"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, September 29, 2014

that time I cried over a towel

Tonight I cried over a beach towel. I mean, I didn't really cry about the towel...but yeah, I cried about the towel.

Let me back up.

A few weeks ago we had a basement flood. It was minor and contained to our unfinished storage room, but it was a flood of the Roto-Rooter variety, if you know what I mean. (Aside: those Kandoo "flushable" wipes? Not flushable, according to Mr. Roto-Rooter...and our basement.) When I first stumbled upon the flood, not literally, thank goodness, I did what I normally do when in crisis mode: I screamed for Sam to come Fix It.

He did. I stayed outside with the kids while Sam mopped up the mess and got the experts on the phone and on their way to do damage control.

Fast forward to tonight: Sam was bathing the kiddos and I was folding laundry on our bed. As I folded the beach towel we had brought along on our hike on Saturday, I was reminded of the towel I had wanted to bring, but couldn't find.

"Hey, where's that sun towel?" I called into our bathroom, as one squeaky clean kiddo came out, towel-wrapped and ready for jammies.

"Which one?" Sam responded from the bathroom, where Kids 2 and 3 were squealing with Splashing in the Bath Joy.

"You know, the big one? The one with the suns? Yellow, orange...some purple?" The clean kiddo stopped next to me to listen. He's a Finder, that one. And nosy as hell.

"Oh, that old one? I used it to mop up the basement...so I chucked it."




And that's all it took. My hands flew to the sides of my head and, with a faltering voice, I squeaked: "No. You didn't."

I started to cry.

My big boy was nervous. "What's wrong, Mommy? Why are you sad?"

"What? No! Wait, what? Why?" Sam came to the bedroom, as he tried to figure this out. He knows I'm not pregnant. Why the tears over a towel?!

"That was Mom Mom's towel." I cried, wiping tears and reassuring my sensitive seven-year old, "It's okay, honey, I'm not really sad about the towel. I'm just sad thinking about my Mom Mom."

My Mom Mom passed away in May. She, Peggy Louise, was 88. She was generous and honest and sharp as a tack. She loved her grandchildren, her ocean view, and her ice water...with lots of lemon. She was a strong, independent woman, who traveled the world with her husband and, when he died too soon--thirty years ago, with her many friends. She was full of Class: never under-dressed, unprepared, or without a travel-sized bottle of Jean Nate to "freshen up." (I can still smell it, right now, writing this.)

Mom Mom had lived in that ocean-front condo in Florida full-time for the last fifteen years or so, though she'd been a "snow bird" for years and years...as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my family (all ten of us) would pile into our 12-passenger Dodge Ram van and trek 16-hours to visit her in that "cozy" two-bedroom condo twice a year. Once I left for college, my ride to visit her became cushier (Coach, baby! And usually a middle seat...but compared to The Van? Deluxe.), as did the accommodations (I got that whole extra bedroom to myself!).

On one trip to visit her, she noticed that I used the same 20-year old beach towel all week, despite a full linen closet. "Use a clean towel, would you, honey?" she called as I packed my beach bag. "This one's fine, Mom Mom!" I reassured her, "Besides, it's my favorite."

"Well if you like it so much, you should keep the damn thing. Lord knows I don't need it."

Classic Mom Mom.

I did keep the damn thing. I took it home with me at the end of that week and it's been with me ever since. I moved it from house to house...linen closet to linen closet...and, to be honest, didn't even use it that much. It just made me smile when I opened the closet door and saw it in there. I never told Sam the story.

Until tonight. Through tears.

He felt terrible, of course, that he used my beloved late grandmother's gift to sop up sewage water in our basement.

Evan suggested he "just go find it, Daddy." I assured Evan (and Sam) that I didn't really need the towel. And, in a way, it's kind of perfect this way: This is the kind of story that, if she heard it today, would make Mom Mom laugh her deep, hearty, belly laugh. The laugh that carried with it the joy and love that always spilled out of her in the presence of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. (I can still hear it. That laugh. I'm so happy that my kids got to hear it, too. They might not remember it when they're older, but they heard it. They felt that joy, that love.)

I don't miss the towel. But I do miss that Peggy Louise.

Lesson Learned:
Our family will gather together a month from today to celebrate her life. In lieu of a funeral ("Who would come?" she said, "All of my friends are dead!" She's wrong, of course. She never gave herself credit for the number of lives she touched through her years volunteering and serving others. It would have been a packed house.), she wanted her family to be together...it didn't matter when or where...just together. We've rented a beach house and we'll have a weekend of remembrance...together.

I guess I'll just have to bring a different beach towel.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

a random act

It's been a heavy couple of weeks. I have friends who are hurting. My city is hurting. I feel like the whole wide world is broken.

Things here, in my own little bubble of my own little family, are fine. Good, even. But I have this weight of sadness that I've been carrying around because there are problems out there...right around the corner, right down the road, and in every corner of the Earth...that are not mine to solve.

As someone who ranks highly on the "It's Not My Problem But I'll Worry About It Anyway" scale, my sleepless nights have been numerous lately, and the stress I'm holding in is visible in my slumped shoulders.

But then, a brightness. A lightness.

In a simple, surprise gesture of thoughtful generosity, a friend of mine reminded me that there is good. Right here, down the street, and across the whole wide world.

I look for the helpers, always, and they're there. Always. But sometimes, someone who is completely removed from the situation; who isn't helping because she doesn't know that there is a problem that needs solving...who doesn't even know that you need a reminder that There Is Kindness in a world so sad...can swoop in and change your perspective.

A box arrived in the mail from a former co-worker. Though we keep in touch via Facebook, I haven't seen her since I stopped teaching. She knows my kids only from photos and posts on this blog. In that box were three books: A Lego chapter book for my biggest boy, a Lalaloopsy storybook collection for my littlest girl, and for Mr. Max, The Boy With Pink Hair.

Perez Hilton - The Boy With the Pink Hair
Yes, that says "Perez Hilton." Yes, the Perez Hilton

The book is great because it celebrates individuality, self-expression, and the Born That Way mentality that we speak of often in this house. It's great because after I read it to Max I said, "You know what? That boy kind of reminds me of you!" Max responded, "Yup! Because we both love pink and we're both bakers!" Thoughtfully, he added: "But...none of my best friends wear ponytails every day."

My friend Kathy is great because she gets my kid. All three of them! (She also gets that you can't send a Just Because book to one kid and not his brother and sister, too. She's a mom and a teacher. She gets it.) Despite time and distance, she pays attention and she cares. 

Kathy is great because, following two weeks of heavy and stress and sad that she didn't even know about, she gave us a light, bright afternoon. An afternoon of reading, talking about Random Acts of Kindness, and Thank You Note-writing. 


It's nice to do nice things for people. It's nice to send people a little out of the blue reminder that you're thinking of them. It's nice to be reminded that there's a such thing as kindness for the sake of being kind.

Lesson Learned:
Spread some kindness. Share some love. Take care of each other.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How much do you know about Mesothelioma?

A few weeks ago, over a series of emails, I met Heather Von St. James; a mom and coffee lover just like me. A mom, unlike me, who is also a mesothelioma survivor. Heather beat extraordinary odds:  After being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, she was told she likely had just over a year to live....her daughter, Lily, was just three months old.

That was eight years ago.

Immediately after diagnosis, Heather sought out treatment from some of the best doctors and surgeons in the field and, following a life-saving surgery which included the removal of her left lung, she changed that death sentence into a life of hope.

I was inspired by Heather's strength and optimism and immediately agreed to lend my voice, and this platform, in support of the 10th Annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is on Friday, September 26.

Heather sent me a few links to educate myself on mesothelioma and I quickly realized how little I knew about this aggressive disease. I'd heard of it, of course, but mostly in the context of ambulance-chasing law firm commercials promising to take care of you and your loved ones in the aftermath of a meso diagnosis.



I didn't know that 2,500-3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year and that, on average, people are given just ten months to live.

I had no idea that meso can sit dormant in your body for 20-50 years and that the number of diagnoses worldwide is on the rise. The number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak in the year 2020.


I had no idea that mesothelioma is a preventable cancer, as it's only known cause is exposure to asbestos.

Did you know that?


Did you know that asbestos exposure was initially linked to mesothelioma in 1964, yet it was still commonly used in building materials and household appliances (like toasters and hair dryers) until 1989? For twenty-five years it was known that asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was carcinogenic. For twenty-five years it was still used in the construction of schools, homes, and other commercial and industrial buildings.

Finally, on July 12, 1989, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing products.

Did you know that in 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this ban, allowing all but a few products back on the market?

WTF?!

Federal law now states that new products must contain less than 1% asbestos, but the EPA estimates that asbestos is still in most of the nation's 107,000 primary and secondary schools, in addition to nearly three-quarters of a million public and commercial buildings. Thirty million pounds of it, in fact.

Educate yourself: check out mesothelioma.com. There, you'll find a list of asbestos-containing job sites around the country...maybe even in your town. You'll also find a list of asbestos-containing products that are still being used today. The list is extensive and overwhelming, but there's good news: there are many alternatives to these products (mostly building materials) that are available to use now. They are safe and cost-effective and most have earned "green" ratings for being environmentally conscious, too. The choice to not use products containing asbestos seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

This year, 10,000 Americans will die from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.

This week, I'll be sharing mesothelioma and asbestos facts on Twitter in support of Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Specifically, I'll be showing my support for this brave, beautiful mama and her sweet daughter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Never Forget: Where were you?

Thirteen years ago this morning, I was sitting at a low table, in a tiny chair, in a Kindergarten classroom. Tiny, adorable 5-year olds sat around me, "writing" in their journals. I was three weeks into my Student Teaching placement in a quiet town near my University. In the weeks leading up to that day, I felt so Grown Up. I bought "work clothes" and started gathering recipes so I could learn to cook actual meals. I was eight months away from graduating with my Masters degree and beginning my Career.

In that classroom, those brand-new students viewed me as a Grown Up: they called me "Miss" and came to me with questions and observations and peer-disputes needing settling. Although I was far from being an equal to my mentor, a bonafide Master Teacher, the kids just saw us both as adults. And, standing in front of them, I believed them.

On that morning, thirteen years ago today, the principal hand-delivered a typed note to each teacher. I sat at the table with my group of journaling students and watched as the teacher in my room read the note. Calmly, with the strength and emotional restraint of a true Grown Up, who knew the importance of maintaining her composure in front of 20 pairs of watching 5-year old eyes, she crossed the classroom and handed me the note. It read: "Our nation is under attack. Planes have struck the Twin Towers in NYC and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C."

Before I could even comprehend what I was reading, she handed me her cell phone. Knowing that my dad was working in Washington, but also realizing that I was not, truly, the grown up I was pretending to be, she said, "Go call your mom."

I ran out of that classroom. I had no strength or emotional restraint. I lost all composure. I was just a kid, who needed reassurance. I ran out the front door of the school and crouched down to the sidewalk. I called my mom.

My dad was safe, but the world no longer seemed to be.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

"It's bad," my mom said, her voice steady despite the horror she was watching unfold on TV. "It's really bad."

I was 21. I had students who called me "Miss," I wore clothes from Loft and sensible shoes, but I was still a child. I needed my mom to tell me it would be okay, but she couldn't. I needed my mom to give me the answers to my questions: "Why?" "What happens now?" "What does this mean?" She couldn't...because sometimes even the grown ups don't have the answers.

Lesson Learned:

I've grown up a lot in the past 13 years. Three kids will do that to you. But on this day, I still don't feel like a grown up. This day still makes me feel sad and scared. I'm still not ready to address with them...my own babies...what happened on this day thirteen years ago. I tell myself that they're too young: seven, almost five, and two.  They're too little, too innocent to know about such sadness.

Right?

Someday I'll have to find the words to explain what happened, but today I'll just hug my babies extra tight and they won't need to know why.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Big Girl Bed

So....this happened today...



We didn't mean for this little peanut to grow up over night.



...but laying in Max's bed together last night, reading books before bed, Molly announced that she was ready for her own Big Girl Bed.


We had everything we needed...the bed, the bedding...so, really, there was no excuse.

We took apart the crib.

For the last time.

It will leave our house. After three babies and more than seven years, we will never have a crib in our house again. I can't begin to imagine how many times my arms have reached down into that crib to lay down or scoop up one of my babies.

I'm not ready to give up her crib bedding yet. The bedding I swooned over for the first twenty weeks of my pregnancy, knowing I'd never buy such expensive bedding for a baby who would use it for, maybe, two and a half years.  The day after we found out we were having a girl, I looked at the bedding one last time online...there was a beautiful red slash through the price: it was on clearance, discontinued to make room for a new pattern. I ordered it immediately.

 Today, I repurposed the bumper and quilt as cushions in her little reading nook window seat. I'll use the coordinating crib sheet and skirt as fabric for pillows, maybe. (Mom? Want a project?)



She loves her new Big Girl Room.


Although, at nap time, when I laid down next to her to read, she furrowed her brow and said to me, "Mommy? Why you take away my crib?" I said, "Oh, baby, it's because you said you were ready! You are ready. You're such a big girl."

And, finally, after asking me again where her crib is now ("Taken apart, baby, in the basement.") and pointing to my face and asking, "What these called, Mommy?" ("Eyebrows, baby. Time to go to sleep.") and pointing to her own and saying, "I feel mine eyebrows but no I can see them, Mommy!"

She slept.

Like such a big girl.


Lesson Learned:
I guess I'm using the term "Big Girl" loosely. We still have one more major hurdle to cross before that title is official....stay tuned! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Save the Children

Since becoming a mom seven-and-a-half years ago, there have been two times in which the severity of my child's illness scared me to the core. Just two; but those two moments are seared into the fear center of my brain and onto my heart for life.

The first time was when my first child, then ten months old, suffered from an anaphylactic allergic reaction to a food I had given to him. He broke out in hives, started vomiting profusely, and became lethargic. Although food allergies were completely new to me, I knew exactly what to do: I gave him Children's Benadryl and brought him to the Emergency Room. Within minutes of administering the medicine he was fine. I was still a wreck, but he was completely fine.

The second time I held a scary-sick baby was two years later, when my second baby was about eight months old. His cold had gotten worse over night. In the morning, his breathing seemed labored. While I waited on the phone with the pediatrician's office, I heard a distinct wheezing sound I had never heard before. He was still breathing, but I suddenly felt like I couldn't. I hung up the phone and drove to the pediatrician's office, instead. There, the nurse helped me to administer the first of what would be many nebulizer treatments of inhalant steroids that opened up his tiny and over-worked lungs so he could breathe. For the next three years, we used nebulizer treatments prophylactically to prevent respiratory distress and antibiotics to treat the recurrent bronchiolitis. And now, at nearly five, he hasn't had a respiratory infection in over a year. He's fine. Completely fine.

Both times, as I watched my babies suffer from a scary, sudden, acute illness, I felt my own throat constrict. I couldn't inhale deeply enough to feel like I was actually breathing, though I know I must have been because I was somehow able to care for them. And in both instances, my treatment plan for my sick babies demanded the same two things: Good medicine and Good doctors.

What would have happened, in either instance, had I not had access to one or both of the things I needed to heal my babies? What would have happened if there was no medicine? What if I couldn't get my babies to a doctor?

I can't think about it.

As a mom, even the shadow of a thought of pain or illness or...worse...befalling any of my children makes me feel sick to my stomach, literally.

My love for my children, my own physical ache for my children when they are sick, is not special. It's not a feeling reserved for a privileged class of mothers. It's not a facet of western parenting.

That feeling, a mother's love, is universal.

What isn't universal, though, is access to Good medicine and Good doctors when babies are sick.
What isn't universal is that babies will survive preventable illnesses and receive adequate nutrition.
What isn't universal is the likelihood that a child will survive beyond the age of five.

But Save the Children is trying to change that.

The United Nations outlined it's Millennium Development Goals and, while significant progress has been made in a number of areas (for example, compared to a generation ago, millions fewer are living in poverty and significantly more children are receiving at least a primary education) there is one area that demands immediate attention. Save the Children is working to increase attention to Millennium Development Goal 4: Reduce by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate.

Today, 18,000 children will die from preventable causes including disease and malnutrition. Eighteen thousand babies. Eighteen thousand mothers' hearts, devastated. And tomorrow: 18,000 more.

One million babies will be stillborn or die before the end of their first day of life. A million babies. A million mother's hearts.

It's hard, sometimes, to wrap your head around numbers so staggering, so let's look, instead, at the faces:






These are the faces of the people who beat the odds. Who, today, survived.


So what is Save the Children trying to do? 

To hold the world accountable for the promises made.

The UN set the ambitious goals to:
* Ensure that every mother, newborn, and child has access to high-quality healthcare, provided by highly-skilled health workers.
* Invest in women and girls to ensure their protection.
* Build stronger institutions and health systems with universal healthcare for all, not excluding the most vulnerable who live in areas of conflict, poverty, or rural regions.

And they promised to meet these goals by the end of 2015.
That's only 481 days away.

So I joined the movement. I'm lending my voice.

What can you do? 

You can visit the website. You can become educated on the Millennium Development Goals. You can join the movement on social media (#MDGMomentum) to hold the world accountable for the promises made to reduce child deaths. You can make a donation to help make these goals a reality.

They're half a world away, but they're mothers and babies. 

In our hearts, we're all the same.





***
This post was written in a partnership with Mom Bloggers for Social Good The photos are theirs, but the sentiment is mine. And yours, too, I imagine...so get involved. Visit Save the Children's Millennium Development Goal 4 microsite at: http://www.savethechildren.net/mdg500/

Thursday, September 4, 2014

And Now, Your Moment of Zen

"Okay, Molly! Let's go and put on your yoga clothes!" I said this morning, instantly regretting it.

We had been looking forward to Mommy and Me yoga for days. Weeks, even! And now I'd just gone and blown the whole thing.

***

I'm not what you would call an "athletic" person. I don't "work out" or "go to the gym" or "own a sports bra." I don't run unless I'm chasing a runaway three-year old down an aisle in Target and I don't sweat unless I'm outside playing with my kids. And then I'm whining about it.

I've never needed to watch my weight (not bragging, just genetics) and I don't really give a shit that I have zero muscle tone in any area of my body. So, I've never been one to "exercise." (And to prove to you how little of the activity I do, I will admit that I just wrote the word "exercise" like this: Exercize and would have left it like that if not for the red, squiggly line alerting me to my mistake.)

In college, all of my roommates Went To The Gym. They ran and got sweaty and toned their muscles and they swore to me that they enjoyed it: That it cleared their heads and made them feel great. So I tried it. And it sucked so I never went to the gym again.

But then I found Yoga.

I started practicing in college and continued on and off until I took a prenatal class while I was pregnant with Evan. Once I had the kids, I wanted desperately to get back into it but could never seem to find the time: I wouldn't have hired a babysitter to take a class, I didn't want to "give up" an evening to take a class, and I wanted weekends to be Family Time. And then, before I knew it, it had been more than seven years since I'd practiced and my muscles started twitching, yearning for some sun salutations and my mind started itching, yearning for some mindful breathing and focused concentration.

I discovered Bend: A local yoga studio that offers prenatal classes and classes for parents and kids.

My perfect re-entry into yoga. The perfect Thursday morning Zen for Molly and me.

Today was our first class and I could not have been more excited. Molly was excited, too!
But then I had to go and mention "yoga clothes."

There was nothing different about her clothes today: comfy cotton capris and a cute little tee shirt. But because I had called them "yoga clothes," she resisted. And her refusal of the clothes morphed into a refusal of the concept of yoga altogether.

"I no wear yoyo clothes!" she insisted. "And I no go to yoyo." (Arms crossed, furrowed brow, the whole bit.)

I knew how to play this game, though, so we just went about our daily routine (after a deliberate wardrobe change). Every time she said, "I no go to yoyo," I replied, "I hear you, honey!" in the happiest, most cheerful voice she's ever heard.

When it was time to go, I simply said, "Let's go to the Downtown Mall, okay?" I wasn't exactly lying, the studio is located on the Mall. And when we arrived at the studio, I said, "Hey, wanna go in here and play some games with me?" Again...technically accurate.

So we went in.

She was quiet, but sweet and happy. And she watched.

She watched as we unrolled our mats. She watched as we warmed up our yogi bodies with a breathing exercise. She watched as we warmed up our yogi ears with a listening exercise. She watched as we began our "Sun Dance" and performed our sun salutations (though she did sneak in one downward dog when she thought I wasn't looking). She watched as the other kids and mommies practiced yoga by imitating animals. And she watched, and announced loudly "I just watching," as we all lay quietly, meditatively, in shavasana, the final relaxation pose.

And as we walked out of the studio, she wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "Yes. I LOVE yoyo, ma!"

Lesson Learned:
Then, as if to fill my day with complete Zen, she refused to nap in her crib. Instead, she curled her not-so-tiny-anymore body up in my lap, fit her head comfortably under my chin, twirled a strand of my hair around her fingers, and slept. Asleep on my lap, she still smells and feels like my baby.