I didn’t know.

Confusion. Shock. Grief. Sadness. Heartache. Fear.

A whole bunch of feelings that were neither expected nor invited to show up on an ordinary Wednesday morning. It was the week of spring break and my husband had taken the day off work. He was in the kitchen cutting sweet pastries from our favorite bakery into tiny bite sized pieces for our three kiddos who were eagerly ready for a day of ‘family fun’. They’d been looking forward to this day all week and while they were starting their morning in the very best way, I was hiding in the bathroom. I had been on the phone with an OB nurse explaining that I’d been fighting menstrual cramps since Saturday and I had reached the point in which they were literally bringing me to my knees. I hadn’t slept well the night before and despite numerous warm baths, Tylenol, and heating pads, the pain was just no longer something I could tolerate. As I spoke with the nurse, I admitted feeling guilty and even a little embarrassed for being a 31-year-old adult female calling to complain of cramps. I mean, c’mon, I should be able to toughen up and handle this, right?

I didn’t know.

The nurse listened and talked through my symptoms for several minutes. She gently asked me to take a pregnancy test – you know, just to rule things out. “I know I’m on my period. I’m not pregnant.”, I told her. Still, she encouraged me to take the test, “Just as a precaution. Go ahead and take it. I see the doctor coming down the hall so I’m gonna talk to him real quick and call you back.” Fine… I peed on the stupid stick. I sat waiting for those single lines to confirm what I already knew and moments later, the nurse was calling me back. “It’s negative.”, I told her. “There are only two lines.”. As I listened for her response, I glanced down and noticed another faint line slowly emerging. “Wait a minute. No, there’s another line showing up. Wait, there’s definitely a plus sign showing. Oh my God, I think I’m pregnant. Am I really pregnant? What does that mean?”.

 I didn’t know.

 I yelled for my husband and burst into tears. I showed him the test and we stood together, looking at this little stick that had always been something that brought us happy and exciting news in the past. I had never even considered that a positive pregnancy test could actually indicate a very negative outcome.

I simply didn’t know.

The nurse was gentle and careful with her words. She told me that I needed to come in to be evaluated. I prepared myself to have some very difficult conversations – to hear that there was no heartbeat and to be given confirmation that this unexpected nightmare was in fact, reality. I told my husband to stay home with the kids while I went in to be seen. I don’t know why I didn’t push for him to come with me. In hindsight, that was weird. But in the moment, I was in shock. And I was scared.

And I just didn’t know.

I arrived for labs and ultrasound and was immediately called in by a tech. I still remember her face. She had those eyes. You know, those sympathetic, sad puppy dog eyes. I told her it was ok. “I know why I’m here…. Please just be honest with what you see.” I didn’t know what else to tell her so I got undressed and laid in the chair. I was cold and uncomfortable and doing my best to get through this inevitable nightmare. The tech told me that she saw fluid. A LOT of fluid. There was nothing in my uterus. “Have you ever heard of an ectopic pregnancy?”, she asked. She told me that she needed to call my physician so that he could talk to me. As she left the room, I grabbed my phone and quickly googled, ‘ectopic pregnancy’. I took a quick screenshot and sent it to my husband with the message, “This is what’s happening. I’m waiting on the doctor now.”. I had no other information, I didn’t know what an ‘ectopic pregnancy’ was, and I didn’t have time to let Google do any more research for me.

I didn’t know.

The tech returned and explained that my doctor probably wanted to speak with me in his office, rather than in ultrasound so I grabbed my things and she walked me down a back hallway to a room labeled, ‘Education’. Seconds later, a nurse arrived telling me that we needed to go downstairs to the women’s ER. Ok, at this point, I was just going through the motions. I didn’t know why I was being moved from room to room. I had no idea what was going on. I was still in shock…

And I still didn’t know.

The nurse took me directly to patient registration. As the receptionist asked for my license and insurance card, I heard my phone ring. It was my husband. I hadn’t talked with him since sending that quick text earlier in the ultrasound room. “Do you mind if I take this?”, I asked the receptionist, and without even giving her a chance to respond, I put the phone to my ear and answered.

I heard his calm voice ask, “Hey, how are you doing?”.

“I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going on”.

“Ok, well, I just got off the phone with the doctor and I’m going to get there as soon as possible”, he reassured me.

Wait. What? I haven’t even seen the doctor yet!? Why did he call you?”

“Kayla, you’re getting ready to have a procedure…”

“WHAT!?!”, I interrupted him again, bursting into tears, “WHAT is going on!?”. I looked at the receptionist and before she could even muster a response, another nurse arrived to take me into a prep room. I listened to my husband on the other end of the phone, “Everything is going to be ok, Kayla. I am working on getting someone over here to watch the kids and I will be there as soon as I can. I love you.”.

Why did my doctor call my husband before even talking to me? What procedure did I just register for? Who was going to be home in the middle of the week to watch our kids?

I didn’t know.

I blindly followed the nurse and was greeted with two more as we entered yet another room. They told me I was getting ready for surgery. They apologized for the chaos and confusion and rush but also explained that all those things they were apologizing for were necessary. “This is an emergency, Kayla. This is a life-threatening situation and we are going to be moving quickly”. She explained that an ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg does not make it into the uterus. Instead, it gets stuck implanting into the fallopian tube. Based on the ultrasound images, it looked like my fallopian tube had ruptured and I was now bleeding internally… and possibly had been since Saturday when I had first assumed that I was on my period. Before I could even start to process what the nurses were telling me, the room filled with staff helping me undress, start an IV, put on compression socks, draw blood, gather my belongings… Another nurse came in and began discussing bereavement options and available support. There was a nurse documenting on her computer. There was an anesthesiologist introducing himself. There were papers to sign and questions to answer and so many things happening at once. It was blurred chaos. It was uncontrolled chaos. It was too much. I had no idea what to do. I later found out that my doctor, who I still believe is the best OB/GYN on the planet, had been busy in the background the entire time – trying his best to surround me with the support he knew I would need before all this chaos ensued. He had been preparing my husband. He had been preparing himself. He had been doing his job. He knew it was going to be a lot and more than I could bear alone. He had called my husband before seeing me because he knew this was not something I could process on my own. He knew I needed the support. This had gone far beyond a ‘tough conversation regarding a failed pregnancy’ and my lack of understanding as to what was happening wasn’t the fault of any of the staff around me. The nurses were all doing their best to get me ready. They were doing their jobs. They didn’t know. And you know what?

I didn’t either. I didn’t know.

I felt overwhelmed, like I couldn’t breathe. I needed to clear the room. I mustered every polite bone in my body and looked at the bereavement nurse first, firmly telling her, “I need you to stop talking to me about this. I need you to leave”. The room suddenly grew quiet. You guys, these nurses were compassionate and caring and doing a great job but I needed a moment. I needed space. I needed to find a way to breathe. Within moments, the room emptied. Everyone had left except for this very sympathetic nurse who was left standing at her computer. “Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I know this must be hard for you.”. I shook my head and apologized for being such a mess. I closed my eyes, wiped my cheeks, and pulled my knees to my chest. I took a deep breath and looked back at the nurse with tears in my eyes, I asked her, “Will you just stop what you’re doing and pray with me?”. I didn’t know what else to do. So right there, in that big, scary moment, that sweet nurse did exactly that. She sat down on the bed, wrapping both her arms around me, and while I sat there sobbing, she prayed. She prayed for my health. For understanding. For comfort and consolation. She prayed for the doctors and nurses. She prayed for their knowledge and expertise. For their ability to take care of me and get me through this tough moment. She prayed for the baby. The baby that two hours ago, I hadn’t even known existed. And it was in that moment that reality hit. I choked back my emotions and asked her quietly, “I don’t understand. How far along am I? Is the baby alive?”. She looked at me, this time with tears in her own eyes, “No sweetie, a baby can’t survive what has happened. And this is why you’re going into surgery. You too, are at risk and we need to take care of you right now”.

You know that feeling when a parent sees their baby for the first time? That feeling of overwhelming love and adoration and joy for a child they’ve only just met? It’s indescribable. And it’s the most accurate way to describe what I was feeling in that moment, except opposite. I felt like I had spent the last two hours moving through a storm of chaos with whirling winds, pouring rains, powerful thunder and scary lightning and all of the sudden, everything had stopped. Everything was calm and I was suddenly filled with this fierce, overwhelming, and profound sadness. I was sad for the final realization that somehow, sometime, some way, human creation had failed. I felt like I had failed. I felt like a piece of motherhood had been stripped from my identity.

The rest is a blur.

I woke up from surgery with my husband by my side. He had rushed through the hospital door only moments after I had been wheeled into the surgery room. We had missed seeing each other by a few minutes but he tells me that my doctor had warned him over the phone that he wasn’t going to wait. “I’m not gonna be able to wait on you, Jeremy. But I promise I’m gonna take care of your wife.”. I had three little incisions- one on my belly button, one below my belly button, and one on my hip. They told me they had removed my right fallopian tube. They told me that I could still conceive if we wanted to try again. They told I needed to take it easy and that it was ok to cry. They told me there were services and support groups available if we needed them. They told me that my husband and I needed to talk together to make a decision regarding we wanted to do with the remains.

Big stuff, right?

Big, awful, painful, scary, heartbreaking stuff.

So why am I sharing such a personal story? Why am I writing about such a private and traumatic moment? Why do I feel the need to expose the world of social media to such a sad moment in my life?

Because I am a writer and I have a story to be told. Because I am a verbal processor. Because right now, I feel empty and my only coping mechanism is to sit in front of my laptop and translate my heartache into written words. Because I hate to admit that I know there are countless other women who can relate and recall the very same feelings I’m feeling now. Because I want those women to know that they’re not alone. Because I also want the reassurance that I’m not alone. Because my heart aches and my body hurts and I need to talk about it but I’m at a loss for spoken words. Because the loss and grief are real. Because something failed in those first few weeks of creation. And because I lost a baby and that truth hurts me the most.

On March 27th, what I assumed was a ‘hard’ period turned into a surprise pregnancy. That surprise pregnancy turned into a devastating miscarriage. That devastating miscarriage turned into a life-threatening situation and an emergency surgery. That emergency surgery turned into a whole bunch of heartbreak with grief counseling and bereavement discussions and a day filled with uninvited and unexpected chaos and sadness and pain.

1 in 4 women experience loss.

I am now part of the 1 in 4.

And now… I know.

One last thing- according to that statistic, 25% of women have experienced loss. One.in.four. This is not uncommon, guys. This is happening every day and oh does it hurt. Do you know a friend or loved one who is part of that statistic? Maybe it’s you who can relate to that awful number. I pray that’s not the case. But here’s my point… before this week, I had always tried my best to understand the sorrow my friends felt with the loss of a pregnancy. I had always tried to walk with them through the survival of a nightmare I never fully grasped myself. I was a friend who saw their heartache and wanted more than anything to remove their pain, but never knew what to say or how to do it.

After a week of resting and recovering and basically taking each day by the hour… Here’s what I think I know: I think there is nothing that can ease our pain. There is nothing that will ‘fix’ our sorrow or ‘make it better’ for our friends or ourselves. Bad things happen every single day. They happen to all of us, this is a guarantee. So while our stories of loss may be different, our details different, our experiences and reactions different… we share the same pain and that pain offers connection, in the most authentic and unfair way. I don’t know why miscarriage or pregnancy complications happen – to me or anyone for that matter, but I do know it won’t help to direct our anger at asking questions regarding WHY. So right now, I’m leaving that alone. Right now, I’m focusing my energy on giving myself permission to feel my feelings. I’m taking it easy.  Beyond those things, here is what I’m hoping… I’m hoping that maybe as the pain softens with time, I’ll be able to use this awful experience to help others get through the same scary, awful heartache. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll be able to offer some stronger empathy, deeper compassion, and better consolation to those hurting. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll be able to use my story to replace someone else’s feelings of guilt and fear and loneliness with understanding, reassurance, and support.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my story.

If you are a person of faith, I would appreciate your prayers.

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Tough Conversations

Talking to our kids about big things like protecting their bodies and safe versus unsafe touching can be a pretty heavy, uncomfortable, and overwhelming task. As parents, where do we start? How far do we go? How much do we share and what age do we even begin?

I’m overwhelmed with the uncertainty of all those questions but you know what? The answer is now. We begin right now.

According to statistics, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been or will be sexually assaulted in their life. 15% of those assaulted will be children under the age of 12. Pretty alarming numbers, right? I read those statistics and think about my daughter’s kindergarten class of 30 children- according to those numbers, 6 of her peers are at risk. 20%. You know what? That warrants some tough conversations.

Our children only know what they know. Their understanding and awareness of this great big world they live in will come primarily from the talks they have and the events they experience. If we don’t teach, guide, and educate them through these tough topics, who will? How will our kids know what is unsafe or inappropriate if we fail to talk with them about it? The more we talk, the more knowledge our children acquire. The more knowledge they acquire, the better equipped they are to handle situations. The better equipped they are to handle situations, the more likely they are to have a plan and know what to do if or when something happens. So despite our potential discomfort as well as our perception of our children’s innocent and naïve nature, we need to start the talk….Whether your child is 3 years old or 13 years old, equip your children with knowledge.

Literacy is one of my favorite ways to teach my children about lessons and life. I recently purchased the book, “God Made All of Me” via the recommendation of a friend and found it to be a really great tool for parents to introduce such a tough topic, especially for younger children (as the book’s intended audience is ages 2-8). Though Christian connections and gentle information, this book teaches children that their body is theirs and something to protect. It teaches them about safe vs. unsafe touching, the difference between secrets and surprises, and what to do as well as who to talk to if or when something makes them feel uncomfortable or unsure.

It’s mom approved guys. You can find it on Amazon for $11.99. Check it out.

God Made All Of Me

If only I could keep you little… (a letter to my daughter)

My dear girl, you’ve always loved bedtime stories. Happy ones, silly ones, rhyming ones, teaching ones, nonsense ones… There’s just something about being able to wind down and snuggle up together with a cozy blanket and good book that makes this a time to love and look forward to.

The bedtime story we chose recently was a sad one. This beautiful book full of colorful illustrations, charming expressions, and page after page of happy images and smiling children provoked quite an unexpected conversation with you, my dear daughter… So what was it that made it sad?

It was sad because this book was written in such a way that it captures the emotional paradox of motherhood’s excitement for all the amazing things a child will do and become… as well as the mother’s reluctance for having to let her children go in order for all those things to occur.

“If I could keep you little”, by Marianne Richmond.

Now I don’t know this author personally, but I wonder… did she realize what an impact her simple rhymes and charming pictures might have on those reading and listening to her work? Did she realize how deeply her stories might resonate with our souls? I wonder if she ever imagined that her sweet story might bring a 5-year-old child to tears… because that’s exactly what happened.

You see my dear, it wasn’t me with the tear-stained cheeks. This time, it was you. You’ve always demonstrated such a love for literacy and mature ability to really listen and understand the words you hear and the illustrations you see. This time, those words and illustrations broke you. Specifically, the final page of the book that read,

“If I could keep you little, I’d keep you close to me… but then I’d miss you growing into who you’re meant to be!”.

It was that final line that all the sudden led your lips to quiver, your nose to crinkle, your lips to tighten, and your eyes to fill with tears. Genuine, raw, honest tears. Tears for being afraid of growing up. Tears for being afraid of losing the close comfort and loving nurture of your parents. Tears for overwhelming sadness with the realization that someday, you might grow into a loving mother, a devoted wife, and a responsible adult no longer under the roof you currently call home. All of those things I hope and dream for you one day yet also struggle to accept myself as I watch you grow.

It was in that moment, my dear girl, that you looked up at me with your beautiful big brown eyes and sobbed, “Mommy! I NEVER want to grow up! I never want to be far away! I never want you to leave!” … “I want you to be with me forever!”.

aaavalynn

Cue more tears. Except this time, they were mine.

Within a few moments, this simple children’s story broke you. And the brokenness that consumed your naïve little heart broke me. You wiped your tear stained cheeks and begged me for the reassurance that I would, in fact, be with you forever and never let you go… This broke me because as much as I don’t want to accept that truth, the author of this sweet story is so right. If I don’t slowly let you go, we’ll both miss the opportunity of watching and seeing the amazing girl you’re meant to become.

This time, I couldn’t give you the reassurance you wanted… but what I could do, what I DID do, was give you the reassurance that we have many years before we have to really ‘let go’. I explained to you that I’m clinging to these everyday moments just as much as (if not more than) you are. I explained to you the reality of passing time and moving days, as evidenced by your clothes that are shorter, your shoes that are tighter, your books that are easier, and your schoolwork that is harder. I also gave you the solid reassurance that I will always love you fiercely, no matter how old you become or how far away you might live.

My dear girl, tonight I’m thankful for this gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, heart-bursting story by Marianne Richmond. I’m thankful because it led to a sweet moment and an opportunity to remind you that while I have a million reasons for wanting to keep you little… I also have more than a billion exciting reasons for wanting to watch you grow.

If you aren’t familiar with this story, I highly recommend adding it to your wish list. It’s a good one guys! And if you do decide to purchase it, go ahead and pick up a box of Kleenexes too… because I’ll bet that you’ll need them!

Click here for a link to the book, “If I could keep you little”

 

Technology…

I love it. I hate it. It makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel entertained. The accessibility of it keeps me well-informed. The convenience of it sometimes disconnects me from others. It’s a paradox.

You know, when I give my kids their tablets, it’s usually because I need a shower or a break or just a moment without being pulled in 5,000 different directions… and despite all my mom guilt and resentment with the use of screen time, sometimes I really welcome the distraction those magical devices bring to my children. It’s not something I’m proud to admit. It’s certainly never my grandest moment as a parent. But it’s real life and while I’m speaking some raw and honest truths here, let me just go ahead and lay it all out…  

Why do I feel guilty? …because technology makes me feel like a lazy parent.

Why do I resent it? …because I feel like it turns my kids into zombies.

Why am I afraid of it? …because the enormity of the internet terrifies me.

Parents, have you heard of the ‘momo challenge’? This ‘game’ is circulating all over the news and social media and is (one of) the very reasons I find the internet so terrifying. Momo is a disturbing character who reportedly appears in the middle of child-directed content (like YouTube or kidsTube) and encourages viewers to perform increasingly dangerous tasks. Momo asks for photos as proof of task completion and threatens those who do not perform her requests. The requests start small but apparently escalate to more serious acts including self-harm and suicide.

WHAT?

This cannot be real but according to various news outlets, there have been 3 deaths allegedly connected with this awful ‘challenge’. Now listen, I’m a pretty cautious person and try not to believe everything I read on the internet, but this seems serious. A quick search on google revealed various articles and videos warning of ‘momo’s’ grave dangers, as well as skeptics claiming that the ‘momo challenge’ is an urban legend and actually not real due to lack of live captured footage. Listen, I don’t know what to believe but I do know this: 

My children watch YouTube kids.

My children use their devices.

My children are not supervised every waking moment that their swiping and navigating throughout their tablets. (Please don’t judge me. The games and apps they use are ones I’ve downloaded with trust that they’re educational and safe. I’m doing my best over here while simultaneously realizing there’s room for improvement).

My children are young and naïve.

My children might be being targeted.

Yours might be too.

Parents, we live in a digital world full of opportunities for engagement, learning, and connecting. Technology is everywhere. In fact, my 5-year-old daughter even has a ‘tech class’ as part of her kindergarten curriculum. Technology isn’t going anywhere and we can’t hide our kids in a safeguard bubble. So what can we do?

We can have conversations. We can monitor the content our children use. We can talk about the dangers of the internet and social media. We can stress the importance of reporting things that make us feel uncomfortable. We can make sure our children know that if something doesn’t seem right, they should come to us. If something is bothering them, scaring them, or pressuring them… we can make sure they know that we are here to help them.  

Technology is awesome guys, but it can be dangerous.

The world is a great place, but there are some seriously sick people out there.

Make sure you’re talking to your kids.

Handmade Valentines

I’ve always been a lover of all things vintage and old. An old soul. A person who would rather receive a handmade card over any overpriced sentiment from Hallmark; a tattered book with notes written throughout over any digital version available to download; a blanket hand-quilted by my grandma over any soft plush found at Kohls; or an antique piece that’s been in the family for years over any gift found in store or online.

My husband would probably tell you that I’m his hardest person to ‘buy for’. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate the occasional ‘new and fancy’ surprise. I do. In fact, I think it’s safe to say we all enjoy the occasional flowers, shiny jewelry, high-end fragrance, or upgrade to something that’s otherwise falling apart. All of those things are nice gifts… but I tend to be the person who expects more. Not more ‘stuff’, but rather, more thought. More consideration. More time. More love. More of those things that simply can’t be purchased with the swipe of a debit card. It’s not the designer brand or expensive price tag that impresses me. The key to my heart is those things that do, in fact, come from the heart.   

Today I want to share a story. A story related to the beauty of giving things that come from the heart. A story of my five-year-old daughter who ran off the bus last week, full of excitement as she explained her need to bring valentines in for her upcoming class party. This was no surprise to me. In fact, like any parent of a school age child, I anticipated having to take her into town so that she could pick out some popular character covered cards to hand out to her friends.

 No mom, I don’t want to buy cards”, she explained, “I need to make them.”

 ‘Whoa… slow down girl’, I thought, ‘This would be a really big task if she truly spent the time making cards for her entire class and while there are few people who appreciate a thoughtful and meaningful gesture more than myself, I couldn’t help but to push for some clarification. I mean really? This could all be taken care with about ten bucks and a quick trip to target. Making valentines for 29 kids and 2 teachers seemed a little ambitious and over the top.

 Are you sure you want to make them? Maybe we could go to the store and just look through the aisles to see if there’s anything you might like to hand out?”

My daughter looked up at me with her big brown eyes. I could tell she was carefully thinking before giving me a response.

 “Ok, mom… I’ll look.”

Great. Off to Target we went. We found the aisle full of candies and cards and after about 5 minutes of careful contemplation, my daughter placed a 35 pack of mini valentine Oreos in our cart. Perfect. Done. Another thing I can check off the list.

Fast forward to last night (two days before her classroom party)…

 “Mom! I have to bring my valentines to school tomorrow! I still need to make my valentines!”

What? Cue confusion. I grabbed the box of pre-packaged Oreos that was sitting on top of the refrigerator and reminded her that we already had ‘valentines’ ready to put in her backpack.  

 No mom. Those are the treats I’ll hand out. Remember? I told you I wanted to make my valentines…”

 Oh boy.

 Are you sure you want to make valentines too?”, I carefully asked, “You’ll have to make over 30 cards and that’s going to take a lot of time to complete AND they’re due tomorrow so if you really want to do that, you’re going to have to finish them all tonight…”

She furrowed her sweet brown eyes and looked at me as if I was speaking a different language.

 “MOM. I told you I wanted to make them. I want to make my valentines.”

 Alright… Point taken. We went to the craft closet and gathered some paper, stickers, hearts, and markers. She sat down and I watched her as she worked with her heart. Every once in awhile, she wrote a letter backwards or ran out of space mid-word and when that happened, she got up, threw the half-complete valentine away, and started over. She worked hard. She didn’t care how long it took her. She didn’t care that she was missing out on playing barbies with her sister or dinosaurs with her brother. She had already spent the entire day at school and she didn’t seem to even consider taking a break to relax from her busy day. This girl was on a mission. She had nothing to prove and nothing to gain. She simply wanted to do what she had been telling me along. She wanted to make her own valentines.

 And that she did.

29 students. 2 teachers. 2 ½ hours of ‘crafting’. 31 cards total.

You know, I don’t know what the kids will do with their handmade cards. I imagine they’ll love their Oreos. I’m sure they’ll get tons of candies and cards. Maybe they’ll keep my daughter’s work or maybe they’ll toss it aside… I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know… I LOVE those valentines. I love that she held her ground and insisted on this vision for some good old fashioned handmade cards. You know sometimes us parents get too caught up in efficiency and completion. We get caught up with finishing tasks and checking things off our list. We get caught up in trying to get everything done and we forget to listen. We become dismissive and distracted. We forget that some things may take longer, take more thought, take more time… and that’s ok. In fact, sometimes, most times, those are the things that turn out the greatest. The things that mean the most and the things we remember the best.

Happy Valentine’s day friends.

May you all get a handmade valentine or two…

A Mother’s New Year’s Resolution

I’ve always been the type of person that rolls their eyes in response to the standard, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” question. I can’t help it. In fact, if I’m being completely honest with you, you can probably expect that eye roll to be accompanied with a heavy sigh and gritted teeth as well. I’ve never really made resolutions. (Gasp! I know! Don’t judge me yet!) Listen… I’m a concrete, black and white, type of thinker and if I want to make a change in my life, I don’t need the beginning of a calendar year to jumpstart something new. I’ve never really understood these dramatic declarations of mastering new hobbies, quitting bad habits, losing weight, spending less, or exercising more, all because of a simple numeric change in our calendar year. If you want to set a goal, make an improvement, or make a change… then do it. You are in change of you! You call the shots! Not a calendar.

With that said, something in my mindset has shifted over the past few days… For some unknown reason, I can’t stop thinking about this whole new year’s ‘question’ that has become so popular and prevalent in our society. What is your new year’s resolution? Is there something you need to change? Is there something in your life that you could improve? Do you have unmet aspirations perhaps not yet realized? What can you do to better yourself?

When I think about those questions, my concrete mindset shifts to taking a step back and defining who I am… I need to declare that before I can resolve to change, aspire, or suggest who I want to better become.

So who am I?

I am a mother.

I am a stay-at-home parent.

I am the world to three sweet toddler tornadoes who demand every ounce of my being throughout every single day.

I am so many things to so many other people but as I reflect on the direct definition of who I am… I consider my defining trait without any hesitation to be MOM.

So who or what can I improve or better aspire to become? Well… perhaps prioritizing motherhood to such a high level is unfair. Perhaps it’s unfair to my husband. Perhaps it’s unfair to my friends and family. Perhaps it’s unfair to MY SELF.

If we allow motherhood to consume and exhaust all of who we are, then what is left for everyone and everything else? When was the last time you spent quality time with your spouse? On any given night, do you finally get the kids to bed and resolve to watching tv in silence and/or going to bed yourself without even asking how your husband’s day was? What about your friends and family? When was the last time you called your sibling or went out to dinner with your friends? Most importantly… can you recall the last time you did something solely for yourself? Have you recently made any time for that thing you’ve always said you wanted to do? For me, it’s to run a marathon. Read more books. Even that cliché goal of ‘exercising more’… it’s something I don’t make time for because it’s never my priority.

My priority is my family and there is nothing wrong with pouring my heart and soul into my children. They are, in fact, my world! However, I find myself overlooking and sometimes forgetting who came before them. It’s a beautiful thing to be so fiercely wanted and adored by the very beings we brought into this crazy world… But those sweet little people can leave me pouring from an empty cup. They love with such fierce intensity, demanding all my affection, attention, and time, that by the end of day, I have nothing left for all those other things I strive to be.

My children are my WORLD but my world needs balance.

So this year I’m making a resolution.

A commitment to finding balance. I want to restructure my priorities and improve upon all those other things that define who I am. I want to give myself permission to call myself more than a mother, NOT because I don’t love what motherhood has given me… Motherhood consumes me, in the most exhausting and rejuvenating way possible! It is the hardest thing I have EVER loved! It is a privilege and no doubt, my greatest accomplishment. But I want to accomplish more. My family and friends need more. I deserve more.

So here’s to a fresh start, a new beginning, and a year of calling myself not only a devoted mother, but also, a loving wife, a consistent reader, and a committed runner.

Happy New Year, friends!

 

Christmas ‘stuff’

Christmas morning memories… What do yours looks like?

I remember waking up, full of excitement and anticipation, truly feeling and believing in the magic of Christmas. I remember my siblings and I gathering together in the hallway, anxiously knocking on our parent’s door, asking if we could ‘wake up’. My parents were always such good sports, never telling us to go back to bed or that we needed to wait a little longer. I remember my dad always turning on Christmas music before we could start sorting and opening gifts. I remember my mom filling the kitchen with the most wonderful smells of homemade biscuits and gravy. I remember playing games and spending time together as a family. I remember laughing and smiling and doing all things happy. These are my Christmas memories.  

You know what I have no memories of? The gifts.

Sure, I remember there always being plenty of shiny wrapped presents under the tree, but what were those gifts I so eagerly opened? I cannot recall. I imagine there were dresses and dolls, Barbies and beanie babies, and plenty of games and crafts… but those details are not part of my memories.

Tonight, I’m writing about gifts because it’s the week before Christmas and I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit, ‘making my list and checking it twice’. I’ve thought through all the details of ensuring the same dollar amount has been spent on each child as well as that each child has the same number of gifts. As a parent and one of ‘Santa’s special helpers’, it’s important to me that my children feel the love and magic on Christmas morning and wake up with reassurance that they’ve earned a solid spot on Santa’s ‘nice list’.

With that said… let’s talk a little more about the ‘stuff’.

Kids want so much stuff. Today, it’s a hard to find magic set. Yesterday, it was an oversized stuffed animal. Last week, it was a simple ballerina Barbie. It’s ever-changing and it’s exhausting. Can we all just agree that kids have no idea what they want and whatever it is they think they want; it will be replaced with something different tomorrow. When we first received the Target toy catalog in the mail, my kids literally circled almost every single toy shown. Their response to, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ was based entirely off of the colorful ads, loud commercials, and targeted advertisements they had seen or heard that day. Their list for Santa was fueled by the novelty of something new and different rather than genuine wants or needs. This was not for lack of appreciation or gratitude, but simply the human nature of a child.

Do you find yourself stressing about your child’s Christmas list? Do you worry whether your children will feel the magic on Christmas morning? I’m guilty of both of those things but I’m also here to gracefully remind you (and my inner self) that tangible gifts are not what creates lasting Christmas memories.

Let go of the Christmas stress. Give yourself permission to feel confident in the presents wrapped under the tree. The kids are going to be happy. I’m sure you’ve done good. In fact, all that stress you’re feeling related to perfecting your Christmas shopping will likely go unnoticed on Christmas morning.

Your children already have everything they need. Their memories of Christmas will be those that can’t be bought. They won’t remember the fancy toys but they will remember the moments. The silly, imperfect, happy moments. All that other ‘stuff’ is just extra.  

Merry Christmas, dear friends, to you and your families!

aachristmas

Look for the Butterfly

A few weeks ago, my 5-year-old daughter came running off the school bus, beaming as she explained to me through excited grins and mile-a-minute speech that it was finally her turn to be ‘student of the week’. Apparently, this is a REALLY big deal for a kindergartener… as in, it pretty much equates to becoming vice president of the classroom, second in line to the teacher, for an entire week.

“MOM! I get to be line leader and teacher’s helper and first for everything! I get to pick the story and I even get to sit on a special cushion during group time!”

As she continued talking about all the things that went along with this prestigious role, she pulled a large poster out of her backpack. She explained that this was to be completed at home and returned to school so that she could present it to her class at the end of the week. She then grabbed some markers and got right to work.

She worked for not one… not two… but THREE evenings in a row. This was a special project and it was evident that it meant a lot to her. She was meticulous. She took her time. Her answers were well thought out and her coloring was done with precision. This was a poster that exemplified who she was and she was taking it very seriously.

Sitting in the kitchen with me on that 3rd night, she worked quietly while I made dinner. Both her younger brother and sister were playing in the living room and every once in awhile, she become distracted and would walk away from the table, curious as to what her siblings were doing. I warned her that if she wanted to go play with them, she needed to put her work away (nothing can be trusted in this house of chaos guys… if you’ve been following me long, you’re well aware that my darling children are what I like to call, ‘toddler tornadoes’).

“No, mom. I don’t want to play with them. I want to finish my poster.”

A few minutes passed by… The kitchen was quiet, with the exception of some boiling water and a working mother trying to finish dinner. As I turned around to grab a wooden spoon from the kitchen drawer, I came face to face with the inevitable. My jaw dropped to the floor. While I expected to see my daughter coloring quietly at the table, I was instead met with the face of my 2-year-old son, guilty as ever, holding a red marker in his mischievous little hand. It was him who had been sitting quietly in the seat that was previously occupied by my hard-working daughter. He was hard-working now too… except his work involved scribbling all over his sister’s prized poster.

scribble

I gasped. I yelled. I lost all color in my face and felt my stomach sink to the floor. I was mad at my son for coloring something that wasn’t his work. I was mad at my daughter for doing the very thing I had warned her not to do. I was mad at myself for not being more aware of what was going on. I was also sad…. There was no doubt in my mind that my sweet girl was going to be devastated when she saw what her brother had done.

“AVALYNN!! Baby… I told you to put your work away. I told you not to leave it out. I warned you that something might happen if you didn’t pay attention… I’m really sorry… but your brother has colored on your poster….”

I showed her the scribbles. I watched her closely examine those thick, burgundy lines that could not be erased. I said nothing else and she said nothing back. In fact, she didn’t react at all. She simply studied the scribbles on this piece of paper that had consumed so many hours of her time. I was sad for her. I was frustrated for her. I was frustrated with the entire situation.

Together, we stood quietly in the kitchen, looking at the ruined poster. The air was thick (partially from that pot of water that was still boiling) but also from both of us trying our best to contain our emotions. I swallowed hard, preparing myself for the chaos I knew was about to ensue… To my surprise, the sweetest, softest, most timid and apprehensive voice responded…

“It’s ok mom…. It’s ok…   It kinda looks like a butterfly? Do you see? I think I can fix it…..”

She took the paper from my hands and sat back down at the table.

WHAT. WAS. HAPPENING??????????????

You guys… I expected a meltdown and instead, was met with simple grace. This 5-year-old child transformed what I saw as a ruined mess into a beautiful mistake. She wasn’t mad. She didn’t blame her brother. She didn’t try to defend her reasons for walking away. This sweet girl simply took a deep breath, evaluated reality, set her emotions aside, and found a solution ALL. ON. HER. OWN. At 5-years of age, she handled this ‘crisis’ with more grace and forgiveness than her own mother. She colored the ‘wings’, added a ‘body’, and within minutes, had drawn a butterfly that most probably would perceive as an intentional illustration to the answer regarding her ‘favorite animal’.

butterfly

You know, we all have moments that leave us angry and frustrated. Moments we perceive as a crisis. While we don’t intentionally point blame or react irrationally, doing so is much easier than swallowing our pride and admitting our faults. It’s human instinct to voice our defense… In fact, avoiding accountability is part of our humanity.

Tonight, my 5-year old daughter defied that very intuitive response that many adults struggle to contain themselves.

When moments of crisis emerge… look for the butterfly. It’s easy to forget that we have the power to turn a mistake into something beautiful, something far better, by simply replacing impulsive frustration with grace.

As parents, we strive to say and do the right things, and teach the right lessons in all the right moments… Tonight, my daughter reminded me that parents are also human and that we’re still learning ourselves… Sometimes, our most invaluable lessons come from the raw moments with our very own naïve children.

Tonight was a proud moment for me and a big moment for my daughter.

My hope is that by sharing this story, you too will be reminded to look for the butterflies in your own moments of chaos and crisis.

avalynn done

Christmas Book Advent Calendar

Bedtime stories are pretty sacred in our household. They are a time in which our kids can settle down; they force some of the best snuggles as a result of a growing family on a crowded couch; and they lead to some of the most rare moments in which you’ll found our life of controlled chaos in a relatively calm and quiet state.

With December being only a few days away, I’m super excited to share with you my most recent project. I can’t take full credit for the idea, as there are tons of creative and inspiring social media accounts that you can find on Pinterest or Instagram who have presented different ways to do the very thing that I did… They were a source of inspiration for me and my hope is that I can be a source of inspiration for you!

CHRISTMAS BOOK ADVENT CALENDAR

advent

The premise of this project is to collect 25 different books as a means for kids to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Now, I’ve never actually used an advent calendar with my kids but I’m somewhat familiar with the various methods and traditions available… I’ve seen wooden Christmas trees at Target with 25 different nooks to place a small toy or piece of candy. I’ve seen adorable puzzles and festive wall hangings. I’ve seen meticulously crafted, handmade boxes and houses on Etsy. What I had NOT seen was the idea of creating an advent calendar with books. When a friend recently shared this idea with me, I was immediately on board. If you know me well, you know that I am a huge advocate for early literacy. I also adore Christmas with all my heart and I’m a total sucker for traditions. I also love any opportunity to snuggle with my family and read a good book… especially when that good book is centered on lessons regarding the true meaning of Christmas for a month straight!

This is such a simple, yet meaningful and memorable way to count down the days until Christmas and the anniversary of Christ’s birth. You don’t need to spend tons of money at a bookstore or on Amazon to complete this project. You guys, I did this in two days for less than $15. TOTAL.

I started by checking out my local Goodwill stores. Most Goodwills sell children’s book for $1/each, with some even running 50% off specials- usually on Friday. If you’re willing to dig a little, you can find some serious bargains! In fact, I found half of my Christmas collection on my very first visit!

goodwillbin

Here is the bin of children’s books from my first Goodwill stop.

My next stop was Once Upon A Child. If you are a parent and have never been to this store, you should probably just stop reading my post and go google the nearest location (Come back to me when you’re done)! Once Upon A Child is an upscale second-hand children’s store that buys and sells gently used books, toys, games, shoes, clothes, coats, etc. at a fraction of the cost. The price for their books is usually .50/paperback and $1/hardcover. My local store always offers books at BOGO (buy one/get one 50% off) so I was literally able to buy some gently used/brand new books for prices cheaper than what I would pay at Goodwill!

ouac

This is the wall of shelves at my local Once Upon A Child.

Now listen, if you don’t have the time to go though bins and shelves and your hands can only handle so much hand sanitizer… then here’s another option: Visit your closest library! You can check out 25 Christmas books that are probably already sorted and categorized on a shelf that’s easily accessible. Boom. Twenty-five books in a single trip that will likely take you less than 10 minutes and all you have to do is make sure you renew/return them so that you don’t incur late fees.

books

My entire collection of Christmas stories!

Once you have your books, simply lay them out in order you want them read and wrap them up- I did this today while my kids napped! Starting December 1st, the kids will get to unwrap a surprise book each night and snuggle up on the couch to listen to a Christmas story! Initially, I had hoped to find most of my books more centered around the birth of Jesus and the story of the nativity but for obvious reasons, I couldn’t be too choosy as my selection was limited… Given that this project was put together in only a few days though, I think I ended up with a nice mix of books that will teach some good lessons, make the kids laugh, and help them learn more about the true meaning of Christmas.

advent2

My kids are SO excited about this new basket of goodies and are anxiously awaiting permission to start unwrapping and reading throughout the rest of the Christmas season! I hope I’ve inspired you to think about some fun and simple ways in which you can help your kids understand the meaning of Christmas too… and HEY! It’s not too late! The simplicity of this project allows you to control when it begins! Maybe your advent calendar starts the second week of December or maybe you find only enough books to count down the ’12 days until Christmas’! It doesn’t matter! Your kids will love it, no matter how you do it or when you start it! Best of luck!

Toddler Tornadoes

I was recently crowned ‘world’s meanest mom’ by my two-year-old son because I refused to let him throw his milk cup across the living room floor. Seriously. The simple command of “No Harrison.” was all it took to transform that sweet, smiling boy into a snotty, tear stained, irrational, emotional mess simply because I wouldn’t let him make a mess with his milk. Notice the irony?

Toddlers are crazy. You know, I frequently refer to my own kids as ‘toddler tornadoes’ and obviously, I use that phrase with the utmost love and sincerity, but it really is the most defining definition for this developmental stage of crazy. This is a stage defined by exhausting, impulsive, and unpredictable storm clouds of emotion. Moments of happiness one minute and pure rage the next. The only way to haphazardly control the chaos is by trying to simultaneously assume the roles of detective (investigating the problem), counselor (calming the child), and principal (managing the behavior) and even then… I’m still often left wide-eyed and speechless amongst a storm of madness. My kids make me crazy. I bet your kids make you crazy too. We love them. I’m sure they’re all great… but I can say with raw certainty that they’re also greatly capable of turning super patient moms into super impatient “momsters” … Yep. I’ll admit it. Sometimes, even though I try my best to have the patience of a saint, I crack.

Crack. Breakdown. Reach a breaking point leaving me with feelings of defeat and guilty of moments I’m less than proud of… Maybe I yelled too loudly, spoke too harshly, or responded unfairly. Maybe I slammed the door. Maybe I overreacted. Listen… I would bet that Mr. Rogers (my idea of the quintessential parent) even overreacted with his kids sometimes (although I have to be honest, that one is hard to imagine). It’s basic humanity. We aren’t perfect. In fact, our imperfection is what makes us human. Recently I had one of those cracking moments in which I stormed down the hallway and scolded my kids for fighting and throwing a toy and in the heat of the moment, I snatched the toy out of my daughter’s hand and threw it across the room. You know what happened next? My three-year-old daughter called me out for throwing…. Touché, dear child.

Newsflash #1. Parents aren’t perfect and it’s an unfair expectation for us to confront meltdowns and tantrums “Mr. Rogers style” 100% of the time.

Newsflash #2. Toddlers aren’t perfect and it’s an unfair expectation for them to understand and control their own meltdowns and tantrums 100% of the time.

I’m going to go ahead and make a blanket statement that might make you a little uncomfortable but here we go anyway- All parents are guilty of setting unfair expectations and/or reacting unfairly. We don’t mean to do it. We don’t do it all the time. but we do it. I do it. You do it. Your parents did it. We all do it.

Here’s an example:

Harrison and Sophia are sitting together, each playing with a basket of blocks. Harrison is crashing toy cars into his blocks while Sophia is carefully building a castle with hers. As Sophia meticulously places a block on top of her growing tower, Harrison suddenly throws a block, striking both Sophia’s castle and her face. Sophia cries out in frustration and anger and throws a block back at Harrison, also striking him in the face. Both kids melt down.

How do you respond? Are both kids in trouble? Are the blocks confiscated and both children punished? In the heat of the moment, are you yelling at everyone simply to hear your own voice over the chaos?

It was wrong for Sophia to throw the block at Harrison, but she was frustrated and her basic instinct was to physically react. It was wrong for Harrison to knock down the tower but his intent wasn’t to hurt anyone or anything. He was simply playing.

In times of conflict and consolation, have you ever found yourself telling your child, “You need to act your age! Oh, you’re fine! That didn’t hurt that bad! You should know better! Why are you crying? Be a big boy/girl!”

In times of chaos, in times of tantrums, in times of failed encouragement… I have said all of those things. And while my intentions were always sincere… What if somebody said those things to you? Labeled your feelings or downplayed your emotions. No matter your age, whether you’re 2 years old or 62 years old, nobody wants to be told to calm down. (Emotional reactions are involuntary and sometimes we just need to be angry or we just need to cry.) Nobody wants to be told to act their age or to be a big boy/girl. (This is condescending.) Nobody wants to be told it didn’t hurt that bad. (Are you the one with the battle wound?) People don’t purposefully behave ‘badly’ or intentionally choose to have feelings of frustration or anger. Besides, if you’re feeling frustrated or angry, wouldn’t you want someone to validate you, rather than dismiss you?

It is NOT FAIR to expect our kids to cope like mature, rationale adults all the time. Yes, we need to set firm guidelines and well-defined rules… Yes, we want our children to behave. BUT it is also critically important to remember that these young kiddos are still, very slowly, developing an understanding of who they are, what they can do, and where they stand in this great big world of rules, limits, and expectations. In times of frustration or anger or fear, we have to remember that a childs basic human instinct may be to meltdown. Falling apart may sometimes be inevitable… and it’s not fair to act disappointed or appalled when it happens.

Today, I’m writing to remind you that these crying, raging tornadoes often have no idea why they’re reacting the way they are. I need that reminder sometimes… Do you? Our kids don’t want to be ‘bad’. They aren’t trying to drive us crazy. It’s not intentional. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean they aren’t disciplined.

Think about this: We live in a society inundated with professionals holding advanced degrees whose entire careers are driven toward helping others understand their own thoughts and behavior. Adults have therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, counselors… they have peers, co-workers, friends, siblings and countless others in which they can talk with, vent to, and ask for advice…

Toddlers don’t know how to handle their feelings. They can’t go for a run or out for a drive to calm down. It’s very unlikely that your 3-year-old daughter is going to walk up to you and say… “Hey mom, I’m feeling pretty frustrated today. Can we sit down and talk about it?”.

As adults, we have all these people and all these coping mechanisms… You know what toddlers have?

(Here’s the really cool part guys…)

You.

Your children have you. Their parents. Their familiar voice they learned to love before they were even brought into this world of chaos. You, dear parent, have the privilege of being their people. Their voice of reason. Their safehouse. Their source of unconditional love…and when your children are at their worst, they really need you at your best.

The next time your kiddo falls apart, acts out in public, shuts down, or turns into a tornado all because you took away the blocks or won’t let the milk cup be thrown across the living room floor…. I want you to take a deep breath. Express the necessary limits and expectations. Discuss appropriate consequences. Review the family rules.

BUT ALSO…

Remember that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. We are leading by example and setting the stage for how one should problem solve and handle confrontations with others. Please do not argue that parenting with calm and understanding patience means you’re a “soft parent”. I firmly believe it is quite the contrary. We’re not raising ‘snowflakes’. We’re raising competent adults. Lowering our expectations and gracefully meeting our children where they ARE (emotionally, cognitively, developmentally) will open the potential to teach many more lessons and retain many more victories.

Discipline with heart, parent with patience, and calmly guide your child through their storm. By doing this, you are teaching lessons and modeling resolutions that go far beyond their current meltdown.

crying

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