Turns out the invisibility cloak isn’t as much fun as I’d thought

I’ve been wanting – needing, actually – to write this post for some time. It’s been on my mind for weeks, but I haven’t figured out just what I want (or need) to say. I still haven’t, but I’m going for it anyway. Bear with me, please.

I knew that it would be really hard when Bill died. That’s a completely ridiculous statement, of course, because – duh – it’s always really hard when you lose someone you love. But I knew it would be more than emotionally hard; specifically, I knew it would be difficult being the spouse of someone who’s lost a parent.

‘Cause, y’all, this is not easy. It’s not easy answering your kids’ questions about death. It’s really not easy helping them navigate their own grief, when they can’t always verbalize their thoughts and feelings. You wind up second-guessing their meltdowns and seemingly unusual behaviors and wondering, Is this because Grandpa Bill died? Is it because of their new, crazy schedule? Is it simply because they’re being little schmucks? If you’re just being a schmuck, there’s an app for that. If you’re exhausted, we can re-work things so you get more sleep. But if this is Grandpa Bill-related, we can skip the time-out and go straight to the hugs. Shepherding kids through grief is complicated and scary and really damn stressful.

It’s also not easy being a supportive wife. Nick is so deeply sad, more sad than I can fully grasp, and I so want to help him… But there’s so little I can do. He’s working through his grief in his own way, and as much as I want to crawl in there beside him, I just can’t; it’s not my grief. It is a tremendously awful, peculiar feeling, watching and knowing that someone you love so very much is suffering, and you can’t fix it, you can’t take away their sadness. It’s a strange and anxiety-riddled spot, this spouse-of-someone-who-lost-a-parent place.

I know that just being here, both literally and emotionally, is perhaps what Nick needs the most (that, and someone with whom to not eat anything for five days, for the love). And I’m trying, very hard. I’d read that one of the best things a spouse can do when their partner is grieving so freshly is to take over most of the household chores, and so I’m trying to do that, too. I’m still doing what I used to, of course – getting the girls off to school, emptying the garbages, making most of the meals, doing the laundry, paying the bills – but I’ve been actively taking on chores that Nick and I used to share, from mowing the lawn to feeding the dogs. Perhaps surprisingly (given that I have a tendency to sometimes, um, keep score of who does what around the house; I know… not my finest quality…), I don’t mind any of this. I absolutely get it; the little things are just too much. And if I can’t help Nick actually feel less sad, at least I can let the dogs out before bed. There’s a comfort in that.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Running a household (for lack of a better term) is trying under good circumstances, when you’ve just gotten home from work and have dinner to make and homework to supervise and dogs to feed and floors to be vacuumed and laundry to be put away and emails to be written and books to be read and lunch boxes to be packed and fights to break up. It’s especially trying when you’re doing all of that and trying to help your children and your husband in the wake of losing their grandfather and their dad. I don’t mean to say that it’s harder being the spouse of someone who lost a parent than it is being the person whose parent died. Not at all. I’m not comparing. I’m simply saying that this spouse role is really tough.

It’s downright paralyzing when you, yourself, are grieving deeply, too.

There have been many, many times when I’ve wanted to curl up in bed and sob it out… but I just can’t. The girls need to get to school. Groceries need to be purchased. Dogs need to go to the vet. Life is going on, and when it’s up to me to see that we dot our Is and cross our Ts, plus actually shower every once in a while, there’s time to burst into tears while mowing the lawn and time to cry after reading emails that had long been forgotten, but there just isn’t time to fall apart.

Man, though… there have been times when I wanted to. I miss Bill fiercely.

Lest I give the wrong impression, Nick, for his part, has been fantastic. He knows that this has been hard for me, this balance of grieving and being there for him and the girls and making sure that the house-stuff functions as it should. We’ve talked many times, and he has done his damndest to support me. He knows that I’m sad, too.

But the thing is… No one else seemed to realize it. Whenever Bill’s death would come up in conversation, people would – rightly – jump in and ask how Nick was handling things. They’d maybe ask about the girls. They would offer their condolences. But very few people asked how I was handling things.

True story: people showed me more support and empathy when we lost Madison than when we lost Bill. Now, for sure, Maddy was tremendous, and I was heartbroken to see her go. But losing our dog wasn’t exactly in the same league as losing Bill.

In fact, not only did people not acknowledge that Bill’s death was hard for me, too, they purposely minimized it. When I saw the doctor for my bronchitis, he – very kindly – warned me that I was more susceptible to illness because of the stress in our lives. Then he said (and I quote, for real), “Even if it’s only your father-in-law, you’re still feeling that stress, so you need to take care of yourself.”

Even if it’s only my father-in-law.

Clearly, losing one’s spouse’s parent doesn’t even register on the list of things to feel sad about; who on earth would feel sorrow at the loss of a parent-in-law?? Which means that there’s not a whole lot of support offered to those in my position. We become invisible – necessary, helpful, but invisible. And yet, in reality, this has been the most difficult, most raw, most heartbreaking experience of my life. I cannot do this without support. I cannot do it without grieving.

But how was I supposed to grieve – while keeping our lives humming along – if no one even recognized that I could be grieving? How could they possibly offer strength and encouragement when it didn’t even occur them that I might need it, because it’s “only” my father-in-law? And how on earth was I supposed to explain that I needed it? It’s not really common practice to enter a room or a gathering of friends and gamely announce, “Hey, y’all. Rough waters. I need help.”  I debated pinning a button to my shirt that said, “I’m really sad because I lost someone important to me. Even if you don’t realize that he was important to me, he was. So I’m sad.” But that didn’t feel quite right.

To be clear, I was not wanting people to emphatically throw their arms around me and forget about Nick. He absolutely, justly, deserves and needs people’s support, sympathy, words of love, prayers, shoulders to cry on, proffered glasses of whiskey, and whatever else they would like to give. I have never wanted Nick to be unnoticed, nor for me and my desires to trump his. And, sure, if you want to get technical about it, I’ll grant you that he possibly deserves those things “more” than I do. Like I said, he’s experiencing a kind of sadness that I cannot truly comprehend. I am not comparing me to him.

But I’m still awfully damn sad, and I needed support.

That was what this post was originally going to be about – about my explaining why this was so hard for me, saying that no one gets that I’m upset, too, and to please acknowledge that this really, really sucks. But then two things happened: I wrote about Bill, and I spent some time with a wonderful friend. And now, this post is about something else. Or it’s about to be. Hang on.

Although I’ve been talking to, and seeking support from, friends and family on the phone and online, it just wasn’t enough, and my therapist strongly encouraged me to chat with someone face to face. I knew just the person – a new-ish but already very dear friend – and we tried for weeks to find a night to go out, but our schedules just didn’t mesh. At last, ten days ago, the stars aligned and we grabbed dinner at a local restaurant… and something changed.

She listened – really listened – to everything I had to say. About how stressful it was running the house, about how worried I was for the girls and for Nick, about how very sad I was about Bill but how no one even acknowledged that I could be sad, and I didn’t know what to do. She offered advice. She commiserated. But, most of all, she listened, and I felt heard – and , for the first time since Bill’s death, I felt un-crazy for being so sad. I felt supported. And I felt so very much better, like maybe I can make it through this after all.

Thank god for awesome friends.
And delicious Greek food the night before a five day juice cleanse.

Right around that time, I decided to write about Bill – because, even if no one understood that he could be that important to me, he was that important to me, and I just needed to say it. So I did. And, really… saying it made all the difference. That may be a cliché, but it’s true. Talking about Bill was so freeing, so good; writing let me get it out. As friends began reading the post, I – finally! – felt heard. People got it – no button-pinning necessary.

While I appreciated the catharsis, I didn’t expect to learn something in return. As friends commented about the post on Facebook, however, I came to understand how truly rare Bill’s and my relationship was, and how very, very lucky I am. Apparently, most people truly don’t mourn the loss of their parents-in-law the way that I am. They have a different kind of relationship with their in-laws, and when they die, profound sadness is – according to them – pretty unusual.

I guess, because I loved Bill so deeply, I couldn’t quite understand why people didn’t offer me an, “I’m so sorry, Emily” or “But how are you doing?” Now, I know differently. Now, when someone learns that I’ve lost my father-in-law and they don’t acknowledge that it’s my loss, too, I know it’s not because they don’t care (unless they’re just, like, jerks), but because they don’t know. I no longer become hurt or frustrated; instead, I try to count my blessings. I am reminded of how exceptionally fortunate I was to have loved Bill as I did, and to have been loved by him in return, and I am profoundly grateful. Gratitude is a pretty powerful thing.

So… if I’m all good, then why write this at all? Well, because I’m not all good. Yes, I no longer feel so alone, but this grief thing is still a load of crap. Even though not everyone understands having a fantastic relationship with one’s in-laws, everyone, on some level, can understand grief. And it’s just absurd to be putting constraints on grief based on preconceived notions of how someone should feel, or how close someone was “supposed” to be to the deceased. It’s high time we stopped doing it.

When my BFF Kiki lost her dad in the spring of 2006, there was absolutely no doubt that my mom, my stepdad, Nick and I would attend his funeral. John was very special to me; I’d known him my whole life, and his death hit me hard. Moreover, he was my oldest, awesomest friend’s father. She wanted me there, and I wanted to be there – for me as well as for her. No questions asked.

That is, until I returned to my classroom (after having called in a sub) and had to explain my absence. I’d already used up my personal days for the year, so taking a day “just because” wasn’t acceptable. I suppose I could have lied and said I was sick, but that was, you know, wrong, so I applied for a bereavement day instead. A couple of weeks later, I was contacted by the HR department to clarify my relationship to the deceased. You see, “best friend’s father who I have known my whole life and loved dearly” just didn’t cut it.

On the other hand, if John had been my parent, or my parent-in-law, or my cousin or my uncle, that would have been fine… even if he and I had hardly spoken over the years and I was taking the day off because I’d heard the food at the reception would kick butt. I puzzled over the form for the longest time, becoming more and more annoyed and angry with each passing minute. Who were they to determine what relationships were special enough to warrant “needing” a bereavement day? Who were they to tell me who I should, and shouldn’t, grieve? Who are we, as a society, to be doing the same?

I call bull.
Grief is grief. It is not something to be quantified or compared, but is our own, and only we know how deeply it affects us. Whether someone lost a spouse or a child or a third cousin once-removed or a childhood babysitter, grief is painful and it is real. People who are grieving deserve respect and support.

In the end, I decided that my sadness was real, and so was my relationship to John… or, should I say, “Uncle John.” Bereavement day granted.

And so this is why I decided to write this post: to propose three things. First, if you are grieving, please talk to someone. Whether that’s in person or via email or snail mail or in a blog entry that the entire world can read, talk. Get it out. Say something. Say anything. That, alone, can be so very therapeutic.

Secondly, if you learn that someone has recently experienced the death of a family member or friend, ask how they are. Don’t put constraints on their grief. Don’t assume that, because they lost a parent, they’re wallowing in sorrow and can hardly get out of bed. Don’t assume, because it’s “only” an in-law or an uncle or a 95 year-old great-grandparent who’d “lived a long, happy life,” that the person isn’t enormously sad. Don’t assume, period. Instead, ask. A simple, “How are you doing?” opens the door for the person to spill their soul to you or mutter, “Fine, thanks,” but at least it allows them to determine how they’re doing, rather than you doing it for them.

And finally, after you do ask how someone is doing, listen. Really listen. Let them talk – or not – and be there while they do. Let them know that you hear them, that they’re not alone, that you support and love them, that this sucks, but you’re there. Listen.

By doing so, we can all become a little less invisible. And, with time, a little bit better.

Advertisements

A dozen

Twelve years ago today, I married my best friend. We’d already been together for seven-and-a-half years, and living together (totally in sin) for almost four, so perhaps it might seem that the actual wedding wouldn’t have meant all that much… but it did.

For starters, I loved the wedding itself. We wanted to make it really “us,” so that we could share what meant the most to us with our guests – while also having a rockin’ kickass good time. And, from the a cappella singing to the Minnesota-themed centerpieces, from the autumn colors to the seating cards with the names written on treble clef staves, it was exactly what we’d hoped it would be. That everyone had braved the airlines and set aside their apprehensions to join us – only thirty miles outside of New York City – less than four weeks after September 11th, made it all the more humbling and incredible.

us wedding

But the best part was actually marrying this guy I’d fallen in love with so many years ago. We were making it official, this commitment thing. Nick was mine and I was his and now we were each other’s, this new unit. We were getting married. It was just what I’d hoped it would be, plus cake. WIN-WIN.

I’ve already talked about how being married has both fulfilled and defied my expectations – in surprising but good ways. For me, though, what’s gotten us this far – and what I hope will take us much farther – is that I did, truly, marry my best friend, and that friendship is at the center of everything we do.

I have other best friends, of course. Nick may be the guy I wake up beside, the one who knows me better than anyone, the one who makes me laugh each day, but I don’t share everything with him, nor does he meet every one of my needs. That’s why I have Kiki, who’s known me since birth (quite literally), and Sarah, my sister-wife (sorry, but you know it’s true), and the handful of high school and college friends (miss you, Jill and Jessica!) and new but fantastic ladies (you know who you are, Karina). They, too, are best friends, and I love them to pieces.

With Nick, it’s different. We share this whole, nutty life thing – not to mention the kids and the dogs and the house and our families and Homeland (Dana, with the sexting… Come on, girl!) – and that, by its very nature, connects us in ways that no other relationship can. But still, at the core of the connection, is a deeply-seated friendship. Wrapped up in all kinds of love stuff, ’cause my heart still skips a beat after all these years.

We could pretend that this anniversary is like all the others. We could just talk about how lucky and grateful we are, how we love each other more now than before, how much fun we’ve had, how wild the journey has been, how we wouldn’t have had it any other way. But we’d be lying. It is different this year… because Bill isn’t here.

When we lost him, I lost a dear friend – and Nick lost a best friend. His absence colors everything we do, subconsciously and purposefully, even a day that’s about us. Do I wish that it didn’t? That he wasn’t always on our minds? Sure. I don’t mean that I’m tired of thinking about him, but rather that I wish we didn’t need to be thinking of him like this in the first place… because I wish he were cancer-free, still here, calling us today to wish us well. He isn’t, though… but we continue forward, together.

At our wedding reception, Bill made a short, simple, beautiful toast:

“I wish you the optimism to transcend difficult times
The authenticy to pursue your dreams
The flexibility to learn and adapt to a changing world
The charity to connect with others
And the expanding love to continue to embrace each other and all of us.”

I’d like to think that we’re fulfilling his wishes. Or, at least, that we’re trying.

This twelfth year has been a doozy. That whole “for better or for worse” part has been tested time and time again. It’s a long, winding, challenging, exhausting journey… But still, through it all, I’ve found that there’s no one I’d rather be walking – and laughing – beside than Nick. I can’t wait to see what the next dozen years bring us.

Happy 12th anniversary, babe. Now and forever.
(BTW – next time you want to push that “in sickness and in health” stuff to the limit, I propose some yoga. Or a walking tour of a winery. Or a bike ride to Starbucks. Juicing just wasn’t in the marriage vows.)

us wedding2

I guess I just miss my friend

After we visited Minnesota in June to celebrate Bill’s 70th birthday, but before I wrote a post about how it had gone so uproariously wrong, I emailed Bill to ask if he would be comfortable with my mentioning his cancer. See, we knew that time was limited. A couple of months prior to the trip, we’d been told that nothing more could be done, and it was quite likely that this was the last time we’d all be together. And so, when illness struck and planes were delayed and the power failed and the car keys went missing and the painstakingly-created plans slowly but steadily began to crumble, we absolutely did our best to pull ourselves together and enjoy it, damn it! But somewhere, in the back of everyone’s minds, was the thought that this really, really wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. This was our last time together. It was supposed to be different.

Bill phoned me back, thanked me for considering his feelings, and then very politely asked me to not mention the cancer. First, he’d like to think that we would have gotten together to celebrate his 70th, anyway (we would). Second, he didn’t want people feeling they needed to fawn over him after they read the post (fair enough). Bill did want me to write about him, about cancer; in fact, he specifically asked me to do so. “I hope that you’ll talk about this later; I would be honored if you wrote about me.” He simply wanted me to wait until after he was gone, and then he was sure that I would do him justice.

Awesome. No pressure, Bill. Thanks.

It’s been four weeks since we lost him, and I’ve been thinking about what I want to say, how to possibly talk about someone who meant so much more to me than I can ever hope to illustrate. I could go on forever telling stories about him, trying to illuminate who he was as a person (as Nick did so very perfectly at the memorial). But I realize that I’ll never truly capture him the way I want to. Moreover, Nick – along with Bill’s other friends who spoke at the memorial – has already captured him so wholly that I don’t want to just repeat what they’ve said. And so, instead, I am simply going to talk the tiniest bit* about who Bill was to me… because he sure as hell wasn’t “just” my father-in-law.

* I realize that this is relative, given that this is probably my longest post ever. Work with me.

bill and me

Nick and I met over twenty years ago (omg!), when we were freshmen at Connecticut College. We formally began dating the following spring, and I met Bill around that time – whether it was when he came to visit Nick at Conn, or whether it was when I visited Nick in Minnesota that summer, I don’t recall, but I do know that we’ve known one another for over nineteen years – more than half my life. Despite Nick’s and my gag-inducing No One Has Ever Experienced A Love Like Ours behavior, Bill welcomed me cordially and openly; I did not have to “earn” my spot but was, instead, immediately one of the gang.

Bill is well-known for his sense of humor. He found something laughable in almost every situation, could tell enormously funny and clever jokes and stories, and was a terrific teaser. I knew early on that I’d fully been accepted into his world when he began to tease me, mercilously, about almost everything. Since forever, I’ve slept with a white noise machine, while Bill preferred to sleep in silence – or, better yet, with the windows open (something I cannot do, because my ADHD brain causes me to jump at every hint of sound… “Ooooh, some crickets!” “Is that a woodpecker?” “I didn’t know there was a train near here!” “People still listen to Kenny G?”). We each found the other’s sleep/noise preferences to be utterly baffling, and we discussed it – with mock seriousness – not infrequently.

One day – well before Nick and I were married, before I’d “officially” become family – this cartoon arrived in the mail: (click to see original size)
fax from bill
If you only tease the ones you love, Bill clearly thought I was the bees’ knees.

As nineteen years passed, Bill and I communicated regularly, sometimes over the phone or through texting, but mostly via email. Because Ella and Annie’s birthdays are in December, I try to get the rest of our Christmas shopping done early, so I’m not rushing around like a crazy person (well, no more than usual). One year, I’d already asked Bill what he’d like for Christmas, but had yet to receive an answer. In the meantime, Ella had lost a tooth, but the Tooth Fairy accidentally forgot to show that night. Bill, being perfectly him, touched upon both with his reply…

From me to Bill
Subject: Me, bugging you again

Hi!

Okay, I know I’m being a pain…
But I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to think of anything that might be on your Christmas wish list.

If so, I’d love to hear it.  🙂

Hope all’s well…
Thanks!
xoxo  🙂

Reply, from Bill to me
Subject: Re: Me, bugging you again

This is me bugging you. You gave me Twins tickets covering birthday, Christmas, father’s Day, fourth of July and Guy Fawkes Day.  No Christmas present for me other than that, thank you very much.
.
Is it true that the Tooth Fairy reported you to county social services?
.
Love you

Although not a doctor himself, Bill had a lifetime of experience in the medical field, advising many medical boards and being — to me, anyway — somewhat all-knowing when it came to medicine and medical care. A year ago, when Ella broke her foot, Nick and I were faced with an extremely formidable decision: to allow her foot to heal as it was (without surgery), knowing that, if it healed improperly, she would need a much more complicated surgery down the road… or try to avoid potential problems and go ahead with surgery right then, even though her foot seemed to be healing just fine. Nick and I were absolutely stumped. While the doctor left the room to get his assistants and remove Ella’s cast, I excused myself… and called Bill.

mn66

Last summer, when my aunt was dying of cancer and I wanted to speak with her but was uncomfortable picking up the phone, I called Bill to ask him how to talk to someone in a situation like this. His advice gave me the courage to phone her; we had a lovely conversation. She died less than a week later, and I am forever grateful that we had the chance to talk. Likewise, it was Bill who helped me when Ella first developed her allergy to the cold. Not only was her condition scary and baffling, but we couldn’t even educate ourselves on it because of the scarcity of information. Unprompted, Bill emailed me links to scholarly articles on the subject, so that we could be better prepared.

Come to think of it, Bill often sent me links to things I might find interesting, be it an article about storm chasers (because he knew I have a strange desire to see a tornado up close and personal; or, at least I did, until they went all Twister crazy these past few years), or a link to a children’s choir singing at the Queen’s jubilee celebration. But perhaps more than anything else, Bill and I emailed about cooking. We shared a love of all things epicurian, from restaurants to recipes to actually preparing food ourselves, and we bonded over our mutual appreciation of food time and time again. We exchanged recipes, gave one another cookbooks and culinary magazine subscriptions, and sent countless delicious goodies one another’s way, from bread-of-the-month clubs (omg, the chocolate sourdough) to unique oils and vinegars (the peach balsamic is still my favorite).

While I certainly turned to him for advice, he did the same to me; and every single time, I was honored and touched that he’d considered my opinion worthy of the asking. When taking photographs, he would inquire about lighting and angles. A few years ago, as he began teaching a new class at the U of M, he toyed with doing part of the course online, and asked what I thought of it, as an educator. Bill sought my assessment of music and musicians, and listened to me in earnest when I presented my point of view on a political topic. That my thoughts merited deliberation, when he himself was so intelligent and well-educated and witty, never ceased to please and humble me.

to annie from bill
Typical Grandpa Bill humor…

Bill was an extremely eloquent speaker and writer, always able to get his point across quite succinctly (even if his handwriting was atrocious). He also had a gift for reaching out and letting me know when he was proud of me, that he was thinking of me, or simply that he loved me. For the past five years, I’ve made separate photo books of Nick and me with the girls — one photo for each week — and have sent them to our respective parents. Always, Bill would reach out to let me know just how much they meant to him, while also managing to compliment me and make me feel like I was on top of the world.

I’m sure you know how much more than “just pictures” these gifts are.  Please know that we appreciate the effort, skill, caring and consideration involved in their preparation.

And that, really, was one of the things I loved most about Bill: his ability to make me feel fantastic. He did this with everyone he cared for – sharing stories, freely giving compliments, letting those he loved know that they mattered to him – so I know that I wasn’t unique… but I felt unique. I felt special. That’s probably because I was special to Bill. Yes, part of this was because we were related to one another. That he respected and appreciated me as his son’s wife, his granddaughters’ mother, and his own daughter-in-law, was never in doubt.

The following was sent four years ago as a prelude to a poem he’d found and wanted to share with me, entitled “To My Son’s Girlfriend” by Michael Milburn

It was at that point that I was struck by the realization that Nick has been with you for nearly as long as he was at home with me — to the extent that anyone can claim to be the “woodworker” here, the resulting table is as much of your hand as anyone’s.  That thought then led to a brief reverie on how happy it makes me to see Nick in such a wonderful family and how proud I am of you, him, Ella and Annie.  It is one thing to watch one’s offspring take their first steps, do well in school, head off to college.  It is quite another to watch their lives unfold and enfold in the context of the family of their own making.  It’s a wonderful thing, this family stuff.
.
Our family ties meant a lot to me, too. I was honored and gladdened to have him as my father-in-law, as the father of my husband, and as the grandfather of my children. He and Nick shared an uncommonly strong partnership, and seeing them interact together filled me with awe and deep, unbridled happiness. I reveled in being with the whole clan, watching him as a father to Nelle and Em, and seeing him blossom whenever he was with Mary, our girls’ GranMary. Alongside her, Bill was a superb grandfather, delighting in the girls’ accomplishments and interests and constantly looking for new and inventive ways to connect with them. I relished every one of these familial bonds.

Talking with the tooth fairy via video chat
Posing as the Tooth Fairy for a video chat, after Eleanor lost a tooth.
.
There can be no doubt that the roles Bill and I played strengthened our relationship. With that said, Bill was not just my father-in-law, nor my husband’s father, nor my children’s grandfather – nor was I, to him, just a daughter-in-law, nor his son’s wife, nor his granddaughters’ mother. What is perhaps most remarkable about Bill’s and my relationship – and what, I think, I will miss the most – is that we loved each another just because, regardless of the roles we played in one another’s lives.
.
This is not to discredit the relationships where role does play a central, if not the most important, factor. When Ella and Annie were born, I felt an immediate and irrefutable connection to them; they were my children, they were part of Nick and me. I loved them with every fiber of my being and would have thrown myself in front of a car for them or – God help me – braved the line for Justin Beiber tickets, had they asked me to, before their personalities had even emerged – simply because they were mine. As they have grown into the human beings they are today, it so happens that I genuinely like the people they are becoming, and the love I have for them has deepened as a result; but, at its core, I adore them because they are my daughters, and I am their mom.
.
Likewise, there is a particularly warm and terrific feeling in being my own parents’ daughter, and to having them as my mom and dad. I know that I am loved at the simplest and most profound level, and that is comforting and incredible. On the other hand, it is also incredible to know that Bill loved me, no matter what our roles may have been. I am firmly convinced, if Nick and Ella and Annie had somehow disappeared, and we had nothing left to tie us together, no assigned parts to play in each other’s worlds, that Bill would still have continued to think I was fantastic, just because I am me.
.
We did not have to love one another; surely, we could have gotten by with pleasantries and some form tolerance or perhaps even mutual admiration, as so many in-laws do. Instead, we chose to love one another, and that kind of love is, indeed, elusive and special. He was Bill, and I was Emily, and I miss him oh so very much.
.
little family
.
I miss playing Words With Friends with him. He was an intimidating and daunting opponent (although, not to brag, but I totally beat him a lot), and our games were some of the ones I looked forward to the most. I haven’t played WWF with anyone in at least six weeks (sorry, peeps), because, as he got sicker, Bill had stopped playing, and I was terrified of being informed that our game was over. I still am.
.
I miss his hugs, the way his long arms circled all the way around me and pulled me in tight; I can’t believe that I’ll never hug him again. It is simply not possible that he won’t be the Tooth Fairy when Annie loses her next pearly white. Bill’s sideline cheering is the stuff of legend, and I cannot wrap my head around the idea that he’ll never attend Annie’s soccer games or see one of Ella’s swim meets or congratulate Nick when he earns his MBA. That he won’t walk through my door again with a stack of photocopied (and annotated) recipes for me to try makes my stomach hurt, quite literally.
.
I can no longer phone him when a medical crisis strikes, nor ask his opinion on how to comfort a friend in need, nor tell him about my subbing assignments and how ecstatic I am to be back in the classroom. There will be no more games of Hand and Foot with him and Mary and Nick after the girls go to bed, wherein he scribbles “Them” and “Us” or “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” to keep score. There is no one with whom to discuss the finer points of extra virgin versus flavored olive oil. When we visit his house, I can turn on the sound machine in my bedroom, and know that he won’t be there to shake his head and laugh. God, how I miss his laugh.
.
And, quite frankly, that’s just shit. It’s not okay. It just isn’t.
.
A few days ago, I was trying to describe Bill, and my relationship with him, to my therapist. The emails, the articles, the jokes, the recipes. Card games, meals, phone calls, laughs. Oh, how he laughed! He laughed at so many things, but he also laughed at me – not like that, but rather because he thought I was funny – really, truly funny. I made Bill laugh, often; little has given me more joyful pride.
.
As I rambled on, I began to falter, because I couldn’t put my thoughts into words. He was my father-in-law, yes, he was my family, but he was so very much more. We talked; we shared; we consulted; we hoped. He was Bill, and he meant the world to me.
.
My therapist listened, thought for a moment, then looked at me and said, simply, “He was your friend; your dear friend.”
.
My friend.
Perhaps this is odd, but I’d never thought of Bill as my friend. To be sure, Bill was a tremendous friend himself, and had a great many of them, but I’d never included myself among them. I knew, certainly, that he was a phenomenal friend to Nick. In fact, not too long ago, when Nick was at a loss for how to express his sadness, I attempted to help give voice to his feelings by (mis)quoting Red from The Shawshank Redemption: “I guess you just miss your friend.”
.
But, somehow, I’d never considered that Bill was my friend, too.
.
kiss
.
After his memorial two weeks ago, a group of us gathered at a nearby bar to more raucously celebrate his life. Although Nick and his sisters were surrounded by marvelous friends and family, and although I knew many of them, I felt out of place. I’d been battling bronchitis and felt like crap, and when sadness threatened to overtake me, I decided that, instead of being the morose, coughing, teetotaler in the corner, I’d take myself away for a bit. Not knowing where to go, I found myself in our rental car, curled up on the passenger seat, tears flowing freely.
.
To make the maudlin scene complete (because I do so like a good drama), I determined that now was a good time to re-read some of Bill’s old emails to me, including one titled “Brown”.
.
Hi — on the off chance that you have not seen the TED talks by Brene Brown, I encourage you to watch these two.
I’m using these to teach leadership, but I think her message is widely applicable.  Moreover, she’s a great speaker and reminds me a bit of you, except you’re a better story teller. Love you.
Bill
.
I remembered receiving the emails way back in February, but – to my dismay – realized that I had never watched either video. (Cue lots more tears.) And so, hunched up in the car in my brand new eggplant-colored memorial dress, I resolved that now was as good a time as any to click on those links.
.
I listened to every word, all forty-one minutes of them. Brené is, without a doubt, a great speaker (and certainly a better story teller than I, despite Bill’s generous assertion); I found myself utterly drawn in. Moreover, I found myself hearing – really hearing – what she had to say; it was a watershed moment.
.

If I had listened to these talks back in February, they wouldn’t have resonated with me. These last few months have been so nutty, so sad, so unbelievable, I truly don’t think I could have processed Brené’s message – or, if I could, I would have lost focus along the way. Today, although I’m hardly in excellent shape emotionally, I feel much more open, much more receptive… much more vulnerable. Which, by her definition, means that I’m standing at the birthplace of joy and love (holla!). And, man, could I use some joy and love right about now.

Practicing gratitude? That, I can do. Looking for the good and the funny and the beautiful? I think I’ve got that part down. The rest is not going to be smooth sailing, this being accepting of myself, of my imperfections. Breathing through this time is incredibly difficult. And believing that I’m enough? Far easier said than done.

But Bill believed it. For him, I was enough, just as I am. Bill loved with his whole heart and told me – told all of us, for whom this was true – that he loved us, constantly. He was also imperfect, having made a great many mistakes, as we all do; but he embraced his imperfections and moved forward.

As much as I wished I’d seen these talks six months ago so that I could have thanked Bill for sharing them, I think that I was meant to see them now, when I need them most. That I saved them and then magically found them again, when I am actually ready, is surely not a coincidence (right, Bill, wherever you are?). Brené’s words resonated with me to my core – so much so that, upon completing the second video, my very first thought was, “I’ve got to tell Bill!”

Oh. Right.

Fuck.

mn august132a1

“Father-in-law” is such a generic term, and Bill was anything but generic. He was bold. He was thoughtful. He was thought-provoking. He was funny. He was highly intelligent. He was kind. He was empathetic. He was curious. He was impish. He was loving. He was a gifted storyteller. He was devoted. He was good.

He was my husband’s father. He was my daughters’ grandfather. He was my father-in-law. He was my family. 
He was my friend; my dear friend.

My life is forever changed for having lost him, and forever better for having known and loved him. Every day, I am moving forward – partly because I want to, and partly because there is no choice. Yes, there is genuine joy and so very much gratitude. I am trying consciously to live whole-heartedly, to accept myself, to breathe through these days. But Bill is never far from my thoughts and my heart, which still hurts more than I thought possible.

I guess I just miss my friend.

Dr. Spock didn’t know everything…

Those moments right before you tuck your kid to sleep are supposed to be their magic minutes. They’re sleepy, they’re cozy, they’re just a bit hazy, like maybe they’ve visited the dentist and received too much Novocain – which, in turn, results in darling and cuddly conversations, delightful musings, and oodles of freely-given hugs.

At least, that’s the theory.

But ever since getting stuck sunny-side-up in the birth canal and requiring an emergency c-section (after many hours of no-epidural pushing, thank you very much), despite being expected to be an “easy” delivery, Annie has taken theories into her own hands and mangled molded them into something much more Annie-appropriate. “Annie” does not appear anywhere in the dozens of parenting handbooks I purchased (pre-kids, naturally), and so we’ve been learning this parenting thing on the fly.

Which is not to say that her bedtimes aren’t very special, indeed.

As Nick tucked her in last week, Annie suddenly began peppering him with questions about his father’s recent death. Not just any questions… but specifics. How did he die? Where? When? Nick did his best to answer, using kid-friendly language that would placate her but not scare her. All appeared to be going well until the gears began turning in Annie’s head just a little too hard.

See, Grampa Bill is really the only person Annie has lost (thankfully), and her other firsthand knowledge of death was formed by our dog, Madison, who was gently put to sleep – at our home – in June. Annie had been at Grampa Bill and GranMary’s house only a week before Bill passed away, and had seen the hospice nurse coming and going, so it makes sense that she’d make a medical-personnel-housecall connection. Still, Nick was unprepared for her to screw up her darling little face and innocently ask,

“So, did the doctor come and put Grampa Bill down?”

Ah, six year-olds. So adorable.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite!

———————————

Bedtime, three nights later…

Okay, sweetie. Sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morning.

“Mommy, wait.”

Yes, Banana?

“What does the word ass mean?”

Excuse me?

Ass. What does it mean?”

Ummm… Where have you heard that word?

“I don’t know. Just around.”

(Thanks ever so much, Cake Boss.)

“So, what does it mean?”

*silence*

“WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”

Uhhhh… Donkey?
(I wish I could say I’m joking, but I actually said this)

Ass means donkey?”

Yes. Yes it does. Sometimes, that’s another word for donkey.

“Interesting. So, instead of saying donkey, I could just say…”

Well, actually, I think maybe you’ve heard people use it to mean ‘butt.’

“Butt??”

Yes. Like your bum. Your behind. It means that, too.

“That’s funny!”

I can see why you think that.

“Does it mean anything else?”

Well…. I guess it kind of means ‘jerk,’ too.

“What do you mean?”

Some people use that word to call someone a jerk.

“Like, you’re a jerkish ass?”

That’s not exactly what I was thinking, but sure, I guess so.

“Jerkish ass. I like that!”

I understand why you think so, but actually, you shouldn’t use that word.

“Which word? Jerkish or ass?”

Both.

“Oh, okay. Goodnight, Mommy!”

Goodnight.

——————————–

What Annie’s bedtime lacks in terms of cozied-up musings is made up for by way of the best hugs on the face of the planet. Our girl is strong, y’all.

The parenting books do not prepare you for this. Which is probably why they’re gathering dust on the shelves of our bedroom. I’m just fine with that; they were undoubtedly written by jerkish asses, anyway.

Oh, and all you bedbugs? I’d think twice before biting Annie.
I bet she bites back.

Forgotten, but remembered..

Since school began last week, I have spent some time each day looking through old photographs to find pictures of my father-in-law. Part of this is because his memorial is coming up, and part of it is simply because it helps me to feel closer to him. I’ve always loved photos, wasting roll after roll of film to take “artsy” pictures in the days before digital photography was invented, creating my own scrapbooks before I’d even heard of Creative Memories, and saving nearly every photo I’ve ever taken or been given.

Which means that locating photos of anything specific is a daunting task, indeed. There are boxes of actual prints, boxes with film negatives, scrapbooks and photobooks, dozens of floppy disks bearing helpfully descriptive labels like “Snow” (which can only be viewed on a laptop that is at least fifteen years old, is missing three of its keys, and whose “A” button no longer functions), folder after folder of digital photos on external hard drives, and troves of photos I’ve uploaded to a minimum of six sites online. I recognize that this sounds absurd, but going through old pictures is exhausting, man.

The discoveries, however, have made the search process worthwhile. Nick with his permed hair (I’m not even kidding); the rodeo we attended in Colorado; the cross-country trip my brother and I made when I graduated from college; the one of me with Harry Connick Jr. (I believe I sent it out to friends and relatives that year for Thanksgiving, with the caption “I’m thankful for this…”) – and, of course, many photos of Bill.

I remembered a lot of them, but some were true gifts – ones that I didn’t even know I’d taken, that were likely glossed over because they weren’t “good” pictures. While I’ve forever loved taking photos, it’s only now, finding these, that I’m coming to truly be grateful for the bazillions of pictures I’ve stored up, because each one – even the ones where no one’s smiling at the camera, where something’s blurry, which might even have been taken by accident – perfectly captures him just as he was, and gives me a brief glimpse into a long-forgotten memory, and that makes my heart so very happy.

It was while going through these tomes of photos that I came across another collection of pictures that I didn’t remember taking, this time of a visit Nick and I had made to the Statue of Liberty in March of 2000. Except they weren’t just of Lady Liberty, but of the vista surrounding her… including this:

towers

It took my breath away, quite literally.

At the time, Nick was completing several months of training in NYC, and I visited him once or twice from our apartment in Denver; we must have made the journey to Liberty Island during one of those trips, although I don’t remember doing so.

I do remember where we were a year-and-a-half later, on the day that life changed. Our new apartment was less than thirty miles outside of Manhattan, and I remember the blue of the sky; the silence of the trains; the roars of the fighter jets; the whirls of the helicopter blades; the “All Circuits Are Busy” recording as we frantically called our many friends and relatives both in the city (to see if they were okay; miraculously, they were) and across the country (to let them know that we were okay).

I remember, in the days and weeks that followed, walking through the dust and ash that covered so much of Manhattan, extending a great deal farther from Ground Zero than I had thought possible. I remember the smells, though I wish I could forget them. I remember the posters of the missing, hung from every available telephone pole or fence post. I remember the view from one of our best friend’s Battery Park-facing windows, and how horrifically empty it now was.

I remember reading the New York Times’s “Portraits of Grief” – every single one – feeling, somehow, that the very least I could do was learn a little bit about the lives of those 2500 (plus) who were killed, wanting to get to know them individually, rather than just lumping them together as so many, anonymous victims.

And I was struck by how often the biography mentioned something along the lines of, “The last words s/he said to me that morning were ‘I love you.’” Or, heartbreakingly, “I forgot to say ‘I love you’ that morning.” It seems like such a little thing, but since that time, I have made a point of (trying to) never – ever – leaving Nick, the girls, or my family and friends without telling them that I love them. No matter how brief the conversation, even if it’s just an “xo” at the end of an email, no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I tell them that I love them. Because, well, you just never know. Plus, a little extra love is always a good thing.

(Ironically, the only other trip I remember taking to the Statue of Liberty was with Bill [and his wife, Mary] in the winter of 2002 or 2003. To my dismay, I don’t have photos of that visit, but I remember that it was bitterly cold… and that we were happy.)

So much changed on that Tuesday morning twelve years ago, far beyond the new rules for air travel and the ever-present “If you see something, say something!” signs that are all around Manhattan. Yes, of course, I will never forget. But I will also remember – the sights, the sounds, the smells – but more than that, how we all, however briefly, came together, supported one another, and held fast to hope.

And how very much we loved.
More than anything, I am still remembering that love today, and always.

xo

 

 

 

One day at a time

If you asked me what I liked best about being a parent, I might reply that it’s incredible seeing these beings who Nick and I created turning into actual, amazing humans. Or maybe something about what fun it is to watch them be sisters together. Or how great it is to have an excuse to watch Aladdin any time I want.

But, really, one of the best things about being a parent is the ability to tease my offspring, give them a hard time, and generally pester them all day long. As Ella’s embarrassment threshold has lowered, with instant looks of shock and horror the moment Nick or I do something that doesn’t suit her, we have become all the more determined to dance in public, call her by her code name (Vanessa Stinkbottom), and kiss one another when other people are watching (oh mah gah).

Lest you worry that we’re causing permanent damage, a) we never act up for too long, b) she plays along gamely, and c) she always knows that we’re kidding. We talk about it with her and make sure that we’re not actually torturing her. Plus, we’ve volunteered to pay for her future therapy, so it all evens out in the end.

As we were driving home from the lake on Labor Day, both girls were in rare form. They’d been at the lake for five days visiting with their Grandma and Pops, as well as their Uncle Taylor and my grandma, Phoofsy, while Nick and I were out of town, and they’d had a marvelous time. The end-of-summer festivities had filled them to the brim, and they were melancholy about returning home and starting school a couple of days later. That melancholy met up with their general apprehension about new classes and teachers, and created a delightful combination that might be described as complete and utter freakishness.

Hands could not be kept to selves. Feet could not be kept to selves. Voices were impossible to lower. It was just too much, this end of summer nonsense, and they were not to be contained.

At first, we ignored them, understanding how they were feeling and appreciating that they couldn’t just kick back with a glass of wine and let it all out. But as their tomfoolery gave way to pokes and kicks and pinches and screams, we could feel the change in the air, and knew that if we didn’t do something fast, one of them wasn’t getting out alive. To get their attention, I told them about a friend’s Facebook post: her sons had been playing the Quiet Game at bedtime, and had been silent for a good ten minutes when she checked on them (hoping they were asleep)… heard one brother fart… and other say, “You lose!”

Annie and Ella thought this was maybe the most hilarious story ever, and were intrigued with the Quiet Game. This isn’t something we’ve played with them too much, in part because we really haven’t needed to, and in part because I, personally, hate losing, and keeping my mouth shut is not exactly one of my strengths (in case you hadn’t noticed). Given their level of bat-shit-craziness, however, Nick suggested that we play right there in the car and see who could be the quietest for the remainder of our drive. Thrilled that we’d be playing with them (thanks so much, Nick), the girls were immediately sold, and the game began.

For the first minute or so, everyone just sat still, which was lovely and all, but pretty boring, quite frankly. I knew that my chances of winning would increase dramatically if I could do something to get the girls to make sound, so I decided to do what typically elicits the loudest protests: make a fool out of myself and embarrass them. And so the seat dancing began. With gusto.

I looked back in the rearview mirror to see Ella’s eyes widen with horror, then flash with indignation as she realized that if she told me to knock it off, she’d be out of the game. Nick immediately picked up on what I was doing and began epically rocking out in his seat as well.

Not ones to let us get the upper hand, the girls quickly upped their ante. Feet were pressed against the backs of seats, knowing that we couldn’t tell them to put them down. Spare car socks were plucked from their little pockets and chucked in our direction. They made faces at one another and stuck their tongues out at us.

Windows were lowered and feet were waved out of the car. I honked at every house we passed (including several where we knew the occupants, thereby exponentially increasing the embarrassment potential). I raised the stereo volume to deafening and opened all of the windows. Nick removed his shirt and hung his bare torso out the window. When I came to a stop sign, he leaned over and we locked lips for an absurd amount of time.

By the time we arrived home, the car was a complete disaster… but no one had uttered a word. It had probably been the rowdiest version of the Quiet Game, like, ever, which was kind of the opposite of what we’d originally intended, but which wound up being just what all of us needed — Nick and me, especially.

This past week has been incredibly difficult, to say the very least. Everything is surreal; it is simply impossible that Bill is gone, and that we are going on without him. There are moments when it’s hard to breathe, when the crushing sadness of it all threatens to overcome me, and I wonder how anyone survives a loss like this. And I know that Nick is feeling it so much more deeply than I am, and his sadness makes my heart ache and my stomach hurt.

But, with kids, you cannot wallow in your sadness. That’s not to say that we feel the need to completely stifle our emotions – we don’t, and we’re real and honest with them when we’re feeling sad – but we also don’t want to scare them or make them sad. And also, I don’t want to be sad around them. I want to enjoy them, to laugh with them, to be with them – really with them – and not lost in a surreal cloud of grief.

At times, having Ella and Annie makes all of this more difficult. Frankly, it’d be nice to occasionally have the chance to just stay in bed, or to not stop my tears because I hear them coming down the stairs. Grieving and parenting are not good bedfellows.

But, on the other hand, Annie and Ella make all of this so very much easier. They’re not bogged down with sadness, and seeing them continue to laugh and live and just be kids makes my spirits lift every time. When they’re around, I pull myself out of my sadness and focus on them…

… and the bean and tomato salad Ella created last week from our garden…
8.27 garden fare
It was actually quite tasty, especially served on the Mickey plate.

… on Annie taking my hand and skipping with me through Target…8.28 holding hands in target
I know the picture is wicked blurry, but that’s what happens when you take a photo while giddily skipping through Target.
Bonus points for our skipping embarrassing Ella to no end.

 

… on Ella finally deciding to have me change her earrings (five months after she got her ears pierced), and flashing the most enormous grin ever – after crying about it for a good twenty minutes – on the night before third grade…
9.03 giddy earring changer
Mickey Mouse earrings FTW!

… on Annie losing her first tooth on the first day of first grade…
9.04 first tooth
Well timed, kiddo.

… on the final boat ride before school begins, and jumping gleefully off the back of the boat…

9.01 last lake day jump

I know these coming weeks will be far from easy, but with these girls around, I know that I’ll have something to smile about every single day.

Especially if we play the Quiet Game. Next time, they’re going down.

9.04 back to school girlies
All smiles after the first day of school.
I may or may not have toasted with a glass of Pinot. What happens at home stays at home, y’all.

 

Move over, Jackass

The start of school smells good. I don’t just say this because today was one of the most perfect days, weatherwise, we’ve experienced maybe, like, ever, nor because of the girls’ fresh, clean, new school stuff, all of which comes with its fresh, clean, new smell… New backpacks, new supplies (erasers, I heart you), new clothes, new lunch boxes… Each has its own crisp aroma, un-stained, not yet having taken on the stank of leftover spaghetti or forgotten sneakers.

Beyond that, however, there’s still the geeky kid in me who always loved the start of school each year, and that kid sits eagerly beside the teacher in me, who met the beginning of each September with equal parts trepidation and exhilaration. Yes, the year holds the possibility of something dreadful, of birds pooping on your head while you wait in line to go inside from recess (first grade, true story; Sarah Tallman was kind enough to help get the poop out of my hair while everyone else laughed), of classmates who are tyrants hiding behind polo shirts and jeggings, of parents who think that little Junior deserves special treatment and plays the not my child card every. single. time. But there’s also the promise of new friends, of clean notebooks and smooth desks, of games at recess and giggles during library, of field trips and science experiments, of fall and cinnamon and hay rides.

A month in, school begins to take on the metallic, pungent smell of tiny, sweaty bodies who defy logic and seem to need deodorant, despite being only eight. But the start of school? Those first, unblemished, ripe-with-promise weeks? They smell great.

Each year, as the girls begin school, I try to do something special for them – a fun first day breakfast, a treat when they come home, a dinner of their choosing, notes in their backpacks – something to make this day stand apart from the other 179 days of the school calendar. This year, with the (very) recent loss of my much-adored father-in-law (there will be more to say on this in coming weeks – I promised Bill it would be so – but right now, I need to wait and process and grieve, and think about just what I’d like to write), I have had to cut myself a break and be patient with my lack of focus… but I still want to be doing these special things. Not for any grander purpose, not because of any outside pressure, not even because of expectations that I may have inadvertently raised in my children, but simply because they make me happy.

And, I’m learning, that’s a pretty damn good reason for doing most things.

Except watching Real Housewives (of Anywhere). Or wearing Uggs year-round. Or preferring dark chocolate to milk. There are rules, people.

I’m also learning what I can and cannot do, and I’m learning to be okay with it. Which isn’t such a novel concept, except I recently read two seemingly opposing blog posts and found myself agreeing with basically everything they both said. Which means… thinking. And growing. And learning. Or something. And all that jazz.

First, I read this post, and loved it not only because “Pinterest Bitches” is a fabulous phrase and they worked “explosive diarrhea” into their narrative, but also because, hell yes! Crazytown! A stitched-together pencil caddy? “Yay school” and a little globe? Have we all gone insane?? Reading that post made me feel instantly better about getting the time wrong for Ella’s meet-the-teacher day, and going to Target yesterday in biker shorts and a dirty Zumba t-shirt.

But then I read this post today. Michelle had me with “braless in the drop off lane”(and also made me feel a little like maybe she was stalking me with the whole, Does Emily pause before posting about finally, finally having her depression under control because she knows there are other moms still struggling? thing), but also got my attention by mentioning, despite her house never being company-ready, that she does throw “Pinterest worthy” parties… both of which sounded awfully familiar. (Not because the parties I throw are necessarily Pinterest worthy, but because I, um, did post photos here specifically so I could put them on Pinterest.)

So… It seems that the Pinterest Bitch would be… me.

Conundrum, no?

The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more I’ve decided that the dichotomy not only makes sense… it’s okay. It’s good, even. It’s just me; it’s who I am. It hurts no one (except myself, when I stay up too late making Looney Tunes birthday cakes or getting pancake batter ready to go for the first day of school). It’s a bit nutty, but that’s fine. It makes me happy.

And it’s high time that I reconcile what I can and cannot do, and become okay with it. Or, as Michelle puts it, it’s high time that I “quit being a jackass” to myself.

I can make cute first-day-of-school breakfasts with pancakes shaped like school buses and the girls’ current grade numbers. first day breakfast
Don’t worry; Annie eventually received more than 1 cut-up strawberry. We are all about equity in this house.

I can make brownies for when the girls come home from school, with their newly-begun grade levels powdered-sugared onto them.first day brownies
Notice how these are the corners? I ate the gooey middle piece. It was delicious.

I can send my kids off to school, and welcome them home from their first day, with a bang (a bang that is created with the help of boxed mixes from Wegmans, but a bang nonetheless), and they love it, and I love it, and it’s just the way it goes. I cannot, however, manage to keep our fridge and cupboards stocked with actual necessary food, so when my kids request a sandwich with pepperoni and cheese, they’re going to get some pepperoni and a torn-up cheese stick instead.
IMG_3537
Yep. Real lunch from last year. Super proud moment.

School bus pancakes. Cheese stick sandwiches. Pretty much me in a nutshell.

I can send my girls to school each day with a joke in their lunch boxes (or a joke told over the phone)…
first day joke
Ellen” and her Facebook page FTW!

… But I cannot organize the papers in the kitchen – nor manage to replace the window shade that’s been broken for at least two years – to save my soul.

messy papers
I know you’re jealous. Just keepin’ it real.

I can make number signs the night before and pose my adorable children in front of the house on their first day…

ella first day 3rd
HOLY CRAP, she has gotten so absurdly old.

… But, for the life of me, I cannot get ahold of the weeds that are overtaking every spare space in our garden, in the yard, and on the sidewalk.
annie first day 1st
The foot-tall “bushes” to the left, in front of the bricks? Yeah. Weeds. Every last one.

It used to be that both sides of this coin bothered and embarrassed me. I didn’t want to admit that I studied hair blogs so that I could send the girls off to school with cute and fancy ‘dos, because that somehow felt like something I should be ashamed of – as though admitting it would somehow be showing off, or trying to put other non-hairdo-ing parents down, or saying that I had too much time on my hands, or making a judgement one way or another.

And yet, I also didn’t want to admit that the third seat of the car is so filled with dog fur, we cannot have people ride there without producing a towel for them to sit on. That was also something to be ashamed of, an admission that I cannot keep everything together, that I let some things go.

But lately – and quite uncharacteristically – I’ve been going easy on myself. I’ve come to realize that I don’t always have it all together (a shocker, I know, I know), not even in a scattered sort of way, and that’s okay. I’ve certainly never felt that I’m Super Mom, but I’m coming to see that my priorities are just that — my priorities — and that automatically makes them different from everyone else’s… but it doesn’t make them bad or wrong, nor something to be bothered by or ashamed of.

Again, to paraphrase Michelle (can you tell I really liked her post?!), I’m being a good parent. I’m loving my kids. I’m doing the best I can.

And it makes me happy.

I’m going to scour Pinterest for ideas and then send my girls to school with Halloween-themed Bento boxes – because it makes me smile – and doing so says nothing about anyone else who thinks that Bento boxes are as absurd as The Real Housewives. It says only that I like them, and that’s okay.

I’m never going to knit the girls a scarf, nor make them fabulous scrapbooks, nor send them to school with stitched-together pencil caddies, because that’s just not my bag… which is also okay. And I will always have a perpetually messy stovetop, because making Halloween-themed Bento boxes takes priority over stovetop scrubbing (plus also, hello ADHD), and that says nothing about people who do prize a gleaming kitchen. It only says that I don’t, and that’s okay, too.

Some things I can do.
Others, I can’t.
Or maybe I just don’t. Either way, it’s okay.

I’m going to give myself more of a break, cut myself a little more slack, and allow life to slowly come back together, without rushing it or being impatient with myself when I need to take a little more time. I’m going to do the things that make me happy, and worry far less about the things that don’t (except for, like, mowing the lawn and paying bills, because when I let those slide, it doesn’t work so well), and I’m going to stop apologizing for both. And I’m going to encourage everyone around me to do the very same.

In short, I’m going to quit being a jackass to myself.