Food Allergy Awareness Week – 5 Better Questions to Ask Allergy Families

What’s he allergic to?
“My son has life-threatening food allergies to dairy, egg and all nuts.”
How did you find out?
“We’ve known since he was 15-weeks-old, had his first sip of formula, broke out into hives and couldn’t breathe.”
Will he ever outgrow it?
“Based on his blood test numbers, he’ll never outgrow it. There’s advancing research to support a treatment, but not a cure.”
Do you have allergies?
“No, my husband and I don’t have food allergies and neither does anyone in our family.”
What do you eat?
“Yes, we still order pizza, but after he’s in bed… No, soy milk only in the house, we all drink it… You know I really like the taste of sunflower seed butter now… well, applesauce or baking soda and oil can be a substitute for egg while baking.”
I am an allergy-mom and these are the questions that people usually ask me when they first learn that my son has food allergies. It’s not necessarily in this order, but it’s always these five questions. I’ve been asked these questions so many times that I have the above stock answers at the ready, and respond in an automatic voice.
The questions aren’t mean spirited and come from a place of pure curiosity. However, they can be a bit daunting to answer over and over, especially in front of my son who is able to understand what, and who, we are talking about.
So during Food Allergy Awareness Week I want to take this opportunity to share five questions that friends can ask food allergy families instead. These questions are more productive and frankly, come from a place of thoughtfulness and eagerness to help the child with food allergies, rather than reassuring the person who is asking the question.
Like most of the families with food allergies that I know, we never expect special accommodations. In fact, we are quite consciously taking great steps to make sure that our son knows how to manage his own allergies and doesn’t perceive himself as a victim. However, when one of the below questions is asked, it always touches my heart and makes me feel a surge of appreciation and affection for the friend who is asking it.
With 1 and in every 13 kids in the United States living with food allergies, it is likely that you know someone who is impacted by food allergies and will have the occasion to ask these questions yourself. Thank you in advance for doing so.
1. How can I educate my child and myself to make sure we’re being extra safe around your child?
For children of any age, please reinforce two things; 1) hand washing after eating and, 2) to never share food. These little steps can make a big difference in keeping kids with food allergies safe. Plus it is just a good, healthy habit to get into.
For your grade-school aged child, teach them the seriousness and signs of an allergic reaction (swollen lips, wheezing, hives, stomach cramps) so they can help recognize when a classmate or friend is in danger and tell an adult immediately.
For your toddlers or preschoolers, give some thought to what food you bring to a park or public space, or try to minimize snacks on-the-go. At a park, pool or beach, focus on playing, swinging and sliding, not snacking. If you do have food, go for fruits, dried vegetables or pretzels. I’ve been in many stressful situations where a toddler is toting around a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a handful of pistachios at a public park. Of course this is a shared space and you’re free to feed your child whatever you want, but I believe this is a small sacrifice to make for an act of kindness.
2. As a host, what can we serve at a birthday party or picnic that will help keep all of the children safe, reinforce how welcome your child is and how glad we are that he or she is there?
Again, this is never expected and we’ve grown accustomed to bringing food for our son. But when our friends offer this as a host of a party, it is such a kind gesture that really makes us feel safe and allows us to relax and enjoy ourselves more. Our hosts have always been happy to buy a certain brand of pretzel or hot dog bun if it ensures that my son can participate freely in the event or meal.
Additionally, as the parent of a child with food allergies, it is important for me to find a quiet and convenient time (not right before the party as guests are arriving) to train a host on how to use an epi-pen, and/or offer to stay myself if they are uncomfortable doing so.
3. What can I pack in my child’s lunch so he or she can join yours at the peanut-free table?
I’m happy to provide ideas of an allergy-safe lunch and appreciate the opportunity to do so, in order for my child to sit with a friend during lunch.
Additionally, support an initiative at your child’s school to help raise awareness of food allergies. This year the principal at our school came to me with the idea for a Peanut-Free Café based on the book by the same name by Gloria Koster. For one day only, all of the students were encouraged to bring an allergy safe lunch so that the kids who usually sit at the peanut-free table could sit anywhere.
Also, on this day, food allergy musician Kyle Dine performed two assemblies (one for grades K-3, and one for grades 4-5) using songs, puppets and games to deliver tactical education lessons related to food allergy safety. Even more important, his message and this day also delivered an overarching lesson of kindness, leadership and acceptance.
Kyle Dine has food allergies himself, yet travels the world finding a kid-friendly and fun way to communicate what could otherwise be a heavy topic. All of the kids in both of the assemblies were engaged, eager and entertained. Plus they really think of Kyle as a rock star. He kind of is, check out his music.

4. What kind of event can we plan for our families to enjoy together?

As a family with food allergies it can be challenging to socialize with other families. We always enjoy events where food is not the focus like bowling, swimming or any other activity. If we’re having a back yard BBQ or getting together for a sports game, we’re happy to provide ideas for allergy safe snacks, or bring our own.
We love going to baseball games and hockey games and appreciate when a team has a special game or night where they don’t serve peanut products. Just a few weeks ago,The Florence Freedom baseball team in Florence Kentucky announced a partnership with Enjoy Life Foods to make their entire stadium peanut-free due to the intimate small setting and family friendly atmosphere.
Lastly, every year we participate in an awareness event, the FARE walk as a family and raise money to support food allergy research. We love when friends and family join us on this fun day!
5. What else can I tell my child about food allergies?
Remind your child often that different is cool! Some kids like pizza, some kids play soccer. Some kids love art and some kids eat seafood. Whether its food allergies, skin color, hobbies or interests, we’re all wonderfully unique! Being different is what makes us all interesting and gives us new things to learn from one another!
Carissa has written the below essays about parenting with food allergies on her blog,, The Huffington Post and on Scary Mommy this week during Food Allergy Awareness Week.

The Climb Back Up

Seattle’s Kerry Park is half way down the south slope of Queen Anne.  Overlooking a playground and nestled between charming hillside homes, the space has just a few park benches and a statue called “Changing Form”.  It is a small park, yet boasts a majestic view.

Several years ago, my husband and I happened to be driving by and with the sun setting, made a quick decision to pull over and take a look.  We could see the city, the mountains and surrounding waters.   In a town that has more overcast days than not, we were granted a rare evening with a view that was both stunning, and crystal clear.

Although at that time, our future was far from crystal clear and we were in the midst of our own metamorphosis and changing form.  Half way down the slope, or half way up the hill?  We were existing in some sort of half way space ourselves.  Breathing enough to be alive, but yet not fully engaged in life.  We were were playing the part of happy tourists, but beyond the role, we were so very far from happy. Our souls had been crushed and our hearts broken.

Just four months earlier, without expectation or explanation, our daughter had been born still thirty-eight and a half weeks into what had been a perfectly normal pregnancy.  On this June evening, I was still in the throws of a physical and emotional transformation.

Physically, my body had the markings of a woman who had just gone through a pregnancy and delivery.  These postpartum symptoms were both a cruel joke and treasured testament.  My skin was newly adorned with stretch marks, my stomach squishy, my thighs full and my hair falling out.  But without our baby in my arms, my body boar the only physical proof of our daughter’s existence.   I believed that my body had done what nature intended it to do, and labored, pushed and delivered a tragically unnatural result:  a silent and still baby.

The death of a child is a significant loss, but it is especially brutal when it is done at the same time you are preparing to meet your child.  So emotionally we were barely staying afloat and washed up in a wave of grief.  The simple act of taking a shower in the morning required a great deal of energy and could deplete us for the day.   We had lost our footing and now couldn’t find the appropriate lens from which to view a world that was forever changed.

In an attempt to escape the pain and darkness that surrounded us in our hometown of Chicago, my husband and I decided to take trip.  Just the planning of this getaway might give us something to look forward to and provide us with an alternative point of focus.  We needed a total change of scenery, to run as far away as we could from the flat surroundings of the Midwest and remove ourselves from every single person other than each other.  As the parents of our baby, we were the only ones who shared the depths of love for our child and could come close to understanding the grief of the other.

So we got on a plane, indulged in some inflight cocktails and landed in San Francisco.  From there, we drove up the West Coast to Seattle through Eureka, California and Bandon, Oregon.  For days, we weaved and climbed our way up Highway 101.  Along cliffs and through forests, beaches and towns, we steadily progressed.  At one point the GPS even lost track of us and placed us not on land, but smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Somehow seeing the image of us as a tiny dot, slowing advancing forward, yet in the middle of a giant blue graphic, felt freeing in a strange sort of way.

In the Northwest corner of the United States, Seattle felt like the farthest point that we could run away from a haunting darkness.  But sitting on the park bench in Kerry Park, it became clear that this wasn’t something we could run away from.  While I had done my loud, angry, sobbing cries over the previous months back in Chicago, sitting in Seattle on that night a slow and steady stream of tears quietly made their way down my cheek.  The tears were turned on by a sound of summer.  In the park on a lovely evening, these sounds were all around us, yet it was one sound in particular which seemed to drown out all others.  This was the sound of delighted children laughing and giggling as they played on the playground.  This was the sound of happiness.

Until that moment, happiness was foreign to me.  It was a long lost emotion that I hadn’t felt in months.  But as the sounds of the delighted children pierced straight to my heart reminding me of what I had lost, I was able to process something else.  It was fleeting, but present.  Even if I wasn’t yet able to feel it, I was able to recognize it and a shift began to happen.  Happiness was present in the sound of the playing children, I wanted happiness.

With this recognition I could now resolve to move forward, and allow myself to take the journey back towards happiness.  Hundreds of miles from where we had said goodbye to our baby girl, I could allow myself to say good bye to the dream of our baby girl. I knew I would carry her with me always, but now I could move forward.  We had been stuck half way down the slope, but could now start our climb up the hill.  In that June evening, overlooking the space needle, the Olympic Peninsula and Elliot Bay, we watched the sun set, and instead of darkness falling, felt it begin to lighten.  We decided that we would return to Chicago, and make the most courageous decision of our lives, and attempt to have more children.

Last week, nearly eight years later, my husband and I returned to that park bench.  The “Changing Form” statue remained, the view was still majestic.  Once again we were playing the part of happy tourists from Chicago.  But this time our hearts were truly and sincerely full of happiness because on that park bench sat the three lights of our lives, our three living children.  They were bickering and laughing, shoving and hugging as they providing the sounds of summer.  As I saw them sitting there, I looked out over the landscape and I knew that my view was indeed, crystal clear.

It was Mother’s Day weekend and I needed to be in that space, with those people.  They are my family, they are my heart and they are my soul.  Because even before they were born, the promise of their existence provided me with the courage to move forward out of the darkness and back toward happiness.

Bravery was necessary during last week’s trip because I was attending my first book signing and reading of a piece I wrote about our stillborn daughter and her role in our family called, “Our Family Love Story”.  The story is included in a book, “Three Minus One”, and associated with the  film “Return to Zero”.

Starring Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein, “Return To Zero” is based on the true story of a successful couple who is getting ready for the arrival their first child when the baby dies just weeks before the due date.  The film premiers on Lifetime this Saturday, May 17th, at 8PM/7PM Central.

The book and the film surround a difficult topic.  Because the topic of stillbirth is so heartbreaking it can lead to a silent suffering for those going through it.  Director Sean Hanish and publisher Brooke Warner are hoping to break the silence of stillbirth, giving a voice to the parents who are grieving the loss of their children so that others can know they are not alone when this happens to them.

Breaking the silence, last week in Seattle, myself and six other authors read our pieces in the book at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.  We had not met before, but were instantly connected by a bond of motherhood and united because of a love of our children.  In a powerfully moving afternoon we shared our stories remembering our children, Bennett, Dash, Frankie, Max, Isaiah, Annabelle and Trinity.  Through our stories we were able to provide healing to one another and to others who attended the event, some who had suffered the death of a baby very recently and some many years ago.  Because we were generous with our hearts and brave with our emotions, we know that the lives of our children have meaning and because of them, we have purpose.

I hope you will be brave enough to view the film this weekend, attend a reading if one is in your area and help others who might be going through the silent suffering of stillbirth.

Lessons from My Mother: Love is Fluid

Last week I wrote a piece thanking the mothers of my friends and explaining that I am the beneficiary of their life’s work.  I feel their legacy in the ways that their children, my friends, support me on my own path of motherhood.  
Upon reading this piece, a friend described that “grandmothers, mothers and daughters are our mirror of love received and love given.”  This beautifully worded sentiment made me stop to think about my reflection in the mirror, the one shaped by the love I receive from my own mother.  Just as it made me think about the reflections that I am shaping for my children by the love I am giving them.
The gift of love is truly that, a gift.  This gift has accompanied me for my entire life.  I have not known a single day, or even a breath of air, that hasn’t been filled with love.   In and out of time and over years, I have been fortunate to have been loved by many; my family, my friends, my neighbors.  Yet the original love that welcomed me into the world and was bestowed upon me before I was even able to see the light, is the love of my mother.  This is a love that I could not understand until I had a child myself.  

Because the unconditional love of my mother surrounds me, it allows me to release my own love to my children.  Yet while I love my children always, they test the limitations of that love often.  At times they frustrate me or worry me, and moments later they can fill me with pride or make me swell with joy. 
One of the most important things that my mother taught me is that a mother’s love is fluid and able to adjust as needed.  As I look back on different times in my youth, I am able to see her love manifest itself in different ways.  And so as I love my children, I can accept that I may feel conflicting emotions about them at times, but all of these feelings fall under the constant power of a mother’s love.  The love I receive from my mother has at times been firm, and patient, generous and fierce depending on the occasion.  
A Mother’s Love is a Firm Love
As a teenager I once stole an ugly pair of red and blue shoes from a bowling alley.  When my mom realized I had them, she not only punished me,  but also insisted that I return the shoes immediately and issue an apology in person.  My mom drove me to the alley and scolded for most of the ride.  The ten minute trip felt like an eternity of misery to my teenage self.  With each passing minute I was filled with more and more dread over the mortifying idea of going back into the alley and admitting to my theft.  When we arrived at the bowling alley, my mom was still hot with disappointment and frustration.  She jerked the car into a parking place, threw it into park and stared at me hard.  I gulped.  In a steady and firm voice my mom offered to take the shoes into the alley and apologize on my behalf.  I cried with relief.  
As an adult I’ve talked about this incident a few times with my mom.  She claims that she knew all along that she would walk the shoes into the alley for me.  This plan was all a part of her strategy to punish and reinforce to me that I needed to reverse my action, yet show me that she had my back and would always be there to support me, even when she was furious with me.
And so at heated times when I am upset with the decisions of my own children, I know that I am able to love them with firmness just as my mother loves me.
A Mother’s Love is a Patient Love
My brother and I often laugh about how my mom would get so frustrated with us that on more than one occasion she stormed out the door and got into her car.  We were not young babies and old enough to remember these events.  But when this happened, we would immediately stop our bickering, and give a concerned look to each other as we’d hear the garage door opening and the car backing out.  We wondered to ourselves if we had really sent her over the edge this time.
Solemnly we would stand in the front window and see her car driving past our house as it circled the neighborhood once, twice, and sometimes three times depending on how maddening our behavior had been.  With each pass, we’d shrug and say to each other, “well, she’s still in the neighborhood,” or, “five times?!  She must be really mad.”
While we joke about this now, my mom taught us an important lesson that it is ok to take space when you need it, but that love always remains.  And so in the noise and chatter and arguments of my own household now, I know that it is ok to pretend to be using the restroom longer than I really need to, or to send the kids to the basement to deal with each other while I sit in quiet.  And when I need a moment,  I pause, take a deep breath and try to find a way to love with patience.
A Mother’s Love is a Generous Love
My mother is a kindred and generous spirit without the limitations of self-consciousness.  Even at the risk of making herself look foolish, she has never been afraid to play a joke, or offer a hearty laugh if it helps make her children smile.  She’s a true subscriber to the power of play and she’s creative and resourceful with her tools of imagination.  She once furnished my Barbie Dream House with pieces created out of hairspray caps and cotton balls. 
A few months ago, during a family meal at a Japanese steak house, my son couldn’t participate in the act of catching food in your mouth due to his food allergies.  As a nine year old boy, that’s pretty fun, so he was pretty disappointed.  But after the meal, my mom took him into her formal living room and threw popcorn into the air for him to catch in his mouth, as we all rolled with laughter at how silly and ridiculous the scene was.
Recently she was playing with my children and took an old pair of pantyhose and covered her face in a silly game that distorted her features.  The kids laughed with delight and I was reminded that she taught me to never take myself too seriously. 
Thanks to my mom, I appreciate laughter and love with a generosity that will never let my own concerns with self or image get in the way of a sharing a moment of happiness with my family.
A Mother’s Love is a Fierce Love
Fun and games aside, when I allow my mind to pull up an image of my mother from my childhood, it is an image of her hard at work, hunched over our dining room table grading school papers.
My mother is a retired elementary school teacher and spent thirty years giving herself to not just us, her own children, but to the community’s children.  Not only did she teach children, she co-authored a book full of teaching lessons and used around the country.   
In her work ethic I learned a sort of fierceness in love.  Because of the love of children and education, she threw herself into every lesson, every student and us at 110%.  I felt the power of that love and now know that to love something or someone is to love if fully and fiercely.
Firm, patient, generous and fierce.  Each of these qualities is reflected in the love I receive and the love I give.  As I struggle with the daily joys and frustrations of motherhood myself, I realize that the love I show my children will take many different forms, yet remain steadfast and true not just throughout their lifetime, but before and also beyond.  

The Last One

Although I’ve been asleep for hours, it only takes a minute for the subtle pitter-patter to permeate its way through my slumber.  As a parent, my sleep is only as deep as my child’s.  My tired conscious quickly catches up to my sub-conscious and processes the familiar scampering of two little feet.
“Vivian?”  I say, not yet fully alert.
“I have to go baf-room”, the sweet but determined voice answers in a cadence unique to her three years of age and vocal experience.
It’s our third time around potty training a child.  It’s our last time around, yet it is new all over again.  Since our older two children were given strict orders to never get out of bed by themselves the midnight sensation of having a child stand outside our bedroom door is an original one for us.  We didn’t intentionally change the rules for our youngest, we just forgot.
I elbow my husband who startles and then rolls out of bed to help her.  As they pass back from the bathroom to the bedroom that Vivian shares with her older sister, I say, “Vivi, do you want to come snuggle?”
“Ya!” she exclaims and crawls up into our bed nestling into my side.  Just like a missing piece of a puzzle, she still seems to fit exactly into the curve of my stomach.  Like a muscle memory, both her body and mine remember that she once spent nine months inside this cove, followed by eighteen months nourished from the breasts that settle just above her head.   The last several months were admittedly more for me, than for her.  She wiggles her little legs, and I rub my hand up and down them to warm them up.
Co-sleeping is a luxury that was never afforded to my older children, nor a gift I gave to myself.  With them I had worried that it would become a bad habit, or cause too much dependency.  With their youngest sister, I now worry that this will be the last time she’ll want to do this.  In the past, when I was newer to motherhood, the days felt endless and long.  Here at the end of this stage of motherhood I acknowledge both the threat and promise of endless days.  Now I know that the days are numbered in a way I didn’t understand before.
The passage of time is the cruelest paradox of parenthood.  In the most frustrating of moments, you can’t wait for it to pass.  These are the moments of splattered peas on the floor and toddlers throwing themselves to the ground.  Skipping ahead in the books, you can’t wait to see your baby crawl or your Kindergartner read a book.  But as soon as the stage arrives, you mourn what came before.  It’s a different kind of ache because it is for something that is not lost, rather something that has passed.
I look down at the little girl who in the dark of night is still my baby and whisper, “I love you” and kiss the top of her head, savoring the smell of her clean hair.
She looks up and gives me a sleepy smile.  Willing myself to freeze this sacred image forever, I add, “I’m so glad that you are here”. 
We don’t have children, we are given them.
We have often said that our youngest child, our last child, Vivian, is a pure gift.  Prior to having her, our hands were already full with a healthy and happy six-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.  Things felt busy and full, but yet, not “done”. 
We always knew we wanted three children.  Long before we understood that you can’t plan everything, that was the plan!  Now, we knew first hand just what could go wrong.  In our combined six years and four pregnancies of parenthood, we had struggled through infertility and having our newborn rushed into surgery before recovering in the NICU.  He now lives with life-threatening food allergies, which keeps us on our toes.  We suffered an early miscarriage and a devastating unexpected and unexplained full term stillbirth before finding the courage to soldier through the pregnancy of our then two-year-old, daughter.
Making the decision to try to have another child carried tremendous weight, because we knew just how high the stakes were.  Our hearts had been broken, crushed and abused and were now full of joy.  Could we really risk it all again?
We had many conversations about this topic and agreed to enjoy our daughter for two full years before we made any decisions.  But as her second birthday approached, so did the topic.  
We discussed the heavier issues surrounding this decisions and the lighter ones too.  Did we have enough bedrooms in our current house?  Would it be hard to get a hotel room as a family of five, instead of a family of four?
But our tender, yet brave hearts wouldn’t let us be done.  While the plan had been shattered, our hope for more children remained steadfast.  Fine.  We agreed that we would try and pursued two simultaneous paths.  We looked into an international adoption and tried to conceive, trusting that something would present itself.
Just a few months later an answer did present itself by way of a positive pregnancy test.  And nine months later, our youngest daughter, Vivian, was born. 
Looking at her now in the twilight I can’t imagine our family without her in it, or a life in which she didn’t exist.  She rounds out my motherhood and completes us, all five of us.
It is fascinating to watch the dynamic of these three siblings as it ebbs and flows.  Sometimes the girls pair up and other times it’s the older ones who stick together.  Then at another moment, it might be the oldest and the youngest in sync with one another.  They bicker and argue, but they share a bond of siblinghood that will last for the rest of their lives.
As parents, transitioning from two to three children has been for us the biggest of the challenges.  We often joke that with her arrival, we became that family that is always running late and whose car is spewing food crumbs when the doors slide open.  Three years in, I still haven’t found my footing in this arrangement yet I’m very content.  Being out numbered on the parent-to-child ratio is not only for real, but a for real force!  It rarely seems that all three of them are happy at the same time and I joke that someone is crying, always.  Things feel very, very busy.
And then there is her.   In many ways she is our easiest child, and in other ways the hardest.  She was given the most daring of our baby names, yet likely won’t have a birthday party until she is ten.  She tags along to the activities of others, and draws attention to herself in ways her siblings never did.  Her socks are never matching, and her hand-me-down clothes are always running just a tad too big.  I forget the names of the kids in her preschool class and hope I remember to sign her up for soccer.  She’s my sidekick for errands and grocery store trips more so than a participant in playgroups or music class.
She is the last of our three greatest gifts and the one who will preserve this stage of motherhood for me.  I will parent her with a confidence I didn’t have before.  With my first child, I was always reaching and desperate to take hold of what was next.  With my last child, I cling to time even as I feel it being yanked away from me.  With her every stage, I’m desperate to freeze it, knowing it’s the last.  But alas, it slips away, just as another one enters.  My mind plays catch up, while my heart is stuck for a brief moment, finding a home for the memory of what has just passed. 
So as I gaze at her sleepy smile in the stillness of the night, I snuggle her a little closer.  I know that this age, this stage and this exact moment will only be presented to me once.   She can fit right here in the nook of my belly for just as long as she wants, because I’m just so thankful that she’s here.

Stages, phases and this too shall pass.

4:00 in the afternoon now means multi-tasking homework with one, piano practice with the other, and potty duty with the third while unloading the dishwasher and trying to start dinner.  Three simultaneous needs with the requests/whines to accompany each.  Knowing that there is precisely 23 minutes to accomplish all of the above before rushing everyone out the door for a lesson or practice.  Its loud, disheveled and full.

4:00 in the afternoon used to mean a grouchy baby, still sleepy from a nap.  Putting him or her in the car seat and driving around with no pre determined destination, trying to calm the baby down and knock off the 2-3 hours until bedtime.   Its quiet, lonely and still.

And once upon a time 4:00 meant it was time to check in on the progress of others, make calls to clients, give reports from the day, issue apologies, accept that dinner would be from the vending machine and cancel plans for after-work happy hour with friends or spouse.   Its surrendering, frustrating and stagnant.

The start of the busy time of the day, the wrap up of the day, or the check-in point halfway through.

I miss that 4:00 a lot, then again, not at all.

An Epic Winter, If You’re A Kid

“Are you kidding?”  That is the exact phrase that the meteorologist put on her 7-day forecast this morning to soften the blow that snow is predicted next week, again!

Three months ago I had never heard of a Polar Vortex and if asked, would have told you it must describe something in a Star Wars movie.  Now, just like all of you, I’m familiar with those words not one time, or two times, but three times over.

I’ve lost count, but I think the snow total for the season is just shy of 70 inches.  And I know that this winter has beat all sorts of records; from the fewest days above freezing, to the amount of Lake Michigan that is frozen.  And then there’s a new one, the most consecutive weekends interrupted by a major weather event.  

Its been a tough winter and there’s signs of it all around.  Our town’s holiday decorations are frozen in the ground, still displayed and prolonging a goofy tradition that my children and I have.  Every year in late November or December when those decorations first appear in the town square, we do this silly little thing where we drive by and sing holiday songs.  But three and half months later, the game is old and my preschooler doesn’t understand that Santa is not coming to town, despite the fact that his house is sitting right there next to the library.

The kids have missed school, the heating bill that just arrived is plenty hefty, our gate is frozen shut and we haven’t been able to take our recycling out for weeks.    Our car is filthy.  Our coats are filthy.  They’ve been sliding along the side of that filthy car in tight parking lots, with spaces claimed by plowed snow mountains.  We’ve lost countless gloves, leaving a mudroom scattered with singles in mismatched colors and sizes (by the way, my kids are wearing those mismatched singles to school and waving one hand mittoned in pink nylon and the other gloved in blue wool.  I refuse to buy new ones so late in the season.  After all, this winter is almost over, right?  Right?!)

Despite my belly-aching about winter, this isn’t just another post on your Facebook newsfeed complaining about the weather.  It is a post about the weather, but told from a different point-of-view.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to rah-rah the winter.  I know its been brutal.   But for just a bit, I’m going to stop and try to see this season through the eyes of my children. When I do, I’ll realize that this is not a winter of record lows, rather it’s a winter full of happiness and highs.  For our kids, this could be the defining winter of their childhood, and the winter by which all others will be measured.

This has been a winter full of what my will kids will perceive as grand adventures as we’ve seen our local landscapes transformed.  This is the winter that my kids learned to ice-skate at the playground where they spend their summers swinging.  And this is the winter when they went show-shoeing through the Lincoln Park Zoo on a snowy and muted morning with only the roar of an animal as background noise.  

Even in the intimacies of our own home, things look differently and are serving new purposes.  This is the winter that our Living Room has become a holding place for cardboard box forts, for weeks on end.  The kitchen table is a Lego-building station because the dining room table is claimed by a jigsaw puzzle and board games.  And our backyard is a maze of snow tunnels and igloos that make up what the kids call their “bunker village”. 

Somewhere in the middle of that imaginary village is a snowman that was built three days before Christmas.  Over two months later, that snowman is still standing.  As days go by his head bobs in and out of drifting snow as it settles in new places with each passing gust.   Over the last ten weeks our snowman will go away for a while as he is “drowned” in a new snow fall.  But get this:  he froze so solid that the newer, fluffy snow around him blows away and then we can see his head again.   Thumpety-thump-thump, this might be the only snowman that my children will ever build who doesn’t disappear, but reappears! 

Magic.  I’m reminded every time I drive by the school yard and see an evolving playground full of snow boulders and forts.  I’m delighted knowing that the kids have created elaborate games of crystal mining and kingdoms during recess.  The PE teachers did a unit that allowed the students to sled outside during gym class in preparation for the Olympics and the USA/Canada Men’s Semi-final hockey game was on a TV for the kids to watch during indoor recess and lunch.  This is embracing it and this is the stuff memories are made of.

Back home, the kids built a luge run between the houses in our neighborhood and they went sledding down it every night for a week, right before coming inside and watching Olympians do the same thing on TV. 

Surrounded by our own winter wonderland, we watched skiing, bobsledding and skating while looking up Sochi on the map.  The other day, we heard “Get Lucky” on the radio and my son laughed, saying it reminded him of the Russian Police Choir.  As our family of five cuddled up and watched the giant bear blow out the flame, I felt a pang of nostalgia and processed how old each of my children will be in four years during the next Winter Olympics.  I did the math in my head and had to catch my breath, after having it taken away by the digits 2018, then offered up a quiet prayer for consistency.  I am desperate to try to preserve this and to have this exact moment with them again, yet I know it will be in a different form and different time, as we watch the lighting of the flame in South Korea.

This season, we’ve also been taken with another part of the world:  Norway and its Kingdom of Arendelle!  The magic of Disney has been sprinkled all over us this and we’ve grown obsessed with all things from the wonderful movie, “Frozen”.   My son does a great Olaf, while my daughter’s duet the sister roles and the soundtrack plays over and over and over during our drives around town.  I joke that the song “Fixer Upper” reminds me of their Daddy, which makes them, and me, erupt with laughter and giggles every time we hear it.  My three-year-old points to the icicles hanging outside her bedroom window and tells me they are scary.  I’m confused until I realize that, of course, she thinks Elsa put them there.

So yes, this winter has been a really long one for you and for me.  But for our kids, this will likely be the winter that settles right into that sacred spot of their hearts reserved for only the most special of times.  This is the winter that will sharpen other memories and serve as a benchmark on the timeline of their childhood.

Years from now my kids will look at the fence in our backyard and remember how the snow once piled up around it all the way to the latch. Someday they’ll be having a snowball fight with their college roommates and think about the battle they once had with the neighborhood kids.    And some morning, many years from now, school will once again be cancelled due to bad weather.  My children will be adults, yet they will feel something familiar as they chuckle watching the expressions of delight swallow up their own children.

So much change is coming for our children as they grow, and mature and become adults.  But I believe that the emotions they feel during especially memorable times are the ones that will shape them and give them something steady to hold onto when the rest of it spins, morphs and evolves.   We all need reassurance that while everything changes, some things stay the same.  Sadly, we can’t freeze time, but we can etch the feelings of a time into the mold of who we are, and who we are on our way to becoming.

And with that in mind, I am able to cling onto those emotions and view this winter through the eyes, and hearts of my children.  Doing so, reminds me that we are indeed in a season of wonder and I am coerced into a moment of gratitude for what the kids will call, an epic winter.

The Story I Had To Share on Valentine’s Day

February can be a bleak month for me.  In our family, we roll right out of the holidays and roll right into the birthdays.  But as soon as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day passes and we enter into late January, I’m already bracing myself for the next few dreaded weeks.

It’s cold, it’s winter, it’s Chicago.  But beyond that, it’s February.  And for me, February has tragic significance because it was on Valentine’s Day, that we found out that the baby I had been carrying for thirty-eight and a half weeks died inside of me unexpectedly and without reason, just a week before her scheduled delivery.

And so in this season, even years later, memories of our baby’s death and delivery can be easily triggered as we continue to grieve the child who we love deeply, yet never had the chance to meet.  I often think about who our child would be at age 8, and every Valentine’s decoration is a reminder of a day that each year is filled with both aching loss and abundant love.

In a conscious effort to stay afloat on what might otherwise be an emotional drift, I employ strategies to insist on not just survival, but happiness.  Fiercely struggling and fighting, I call upon a reserve of gratitude and joy that I’ve spent the last eleven months building in preparation for just how depleted I might feel at this time of the year.

Within that reserve are a few key lifelines working against this impossible loss.  Among them is the strange sense of empowerment that comes with the death of a child.  It is difficult to explain, but somewhere within that grief, I realized that this was bad, really bad, but I was surviving.  Albeit barely, I was making it and that was powerful, and continues to be.

Tied up in that sense of empowerment is the ability to shape my own story.  While I can’t reverse this terrible thing that has happened, the one tiny bit of control I have is the vantage point from which I process it all.  While some of the major events of life are beyond my control, it is up to me to set the tone and to tell my own story in a way that best suits me.

And when I say me, I mean the entire me.  Not just the grieving me, or the me who was pregnant and then wasn’t, but doesn’t have a baby in her arms.  But the me in The Before and the me in The After.  The me who is filled with rage and the me who is filled with joy.  The me who laughs heartily and the me who can’t find her laugh at times.  In order to be authentic, my story must be inclusive of the entire me.

A year ago I discovered that within me there was a story so powerful and so prominent that it made it difficult to identify the entire me.  I’ve heard writers say that there is usually a story you need to tell first, before you can find the other stories in yourself.  I was still operating in self-preservation mode, this story was guarding other aspects of me.  The story I needed to share is our family love story.

Within the first year after our baby was stillborn, my husband and I decided that it wasn’t fair to our daughter for our story to be shrouded in darkness and despair because of her death. And so every year on February 14, we take a vacation or do something special together as a family.  We call it her “birthday trip” and use the time to celebrate her and to celebrate our family. We shaped our story of loss into a love story complete with tragedy and triumph.

With our family love story always in my heart, when last February, The Huffington Post put out a call for photographs that reminded their readers of love, a personal photograph immediately came to my mind.  Without thought or deliberation, I moved as if on instinct and found the picture of my husband and I in the hours immediately following our still born daughter’s delivery and taken by a bereavement photographer who was provided by the hospital.

I’ve always thought of this photograph as truly capturing the essence of our relationship because even in those early hours there is a connectedness and fortitude in our body language.  And while it may not have been our most romantic hour, as individuals and as a couple, it was our finest hour.  That photograph shows a resolve to grieve together and to move forward together.  To me that photograph is the definition of partnership and steadfast love.

And so I submitted the photograph along with a description of our family love story.  I can’t recall much about how I wrote the story.  When I wrote it, I know I was sitting on the couch with the laptop, home alone with the kids because my husband was traveling.  But other than that I don’t have a sharp memory of writing that piece because I was so in flow.  I know I didn’t edit it, I maybe re-read it once.  I don’t really know what I hoped would happen.  But before I could think otherwise I had sent it in an email text to The Huffington Post along with the photograph explaining why to me, this image was love.

Within twenty-four hours I was in contact with the wonderful Lisa Belkin and Farah Miller who very gently guided me through the insecurities and process of publishing this piece.  I had been writing quietly since I was a kid, but within a few days I officially jumped, two feet first, into the public blogosphere.  I grabbed a twitter handle, a blog, and a facebook page.

Within a week the piece had been shared around the world and published on iVillage Australia.  I heard from supportive friends and family as well as people I’d never met, yet who had experienced similar losses.

Something very important happened.  Not only did I share my story, but doing so opened me up to listen to other people’s stories.  I heard from a gentleman whose child was stillborn over 40 years ago and I heard from a father who had lost his baby the night before.  A grandmother, a sister, a friend; there were so many people who were going through this, or who loved someone going through this.  And heartbreakingly, each story represented a child that the world will never get to know.  I read every comment and cried and celebrated each and every one of those babies.  And every time I thought of my own daughter and grieved for her all over again.  Connections were made and in those stories I felt the warmth of friendship and the bond of universal understanding that can both sustain and uplift.  I gave, just as I received.

The stories continue to be shared.  I’m proud that Our Family Love Story will be a part of the book Three Minus One being released this spring and associated with the film Return to Zero about a couple grieving after a stillbirth.

Sharing this story has allowed me to gain confidence as a writer and share other stories. There are now many pieces on The Huffington Post and blog about careers, and friendship, parenting and food allergies.  A piece on leaning in was featured on  I’m finding my footing as a writer, attending workshops, retreats and conferences.  I’ve met writers and bloggers who inspire and challenge me.  At home, friendships have been formed and strengthened with other mothers and writers.

Sharing this story has fostered so many relationships.  This story was mine for many years, but it was time that I give it to others so I could nurture and grow the other stories in my soul.  I needed to get back to a vantage point where I can see the whole me, so I could tend to her and develop her.  The whole me is powerful and wise, and has things to say, lessons learned and tales forged on a journey that is simultaneously treacherous and beautiful.

Most of all, sharing this story reminded me that we are not on this journey alone.  Sure we have ourselves, and we have our family and friends.  But we also have something else.  Something that bonds us to each other.  There is a big, big world out there full of people who are ready to love and ready to share, ready to listen and ready to give.

I do believe that the words to this piece didn’t come from me, but through me.  My daughter didn’t get the chance to live, but she is my heart and she is my voice.  And for us, she is the reason why Valentine’s Day is once again a day to spread some love.

Insisting on Happiness, Even in January

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” 

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Happiness is hard to come by these days, isn’t it?  Here in the Midwest and across much of the United States we’re facing the worst winter in a century.  Our ground has been covered in snow for well over a month now and with the Chicago area expecting even more snow this weekend, I believe it will be quite some time before we see any sort of green.  
The skies above are gray and the ground below is white.   The days are short, and dark. My lips are chapped and my skin is dry.  My emotional palette is desperately in need of some more vibrant hues to lighten my mood right now.
Adding insult to injury is a giant lack of routine.  We’re now squarely four to five weeks into the new year, yet I feel like I haven’t caught any sort of traction.   With a Polar Vortex two times over and resulting school cancellations, this month has felt like one big scramble to schedule and reschedule meetings, travels, appointments and activities.
As for any sort of New Years plan for self-improvement, just forget about it.  While I didn’t formally commit to a New Year resolution, I had a few things I had hoped to up my game on this year, physically, emotionally and organizationally.
So as this first month of 2014 comes to a close, I’m feeling a bit blah.  Actually a lot blah!  But before I get too carried away in my blah and one negative thought leads to another, I need to stop myself and adhere to one of my favorite quotes and listed at the top of this post.  I need to insist on happiness.
Knowing that one of the things that’s bugging me the most is the feeling that I didn’t accomplish anything in January, I’m making myself stop and take note of the past thirty-one days so I can celebrate a bit of productivity in each.  While I spent many of those days feeling sloppy in a big black, puffy parka, I need to prove to myself that I didn’t waste those days.
Highlights of the month include renewing my driver’s license (with a 6-year-old and 3-year-old in tow while I took the written exam), celebrating my son’s 10th birthday with grandparents and adventures around the city including taking he and a friend to see Blue Man Group and a family outing to the Field Museum.  At the same time I celebrated my own birthday and a decade of motherhood.  
Although not as much as I hoped, I did write a bit, submitted a bit and logged a few miles on a treadmill this month.  I’ve helped a friend or two, or three, as they are going through tough times and celebrated with others as they either announced their pregnancies or were showered for a baby about to arrive.  A closet has been cleaned and a donation to Goodwill made.  Our church installed a new pastor, our school committed to a day to raise food allergy awareness, and our neighbors gathered to work in a food pantry.  We participated in a program to acknowledge the program at our hospital that helps bereaved families after a stillbirth or death of an infant.  
I signed each child up for a new round of activities and projects at school.  Each and every one of those events were interrupted and upset the choreography of our calendar when various winter weather hit.  When stuck inside with the kids during cold days we did some creative science experiments and games involving a straw, a cotton ball and painters tape.  And while stuck inside with the kids on cold days, I yelled at them more than I should have and let them watch TV more than they should have.  Either way, we all survived and came out mostly laughing (ok, true confession:  I cried just a little bit when that fourth snow day call came in).

Our house is 94 years old and held up pretty well in the coldest temperatures its ever known.  Our pipes froze, but didn’t burst.  Most importantly, we had shelter and heat. Our car didn’t start one morning, and then it did.  And as long as I’m celebrating achievements, I should take note of the inches upon inches of snow that my husband and I removed from our walks over the past few weeks.
Many of my accomplishments of the past month may seem relatively small.  And some were a bit more involved.  I had a medical scare requiring a biopsy and for those few days while awaiting the results my mind spun as anyone’s would.  When the results came back as benign I steadied myself against the wave of emotion and relief which overtook me while knowing that others were receiving a different phone call.  I was again reminded of this perspective when just a week or so later in the month we spent the day being humbled and grateful at Lurie Children’s Hospital as our daughter had a relatively minor outpatient procedure. 
So what if at the end of this very long and very cold month I didn’t get to that daily plank challenge or completely cleanse myself of caffeine?  My book club finally had a holiday dinner and I saw some of the Oscar-nominated films.  My husband and I binge watched Orange is the New Black, and then peacefully settled into the start of Downton Abbey….oh, and I am hooked on The Bachelor again after a five year hiatus (thanks in part to the Polar Vortex, and thanks in part to Juan Pablo).
Certainly those thirty-one days of January lacked any sort of color or natural hue from the great outdoors, but each and every one of those days was vibrant and rich in its own way.  And whether I spent them wearing lip stick or chap stick, in a pair of snow shoes or slippers, every day of the first month of 2014 was well lived because each of those days was a gift.  Making this list made me appreciate and see light in these gray days.  I needed to know that I used those gifts in ways I didn’t realize.

If you’re feeling down at this time of the year, make a quick mental list of how you spent your January.  Go ahead and let yourself acknowledge the little and mundane right along with the big and fantastic.  Whether you’ve made a major life-changing resolution, or made it through the coldest day in a decade.  You stopped eating sugar, you fed your baby squash for the first time or you simply got those holiday returns back to Old Navy.  Either way, high-five to you!  High-five to us!  We’re doing it!  We’re surviving this winter.

After all, I’m just enormously satisfied that I was able to spend a morning at the DMV, with kids in tow.  And if that’s what it takes to insist on my happiness, so be it.

**Please note that if you are feeling something more severe, you should seek help from a professional.  I don’t want to imply that it is as simple as making a list.**

Playscaping/Escaping on Such a Winter’s Day

I’d never done it before.  In fact, I had no intentions of ever doing it.  And before I tell the story, let me disclaim it all with this photo,

Chicago.  January.  It feels like such a long, long time since this,

…or this,

And at age 6 and 3, my kids desperately need this.  They need to run and play and get fresh air.  And in the Midwest in the winter, that is hard to come by.

And so the story goes.  After a busy morning I decided to treat the kids to Chic-fil-A for lunch.  We have one now.  I’ve never been inside.  I’ve heard nice things from my friends who live in states like Virginia and Kentucky.  So we drove up and the girls spotted an indoor play-area in the restaurant.

“Please Mommy, can we go in there, please?” they begged.

Call it crazy, and I know it is.  But I’ve never let them go to one of those play areas at a restaurant.  It just never became a part of the rhythm of my days with young kids.  They go to the gym childcare playscape and other places, but I’m always sanitizing and triple sanitizing after.  (I know, I’m annoying even myself while typing this.)

In a bit of my defense, my oldest child has food allergies so we haven’t spent a ton of time in restaurants at all.  But especially ones involving young kids and food and play areas because they would have been so dangerous and so off limits that we never even tried.

The closest thing we ever did was to attend a stressful birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  At the time I was appalled to see a woman with her head down on the table sleeping, while her kids popped coins into an arcade game.

I admit, I totally judged.  I judged and then vowed to never return.  And to this day have never returned, to Chuck E. Cheese, or any other play area in a restaurant.

So today, sitting in the Chic-fil-A parking lot I made a snap decision and turned around and said “yes!” to the delighted girls in the back seat.  Without their brother’s allergies to worry about and no upcoming vacations to be spoiled by a stomach bug, I took one look at the gray outdoors and surrendered to their plea.

They squealed with delight, hopped out of their carseats and zipped their coats in record time.  “Thank you, thank you, Mommy!” they gushed and I felt good throwing judgement and caution to the wind.  Really good.   After all, this was the right thing to do.  I don’t want my kids growing up overly sheltered or in a bubble.  Yes!  We’d go into the Chic-fil-A, have a nice fried lunch and then play.  It was all so very “everyman” of us.

As we arrived in the sparkling clean restaurant, my mind was eased.  This wasn’t Chuck E. Cheese, this was fresh and nice and bright.

I chatted with the cashier about how the whole process worked and she laughed at my naivety.  I said, “I’m sorry, we’ve never done this.”

“Done what?” she asked.

“This,” I replied, “eaten inside and…..played!”  I mouthed the word as if describing a mythical occurrence….a flying pig, or a rainbow-tailed unicorn.  “plaaaayed”  I repeated.

“Oh”, she said and laughed.

I noticed that they had caffeinated Diet Coke and joked with the cashier about caffeine-free Diet Coke.  I quipped, “What is the point of drinking all those chemicals if you aren’t going to at least get the benefit of the caffeine?”

Ha – ha, ho- ho.  She politely smiled at me.  Oh my sweet Lord above, I saw the expression flash across her face.  The cashier at Chic-fil-A pitied me.

So as the girls shed their coats and hats into my arms and when the tray was too much for me to carry along with their gear, the cashier beckoned her co-worker to help me.  A friendly person emerged from behind the counter to carry the tray.  As the girls raced off towards a seat by the play area, I kind of breathlessly muttered to this kind person carrying my tray “Gosh, this is sooo nice!“.

I literally said that…in a Chic-fil-A.  Holy moly, desperado!!  Perhaps it was the funny polka-dotted cows on the walls, the promise of a Diet Coke or the Southern hospitality, but I had truly and literally fallen under the spell of Chic-fil-A and was downright giddy.

The light seemed to glow brighter and warmer inside that restaurant.  Just like a welcome oasis from the gray, snowy skies outside.  My girls were mannered and eager to please.  Bribed with not being able to play until they finished their meal, my daughters ate their nuggets without complaint and their fruit squeeze too!  I could almost hear the birds chirping in the background.

When it was time to play they raced into the romper room and I sat back, refilled my caffeine source and pulled out my phone.  I thought to myself, “this isn’t so bad.  Maybe I should have been doing this all along.  It turns out that I am the fool!”

My oldest daughter scampered out to tell me that she had made a new friend.  “Great!” I thought justifying the experience, “that’s exactly why this is so wonderful.  We’re expanding our horizons and getting out of our bubble and our community”.  Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a see-the-world experience, but thanks to Chic-fil-A our world wasn’t feeling so small suddenly.  

This was just swell.  In fact, any memory I had of any sort of disagreement with the social political beliefs of the restaurant’s president was all starting to slip far, far away.  Now I understood why friends of mine in other states hosted fundraisers here, and posted photos of the Chic-fil-A Daddy/Daughter Nights and other community events on their Facebook pages.

I scanned that Facebook newsfeed and thought about how those friends of mine in Southern states would laugh at how novel I thought this trip to Chic-fil-A was.  How they’d been doing this for years with their young kids.

I opened email and was even feeling rejuvenated enough to respond to a friend with a witty (…and frankly I thought pretty funny and smart) comparison of the movie Gravity to the TV show The Bachelor when the romper room door opened just long enough for me to recognize a child’s wail.

Sounds like its getting crazy in there.  Poor kid,” I thought to myself, before the acknowledgement set in, “oh sh*t, that’s my kid!”

I hurried in and heard her before I saw her.  Less than five minutes in and she was lost in the primary colored tubes above my head and screaming.  I had to talk her down.  Before I could see her, my six year old was dramatically telling me, “I didn’t do it!  I don’t know what happened.”

I snapped at her, “Lucy, you were supposed to be watching her!”.  Isn’t it always the wrong thing that comes out of our mouths first?  Both as a kid and as a parent.  I felt the eyes of every other parent and babysitter in the restaurant on me.

She replied, “I know, but I made a friend instead!”

I sighed and started trying to coax my sobbing 3-year-old down the tubes all while thinking to myself, “I am not going to climb up in this thing!  Oh come on.  The germs!  I don’t have time to be sick,”

Eventually I found my little Vivi red faced, hair going in every direction and her shirt half off her body, with one arm hanging out.  I grabbed her, hugged her and took her back to the restaurant.  Half-naked.  No shirt, no shoes, no service.  Whatever.  Her shirt was half on.

The other parents asked me if everything was ok and I scolded myself mentally for getting ourselves into this predicament.  One minute everything was going so nicely, the next it was all ab-so-f*ck-ing-lute-ly falling the apart.  Crud!

As Vivi calmed down she explained that her older sister stepped on her shirt and pulled it off then went back in to play.  It wasn’t any other child who had derobed my child, it was my own!

I gathered my things and told the girls we had five more minutes.  Then they collapsed to the ground as I pulled on their snowpants and boots and sweated and cursed inside my head.  And with that, my brief escape was abruptly ended as we sloshed our way back through the gray parking lot and to our car.

As I scolded them to stay close and hold hands, I saw the girls sneak a peak back over their shoulders at the bright restaurant with its colorful tubes and play area.

We may go back to a restaurant playscape….and we may not.  (And it’s quite likely that in those five minutes of escape we caught a germ or two that will wreak havoc on our household for an entire week.  But I’m trying, really trying, not to go there.)

Instead I’m acknowledging that in those five minutes I realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s a Chuck E Cheese or a Chic-fil-A.  I stand corrected. I’m no different than the mom resting her head on the table.  I scanned my phone while my children climbed in and out of tunnels and clobbered each other because they needed to burn off some energy…and I needed to refuel.  This job is exhausting anytime, but especially on cold winter days, and we’re all just doing whatever we can to keep on moving.

Ten at Ten

Celebrating a Decade of Motherhood
My oldest child is about to turn ten years old.  And beyond the feeling that time is flying and the statements about how fast he is growing up, I’m marking the occasion to not only celebrate my son, but to celebrate myself!  I’ve survived, rather I’m surviving, this thing called parenthood.  I’m not the first to say it and won’t be the last, because many of us already know that parenthood really is the hardest job, with the greatest reward.  So at a decade into this role, here’s what I know, the good, the bad and the ugly:
1.  My child has sucked every last ounce of energy, humor, intelligence, and composure out of me at times (actually most of the time), but in return I have been filled up many times over with a love so strong, so fierce and so unconditional that nothing can compare to it. 
2.   I expect the unexpected. Always.  Yet I’m still surprised every time.  As a parent I know that I am always just one stomach virus away from a vacation being rescheduled, or one unlucky fall away from an ER visit derailing our day.  And I also know that even with insurance, the price of an emergency room co-pay is about the same cost as that new pair of snow boots he just outgrew, or a soccer registration fee.
3.    The milestones in the books are amazing, but so are the ones that no one writes about.  Nothing can compare to the moment when I first saw my child’s face, but a close second might be the moment when a few years later that child spontaneously told me that he loves me.  And when I felt butterflies in my stomach as I watched him ride a two-wheeler for the first time, or saw his first real report card, those were big moments too!  Its all so wonderful, and it all just keeps coming.
4.  The three hours between 4:00 and 7:00 pm feel longer than the ten hours it takes to fly across the ocean…sitting in the middle seat of the back row of a plane…right next to the restrooms….and with the seat in front of me reclined onto my lap.  And here’s the kicker, sometimes (ok, often times) I’d rather be on that plane!
5.  Speaking of which, I now know what an amazing sense of imagination I have.  Not only am I able to play doll babies, trains and construction with the best of them, but during that particular 4:00 to 7:00  timeframe I can imagine myself in the most exotic of locations.  In fact, I’ve even looked up flights on the internet and made real calls to the 1-800 number on the direct mail piece and had conversations with actual travels agents!  I’ve heard all about the heated pools and massage packages for a completely fictitious trip that I have no intention of taking…and all while my child hangs on my leg begging for another cracker!
6.  Modesty has been redefined.  As if the process of pregnancy and child birth didn’t do it, then certainly the experience of trying to take a shower or use the restroom with a toddler in the house did.  Having my preschooler see me pump breast milk for his little sister and then remark on which side is “winning in the milk race” was humbling!  As was having my child ask if those were Mommy’s diapers when she found a stash of maxi-pads.  Phoning my husband at work and begging him to come home because I was pregnant and constipated and just needed some time in the bathroom without a toddler was a proud moment.  Oh, and there was the time I was pregnant, nauseous and yakked all over myself…while driving….while my two horrified children shot me bewildered looks from the backseat of the mini-van.  Ok, its time to wrap the modesty topic up before I gross you out any more.  But I know that you know just how many more stories there are to tell on this topic.
7.  There are few things more luxurious than a trip to Costco alone.  Are you kidding me?  Its a land where things are well-organized and neatly-stacked.  The only thing better is being forced to lay down in a soft dentist chair while you get a cavity filled because no one asks you to get up and fetch them a glass of water and you don’t even have to talk to anyone.
8.  Sometimes my voice makes a sound at a particular pitch that I didn’t know was possible before having kids.  And when I say certain phrases, I sound an awfully lot like my mother.  Recognizing this makes me both cringe, and feel tremendous appreciation at the same time.
9.  My children are their own unique people.  As much as I like to control things around here, everything happens on its own time, from when and how they were conceived to when and how they learned to read.  I’m not completely in charge, and neither are they.   There are no followers, and no leaders.  I can guide, nurture, and coach and they can decide, control and take action.  But then we all need to step back and be proud of the unique path where they each land.   
10.  At about 10:00 every night I start to miss them and peak in and if they are sleeping soundly, all of the frustrations of the day slip away.  As I’m filled up with an amazing gratitude, I process all that my children have taught me.   And I realize that a decade in, my children are raising me just as much as I’m raising them.  And we all still have a lot to learn.
Motherhood is this sometimes, but not always…


…sometimes its this…
…or even this…
but in the last decade, I feel that it usually falls somewhere 
smack dab in between the joyful and the chaotic…
…and gratefully so.

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