it.

As with most things related to my anxiety, I have little ability to control that worry, those nagging thoughts that something is not right, that I could be doing more.

I love my sons. I love them up and down and all around. I love them from the ends of the hair on their head to to their tiny tickle toes. I read to them every night and as much as they will let me otherwise. We sing and eat dinner together as a family. We try.

But the people they spend the most time with are each other, and they are both at the same developmental age. They reinforce each other’s speech patterns.

And I wonder… What more can I do? Could I do better? Could I be better?

This is anxiety meeting motherhood. I have read the research. This is normal, natural. Twins are more likely to have a slight delay in language development. I know it. I understand it. My sons are developing language every single day. Over the last week, Grumpy picked up four new words. Sleepy found two of his own. They will be fine.

If only I could make my brain believe it.

This happens to me time and time again. My sons’ speech is not the beginning of this, and it will not be the end.

Having twins has certainly impacted my mental health. My heart is full, and my anxiety is in overdrive. I pray that it gets better.

Twin language is a story that twin mommas should hear, but this story–one of knowing the truth but struggling to really believe it–is one that I am sure that all people with anxiety can understand.

Sometimes, when I learn something that will assuage my fears, I spend time telling myself to “believe it, believe it, believe it.” Eventually, I can.

Soon my sons will say “I love you.” I believe that. They are close. They respond to the phrase now. I say “I love you,” and they give me kisses. We are communicating a beautiful thought.

One day, they will say it too. And I will cry. With joy and with relief. Because that is what I do when the thing I tried so hard to believe finally becomes a truth.

We Will Figure That Out When We Get There

If I had a dollar for every time I said that, we would have so many fewer things to figure out when we get there.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the last month. It has been more than a month since my last post. Allow me to explain…

My best friend was sick. Not, like, a little sick, but really sick. It started as a cold that would not quit. She was diagnosed with various issues that seemed to be related to a cold. Bronchitis, laryngitis, a pulled muscle from the cough. And you know what? They would not quit either. She saw specialists. They told her it was anxiety. “It’s probably panic attacks.” My best friend does not have anxiety. She has had panic attacks. She knew it was not panic attacks. “Maybe it’s heartburn.” She saw a cardiologist who essentially told her she was too young to have any real issues, but if it would make her feel better, he would run tests. It was not serious enough to rush anything. Two weeks’ wait was fine. The next day, I drove to her house to spend the night with her while her husband was away. She wailed in pain while I held her baby and felt helplessness. Three days after meeting with that cardiologist, she had heart surgery. She gave her stent a name. That stent saved her life. It deserves a name.

If I could have put into words my feelings about it when it happened three weeks ago, I would have waxed poetic about a life spared. I would have praised God above, the universe around us, and medical professionals who finally hear a young woman when she says, “This isn’t normal. Something’s wrong.” I had so many feelings. Relief, joy, gratitude. I love her very much. I need her very much. I could have lost her, but I did not. We did not.

Before she saw that cardiologist who brushed her off due to her young age, she told me she feared that she would die. She told me that she feared that she would have to give up so much about her life that she loved. She told me that she was scared. And I thought, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Sunshine was sick. She first became sick on the second Sunday in December. I took her to see The Nutcracker at a nearby college. We go every December. When intermission ended, she asked me if we had to stay for the second half of the play. I was surprised. She loves the ballet. She said, “I don’t feel like myself.” We did stay for the remainder of the performance. When we arrived home, however, she put herself to bed. It was 4:30 PM. She would not leave the bed for dinner. That night, she threw up in bed. She was sick for most of the next day, but that dissipated as the day progressed. She went to school the following day. She had a cold, but her belly was fine. No one else was affected.

A week later, she threw up in bed again. She spent the next day at home, but she was fine. She returned to school. At 2:00 that next day, her school called me. Sunshine needed to be picked up. She did not have a fever, but she had thrown up in the classroom. She was not permitted to return to school the next day. Saint Daddy took her to the doctor that night. The doctor suspected a lingering virus from the week before. Again, no one else was sick. She had no fever, but she was lethargic and nauseous and, occasionally, vomiting. She spent the entire day after the one when I picked her up at school in her bed. I could not get her to open her eyes long enough to eat a few bites of food.

I was scared. I was scared about all of the things that can cause nausea and lethargy without a fever or being contagious.

Saint Daddy swears up and down that this is not true, but he is a bit of an alarmist when it comes to medical stuff. He swears this because his mom is a much more extreme alarmist. She is a nurse and she sometimes diagnoses our children via Facebook posts. Shortly after Grumpy’s stitches episode, she babysat the kids while Saint Daddy and I went for lunch to celebrate our anniversary. She said she noticed that Grumpy tripped a lot and wondered if we ever considered the possibility that he might have cerebral palsy.

I truly appreciate her concern. She loves our babies and worries about them. But she is definitely an alarmist.

Saint Daddy does not consider himself to be an alarmist because he is not that extreme. But as I sat there watching Sunshine sleep, unable to rouse her, crying and praying, Saint Daddy came to me with theories. “Maybe we need to have her tested for the serious stuff.” Maybe it’s a tapeworm, maybe it’s another parasite, maybe she has… The last one is one I cannot even put into writing. It is too much.

What will we do?

We will figure that out when we get there.

That night, as I put Sleepy into his crib, he vomited all over their bedroom floor, his crib, and himself. I did not think I would ever celebrate a vomiting one year old, but there I was thrilled.

If Sunshine is contagious, Sunshine has a virus. We will never have to figure that out. Praise God. Amen.

Sunshine’s issues did not end there. Her cold remained. She felt periodic nausea over the following two weeks. We believe that Grumpy and Sleepy did as well, based on their appetites, but they could not tell us themselves.

That is when Sunshine began limping. She could not step over the baby gates anymore. Her leg hurt.

We took her to the doctor. “Maybe it’s the virus. Sometimes viruses in children can affect their hip joints.” The same virus that began three weeks ago? When do we worry that it might be something more? “Call us if it is still bad in two days.” She continued to cry out in pain and to limp around the house. She did not run around. She barely stood up at all. Two days passed. My mind went crazy places. I called my sister and she said the thing I was thinking. She did not say it, just as I would not write it, but we both thought it.

How will I live?

We will figure that out when we get there.

Sometimes, I feel like Saint Daddy thinks I do not care the right amount about certain things. I think he wants me to worry about things in the same way that he does. I know he knows that I spiral. When my best friend told me she was afraid that she might die, I told her that I refused to think about that. I could not think about that. I could not imagine that as a possibility. I would spiral. I would lose my footing. I need her to be okay because she is such a monumental part of my life. I needed to think about that only if it would actually happen, not just in case it would. The same is true of Sunshine. I needed to pray for both of them. I needed to do what I could do. I needed to drive to her house and spend the night. I needed to make Sunshine chicken soup and spoon-feed it to her as she laid down with her eyes closed. But I needed to not think of the things that could happen.

I am great at the worst case scenario. If you are ever looking for someone to tell you what the absolute worst outcome could potentially be, I promise to be that person for you. Trust me. I have imagined some horrendous outcomes to completely innocuous situations.

The last thing that I need in these situations is for someone to remind me that there are things that could go wrong. I can do that myself.

With that in mind, if I can somehow shut down that part of me that will focus on every negative outcome imaginable, I want to do that. When I manage to do that, I say, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

Five years ago, when I was nine months pregnant with Sunshine, I planned a major event at work. It took me nearly six months of concentrated effort. I made phone calls, organized teams, and formulated plans. It was a massive undertaking.

Whenever my second-in-command asked me very specific questions, I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but sometimes I said, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

it was my way of telling her that I believed our preparation would lead to a smooth event, even if I had not ironed out every single wrinkle in the fabric table coverings. The following year, as we planned our final event together before we both moved on to different ventures, she said our motto would always be “We’ll figure that out when we get there.” Ultimately, I believe that hard work and planning can lead to it all “working out” in my favor.

I have to believe that way so I do not obsess over the details. Sometimes, I get lost in the details. My anxiety makes me get lost in the details. My anxiety tells me that I need to think about every little detail. My anxiety tells me that I need to be in control. Over time, i have been able to tell myself that I do not have to be in control. It is a coping mechanism to say these words and give myself time to deal with what will come my way.

These situations are not the end of this either.

How will we handle twins? What will we do with the dog when we go on vacation? How will we get there? What if the boys do not walk before fifteen months? What if the car breaks down? What if? What if? What if?

We will figure that out when we get there.

I promise.

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.