About missemtoo

I'm a mom, piano player, substitute teacher, wife, and Starbucks addict living outside of Rochester, NY.

An Open Letter to the Parents of my Daughters’ Future Partners

Dear Parents of My Daughters’ Future Partners,

Hey there! Since we probably haven’t met (although stranger things have happened), allow me to introduce myself: I’m Emily, a music and piano teacher, academic coach, wife of Nick, and service dog puppy-raiser. I love traveling, cooking, eating all of the things (especially the chocolate things), The Good Place, parentheses, Disney, and Broadway.

Also, I’m the mom of 12 and 14 year-old daughters, which is why I’m writing to you today.

If you live in the United States and own a television, smart phone, car, or computer, you’re probably aware of the scandal that recently broke involving wealthy, sometimes famous parents using bribes to get their kids into college. I’m sure we can agree that there is no shortage of articles, opinion pieces, and research out there decrying the rise in the “snowplow” (and its forerunner, “helicopter”) parenting tactics which are rooted in the belief that it’s our job to protect our children at all times, remove obstacles from their paths, and generally allow them to go through life without having to face heartache, consequences, or… sauces. (Seriously.)

To a certain degree, I get it. Sometimes, it’s easier to just do things for our kids than to teach them how. We believe we’re helping them when we clear away the hard stuff. The world is a big and scary place; what’s the harm in offering a leg up?

While some of these behaviors are humorous or eye-roll worthy (parents making dentist appointments for their twenty-something offspring), the consequences can be far more dire (an increase in depression and suicide consideration among newly-minted adults who have never had to overcome a challenge).

With this in mind, my husband and I have made a point of raising our daughters in non-snowplow fashion by providing opportunities for them to become competent, independent humans. To wit: we assume that they’re capable, give them a lot of responsibilities, and allow them to fail, struggle, and make mistakes.

(I know!)

I don’t worry that our girls will be unable to find clean outfits to wear to their college internships, ’cause they’ve been doing their own laundry since 4th grade. Likewise, we’ve allowed them to take the lead in advocating for themselves (like talking to their teachers and coaches and taking responsibility for missed practices or homework that remains confusing even after checking with Nick or me), so it doesn’t cross my mind that they’ll have no idea how to approach an employer about a work-related problem.

There’s plenty that I do worry about, like how they’ll cope with the pressures of a world that judges them on appearances rather than merit… and you can bet I’ll be here when they want to talk things through, get a second opinion, or when they need a hug or a cheering squad (or a Queer Eye buddy).

But mostly? They’re going to navigate their own lives.
Which is okay, because they’re already responsible, independent, thoughtful young women who do a bang-up job of making their way without Nick or me clearing the path.

In short: Anyone who finds themselves as a partner to either of my daughters is damned lucky – partly because they’re witty, delightful humans who can sing in three-part harmony, but also because they’re capable and competent.

While that’s all well and great – hooray for strong women! – it applies only to them, not to their friendships or relationships. It has recently occurred to us: What if our daughters’ future partners AREN’T as competent as they are, and they rely on our girls for everything? What if their partners’ parents took the snowplow approach and they’ve never had to face heartbreaks or adversity, much less iron a pair of pants?

This is where you come in!

Let’s start with something like chores. Sure, it’s awesome that my offspring can take care of themselves around the house, but it won’t be awesome if your offspring rely on them to prepare the meals, vacuum, or make the bed because you’ve always done these things for them. Partner Parents: teach your kids how to fend for themselves! Have them make their own school lunches and do their own their laundry. Stand back and allow them to change their own sheets (even if the infrequency makes you vomit in your mouth a little).
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Chore chart from ten years ago; we start ’em young!

This applies to life outside the house, too. Although my daughters know how to cook and do the dishes, they still love eating out; I expect this will continue when they’re adults. When they look the server in the eye and ask for their dressing on the side, it’s gonna be awkward if your kiddos stare at the menu and mumble their requests. Partner Parents – you can remedy this! Start young! They can order their food, answer questions at the doctor’s office, and respond for themselves when Grandma wants to FaceTime.

Give them responsibilities. They should know how to clean bathrooms and iron a shirt. They can learn what groceries cost, how to address and mail letters, and to wake themselves up. Enlist them to help with yardwork. (If you can afford a gardner or housecleaner or personal shopper? Sweet! Teach your kids anyway, because when the dog-poop-picker-upper comes down with scurvy, it’ll be real nasty out back if your child has no idea where the poop bags are.)

 

 

Helping with the yardwork… That day the 7 year-old made everyone’s lunch.

This one kind of sucks, but… teach them that they are not the center of the universe. You might think it’s no big deal when your kid forgets their lunchbox and you skip a meeting to bring it to them, but if they reach adulthood and expect my kids – or their bosses – to drop everything and rush over a forgotten jacket, I suspect it’s not gonna be pretty.

Perhaps most important, and difficult, of all: Allow them to fail and experience heartbreak. Life as a human is filled with adversity. The way to overcome it isn’t by avoiding it (spoiler: that’s impossible) but by figuring out how to handle it, which only comes through… handling it. When your sons and daughters leave an assignment at home and will miss recess… let it happen. If they don’t like what’s for dinner, allow them to go hungry – or to fix an appropriate substitute (so long as you don’t have to be involved!). When they don’t get the lead in the musical or are cut from the team, commiserate and listen… but don’t badger the director or the coach.

Why should we allow our kiddos to fail and overcome obstacles? Because then, when they inevitably don’t get into their dream school or land the job or earn the promotion, they’ll know how to face rejection. When the pipe bursts and the fridge conks out on the same day that the car goes in for repairs, they’ll know that they have the fortitude to get through. And when your child and my daughter lose their bid on the house or get laid off or fight cancer, they’ll be able to face it together, armed with belief in themselves and their abilities.

Partner Parents, I realize this can be scary. I understand wanting your offspring to be content, successful, good humans. I know that it can be so tempting to do things for them because it seems like it will give them an advantage or make them happier. I definitely know how difficult it is to watch them struggle.

It seems, however, that the evidence is clear: despite the snowplow belief to the contrary, preventing our kids from experiencing hardships means they’re more likely, not less, to be miserable in the long run, more likely to fail – and less likely, not more, to grow into confident adults.

And so, hearts in throats, Nick and I will continue our non-lawnmower approach.
Won’t you consider doing the same?

Sincerely yours,
Emily

p.s. Don’t worry – we’re still saving for our daughters’ eventual therapy to discuss something we’ve done; after all, we’ve raised them to advocate for themselves. But, with luck, our We Believe In You So We’re Going To Let You Fail approach won’t be their first topic of conversation.

p.p.s Although I’ve spoken of equity here, if your kid wants to take over spider duty, my girls would be down with that.

 

** I realize that expectations are different for everyone, and especially for children with special needs or differing abilities. Please continue to presume competence and adjust accordingly.**

 

 

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The Best of 2018: Puerto Rico Connections and a Badass Angel

As a longtime devotee of all things Hamilton, my social media feed has been awash with news of the show’s arrival in Puerto Rico. While I feel a little envious seeing images of palm trees and beaches floating across my screens, those pictures remind me daily of our own badass Puerto Rican angel – and the incredible power of connection.
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We. Love. Puerto Rico. Having visited several times, we find ourselves inexplicably drawn to it – to the lush greenery; the food, the wickedly warm Atlantic; the technicolor buildings; the imposing fortresses; the lullaby of the coquis; the rain forest and palm trees and mangroves and beaches. But above and beyond that? The people. Puerto Ricans have an almost mythic ability to make everyone feel welcome, important, and celebrated. There is a vibrant, laid-back, joy-filled energy that permeates the island, making it difficult to feel anything but wonderful.

Plus also: our favorite restaurant in the world is there.
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We visited for four days. And ate at Marmalade twice. No regrets.img_7156

We had planned to return to Puerto Rico long before Maria devastated the island in September, 2017. Once it hit, we became more even more determined to go back and help… but grew disconcerted when every plan fell through. (There’s a certain laissez-faire attitude that differentiates Puerto Rico from the mainland. “You want to come help? Great! We’ll get back to you… sometime…”)

And so, last February, we flew to San Juan, no “official” plans in hand but armed with trash bags and rubber gloves, some drawstring sacks donated by my local religious community, and the promise to ourselves that we would find some way to help – even if it meant combing the beaches for rubbish or buying pasteles and beer for transplanted electrical crews.

A mere hour after settling into our hotel, I received notification about a possible lead from a hurricane assistance Facebook group. Several phone calls and texts later, I was in touch with a woman named Margarita who lived on the island’s eastern coast, providing food and supplies to her ravished community. All we had to do was show up at 8 a.m. two days later.
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Before we went to bed that night, we took to Facebook to tell our friends we were meeting someone who would give concrete ways to provide assistance – and if anyone wanted to contribute to this effort, they were welcome to.

The response was immediate and astonishing. Within two days, we had collected over $4000 from more than sixty people, some of whom we’d never met. As each donation came in, I cried at everyone’s generosity… and became nervous AF as to how we’d put their hopes and money into action.

We didn’t have an address. Our directions consisted of instructions like, “Turn left at Walmart; turn right when you see houses…” We had no idea what we’d be doing. We didn’t even know what ‘Margarita’ looked like. Nevertheless, in true Puerto Rican fashion, we decided to trust that all would work itself out – and if not, we’d have one heckuva story to tell.

36 hours later, we scarfed down breakfast at the hotel before hopping into the rental car and heading southeast toward Humacao.
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Humacao was, more or less, where Maria entered the island before making its deadly trek westward. Although much of Puerto Rico had its power back, the region of Humacao did not – more than 5.5 months post-Maria – nor did it have running water. Schools were open for just a few hours each morning, battling the oppressive heat and lack of electricity along with no toilets or water. Businesses, unable to function, were temporarily shuttered. Even if residents wanted to drive to work, their meager gas supplies were put toward running generators, not fueling cars.

It was, quite literally, a hot mess.
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Less than a mile from Margarita’s house…img_e7011

After a couple of wrong turns, we located the parking lot where Margarita said she’d meet us. I held out my hand to greet her, but despite just laying eyes on one another, she immediately enfolded us – all four – into gigantic hugs. “Follow me! I’ll show you what we’re gonna get to help the people!”

And so we followed, to an enormous grocery warehouse where Margarita enlisted two young men (Gabriel and Roberto, awesome humans) to load up pallets with whatever she told us to get: sugar, Chef Boyardee, tomatoes, canned vegetables, coffee, canned meat and sausages, tunafish, bread, cereal, canola oil, three kinds of beans, rice, toilet paper, Clorox, and lots of water.

The cars were packed so full, Annie had to sit on Ella’s lap as we drove to Margarita’s house – and Nick and Margarita still had to return for a second load!
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Neighbors materialized the moment we arrived; they were exceedingly patient, standing in the brutally hot sun without an ounce of shade. After finalizing the set-up (Margarita had a system, obvs), she informed everyone of the “rules” – only one of each supply, per person, and everyone had to choose either Clorox or cooking oil… there wasn’t enough to have both.

That really drove things home: their situation was so extreme, residents had to choose between disinfecting their homes to ward off disease or cooking their meals. Nearly six months post-hurricane! In the United States! It was insane.
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Margarita understood that the best way for us to truly help was for us to be the ones distributing – so we did, handing out the food, speaking in a combination of English and broken Spanish to people who just kept saying “thank you” over and over again.

There were two moments that broke the assembly line: once, when the downpour came, monsoon-style, and we scrambled to get underneath a ginormous tarp that Margarita and her husband, Manuel, had waiting beside the house so we could still distribute the food… and once when a woman tried to take both cooking oil AND Clorox and Margarita had to wrestle it out of her hands because NO ONE messes with Margarita.

This woman is a FORCE, y’all.
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Getting ready to distribute…img_6988
Weathering the storm…

 

When all was said and done, more than 50 people had gotten food. After a nail-biting trip to a bank where we essentially begged them to get us cash from another bank’s account so that Margarita could obtain vouchers for gas (they didn’t teach me, “I NEED CASH NOW FOR TOTALLY LEGIT PURPOSES” in Spanish class), we ended our visit with a 45-minute chat with Margarita, discussing anything and everything, before leaving, through tears, and returning to our power-filled, air-conditioned hotel. To say it was a sobering and powerful experience doesn’t begin to do it justice… but, turns out, it was only the beginning.
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Within a week, we’d used some of our friends’ donations to send Margarita mosquito nets, diapers, and school supplies. We boxed up aerosol bug spray (Amazon won’t ship aerosols to Puerto Rico) and spent 10 minutes talking with the employees at the post office about how to send the cans safely – and, more pressingly, the situation in Humacao. Connections. It was pretty fantastic.
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The ridiculous kindness of our friends’ donations allowed us to continue to assist Margarita throughout the year: cash transfers, shipments of toys, additional supplies. But most important – and least anticipated at the beginning of this adventure – has been our continued relationship with Margarita.

Eleven months later, she still calls me every couple weeks to discuss how things are going. She sends me photos of her local humanitarian efforts several times a month, along with articles and memes (that I need to use Google translate to fully understand). We made sure to video chat on Easter as well as when she received our Christmas card. She has become part of our family.
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Setting up and distributing Easter donations…yboa4957

In December, using the last of the donations, we were able to ship some toys, backpacks, and water bottles from Amazon, intending them to arrive by Christmas. I was disheartened that they wouldn’t arrive till the New Year, but Margarita assured me it was perfect because she planned to parcel out Three King’s Day goodies to those in need; our contributions were right on time.
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Día de Reyes donations…bdat8694ughg0441
I needed Google to help with this one…

There were countless negatives to 2018, but there was also so much good. 2018 showed us how very generous and thoughtful people can be. It taught us about the magical power of connection. And it introduced us to one of our most-beloved humans on the planet.

If you visit Puerto Rico today (and, oh, please do!), it looks largely as it did before Maria – but that doesn’t mean all is well. Unemployment remains high. Schools were forced to close in the hurricane’s wake, so children are bused to farther-away, crowded buildings. The local government is corrupt and the federal government denies much-needed supplies and assistance.

But Margarita continues on. She makes sandwiches for the homeless every week. She uses donations to distribute clothes, diapers, and food to those in need. She meets with local officials. She helps ensure kids have school supplies. She’s a freakin’ badass angel and we cannot believe that we even got to meet her, much less become part of her “family.”
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An article highlighting some of the work she’s doing…
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The next time we’re on the island, we’ll absolutely visit Margarita. Until then, we have What’sApp, video chats, and mail to keep us connected with our badass angel… and with the people of Puerto Rico. Here’s to hoping for even more connections in 2019.
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Extra, Extra

The clocks “turned back” last night – which is something I really hate. Okay, so it’ll be nice to be able to run in the morning without needing a flashlight, and it’s cool that the girls won’t have to wait for the bus in total darkness – but in a month, it’ll be dark again – because, you know, seasons… and sunset at 4:30pm is pure nonsense. Time change = dumb.

Still… for a few days until we’ve fully adjusted to the new time, we’ll all awaken a little early – which will be super helpful, given that the girls’ wake-up time is much earlier than they’d like it to be. And today? I actually have time to write this post because of the extra hour. SWEET FANCY MOSES.

During this spare hour, I’ve also had time to peruse Facebook (something I do sparingly these days), and I’ve noticed many of my friends with young children lamenting the fact that this “extra” hour is really an hour of torture – because their offspring do not get the time change memo, nor can they, like, get themselves up and dressed and fed without parental supervision. So not only are their ‘rents up super early, they have to entertain their children for an additional 60 “bonus” minutes.

I know that I’ve written about this before, but it’s important so I want to reiterate it: for all you parents out there whose kiddos’ bodily clocks get them up at an ungodly time for the first few days of “falling back” — HANG IN THERE.

It gets better.

I’ve been there, I swear. I vividly remember meticulously putting the girls to bed 15 minutes earlier every day for a week prior to the time change, hoping to reset their bodily clocks, because I knew damned well they were accustomed to a VERY SPECIFIC amount of sleep and waking at a VERY SPECIFIC time.

“Extra” hour, my ass.

So, yes. I remember.
But today? Today, my 11 and 13 year-olds, who normally have to awaken at 6 a.m. and pry themselves out of bed to be at the bus stop before 7:00am (and whose bodies desperately need more sleep because of growing and whatever), slept in until I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHEN, because they were sleeping and quiet. I, on the other hand, woke up at 6:10am (which felt like 7:10 aka heaven) and had HOURS TO MYSELF to run and breathe and walk the dogs. (And check Facebook.)
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This has nothing to do with anything because I don’t have End of Daylight Savings photos, but anyway. 

The time change debacle was one of those annoying things about parenthood that seemed like it would never end, as though we’d always be stuck in those trenches. But then? Amazingly? It did.

Likewise with other areas of parenting. You know how, when your kids were young and no one else was available to watch them, you needed to weigh the pros and cons of every single out-of-the house activity based on how emotionally exhausting it would be to drag your kids with you? How your 6 year-old could’ve been in the middle of dropping a deuce and you’d practically have pulled them off the throne because your 10 year-old needed to get to dance practice? Or how you’d have to take your 4 year-old with you to the dentist and prayed they wouldn’t find the sample drawer? Or how a dinner with friends could be cancelled after you’d put on your heels because the sitter was having car trouble and you had no one else to watch the baby?

Well, one day, your cherubs will likely be able to stay home. Alone. Without maiming one another or burning the house to the ground (fingers crossed). And, suddenly, worlds will open up that you didn’t even know existed – worlds where you can grocery shop all by yourself. DREAM BIG, Y’ALL.

Okay, truth be told, by the time they’re able to stay home alone, they’re likely into myriad other activities that take place well into the evening – often at opposite ends of town – and you’ll have to clone yourself or find carpool magic mamas to get your offspring where they need to be. And while they’re home alone, they might forget to feed the dogs or accidentally leave the garage doors open. So it’s not perfect.

What I’m saying is: parenthood goes through stages – and many of the difficult ones do, mercifully, come to an end. The worrying stage? The self-doubt stage? The stage where you wonder how the humans you created or raised can be so different from you? Alas, those seem permanent.

But, at some point, your not-so-littles will probably be able to stay home alone. And go trick-or-treating without a chaperone. And attend movies and wander the mall and walk from practice into town without adult accompaniment. They’ll be able to make dinner, do their laundry, prep their lunches, and contact their teachers. (I’m not saying they will do these things, HAHAHA, but they’ll be able to*.)

And, someday, the clocks will fall back and they’ll just keep sleeping.
Yes, my girls now spend 90% of their time in the rooms and are ridiculously tall and there are days when I’m lucky to understand the grunts that pass for “conversation”… But the time change DOES GET BETTER.
You will get that extra hour back, for real.

Unless you have pets who also don’t get the End Of Daylight Savings memo.
Then, all bets are off.

(*I do understand that these statements are written from the perspective of a parent of neurotypical children – that, for some families, these “milestones” may never occur… Thanks for understanding this, too, and knowing that there are no absolutes, and that there’s awesomeness in all kinds of families.) 

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Balancing Summer

Ella and Annie started school a week ago – 6th and 8th, their only year in middle school together – and, amazingly, everything went off without a hitch. They were ready for this transition: supplies were purchased in early August. Discussions had taken place with friends regarding classes and lockers and sitting on the bus. (In case you’re wondering, siblings never share a bus seat – like, ever. It’s the law.) Lunches were considered the night before, their containers carefully arranged on the counter.

They even set their own alarms, got themselves up, and were ready to pose for obligatory first-day photos 5 minutes before the bus arrived (at 6:58 a.m.). Given that we’ve had first days where tears have been shed by 3/4 of the household, I will take this as an enormous win.
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In addition to just getting older – and more self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-aware – I suspect there’s another reason for Annie and Ella’s eagerness to get back to the grind: we had a wonderful, bucolic, dreamy, perfect summer.

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Arlington discovered how much he loved the boat

This may sound counterintuitive; I mean, doesn’t a marvelous summer beget never wanting summer to end?

Nope-ity nope!

To be certain, SUMMER! is uniquely glorious. It helped skyrocket the Beach Boys to fame, has cornered the sunscreen and ice cream and watermelon markets, and has inspired entire television programs (Phineas and Ferb, I’m looking at you). But this gloriousness exists in large part because it is temporary. While many a 4th grade persuasive essay has been devoted to convincing school boards and parents that summer should last forever and ever, amen, the fact remains that summer is only SUMMER! when it has a beginning and an end… and when we all return to normal life upon its completion.

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Visiting with their cousins in Minnesota…IMG_8459IMG_8594
… and splashing with their uncles in Canandaigua.

Plus, you know, seasons; running through the sprinkler when it’s snowing loses a certain je ne sais quoi.

A great deal of the joy we derived from this summer was due to it feeling like we were on borrowed time. “If this were a school day, I’d be in math right now, not just having breakfast…” “We can’t watch TV this late on a school night!” “If we ate ice cream like this all year long, we’d be dead…” The days – fleeting as they were – felt stolen, as though we were getting away with something, and that made it just a little bit more magic.
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Fabulicious doughnuts in Minneapolis

Much space on this blog has been devoted to my dissecting summer – how, for so many years (and especially as the mother of youngish children), it was a really difficult thing for me. Not enough structure. Nothing getting accomplished. Needing to entertain or supervise my offspring day and night with no time for solo caramel macchiatos. Depression and anxiety moving in. Relying on Xanax.

In my most recent posts about the season, I noted that, as my girls got older, much of my summer anxiety lifted. They could entertain themselves! I could run to Target unaccompanied! I won’t rehash that this time around (you’re welcome), but I will say that this was really the first summer where Ella, Annie, and I felt everything fell into place just so.

Some things we’ve learned:

  • GO AWAY FIRST.
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    Boarding a cruise ship in Barcelona 

    We’ve been fortunate to be able to take vacations the past few summers and have discovered that, for us, doing it really close to when school gets out is the best. Yeah, having something to look forward to after weeks of arguing over who gets the last icy pop is awesome… but for those of us for whom anxiety is a thing (HELLO!), sometimes a big, exciting plan in the future is actually kind of overwhelming – especially without school, sports, and elementary band concerts as distractions. Getting away right at the start of summer feels like a reward for making it through the year. It also doesn’t quite feel like SUMMER! – it’s not camp or barbecues or bonfires or swimming with friends – so, for us, SUMMER! is postponed by a few weeks… which means that summer boredom is postponed, too. It used to be that Annie and Ella made it till mid-July without trying to kill one another. Last year (our first time traveling early), they didn’t begin fighting like gladiators until August. This year? They pretty much made it all 11 weeks without slipping into mind-numbing ennui. Sweet fancy Moses! 

    Our travels took us to Europe. First, Barcelona, where we stayed with the friends we met on our first cruise in 2014…
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    … followed by a cruise that took us to Italy, France, and Majorca.
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    Europe is delightful.

     

  • LET THE KIDS DECIDE WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
    No, not all the time. This is not a democracy, people. We did, however, really talk with our girls to find out what they wanted out of summer – and then we made it happen, more or less. Ella chose to attend a one week, half-day pottery camp… and that was it. All summer. Nothing else. Which kind of terrified me (I mean, 13 year-old girls and their mothers sharing a space is totally a recipe for peace, am I right?)… but we did it anyway.

 

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    IMG_E1022Annie, on the other hand, wanted to attend pottery camp – but also a two-week, full day acting camp and she wanted to go away with a friend for a few days. I worried this would be too much – that she wouldn’t have enough down time, that she’d be exhausted. But she insisted, and was totally excited, so we gave it a go.
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    IMG_E0547Both of their decisions could have turned out to be crap, and then we’d have had to reevaluate next summer. Instead? They were happy. as. clams. (I don’t actually know if clams are happy, but the girls were as happy as whatever is happy. Happy as puppies? Sure.) Letting them more or less decide how to spend their own summer time was pretty rad. (<– I just realized that this should probably apply to, like, their lives in general, not just summer. Hmmmm.)
  • SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME TOGETHER
    IMG_E0304This year, Annie, Ella and I hung out a ton. We started – and nearly finished – both seasons of Queer Eye. We went to Mamma Mia 2 and an ABBA tribute band concert with the Rochester Philharmonic. We made the annual trek to our local amusement park, walked in the Pride parade, and took the boat to Starbucks for breakfast. These were blissful, wondrous moments – made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, we genuinely enjoy so many of the same things.IMG_E0467IMG_1002
    State Fair t-shirts

     

  • SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME APART
    Obviously, Annie was away from home more than Ella this summer, so that meant we had less time together… but even when it was just Ella and me at home, we often did our own thing. She read in her room and listened to music. I ran errands and read my own books. These were blissful, wondrous moments, made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, they genuinely enjoy doing their own thing.IMG_9633
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  • EAT A METRIC TON OF ICE CREAM
    There is a direct correlation between the amount of ice cream consumed during summer break and how happy you feel. This is called science. We believe in science.
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I guess what I’m saying is that the key to an enchanting summer is balance. Days when you’re super busy and days when you watch an entire season of Modern Family. Staying and getting up late, but not so late that the whole day is off kilter. Traveling and visiting family but also plenty of time at home.

Back when the girls were little and summer started off so wonderfully but quickly dissolved into disconnected anxiousness, I don’t think I’d have believed that it could ever again be the joyous reprieve it was when I was a kid.
I’ll admit: I was wrong. It took a while (we’re talking years), but we’ve gotten there.

We will undoubtedly still have summers where I count down the days till Annie and Ella get on the bus (and then count down the hours till they get home; parenting is weird), but this one was damned good. And I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful that it’s over. We needed summer, but it really is only special when it’s SUMMER!
Balance, y’all. Balance.
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Check In

I’ve just laced up my shoes to go for a run (literally – like, my sneakers are on my feet as I type this). I need to get this run in now because it is early enough that the weight of all that needs to be done today is still suspended; once it begins to lower, I will feel its pressure and be unable to fit in anything beyond What Needs To Be Done.

But I need to run. I need to get outside. I need to be moving – not just because, when I’m stressed and busy, I eat like a teenager without a metabolism, but because my body and mind absolutely need exercise to be functional. And now is not the time to ignore my physical and emotional health.

For a variety of reasons – some of them within my control and others not – this is the busiest I have ever been in my life. That’s not hyperbole, and it’s saying something, considering my ADHD-tendency to Never Be Able To Sit Still. Simply put, I bit off more than I could chew, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late.

In future years, I will be more discerning, but for this year, I simply need to get things done. And, as the weight of it begins to bear down on me, as I look at my To Do book and realize, “Crap, how the *%$! will I fit that in?” and then realize all I’ve left off of the To Do book, I’m starting to crack a little. Last night, I felt the familiar warnings of a panic attack begin to close in. I was able to stop it before it fully realized itself, but it scared me.

So, I need this run today.
And yet here I am, writing. ‘Cause I need to say this.

I’m sure by now everyone has seen the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom died by suicide. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with either of these influential and bright souls (I certainly knew who they were, but didn’t follow them closely), and yet their deaths, especially coming so close to one another, have affected me deeply. They just hit so close to home.

As I’ve discussed publicly many times, I – like so, so many – suffer from anxiety and depression. And, like so, so many, I am someone who, generally, appears to be the very kind of person who could not possibly be anxious or depressed. I mean, I’m bubbly. I’m involved (see above: so many things to do). I’m outgoing. I’m friendly. I’m funny. I post cheery photos of my children and sunrises and puppies and chocolate. I look on the bright side and reach out to those in my community and try to life people up.
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Lovely evening light…

And yet, every day – every single damned day – there’s something that sets off my anxiety, that makes my stomach hurt a little, that brings heat to my chest. Most days, thankfully, that’s all that happens; I feel those gross, anxious flutters, am able to tell them to shove off, and go about my day. But they’re there, every. single. day – even when I’m laughing or joking or posting photos of Broadway playbills.

There are also days when my anxiety takes over and I cry about deciding what to have for dinner, or it’s easier to stay in than go meet friends for dinner. And yes, there was a time when I was so clinically depressed, I could barely function. From the outside, though, almost nobody knew.

You see, it is entirely possible to be anxious or depressed AND STILL have other wonderful things going on in your life. This is not an either-or proposition, and focusing on the good stuff isn’t lying – it’s what gets me through.

Reading tribute after tribute last night to Tony Bourdain (his friend all called him Tony, it seems) was what began my near-panic attack; it was just all too familiar, too sad, too much. I pulled myself away, for my own wellbeing, but I know I will return to it because this is just too important.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. They are as real as cancer or a broken arm. They are not things that can be wished away by positive thinking. When someone has a panic attack or cannot drag themselves out of bed, they don’t need to “man up” or “put on their big girl pants.” When someone who is depressed dies by suicide, they did not make a selfish choice or lose their faith in God or give up or didn’t love their family. Their brain was sick and not functioning properly and lied to them, causing them to genuinely believe they had no other choice – or that they were, in fact, making a good choice, for themselves and all around them.

If you are depressed or anxious, help is available. I know that actually getting that help can be nearly impossible, both because it’s like asking someone with a broken leg to walk to the hospital, and because even if you get to the hospital there might not be surgeons available… but it’s available. It’s out there. Please, please seek help. This is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s the very bravest, strongest, kick-assest thing you can do.

If you are depressed or anxious, you are not alone. There are so many of us who understand, who get how freakin’ hard and maddening and exhausting it is. And there are even more of us who know you are awesome and worthy of being here, simply because you are you. We believe in you, and we want you to hold on. Hold on for today.

And then, tomorrow, know that we believe in you and love you and want you here. Hold on tomorrow. And the next day? Let’s do it all again.

This cannot fall entirely on those who are suffering from mental illness, however. Like all problems, expecting those who are in the thick of it to do the heavy lifting is self-defeating and stupid. We, as humans, need to look out for our fellow humans, and we need to be proactive in our looking-out. Telling someone who lost a spouse, “Let me know how I can help!” – while well meaning – is dumb, because a person in the throes of grief can barely tie their shoes, let alone inform you that the fridge is bare. Just show up with the casserole.

The same is true with mental illness. If you know someone is struggling, don’t wait for them to tell you more; reach out. Ask how they’re doing. If they say they’re fine, genuinely ask how they really are. If they still insist all is well – and it might be – tell them how awesome they are, that you’re there any time, and that you’ll check in again. And then do it.

If you don’t know someone is struggling, ask anyway. Be real. Be interested. Be kind. You never know – and, again, this is not hyperbole – when your simple, “I really like your shirt!” is the thing that entirely turned around another person’s day.

Okay. Time for that run.
And then I’ll attempt to do all that needs To Be Done today. I will try to remember to breathe. I will cry if I need to. I will still post pictures of food, because food is delicious. And I will never forget that I am not alone.
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Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
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Are you there, Spring? It’s me, Emily.

There are as many varieties of anxiety and depression as there are people struggling with them. For some folks, the weather is a particularly powerful trigger – and for those of us who live in climates that are endlessly gray and snowy during the winter months, this can be doubly so. (Seasonal affective disorder is very real, yo.)

While there are a gazillion things that bring my anxiety and depression to the fore (I mean, with anxiety, it’s every single thing, amiright?!), the weather has – mercifully – never really been among them. That’s not to say that I haven’t been bummed when it’s snowed for 49 straight weeks or we haven’t seen sun since the Bush years, but overall, I like winter. I love Rochester. And spring has never not arrived, so I tend to not fret too much about the weather.

This year, though? I have had enough. I don’t mean that I’m ready to move on from winter… I mean that I am done. DONE. SO EFFING DONE AND UP TO HERE with the cold and the snow and the gray and the ice storms and the utter lack of anything even remotely springlike. If I see one more snowflake, I swear that I will wrestle winter to the ground with my bare hands.

There are the stats, of course: More than 121″ of snow this season (that’s more than 20% above normal). It snowed on 15 out of the first 19 days in April – nothing major, but when nearly every single gosh-darn day is gray and snowy and absolutely freezing (we’re on track for the coldest April since 1874), when it is supposed to be spring, Sweet Baby Jesus why, it’s really, really difficult.

And that’s for people who haven’t tried every antidepressant on the shelf.

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Screenshot of a Facebook Live graphic shared by our local weatherman.

My grandma used to say that it always snows on the daffodils – and that’s been true. So I try not to get my hopes too high that winter is officially caput the moment the crocuses pop through… but I also am reminded that this happens every single damned year, and the daffodils still thrive and the snow melts and spring emerges triumphant, so I don’t need to consider selling the house when there are flurries on Mother’s Day.

The difference this “spring” is that there are no daffodils yet to snow on. MY ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD IS DEVOID OF DAFFODIL BLOOMS. It’s one thing for winter to breathe a last gasp after spring’s arrival, like a grumpy old man reminding the whippersnappers that he was really something in his day; people are sympathetic and pat winter on the head, but it’s spring’s time now, thanks.

But when winter never left – when spring is a full month behind and has not showed up at all – there are no sympathy head-pats. There is rage and despair and threats and day drinking and an uptick in Google searches for “affordable places to move.” My therapist told me her schedule is unusually full because she’s had to take on several new clients; literally everyone who comes into her office mentions the weather and how defeating it is. This makes me feel less alone but not less rage-y.
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We were in D.C. over April break. It was not springy there, either.

I’ve always said that, although I love Rochester, I could live in any number of places so long as there were four distinct seasons of reasonable length. A few months ago, I was chatting with another volunteer on the playground who’d recently relocated from California back to western New York – a move that usually elicits sympathy head-pats. For her part, though, she was thrilled: they are closer to family. Housing is crazy affordable. Schools are excellent. And she was just so sick of Los Angeles weather.

Um, what?

She explained: yeah, it’s great to be warm and sunny, like, 364 days a year. It really is. But she had lost all sense of an inner time clock because there was virtually no difference between the seasons. Seeing me wonder what the heck she was talking about, she asked: What did I like about the seasons? Why were they so important to me?

How much time did she have?

I love the smells – spring rain is so fresh; fall leaves are earthy and cozy; winter smoke is warm and inviting; humid summer breezes carry with them such joy and contentment. There’s such excitement as the new season approaches; after a sweaty August, we’re ready to bundle up… but equally thrilled to ditch our parkas as the days lengthen in April.
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Ice storm trees… from April. When it’s supposed to be, you know, spring.

She nodded with understanding and then added a twist: the changes that accompany each season mentally help us set our calendars. In fall, we anticipate that Thanksgiving is coming when we feel the leaves crunching beneath our shoes. We know it’s almost time for the New Year when we have to shovel with regularity. As we switch out our sweaters for tank tops, we realize that Memorial Day will be here soon. We measure mid-summer by how often we need to mow the lawn and weed the garden.

In Rochester, our activities are season-dependent. We swim in the summer and eat dinner outside. In autumn, we pick apples and get out the long sleeves. Winter is the time for sledding and cozying up with a book by the fire. Spring means opening the windows and firing up the grill.

Without distinct seasons, the months just blend into one another. Whereas we western New Yorkers mark summer with frequent ice cream runs – because summer is ice cream season, by gosh – in Los Angeles, every single day is appropriate for ice cream. Which, she said, is cool at first… but eventually, nothing is special. Without seasons and their accompanying activities, time passed in a strange way, devoid of the usual markers; she felt lost.

Spot-on.

So it’s been this “spring.” Our usual markers are gone. There are no budding leaves, no lawns to mow, no *$(#! daffodils. Although it’s stayed light later, there’s no eating outside because it’s too damned cold. The birds have returned and make a ruckus in the morning, but when you open the blinds and see it’s snowing – again – there’s a total disconnect. Which is followed by wailing and gnashing of teeth and general desperation.

THIS IS NOT HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.

Arlington was none too thrilled with this snow squall a couple of weeks ago.

We are ready for spring, for everything that comes along with it – and, in its absence, there is disorientation. For those of us prone to depression, this utter lack of normal, of forward motion, of hope that things will be different has been hard. Like, worse-than-usual hard.

Virtually the only thing that’s kept me from completely losing it is that, logically, I know spring will come. I mean, SPRING HAS TO COME does it not? It simply cannot remain winter forever. Some day – really damned soon, for the love of all things holy – it will be warmer. The snow will stop. We will see the sun again. .

Y’all, Mother Nature is a woman and I believe in her. Women are badass. Women persist. I BELIEVE IN MOTHER NATURE.

To everyone for whom this unending bear of a winter has been just awful: you are not alone. You are not the only ones refusing to bring your coat because it is SPRING, by God, and you’re sick of the coat that’s been on since Columbus Day, and you don’t care if you develop hypothermia walking to the car. I understand that you may still feel ragingly despondent, but at least we can be ragingly despondent together. And when spring does finally arrive,  we will celebrate as though we’ve won the freaking lottery.

The first person who complains that it’s too warm, however, will be wrestled to the ground with my bare hands.
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Frosty… but sunny. It’s a start.

 

Because of Diamond

Our Canine Companions for Independence journey began in October of 2009 when we joined the CCI family as we welcomed Diamond, an 8 week-old black Lab puppy.
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Gah…. little Annie was only 2 years old…

Given that this was our first foray into the world of service dogs, the learning curve was steep. Once Dizey became housebroken, we began leaving her alone in the kitchen… and then were horrified when she would chew through chair legs. She also learned the art of counter-surfing (including a cake to celebrate a friend’s newborn) – a habit that, according to her forever family, proved impossible to break (our bad!). Being consistent in our training – no jumping on anyone, even if they love dogs; no random climbing on the furniture, no matter how snuggleable the dogs look; no pulling on the leash, despite how much longer walks might take to get it right – was tough. But we learned. And Diamond taught us.

Bringing a pup-in-training with us everywhere we went was also an entirely new experience. We soon discovered the best times to visit the grocery store (lest a pup get its paws run over by the cart), how to fasten a CCI cape/vest in blinding Rochester snow, just how many paper towels and plastic bags to have on hand at any given time, which things might spook a dog (automatic doors, floor grates, and mannequins, I’m looking at you), and that, no matter how many times you’ve offered the pup a chance to hurry, there are no guarantees that a visit will remain accident-free.
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These were taken for the girls’ valentines; their cards said, “Puppy Love”

We also learned that there are no “quick stops” when you’ve got a cape-wearing dog with you. This is simultaneously one the most wearisome and most awesome parts of raising a service pup: everyone, and I do mean everyone, wants to tell you their dog story, and especially their dead dog story. A simple trip to grab milk and toilet paper could turn into a 20-minute sojourn when Diamond came along, as we were stopped so people could scratch her head (only with permission, thanks very much), tell us about their black Lab back home, how their best friend’s cousin’s uncle’s boss’s wife once dreamed about getting a black Lab, or about good ol’ Rascal or Butch or Princess who was the light of their life but crossed over the rainbow bridge last week or last month or six years ago. It’s almost compulsory, this desire to share dog stories with us because of the cape-wearing pup at our side.

And, for us, those stories have become almost sacred. Dogs are special. Sharing them is special.

So was Diamond. She came with us to Kiawah and Minnesota, doing a stellar job on the airplane both times. (Our trip to Minnesota did, however, provide us with our favorite dog disaster story of all time: when Diamond left Easter egg-filled diarrhea all over the moving sidewalk at the MSP Airport…) She went with the girls into their classrooms. She joined them in the snow and the water, posed for photos in costume, and never, ever complained.
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After returning Diamond in May of 2011, we knew we wanted to raise another service dog pup. By the time Langston arrived in September, we felt more confident and were excited to put what Diamond had taught us into practice.

We’d been told that CCI could release dogs from Advanced Training at any time; only so many are cut out for a life of service. Nevertheless, we were surprised in October, 4.5 months into Advanced Training, to receive a call that Dizey was being released. (Long story short, she was occasionally, but unpredictably, aggressive with other dogs.)
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We adored Diamond. We would gladly have taken her back.
But because we adored her, we knew she couldn’t live with us. She deserved a home without other dogs to make her nervous. So we put the word out – and, very happily, Diamond became the forever pet of local friends who loved her dearly (even though she never outgrew counter-surfing). Her nickname was D-Money. She graced their Christmas cards. They brought her on countless adventures. And when she became mysteriously ill, they never gave up on trying to find out what was wrong, to help her, to make her comfortable.

Very sadly, despite their Herculean efforts, Diamond passed away three days ago. She was only eight-and-a-half years old.

It’s a strange feeling, losing someone who held great importance during a particular period of your life. Not quite missing; Diamond hadn’t felt like “our” dog for many, many years; Ella and Annie barely remember her. Not quite heartbreak; we loved her then, and remember her fondly, but it’s been a long time and our hearts have made room for 5 other CCI pups since then. There’s a buffer of respect and deference, too; Diamond was our puppy, but she was her forever family’s beloved pet.

Her passing is nevertheless a somber, poignant milestone, and Diamond will forever occupy a unique and significant place in our hearts. She introduced us to CCI – their specific commands, training methods, and approaches. She also introduced us to the world of service dogs and puppy raising, which has become one of our most central and important missions.
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Gabe and Fenwick

Because of Diamond, there was Langston – who, though he flunked out, has become our very best boy. Because of Diamond, there was Jambi, a pup-turned-breeder whose pups have directly changed the lives of dozens of people in need. Because of Diamond, there was Fenwick, whose placement with Gabe has forever made him happier. And because of Diamond, there was Jitter (now in her 5th month of Advanced Training) and Arlington (who has become a gigantic, genius goofball)… and who knows how many other pups yet to come.
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Jitter navigating the LIRR during Advanced Training; photo courtesy of her handler
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Arlington taking in ‘Black Panther.

Because of Diamond, we found one of our purposes in life. We cannot possibly express our gratitude to her, not only for being a fantastic puppy, but for introducing us to the world of service dogs. Diamond brought us into the CCI family, and nothing has been the same. Thank God.

Or, in this case, thank dog.

Godspeed, Dizey. You were a great pup, a terrific pet to your forever family, and you can bet that next time Arlington and I are stopped by someone in the grocery store, I’ll be sharing your story with them.
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