Love Everyone.

Today’s post is going to be a little different. I don’t normally post here about my faith or morality. I started out writing to create a safe place for people to come and read and laugh about the weird life I lead. It’s become so much more than that. I’ve kept relatively quiet about my faith and I promise that it’s not something I’ll continue to talk about here often. I’m just not that kind of person. My heart is hurting though, and I feel myself called to put my money where my mouth is so to speak.

I am a cradle Catholic. Baptized at birth and spoon fed the teachings of Christ. I spent 13 years in Catholic school and then went on to study world religions in College. My faith life has been rocky. Even though I identify as Catholic I have always seen the value and beauty in other religions. Unfortunately, I have for most of my life held the belief that Christ really wouldn’t be interested in me or want to be my friend. That he didn’t come here for me because I wasn’t worthy. This distresses my mother who worries that she did something wrong. That’s never been her fault. Other people did it and I bought in.

You see in Catholic school I was picked on. I was cast out. Why? Because in a rich private school I was one of the poor kids. We lived in “the wrong part of town.” I didn’t have a big house or loads of fancy things. In fact, four of us lived in a two bedroom, one bathroom house built in the forties so that paying for Catholic school tuition would be possible. I was and am damn proud of the sacrifices my family made. It wasn’t until my classmates at this privileged school began to spout racist rhetoric, homophobic ideology, speak with ugliness about the poor, and treat my fellow “weird” friends like trash that I began to doubt that Christ would have wanted me. Years of learning told me that Christ came for the poor and down trodden, for the different and weird and yet here were his followers, claiming to be Christians, going to Church every Sunday, and hurting the types of people that Christ intentionally befriended during His time here on Earth.

As I got older I learned that these kids didn’t come up with that stuff on their own. They were raised that way. (Seriously if you can’t drive on your own how the hell could you even know what “the wrong side of town” meant?) Their parents lead by example. Their Christian parents. I forgave my bullies and their parents and moved on. The damage was done though.

In High School, I was blessed to find myself in a community of Christians (and even some non Christians) who accepted me and others as we were. They lived the values of Christ. It was there that I learned and truly came to believe that all human life has value no matter it’s form. To me this value is rooted in my belief that we are all made with God in our hearts. These people weren’t perfect. I met some jerks along the way, but over all, the Christians I met did a great job of showing me Christ’s love through their words and actions.

I don’t often use people’s real names in my blog but as I write this with tears pouring down my face so many names come to mind. Mrs. Shaffett and Mrs. Wintz who taught me about the love of Christ in religion class and outside of class too. Mrs. Cowgill who saw potential in each and every one of us and loves us BIG to this day. She was and is unashamed of her Christianity. Joy Thomas who invited this crazy white girl to come dance and eat and laugh with her big, beautiful Black Christian family. (Her Mom gave me the best hug I’ve ever had in my life as soon as I got there and immediately made me feel welcome despite being one of only two white people there.) My wonderful friends, too numerous to name, who accepted EVERYONE despite their oddities because it was the right thing to do and because that’s the kind of people they are. The list could go on for days. I learned more about being a true Christian in those four years than I had ever known before. No one was condemning me or speaking hate to me or the people I loved. We weren’t super popular kids but we were allowed to be who we were. I was surrounded by Christians who cared.

When I was a high school senior my faith journey took a leap forward as I participated in The March for Life in Washington D.C. I belived then, as I do now, that all human life has value. ALL HUMAN LIFE. I marched with so many people who believed the same. It was a moving and transformative time for me. With me marched people from all over. Christians and non Christians. My faith grew stronger and a foundation was laid. I began working little by little to see the beauty of God in everyone around me. (Let me tell you it’s not easy and I still struggle with it.) Books like Love Does by Bob Goff and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller were instrumental in my journey.

Try as I might it wasn’t until recently that I truly believed that Christ would have wanted me to sit at His table too. That He would have loved me too. Why? Because I had to separate the actions of so many Christians from the teachings of Christ. I had to remember that we are all human and that it was unfair to judge Christ by the actions of the flawed humans who profess to follow Him. It breaks my heart to see my news feed filled with self-professed Christians spewing hate. Hate for the LGBTQ+ community. Hate for the poor. Hate for immigrants. Hate for People of Color. Hate for those who have different beliefs and lifestyles. Christ didn’t come here to teach us hate, we had that already, he came to teach us love.

I often wonder how many people out there are like me. Drawn to Christ but chased away by his followers. Told by actions that they must look and speak a certain way to deserve the love of Christ. To deserve love. To deserve to be taken care of. To have value. As Christians, we are called to LOVE EVERYONE. We are called to stand up and defend those who are oppressed. We are called on to befriend and care for everyone because by denying them we are denying Christ. When we reject others because they are different than us we are rejecting the spirit of God that lives in them.

It is our duty to fight for equality for all of our brothers and sisters. It is our duty as Christians to defend the rights of all human life. For me that means becoming an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. It means fighting for their rights to be treated equally. It means checking my white privilege and washing the scales from my eyes so that I can recognize and fight systemic inequality and racism. It means supporting better healthcare for everyone. Better programs for those facing addiction and mental illness. It means doing what I can to make sure that people get the help they need so that we can all live with dignity and respect. It means raising my children to respect all human life and to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I won’t always succeed. I’m not perfect. But I’ll be damned if I let myself become someone’s reason for feeling like they are unworthy of Christ’s love or mine.

Self Care With The Three “T”s

As an adult I’ve learned that self care comes in many forms. This Monday I planned the most adult day of self care that I could imagine. Through the day I tackled what I lovingly deemed “The Three T’s” for a “ground up self care experience.” (Yes, sometimes you have to market to yourself to make life more interesting.)

I started the day by taking the time to get dressed up and put on makeup before bringing The Twins to daycare. After I dropped them off I headed out to take care of the first T. Tires! Yes, after months of clenching my booty cheeks every time the road got slick I finally invested in replacing my two front tires. I had two replaced last August when I had a massive blowout on the interstate but money has been tight so I’ve been trying to wait. I went to a tire shop right down the road and they were super fast and helpful. It felt weird to sit in a waiting room with my mask on but I didn’t mind. They’d eliminated some of the chairs and there was no coffee station. It was done so quickly though that it was an overall great experience. The Mom Van is now much safer and the ride is even more smooth.

Since it finished so quickly, I was able to call in for my work meeting which I thought I was going to miss. Thanks to the power of Zoom I was able to drive home while I listened in so I could relax and see The Hubs and The Big Kids before my next appointment. Proud of my adulting for the day so far, I treated myself to a slice of key lime pie for breakfast. What’s the point of treating myself if I don’t get tasty treats? (See, another two “T”s for the day! Bonus points for alliteration!)

Next up was every woman’s favorite yearly appointment! Yes, that’s right, I had my annual exam. Which brings me to the second T: Twat! (I understand that in other countries twat means your bottom but that’s not what I mean here.) Now, unlike some women, I really like my OB. She’s a nice lady and I literally trusted her with my life and the lives of my children when she made the correct call to perform my emergency c-section. She’s the best. That being said, I still wasn’t jazzed about facing the dreaded exam again. Getting yearly exams and check ups is 100% self care but it’s not the glamorous side that everyone wants to talk about. Ladies let me tell you, your annual is one of the most important forms of self care! Doooo ittttt!

My awesome Doctor let me know that because of my family’s cancer history, my insurance would cover genetic testing for cancer risk. My only knowledge of genetic testing for cancer risk came from celebrities getting tested and then deciding to have surgery to remove their breasts. That feelt a little extreme to me but I decided not to be ignorant and asked for more information. Apparently if you test positive for the genes your insurance has to cover additional yearly testing. So if I test positive then my insurance actually has to cover more preventative testing? Sign me up! (Testing is a “T” too! Lookie there!) So I took the self care a big step further and spent extra time at the Dr.’s office to get the testing done. I nearly passed out because I’m not a blood person but I felt like it was worth the discomfort.

My day wasn’t finished yet. I went back home for a tasty light lunch and some TV. I had mozzarella with tomatoes and basil from my garden drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper. It was delicious! Of course, I followed it with queso and chips while I binge watched season two of Dead To Me on Netflix. (Ooo tortilla chips start with “T” too!) It’s not often that I get control of the TV without anyone around to bother me. Beyond that, I never get to eat without sharing my food or getting interrupted. It was awesome and relaxing. It prepared me perfectly for the next step in my Three T’s.

Ladies and gentleman for the final “T” I present Titties! I told you I was taking a ground up approach didn’t I?! My amazing Lala took me shopping at Bra Genie as a belated birthday present. That damn Rona had to push back our celebration till now but the timing really turned out to be perfect. We laughed while she tried on swimsuits and I tried on like 60 bras. I learned that my sad, tired old bra was not only stretched way out but also wasn’t the right size to begin with. She bought me two bras and some panties and even some special wash to go with them. It was so much fun and my back and boobs greatly appreciate the support. Shout out to the ladies at the store who put up with my crazy comments about my droopy boobies. They were great.

Despite being on the less glamorous side of self-care it was hands down one of the best self-care days I’ve had in a really long time. I took time for myself, eliminated some worries and yucky things from my plate, was proactive about my health and future, got new underthings, saw people that I love, and ate tasty food. You really can’t get much better than that!

So what about you? What’s the most adult form of self-care that you take?

Good News!

It’s been too long since I’ve written. Life seems to be going 1000 miles an hour lately and there never seems to be enough time in the day. It’s not bad busy. It’s actually pretty exciting. I’ve been trying new recipes, making kits and lots of soap, and trying to make my house look less like a tornado hit it. Also work is picking up and The Twins are back in daycare. So much has happened since I last wrote that I thought it would be fun to fill you guys in on the best parts. Who doesn’t enjoy good news right?

1) The Twins have healthy hips! I haven’t talked about it much here, but shortly after they came home from the hospital The Twins were diagnosed with hip dysplasia and placed in Palvik harnesses. They were in their harnesses 27/7 for 7 weeks to force their hip joints to develop properly. It was a long and exhausting journey for all of us but it’s nothing compared to what some other families go through. We were fortunate that their problems were minor and that our Pediatrician caught it early. Now we go back once a year for X-rays to make sure that everything is still developing as it should. On our last visit, their Orthopedic still had some concerns but wanted to wait and see. It makes me nauseous and anxious every time we go but this time was even harder because it had been a while since our last visit. He’s super happy with the results though and we don’t have to go back for another year. Hip Hip Hooray!

They did such an amazing job!

2) The Hubs started a YouTube channel and his first video is hilarious. We’ve toyed around with the idea of having a podcast in the past. He tried Twitch once as well but it didn’t feel like the right fit. Back before YouTube he and his buddies made goofy videos all of the time so it seemed like a natural move. His channel is called Donny Duct Tape. He calls himself a “high tech redneck” haha! He’s not wrong either. He plans on making videos of him fixing things and trying new things. For his first video he and his friends did a hot wings challenge. I got to help by asking them questions while their mouths were on fire. It was awesome and a lot of fun. He did a great job of editing it as well. You can check it out here.

3) My soap business has really taken off. Thanks to social media, I’ve sold soaps in four different states. It’s so awesome! I’ve developed some signature lines and still really enjoy experimenting. I’ve got some paperwork to do to make my business 100% legit but I’m excited to do it. I’m so happy that what started out as a quarantine project has turned into a business that I can be proud of. I couldn’t have done even this much without my family’s support. My parents have let me make messes in their kitchens, sniffed everything, and listened to me freak out about keeping up with demand. My in laws have kept the kids so I could deliver soaps. The Hubs and the kids have sniffed, sampled, and helped me package my soaps. I love that my business gets to be a family affair.

My Pride soap smells awesome and is gorgeous! For each bar sold we donate $2 to The Trevor Project.

4) Our garden is finally feeding us! So, up until now, the tomatoes have been a bit of a shit show but they finally produced for us! The okra has had two great harvests (lots of pickling and frying going on). I’ve gotten tons of basil that I’ve been using to infuse alcohol (thanks for the basil plant Mom!). Our peppers started turning red this week. I have three cantaloupes on the vine that we can’t wait to eat. I pull beans out almost every day. The garden itself looks rough because we didn’t put the proper weed barriers in place and I haven’t been able to keep up with the crazy things growing in it. We know what to do next time though. I’m 100% planting okra, beans, cantaloupe, and a tomato or two again. Zucchini can go take a hike. I’m pretty proud of us. Our last attempt at growing things involved corn on an apartment balcony and it ended badly.

I boozed the basil and fried the okra. I’ll probably pickle the beans.
Future pasta sauce!

I hope that you are all doing well and that you can find things in your life to celebrate. I’m so glad that I get to share joyful news with all of you I’d love to see what’s making your life happy right now in the comments below.

Sausage and Mustard Green Soup

I found some awesome mustard greens at the farmer’s market the other day and bought them on impulse. It was a great idea until I realized that I had no idea what to do with them. After realizing I didn’t have the ingredients for a traditional batch of greens, I found a great recipe online and combined it with another soup recipe that I like that uses spinach. Thus this tasty Sausage and Mustard Green soup was born. I made it last night with pasta but you can also make it with gnocchi instead. Both are tasty but the gnocchi makes for better leftovers. It’s super easy and the whole family loved it.

Sausage and Mustard Green Soup:

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chopped mustard greens
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 2 ribs celery chopped
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 10 cups beef broth
  • 1/3 cup amber lager of your choice
  • 2 lbs beef sausage
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cumin
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • One package mini gnocchi or 2 cups ditalini pasta (gnocchi does better if you plan to have leftovers. The pasta soaks up the liquid and gets mushy if left overnight)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil with pinch of salt over medium heat until fragrant
  1. Add sliced sausage and sauté till fat from the sausage coats the bottom of the pan and onions and celery are clear
  1. Add in greens and stir until wilted and vibrant green
  1. Deglaze pan with beer
  1. Add beef broth, 1tsp salt, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, and cumin
  1. Bring to a rolling boil
  1. Once soup has begun a rolling boil stir in green onion and noodles or gnocchi
  1. If using gnocchi, continue boiling until gnocchi are tender and float to the top, occasionally stirring to prevent them from sticking
  1. If using noodles, continue boiling until noodles are tender, occasionally stirring to prevent them from sticking
  1. Serve hot with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top

Self Quarantine Day 76: The Final Quarantine Log

Our quarantine has come to a close. While social distancing is still the norm and we’re not going all over the place, work is ramping back up and the Twins go back to daycare today. I’m more upset about it than I thought I’d be. There are so many unknowns still but I know that I’m going to miss time with my babies. This strange and unexpected time with them has been so hard and yet so rewarding.

As a working Mom I feel like I miss out alot on their lives. Since daycare closed they’ve been with me almost every day. We’ve taken walks, explored the yard, yelled, cried, blown bubbles, colored, destroyed the house, peepeed in the potty, snuggled, and some so much more together. I’ve learned more about who I am as a parent. I’ve been blessed to see them grow as individuals and as a pair. I’m going to miss them climbing on me during my meetings. Going 8 hours without a thousand random hugs and “I love you Mommy”s is going to be so hard. This part of quarantine has been the best blessing despite the many many times where I’ve cried and wanted to pull my hair out.

I’m excited for them to have the opportunity to play all day without having to hear “Please be quiet! Mommy is trying to work.” I’m glad that I can go back to just being Mom when I’m with them and not Museum Manager/Mom when we’re together. I’m excited to be returning to more normalcy. I’m happy to be going back to work because I find fulfillment in my career AND in motherhood.

I know that we’re all going to cry when I drop them off. I know that I’m going to check the clock a thousand times to see if I can go and get them. I can’t wait for their squeal of excitement when I pick them up this afternoon and the huge hug and kiss that I know will come with it. Right now though, I’m going to pick them up and hold them while they’re sleeping. I’m going to kiss their sleeping foreheads and hold my not so tiny babies for just a minute more before our time together goes away.

Self Quarantine Day 69: All Quiet on the Western Front

In an age of digital and audiobooks, some books are still worthy of holding in your hands. These books are worth taking the time to underline your favorite passages. They are worth your tears. They are worth sharing with others. These are the books that find a way to change your perspective on life or even change your life altogether. That’s a lot for a book to live up to but I’ve been fortunate to read a few. I had the pleasure of adding another such book to my life changers list recently.

When I picked up a copy of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on The Western Front, I didn’t expect for it to become such a meaningful story for me. I thought a novel about WWI would be an interesting change of pace. As an added bonus, it wasn’t expensive because it’s a classic in paperback. Woohoo! The front cover touts it as “The greatest war novel of all time.” That seemed lofty to me but I figured if it was still selling after this long then maybe there was a grain of truth to it. I get it now.

The beauty of All Quiet on The Western Front is that, despite the novel’s age, it’s insight into the life of a soldier in combat is still relevant. It’s original copyright is listed as 1928 and it was written by a German veteran of the First World War. Wars are no longer fought in trenches. Tanks aren’t new anymore. Warfare looks dramatically different now. Yet the feelings that Remarque describes in the novel are often echoed by modern combat veterans.

It is important here to distinguish them as combat veterans. Veterans who have participated in battles firsthand. Some of Remarque’s commentary about military life will likely ring true for most veterans. That being said, for me, the most impactful writing about his experience in combat. As my husband and many other combat veterans like to say, “war is hell but actual combat is a motherfucker.” It impacts people in ways that are hard for those who have not been there to comprehend.

Throughout our relationship and before, my Husband has struggled with PTSD. We’re fortunate that he doesn’t have many of the symptoms of PTSD that people think of when they hear the diagnosis. He’s not violent. He doesn’t often have nightmares or flashbacks. He, like many other combat veterans, mostly deals with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Many veterans find it difficult to explain their feelings and often feel alone or ashamed of their journey. We’ve been blessed that he found friends who have overcome their past trauma that are here to support him and that he had the courage to seek out professional help.

As we’ve grown together I’ve done my best to learn how to support him in his journey. It’s still not easy for him to talk about or explain though. I’m a feelings person and a words person to boot. I find relief in self expression through verbal discourse or writing. The Hubs doesn’t. This makes it harder for me to understand his journey because when he’s having his worst days he has zero desire to talk about it. I say often that I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll admit that sometimes it even makes it hard for me to be sympathetic or helpful when he’s having a rough day.

So where does All Quiet on the Western Front fit in? For us, it opened the door to deeper understanding and communication. I stopped reading time and time again to share sentence, a passage, or to recount the events of an entire chapter. Each time he confirmed that his feelings around his life both before and after combat were much the same as those expressed in the book. The more I read the more I understood about my Husband. The more I understood about the damage that combat can do to the most mundane and seemingly ordinary things. A few times I put the book down because it hurt to think that the man I love struggles with these same thoughts and emotions.

There is an ever present theme in the book about not being able to fit back into a world that was once yours. So many veterans struggle with this same experience. Your life is chugging along like normal and then you go to war and when you return to normal life it’s no longer your normal and you struggle to adjust. The things that once excited you or made you happy seem distant and foreign. You’ve become so conditioned to a constant state of alertness even in down time that although you have departed from the war, it’s left you with the parting gift of this alertness that refuses to leave. Some veterans can’t ever readjust and unfortunately war kills them long after the shots no longer ring out.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a time to reflect on those who have lost their lives in battle. I always think of the men that fought alongside my Husband and all of my other Veteran family and friends. Having read All Quiet on the Western Front, this year the day seems even more impactful. I encourage anyone who has a loved one who struggles with battle induced PTSD to take some time to read this novel. It’s not an easy read. Sometimes reading it was so hard as I saw the parallels between my Husband’s life and the novel’s character. It was worth it though. I’ll share with you with one of my favorite lines from the novel:

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.”

Mount Soledad Veteran’s Memorial, San Diego CA

Self Quarantine Day 68: Be Brave

It’s been too long since I’ve blogged but I’ve had a lot on my mind and my plate. I wanted to share some of my current journey with you though. I am a firm believer that all life has value and a greater place in the divine plan. That “The Universe”, God, quantum physics, whatever you call your chosen version of a higher power, will send us signs if we only open ourselves to them. I do not believe in coincidence. So in December of 2019, when I began seeing signs of change to come in my life, I kept my eyes and heart open.

The Universe has sent me and my little family sign after sign that the time has come to be brave. In December as we opened our Christmas gifts I began to see a theme. We’d chosen books for the big kids that we’re all about men and women who changed the world. People who were brave and fought for their goals and beliefs. For Crazy Eyes we chose “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.” For The Boy we picked out “Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different: True Tales of Boys Who Changed the World Without Killing Dragons.” (Both are pretty awesome and I highly recommend them. The kids are even sharing what they learn with each other.) For my husband I selected, “Rhett and Link’s Book of Mythicality: A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity, and Tomfoolery.” Sensing the theme yet? Without even truly thinking about it, I was seeking out stories of real people who faced their fears. When I opened my gifts, I stepped back for a second, looked up at Sassy God and said, “okay, I see you. I’m listening.”

My gifts included multiple Frida Khalo references from a few different people and not one but TWO separate books about being brave. One is a wonderful book titled “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Yourself and Start Living an Awesome Life.” If that’s not an obvious sign I don’t know what is. (Shout out to my lovely friend for seeing it and thinking of me. She not only shares her crayons with me, she’s also always there to cheer me on.) Okay, fine, we all got lots of reading material. So what? Well, for me at least, the opportunities to Be Brave began rolling in.

In January the Hubs and I traveled to California for the first time. I tried new foods, met family that I’d heard about for my whole life, and visited Mount Soledad where I got to see my Pawpaw’s memorial placard. It was life changing. You can read all about that here. The Twins also started Daycare and I took on new responsibilities at work. All things that scared me to varying degrees but had to be faced head on. In February my chances to be brave were smaller but nevertheless calls to action. The Twins turned two so that was scary enough. Haha!

Then March came. On Friday, March 13 life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. Suddenly I couldn’t go into the office. I began working from home while caring for The Twins and sometimes the big kids too. No more stopping by the store on the way home. Things had to be thought about and planned. Bills had to be delayed and money set aside just in case.

By that time the whole world was facing real fears daily. We were all being forced to Be Brave. Since then it’s been lesson after lesson in trying new things. I started gardening even though historically I’m only good at killing plants. Not a big step in bravery but it made me nervous so I sucked it up and did it anyway. I had to start truly asking people for help because I was getting overwhelmed with work and childcare.

I even started my own business making and selling soaps. My colleague laughed when I told him that I’d started a new business during quarantine. He said only I would get bored during a pandemic and start a new business. When my boss asked me why I decided to do this now if all times my answer came quickly. When The Universe presents you with an opportunity to do something you love you seize it. You see the call to Be Brave and you take it. In a short while I’ll be selling online and have my legal business filing taken care of. Just writing that makes my heart race a little. It’s taken off way faster than I thought it would and it’s been a little overwhelming. It makes me really happy though and spreads joy to others along the way. I could never have done it without taking a risk.

When I think about what’s happened so far this year and what the future holds it’s hard not to let the fear paralyze me. Thanks to all those signs and reminders though I’m continuing to do my best to Be Brave. I’m keeping my heart and mind open to what The Universe is telling me. I’m fighting the self doubt and anxiety that creeps in. I try to remind myself that I’ve overcome many things in life and that it’s my job to continue doing so.

We’re all having to be brave right now, but we can do this. Keep your eyes, heart, and mind open. You are amazing, and I have faith in you.

Self Quarantine Day 59: My Pawpaw

I woke up yesterday with a heaviness in my heart. It didn’t take long to realize that it was the four year anniversary of the last time I saw my Pawpaw. It is a memory that’s like a Polaroid. Crystal clear in spots but fuzzy round the edges. He was tired and weak but happy. We’d all been up late the night before celebrating his and my Meme’s 50 year wedding anniversary and The Hubs has proposed right there in front of everyone. It truly was the perfect night. The next morning we had breakfast together complete with leftover cake.

I snapped a picture of him dozing right before I left. Something told me that it would be the last chance I had to do it. Part of me hates the picture and part of me cherishes it. I hate it because for my whole life I was blessed with seeing him healthy. In the picture his cheeks are sunken. He radiates exhaustion. Who wouldn’t be exhausted after what he’d been through though? He’d endured years of treatment for Mesothelioma, a heart attack and triple bypass surgery, and then the final diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer. He fought the whole time. In the picture, he’s peacefully snoring as always. He’s tucked in under a beautiful quilt made by the loving hands of his family. I love that he’s under that quilt. It meant so much to him.

My last picture of him.

In the 25 years that I was blessed to have my Pawpaw around I racked up thousands of memories. We were so close. My Mom and Dad tell stories about us living with him and my Meme when I was an infant. He’d come into my room from working the night shift and “accidentally” wake me so he could spend time with me. I’d curl my chubby fingers into his beard or chest hair and yank it. We’d sit together in his favorite spot on the couch and watch TV. When we moved out we lived in a house right around the corner. I spent so many nights at his house. It was my second home. We’d watch Antiques Road Show and This Old House. I loved Antiques Road Show but This Old House was the worst. When you stayed there you always knew that an early morning wake up call was in the cards. He’d come in and holler, “Come on, get up! Let’s go get some breakfast!” I still eat at his favorite spot sometimes and I bring my kids too.

Visiting him in the hospital right after his Mesothelioma diagnosis.

During weekends and summers we’d get into all sorts of trouble. Some days were trips to the store that took all day. My Meme taught me early on to always keep a book with me because you never knew when you’d have to just give up and go sit in the car to wait for him. He’d talk to anyone and was curious about everything. A trip to Lowe’s lasted hours. Trips to our local Hobby Store went on for eternity. God forbid he’d run into someone he knew or someone who was working on a project that interested him. Lord love him, that man could talk and he always seemed to be working on another project.

On one of our many camping trips.

As the grandchild that lived the closest I went on a lot of the camping trips too. Sometimes we even got to take the RV to see my cousins. Those trips were great because we all loved playing together and seeing one another. As we got a little older and they moved closer he started taking us fishing. I hated fishing but I loved being on the boat and eating Vienna Sausages on Saltine crackers. I loved being with him. I’d bring my book and start reading after about 30 minutes of fishing. He loved being outdoors and went fishing almost every day after he retired.

My high school graduation.

He taught me so much about nature and the environment. Not in a hippy dippy way, I’m pretty sure that’s impossible for a grizzled old Marine to do, but he taught me about nature and how all life is related. I loved to help him clean the fish we’d caught. He’d point out all of the insides and tell me what they were. He directed my very first dissections and the biology lessons that I remember most clearly. I can still clean a fish although it’s been years. He also taught me how to fry the fish perfectly. That part, I fortunately remember.

He was fishing, I was posing! Haha!

He had the most wonderful and mischievous sense of humor. He picked on anyone and everyone but it was always good natured. The man could read people. I never remember him making people uncomfortable with his playfulness. His eyes always twinkled when he was up to no good. My daughter has inherited that and it makes my heart swell when I see it. He loved to tell stories. I’ll have to share some on here one day. Stories of people he knew, things he’d seen and done. I loved them all. I never got tired of hearing them. It never even mattered to me that so many were “fish tales” embellished for the telling and made perfect over the years. My Husband is the same way and it’s one of the things I love most about him.

His smile was the best in the world.

He was no saint. Lord knows he had his flaws. I inherited some of his temper and his love of the F word. As his grandkids, we got to grow up with his softer side. The years had taught him patience and made him more gentle. He was still loud, but I’ve often felt like that was a combination of his time in The Corps and the hearing loss that he denied having. For all his faults though, the people who loved him loved him deeply and without pause.

Teaching me how to shoot.

Pawpaw inspired such loyalty in other people because he was such a loyal person. He’d do whatever needed doing to help a friend. He didn’t care what you looked like or where you were from. As long as you were “good people” as he’d say, he was there for you. I remember him cutting the grass at the little neighborhood church across the street from his house. The man only went to church when frog marched there for funerals and weddings but he freely did this act because he knew they needed it. He’d stop to help people who’s boat ran out of gas, take a look at your car if it sounded funny (he spent many years as a mechanic), and even give you a place to stay if you were a friend in need. As an adopted child himself, he knew that family meant more than blood and raised us all that way. I was 7 or 8 before I realized that my older cousins were adopted. It never mattered to him. He loved each of us as we were and regardless of bloodline. He was ours and we were his. I’m thankful for this teaching because I know it makes me a better Bonus Mom.

All of the grandkids after his funeral. Our family has grown so much since then!

As he got older he loved to have all of us come visit at once. He’d convince everyone to come up for a weekend. We’d all pack into his house and then once we were all settled and being loud and crazy he’d go out fishing. My Meme used to fuss at him but I think I understand it better now. He loved having us all there under one roof. He hoarded us like dragons hoard their treasure. Once we were all there and safe he went happily about his business, a King surveying the spoils of his domain. We drove him nuts when we all got together but he seemed happy just knowing that we were all there under one roof.

My college graduation. He was so proud.

I know that the family he helped to build was one of his proudest achievements. He loved each and every one of us with every fiber of his being. He celebrated our achievements great and small. I know that wherever he is now he’s still proud of us. In my head I can still see his smile and hear him say “Oh wow! That’s great baby!” when I do something that I think would make him proud. It breaks my heart knowing that he never got a chance to meet any of my babies. He would have loved them so much.

He’s there in the white hat, surrounded by so many of the people that he loved.

I miss him every single day. I’d give anything to go back to that last “I love you” and hold him tighter for just a little bit longer. I know we all would. I’m sure he’s out in the great beyond, fishing and happy knowing that we’re all still here.

His memorial placard on Mt. Soledad in San Diego California

**Edit 5.18.2020: For anyone who is interested in learning more about my Pawpaw, you can read his Bio from Mt. Soledad here. Thank you to everyone for your kind words and support! Pawpaw has very much made his presence felt to our family in the last couple of days. Little reminders from him everywhere.

Love, Mom and Dad

At the start of my senior year in high school my class went on a retreat. Parents were asked to write letters to their kids. We were surprised with them and allowed to read them in the quiet after meditation and prayer. Some people had one letter. Others had many. I had two. Two very different, very impactful letters. One letter was from Mom and the other was from Dad. Over a decade of more life changes than I can even remember, I still find comfort and strength in them. I keep them safe and tucked away but occasionally, when desire strikes or when I’m feeling down, I take them out and read them again.

One of my favorite parts of these letters is that, without consulting one another, they both wrote “Snooty Booty” somewhere on the envelope. It’s a name my brother gave me when I was being a typical grouchy asshole teenager on a road trip we took once. They still call me that on occasion. I remember reading Mom’s letter first and seeing “Snooty Booty” on the front and laughing. By the time I got to Dad’s letter I was an absolute emotional mess and when I saw “Snootie Bootie” written on the inside of the envelope I laughed like a deranged lunatic. Not exactly something to be encouraged in a quiet room full of people but it was worth it.

I’ve always loved that my parents each wrote me a letter, even before they divorced. They separated not long after my graduation. I think if they’d written together it would have been strange to read now. When I saw the two envelopes I expected them to be similar. Ar first thought maybe they both had written out of a feeling of obligation. I was wrong thankfully. They both put a lot of thought into their writing. The letters sum up who they are as individuals, as parents, and our respective relationships so well.

In my Mom’s letter, she talks about watching me grow up. Over five pages of beautifully written script, she writes of love in ways that only a mother can. She talks about watching me grow. Remembers my chubby baby face and knobby kneed preteen awkwardness. She jokes about me knowing how to make her nervous as I prepared for college and had more boys coming around. (Woo buddy! I definitely didn’t take it any easier on her after that either. Sorry Mom!) Now that I’m a Mom myself, one line in particular really stands out as I read it, “I hold moments of you like snapshots in my head.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my children smile or laugh or even cry when I’ve said to myself, “Ah! This is one to hold on to! Keep this memory close and don’t let it go!” I guess I get that from her. She writes about moving into the next phase of life and says that she’ll always be here for me as “Mom” but also as a friend. I’m glad she was right. She really is my best friend.

Dad’s letter is different. I always laugh when I read the lines, “I thought about getting all sappy and waxing nostalgic about you growing up. Not for me. I figured your Mom would do enough if that.” Like I said, the letters reflect who they are. Dad instead focuses on the future. He encourages me to take chances, to fly as high and as far as I can. He says to face challenges head on and to never stop dreaming. He tells me to be true to myself. Dad reminds me that some of the most rewarding experiences are some of the most difficult to go through. As he closes his letter he says, “I’ve encouraged you to fly but understand you can always come home.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to “come home” to my parents even if it’s just a short phone call. I pray that my children feel like they can come home when the time comes for them to leave the nest.

For me, one of the beautiful parts of these letters is that they are still relevant to me all these years later. My life has changed so dramatically since I was 17. I am not the same person I was, although the person I am now was starting to take shape then. My parents aren’t the same people they were then either. Our family has expanded exponentially. Yet the messages of love and encouragement still resonate. I believe that it’s because a parent’s love is undying and unyielding. It weathers all storms.

As parents we struggle sometimes with fears that we’re not enough. We worry that we’re screwing up our kids. We worry about a thousand things that, in hindsight, are often unimportant. I have to remind myself often that what matters most is that we love our children deeply and without reservation. That we encourage them and tell them how proud we are of them and give them a safe place to return to. Not a safe place as in a home necessarily, but by being available to them. Over the years my parents have provided me with home by their phone calls and hugs and so much more. I can only hope that when the time comes for my babies to fly I’ll be able to hold onto all the snapshots I have in my mind of their lives and be there for them when they need to come home.

You’re A Good Mom

Motherhood is weird. It doesn’t look like what I thought it would most of the time. I didn’t expect perfection of my children. I’m too much of a free range parent for that. I knew they’d be a little weird and sometimes look a mess. I knew my house would be a wreck because I’m just not a person who’s good at keeping all of their ducks in a row. What I didn’t expect was the toll that becoming a Mother would take on my mental health. For God knows what reason I thought that I’d be Super Mom. Not in the “Pinterest your entire Birthday party” way, but in the “always calm and loving way.” I was so wrong.

I fail time and time again. These kids get under my skin in ways I thought no human could. I never knew that I could be completely broken down by someone that relied on me for survival. I had no clue. They magically know how to push every button. They are constant reminders that patience and understanding are things that I need to work on.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that you have to be perfect. I don’t remember my Mom losing her mind because I had a great childhood and the bad days don’t seem to be memorable. She assures me often that she wasn’t perfect and that we drove her insane. Movies and Books make motherhood seem like either pure bliss or hellish torture. Why doesn’t anyone seem to talk about the middle? The parts where you don’t like your kids even though you’d die for them. So here are some truths that I wish I knew before I had kids. Things I still have to be reminded of frequently.

There will be times when you question your sanity. Times when you wonder why the hell having children sounded like a good idea. Where you feel like if you are touched one more time or hear one more whine your head may literally burst right off on your shoulders. You’re still a good Mom.

There will be times that you’ll say things or do things out of anger or frustration that you immediately. Just take a deep breath. Calm down, hug your baby, apologize, and move on. As long as no one is hurt you’re okay. You’re still a good Mom.

There will be times when you are so exhausted that you absolutely resent your children for it. You want to snap and tell them to leave you alone and sleep in their own damn beds. Do your best to enjoy the snuggles. It’s okay to be grouchy though. You’re still a good Mom.

There will be times when walking away and taking a break from them while someone else handles their crazy feels like you’re failing or giving up. That’s okay. That’s what needs to be done for you and your kids to survive in that moment. You may need to do it several times in one day. You’re still a good Mom.

There may be times when you hate your Mom body. When you wish you’d been able to keep it the way it was. When you mourn for the sexy body you had. You’ll tell your kids to love their bodies while guiltily thinking about how much you dislike yours. You’re still a good Mom.

Sometimes you will start a project with them and things will be awesome then they’ll suddenly go completely off the rails. They may have complete meat downs. They may ignore every single instruction. You may get mad. You may get discouraged. You may feel like you’ve failed. You haven’t. Try to find a way to make it fun. If you can’t find a way to make it fun, don’t worry. You’re still a good Mom.

There will be times when your child walks out of the house wearing some crazy shit and you won’t realize it until it’s too late. (Like his sister’s pants or his pants on backwards or pants that don’t fit. Sensing a tend?) You’ll worry about people judging you and thinking that you neglect your children. You’re not neglecting them. You’re trying to teach them how to take care of themselves so that they can be productive, free thinking adults. Screw the haters. You’re a good Mom.

There will be times when your children eat peanut butter for dinner instead of that fancy nutritious meal that you spent precious time cooking and planning. They will tell you to your face that it is gross. You’ll want to sell them to the nearest gypsy, yell at them for hurting your feelings, and cry all at the same time. Don’t sell your kids, try not to yell, and cry if you need to. You’re still a good Mom.

There may be times when you cry in the morning because you’ve had to drop them off at the daycare and later that same evening wish they were back at daycare. Then later, once they’re asleep, you’ll cry again and wish they were snuggling with you. That’s okay. Kids know how to endear themselves while driving us insane. You’re still a good Mom.

There will be times when all you want is to take a bath without interruption. Lots of times. You will want it considerably more times than it happens. There will be times when you yell and scream and they’ll still stay. Then you’ll feel bad because you yelled. You’re still a good Mom.

Bonus Moms, there may be times when your child cries for their Mom when they are scared and not you. There may be times when they without malice or rudeness remind you that you aren’t their real Mom. That’s okay. It hurts and it’s difficult but remember that they are just kids. Kids who love their Mom and are sometimes painfully honest. They’ll come around. You’re still a good Mom.

At the end of the day if you can honestly say that you kept your kids alive, fed, and loved then you did your job. Motherhood is the world’s hardest job but you can do it. You were made for it. You are the prefect Mother for your child even if that looks a bit insane some days. The days are long but the years are short Momma. You’re a good Mom.

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