Sunny School Days

Sunshine brought her class to the dinner table on Friday. Well, not to the dinner table. She walked them by the dinner table to the living room so they could eat in the cafeteria with the other students while Miss Sunshine ate with Mrs. Momma and Principal Saint Daddy.

At one point, one of the children in her class said the word “poop,” and Miss Sunshine had her write a note home to her mommy about how sorry she was about her behavior. Another student had to do the same for farting in the music teacher’s face.

I would apologize for the crude actions of Miss Sunshine’s students, but she already had them do that.

Sunshine starting playing school again on Wednesday.

I say “again” because she used to play school. I have pictures of Sunshine trying to teach Grumpy and Sleepy last September. By October of 2018, she had stopped.

I should have known then, but I guess I did not really notice. Not until I saw Sunshine playing school again. Then I remembered that Sunshine loved school until her belly started to hurt. Sunshine pretended to be at school regularly until she started begging to stay home. Briefly, she wanted to teach elementary school until she asked why she had to go at all.

There was a shift in Sunshine that I did not notice until it shifted back.

Many have asked me about Sunshine’s transition to her new school. I have responded as briefly as possible, but I have wanted to gush.

Sunshine loves her new bus rides. They are pretty long, but the girls she sits near are nice and the atmosphere is less chaotic and she is allowed to play with small toys, read a book, and drink some water.

Sunshine loves her new classroom. It is decorated like a tree house, and she sits nearest to a sweet girl who makes her laugh. They won a door decorating contest last week, and Sunshine contributed “kindness” to it.

Sunshine loves her new playground. There is a climbing area and a place to play hopscotch. On Wednesday, she played dinosaurs with one of her classmates and they giggled the whole time.

Sunshine loves the games they play in math class. She loves the fact that one of her classmates has the same headphones that she has. She loves that she did not take a test all week. She loves that her teacher is nice.

Sunshine is happy.

She had a moment on Wednesday morning when the new had worn off and she asked to stay home. She did not know anyone’s name. She felt anxiety creeping in and she did not understand why she had to go to school whole Grumpy and Sleepy were able to stay at home.

That afternoon, Sunshine ran off the bus with a smile on her face and she told me all about the girl who made her laugh and the girl who played dinosaurs with her and she forgot that she did not like school.

She played school that evening.

She had the time and the energy and the desire to play school.

On Friday, a colleague told me that I am right that there are times that we cannot know. We cannot know if we are doing what is right for our children. We make a plan and we cannot go back and sometimes we think about the other path, the one we did not take.

I wondered for a while about this path, the one I moved Sunshine to. I wondered for all of last year if Sunshine belonged at the school we chose for her this year instead of where she was. I contemplated the decision we had made to not send her there for kindergarten. I wondered.

Looking back, it reminded me of another decision I made. In 2011, I interviewed for and was offered a position in another state. It was a wonderful opportunity that would have moved my career ahead much more quickly. It would have been a great move for me. When the offer came in, I rejected it. I felt that my story at the time was not yet finished. I spent the next three years wondering if I had made the right decision. I worried that Saint Daddy was angry with me about it because I made a decision that he did not understand, could not understand.

In 2014, I interviewed for and was offered my current position, and I never thought about that other position, that missed opportunity, again. If I had taken that position in another state, I would not be here, and here is where I belong, with a company I believe in and colleagues that I both respect and admire.

I know, with Sunshine playing school again, that I will not wonder about what could be, the path we did not take.

Much like my professional path is correct now, so is Sunshine’s schooling path.

I know the reason I spent three years thinking about a position I did not really want is because my anxiety convinces me that I can mess up everything. It tells me that even the smallest choices can ruin everything. It says that some decisions cannot be reversed and that my whole life will be in shambles forever because I did something wrong.

But sometimes, my anxiety shuts up. Sometimes, even my anxiety is not sure how to rile me up. Sometimes, my anxiety is not even sure what I have to be afraid of.

Sunshine playing school made my anxiety shut up. No easy feat.

So how is Sunshine doing at her new school? Perfectly.

School Blues

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine. She has been doing well. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I began drafting a post about how her teacher was sensitive to her anxiety. It was going so well. When Sunshine forgot her “getting to know me” project after Saint Daddy spent a night in the hospital and we rushed around to get everything together in the morning, I expected her to spend our entire drive home from school hysterically yelling at me, something she does when she feels anxious. She did not. Her teacher said that it was okay and that other kids also forgot theirs. However she had handled the situation with Sunshine was the right way. A week later, her teacher emailed Saint Daddy and me to tell us that Sunshine seemed anxious about time limits because she wanted to be perfect and time limits sometimes prevented perfection. She said she talked to Sunshine about it. I told her about Sunshine’s anxiety diagnosis and thanked her for taking such good care of our girl.

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine, and I wrote down the supply list for first grade at another school today.

Sunshine will be starting the sixth week of school somewhere else with a new teacher and new friends and new school supplies.

The last week moved quickly in a whirlwind of what should we do and how should we proceed and what if we are making a mistake. It is hard to believe that it all happened in a week. For some, our reasons might not be enough. For us, they are everything.

Sunshine is happy enough at school. We are happy enough with her school. Yet…

Last Monday, Sunshine came home from school with a nearly full lunch box. She takes the bus to and from school on Mondays at her own request. She is gone from 7:30 am to nearly 5:30 pm on Mondays. Her official drop off time, according to the bus company and the school, is 4:41 pm. She has never been home that early. In that amount of time, nearly ten hours, Sunshine ate one cheese stick and two graham crackers. She returned home with pita chips, hummus, blackberries, crackers, a bite-sized Kit-Kat, and a pre-packaged rice crispy treat in her school bag. We send more than enough food so she will never go hungry. We questioned her about this. She said she was not allowed to eat her rice crispy treat because it was too sugary. No alternative was provided. No note came home. She said they were late getting to lunch, a scheduled twenty minute daily activity that takes place in another building. She said that she only had time to eat her cheese stick. My six year old consumed one cheese stick and two graham crackers all day. We received no adult communication. We received a hungry child.

Hungry kids are not learning kids.

We had an issue last year with lunch. We learned that the kids were being made to stand quietly in the hall until they were all silent before they would move on to lunch. We cried out against these group punishments that prevented Sunshine from eating a balanced meal. The teacher swore it was not what Sunshine claimed. It happened again and again.

We had enough.

We know nothing about what Sunshine is doing at school. We know that group punishments are regular occurrences. We know that naughty kids can lose recess and other privileges for their whole class. We know that Sunshine is not a naughty kid. At least we assume so because no communication comes home to the contrary.

Sunshine’s headphones broke at school. Sunshine said she needed new ones. I said, “Is there a note from your teacher?” No, but I need them by Monday because we use them every day.

The hunger, though, that was the final straw. The nail that wrecked that camel’s coffin.

We had enough.

Saint Daddy looked into rentals to move into so we could send Sunshine to another school district. He found one and even sent a message to a realtor.

We contacted a charter school that we had considered when Sunshine was four years old. Saint Daddy wanted to know if they had space for a first grader. They did.

We applied immediately. We toured the school. We provided notarized copies of paperwork. Saint Daddy called the bus company about changing Sunshine’s pick up and drop off routines.

This has not been an easy week for me. I was confronted by an unknown that I could not tackle easily.

At Sunshine’s therapy on Tuesday, her therapist questioned why we decided to move her. And I said, “my heart tells me she’s not in the right place.”

And that was it. My heart said that Sunshine needed more that what we were giving her. I could feel it deeply. Sunshine’s school is not right for her or for our family. I could feel it every time something came home with her name spelled incorrectly on it. Her name is not Sunshyne. It is a common name with a common spelling, and not caring enough to know it shouts lack of care clearly and effectively.

My best friend asked if I had considered the impact that Sunshine’s school had on her mental health. She said that she knew that Sunshine was always a little worried but that school seemed to exasperate it. That something about her school kicked her anxiety into overdrive. As her year progressed, her struggles became more pronounced.

Had I considered?

I knew. Sunshine’s school boasts a long school day and a long school year. Those things are lovely on paper, but by the time she returns home after a long day at school, she has time to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed. If there is homework, her time is even more stretched.

She is six.

It is too much.

I knew all of that. I knew it in my heart and I tried not to focus on it because I was not sure of the alternatives.

I fretted. I lost sleep. I felt agitated and overwhelmed.

Even when Sunshine was accepted to the new school, I worried. She would go, but honestly, I had never been to the school. Could I put my six year old on a bus to a place I had never seen? What kind of mother would do that? I was not that mother.

What if I was making the wrong call? What if her new school was more wrong for her than her current school? What if I do this and she hates it? What if she does not want to go? She already has anxiety. What if I set her off by forcing her to do something she would never want, could never want? Her best friend in the whole world is at her current school, and while they are no longer in the same class, they see each other in the hall. How would she feel if I took that away from her?

So I asked. “How would you feel if Daddy and I put you in a different school?”

She did not hesitate. That sounds fun!

I was astounded. I expected more trepidation.

Her excitement over the prospect did much to assuage my fears. If Sunshine felt ready, maybe it really was right.

We did tour the school. They have a butterfly garden and sensory pathway; an outdoor classroom and grandparent luncheons. Their programs are on point. Sunshine will participate in a pageant at the end of this year. They offer piano and drama lessons after school for a small fee. And Sunshine was thrilled to learn that there are not any uniforms. I was thrilled to learn that she would be home from school earlier than she is now, even by taking the bus. Lunch and recess are also longer, despite the shorter school day.

There are still so many questions for which I do not have any answers. I spent this week with my mind racing, hoping that I would somehow find the right answers to know that we were making the choice that would save Sunshine.

There is no way to know.

For now, we move forward.

Sunshine has one week left at her current school. Her new school would have taken her tomorrow, but we decided to give her a week to ease into it. Plus, Saint Daddy will take her to Back to School Night to meet her new teacher this week. An event that Sunshine’s current teacher did not notify us about at her current school, besides when Sunshine mentioned we were supposed to be at the school at 6:00 that day.

How can a mother know that she is making the right decision for her children? Is there a way to feel fully safe that you chose correctly?

I suppose there is not. When anxiety is at play, that brings hours of struggle, hours of worry, over sometimes the simplest decisions.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. Whatever it is, Sunshine is at the foreground of my thoughts, and that, I feel, is the best that I can do for her.

When Sunshine Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

Sunshine was sick for December. Not just sick in December. She spent the month in various stages of sickness. She said, “I don’t feel like myself” on our Nutcracker date, prompting us to leave a little before the end of the second act. She did not eat much for days at a time. She vomited without having a fever. She seemed better for a day or two. Then, she vomited again. She missed four days of school during the two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At one point, she even developed a limp because she was experiencing leg pain that I at first attributed to growing pains.

She saw the pediatrician four times. She did not have the flu. She did not have strep throat. She did not have a fever, but she definitely had a virus. Viruses, Saint Daddy and I learned, can sometimes cause pain in the major joints, like the hips. No one else appeared sick until Sleepy vomited for twenty minutes and we celebrated the fact that Sunshine was contagious. Being contagious meant she would recover, even if it was taking a long time.

Shortly after this illness passed, we noticed that Sunshine felt sick regularly. At least three days a week, she did not want to go to school because she felt sick. Sunshine felt sick while we ate dinner. Sunshine felt sick as we prepared to leave the house. Sunshine felt sick around bedtime. Sunshine felt sick.

Then the nightmares came. Sunshine had a terrible dream that someone tried to kill her. It kept her up for a couple of nights with horrific “maginations.” She imagined that a man with a gun crawled into her bedroom window and took her away before Saint Daddy or I could stop him. She wanted to know how Daddy could save her if he was all the way across the hall. She imagined that someone was hiding under her bed, waiting to kill her. She imagined that no one would be able to protect her.

We bought her a new nightlight that projected beautiful stars across her ceiling. We gave her a sound machine. We even let her pick out a scary demon statue that she said would scare anyone away. It was her suggestion. He faces the window she is most afraid of. She calls him Mr. Scarypants.

These things helped for brief amounts of time. Inevitably, their usefulness would wear off and she would be imagining something even more horrific.

Sunshine’s fears increased as the year continued to progress. She stopped eating some of her favorite foods after she felt sick shortly after their consumption. Bananas, an absolute favorite, are a no-go for her now. She became afraid of the dark, of corners where spiders may lurk, of water being poured over her head, of walking within a foot of grates in the street. She refused to let us leave her room at night without a fight.

She associated “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers with a particular magination about her swim instructor being a zombie and required that it be turned off if it ever played, and I do not know if you have noticed, but that gets played a lot.

About six weeks ago, Sunshine came to the living room where Saint Daddy and I were watching television after getting our babies in bed. She had a magination that she did not want to tell me about. She said it would make me scared too, and she did not want me to be scared. She was crying and wanted me to cuddle with her some more.

I followed Sunshine to her room. With her sound machine going and her stars projected on the ceiling, Sunshine gripped me and told me her magination. Someone had come into the house and had lined us up by age and had killed Daddy and then Mommy and they were going to kill her next and each of the brothers. She ran to me.

I felt grateful because she knew that she could come to me. I stayed with her that night, letting her feel my presence and know that I would always be there, choking on my tears, aware of my shortcomings.

It was that night that I knew, without any doubt in my mind, that Sunshine needed help. She was not going to get better going the way that we were going. She had spent eight months getting progressively worse, and I needed to do something. I needed to help her in ways I was never really helped.

Sunshine was formally diagnosed with anxiety in a therapist’s office on July 8. Her therapist noted that Sunshine is particularly afraid of being separated from me and that these fears manifest in recurring intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and a growing number of fears.

In my last post, I wrote about my diagnosis, but it was not that easy as a mother to admit that I could not save Sunshine on my own. I had tried. I knew what it was. I saw in her so many of the same issues that I saw in myself. The recurring belly aches, the incessant fears, the sleeplessness, the hesitation. I knew I had passed these to her in my blood. I wanted so badly to be the one who could help her figure out how to manage them.

But Sunshine and I are different people. She is an extrovert. She thrives on social interaction. She spends much less time in self-reflection that I did, even at her age. Sunshine needed help, and I, her mother who wanted to save her, got it for her. In many ways, my personal experience with anxiety helped me to know that the only way that I could help my daughter was to find someone else who could do it for me.

Sunshine did not let me out of the room for her first two sessions with her therapist. She was worried about where I might go while she was in this strange new place with this strange new adult who asked so many questions.

During the third session, Sunshine relinquished her grip on me and let me sit in the waiting room.

Her therapist has been amazing. She has helped Sunshine to evaluate good and bad emotions. She has her focusing on ways to lessen her fears as they happen. They talked about making scary things funny, like Harry Potter does in Prisoner of Azkaban. She taught Sunshine belly breathing, which Sunshine asked to do while listening to “Sucker” play on her therapist’s phone. Sunshine imagined that her swim instructor was a smiling zombie that was going to save the world, not hurt people.

They have worked through so much in so little time.

Today, on the way home from therapy, “Sucker” came on the radio. I did not realize what song it was until the chorus began to play. Sunshine did not yell about the song. In fact, she sang along with it and yelled at me when I changed the station when I realized what we were listening to. When we stopped at the store to pick up a few things, Sunshine walked on a grate. In fact, she stood on it long enough for me to snap a picture for Saint Daddy. “It’s not even scary, Mom!” she said.

Sunshine’s bedtime routine has also improved. She sleeps with a picture of the two of us nearby in case she feels lonely. She keeps a large book to use to practice belly breathing if the maginations come, but they are not coming, not like they were. We play lullabies instead of white noise (this was actually a friend’s suggestion, but her therapist said it was a suggestion that she often gives herself).

Sunshine is still afraid. I do not count her as cured or anything, but I am so grateful for her diagnosis. In many ways, Sunshine’s diagnosis has changed her life.

I pray that this experience helps Sunshine to understand her mental health in ways that I never could at her age.

As we were leaving her appointment today, her therapist told Sunshine, “Remember, you can’t make all your fears go away, but you can learn to not be afraid of the ones you can’t control.”

I am so happy to have found this woman who has helped my baby to learn what to do about the fears that she cannot control.

My Timehop Story

There is a story that Timehop tells this time of year that makes me remember that I never really told it. Two years ago today, I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. They were a couple of weeks old, and I posted a couple of weeks’ worth of pictures. I had not posted them previously. There was a reason. A dirty truth. One of those things that mothers rarely speak of but that many of them feel.

For the first few weeks after my sons were born, I was not happy. I was the precise opposite of happy. I was overwhelmed and broken. I felt that I had disappointed me and them and Saint Daddy and Sunshine.

I was not sure what I felt for them was love. In fact, I was not sure at the time that I would ever feel love for them.

It was something. It was awe at their existence. It was longing to feel something for them. It was responsibility for their lives. It was commitment to their protection.

But love? I do not think it was love.

That was strange for me. When Sunshine was born, I held her close and felt that immediate connection.

When Grumpy’s first cries filled the room, I cried real tears because he was real and alive and safe. I had done that.

But it was harder. Delivery was less painful but more difficult. The effects lasted for a while. I could not get out of bed. I could not hold both of them easily but I wanted to.

Feeding them was hard.

It was that last point that changed on this day two years ago. It actually changed the day before. That is the story that Timehop tells.

Neither Grumpy nor Sleepy was very good at eating. Of course I was going to breastfeed my sons. That is what good mothers do. That is what I did for Sunshine until she was eighteen months old and weaned herself.

As soon as I left the operating room and was wheeled across the hall to recovery, I was handed two absolutely perfect miracles and Grumpy latched on. Sleepy, of course, was too sleepy, but he rested his little head on my chest and we all knew that he would do it soon.

He did.

But he never did it well. It was really Sleepy that was the issue, but I did not know that. I would not know that for weeks.

Everyone told me to feed them individually at first. I was not ready to tandem feed them. But when you have two crying newborns and you are the source of comfort, the creator of the food, the pacifier, the only thing that they have every known, that is easier said than done. So I tandem fed from day one. When they cried, Saint Daddy brought me one at a time, I latched them on and waited, trying to enjoy these sweet moments with them as I had with their sister.

But they were not sweet, they were stressful. Only one position worked and I needed a million pillows. And I was sore. And I was tired. And I could not help thinking that I probably would not be able to tandem feed in public so we were stuck together in the house for the next four months or so until they could figure out how to wait their turns or could help me in the process of latching them on. And I would be sore until then because that is how long the vasospasms lasted with Sunshine.

They ate every 2.5 hours around the clock for 20-30 minutes at a time. That is what my Facebook status said two years ago yesterday, according to the story that Timehop tells.

I remember their cries waking Saint Daddy and I as we set about the process of changing and comforting, feeding and swaddling. Saint Daddy did diapers while I set up my nursing pillow in bed. I was sore from my incision and bone tired. He handed me a baby, letting me know which one he was based solely on the nail polish on his big toe. I recalled which side he had the last time and offered him the other side. Saint Daddy brought me another baby, and I latched him on too. Saint Daddy fell asleep for thirty minutes. I swaddled the first one, handed him to Saint Daddy to return to his cradle, and moved onto the second one.

That was just at night. While Sunshine slept, and I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhaustion in my soul.

During the day, this pattern took place on the couch. Except I would let them sleep on me in whichever position they landed after they stopped nursing.

Timehop showed me the picture I sent to my mom, who was in Florida at the time. Both boys curled in a ball on my lap, my shirt a little disheveled still from being quickly pulled down to cover my twin mom body.

And here is the thing, despite the constancy of it all, despite the exhaustion, despite the fact that it was all that I seemed to be doing, both boys were losing weight. Both boys were struggling with lethargy. Both boys were not eating well enough.

The nurse practitioner at the pediatrician’s office said she knew I was working hard. She held me as I cried. She told me she knew it would work. She sent me home with two formula samples and said to consider an ounce or two twice a day, just until they get up to birthweight. Then they would do it, she said. She knew they would.

I had seen lactation consultants. That is what Timehop tells me. I had seen five different ones before that tearful meeting with the nurse practitioner. They all said the same things: “They’re both latched so well. They’re little champs. Just keep doing what your doing. They’ll get it. Then it will be so easy.”

But it was not easy. If it was going to get easy, I wanted it to get there much more quickly than it was because I was suffocating under the weight of it all.

When we left the pediatrician’s office that day, I called another lactation consultant. I begged to be seen as soon as possible. It was not an emergency, but it was an emergency. I had twins. I wanted them to eat. I wanted to feed them. I wanted them to live.

And under these circumstances, how can the word be called love? Responsibility for their lives is not the same as love. I did not feel love. I felt weighed down by the responsibility of being the one who gave them life.

That lactation consultant worked with me for two hours the next morning, according to Timehop. She weighed my sons before and after a feeding. She watched me latch them (perfectly) and watched them suck. She checked for ties and felt their little sucks with her pinky.

“This one doesn’t have a very strong suck. That’s probably the issue. I bet this one is working really hard to make enough milk for both of them to eat, and it’s not working. That’s the problem. He’ll get better when he gets stronger. Birthweight will change him. But you’ve got to get him there first.”

She asked me what I wanted.

“To sleep. I want to sleep. I want to breastfeed my sons for as long as I possibly can. But right now, I want to sleep.”

Saint Daddy came back and she told him that she wanted him to let me nap. As soon as we got home, he was to let me go to our bedroom and let me nap.

She handed him formula. She said that if they needed to eat during my nap, to give them the formula but not to wake me until I woke on my own.

Then I was to pump. I should pump every three hours or so and bottle feed them when they were hungry. She told me how much they should eat at a feeding and we should supplement with the formula until my supply met their demand and in a week, if they were at birthweight, I could try to latch them or I could pump forever until I felt I had met my goal but nipple confusion is a myth and babies will latch and she knew I could do it. I was in the right mindset.

She hugged me. She gave me her personal cell number if I needed her for anything.

She sent us home, and I… I napped.

I woke up and I pumped. I fed my babies, who were finally getting enough milk during a feeding that they also slept. We slept.

And the weight, almost immediately, lifted off of my shoulders.

We did not sleep long stretches, they were newborns after all. And I needed to pump regularly. If that was the thing I intended to do, I needed to pump every three hours around the clock. Eight times a day for the first twelve weeks.

The lactation consultant did not tell me that. My sister in law, who was pumping for my niece at the time, added me to a Facebook group where I learned that. I learned all about exclusive pumping. I learned about what supplements might help and about water intake. What I really learned from that group was that there were thousands of women out there breastfeeding their babies through bottles. It was not easy, but they were doing it.

And the next day after that nap and the feeding and the sleeping? That very next day? I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. Not because that is what new mothers do, which was the case with every picture I had posted previously, but because I felt that maybe I could love them. Maybe I did love them.

The next year of my life was filled with ups and downs when it came to breastfeeding. Saint Daddy and I bought a chest freezer to store my milk because I was overproducing by more than fifteen ounces a day for a while, but then their demand went up and I watched that supply dwindle. They needed more some days than others and I became nervous that I might not keep up. The stress of returning to work hurt my supply, and I had to give up middle of the night pumps and running and the very notion of losing weight. I pumped on work breaks and lunch breaks. I missed meetings. I pumped in my car in many parking lots. I pumped in a restaurant booth. I was a pumping mom and that meant battery backs and sanitation and labeled bags.

But the year went quickly. And exactly one year after that meeting with the final lactation consultant, I fed my sons the last bag of frozen milk. I had stopped pumping a month prior to that bag being used, but we made it to more than a year of breastfeeding.

I never thought we would. When I met with that lactation consultant, I had already told myself that if I made it to six weeks, I was a winner. But I made it a full year.

And you know what? I love my sons.

I love them with every fiber of my being.

I love the way they like to tickle my toes. I love the way that they call my name. I love the way that they stare out the window at the cars. I love the way that they laugh at each other when they should be sleeping.

I am glad to see this Timehop story each year. It reminds me of how far we have come. It also reminds me that new motherhood is harder than any of us can imagine sometimes. It is not just soft blankets and warm snuggles. It is sometimes desperation and hopelessness. It is anxiety and fear.

One of the comments that I make in my Timehop story is that my pressure was both internal and external. I wanted to breastfeed my sons because it mattered to me. But it was so necessary for me to not look like a failure to those witnessing my motherhood from the outside.

Motherhood is full of judgment. It is full of people who know how to do it better than we do. People who have never experienced our struggles but insist that they would know how to handle them if they did. People who are forthcoming with their criticism masked as support. People who think they have the solution.

Sometimes the solution is not the one we had hoped for, but it is the one we need. Timehop tells me that. I am glad that it does.

Celebrating the One Hundredth Day of School

I was raised one of many children in a poor household. Money was a concern at all times. We did not take extended vacations. I have not been to Disney World. My clothes were hand-me-downs and second hand. My resources were limited at times. We lived in a fairly wealthy area, and my teachers assumed that we would have internet access at home, even in 2001. We did not.

Much of my clothing fit poorly. I was acutely aware of that.

I got my first job at fourteen. I worked for a butcher on Saturdays from 8-6. I babysat on Mondays from 4-9. I cleaned the neighbor’s house on Tuesdays for two hours after school. I got a full-time babysitting job in the summer. I used that money to pay for trips to the movies and clothing so I felt better about me.

This is not a complaint, I assure you. I was raised poor but loved. My parents had little, but they gave everything. We did not travel far, but we spent at least one day at the shore every summer. Sometimes that was literally a day. We would wake before 6:00 and cram into a single minivan, children illegally sitting on the floor to fit. We would drive the three hours to the ocean, spend the morning in the sun, eat sandy sandwiches for lunch, shower off in the locker rooms of the public park, eat pizza at Dad’s favorite place, hit up the boardwalk for cheap rides and kitschy stores, and pile our sunburned selves back into the van just as the sun began to set for the ride back home. My parents could not afford much, but they could do that. There was always cake on birthdays and presents under the Christmas tree.

They had little to give, and they gave it.

We were lucky. We were loved. Other kids had things and parents who fought bitterly. Not all, of course. But we knew what we had.

We had each other. We had laughter and song and built-in friends. We had playing school on the back porch. We had an exercise trampoline in the basement. We had fires in the backyard. We had everything we needed and just enough of what we could want. Tastes of wants. Not enough to be gorged on our wants, but enough to be satisfied in knowing what they tasted like.

My parents are the working poor. They work hard. They instilled in me the value of hard work. But their hard work will not result in their getting ahead.

Saint Daddy and I are not part of the working poor. Our children wear mostly hand-me-downs, but I am more selective about what is acceptably secondhand. They also have access to more of their wants than I did as a child.

Part of this is because of my awareness as a child of not having what the other kids had. I want my kids to have everything and to feel no shame.

Sunshine is in kindergarten, and I recently became acquainted with this event known as the One Hundredth Day of School. I did not know this was a thing until this year. Specifically, I did not know that this was a thing until the Tuesday before the Monday that marked the One Hundredth Day of School when Sunshine came home with a letter from her teacher letting me know that she could wear a special homemade shirt to mark the occasion.

I took the letter to Saint Daddy where he sat in his office, finishing his work for the day. “Look! A project for me!” Because Sunshine is five, she is unlikely to be able to figure out a way to put one hundred items on a shirt. Not to mention the fact that Sunshine cannot drive herself to the store for materials. Oh yes, we had plans for both Saturday and Sunday that weekend. And, oh yes, I had two assignments due for my grad class that same Monday.

Piece of cake!

Sometimes, I think about my mom with her multitudes of children, her night shift job, her limited means, and her exhaustion. She would not have made me a shirt. She may have stopped at AC Moore to pick up a $3 t-shirt for me to decorate, but it most likely would have been puffy paint polka dots that I did myself.

But Sunshine’s teacher sent a link to a Pinterest album for ideas.

A Pinterest album!

Have you seen Pinterest?!?

Puffy paint polka dots would stick out like a sore thumb in 2019.

What would people think?

What if I am that mom? What if Sunshine is that kid?

No, I could not allow it.

“Sunshine, what would you like on your special shirt?”

Bows. Like JoJo.

Saint Daddy took to Amazon as I put Grumpy and Sleepy to bed that night. I told him to look for craft bows. He ordered them along with special fabric glue for my hot glue gun and a white shirt.

Sunshine and I discussed design. She wanted her shirt to say 100, which is one of her favorite numbers. The other being her current age.

I told Saint Daddy that I would figure out how to make it when the weekend arrived. I always figure it out. I would spend part of a morning doing it. Maybe Saturday. Although Sunshine has ballet. Or Sunday. Although I run six miles on Sunday mornings. I would figure it out.

I always do.

And I did. Sunshine loved it.

Over the next week or so, I watched other moms figure out the One Hundredth Day of School. There were capes and costumes, children dressed as their one hundred year old selves. Stress and questions. Where to buy? What do do? How much to spend?

Why?

To not be that mom. To not let our kids be those kids.

Which mom?

The mom who does not care enough to buy craft bows and hot glue. The mom who forgot. The mom who does not have it together for her kids. The mom who is not able to figure it out.

What kids?

The ones whose parents are not paying attention. The poor ones. The misfits. The struggling ones. The ones who are different. The ones who have to sit around feeling self-conscious in their regular clothes on a special day.

And, like, what does it matter?

Would Sunshine be any less wonderful on the One Hundredth Day if I sent her in her usual uniform?

Who is to say?

I cannot answer this question.

But I see you, momma. I see you with your hot glue gun and your Cricut machine, working long hours, with no need for one more thing, but doing it anyway. I see you with paint under your fingernails and a smiling kid. I see what you did when you post your pictures to your Instagram. Your kids are happy because they did the thing, but I know. I know you are the one who really did the thing.

Congratulations, momma.

You would not be less of an amazing momma without that cape on your baby’s back, but you still pulled it off and I am impressed.

Until the next time you will decide to be supermom to not be that mom.

We are in this together.

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?