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A Word So Powerful It Gives Me Chills: Motherhood

Motherhood.

It is a word so powerful that just typing it gives me the chills. A word that encompasses responsibility, love, and sacrifice, and while I always have been grateful for and appreciated my own mother, I did not realize how much until my daughter was born in September of 2019.

From the time my water broke at 4 p.m. until she was born via c-section at 9:01, all I could think about was her future. Am I strong enough to do this? Will she be a good human? Will she have a passion for animals and heart for rescue as much as I do? How can I make her happy? It has been nine months since that day and it makes my heart happy seeing the joy in her eyes when she looks at her pets. She is full of life and has the most contagious laugh. It is a privilege to be her mother.

motherhood

Ana will grow up and have her own dreams in her pursuit of happiness. She will make decisions I will not agree with, but I hope she will trust me enough to ask my opinion beforehand. I hope we have a relationship that goes beyond parent and child; a friendship so honest and pure that it resembles mine with my mother. She is my confidant, constant cheerleader, and biggest supporter.

As I reflect on my childhood and the relationship with my own mother, I am so proud to call her mine and have her in Ana’s life.

I never understood the sacrifices that were made until I sacrificed my size 6 figure, hair highlights, sleep, and time to myself for a 5.5 pound little girl. Her time as a stay-at-home mom is different than mine as a working mom. We lived in the country with open land and wild animals all around. I am raising Ana in a suburb with parks and dogs being walked by their owners. She cooked everything by hand, and while I do the best I can, I will admit I have a love affair with Costco.

Although the childhood environments may be different, the love my mom has for me and mine for my daughter are the same. It is a beautiful thing to share my first motherhood experiences with my own mama, and I pray Ana can do the same one day. Things that once mattered do not as much anymore, and I am finding that more and more to be okay.

As women, we are just as powerful as the word motherhood, and we should not be ashamed to show that to the world.

Back to School During a Pandemic

So many questions during this back to school time.

If you’re sending your child back to school during this pandemic, there’s probably a lot going through your mind. What will school look like? How will my child react to the changes? Will my kids be safe at school? What will be different? Will anything be the same?

So. Many. Questions.

Districts are releasing plans detailing social distancing guidelines, mask requirements, sick student procedures… the list goes on. There is a lot of information to process and things are constantly changing. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone has all of the answers they want. Especially teachers! The logistics of all of this is mind-blowing. I recently attended a virtual brainstorming session on arrival/dismissal procedures and it ended with even more questions than when it began!

But even without all of those questions answered, you can do some things to help your student start the new school year off on the right foot.

back to school

First, remember that you set the tone. Even if you don’t agree with something your child’s school is doing, be as positive as possible. If you’re upset with something and voice that to your child, your child will likely report that right back to his or her friends or teacher.

Next, start talking to your child now about what they’re going to experience in school. It’s going to be different and they need to know that. Your child will be much more successful if they have at least some idea of what to expect. Practice standing 6 feet apart. Talk about staying in their own space or “bubble.” Explain how lunch and recess will work (if you know at this point). Talk about how there will likely be assigned seats on the bus and in the lunchroom, or assigned spots when walking in line. Help them understand there will be no high fives or fist bumps, no contact on the playground or in gym class.

I can’t stress this enough: If your child is required to wear a mask, practice it at home. Start off small – play a fun game, read a book, do a quick activity while wearing masks. Begin with a short amount of time and practice often, increasing the length your child is wearing a mask. Work with them on not touching it, not playing with it, etc. You cannot expect a child to go from wearing a mask for zero minutes a day to keeping it on for the whole school day with no issues. Make sure your child’s mask is comfortable. There are lots of simple hacks to help if it hurts their ears or doesn’t stay on their nose quite right. Let them choose their masks or decorate them. There are so many creative ideas out there for personalizing masks – make it fun and exciting!

Get a reusable water bottle. Drinking fountains won’t be an option. Make sure your child can open and close the water bottle on his/her own, and refill it without issue. Put your child’s name on it!

Help your child understand what it means to be flexible and adaptable. There are so many great books and videos out there that would be a great starting point.

Moms, I can assure you that your child’s teacher is doing everything in his or her power to make this school year great despite the current circumstances. But as they say, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” And that’s where you come in.

Moms, we’ve got this.

The Front Porch Couch

I’m not a fan of the front porch couch.

Admit it, you’ve driven somewhere at some point in your life and noticed a couch that should neatly be tucked away in a cozy living room, randomly placed on the front porch.  I’ve had friends and some family (you know who you are) who even support this craziness, and as outspoken as I am, I have never had the courage to ask them what they are thinking.

Plenty of thoughts run through my mind when I see this front porch couch phenomenon.

couch

“Did they run out of room in their house?”

“Were they planning on a porch party and need more seating?”

“Did they specifically buy the inside couch for the outside?”

“Did they weatherproof it?”

“Is it an old couch and they didn’t know what to do with it?”

“Did they place an ad on Craigslist or FB Marketplace and are waiting for someone to get it?”

I’ve have spent way too much time thinking about said couches. For the record, they are everywhere. I’ve not only seen them when going to get my son from college in Tennessee, taking a road trip in the back hills of Kentucky, but also in the good ole heart of Dayton.  This new seating arrangement is everywhere and I just can’t get behind it.

Until now.

I’m spending more time outside than ever before. My boys are playing and running and digging in dirt, picking up sticks, swinging on the swing set, jumping on the trampoline and living their best lives. I’m working from home and schooling from home and cooking all the meals from home and my porch has never felt so good. The state of our world at the current moment has made me long for a nice comfy couch on the front porch.

I’m waving at neighbors as they pass by, noticing how many dogs live in our neighborhood, watching my neighbor ride her horse up and down our street, and a couch with some throw pillows and lite blanket would make this picture-perfect. The current wicker furniture looks nice, and it good for an occasional sit, but I’m wanting the soft comfort of my living room feel and for the first time in my life, I am a fan of the front porch couch.

Maybe there is something to this phenomenon after all…

Hashtag Hashtags {Accessibility and Legibility for Everyone}

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Growing up, I learned it as the pound sign on my family’s corded phone. Or also an abbreviation for the word “number,” like the ampersand as “and.” But now, the “#” is a hashtag or metadata tag for social networking platforms. 

There’s a The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon skit from 2013 with Justin Timberlake entitled, “#Hashtag.” It goes on for two minutes with hand gesture hashtags, tagging their conversation as they have it (Hashtag gettin’ my cookie on. Hashtag I’m the real Cookie Monster. Hashtag Om nom nom nom). Really, a funny view of a culture takeover. And I totally did, sometimes still do, use those hashtag hands.

Did you know, hashtags are inherently not case sensitive?
#momsarounddayton = #MomsAroundDayton

hashtag

Accessibility and legibility are reasons to use capitalization in hashtag use. Each new word capitalized (aka camel case) separates words otherwise squished together in a tag.

Access? Without spaces in hashtags, screen reader programs with synthesized speech cannot accurately convey messaging. With capitalization, these same programs are more likely to correctly interpret original content.

Legible? People other than blind or visually impaired benefit from hashtag capitalization. Without the cues of uppercase, a several-word-long hashtag can be cumbersome for anyone.For example, ididitallforthecookie or IDidItAllForTheCookie? At a quick glance, I think it’s an easy argument to say the camel case reads easier and more quickly.

To effectively utilize the internal capitalization of hashtags, it does take extra effort. When starting a hashtag, suggestions start to auto-populate after the symbol. If I click any of the suggested words, it finishes the tag with no capitalization, even taking away capitalization I already started. I have to manually choose to write out the entire tag and insert my own capitals as I type.

I do use the auto-populate option as a real-time spell check. If a hashtag is suggested but goes away before I finished, I probably had a misclick somewhere and got a letter wrong. And do we still call it a misclick? When using a touchpad keyboard, I’m not clicking any buttons…

Since finding out about camel case for hashtags, I have made the switch. It is not that much more effort, and if it includes more people and increases the readability, then that’s a win in my book. 

Anxiety Busters for the Overwhelmed Mom

I do not like to speak for others, but I think it is almost safe to say that many of us are dealing with an increased amount of anxiety at this point in our lives.

anxiety

The first half of 2020 has been very eventful, and with so many uncertainties in the future as we near a new school year, it can be very understandable for many mommas to have anxieties and a variety of emotions dealing with work schedules, anticipating what children’s school schedule will look like, and how to juggle a new normal that will include a variety of safety precautions as we battle the pandemic.

Here are just a few things that I am doing right now to combat an increase in anxiety.

Remember, everyone is different, so give yourself grace if you need to manage your anxiety differently from methods a friend or loved one may recommend.

  • Take a deep breath and a break. There have been several days that my anxiety starts to get the best of me. I am trying to do multiple tasks around the house, work on the computer, feeding and entertaining the kiddos, all while my mind is racing thinking about other issues. I have now reached the point where I know I need to stop, sit down for a second, and breathe. I cannot solve everything today, but I can choose to take a breath and ground myself back to the current moment.
  • Speaking of coming back to the present, another anxiety buster is to identify objects near you that you can focus on to bring yourself back to the current time and help make you literally feel more “grounded.” I will start focusing on some of our family photos on the walls, the dining room table and the six chairs around it. This may seem silly to some, but for me, this brings me back to reality and the current moments. It reminds me that some things stay the same and are there, and that is a small comfort for me. This method also helps me realign and reset my focus.
  • If taking a break or a calming technique don’t work for you, maybe it is time to address what is causing you anxiety head-on. There are many ways to do this. If your anxiety revolves around schedules, for example, sit down and start writing out each scenario. You can then create plans for the different “what ifs” and can start brainstorming ideas to overcome barriers you may be facing.
  • Facing anxiety head-on is also a great exercise to do with a significant other, family member, or close friend. Having someone just listen to your concerns in itself may help calm your anxiety and then allow you the ability to better focus on any problems at hand. Having someone listen can also allow other perspectives/advice to be brought to the table. Some may find this option to be easier when speaking to an unbiased party- such as a counselor or other professional.
  • Last but certainly not least, if you are trying a variety of these techniques and nothing seems to work, it may be time to reach out to mental health professionals. There are many ways to combat mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and an expert can help tailor a plan that is right for you. Gone are the days where there is a stigma attached to mental health and seeking help. It is important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

Friend, I hope these tips can help you or that you can at least begin to see that you are not alone in battling anxiety or other mental health issues.

What are some tips or tricks that you have when facing issues that impact your mental health? Please share them with us!

A Pup and a Book: The Gift of Reading as a Family

This summer, we decided to read some books as a family. We’ve read as a family before this, but not very intentionally. Our girls are 9, 6, and 5, and I’m 33… finding something we could all enjoy felt like a challenge. Honestly, they would love it if I read fairy stories to them all day, but meh, mama’s not doing that.

book

Our family also added a new pup to the mix back in February, who is now a gigantic reddish-brown standard goldendoodle. Literally, y’all, he is massive, weighing in at just under 70 pounds at only seven months. His name is Chase. The kids mostly adore him, but we have definitely gotten a solid taste of puppyhood, which I had apparently forgotten about after not having a young pup in over 10 years.

It is, messy. And hilarious. And, my gosh he drools like crazy. He runs around, tail wagging so hard that he hits people and things. He is still learning not to counter surf and has been found drinking out of a toilet more than once. He has had some amusing, though, unfortunate encounters, like getting his collar stuck on a vent grate this week. Chase certainly adds a lot of personality to our house, that’s for sure.

Perhaps that is why we finally came up with our first novel, Marley and Me by John Grogan.

It is a wonderful, easy read, about a young couple adding a yellow lab who is… less than well-behaved to their family. I would venture to say he was borderline deranged at times. The book details all the craziness that John and his wife, Jenny, experienced at the hands, er paws, of their pup over the years. (It is probably worth noting that I did skim over a few sections because the content was a bit much for the girls).

Needless to say, our kids absolutely loved that their obnoxious Chase was not quite to the level of Marley’s antics. They squealed with delight during parts of the book and listened on the edge of their seats at others. They really got into the story and came to see Marley and his family as “real.” Which, they are. The girls loved the added touch of photos of Marley on the inside cover.

We finished up the book last month after weeks of cuddling up before bed together or sneaking in a few chapters during snack time. It was a beautiful gift to my heart to slow down with them, to be intentional and engaged as a family as we learned about Marley, and each other, with our silly Chase and our more senior dog, Annie, often at our feet. What an absolute joy to watch the kids light up as the words on a page come to life for them. This is a family past time we will be continuing without a doubt.

Do you read novels with your kids? What books would you recommend for our list?

Celebrating Dayton Area Class of 2020 MOMS!

In addition to wearing the mantle of motherhood, we also set out on a journey to wear a cap for commencement. We toiled long hours to achieve educational advancement, to make better futures for our families, and to be a model of striving for more in the eyes of our children. All of that work should have culminated in a celebration with tons of people surrounding us and taking joy in our success with us. But COVID… Hopefully, you still got your caps and gowns, took a bunch of fun pictures, and found ways to mark this momentous occasion. Whether you did or not, we’d like to help in celebrating Dayton area Class of 2020 MOMS! Congrats, grad! You did it, mama!

2020 Graduating Mamas

Dr. Jennifer Barbee-Crim

University of Cincinnati
Doctorate in Nursing Practice
Graduated with Distinction 4.0 GPA
Mom to four beautiful little ones!
Contributor for Dayton Mom Collective

Courtney Jayne Snow

Keller Graduate School of Management
DeVry University
Masters in Business Administration (MBA) with Human Resources (HR) Concentration
Graduated with Distinction 4.0 GPA
Mom to a silly pre-teen daughter!
Owner of Dayton Mom Collective and Cincinnati Mom Collective

Are you a part of the 2020 graduating class as well? Let us know in the comments, so we can help celebrate you, too!

School’s Out For Summer… and Fall… and Winter {Tips for In-Home Childcare}

We can all agree this year is an absolute dumpster fire. Now, with the school year around the corner, but (maybe) no actual school, you’ve had to get creative with your childcare. For those of you who have decided to keep your children at home with a nanny or at-home childcare provider, I’ve got some tips for you.

Now, I don’t get to be a mom-expert on many things because my oldest is still a toddler. I don’t have a ton of experience. I’m usually the one asking for advice instead of doling it out. But we’ve had a nanny since she was 6-weeks-old, so for once in my adult life, I feel like I’m a bit of an expert something parenting-related. I’m not claiming to know everything, but there are a few things I’ve learned over the past three years that I can share with those of you who are new to having in-home childcare.

childcare

    1. Let them leave the house. Please. Remember how hard it was back in March when we couldn’t leave our houses for anything? Even playing in the yard was miserable (thanks, super-extra-long winter weather.) You wouldn’t want to be trapped in your house again. Don’t make your childcare provider go through that, too. Even if you’re just letting them leave the house for walks, that’s at least something to help break up the day. Hopefully, you trust them enough to let them drive your kids somewhere. Give them a list of approved places. Right now, we’re sticking to playgrounds, splash pads, nature trails, outdoor parks, and drive-throughs. Talk to them and find a few places you feel comfortable with. They will go crazy if you make them stay inside all day long. (We use an app that alerts us when our nanny leaves the house and returns. It also lets us see where she is while she has our kids. That gives us some extra security and may be a good option for you as well.)
    2. Give them a heads-up before you get home. Let them know if you’re coming home early. Some people want to “surprise” their nannies so they can make sure they’re doing everything you ask. But if that’s how you feel about your nanny – like you need to do surprise check-ins and you can’t trust them – then that person isn’t the right person to be caring for your children. Your nanny wants to make you happy and wants to be sure the house is picked up, toys are put away, and dishes are clean before you get home. The easiest way to make sure that they can do that is by giving them a heads-up if you’re going to be home early. That way they can tidy up before you get home. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t want your boss to give you a deadline on a project, and then tell you, “Never mind! Send me what you have right now. You’re done!”
    3. Pay them fairly. Talk to them about how they want to be paid, how often, and what other perks/benefits are included. Watching kids is hard work, and unless your kids are still napping, they don’t get a break. It makes for a long day. Be sure to pay them what they’re worth. This is an actual job, and your childcare provider relies on this income for their bills. Give them plenty of notice on days you don’t need them or if you only need them for a few hours. We personally pay for a full day every time our nanny comes to watch the girls, even if we get home early. Talk to them to figure out what works best for both of you. And remember, it’s easier to pay someone well and keep someone you trust than have to scramble to find a new provider.
    4. Set financial expectations. Discuss ahead of time whether you’ll be reimbursing gas money for any trips they take (you should) and whether you’ll have some petty cash available for little purchases (you should) like lunch or treats. We keep an envelope with a small amount of money in it that our nanny knows she can spend on whatever she wants for our girls without having to ask us first.
    5. Be clear on other expectations. If you’re working from home, do you want them to pretend like you’re not there and handle all conflicts on their own? Do you want them to come to you with any questions or concerns? Having someone else in your home while you’re there can be uncomfortable for you and for them, but you can make it a lot easier if they know how you want them to act and what boundaries there are. Are there certain areas of the house that are off-limits? Do you want them to let your dogs out? Can they discipline your kids? Talk about it ahead of time to avoid any awkward discussions later.
    6. Install nanny-cams (and let them know you have them). This may seem like the exact opposite of tip #2, but it actually goes hand-in-hand. Having a visual on your kids all day takes away some anxiety of having a stranger care for them. Also, your nanny will appreciate knowing that you’re watching, as there will be no doubt on what happens when you’re gone. If there is an issue, you won’t have to rely on a child’s recollection of events. Instead, you’ll be able to see what actually happens. Your kids may even behave better if they know that you can see them!

Are there any other pointers you have? 

Lazy Mom’s Guide to Baby Led Weaning

It seems like babies eating solid foods should be one of those things that comes easy and naturally, right?

After all, at some point, most of us learn to neatly consume regular food that doesn’t come in a puree form. I can tell you, though, as a mom of four, introducing real food that my kids could potentially choke on was absolutely anxiety-inducing. I *may* have cut the food into such small pieces that not only was there no way my kids could block their windpipe with it but also there was no way they could pick up the crumb I placed on their tray.

My first two kids definitely had baby food for longer than they needed to – making meals that were soft and bland enough for them to eat seemed like a huge hassle not to mention the mess it made all over my hard-to-clean white ceramic tile floors with white grout in our base house. But by the time my twins were ready for food, I had finally built up confidence (read: lowered my panic levels and let go of white-knuckled control tendencies) enough to try baby led weaning.

Let me tell you, this is no better or worse than purees.

baby led weaning

There’s research that shows that babies who are introduced to different textures and tastes early go on to be better and more adventurous eaters. At least, that’s what the writers of the baby led weaning books tell me. Do you know what they don’t tell you? These handy tips. You’re welcome.

Eat when you feed the baby (babies). After all, the idea of baby led weaning is that you can serve them most of the same foods that you eat! I AM KIDDING! More practical advice is to do what you can to enjoy cramming salt-laden convenience foods into your mouth while standing over the sink after you have served your little darlings a lovingly prepared all organic, well-balanced meal. I have found that either I can eat well or the babies can eat well, but it’s very hard for both things to happen.

It’s an opportunity to show your older, perhaps choosier, children that they can, in fact, eat exactly what is served to them. I find phrases like “If your baby sisters can figure out how to eat a green bean without dry heaving, then you can, too!” to be particularly helpful. Maybe if I had tried baby led weaning with my 5-year-old, he would be eating that green bean without a fight now. It’s a little mystery we will never know, isn’t it?

Make your peace with ants. Think of them as tiny little helpers carrying away small bits of the mess so that you have less to step in later when you’re trying to remove your little eaters from their high chairs. We have tried a variety of ant traps and deterrents, and of course, I clean the high chair, sweep, and mop immediately following each meal (give or take a couple of hours), but the ants are unphased. We’ve decided to just accept their presence as part of this season of life and honestly, they help with the cleaning more than a few other people around my house, so maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

Find a good resource. I purchased a really helpful book on baby led feeding from Amazon, and then went through and bookmarked a few of the recipes they suggest to make once your baby has learned the basic task of picking up and swallowing food. These were totally untried foods for us, so it was a fun task to buy new things and a real thrill to throw them out after never making the recipe because HELLO, I do not actually have an abundance of free time to make things like a butternut squash galette, no matter how delicious and seasonally-appropriate it seemed. One day, I will make that tart and I’m sure it will be delicious. I predict my babies will probably be around 5 by then, so it will be their turn to pretend to dry heave after taking a bite like their older brother because I never served it to them as babes. Parenting really does give you so much to look forward to, doesn’t it?

Get your spouse involved. Baby led weaning increased our grocery bill a bit because I did purchase more fresh fruits and veggies (and often organic) than I usually do. So when I invited my husband to sit and join us for the meal, it was a really sweet chance for him to see just where those dollars were going – onto the floor! Most of it directly there without ever even gracing our girls’ lips. Oh and he did get to watch some of it get carried out the door by my BFFs, the ants, so that was also neat.

Invest in good bibs. Baby led weaning is so so messy. I really cannot emphasize how much mess this is. Did I say bibs? I meant buy a drop cloth and strip your baby to their diaper. My babies rip their bibs off seconds after I put them on. Once, I invested in a bib that they couldn’t rip off, so they pulled them up over their head, smearing the front of the bibs into their hair. So, the options are more, do you want to give your child a full bath including hair washing after every meal? Then get a good quality bib. If you prefer the ability to quickly use a washcloth or rinse them in the kitchen sink, strip your babe to their diaper and put out the ant welcome mat.

My biggest, most real tip is actually just to keep things in perspective. This will be a relatively short phase in the grand scheme things. Before you know it, you’ll be serving them the same meals as everyone else in your home and they’ll be turning it down just like your other kids. That is, unless, there’s something real to this baby led weaning philosophy and maybe, just maybe, they will never refuse a meal you offer.

What do you think?

Yeah. I’m not betting on that horse, either.

Finally Confessing {The Secret to Motherhood}

As a mom of three kids, I have a confession to make. This is not going to be easy to say, but it needs to be said. I don’t know what the heck I am doing.

There I finally said it! I. Don’t. Know.

I am a former teacher assistant and nanny. I pride myself in knowing that I am naturally good with children. You would think I have an advantage as a mother with previous experience. On one hand, I definitely do; but that does not take away from the fact that I have to learn what works and does not work for my own children.

Plus, once you think you have it all figured out they switch it up again, and you have to strategically figure out your next move. It’s like a game of chess. Next time I won’t do “that” move, instead, I’ll try “this.” Hmm… maybe I should never do “that” again.

motherhood

Every child is different. I can not stress that enough. Don’t ever compare your child to anyone else’s child. While you’re at it, cut yourself some slack and don’t compare yourself to other moms.

Motherhood is a process that requires you to learn while you’re on the ride.

Be sure to buckle your seat belts because this rollercoaster has a lot of twists and turns. I’m learning to trust the process, whatever that may be for that given day.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: a lot of us moms don’t have a clue what we are doing. However, only a few of us are willing to admit that and realize that doesn’t take away from our ability to parent effectively. Stop beating yourself up with mom guilt and simply try to do your best. The truth is, to someone else you make motherhood look easy.

Motherhood is not always the perfect filter picture complete with a sweet caption on your social media feed. The sooner we can accept that the better our reality becomes because it’s not skewed by false perceptions. Someone else’s filtered life is not worth editing your reality.

I’m starting to realize it’s okay not to know everything. I’m chasing a false reality thinking because I’m a mom, I should be omniscient. I’m human. A human who happens to be a mother.

Take a deep breath with me. Make a decision, hope it’s the right one, and trust that everything is going to be okay either way. Mama, you are doing a great job. Your kid(s) love you because you are you. That, my friends, makes this ride worth riding.

All Dogs Go to Heaven {Saying Goodbye to My Fur Baby}

Long before I had a larger-than-life daughter, before I had two creative and talented stepkids, before I even knew my husband was walking the earth, I had my first baby: a fur baby. 

She came into my life at a time that I needed a lifeline… and didn’t even know that I needed one. In those days, she plowed through all obstacles (actually, quite literally) and taught me that it was ok to persevere without apology. She showed me what pure joy looked like – hers involved running in a field, any field. And jumping in water, no matter whether a swamp or swimming pool.

And now, 12 years later, she is family, and I am her lifeline. Now, my fur baby shows me a tired perseverance as she struggles through the pain, and I come to terms with the test results. 

fur baby

I lay curled up next to her and listen to the occasional whine that is so unlike her. She’s usually the strong one, comforting us with her stoic cheerfulness. I see the flecks of blood on her paw from the IV. A paw that has helped her run with me so often that we are known in my neighborhood as “the dog who runs the girl.” 

And when she looks at me with glassy eyes, still confused from anesthesia, she’s telling me she loves me – even though she doesn’t understand what’s going on. 

Even while I try to soak up every moment I have with her, my heart breaks, and I reflect on how it happened that she became the unspoken matriarch of our family. 

She was the one who gave her blessing to marry my husband. We all gave a nod to my parents, but it was Snicker who, with one raised eyebrow, a huff, and a final relinquishing of her spot on the couch, welcomed this new man into her life. 

She was the one who became my daughter’s protector. From the pizza delivery person. From our mail carrier. From even the dangers of my husband, trying to get into his own bed to snuggle with the baby. 

She was the one who took her rightful throne on the forbidden chaise lounge sofa the minute we walked out the door and looked regally out the window until she saw our car pull back in the driveway. 

She is the one who now patiently endures the quiet ministrations of a 6-year-old and her vet kit. A matriarch with aches and pains who still has nothing but time to love and to teach the next generation how to enjoy life. To persevere without apology. 

We smile and laugh and live even in the moments of sadness of these last days. The matriarch approves, and she gives us her final life lesson on how to gracefully say goodbye. 

Not a Fairytale Stepmother

If you grew up like I did, you grew up hearing fairytales. Stories about faraway places, princesses needing to be rescued and, of course, for many, they also included the ever-dreaded stepmother. You know what I am talking about, right? I’m talking about the wicked and evil stepmothers from Cinderella, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel!

Those fairytales combined with friends telling me horror stories about their own stepfamily situations often had me thanking my lucky stars that my parents were happily married. I didn’t have to worry about stepmoms, siblings, or any other stepfamily situation I had heard about as I grew up.

Then my mom died and our world was turned upside down.

My dad was alone for the first time in almost 40 years and was lonely and a bit lost. We were devastated and not knowing what to do without our mom around.

After a while, dad started dating and I won’t lie, I was happy to see him happy but terrified that the tale of the evil stepmother could become my new reality.

stepmother

Then I got to meet her… my dad’s girlfriend. And it wasn’t at all what I had expected. She never tried to take my dad away from us. Not only did I like her very much, I immediately felt like I was part of her family, too. She was there for the birth of my twins and my youngest daughter. When I can’t figure out how to make something or what is wrong with my plants, I know I can call her to ask. She gives my dad an appropriate amount of grief and helps me know that he is being watched over when I can’t be there. She has not once tried to take the place of my mom but is always there when I need her to be.

The moral of this story: sometimes tragedy can happen.

Sometimes you lose your mom and a stepmom can become your new reality. Fairytales are simply that, tales. I don’t have an evil and wicked stepmom like the stories warn of, but rather a bonus mom that I didn’t know I needed!

COVID-19 and Marriage

Sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, masks, disinfectant wipes, and a marriage counselor.

These are all of the things I didn’t know that I would need in plentiful supply in 2020, yet here we are. When the shutdown of the state began, my husband jokingly scoffed “I wonder how many COVID babies will be born in nine months!” I said, “I am more concerned about the divorces!”

That first week or two of isolation seemed to have a similar novelty to losing the electric during a storm. You pull out the candles, you cuddle in close and wait out the storm, making a fun memory of blankets and flashlights. Around week three, the novelty had worn off, the house seemed to be caving in and everyone inside of it was itching to crawl out of it; well at least that was how I felt.

Then comes marriage.

marriage

I have been married to my husband for nearly 13 years, but we have been together nearly 19 years. I can honestly say nothing prepared me for our marriage during the year of COVID. I feel like we have been challenged more this year than any of our prior years together, and I have been pouring myself over the cause. What happened to us? How did we get here? How can we work together to get out of this rut? Who am I and who did I even marry?

When the state started opening up slowly, I couldn’t run out of the house fast enough. Armed with a mask, sanitizer, and a baseball cap (because #roots for days), I was dying for social interaction. I needed to see another human that I shared no familial ties with. I needed to have a face-to-face conversation that had nothing to do with a mealtime, laundry, or cleaning the house. I wish I could go back to that poor cashier at Target who was the unknowing participant in my first adult conversation in weeks. She had no idea what she was getting into, and I am pretty sure I overshared. Oops.

My husband, on the other hand, was left in my dust. I couldn’t get out fast enough and he had loved nearly every second of the quarantine. While I was sobbing in the bathroom to myself on my loneliest days, he was thrilled to be locked in a house away from the outside world. So when I was so excited to be anywhere but home, he was missing me and wanting me to stay put. We were both experiencing such extreme highs and lows. We are, in so many ways, very opposite humans.

This new normal has been incredibly difficult for both of us to navigate through. We are trying to set positive examples for our children to be flexible, optimistic and thoughtful of others in this critical time for our world.

What does that look like in our marriage?

We are trying to be flexible with each other, identify each other’s needs that are changing daily. We are optimistic and know that our love for each other will endure as our lives change, as long as we make our relationship a priority. We are also trying to be more thoughtful. It is so easy to fall into a rhythm of monotony, especially when you are stuck in the same house day after day. He remembers to kiss me daily before he leaves, it means so much to me. I make the bed every day, which he says is his favorite part of the day, when he folds down the bed and can finally rest. It’s the little things that are sustaining us right now.

He also knows that I need adult interaction out of the house now, perhaps more than usual. So I usually make a solo Target run for essentials or a Starbucks trip just to drive and listen to music outside of the house. It is so incredibly important to pay attention to our own needs while also taking care of our families, but it is also important to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner.

When the world is spinning and I feel dizzy with worry and uncertainty, it is so assuring to know he is by my side working with me for the good of our family. At the end of the day, month, year… at the end of COVID, our marriage will not be a casualty of a pandemic. We will ride out this storm together, holding hands… which will probably, most likely, be freshly sanitized.

I Miss Them {When Summer Just Isn’t the Same}

Due to the pandemic, I am with my kids 24/7, but I miss them so much. Let me say that again: I’m with them ALL the time, but somehow I MISS them terribly.

Believe me when I say I know how strange this sounds. Summers for us are usually spent being casual, spontaneous, and adventurous. During normal summers, I try to have at least one excuse to get us all out of the house each day. Sometimes this is an activity as big as a day at the local amusement park, and other days it is as small as a trip to the grocery store. Either way, we get out, which means we are spending time together.

It is no surprise that this Summer 2020 has been totally different.

summer

None of us are looking for excuses to get out on a regular basis. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We are looking for excuses to stay in. It has become harder and harder to convince my kids to get out of the house. I miss that time together on these outings.

You might be thinking, “Well she still has time with them, it is just at home!” This is true, but something has happened in my house that I did not predict. My kids (ages 11, 9, and 6) have become incredibly independent from me and dependent on each other. They make their own breakfast and lunch. They plan activities to do together. Often, I hear them playing Future, Family, Ninjago, YouTube Influencer, and playing in the pool together. None of this includes me and I feel left out. I miss the times that they would play with ME and do the things I like to do with them. I miss when they would go along for the daily outings because they relied on me for activity ideas. Now their heads are full of their own ideas.

However, when I take a step back, I look from the outside looking in. I see them developing their creativity, problem-solving, life skills, and social skills. I know these are all critical developments and I just need to remind myself that I am still a part of it, just from a different vantage point. We are all going to come out of this pandemic differently than when it started. For my kids, they will certainly have stronger bonds with each other and new coping skills. Maybe someday in the future (when age-appropriate), they will have a few Coronas and reminisce about how much they bonded in 2020. It is my hope that when this happens, I don’t miss the time together because they will invite me to join their trip down memory lane.

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August Dayton Dozen :: A Guide to Family-Friendly Events

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Due to COVID-19 many events that typically take place in August are canceled or postponed. This month, we thought it would be fun to...

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