Lessons from Beach Evacuation

Well, the kids experienced their first beach evacuation. And it taught me a lot about my family, myself, and others.

Hoards of people hurriedly packing up sandy beach gear, streaming up and over the dunes, swarming across the streets and highway while thunder claps, lightening crackles, and warm rain pours. It’s a beach life milestone and a memory-maker, for sure. But it’s also a test of character.

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I was on the beach solo with my three children — aged 7, 5, and 3 — while The Hubs popped into town to grab some yummy cold brew coffee for him and me. I saw the gray clouds and, knowing the fickle nature of seaside weather, began to pack the beach cart with presently unused items as the kids played. Soon I felt rain and called my brood close to start getting flip flops on feet and chairs folded. Just as I heaved the mesh laundry bag of toys into the beach cart: thunder. The lifeguard blew the whistle signaling the evacuation.

Swimmers herded like soggy cattle from the ocean to the sand. People in large groups and simple pairs grabbed their gear and swarmed to the exit. Just as the first few sandy evacuees crested the dunes, The Hubs walked down the hill carrying two cups of sweating cold brew coffee.

He made his way to us. The kids were just about ready to depart but there was still some packing to do. “You take the kids. Get them out of here. I’ll finish this and meet you in the parking lot,” I told The Hubs. He briefly disputed, kindly saying he’d shoulder the burden of packing up but he had the kid cart attached to his bike, so it only made sense that he get the kids off the sand and away to safety. “I want them out of here,” I told him. I knew how dangerous thunderstorms were on the beach.

As plump raindrops fell heavy and thunder grumbled, off went my herd over the dunes while I completed the last bits of clean up. The whole time I checked about me, cognizant of my neighbors. In these snapshots of perception, I felt an almost voyeuristic, telling awareness of them.

What you see in your fellow beachgoers is generally limited at best. If anyone looks up from their book or sandwich or ocean view it’s usually only for a brief glance or a passing nicety. Emotional sharing and soul baring is not the stuff of seaside tourists. And unintentionally unveiling one’s true inner self is most certainly not commonplace.

But in that odd moment of rush and worry, you could see the part of people they kept hidden. The aniexty, the selfishness, the kindness, the bravery, the vulnerability they keep wrapped and bound beneath a carefully curated exterior.

Some gathered blankets in rumpled sandy lumps beneath their arms, dragging beach chairs in their wake, without a thought about the friends they just abandoned or those they cut in front of in line; they purely focused on their own safety. Some yelled and panicked, barked orders and swirled, overwhelmed by the situation, their taskload, their emotions. They fired frenzied orders in between anxious glances at the darkening afternoon sky. Some froze with eyes wide and jaws slack witnessing the evacuation as if from afar. Some laughed and shrugged entirely unaffected by the change in plans while others grumbled as if the weather was a personal affront. Some herded and helped, shouldered others’ loads and ushered strangers to safety. Some simply followed.

Checking that my cart was properly loaded before I began my exit, I noticed my neighbors — a young grandmother, a tween girl, and a 4-year-old boy — were standing entirely still watching the exodus while holding onto the metal beach umbrella still planted in the sand.

Thunder rolled. Lightning cracked. I had to get them out of there.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the girl asked. “Do we really need to leave the beach in a storm?” “Yes,” I said, “lightening likes to strike people on the beach and we have lots of metal,” I said motioning to my beach cart and their umbrella, “so it’s not safe to stay.” The grandmother seemed to be returning to awareness but seemed entirely incapable of taking charge in that moment.

“Can I take your things on my cart? I can get you to the parking lot” I said, looking up at the grandmother as I grabbed two corners of their beach blanket. She nodded, wide-eyed. I rolled up the blanket folded their chairs and popped the items on top of my cart. The tween girl folded the umbrella and removed it from the ground. The 4-year-old boy, still in a dripping wet Puddle Jumper floatie, grabbed a bag. Grandma shouldered the dismantled umbrella and off we went into the exiting masses we .

“Where are you from?” I asked the tween, trying to lighten things as the rain grew steady. It turned out they lived an hour away from where I grew up. At the top of the packed sand ramp we ran into the girl’s uncle. He thanked me and unloaded the items from my cart just as thunder and lightening put on a show.

I descended into the parking lot with my beach cart and found my family. My boys were just finishing getting settled into their bike cart and my daughter was at the ready on her bike. The Hubs was chugging his coffee and held out mine to me.

I hurried The Hubs along, hoping to get the kids home to safety. Off they went and off I went. As their bikes grew smaller in the distance, relief washed over me. Now it was just me and the hoards in the thick summer rain.

Traffic on side streets came to a standstill as pedestrians and bicyclists streamed across roadways. Tensions began to ease. Chatter and laughter among stranded neighbors and strangers flourished.

Thunder boomed. Lightening split the charcoal sky. Everyone froze. Rain poured down in warm sheets. Water cascaded over the brim of my baseball cap. Some scurried to escape the deluge. Some ducked into cars. Some — like me — owned their waterlogged state.

The highway halted as the drenched herd reached the shoulder. Like swamp zombies, we lumbered across the roadway. Dry and air-conditioned motorists shook their heads in pity at us, the slovenly evacuees. Some of us groaned. Some of us fretted. Some of us shrugged against the rain. Some of us smiled knowing this was beautiful.

 

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We’ve Come So Far…

It’s been seven years. My, how far we’ve come!

 

This was the much-wanted child I feared I’d never have. This was the embryo that changed my whole body and my life. This was the fetus that sent my body into gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. This was the tiny new human who almost didn’t survive her entrance and had to be resuscitated twice within hours of being born.

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This was the newborn they questioned would be able to walk or talk or process information with ease, but whom they called a “two pacifier” NICU resident because she was their most vocal guest. This was the infant with latch issues and a proclivity for choking day and night. This was the baby with a ferocious wail and a voracious appetite who woke up six times each night until she was 2-years old.

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This was the pudgy ringlet-haired 1-year old who refused to walk — in favor of pilgrimage-style knee-walking — until she was 19-months old. This was the sparkle-loving, highly verbal 2-year old who was fiercely independent and vocally wilful but absolutely precious. This was the bright, tutu-wearing 3-year-old who loved being a big sister to her toddler brother almost as much as she enjoyed testing her mother’s patience.

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This was the out-going 4-year old who strived to please others and be kind to friends but threw head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, shrieking tantrums at home yet adored her newest baby brother. This was the 5-year-old who loved kindergarten but struggled to master reading and painfully adjusted to the full-day school schedule.

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This was the 6-year-old who shrugged off dolls in favor of doctor kits and rockstar dress-ups, who dove into Tae Kwon Do and yoga, who finally figured out reading and excelled at math, who uncovered ways to harness her powerful emotions, who expressed kindness to those around her, who had more good moments than rough moments. This was the child who turned the corner from emotional whirlwind to strong, expressive, kind-hearted individual.

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This is the 7-year-old of whom I am endlessly proud, for whom I prayed when I didn’t know to whom or what I was praying. This is the child who changed every shred of me, who tore me (literally and figuratively) apart but inspired in me the strength to piece myself back together.

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I am who I am now because of her. I love her more than she will ever know until/if she has children of her own. For all of the struggles, our worries, our pains (of all kinds and intensities), our sleepless nights, our brutal days, our cherished hugs, our belly laughs, our tears, our proud moments, our cherished memories, I am profoundly grateful. She made me a better me; I can only hope I help her become her best her.

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Seven years behind us, there are no more nap times, no more pumping schedules, no more night terrors, no more sleeping baby on my chest, no more toddler arm rolls, no more kindergarten plays, no more fingerpaints, no more waiting room meltdowns. We’ve come so far.

We have so far to go.

 

What I do When Life Goes Sideways

As I tell my kids — especially my middle son who has a phenomenal gift for getting himself and things stuck in bizarre places — “If the way you’re doing something isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” Life is always going to throw curveballs — especially when there are kids involved — so what’s my hack?

1) Choose a different path.

2) Laugh.

It may seem simple but if you’re unaccustomed to the practice, it will take time and repetition to ingrain it as second nature. Let me use my own nutty life for example.

Yesterday was a sideways day, but instead of bemoaning it, I stayed flexible and laughed. When plan after plan for family activities went awry, when my endometriosis pain flared, I looked for a different path. Then I found a way to laugh.

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(In case you’re wondering, lunch was homemade broccoli slaw Beyond Meat vegan and gluten-free “sausage”, and grilled corn)

Today we rented a family paddle boat and ate a picnic lunch on the lake. All was going well until we were surrounded by a flock of fearsome feathered foe. You guessed it: Canada Geese. Ferocious beasts.

One brazenly stole a corn cob right from my 5-year-old’s hand! My 5-year-old sat slack jawed in shock. My 6-year-old screeched and crawled up the seat. My 3-year-old, husband, and I laughed. Needless to say what was “supposed to be” a peaceful paddle boat picnic turned into my husband and I laughing and feverishly pedaling the unresponsive Titanic of a dingy away from hungry geese while our 6-year-old hid her lunch and shrieked. The outing was a pure fail in its efforts to relax but it was an epic win for making a hilarious (well, for all except our 6-year-old) memory.

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The day continued on — geese left behind at the lake to harass other paddlers — when endometriosis pain flared again (this was day 2 of discomfort.) I knew I needed to take a beat. (Though I can only do this temporarily or else I feel worse. I am better when I am up and distracted. It’s like a mental game: if I act or look ill, I feel ill but if I act or look well, I feel (comparatively) well.) So I was a human car racing track for my toddler for a bit and then back to life: TO THE POOL!

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We arrived at the pool — suited, lotioned, and snacks ready — only to find it was closed due to thunder. So we devised another plan: SLIP-AND-SLIDE!

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I felt my endometriosis pain starting to rile my frustrations, so I knew I needed to change course. I dove in. Yep, 35-year-old me fully clothed sliding down a lubricated tarp in our yard. Classy? No. Medicinal? You bet! And that worked well until thunder rolled again and again making it clear indoors was the place to be. New plan: INDOOR PLAYGROUND!

We swiftly peeled off our wet swimsuits in favor of dry clothes then into the car we went. 20 minutes later, we arrived. The indoor play place was closed. I looked up the next indoor play option: also closed. Ugh! Right? No. Plan D: HAIRCUTS!

My middle son’s hair had transitioned from chic to shaggy and my littlest’s natural rat-tail was looking rather twangy. So, a trim was due. We drove just down the road to the hair salon: booked solid. I spotted another option across the shopping center. We scampered over. The hairdresser stopped me before I could even sign in warning me of the long wait. Well, Plan E it was. SMOOTHIES!

Our herd of five exited the air-conditioned store and were engulfed in the hot swampy breath of Mid-Atlantic summer. Then we notice it was raining. Seemed fitting. We laughed at the continuity of our misadventures. On we walked.

We arrived a tad soggy at the smoothie place, my curly hair now double its usual girth, but the store was open, there was no line, and it was serving beverages. Win!

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The Hubs doing a little smoothie stealing trickery

There we sat, kids slurping pureed fruit while perched on bar-height stools. And we laughed. It wasn’t the afternoon we had planned, but it was the one we had. And that’s all that mattered. That and the laughter.

If life doesn’t go your way find a new path and laugh. It’ll be worth it.

Infertility Made Me a Better Mom

Infertility broke me. It pummeled me, my relationships, my perspective, my worldview, my sense of purpose and self-worth. But I am a better mother because of it.

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For a horrendous year we struggled to conceive our first child (full story here). Invasive and torturous tests, ineffective and horrible medications, and multiple doctors yet no one caught it. No one realized that I had endometriosis. That’s right, two fertility specialists and one seasoned OB/Gyn, yet not one even whispered the possibility of endometriosis. It wasn’t until 2018 — nearly a decade after my fertility battle — that I was finally diagnosed. But, let me tell you, the sad truth: my story is all but uncommon.

Women’s health is a brutal stomping ground of dismissed pain and excused symptoms, with “hormones” being the new “hysteria.” And so it is made possible for most endometriosis sufferers to go decades un- or misdiagnosed then prescribed horrendously invasive and entirely ineffective medical treatments. (Yes, treatments, as there is no cure. Nope, not even menopause.) But, that rant is for another time. Back to my tale.

By saying that I am a better mom because I experienced infertility am I implying that moms who never personally experience infertility aren’t good moms? Hell no! It just means that I am a better version of my former self because of what I endured and, thus, I am a better mom than I would’ve been without the life experience.

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Infertility — its unspeakable, wide-reaching pains and demands of secrecy — broke me. It shattered who I was. In order to go on, I was forced to glue myself back together. And I did. I pieced myself whole — shard by battered shard — in a better, stronger, more empathetic, more unwaveringly resilient form than I ever fathomed. It was because I had been broken that I could be so tolerant of pain, so appreciative of the children I was eventually granted (even on their worst days), so positively resilient, so set on cherishing every moment and gathering every possible memory with my children. Infertility was the shittiest of blessings that I would never wish on anyone, but for which I am now grateful.

The humiliating tests that were emotionally if not physically painful, the burden of hiding my fertility struggles and surging hormones from others (especially at work… because if a pregnant woman is viewed as a liability, a woman trying to conceive is just an empty cubicle waiting to happen), the effort to genuinely celebrate others’ pregnancies and births, the strength required to face others’ fertility-related commentary and questions in a non-murderous fashion, the strain on relationships, the distain for my own body betraying me, the sense of utter failure at what should be a natural and easy endeavor, the challenge of not allowing the descent into becoming that bitter infertile woman, the disconnect of being complimented or viewed sexually when my sexual organs were broken, the impossible battle of holding my shit together when my shit was so  shredded by hormones and emotions and physical pain and mental anguish and self-pittying and somehow — freakin’ somehow — lingering hope that it would all end well. It was brutal.

Infertility made me stronger, more appreciative. In its wake, I became a human clown-faced punching bag. In comparison to what I’d experienced during my bout with infertility, I could bounce back smiling after any blow. Life could not topple me. Trauma, physical pain, emotional damage, financial hardships, lost loved ones… I would rise. I would find happiness.

Infertility helped me discover what — and who — my priorities were and in what order they stood. Infertility lessened my limiting modesty (a must as a mom, especially a breastfeeding mom), increased my ability to self-advocate, and amplified my pain tolerance immeasurably. It made me acutely aware where I did and did not want to go in my life. It made my values clear and illuminated the rubbish. Even more, just as having a challenging child or difficult baby grants you greater humility, awareness, and accurate empathy, so does a bout with infertility.

Sure, prior to having faced infertility I was aware that such struggles were a hurdle, but I had no grasp on the life-altering, all-encompassing, ego-shattering, dream-endangering affects. As with parenthood, you just don’t know what you don’t know and you cannot possibly truly understand unless you, yourself, have lived it. And once you do live it, you look back at your former self and think, “I knew nothing.”

I certainly do not know it all. I have much left to learn and live, but I will do so as a better person because of where I’ve been. I will continue to survive and savor, laugh freely and find beauty in the mundane, hoard memories and cherish moments. I will continue to be better because I was broken. I will thrive.

I See You, Mama

I see you, mama. The young woman struggling with unexplained infertility. The woman who’s suffered years of unwanted childlessness. The woman who for years prevented pregnancy but, now, cannot conceive. The woman who always dreamed of being a mother but whose dreams may never be. The woman whose friends and relatives are popping out babies, both planned and not. The woman who must hide her struggle from the world, undergo invasive and humiliating tests. The woman who is told, “Just stop caring about it and you’ll get pregnant.” The woman others ask, “When will you have a baby?” Or say, “You could just adopt.” The woman who feels broken and betrayed by her own body. The woman who must smile through it all and pretend everything is ok… even though it’s not. I see you.

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I see you, mama. The expectant first-time mom both giddy and terrified, overwhelmed with tsunamis of unsolicited advice and the crushing weight of all you don’t and can’t yet know. The pregnant woman whose body and life and needs and hormones are changing moment by moment and nothing feels like her own. The rounding mama would is exhausted and puffy, sick and unable to even look at toast, contracting and sleepless, leaking and flatulant. The woman who is told she cannot complain or grimace despite her daily discomforts, because she is fortunate to be pregnant. The woman who others openly judge for everything from drinking coffee to wearing high heels, dying her hair to sporting a bikini. The mother-to-be who looks ahead at the impending birth with determined eyes and a game plan, tearful worry and pure hope, rattling prayer beads and terror. I see you.

I see you, mama. The new mom who is more exhausted than she ever knew possible, leaking from places she didn’t know she could, losing herself to the 24-hour beautiful struggle of new motherhood. The woman who looks in the mirror — thinning hair tied up in a nest, dark wrinkling bags beneath vacant bloodshot eyes, breastmilk stains over each swollen breast, belly puffed in a postpartum paunch, baby spit-up speckling her shirt — and wonders where she went. The mother who cries as her baby wails, not knowing how to console her child, doubting her own abilities, wondering if she made a huge mistake. The woman who looks at her partner and feels distain, for hormones and exhaustion, and stress, and self-crticism, and loss of self have clouded her love. The mother who coos over her beautiful child, takes all the photos, fills the baby book, hoards memories and mental images in her mind’s eye. The woman who struggles to nurse, cannot nurse, will not nurse, who drowns in the pain of overproduction. The mother who is addicted to the hormone high of her baby asleep on her chest. The mother who wishes she could love but cannot. The mother who is counting the days until she can return to work. The woman who sobs with each passing week, clawing to slow down time. I see you.

I see you, mama. The woman who knows her child is facing a struggle perhaps unseen. Who feels in her bones that something is not right. The mother who spends more time in hospitals than her home, more time pumping than holding her child, more time worrying than living, more time battling with insurance than talking with her partner. The woman who sees others’ children happy and healthy, growing and developing, connecting and learning. The mother who looks ahead and cries. The mother who worries. The mother who savors the small accomplishments with the delight of world-changing victories. The mother who feels alone in her struggle and wonders, “Why me?” The woman who finds a strength and ferocity within herself that she never knew possible. The mother who discovers a love stronger and more overwhelming than she ever knew possible. The mother who must plan and apologize, fight and cheer, hide tears and fake smiles, overcome and crumble under more than anyone she knows. The woman who never saw this coming. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mother of multiple children struggling with it all. Balancing and savoring, struggling and laughing. The woman who must do and be it all, all day everyday for everyone. The woman who is expected to give everything but give herself a break. The woman who is expected to know what she’s doing but still feels like she knows nothing. The mother who looks back at old pre-children photos and cannot recognize the person in the picture. The woman who wouldn’t trade her life for anything in the world, but would give anything for a vacation… and a solo trip to the bathroom. The mother who can (and does) discuss poop over lunch, who can dislodge a nasal-dwelling Cheerio in a single nostril squeeze, who plans everyone else’s birthday but forgets her own, who counts down the minutes to an evening out then misses her children as soon as she sees empty car seats in her rearview mirror. The woman who struggles to feel sexy, who identifies more as “mom” than her own name, who wonders if she’s doing any of this right. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who lost a child in-utero, infancy, childhood, adulthood. The woman who doesn’t know how to answer, “How many children do you have?” The mother who aches with a hollowness in her heart, who struggles to find happiness, who strives to be whole… herself again. The mother who wonders what might have been. The woman who wonders, “Why me?” The mother who counts her blessings and her losses, who pushes forward while glancing back, whose heart will forever be partially broken no matter how full life makes it. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who is unwell. Suffering emotional or physical pain, trying to be the mother she so deeply wants to be. The woman with unending guilt for her inabilities, her shortcomings. The mother who pushes herself too hard and puts herself last. The woman who pretends it’s all ok. The mother who feels alone in her struggles, who feels frustrated by her children, who is burdened with guilt for not being the mother she thinks her children deserve. The woman who wants the world for her children but can barely pour them a bowl of cereal. The mother who struggles, who tries, who sometimes loses. The mother who loves but feels love is not enough. The mother who cannot see or feel her own worth. I see you.

I see you, mama. The shy mother who craves a village. The woman who feels isolated. Who wonders how others learned to make friends but she has no idea how. The mother who sees mom cliques on the playground and wishes she could join one. The woman whose belly jitters with anxiety and mind rattles with insecurity when approached by a fellow mom. The mother who has to gather her wits to arrange a playdate for her child, who wishes birthday parties were not a thing. The mother who wants just one good friend with whom she could truly be herself. Who hopes her child does not struggle as she has. The mother standing alone. I see you.

I see you, mama. The fit mom, the styled mom, the mom who everyone thinks is perfect. The one with the handsome husband, lovely home, beautiful children, and hoards of friends and followers. The mother whose family is always pristinely dressed. The one who pushes herself to do it all… lead the P.T.A., be classroom mom, make all of the Pinterest crafts, be Instagram perfection, look the part always, be her best. The woman who cringes at the thought of posting a non-smiling photo or sharing anything but the glory reel of life. The overachieving woman who never feels adequate. Who constantly feels exhausted but cannot let on, who hides life’s realities for fear of judgment (her own and others’), who creates a facade to tell herself she’s happy. The “perfect” woman who tries and gives and does but does not feel it is ever enough. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mom who pushes through every day giving and doing, comforting and disciplining, planning and playing. The woman who smiles wide, laughs hard, loves deep, and hugs warm. The mother who tucks her children into bed at night and lies awake exhausted, mentally replaying her day, battering herself with mom guilt. “Why did I yell so much?” “Why didn’t I do that with the kids?” “They had too much screen time.” “Am I consistent enough?” “Are they eating enough vegetables?” “Why didn’t I do better?” “Am I doing anything right?”  The mother who loves so much it hurts. The woman who gives until she breaks. The mother who will do it all again tomorrow. I see you.

I see you, mama. The career-driven mom, the reluctant working-mom, the stay-at-home mom, the mom who wants to work, the single mom, I see you. The breastfeeding mom, the formula-feeding mom, the donor milk recipient mom, the struggling mom, I see you. The lonely mom, the grateful mom, the aspiring mom, the passionate mom, the fun mom, the peaceful mom, the mom who’s trying, I see you. The tired mom, the energetic mom, the young mom, the “old” mom, the experienced mom, the first-time mom, the mom who knows all, the mom who wishes she knew, I see you.

I see you, mama. You’re not alone. My love to you.

Three Things I Learned from My Kids

Being a parent, it isn’t always about what we teach our kids. It’s often about what they teach us. About the world, life, ourselves, happiness. They may be small, our needy germ-covered offspring, but they are wise in that, “I may eat Playdough and lick trashcans, but I know how to be truly happy” kind of way that only dogs and children master.

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1) Wonder. As my 2.5-year-old youngest child and I attempted to complete an errand at a local craft store — frequent tantrums firing and fizzling like bottle rockets on the 4th of July — I experienced the store through his eyes. THE WONDER!

“Look, Mommy!” A wall of model vehicles towered above him. “So many colors!” He exclaimed, walking among the silk flowers. “One more second, Mommy!” He pleaded as he gazed in awe at the miniature fairy house decor. “Mommy, I hold your hand. Come over here!” Basket upon basket of vibrantly hued faux fruit. This wasn’t just an errand for him; this place was a marvel.

He ooo’ed as we walked past the bike store, ahh’ed as we strolled past flower displays in the pharmacy, stopped short in amazement as a suped-up pick-up truck idled outside of Whole Foods. An errand was more than an errand because his world was full of wonder. In turn, the world became more beautiful and vibrant for me too.

Since parenting three children, I find myself seeking out the beauty, the wonder, the “wow” in the ordinary. The heart-shaped leaf on the driveway. The massive construction vehicles as I sit in traffic. The budding trees as I walk down the sidewalk. The colors in the produce section. The world is amazing if we choose to see it. My children have reminded me how.

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2) Play. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I play every day. What a gift! Walking down the sidewalk, I crouch down with my littles and hop over cracks. On the playground, I bounce with them on the seesaw. At home, I do silly voices while reading and chase them in the cul-de-sac. We bring snack time outside. We play “Go Fish”, “Connect Four”, and “Guess Who?” I become a human rocket launching my littlest into the air by way of my lifting legs.

Life is more fun when we play. My kids help remind me to not take myself and my life so seriously. They reintroduced me to the beauty and necessity of play. With play we are more active, vibrant, joyful, and full of life. There’s no better way to be. If you’re not full of life, what are you full of?

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3) Shift. Priorities, attention, schedule, route, perspective, goals, plans, outfit choices… my kids have required and taught me to shift often and in countless ways.

What childless me thought I would do or say as a parent has shifted. My priorities have greatly shifted. What used to be my plan a year ago has shifted. Who I used to be has shifted. How I eat has shifted. My hobbies have shifted. How I see and engage with the world has shifted. My body has shifted. My tolerance for others’ crap has shifted. And that’s OK, no matter what “Jenny from the Block” may proclaim. Shifting is good.

I’m stuck in a long check-out line, I shift my attention and find ways to distract the kids: “Where’s the color blue? Do you see a balloon? How many lights can you find?”

I’m in traffic and I decide to downshift my emotions, releasing my plans and accept that, “what will be will be.” I shift my focus away from the brake lights and my filling bladder to any surrounding fun I can find. “Look at that loader, kids! What do you think is in that box truck? Look how pretty the sky is! Who wants a car dance party?”

I shift to survive. I shift to keep the peace. I shift to feel peace. To be happy.

Circling Back at the End of the Day: Family Connection Routine

Evenings are rough. At the of a long day, everyone’s harried and tired, yet the to-do list is unyielding. But we’ve found a way to circle back and connect before day’s end, and it’s so simple. It only takes 5 minutes.

Each evening, after I shower, I call down to the kids to turn off the TV,  clean up the playroom, and pick books. This has been our routine for years. Recently, after a 4AM epiphany, I added another step to the the nightly pattern.

I grabbed my favorite circle blanket, placed it on the playroom floor, and asked everyone to take a seat. We began a new evening ritual that is now so treasured that my 6-year-old races to fetch the circle blanket each night in happy anticipation.

IMG_20180124_060204_232All three kids sit on the circle blanket but, really, only the 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and I participate (the 2-year-old bobs in and out and acts as enforcer when someone speaks out of turn.) I begin by asking who wants to go first. Sometimes I am volunteered, sometimes someone in particular is raring to speak. One at a time, we list the following items without explanation or interruption before we move on to the next speaker:

1. Three things we didn’t like about our day,

2. Three things we did like about our day,

3. One thing we would’ve done differently that day,

4. One thing we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Some days the kids have three good things but only one bad thing to note. Some days the good things are hard to come by, but together we recall even the minute intricacies — like a yummy lunch or a nice breeze or a smile from a friend — to flesh out our positive trio.

Very often, I’ve found, that the kids are surprised by one another’s lists. They often don’t realize the impact of their actions and words on another’s day, but this activity is helping shed light on their affect on others.

The other night, my middle son listed his sister not including him on the playground as one of his three dislikes du jour. His sister looked offended and scoffed. I reminded her that we don’t interrupt during circle time. Then, during my daughter’s review, she noted that the one thing she would’ve done differently that day was include her brother on the playground. They’re getting it!!

My middle son and my daughter have both come to me separately saying how much they appreciate circle time. And, you know what? I do too. I can voice my missteps of the day (ex: yelling when I wish I hadn’t, not cheering up someone I wish I had, messing up a recipe, etc.) so that they know I make mistakes and feel remorse too. I also get to hear about their days and they hear about mine. We all get a glimpse at how one another processes the day’s events and what one another values, as well as finds particularly hurtful. We learn about each other’s triumphs and hurdles. It’s enlightening, connecting, healing, bonding. And it only takes 5 minutes.

Then, after we’ve completed our sharing, we return to our old routine: story time as usual. Each child hands me his or her selected book then sits in my lap while I read it. Sometimes only one child sits on my legs, other times I’m balancing all three. Either way, my heart — like my lap — is full.

Maybe this circle time routine would work for you. Give it a whirl for a week and let me know how it goes. Worst case, you waste five minutes. Best case, your bonds grow stronger. That’s a gamble worth taking in my book!

My Unpopular Perspective: No Bad Days

“There is no such thing as a ‘bad day.'” This is not a widely held opinion, but it’s mine. As I see it, there are simply days neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Just days filled with moments… some moments are fun, some challenging, some sad, some happy, some purposeful, some tedious, some painful, some luxurious, some stimulating, occasionally some are tragic or traumatic, but most moments within most days are unremarkable.

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When I pick up my daughter from school and ask her about her day, and her response is, “I had a bad day.” I tell her that I’m sorry she had some hard moments but remind her that though parts of her day may have been difficult, her WHOLE day wasn’t bad. Then I ask her about the parts she felt were “bad.” After we have discussed her hurdles, I ask her about the positive parts of her day. Her mood pivots, her perspective changes as her attention shifts to recall the fun and pleasant aspects. She has reframed her day in that moment.

As I’ve explained to my children, simply because a certain fraction of a day’s moments belong within a specific emotional category — often oversimplified into “good” or “bad” — it doesn’t negate the rest of the day’s events. Because I stubbed my toe getting out of bed, poured my tea down the front of my shirt, and backed into a trashcan on my way out of the driveway, does that mean that the uneventful minutes I spent getting ready for the day were “bad”? That the loving moment I received a deep hug and maple syrup kiss from my child was “bad”? That my moments spent engaging in pleasant small talk with strangers or mundanely folding laundry were “bad”? Of course not! Therefore, the whole day wasn’t bad. Even if, say, I unexpectedly tragically lost a loved one later that day or felt burdened by world events that left an ache in my core, the sadness would be painful but it would not negate the plethora of moments before and after the event. It was not a “bad” day.

Often, we give too much power to the negative which, in turn, shifts our perspective. If we tell ourselves that we’re having a bad day, we’ll ensure that’s precisely the case by only seeing the bad. However, if we refuse to categorize the day as a lump sum, then we can appreciate each moment and each experience for what it is.

A yoga instructor recently said to the class I was attending, “This is how it is, now.” Meaning, each moment is different and fleeting. I burnt dinner and everyone is wailing in hunger? “This is how it is, now.” I feel sad over news clips? “This is how it is, now.” My kid tells me that I’m the best mommy ever? “This is how it is, now.” I share belly laughs with a dear friend? “This is how it is, now.”

It’s all temporary. It’s all fluid. Don’t cut yourself, your day, or your life short by categorizing your days in limiting, imprecise terms. Just take your days as they are — a collection of varied moments — and appreciate the experience.

Because, why survive when you can savor?

How to be a Happy Parent: Enjoying the Sh*tshow

My toddler lost his shit on an evening walk. A block from home, he began shrieking but my other two were happily biking along. I raced down the sidewalk — plastic tricycle under my arm as I scurried to launch my novice two-wheel biking daughter from a stop and tried to avoid getting run over by my middle son’s speeding training wheels — while my melting 2-year-old followed 10 feet behind me, still wearing his lime green toddler bike helmet, wailing and moaning at max volume. We were a scene.

I had three choices on that gorgeous evening: 1) get flustered and embarrassed and race everyone home in an anxious whirlwind, 2) get angry and yell a tirade while herding my brood home, 3) laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and actually find a way to enjoy the calamity. Fortunately for me, I didn’t even realize my other two options. I defaulted to #3. I just laughed. I laughed hard. Because, why not?

A neighbor, fastidiously tending to her garden as I only wish I could, laughed at the sight. Some may have bristled if not barked at the gaffe. Instead, I laughed along with her because we looked entirely ridiculous. I mean, c’mon, what newlywed couple thinks ahead to eventual parenthood and sees that version of the family stroll in their future? None! And that’s why we procreate. Because we’re morons… naive, pompous optimistic morons.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is a little perspective and a diminished give-a-shit to survive our childrens’ childhood with any semblance of sanity or grace. We just need to choose amusement over anxiety.

Sure, I get mad and frustrated and yell… daily. You bet I lose my cool when everyone is asking for something at the same time but no one’s listening and I just. Need. To. Pee! You know I sure as heck have nights I careen into the sofa after a long day, feeling a mixture of mom guilt, emotional exhaustion, and a life-sustaining thirst for a glass of wine.

However, for the most part of most days, I try to laugh. I try to find the humor in the madness, the chaos, the misbehavior, the messes, the drama. I laugh because it is simply absurd what these children dish out. I mean, in what world would one expect to find a sock on a picture frame (unless at a frat house)?

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How is it normal to find a kid pantless in the playroom practicing W.W.E.-style rope dives from the sofa arm while another practices drag performances into a “Bubble Guppies” microphone? When did, “Don’t bite your brother’s bum”, “We don’t wipe our penises on the toilet”, and “No heads in the trashcan” become part of my daily vernacular? What have I done with my life?

Something awesome, that’s what.

I took an existence I once considered stressful and exhausting then added so much stimulus, so many demands, and so much ego-obliterating activity to it that it spun everything I thought I knew about the world and myself upside down. I realized I could choose to be angry, amused, frustrated, appreciative, flustered, calm, or joyful. I could choose the feel judged or I could choose to shamelessly own my mess and invite others to revel in the hilarity right along with me. I may not be in control of the chaos, but I am in control of how I respond to it… how I perceive it.

By shifting my perspective from, control-freak to laughter-prone, it changes everything. It changes the situational trajectory, the bystanders’ responses, and my emotional state. Being quick to laugh is a gift we not only give others but ourselves.

Why get defensive and angry at witnesses when we can let it go and just allow the audacity to amuse us? Soak it in as you would watching the scenario on a sit-com. Emotionally detach. Take a breath. Enjoy it. It’s always more fun to laugh with others anyway.

These are the hardest days, friends, but they are the best days. It’s up to us to find a way to enjoy them.

Better Than Therapy Yin Yoga: Boho Beautiful

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got stuff to let go. I woke up yesterday morning tired and tense, just aching for 15 more minutes to snooze. But something within me told me to get up and do my yoga. I knew I’d be grateful for my persistence, despite what my inner sloth said.

5:45am, I padded downstairs, brewed my green tea, and set out kids’ breakfasts. All the while, an internal negative churn brewed unmistakably beneath the surface positivity. The best way I can describe it is digestive upset — bubbling, squeaking, cramping, and impending doom — but of my emotions instead of my gut. I couldn’t pinpoint the precise cause though.

So, I headed outside to do my yoga. I unfurled my yoga mat on the deck and scrolled through my favorite yoga YouTube Channel, Boho Beautiful. For months I have been doing Boho Beautiful yoga and yoga workout videos at least twice a day (they range from 5-30 minutes in length, which is perfect for a busy mom with an ever-changing list of demands) to help me feel not just healthy and strong, but centered.

I scrolled through the videos in search of an appropriate selection for my morning practice. I clicked on the Boho Beautiful Yin Yoga video.

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The practice started as any other. Juliana, the instructor, coached me through breathing and reminded me to use this practice to release any negative manifestations. Any people, situations, or memories bringing me down were to be recalled, acknowledged, and released. Fair enough!

I figured I’d be feeling mom guilt or stress from eventual career uncertainty. Nope.

I folded myself into pigeon pose and just as Juliana cued me to pay attention to any emotions or thoughts that presented and to allow myself to experience and release them, I began crying. Ugly crying — snot pouring, shoulders pulsing, fat tears dripping into puddles on my yoga mat — as I laid in pigeon pose. A mental slideshow of my eldest’s first year flipped through at a rapid, heart-wrenching pace. This child we’d dreamed of, struggled for, thought we’d never have, then thought we’d lose just as soon as she’d arrived, was speeding through her beautiful childhood faster than I could capture memories.

My ultimate dream for my life had been fulfilled. What a precious blessing! But what now? To peak so young is a catch-22. Why can’t I slow down time??

I breathed out the negativity coursing through my glutes and thighs. I breathed in positivity.

Juliana instructed a position change. A back-lying quad stretch. As abruptly as the tearful siege began, it ended. I was calm, peaceful, positive. When we returned to the opposite leg pigeon pose, the tears returned. Juliana coached me through the emotional onslaught, knowingly providing acknowledgement and release direction.

Then we switched poses and Juliana told viewers to think about what makes us happy and grateful. A series of mental images from family beach trips, outings, and day-to-day mental snapshots poured through my mind. I was inundated with love and gratitude for my children and husband. The rush of positivity filled my inner fibers where the negativity once festered. I released.

I still felt raw throughout the day, but self-aware. Centered. Knowing with certainty why I was emotionally off kilter strengthened me. It allowed me to be kinder to myself because I understood myself.

The yoga was better than therapy.

 

This was in no way a sponsored blog post. I purely and simply wanted to share something positive I have encountered to help me lead a healthier, happier, more balanced life. In addition to the YouTube channel, Boho Beautiful has a webpage, blog, Facebook account, and Instagram feed. Visit and follow along if you desire.