Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, 2011 ~ Day 109
Up Too Close

A person can live out their life right in front of you day after day, yet you still don't really see them... at least not as a whole.

My dear friend pointed out to me recently that it is very easy to get caught up in negatives about a person or situation you've become very close to, losing the "big-picture" view that you once had.

Over the years I've probably lost clear perspective on most of the people that are uber-close to me... my mother, my husband, our three children.

I spend so much time in their company and I am connected to them each so deeply that often I don't full know where I leave off and they begin. We're all melded together in some way.

For example I finally posted some photos of my kids taken during the last few months that had been sitting in my camera. I was shocked to see how much older they are looking - especially my eldest boy.

I see him in person every single day, but somehow the photos brought to my attention just how much he has actually grown up this year. And I had to ask myself, how clearly do I really see this kid?

I have written a lot about him in the blog, a lot about his dancing and school successes - even more about the tempestuous (stressful) relationship between he and his brother.

I wonder though, do I see him as a whole person? If I were to put everything I know about him down on paper... his kindness, his sensitivity, his hard work at school, and balance that against the tougher times we face together at home... would I get a different sense of him as a kid? If I were to interview the other people in his life, would their stories about him broaden my perspective?

Same query holds for his siblings. How well do I actually know them? Sure, I see them nearly 24/7 in a certain context - at home here with me - but what are they like when they're at preschool, alone with their daddy, visiting the grandparents, on playdates or in social situations?

Typically I think of our younger son as being the victim of hostility that takes place in the house here, but today I noticed that he himself was instigating a lot of conflict. I had to ask myself, how much does this kid manipulate me? How much does he provoke situations with his brother and sister? I adore him, I adore them all - but really... am I emotionally removed enough to see who he is as a whole? Or do I perceive him as the underdog because he is physically smaller, which affects the way I interpret the conflicts between he and his brother?

Even my beloved guy, my husband... how long has it been since I stood back and really assessed all of the amazing and quirky things that make him who he is?

It's so easy to take the people close to us for granted or place them into a role in our heads or hearts. My mother is unfailingly there for me, always kind enough to take my calls even if it is late at night or early in the morning... even if she herself is tired and worn down. I see her as having the strength and grace of Mother Teresa.

Will I ever pull back far enough from her to view her objectively as a woman with thoughts, dreams and interests of her own? How well do I actually know the whole person that is my mother, other than in her role as my mother?

This line of thinking raises more questions than answers, but I think it is valid to push myself further and really dig deep. For that matter, how well do I actually know myself these days?

If you asked me today, "Who are you - how do you define yourself in relation to the rest of the world?" I think I would answer that I am a mother, a wife and a writer. But is that really all I am? Anyone that knows me would probably say that I don't fit neatly into those images; that there is considerably more to me than that. However I am probably way too close to my own thoughts and experiences to see myself very clearly.

I don't even get a clear self-perception from looking in a mirror. Many days I look briefly in the mirror in the morning and groan over how thin, tired and bony I look... but then I'll see a photograph taken that day and realize that I didn't actually look as terrible as I felt.

I wonder, then, how any person would go about meticulously gathering evidence to broaden his or her own understanding of self... I wonder if it would be possible to dedicate oneself to learning about the people who are very close in our lives.

This makes me contemplate my father in the last three years of his life. Did I grow so much closer to him - especially when he was in the context of the nursing homes - because his persona became so one-dimensional it was finally easy to wrap my head around? Because I could finally understand him?

When I was a child, my father was one of the most brilliant and complicated people I knew... and quite hard to love. As he was dying, all of his complexities fell away and he became childlike in his simplicity, sweetness and tantrums; so very easy to love. I feel tremendous warmth for him to this day, not based on the many years we spent fighting each other when I was young and he was an intellectual giant - but rather thanks to the handful of later years I spent by his bedside as he slowly lost his mind.

If I were to make a systematic, concerted effort to LEARN the people in my life ~ the really close ones that would actually want to be truly known by me ~ I wonder how this would change our relationships. I wonder how this would change me.

I also wonder if we are actually meant to know anyone fully. For example, my father made a lot of choices in his career that I strongly disagreed with... would I have had less compassion or affection for him at the end of life if I had been a fly on the wall during the years and days when he made political adversaries in his university jobs? Or if I'd watched him floundering through his first marriages?

Is it possible that knowing people only partially helps us to love them with total abandon, especially if there are sides of their personality that we might not like?

My son chooses to show certain sides of his personality only within the privacy of our home, around my husband and me. If you were to ask any of his grandparents about him they would be sure to tell you that he was calm, wise and sweet. Very mature for his age. "He is five years old going on one hundred," one of his special grandmothers likes to say.

If she really knew him, 100%, would she still feel this way? I suspect that he does not want to find out, because he carefully controls his outbursts around her. In truth, our son does NOT want to be *fully known* by most people. And that is something interesting to consider as well.

Perhaps many people ~ even the ones I am close to ~ don't want to be fully known. Maybe there are certain parts of ourselves that we choose to keep private and sacred, because they are ours alone. In that vein, perhaps we choose life partners that we sense will respect our privacy and honor both what we share and what we choose not to share.

This is a lot of food for thought, and I am left with more questions than answers. It's just interesting to ponder whether it is necessary to fully know a person in order to truly love them. Obviously ~ at least in my case ~ the answer is no.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27, 2011 ~ Day 108
Unexpected Visitor

I pulled up to our house this afternoon following a long day at the doctor's office just in time to see a healthy looking older man closing our side gate to walk into our back yard. I was a bit surprised as I certainly wasn't expecting anyone. Still, he didn't look menacing since I had only just spoken with my mother at my house watching our kids and everything was fine, I wasn't worried.

I had a very strong suspicion of who this man might be - the owner of the house!

Until today all we knew about the owner of our house was that he was a 'Doctor without Borders' type and hadn't lived here in a long while. I always had the sense that he must have a very good heart, and assumed that he retired from the practice of medicine here in the States and then began to travel to do good around the world. I wondered if his wife had passed on, and this was how he had decided to spend his golden years.

As it turns out, he *is* a very good man but the life story I had imagined for him was all wrong.

The gentleman in question, who I will call Felipe for the purposes of this blog, is of Latin heritage and grew up here. He moved to this house at the age of eight and went to the same local elementary school, junior high and high school that my children will attend. I am not sure where he went to medical school... but he said that they moved as a family to Mexico in 1972 and have been there ever since, including a 10 year sojourn in Guatemala that was cut short by local unrest. He and his wife currently live in Chiapas where he kindly gives his medical care to those who need it. Which means that Felipe has not lived in the United States in nearly 40 years! He is a grandfather with his youngest grandchildren already in college.

The home we now live in belonged to Felipe's parents, or at least to his mother. (I know this because we have found little cards with her elegant handwriting tacked to the walls.) He has fond sentimental memories of this home because it was his place of origin. I could see his eyes mist over a little as he strolled quickly through our house. I wonder if he was thinking of his mother.

Meeting Felipe today just makes me love living in this house even more!!!

Even better, he seems to be a very reasonable man - far more reasonable than we had been led to believe by the property management company. He said that it was no problem for us to put up screens, clear out the old tree and have SDGE check out the water heater for safety. All of the things that the property manager had said no to, Felipe said "If you're paying for it, no problem!"

In return, I invited him and his wife to have dinner with us while they are in town and I really hope he will take us up on it! They live a fascinating life and I would love to hear their stories and their perspective on life in mainland Mexico, especially so close to its southern border.

Here is the awful part though... of all days for him to stop by unannounced! Our house was just a shambles! The kitchen had dishes stacked on every counter, and there were at least 9 loads of laundry waiting by the washer. My kid has been home from school for the last few days and toys were everywhere. Not my finest moment as a homemaker, that is for sure! I hadn't even been in the house today, and so it REALLY really wasn't anything to be proud of.

Oh well... I promised Felipe that when he and his wife join us for dinner the house will be beautifully clean and he won't even recognize it.

(Just one more of the many times that I've wished I was a house goddess. I'll have to settle for being a demi-demi-goddess with good intentions!!!)

I love the way you can pray for guidance on something... and then by the grace of the Divine it comes to pass. I prayed for guidance on my health and a spider came into our house and bit me, causing me to go on doxycycline which is apparently also attacking my lyme disease and co-infections. I found out today that I will be on doxycycline for at least the next 60 days... which is actually a good thing. Thanks to the doxy I've been feeling SO much better and less arthritic than I had in months!

Similarly, I recently prayed for guidance on the multitude of spiders coming into our house (because of the terrible broken screens on our windows that we were not allowed to fix) and now the owner has shown up within days of my prayer and agreed that I could replace the screens. Yay! I'm thrilled.

This house really seems to be a special, magical place for us so far. Someday I will finally get around to scheduling a housewarming party so that it will actually look clean and tidy for our friends and family. I hope to make it as lovely a home for my children as it obviously was for Felipe when he grew here. I would love one day for my own sons to look back and reflect happily on their childhood in this sweet place, just as he does!

At this moment though, I'm most grateful for the little surprises that life continues to send our way. Even when they look bad at the outset (spiders, intruders) they often turn out to be wonderful!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26, 2011 ~ Day 107
Time is the Currency of Love

It's getting to the point where I might need to go back to work, and this makes me feel really sad.

I know that we're not the only family suffering from a tough economy. Most folks we know have had to tighten their belts in one way or another in the past few years.

I don't think for a second that I deserve to whine. I have a roof over my head and food to eat, and my tap water isn't poisoned. That's a lot more than the Japanese mothers near Fukushima can say right now, and they're not complaining bitterly - just taking it all with tremendous grace.

Here are our facts though:

My husband works very hard. He is a dedicated professional and I deeply respect his dreams and ambition. He is committed to two businesses simultaneously, which means there is never a moment when he is truly "done" or up to speed on everything on listed on his seemingly endless "To Do" list. I sometimes have to pry the computer out of his hands, he is so consumed with work. He even works on Saturdays, during his weekly 'personal time'. Sometimes it begins to feel like he works all of the time, and the kids and I really miss him.

Yet despite the fact that he lives with his shoulder to the grindstone, money is painfully tight around here. We have three children, and they are getting bigger every day... which means that food bills are increasing. They need clothes, haircuts, shoes, sundries, small toys and (still) diapers. On top of this, going to school has brought new expenses - field trips, teacher gifts, fundraising drives, and enrichment activities like dance class or sports teams. Every little thing they want to do, whether it be go to the Aquarium or play T-ball, costs money.

Then there are the big ticket items... health insurance and health expenses, car stuff, private preschool tuition, and saving for a house. I'm glad to say that we have some savings for the kids' college education; at present time they are far more likely to go to college than we are to own a house in our new neighborhood.

Surprise expenses overtake us ~ "Oh wow, the transmission is going out?" or (to the old landlord) "You want $1000 to refinish the wood floors just because our kids raced their toy cars on it?" Sigh.

I hate... HATE that money is something that we as a couple have to think about on a daily basis. I am not a materialistic person, as evidenced by the fact that I have cheerfully agreed to do all of my personal shopping at thrift stores and not look in the mirror too often. When I was young I always dressed in the latest styles but these days I am reasonably contented if I manage to match and wear comfortable shoes.

Lately though despite all of our personal sacrifices, it feels like we are drowning financially. We moved into a less expensive place to live, and yet with all of the surprise costs, that still isn't really helping us save.

I visited the dentist yesterday and she presented me with a $337 bill for the 40 minute appointment, which consisted of a 5 minute consultation, some x-rays and a "half" of a cleaning. Apparently I will need to return to complete the other "half" of the cleaning as they ran out of time. Which is a first... How can you charge a person for "cleaning" their teeth if you don't even finish the job? Seems like quite a racket...

As I walked back to the car from her office I found myself choking back tears.

I know that the easiest and fastest way to alleviate this constant pressure weighing on my husband and me would be for me to go back to work. I could get a job with benefits and bring in a double income. My children would have a babysitter and see little of either parent... but they would also have more of a fun, activity filled childhood because I would be able to afford to send them to summer camp, swimming lessons, cub scouts, etc.

On the plus side, I might even be able to buy myself books or clothes ~ or get the periodontal work done that they've been urging ~ without feeling guilty!

The problem is that I really, Really, REALLY don't want to go back to work yet. I love being with my children all day, and my little daughter is not even two years old. I don't want my kids to spend the bulk of their time with teachers and babysitters. I want to be the full time parent. I want to give them the best of my best.

I worked 80 hour weeks until my eldest was 18 months old, and to this day I feel like we are catching up emotionally for that year and a half. I cannot imagine seeing him now for only for two hours a day during the school week, just at dinner and bedtime. I know that this is reality, that many of my best friends are obliged to live this reality with their kiddos every day. I have such respect for them, and often their kids seem to be thriving far more than mine. Even with that knowledge, it hurts my heart to feel pressured to go back to work before I am really ready.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't a laziness thing. I love working, and I am a very dedicated and motivated worker. Work is something that I do well, with ease. I am a brainy person, not a physical one. It is *far* easier for me to sit in front of a computer or stand in front of a classroom than it is for me to do load after load of laundry or bathe my kid for the 3rd time in a day. I'm not that good at being a full time mom, and I know it.

I just love these little people much, and I don't want to be away from any of them. I don't want someone else to pick them up from school and hear about their days, or to play with them in the back yard while I'm miles away doing something totally unrelated to them. If one of my kids gets sick at school, I want to be the mom that can come pick them up right away and bring them home for hot soup and toast. I don't want to be at work worrying about whether one of them is doing his homework or if another is eating mud in the back yard by herself. I don't want to worry about them getting into a car accident with the sitter.

My mom stayed home with me, and my husband's mother stayed home with him. (Until he was 16!) Staying at home is what feels right and natural to me.

At the dentist's office I had been chatting amiably with Lindy,* the dental hygienist who could only do 'half' of the cleaning, and she mentioned that she has two grown children and four grandchildren. I asked her, "Did you work the whole time, or did you stay at home when they were little?"

"Oh darlin'," she sighed. "That was really a different day and age. I stayed home with my children the whole time and so did all of my friends. We had that luxury back then. Times are different now ~ this economy is really terrible for young families like yours. My daughter has four small sons and she is looking at having to go back to work too. It is heartbreaking."

Even if I did decide to go back to work, I'm still not sure how much it would actually improve our finances -- at least for the short term. If both my husband and I decide to work full time, I would need to hire a sitter to watch my daughter all day and to pick up my sons from school in her car and take them back to the house until 5pm. If they have sports activities, she would need to ferry them to practice or games. The nannies I have seen advertised on Craigslist are making from $15 to $17 an hour for watching three children, so even if I could get that cost reduced to say, $12/hr, it still means that with an 8 hour workday we'd be looking at approximately $500/week or $2000 a month for childcare. At a minimum.

Were I lucky enough to get a full time teaching job in this economy, when so many highly qualified and passionate teachers are being laid off, my net income would probably be about $3300 or so. Which means that for $1300 extra dollars a month into our joint account, I would be missing out on EVERYTHING with my children. Plus having to spend my "free time" with them grading papers and planning lessons. If you divide this paycheck by 20 school days a month, it comes out to only $65 a day of net income at the devastating cost of letting someone else raise my children.

$65 a day just doesn't seem worth it... my time with the children is priceless.

Blessedly, there IS some light at the end of the tunnel. In three more years, all of our children will finally have completed private preschool and that will free up *a lot* of our monthly income. Perhaps by then they will all be out of diapers too, and when my daughter is in Kindergarten then it would make perfect sense for me to be working again since she'll be in school until 3:15 daily anyway.

Right now three years feels like a pretty long time, but I'm sure it will pass by in a flash. And, in just one more year my daughter will be attending preschool so I will have full childcare coverage daily until 12:30pm. I could start working half-time in some capacity in just one year. Hey, that's not too bad!

Now that I've hashed this all out on paper I think I've justified the deeper conviction in my heart, which is that I want to stay a SAHM at least for the coming year, and preferably until our youngest goes to Kindergarten. Their childhoods are passing by so swiftly, I am staggered to see that my first born is a tall gangly boy with feet nearly as large as mine. In only five years he will be starting middle school and he probably won't want much to do with his M.O.M. (mean old mama) for a while. I've got to take advantage of this special time while I've got it!

The meaning I take from this ongoing inner struggle is that for me, TIME is the currency of love. Time spent with my kids is worth far more to me than any paycheck.

We may be drowning a tad financially... but when it comes to love shared and time spent together, my children and I are still happily afloat. In the end, I believe that memories of a childhood spent with their mom will matter more to them than new Transformer toys and Barbie kitchens. At least, I hope so.

I know that I will never forget these precious days. I hope we can figure out how to make them last a while longer.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the person mentioned.

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25, 2011 ~ Day 106
Filling The Mommy Tank

Yesterday morning while my husband was out of town I took our three energetic children to ride their bicycles and scooter along the dirt bike path near our new home.

The ride had many purposes - sunshine, fresh air, exercise - but more than anything I really needed to get the three of them out of the house before (a) they killed each other, (b) they broke furniture, or (c) I lost my cool. I'll be honest, I was already dancing on the edge of extreme frustration with these kids who had been fighting like cats and dogs since dawn.

The ride over to the main path was punctuated by minor mishaps - a few cracks in the sidewalk big enough to derail a three year old riding with training wheels, my toddling girl ardently trying to jump out of the jogger stroller, the headstrong eldest son riding like a speed demon down the block paying no heed to driveways.

By the time we reached the relative safety of the wide dirt path and its meadow-like surroundings, I could really feel the exhaustion of the past few days creeping up on me. The kids were fairly adorable as they jumped packed dirt hills on their bicycles, played in mud puddles (literally) and drew with sticks on the ground. I only half noticed all of this however, feeling pretty lost in a "Calgon, Take Me Away" type moment.

What I wouldn't have given right then for a nap mat! A personal masseuse! A babysitter!

There is a really great author and public speaker named Dr. Gary Chapman famed for his work on the theory of the "Five Love Languages" - which apply as much to parents and children as they do to romantic relationships. I'm sure I'll write about his work at some point soon in another blog. Dr. Chapman has a metaphor that he likes to use in his private practice and writings - "the love tank".

"Is your love tank full?" he will ask a client, and he works with couples and families on how to keep each other's love tanks feeling full.

I was thinking about this idly while watching my children play in the grassy, muddy field when a elegant looking Hispanic woman in her late forties (maybe early fifties?) strolled down the bike path and stopped next to where I was standing with my daughter who sat at my feet making mud pies.

"Are all of these children yours?" she asked in a thick, lilting accent.

"Yes, they sure are!" I replied.

"You must be tired."

"I sure am..."

"I can relate. I had five children, all of them two years apart."

"Wow, five? You are a superwoman. I'm struggling with just three!"

"Do you have anyone to help you?"

"My husband tries to help whenever he can. He works very hard. He does his best."

"No no no,"
she shook her head. "There is no TRIES to help. You must take time for yourself. You must have help."

I laughed nervously, thinking that from the look of her large emerald and pearl earrings she probably had quite a lot of help around the house. "Sure," I replied.

Drawing near to me, she looked me in the eyes. "When I am young," she said, "And I have five children myself ~ I tell my husband: "My home is your home. My children are your children. Enjoy!" and I leave and take a day for myself, every week. I must have this time, even when I am only walking around a store in silence not buying anything. I need to have this time to be a better mother in the rest of the week."

I nodded, understanding completely. "Yes."

"Good luck to you, then!" she smiled and then, like a fairy godmother of parenting advice, she vanished down the path.

Returning to my reverie about Dr. Chapman and the love tank I thought, "In addition to the 'love' tank, there is also a mommy tank! When I'm on top of my game as a mother, my tank is full of love-patience-joy-teachable moments-thoughtfulness-creativity and even more patience. I think my mommy tank must be pretty empty today."

It would be another thirteen hours before my husband returned home from his business trip in Mexico, and as the day wore on that mommy tank felt more and more empty. I noticed myself struggling not to snap at the children when they whined about dinner and having to force myself to read their bedtime stories when all I really wanted to do was go take a hot shower and decompress.

By the time I finally fell to sleep at 1am, I could barely speak I was so exhausted... and my final coherent thought was, "Oh, I'm SO glad that tomorrow is my personal day and my husband will have the kids."

Of course, it didn't really work out as smoothly as I'd hoped. Our daugher woke up five hours later and proceeded to awaken the entire household. My husband was less than thrilled to be in charge of the kiddos first thing in the morning after returning home past midnight from his long drive back. We didn't have any coffee ready for him, and the morning got off to quite a rough start.

At last though, he decided to take the kids down for breakfast at their grandparents house and to my great relief, our home was quiet. Ardently I yearned to go back to sleep; but there was writing work to do for my husband's company and a full day of running errands ahead.

Unfortunately I have gotten into the habit of devoting my personal time on Sundays to completing household chores and errands that are more difficult to accomplish during the week with three small children in tow. In an ideal world my personal days would be filled with lunch dates with my girlfriends, seeing new movies, going shopping, working in the garden, reading a good book, getting a massage or anything to rejuvenate me for the week to come.

In reality, my Sundays are filled with multiple loads of laundry, grocery shopping for the week, paying bills, and running to Target. I realize this isn't the healthiest way to decompress but at least it alleviates a little of the stress of the coming week. It's also nice to drive in the car in total silence if I want to, or listen to my music without any kid yelling at me that they don't like the songs.

Today one of my special errands was to stop by the homes of a few wonderful friends to deliver birthday presents for the two children whose parties we missed last weekend when my kids were sick. I was very happy that my dear friend and her three precious boys were home when I knocked on their door, and so happy that she invited me in for a little visiting time.

My friend is the most amazing mother and her great sense of humor and kindness really shine through in the way she parents. I always love to watch her in action with her sons and I think she falls into the category of 'natural mother' that I so yearn to become. In the years I have known her family I have never once seen her lose her cool with her kids.

Her little boys are bright as buttons and quite adorable. I have been telling her for years that we need to arrange a marriage for my daughter with one of them, and this afternoon we joked about that with her eldest son who is nearly six.

"I think I know which one of us your baby girl should marry!" her six-year-old grinned. "She should marry -" and he pointed at the littlest brother - "because they are about the same age as each other!"

his mommy corrected him, "Her little girl is a little bit closer to your middle brother's age. She is almost two, just like he is."

I teased the biggest brother, "Maybe she'll like older men... maybe she can marry you!"

"No, I don't want to,"
he said very seriously. "I don't know who I want to marry yet."

Such a adorable little man!!!

Spending thirty minutes with my friend and her brood was the highlight of my day and it made me miss my own three kids and feel *almost* ready to return home and play with them again. "Why is it so much more relaxing to be here with you and your three precious little ones than at home with mine?" I asked her. "Maybe because I don't feel responsible for yours, so I can just enjoy them..."

After I left her house I did turn the car around toward home and on the drive I reflected more on the mommy tank. "What fills my mommy tank and makes me ready to be a great mom?" I wondered, thinking about all of the nice things my children do for me on a daily basis.

Every day they draw me pictures, write me stories, make me cards, give me hugs and kisses, want to spend time with me, want to please me, want to capture my full attention. These are their ardent attempts to fill my mommy tank.

Yet I don't think this is actually what does it. In the end, I think what fills me up with patience, good will and all of the good things I wish to shower on my kids each day is actually having the chance to be alone and remember who I am WITHOUT my children. When I get enough space from them to remember that although they are the most crucial aspect of my life, they are not ME and that their drama is not my drama... when I have time to simply be Myself for a few hours... that is when my mommy tank fills back up.

I never realized before having children just how critical it is for every human being to have time in their day just to be alone. It doesn't necessarily make sense but the time I have alone by myself - even if it is just five minutes alone in the shower - makes me a better mother during all of the time that I share with my kids.

It doesn't take much alone time for me to feel restored. I've been away from my children for a night or two here or there during their lives, and by the end of 24 hours away I am ALWAYS anxious to get back to them. I love them so much, it isn't really about being apart from them. It's more about reclaiming me.

The meaning of life today for me is this:

When parents take a little time away to remember who WE are, it fills us with vital life energy and joy until we are brimming over and ready to give warmly and enthusiastically again. Taking a few hours for ourselves isn't selfish. It is self-preservative, and will ultimately bless everyone around us - especially our children.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 24, 2011 ~ Day 105
Ice Cream Saves The Day

Next time, we're going straight to ice cream.

My husband has been out of town for two days for a business trip and since his absence fell over a weekend I wanted to do something special for the kids so that they would miss him a little less.

I decided that it would be fun to take them out for dinner and ice cream, along with a stop at Target (their favorite store) to pick up a birthday gift for the 5 year old birthday party they'll be attending tomorrow... and a few little race cars while we were at it.

When we got to the shopping complex I told the boys, "You decide... we can go wherever you want... bookstore, toy store, Target, restaurant... the only thing that MUST be last is the ice cream. We'll do that right before we go home."

Surprisingly they were in total agreement about what they wanted to do. "We want to eat Mexican food first, then go to Target, then get ice cream."

"Great, sounds like a plan."

We unloaded the lightweight double stroller from the car with diaper bag and jackets, got everyone bundled up and strapped in, and then headed to the 'fancy' Mexican restaurant that the boys chose... really more of a mid-level place. Nice enough that there is a ton of brightly colored Mexican art and sculpture decorating the walls and ceiling - economical enough that the plates run about $12 for an adult meal and $6 for a child meal. For us, it was a splurge... and since we rarely go out to eat with the kids (for reasons that will soon be demonstrated) the boys were excited and nervous. "Mommy, I don't like this restaurant," said my eldest. "It's too nice."

"Oh honey," I said, "You guys deserve this. It's been a long week and besides, we almost never go out to eat as a family."

A festively skirted hostess led us to a booth right at the front of the room, a really prominent one that could be seen from every corner of the floor. For a moment I thought about asking to be switched to something less visible... something on the side, say, behind a big plant. However, the kids had already clambered into the booth and were busy messing around with their silverware so instead I thanked her and took the menus.

"I WANT THAT!" my little son said, pointing at a photo of a party platter ($25). "THAT LOOKS YUMMY."

"You're right, that does look really good - but it is actually not a dinner for little people. That is more food than all four of us could eat put together! Here," I handed him the children's menu, "these are all foods made especially for kiddos your age."


"Honey, please don't yell. I wish that I could get you such a nice big platter of food. You must be so hungry. Why don't we look at the children's menu?" I forced a grin and danced the menu invitingly across the table.

"What does it say?" the older boy asked. I began to read through their options, omitting such delicacies as "chicken nuggets" and "hamburger" which really have no place at a Mexican restaurant.

"Oh no, mommy! Look at our sister!"

Looking to my left, I was sorry but not surprised to see that our favorite nearly two year old feisty princess was covered from head to jeans in red salsa. "MORE!" she cried. "MORE!" She pointed at the tortilla chips in the boys' basket, ignoring the four or five chips sitting right in front of her.

"No more," I replied, "Not right now. Dinner time. We don't fill up on chips."

By the time the waiter returned with milks for the kids, my daughter was standing next to me rubbing salsa into my hair. I grabbed a napkin and tried to wipe it off, chunks of tomato and cilantro dropping onto the bench seat. Sigh.

"Can I take your order now, senora?"

"Yes, thank you -"
I looked up at the waiter, a slightly annoyed looking man in his sixties and we both tried to pretend that my hair was not covered in salsa. I then proceeded to order carne asada tacos for the lot of us.

"Will you be ordering any more milk, senora?"

"Oh no,"
I replied, "I'm sure this will be plenty. After all, you just brought them."

The waiter cleared his throat politely and I looked around the table - realizing that in the span of one minute my sons had drunk about ten ounces of milk each. Their plastic bottles were totally empty.

"Boys? Wow. That was A LOT of milk. I hope you're still going to have room for dinner."

"We will, mommy!"
they assured me. The little brother burped loudly, then began to giggle.

"Will that be all for now, senora?" Our waiter seemed quite eager to get to the next table.

"Of course. Thank you. Oh... when you get the chance, could we please have some more napkins?"

Meanwhile, the squirmy little girl to my left had begun to bounce, causing little bits of salsa to fly off of her hair and shirt - splattering across the table and all over my jacket.

"Sweet girl," I intoned in my mommiest of mommy voices... "Let's get you cleaned up." I pulled a wet wipe out of the diaper bag.

As my wipe equipped hand neared her face, she began to giggle hysterically and then to scream. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" she cried. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO KEEEEEEN MEEEEEEEEEEE! (No clean me)"

With a few furtive passes over her face and hands, I decided to let well enough alone. The women at the booth in front of us were already staring me down, presumably because they could not hear themselves speak over the din coming from my daughter.

"Mommy," said my son, "I don't think our sister is ready to go to eat at a restaurant yet."

"You may have a point,"
I agreed. "But here we are, so let's make the best of it! I'm sure it will get better once her food arrives."

I scrounged through the diaper bag looking for the books that had been there a few hours prior, then remembered with frustration that I had pulled them out when I cleaned it before we got into the car. "Darn, I don't think we have any books or toys with us right now."

"What about coloring?"
asked the little brother. "She might like to color."

"Great idea!"
We waved down the next waitress to come our way. "Excuse me," I asked, "Would you have have crayons here for little people?"

"No," she replied and gave us a little smirk. It wasn't quite a smile, but it wasn't a frown either. "We don't have those things."

"Oh dear,"
I turned back to the boys. "Let's see if mommy has a pen."

My daughter was now jumping up and down in the booth. Fumbling through my purse, my hands hit something thin and plasticky. "Yippee! A pen!" I smiled and brought it into the light. "Hey girl," I turned to the fussy jumper. "Do you want to draw on a napkin?"

She grabbed the pen from my hand and lurched toward the table top, poised to draw on the table itself.

In a deft arm movement worthy of some kind of medal, I thrust a paper placemat under her descending pen just in time to save the table from irreparable scribbling.

"That was close!" the eldest laughed. "She's pretty crazy tonight."

"I WANT TO DRAW TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!"
announced the little brother.

"Oh sweetheart. I'm so sorry. I only have one pen."

he stood up indignantly on the bench seat he was sharing with his brother. I glanced down to make sure my daughter was still drawing on the napkin, and not the table.

At which point the older brother, annoyed, apparently tried to pull the little brother back down... and managed to pull off the little one's pants and underwear!

"MOMMY!!!!!!!!!! HE PULLED DOWN MY PANTS!!!!!!!"

I looked up from tending to my daughter who was drawing to see my nearly four year old son standing half naked on the bench seat across from me in the booth, his booty and other associated parts hanging out for all the restaurant to see, with his pants around his knees.

"Oh my gosh, what are you doing hon?"




"Please pull your pants back up right now! My goodness."
I turned to the eldest. "Did you do that?" His eyes began to well with tears and he shook his head violently.

"Look, you're not in trouble. I just want you to tell me the truth. Did you pull down his pants?"

"I was just trying to get him to sit down."
His lip began to wobble. "This is a fancy restaurant. It is too nice. He shouldn't be standing up."

"Okay. I understand. Please don't do that again though. Next time you can let me take care of it. Remember, that's my job. I'm the mommy."

The five year old's entire face crumpled and right in the middle of the restaurant he began to cry loudly. "WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

At this point, I lost my appetite and realized that taking the kids out for a nice dinner was probably not going to turn out well. Sucking in my gut I resolved to do whatever it took to get us out of the restaurant in one piece, without anyone breaking something, fighting or losing their dessert.

I began to pray that dinner would arrive.

I prayed and prayed and prayed but the Divine must've had a sense of humor last night because dinner did not arrive, at least not before one of my sons had head-butted the other one and lost his dessert.

By the time the food hit the table, acid reflux from stress was already burning up my esophagus and my shoulders felt very tight. "Oh good!" I said, tightlipped. "Here's our food!"

announced the little son, poking at his taco. "THERE'S CHEESE IN THERE."

said the big son.

Right then, the salsa covered daughter apparently decided to rub sour cream all over her face and then nose dive into my brand new red shirt. Sigh. (*This* is why I don't buy new clothes. Ever.)

Clearly, the situation at hand was rapidly devolving. What had seemed like a wonderful dinner plan just one hour earlier had now begun to resemble a Chevy Chase movie - except I'm not that funny. "Okay guys," I said. "I'm not going to make you eat something you don't want. Just know that anyone who doesn't finish dinner won't be able to enjoy dessert with the rest of us."

"You already took away his dessert mom,"
the older boy reminded me.

"BUT I WANT DESSERT! I WANT IT!" cried the little one.

Drats, I had already forgotten that he'd lost his dessert ~ meaning that I'd lost a lot of leverage at the dinner table. "Well, we'll see about that," I improvised. "You lost your dessert for head-butting your brother but that doesn't mean your brother might not offer you a nice big bite of his ice cream; OR, if you *really* want ice cream, I suppose you could pay me from your piggy bank. Maybe I can loan you the money to buy a cup of ice cream and you can pay me back when we get home."

This seemed to perk the little guy up considerably. "Okay!" he chirped, and began to tuck away the despised taco.

Exhaling, I wolfed down a carne asada taco and waved dynamically at the first passing waiter. "Check please!"

"Mommy, I'm full,"
frowned the oldest boy. "My tummy hurts." He clutched his belly but gamely tried to take another bite.

"MEME WANNA MORE!!!!" screeched the toddler, grabbing across the table for her brother's dinner - leaving her own dinner untouched.

"I'M FULL TOO!" whined the little brother. "BUT I STILL WANT DESSERT!!!"

said the waiter - and handed me the check.

"Thank you," I whispered, choking when I saw the $50 tab. "Gosh, $50 seems like a lot of money to pay for beef tacos and milk," I thought to myself, handing him my check card. "What a waste." I realized to my chagrin that I could have made the identical meal at home for less than $10.

It nearly took an act of Congress but at long last I was able to get the children back into the stroller, pack up our meal, lamely apologize to the busboy for the salsa and sour cream stickily coating the booth and trudge with my three children back into the late afternoon air - feeling like I'd just survived a battle.

Even though I was very ready to go home at this point, we still had to go through Target to get the birthday present... which entailed another hour of pep talks and mediation between whining and fussing children as I tried to navigate the entire crew through the store's wide aisles while pushing the stroller in one hand and pulling the shopping cart with the other. (While we were there we picked up other household staples like diapers, wet wipes and laundry soap.) My sons nearly got into a knock-down drag-out fight over who got to help push the cart.

Finally we made it back to the car, no simple feat while threading both the shopping cart and stroller through a sea of cars that had descended upon the shopping mall. I had just lifted the last Target bag into the back of our car when my younger boy screamed "MOMMY!!! ICE CREAM!!! WE NEED TO GET ICE CREAM!!!"

I stared at the lot of them... their fussy, tired, pale faces. They looked worn down and more than a little sad. They stared back at me, hopefully. "Please, mommy?" asked the eldest, adding "You SAID."

I envisioned the misery of our 40 minute drive home with a carload of cranky, screaming, tired children. I wasn't in a rush to get to that point.

"Oh. Hmmmmm... All right. I did say we could do that. But you (gesturing to the little brother) will have to pay for your own ice cream since you were unkind to your brother."

he sang out.

The sky was growing dark and the children were very quiet as we strolled over to the ice cream shop on the other side of the parking lot. Perhaps we were all just conserving our energy, recovering from the tense hours we'd just spent together. As we approached the ice cream shop its large glossy photos of ice cream cones beckoned to us.

"Mmmmm.... cake batter!"

"Yummy, mommy! I want the blue ice cream!"

"Oooooh - chocolate!"


Their little eyes widened in awe as the high schooler behind the counter swiftly scooped several snowballs worth of flavored sweet cream into small paper cups. To them, she was a goddess. They showered her with their most radiant smiles and thanked her profusely without being reminded.

"Thank you!" the eldest son glowed.

"Thank you!" grinned his little brother.

"MEME WANNA I QWEEM!" said the baby girl.

"Do you boys need napkins?" I asked, and then looked up bemused to discover that my sons had gingerly seated themselves at a table and were inhaling their ice cream with intense focus. And giggling.

"This is yummy!!! I love it!!!"

"Thank you mommy! My ice cream is so good!!!"

echoed the toddler, who took turns getting tastes from her brother's ice cream cups.

Despite the major frustration of our late afternoon adventure, I had to smile. After several hours of good intentions, missteps and wasted funds, in the end all it took to make the children feel loved and happy were two "Kid's Cups" worth of blue and pink ice cream.

My brood fell asleep in the car on the way home and went through the bath and straight into bed without complaint as soon as we got home. I slumped into the couch in exhaustion and stared at the wall in silence for thirty minutes until my brain recovered from the stress of the afternoon.

There are probably A LOT of morals to this story, but in the end here are my main two takeaways:

(1) It doesn't take spending a lot of money or going somewhere 'special' to make small children feel happy... in fact, little treats may make them even happier than large ones.

(2) Ice cream has the power to transform even a rotten evening into something magical and memorable.

The next time my husband leaves town, we're going to skip all of the fanfare and expense. We're heading straight for the ice cream aisle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23, 2011 ~ Day 104
Speaking Truth

My sister just raised a really excellent point about this 365 blog... asked me about something I have actually thought about at length during the past few months.

She pointed out that since my children and husband are essentially the featured characters whose lives play out on these pages, the kids may not appreciate it very much when they are sixteen, fourteen and twelve years old to read about their rougher moments-tantrums-conflicts-etc.

I really appreciated her honest concern, especially since she is such a great mother to four teenagers herself. She's made it a lot further than I have on this road of parenting and is kindly giving me a preview for potential pitfalls ahead. "What? You told them that I threw a rock at his head when I was five? Man, now everyone I know is going to think I'm a bully! Thanks, MOM!"

I would be lying if I said that this didn't worry me, because the whole point of this project is to leave my children with something substantive that they will be able to read and have all throughout their lives.

Still, I have really dug deep over this issue and have made my peace with the issue of potential future hurt feelings.

I adore my children. They are the flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. They are basically my sun-moon-stars and rainbows... and also my thunderclouds and mudslides.

I am writing keeping this blog every day to give them an intimate view of the meaning I find in life... the meaning I find in all of its wonders and all of its most heinous moments.

If I write to them only about the best moments we share as a family, my blog will be two dimensional like a photo album where every person is smiling in every photo. Pretty, but not true to life. I won't be giving them a gift of substance; just a gift of surface beauty where everything looks perfect - but deep down we all know that nothing in life is perfect. Least of all me, their mother.

My friend and I were talking the other day about how films do a disservice to couples, making you feel like the hardest part of a relationship is just the time when you are actually getting together - or up until you actually get married. As the couples go riding off into the sunset, we look at them and think, "If only I could find my Prince or Princess Charming, everything would be amazing in my life forever after."

Yet, the reality is that for most couples the hard work starts after you get married and that staying married and keeping love alive is a mixture of art-faith-chemistry and devotion.

The same thing goes for having a baby. Just three days ago I was waiting in front of my eldest son's classroom to pick him up from school and struck up a conversation with another mother there to pick up her five year old daughter. She was tending to a small baby in an infant seat and I asked her how old her baby was.

"Three months."

"Oh wow. Are you sleeping at all?"
(This is the kind of question that anyone who has had kids or been around kids much knows is a big deal for at *least* the first three months of a child's life.)

Her face crumpled, just a tad. "Hardly at all. She keeps tricking me. One night she sleeps through the night and I think we've passed through the hardest part, and then the next night she wakes up every hour."

"Ugh. I feel for you, I've been there," I said. "It's rough in the beginning."

"Tell me about it!"
she sighed - and smiled. "If anyone really understood how tough this job was before taking it on, NO-ONE would have children."

"But once they're here, they're just about the most amazing things in the universe," I added.

"Exactly. You wouldn't have it any other way." She smiled adoringly at her baby.

So this is another great example of reality vs. perception. In reality, bearing and raising children is not an easy job - even for "natural mothers" (and I am not one of those). When teens watch movies or MTV television shows glorifying pregnancy and motherhood, they might be likely to think that it's fun or easy to be a mom or dad... that there is no reason to wait, go to college, see the world, get a job.

I'm sure not every parent would agree with me, but I believe it is more fair to my kids to be honest with them about how tough this job of parenting can be - and then make clear to them that I wouldn't trade it for a second, even when I feel like I am failing them as a mother.

My own parents raised me in a very sheltered way ~ and I love the way they tried to protect my naivete. I love how much they loved me. Still, in retrospect their rose-colored advice to "Only sleep with someone whose child you would be willing to have..." was probably not as useful to me in the long run as "I'm here for you if you ever want to ask questions about contraception" might have been.

Here is the raw truth:

My parents spent a lot of time building me up and telling me what a great person I was from the age five through seventeen. This set up a real incongruity: at school other children would objectively notice things about me that honestly *weren't* perfect - like how sensitive and overly emotional I was; my lack of confidence; my tendency to retreat into books; my anguished desire to have a 'real best friend'. They saw my neediness and self-doubt. It wasn't attractive.

I would come home asking, "What is wrong with me?" and my parents would tell me, "Nothing honey. You're just fine the way you are." This happened from a young age all the way until I left for college.

It was only when I hit the real world away from the buffer of my family that I was able to squarely face some of my worst flaws; and thus, finally grow up. College friends and roommates, boyfriends, and especially my dearest childhood pals... all of them gently and truthfully helped me to look in the mirror and evaluate all the good and bad together.

Finally I was able to see myself from the outside - at least to a greater extent - and actually choose which personal traits I wanted to let go of (and which ones I wanted to celebrate).

I love my parents to excess. I adore my entire family. I know they have always done the best they could with me, and they are still devoted to me and supporting me every single day. All they've ever wanted is for me to be happy, and they have sacrificed so much to give me happiness. They've all seen me at my absolute worst and they still love me. I am so grateful.

However, I want to be a different kind of parent. If any of my three children ever comes to me and asks, "What is wrong with me? Why don't the other kids want to play with me?" I don't want to brush of his or her question ~ especially if there is any way that I can actually be of help. I strive to be the mother that says, "Well, what do YOU think is going on?" and then tries to support them as they grapple with the bigger picture of how they personally fit into the world.

If my kid tells me that he or she is having trouble with the other kids at school, I'll take it seriously and encourage them to be honest with me about their inner world and 'real-time' experiences, even if they think I might disapprove. I think there is an important role for authenticity and candor in a parent-child relationship. Without unvarnished truth, it's hard to develop or maintain real trust.

This is why, despite the extremely valid point that my sister makes about the potential effects of this blog on our family's future... I'm sticking with gut instinct about what to write here, and how to write it. My legacy will be 365 days of emotional honesty coupled with vast, heartfelt love.

Bug, Bean and Bee -

I love each of you with every ounce of me for being EXACTLY who you are: Sometimes delightful; sometimes exhausting; sometimes heartbreaking; ALL of the time amazing and adorable. Your dad and I know you three kids better than anyone else in the world does (at least for now!) and we accept and treasure you 100%. Whatever and whomever you decide to be, we are proud of you... and we'll always tell you the truth as we see it (in a compassionate way).

Inevitably as years pass, there will be times when our 'truth' about how the world works will differ from your own. This is probably how it is meant to be, with parents and children. We have so much to learn from each other. You are our teachers too.

The three of you are the most important people in the world to us. Your father and I are doing our best... and we hope that someday you'll forgive us for learning on the job. XOXO

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 22, 2011 ~ Day 103
Time To Face Fears

My mother has a theory that when you are ardently resisting something that you are really destined to do, life has a way of forcing you into the right path. This is one of the reasons why she relies much of the time on her intuition; she would rather follow the whisperings of her subconscious at an early stage than get slammed into heading in the right direction later.

I guess a really broad example for this theory would be like the person who knows deep down that they should eat healthier foods, get more sleep, exercise, stop smoking, etc. but they don't act on their inner knowing until one day they get really ill and they no longer have a choice - it's come to the point where they must either choose to live a healthier lifestyle... or lose their life.

I try to listen to my own inner knowing when it comes to making decisions; but all too often my mind and heart are clouded by fear or anxiety.

I don't always know exactly where the messages are coming from. For example, am I scared to fly on a given airplane because something is ACTUALLY going to happen to that flight? Or, am I simply scared to fly because I'm uber-type A and have control issues? In the heat of the moment, it is often difficult for me to discern where my feelings are rooted.

Last summer after nearly a year of debilitating autoimmune health problems I began to see a rheumatologist for whom I have huge respect. I drive several hours each way to see him, but it is 100% worth it and knowing that he is on my team has brought me so much peace.

This doctor (practicing for over 30 years) believes that many autoimmune conditions are caused by the immune system reacting inappropriately to subacute chronic bacterial infections. He has been a pioneer in the movement to use antibiotics to treat autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogrens in this way. He also uses traditional pharmaceuticals, supplements and prescribes lots of exercise and positive thinking.

I found him through an online support organization and over time have learned that he has put at least 10 people I now know personally into remission from their debilitating autoimmune problems. It's pretty amazing, actually.

For example, he works with a girl diagnosed with scleroderma (terrible disease affecting connective tissue, kidneys, lungs, heart ~ often fatal) who went from having hand ulcerations and a lung capacity of 60% at age 16 to complete remission AND winning a NCAA championship in swimming... all in the course of 4-5 years. She was basically dying and now she is a star athlete, about to graduate from her university with a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology, and on her way to medical school. All thanks to antibiotics.

She isn't alone though, I have become acquainted with so many people getting well from "incurable" autoimmune diseases that I had sort of forgotten that people do actually die of them.

In any event, since last August my rheumatologist has been encouraging me to take doxycycline for my autoimmune thyroid and adrenal problems and I have sweetly but consistently asked for more time to see if my regimen of herbs, vitamins and probiotics would be enough by themselves. (I suffer from chronic lyme disease and work with a LLMD to tackle lyme and co-infections.)

I think antibiotics are amazing but not to be taken lightly - all medicines come with risk - and I also believe antibiotics are overprescribed. I wanted badly to see if I couldn't get through my myriad health issues without them.

For eight months then, I have been dancing around this issue. "Just a little more time," I've said at every appointment.

Then last week a little sore appeared on my left hand. It looked like a burn at first, just a tiny little burn that I couldn't remember getting... so I just washed it off with soap and put some neosporin ointment on it. Day by day I would see the sore as I washed dishes, drove the car, brushed my daughter's hair, typed on the computer. It just didn't seem to be getting any smaller.

I tried hydrogen peroxide; then learned that you aren't supposed to use a lot of that these days because they've discovered that it kills off new skin cells forming under your scab. I tried saline solution. I tried a little antibiotic skin cream I had left over from a different skin infection years ago. Nothing worked.

Finally in frustration I discovered that our health insurance company provides a free nurse hotline that you can call 24/7 to ask for medical information and advice. It seemed to me that Aetna would be the LAST group of individuals that would actually encourage me to seek medical treatment, since they've already paid so much for our family's collective health in the last three years. I figured that I had nothing to lose and maybe the nurse could give me some advice about wound healing.

I tried to describe the cut to the nurse: "It's the strangest looking thing. It looks like someone took a miniature ice cream scoop to my hand and cut out a perfect circle. It just doesn't look like a normal cut. Since when does anyone get a cut in the shape of a circle?"

She asked how large it was, and a few other questions - does it itch? does it burn? are there red lines coming off of it? is it puffy? is there pus? and then she gave me the two words that have now changed my life.

"Spider Bite."


"Well ma'am, I can't see your hand over the telephone but from everything you've told me this sounds like a classic spider bite. And it may be infected. So, given your health history I think you do need to see a doctor, sooner than later."

"Wow. Really?"

"From what you've told me, yes."

"Okay then. Wow. Thanks."

I sat down and thought for a few minutes. The house was silent, it was nearly eleven o'clock and as usual I was the only person awake late at night. I considered my husband's work schedule and decided that it made the most sense to go right away to urgent care, rather than asking him to miss any part of his workday. I knew my GP would not be able to see me right away, it typically takes several days to get an appointment.

So, bundling up against the chilly night air I whispered to my husband where I was headed and ventured forth.

The drive to the local urgent care isn't that bad, it took me about 8 minutes to get there and it was actually quite a beautiful night. I rarely go out at night by myself so in a way, the drive was a special quiet time for me to sift through the events of the day behind me.

At the urgent care, the doctor looked at my hand for about 20 second before loudly affirming: "Spider bite. With a small staph infection. So, do you have any antibiotic allergies?"

We bantered back and forth for several minutes about the various antibiotics that he could prescribe for staph, and somewhere in there I asked him about doxycycline. "Do you ever give that for a bite like this?"

His eyebrows raised. "Well, yes. Doxy would be an excellent choice for staph. It is especially effective in cases of MRSA. We don't typically offer it as a first-line though because it causes stomach upset. Usually we'll give a Bactrim first."

I explained to him that my rheumatologist had recommended for some time that I take doxycycline for a totally unrelated condition, and that if I really needed to take an antibiotic for this staph infection then with the doxy I would be killing two bugs with one drug.

"Well, your logic is impeccable so I have no problem prescribing doxycycline for you. If the culture comes back positive for MRSA that would've been the next step anyway."

And with that, he was gone. A nurse brought me two prescriptions, some information on cellulitis, and asked me to follow up with my GP in a few days. They released me back into the quiet night and I headed for home. In all, the entire trip took one hour ~ pretty darn good for urgent care.

On the drive I thought about the irony of the situation. "I've been avoiding this drug for months; and now, I actually *have* to take it. Funny how life works."

This morning my husband sweetly went to get my prescriptions filled, given that I had barely slept last night due to worry. He brought them back to me and I took a deep breath, wondering what the side effects might be. "No guts, no glory!" I smiled and then took the meds.

I didn't know what to expect - but here is what has happened to me so far: First, I got very tired. Then, I grew warm - very noticeable in a person whose circulation is poor. Next, I began to feel clear-headed. Like, "Wow, I haven't thought this clearly in a YEAR!" clearheaded. Then I got an intense burst of energy. Which takes us pretty much up to the present time.

What I've discovered in this process is that two of my biggest fears in the last year - spider bites and taking doxycycline - are not really that big of a deal. At least so far. My anxiety about each thing turned out to be so much worse than the actual reality.

When it comes to my big fears, this seems pretty par for the course. The events I've worried about most in my life seem to almost invariably have proven less terrible than I had imagined them to be. I wonder if, when I am old and the time actually does come for me to pass away, if it will then seem less bad than it does right now. Maybe I'll cross over to the other side thinking, "Is *this* all death is? Wow, that's so much better than I expected!"

So if I've learned one thing in the last 24 hours, it is that sometimes you have to stand and face your fears in order for them to melt away.

As a parting thought, in retrospect I remembered that when I tried to "release" a black house spider outdoors last week to show the boys that spiders are not all 'bad' (and that we shouldn't kill living things for fun)... I did fumble the glass as I was letting it go and felt a small needle like sensation in my left hand when it dropped down. I wondered fleetingly at the time if the little guy had bit me, and then totally forgot about it.

Today when I shared this story with my mother she responded, "Well honey, life is funny. You saved that spider's life and maybe in a weird way, it returned the favor. You've been resisting doxycycline so hard for almost a year, but maybe you actually do need to be on it so that you can finally get well."

Maybe she's right! Time will tell.

I hope one day soon to be able to feel genuine thanks for that spider and its potent bite.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21, 2011 ~ Day 102
Big Step Backward
(...tiptoeing ahead)

It takes a lot to make my husband angry. He is just not the angry type. Sure, there are days when he *really* needs his coffee and other times when I notice that a bike ride might improve the general atmosphere ~ but overall he's got a very mellow, gentle heart and isn't one to become 'all fired up'.

This is why, when I entered our home last night after my first Pilates Therapy session, I knew something must really have gone wrong. My sweet tempered husband was furious, in a very controlled way.

"Our son is in his room. He will not be joining us for dinner," he snapped. "He is in a world of trouble with me."

"What happened?"

"While we were driving to the bike store he threw a LARGE ROCK at (our smaller son)'s head which made IMPACT! then bounced off and hit the windshield. He could have gotten us into a major car accident. He is VERY lucky that the windshield didn't break."

"Oh no. How is the little guy doing?"
I asked, rushing toward the kitchen where the smaller children were eating.

"He's okay. It was a real shock to him though to get hit by that rock, he cried for a while."

Having made certain that there were no lumps, dents or cuts left over from the rock attack, I turned back to my husband.

"So, what did you do with the older one? Throwing rocks in the car is definitely unacceptable. Did he do it on purpose? Has he had a consequence?"

"Yes, it was definitely thrown on purpose. And yes, he got into BIG trouble with me in the car. I told him this was unacceptable and there would be a serious consequence. I'm not sure yet what that should be. He says he isn't hungry and doesn't want any dinner, so I gave him a shower and he's in bed now."

"Oh dear. Honey, he has to eat."

"I know! Maybe you can talk to him."

Sighing, I edged toward the bedroom that our three children share. Since the other two were still eating homemade kale and white bean soup, I hoped this would give the eldest boy and me the opportunity to have a private heart-to-heart.

KnockKnockKnock. "Honey? Can mommy come in?"

There was a muffled reply. Gingerly I opened the door and saw that my son had wrapped himself in all of his covers so that only his eyes and nose were showing. Despite the darkness in the room, I could see the tears welling in his eyes.

It was easy to see that he felt very badly about what had happened - both hurting his brother AND getting in trouble with his daddy, who he worships. This son truly does have a warm and caring heart; it's impulse control that we're working on.

Sitting quietly next to him, I gave his sobbing little body a big hug. It was easy to see that this child needed love more than a lecture at that moment. "Little man," I gently asked. "Can you tell me what happened?"

After a few moments spent trying to convince me that he hadn't done anything and it was all his brother's fault, the truth came out. "But mommy," he added, once he had finished telling me about the rock, "You don't give me enough lunch and that sandwich wasn't big enough and I'M HUNGRY!!!! And I don't know why but I do bad things when I'm hungry." He snuffled into his arm, "I can't control myself."

I smiled in the dark; actually a bit impressed that my son could be this self-aware. Hypoglycemia runs in my side of the family and my husband learned very early on in our relationship not to let me get too hungry ~ because when my blood sugar drops I become either heinously grouchy or ridiculously indecisive.

Counting back, I realized that my son probably hadn't eaten anything more than a handful of potato chips in eight hours. Hunger really could have played a significant part in his lack of self control, this time around.

"Buddy," I consoled. "I think there is something we can do about all of this, to help you make better choices. I know you know *how* to control your behavior because you do it all of the time so well. You control your anger at school, on sports teams, on playdates, with your grandparents and even at the doctor's office. It is only with your brother that you seem to really let it fly.

I understand that you need a safe space in which to release your feelings when you feel sad, mad or frustrated. You just need to understand that your brother is NOT that safe space. We can find other ways for you to release that energy."

Together we then came up with three ways in which he could get a safe outlet for his pent-up emotions: eating, exercising or working on his journal (the notebook 'blog' he's been laboring over every day) in privacy.

"This is what grownups do, when they have a hard day or a frustration," I explained. "It is totally normal to have lots of feelings, some of which are grumpy. Everyone feels happy, sad, excited, angry, hopeful or annoyed sometimes. Grownups find the way that works for them to release those feelings so that they don't hurt anyone. And everyone has their own way of doing it."

"Do you feel mad sometimes mommy? What do you do to get better?" he asked.

"Well honey, when I'm feeling lousy I write. I write in my journal, or a letter to a friend, or I work on the blog I am putting together for you and your brother and sister. I release my emotions through writing."

"I like to write, too!"

"That's great honey. And there are many other ways to let go of mad feelings too. Your daddy gets out his emotions on the bicycle. Your uncle goes surfing. Your Mima prays. Everyone finds their own way to get back into balance. Also, you may find out that on one day eating makes you feel better but on another day, you might want to dance around or even take a nap."

We talked a little longer and agreed that his job is to work on becoming aware of the moments when he feels like he is about to lash out at his brother. When he feels this coming on, I encouraged him to call out to me - "Mommy, I need a safe space!"

"I promise that I will listen to you if you say this to me,"
I added. "And I will act quickly to help you prevent any fights from happening."

He then agreed to join us at the dinner table and at the table we explained to his daddy and brother the new plan. "If you feel like your brother may be about to get angry with you," I said to the little one, "You need to call out - "Mommy! Brother needs a safe space RIGHT NOW!""

"How about just calling out - 'Safe Space!'" my husband asked. "That seems faster and more to the point."

"Sure, perfect."

We ended family time directly after dinner, with the boys still a bit cautious around each other. One son didn't want to get hurt again and the other didn't want to get in trouble again. My husband suggested that I contact our new play therapist to see if she had any advice for an appropriate consequence. "I don't know what to do here," he said. "If I had thrown a rock at someone in the car when my father was driving, I would have gotten spanked."

I agreed to contact her, and did so with a fairly heavy heart before going to bed.

This morning I vowed to stay on top of my parenting game, as I knew my husband would be out of town and the buck stopped with me to head off any sibling friction. I was uber-organized, staying up well past midnight to make sandwiches and pack lunches; have the bowls and spoons ready for oatmeal, laying out their clothing in advance. I made sure to leave plenty of time for the school run, knowing full well that there would be at least one morning tantrum thrown by at least one child.

More importantly, I really stayed on top of checking in with my son emotionally all day. "How are you doing?" I asked. "How are you feeling?"

Every time I could hear in his voice that he was edging toward whiny or frustrated I immediately asked, "Do you need a safe space right now?"

In this way I intercepted a fight over who got to ride the scooter; who got to sit in the middle of the couch for "Caillou" and who got served a second helping of dinner first. It was not a perfect day ~ twice I caught him hurting his brother. Still, there was one great moment when he shouted "Mommy, Safe Space!" and headed off his own potential conflict.

Another wonderful moment - when the little brother called out "Safe Space, Safe space!" and I rushed in to find the older one with fist clenched and drawn back, not having hit yet.

"Are you hungry?" I asked - and the fight was averted.

I'm not sure yet whether this new strategy will pay off in the long term, or even what our therapist actually thinks of it. She kindly wrote me back today and suggested that I pick up a copy of a book called "Wheel of Choice" and then co-create a unique Wheel of Choice with our son giving him multiple options for how to solve the stresses or frustrations that he is experiencing... using the "Get a Snack", "Exercise", or "Private Journaling Time" as three of his choices on the wheel.

I haven't had much time to look into the Wheel of Choice she mentioned yet but it seems very interesting. Once again I am so impressed with this therapist who clearly knows a great deal about positive discipline and parenting. I'm so grateful to have found her, and glad I came to the conclusion that it didn't matter that she lives in our neighborhood. Help is help - and we need help.

Tonight when I put the kids to bed, I gave each son a high-five for managing to make it through the entire day fairly peacefully. "Nice work guys!" I hugged them. "I'm so proud of you both."

I know it is only one day; but even a single day without the stress of emotional conflict is a good day for me. I'm grateful for the respite from battle. I'm grateful for the opportunity my boys have to become better friends when they actually manage to spend time together without friction. I'm especially grateful for the fact that they're always willing to try out the wacky ideas I come up with to try to resolve our family problems... and that I'm still optimistic enough to keep coming up with new solutions to try out.

So... one giant step backward, but still persistently (stubbornly!) inching forward in the best way we know how.

Onward and upward :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20, 2011 ~ Day 101
A Reason For All Things

I spent three lovely hours with an old high school friend this morning and at one point in our conversation we agreed that despite how challenging life and parenting can sometimes be, everything is happening just as it is meant to.

Even though we can't always see *why* things develop as they do, there usually turns out to be a deeper underlying purpose. Happily, with the passage of time these reasons may become clear.

Last night I shared a story on this blog about a university instructor ("The Writer") who hadn't crossed my mind once in the last fifteen years. In retelling the story of his fiction writing workshop and how it affected my decisions and ultimate life path, I had the opportunity to re-examine a particularly pivotal incident from the distance of a few decades.

Later ~ after publishing my post ~ I happened to be folding laundry on the couch and began to think even more deeply about everything I had described.

For the first time I made a mental connection between how wretched I felt that day while my story was being workshopped... and the way in which I myself created - years later, as a teacher - an aspect of the writing process for my own students that I called "Positive Peer Critique". The PPC was a key element of my self-invented technique for writing instruction. It consisted of a form given to each reviewer that would be critiquing a student story. The form was divided into three sections:

(1) Which character did you like best in this story? Give your response in complete sentences using specific examples.
(2) Which event did you find most interesting in the story? Make sure to include thoughtful details and explain why the action was meaningful to you.
(3) Please give three positive suggestions to the author for ways in which they can improve their story. Make sure to use positive language, e.g. "I like your story and think it could be even better if..."

I created the PPC at the age of 21, just three years after the demise of my own aspirations to be a writer, and it functioned as the core of the writers' workshop model I used with hundreds of students Grades 1 through 8 over the course of a decade.

I can't believe that in all of these years it never once occurred to me before last night that I must have invented the PPC specifically to prevent any of my own students from ever experiencing the misery during a story workshop that I had gone through myself. I wanted my students to love writing and never dread the moment when it was time to share their characters or ideas with the rest of the class. I yearned for each and every one of them to feel valued as a writer, and to develop confidence in their own ability with words.

I couldn't see it at the time but today I can say without question that my failure as a student author led me to help many others to grow as writers; and I was surely a better equipped and more sensitive teacher for having personally experienced humiliation in a writing class.

The beautiful, beautiful thing about this is that at least three of my former students have gone on to become writers. These three women ~ now in their early twenties ~ were third graders when I first began to teach. I was lucky enough to work with them daily for two years until I returned to graduate school.

One of them now lives in Manhattan and was recently published in Harper's Bazaar... another is working full time on a novel, and a third wrote to me two weeks ago to tell me that out of all the teachers she studied with in her life I turned out to be the most influential. (Such a massive, humbling compliment.) She is a poet and has now decided to pursue a career as a creative writing teacher and contacted me to ask for advice about teaching. (I told her to lead with her heart.)

So when I look back over the past 17 years, the pattern at last becomes clear!

The Writer and my own failure --> led to my intense desire as a teacher to make sure that my own students believed in themselves as writers and learned how to give and receive criticism with grace --> which led to the growth of these same students into devoted writers/published authors...

I can see it!

I can finally see why all of my steps and missteps along the way were necessary! There WAS a larger plan in action, much greater than any of my own personal desires or dreams. I was meant to participate in some way in the development of these three outstanding writers!

This epiphany is SO comforting.

We live in a world that frequently feels overwhelmingly violent and chaotic... all too often I find myself clutching my hands in despair over the bumpy ride. This past week, for example, watching events unfold in Japan - it is quite easy to feel lost and depressed about the millions of lives that are shattered there... the thousands of lives that are lost.

I wonder if someday, many years down the road, it will be possible for the Japanese to look back upon the triple-whammy of their heartbreaking devastation (earthquake-tsunami-possible nuclear meltdown) and see some greater plan... some larger cosmic reason to give meaning to a tragedy that currently feels quite senseless.
  • What if the nations of the world decide to greatly improve the safety of their nuclear technology... or even turn to solar and wind for their power and shun nuclear energy altogether?

  • What if, thanks to their terrible sacrifice, scientists learn how to predict earthquakes and tsunamis... thus saving the lives of untold millions of future children?

  • What if, thanks to the incredible front-line video coverage of the disaster we get such a clear understanding of tsunamis that communities will be designed and built in the future to withstand their sudden onslaught?

There are a million possibilities and of course this is all conjecture. There will be no way to know if any deeper good will come out of their disaster until adequate time has passed and we see what the world is left with on the other side.

I would like to believe though, that good WILL come of their recent nightmare. I do believe, strongly, that all things happen for a reason.

I've spent a long time searching for answers to explain why bad things happen to good people of all ages; I doubt I will ever come up with an answer that my brain or heart can live with. I no longer pray to *understand* why events unfold as they do... instead I pray for the strength and inner peace to accept the 'unacceptable' and give warmth and love even in the face of unspeakable sorrow.

It's a true joy then to compile evidence in the world of a larger plan which brings meaning to unexpected losses and heartbreak.

The Writer (and FAILURE) led me to become A Teacher ~
Teaching led me to return to My City ~
My City led me to My Love ~
My Love led me to these Three Children ~
Three Children are leading me...

...toward FAITH! :-) and a new life, whatever it may prove to be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19, 2011 ~ Day 100!

Wow. Post 100.

Since I was about seven years old (eek! nearly three decades ago!) I have wanted to be a writer. It is one of the few things about me that never changed in all of the years that have raced by.

I took this goal seriously and nurtured it tenderly until my sophomore year of college, when I took my first (and last) "real" fiction writing course led by an actual writer who had been published nationally and won a prestigious "Stegner Fellowship" at my university.

On campus this writer was known as a serious undergrad skirt-chaser who had slept with more than one girl I knew. As eighteen year-olds go I was still fairly naive and I recall thinking of him with a mix of disgust and awe; here was a man in his thirties sleeping with girls nearly half his age. He was an easy cliche - yet handsome and successful enough to escape the realm of the ridiculous.

His quarterly fiction writing class was adored by all and coeds actually slept out overnight to garner one of the handful of coveted spots by his side around the boardroom-style table. It was considered by students to be one of the truly "fun" courses offered by the university; as though creative writing were so much simpler than any other endeavor.

Looking back I can see clearly that I was an idealistic, optimistic writer ~ but not an exceptionally ambitious or committed one. I grew up reading voraciously and held onto the secret hope was that one day, I would write a novel worthy of sitting on my own bookshelf next to the likes of my then-favorite authors.

Before arriving at college I believed in my own talent and potential, but a sampling of my first ten or so university courses showed me pretty quickly that my gifts and intellect were a little sub-par when compared with truly smart people. During my freshman year I struggled to keep up with the boy down the hall who I kissed late at night now and then - who routinely smoked a ton of marijuana and then cranked out A+ grades in all of the classes we shared. "How does he do it?" I would wonder in dismay. "He doesn't study at all and he aces everything he touches."

After a year of failing to earn even a single "A" mark in any of my classes, my confidence was shaken. Still, deep down I really believed that I had something worth saying and a voice worth reading.

"What do I *love* to do?"
I asked myself, and there was only one obvious answer: "I love to read. I love to write. I've been focusing on the wrong thing." I enrolled in an English class on Gothic-era novels. Something must have clicked, I worked my tail off and finally earned my very first "A-" at college. My confidence slowly increased. I took another English course, then another and finally (excitedly) I decided I would do whatever it took to enroll in the famous fiction writing workshop.

I was sure that this was it! The moment when I would really learn how to transition from a dreamer into a "real" writer.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and I can say very definitively to my own children (who will be reading this someday) that when you REALLY want something, you can't let a few bumps in the road slow you down.

I must not have really wanted to be a writer, because it took only one moderate bump at the age of eighteen to permanently derail my aspiration to be a novelist.

The famous fiction writing class was held in a small second-story room in the English Corner of the University. It consisted of around fifteen undergrads and The Writer, who was not actually a professor but rather a 'resident genius'. The Writer sat down at the head of the table flanked by his adoring crowd, mainly women and two or three guys who probably signed up just to watch him in action as he skimmed the cream of the crop of nubile females.

Never having taken a writing course before, I arrived early on the first day with a notebook filled with hundreds of blank looseleaf pages, excited to learn about the craft of writing. It was a real shock to discover that the other students in class came equipped with their own typed chapters... poignant, intensely felt stories that many of them had been working on for years. "Why didn't the course synopsis tell me to bring a story?" I wondered furtively and sunk a little lower in my seat. "How am I already so far behind?"

I soon learned how the class functioned: Each week a few (three?) students would bring in sixteen copies of their original short story. The class would then take these stories home and spend a few days reading and critiquing them, to bring back and discuss together as a group.

The Writer would not be teaching us how to write; at least, not standing up at a blackboard or doling out assignments. Instead he would be just one of the crowd, another voice to critique each story ~ clearly though, a more powerful voice. In practice it turned out that The Writer functioned like a demi-god ready to bestow words of praise or condemnation upon work as it was presented to him; his students the fawning minions raising up their cherished creations for his approval (or not).

I'm sure at the time this came across as very 'cool' to me - The Writer was just one of us. He was just like me. "Who am I to tell you how to write?" he riffed, and at the time I admired his groundedness and Bohemian spirit. (Seventeen years later as a former teacher I think the guy was just plain lazy. But brilliant. He didn't have to create a single lesson plan - ever! He just had to sit there, read our stories and give his feedback. As a side benefit, he met a bunch of girls who thought he was the John Lennon of writing. Not too shabby, I've got to admit. The Writer was a smart guy.)

Weeks passed and nervously I watched the calendar spin toward the date when I would need to present my own work of fiction. I wrote and re-wrote it, over and over and over. My high school English teacher had told me always to write based on things I knew, so I'd chosen to write about the dysfunctional mental dalliance I was engaged in with a senior collegiate athlete and NCAA champion at that time (who was totally and completely in love with himself). He had a longterm girlfriend off campus for whom he professed fidelity. "My heart is with Samantha* and Jesus", he'd say and yet he flirted mercilessly with me in the most provocatively sexual way I had ever experienced.

I realized that this guy was jerking me around and suspected that he mocked me privately with his friends. I knew it wasn't a healthy situation but I couldn't seem to break away from the attraction. Every time I went out of my way to avoid him or go on a date with someone else, he would leave me a telephone message, a note, a flower; sing me a song; ask me to go somewhere alone - anything just to hook me back in. The guy liked my adulation, it was a great daily ego-boost to be viewed through doe eyes by a chick that he described to his roommates as a 'hot piece of ass'. (Forgive me kids, when you read this someday, but that is the way it was.)

Trying to process the complexity of this "friendship" was way above my head at the time, so I decided to tackle it through fiction and turn it into something potent for my writing class. I spent well over a hundred hours crafting a loosely veiled version of my own messed up life - gritty, ugly, and totally embarrassing to me. I figured that I'd better tell it as it actually was, humiliation and all.

I didn't sleep much the night before my story was at last to be workshopped. I re-read the final draft over and over, lost in a sea of girlish emotion about my hopes for a writing career and anguish over how to extract myself from the obsessive crush I had developed on such a clearly smarmy character. (It was tough to convince myself of his smarminess ~ the guy was training for the Olympics and interviewing for a Rhodes scholarship ~ but smarmy nonetheless.) By the time the Sun began to infuse pink and gold into the pale blue morning, I sat waiting in front of the English Corner building with a steaming cup of coffee and my heart in my teeth.

As it turned out, I probably should have stayed in bed.

"I didn't really connect with this story," said Girl One. "I found the characters to be quite unsympathetic."

"Yeah, I totally know what you mean," agreed Girl Two. "Like, who cares? Why does the protagonist want to be with such a jerk? I felt like her character wasn't developed at all; I couldn't understand why she had such low self-esteem. Why would she continue returning his calls? Frankly," she added with a smirk, "Both characters seemed really flat."

"The part that really bugged me," added Guy One, "Was the use of song lyrics in the story. I didn't understand that at all. Who puts lyrics in a work of fiction? I think that's sort of breaking the genre! In any event, it really didn't work for me."

"Oh yeah!" three others chorused. "We didn't like that either."

"It was so schmaltzy," mused Girl One. "If I want a juvenile love story I can pick up a copy of Sweet Valley High. I didn't feel like there was any substance to their relationship."

"Honestly, and I don't mean to offend you - " Girl Three chimed in, "I felt like your visual descriptions were really over-the-top." went on. And on. And on. For the better part of twenty minutes. Which (for me, the person on the hot seat) felt more like twenty hours. Tears welled in my eyes as I nodded with agreement at all of their comments and dutifully wrote them down in my notebook. "Thank you," I quietly replied. "Thank you."

I looked to The Writer, hoping he might put an end to the cheerful mutilation of my ineloquent tale, but he seemed fairly preoccupied with his fountain pen ~ sometimes stealing small glances at the cleavage of the girl to his left.

At last he checked his watch, looked up and cleared his throat - flipping through my story with tanned, manicured fingers. "I think," he pronounced, "That the author here cares so much about her characters that there is simply no room left for the rest of us to care about them at all."

There was a general murmur of agreement. "You are sooo right," sighed Girl Two. I didn't hear a word after that.

The Writer had allowed fourteen of my peers to trash my story, without so much as a single positive comment or even a "Better luck next time."

It was clear to me that I had no future in fiction writing.

What? No future?
Because a single published author and fourteen college co-eds didn't like one story?
What kind of ridiculousness is that?

I wish I could confide now that I burned that story and wrote a better one; that I kept writing and writing and writing until I finally produced something worthy of my childhood dreams. I wish I could tell my children that I had such a fire in my heart for writing that I laughed off one single day of intense criticism and held onto my confidence.

I wish I could say a lot of things; but here is the truth:

After that class I decided that I wasn't much good at writing stories. (I also decided that I must be pretty pathetic to adore such a louse; and tried a lot harder to avoid him with some success.)

I tried to give up writing altogether but loved it too much so fell into a series of jobs that revolved around writing. I worked as a technical writer for two Engineering departments; taught creative writing to hundreds of elementary school students; taught the craft of non-fiction, poetry and script-writing to hundreds of middle school students. I wrote poetry in my private journal and scripted hundreds of articles for my husband's business website.

From the time I graduated from college until my 35th birthday, I never wrote more than six pages strung together for any purpose. "I'm not a writer," I responded to people who sometimes asked me about it over the years. "I'm a teacher. You know what they say..." I joked, "those that can't DO, teach."

I was good at the teaching of writing. I loved it, and in working so intimately with the art form I cherished, I found my professional calling. I found salve for a wounded ego. I found genuine bliss.

Yet it has nagged at my subconscious, over the last seventeen years, to have given up on a precious dream. I have had regret ~ fleeting, but real ~ over my childish response to failure.

Perhaps this explains why tonight, when I click "Publish Post" and share this 100th blog entry with my children and friends, I will be dancing the happiest dance ever. I am so proud of having finally put something down on paper again... finally gotten up the courage to share my own voice with the world. I will never be a Stegner Fellow, but I am finally coming into my own ~ nearly two decades later.

At last, I am a writer.

More importantly, I have actively set my children the example every day for 100 days that it is never too late to follow your dreams; never too late to believe in yourself... never too late to begin again.

My sons both know that I am writing this daily blog for them and to some degree they do understand what I am doing. The other day my five year old brought home a blank notebook from school that he had been given by his teacher and told me that he was going to write a "blog" of his own. He labored over his letters for the better part of two hours that night, then proudly presented me with two full pages of his own writing about why he loved his family and how "speshul" we are to him.

"Look mommy," he beamed. "I'm a writer just like you."

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the party in question.