THAT was a February February…

I feel like every Monday afternoon, right about 2:35 almost to the minute, I am walking down the sage green halls at Bradt School repeating to my brain, as I huff down the hall- “Now THAT was a Monday Monday.” If a coworker walks by we often nod our heads and I might even say to them “What a Monday Monday…” and they get it. Mondays are often full of Monday moments…

What does that mean though- a Monday Monday? I think Monday’s take a lot of extra energy, a lot of mental preparation. I anticipate as I work out and get the girls ready for their days at school- that mine will be challenging. As a Teacher’s Aide we prepare for the day after a weekend or vacation, it is necessary. Mondays are often HARD days.

Today is February 28, 2019, it is the last day of February… Halleluiah. I find myself referring to February that way… it was a February February. I sometimes even say this when people ask how this month was, thankfully they know my answer won’t at all cover it all, I answer them “It was a February February”. I think I start February with the same anticipation and preparation that I do a Monday, only bigger. I have to put my brain and heart and mind in a place that they can navigate all of the emotions and grief work that needs to be done. This February was no different in that way… it was a February February.

I keep reflecting on the past 28 days, that felt like 48 long days…

Madeline has now been gone for 7 years. It has been an eternity and a moment… or 7 years. On her anniversary weekend Lucy’s Basketball League honored Madeline and supported Maddie’s Mark. I watched Madeline’s classmates and girls that would have been her peers play basketball. They were so tall, so grown. Those girls are in 7th grade… it was so hard to watch, but it is so beautiful to see them remember Madeline. Those moments don’t look hard on the surface, I don’t think they look hard to the people around me… but they are hard moments to live through.

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We welcomed a new family member to our home, Nikita Elizabeth Musto. She is lovely and well trained and gentle. I didn’t mean to add on to the family… but we welcomed her on Madeline’s Anniversary Weekend, kind of ironic to add a member when we are feeling the missing. I was loosely watching adoption sites, just like I was real estate sites… like someday I won’t live in this house. Anyway, a 2-year-old Nikita popped up, and I just kept going back to her adoption picture. My sister Molly happened to Facebook message me and I mentioned her, she told me to fill out the paperwork and see. So, I decided to be a little brave and a little stupid, and I sent the form with information for the owner to analyze. She got back to me a week later, and we set up a meeting time. We picked her up the next weekend. I think I had PTSD from the last years of Sparky Elizabeth Musto’s life, with all the blind, deaf, pees and poops and escaping. I was cautious to fall in love, to give freedom… but Nikita Elizabeth Musto was the perfect addition on that February weekend laced with missing.

The February break was hard, it was focused on Matthew travelling to Texas with the girls to be with his girlfriend’s family. I think I mentally prepared to nest the whole time they were gone, like I differed the nesting I normally do pre-February. I had to stay busy and be productive, so I wasn’t focused on all of the time I was missing. Thankfully Rick was on board to work with me on a big kitchen project. We redid my countertops and tiles the backsplash… and now every.single.time I was dishes I feel like I am washing dishes in a nicer house and it feels good.

The month was filled with bits of normal, crying and missing, some laughs and some big disappointments. I am not so great at regulating disappointment and anxiety, so waiting on an experience that didn’t get put into motion was a really challenging task for me. It is hard stuff trying to sort through life and emotions, trying to figure which are grief, which are short term and which might be a part of a grudge. It Is hard work trying to stay afloat in all of these emotions and experiences…

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In the midst of it all I was watching a local firefighter fight for his life, while his wife shared his story. This healthy, strong father of two developed a Sepsis infection and was given a 5% chance of survival. I saw her words, begging for prayers and hope, sometimes very specific prayers for kidney function or to heal his hand. He underwent many surgeries, without being aware, including one that his wife Chelsea shared the surgeons prayed over him, and the flesh-eating disease they were sure it was, was no longer when the surgeons opened his skin. He is a miracle, Josh Woodward is a miracle. I have thought over and over this month- God is letting us, literally, watch a miracle as it happens. He is letting us see prayer heal, letting us see prayer save. Through the window of social media we can watch daily as one of God’s miracles heals and prepares for the life God has planned for him. #WoodwardStrong has become an anthem here near Albany, NY reminding us to have hope, pray big and see a miracle for what it is- a miracle.

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This month I also got to attend and help support The Dance to be Healed, which is an amazing night of children who have travelled on the Childhood Cancer Journey. A few years ago, a Nurse married his cancer patient, to lift her spirits. The world fell in love with that video, and the event now raises funds and awareness, but honestly, it is a night for all of those kids to dance and enjoy life in a space surrounded by others who get it. The best part, they aren’t being ‘treated’ for cancer, at least not with chemo and poison… but instead they are being ‘treated’ with dancing and flowy dresses and fun foods and a night off from the cancer world- they just Dance to be Healed.

This miracle and that dance are such positive and beautiful events in these days… we need those bursts of light to hold faithfully on to this journey. The thing is… they are hard moments for me too. It is hard to be the mom of a child who died of cancer… it is hard to know that the miracle God planned for Madeline didn’t look like the miracle God has gifted Josh Woodward. It is all just hard… it is all just so hard.

In true February form this was a February February… right to the core. The mix of emotions, the new members of our family right next to the missing… disappointment laced with hope. I always know this our pain rides right next to our joy, there is no other way. These are the very last moments of February 2019… and I am welcoming March with open arms and an open heart. I am praying that March is softer, lighter and of course full of Birthday magic with it is time to turn 37, I think 37, whatever I am turning. So welcome March, let’s dump this February in history and Spring along… to lighter and brighter days.

 

Living Different…

I am not like most people. This thought has passed through my mind so many times over these last few weeks. I have always known this, I don’t know why I was comparing myself to others, anyway. I just feel like I am really popping out of the mold these past weeks.

I have never really fit into a mold. I didn’t fit into many groups that well in high school, until later. I usually could hide myself in a club or extra credit projects. I tried sports, but I lacked talent and the ability to stay confident when I failed in front of a crowd. I was able to become a different ‘me’ in college, with new peers and relationships. Moving to Albany and working opened a place to get to become another ‘me’. Parenting and grief and living have proven to be kind of the same, I definitely don’t do it like most.

When my girls were young, in those hard years of 3 littles, we treated the days like adventures- trekking to new places, bringing Lucy along even when she was only moments old. We found creative ways to stay busy on the cheap, and we were notorious for picnics in the snow. I never called my girls ‘normal’ names… Lucy was my little ‘Lucy Bean Butter Buttface’, Lucy Bean for short. I would dress them up and pose them in funny pictures, including Sparky. I would bundle them up and walk in the winter, and remind all the old people who stopped us that cold doesn’t make us sick, germs do. Funny thing is… my girls were so exposed to germs from all the crap they licked, ate or swallowed I knew they had kick ass immune systems. It is how we survived that time back then…

I laugh thinking about how I would watch my friend’s kids play… they were quiet and kind, never putting toys in their mouths and playing so nice. Then came my kids… who licked and ate everything. I used to tell myself- ‘No big deal, at least she didn’t lick Walmart’s floor’… then one day we walked in and SHE DID JUST THAT. I was humbled… and again chalked it up to an immunity builder.

I have never really fit into a mold… no part of my life does. Lately I have been beating myself up about it, comparing my ‘self’ to others. The thing is I am different, I have a different life with different blessings and broken, I have a different perspective, different views and different building blocks. I have a pretty extraordinary story, one that most have nightmares about. I love my story…

Today the girls and I delivered a package to a little girl who has DIPG and her family. If you ever need to remind yourself how fragile life is, this moment should be your reminder. As you read these words your brain should be thinking of the important, the stuff your life should be full of. This is a hard thing, because I can’t tell you what your time should be filled with, but I do know what my life needs to have. This is where I am different…

I love to watch my daughter’s do what they love, I love to watch Lucy square up in the box and hit a power ball. I love watching Amelia’s grace as she dances across the room. I love when they work hard for the Science Fair or create masterpieces. I loved watching Madeline work so hard to read. I also love burrowing under blankets and watching movies, baking, teaching church school and down time.

I love to watch them do what they love, but I don’t want to do that all.the.time. I don’t want to play 3 baseball games in a weekend, or go from one practice to the next. I don’t love to end a weekend as stressed and tired as I started the weekend. We need downtime in our family.

I have wondered lately, why I am not like so many other parents. I wonder why I don’t push Amelia to dance more, or participate in competitive cheer. I have wondered why I don’t care to go to 3 games in a weekend, some an hour away. I have wondered what is wrong with me when I can not keep times straight. I have wondered when I will fit in…

My brain kept reminding me that this is not the job for me, for us. We don’t fit in, we do our life and time. I was reminded of who we are, what our story is and who I am building. I don’t need the priorities of others, I need the building blocks of Musto Chicks. What works for others is not made to work for me… what works for me doesn’t work for others.

I think some of the pressure comes from the article I read that many shared about why they don’t pay for their kids to play sports- but instead for them to learn lessons they will need in life. It made me feel some guilt that I don’t push enough. I see those families all filled with sports and practices and games and camps and lessons and workshops. I see kids in music lessons, tutoring, extra clinics and nights of tumbling or stretches. I get it. I just know that it isn’t for us…

I am building those skills in a different way. My girls meet families going through the hardest things, they have learned to serve and care for others in a huge way. Service is built into so much of their time. Faith is a priority in our family, we live and learn faith. Thursday nights are a night I hold high in our house- church school. I know that the lessons learned in church school (or faith formation) will be there when the life doesn’t go as planned- when you break your arm and can’t play baseball, or fall at your recital or you lose a sister. Faith will keep us afloat when hope seems far away. That same backbone of faith grants mercy and grace to our hot mess selves.

My girls are still little, I want them to be little for longer. I want them to just be home and ride their bikes or shoot hoops. I want them to go to the school dance. I want them to learn to fill their time with things that help build them to be who they are meant to be. Soon they will be bigger and sports and commitments will change- there will be pledges to sign and double sessions to prep for the season. There will be clinics necessary to wear Point shoes, or pitch better. For now… we choose simple. For now… we choose different.

Today the girls and I delivered and hung out with a lovely lady who has DIPG. She will soon join Madeline. In moments her life and her family’s life changed, like ours. They are living life full of moments that matter, moments that build and moments that will have to last a lifetime. Are you living that way? Are you stopping to enjoy your family, celebrating your blessings, applauding your differences, building great people? Are you running from one place to the next, birthday parties and dance lessons and 3 sports teams, leaving your family last?

If tomorrow your world changed, are you happy and in love with what you are building?happiness-quotes-160-508x408

Life lived Seperate

This week my daughters went with their dad on an adventure of a lifetime, at least a lifetime thus far. They flew out on Tuesday and will be home in a little bit. I loved getting little updates, a picture of Ireland in Epcot- since they know our Irish heritage, a sign on the water warning of snakes and alligators- since they know I am terrified of snakes… and finally some shots of them enjoying the bits and pieces of their trip with their dad. I looked forward to those pictures every day, but never wanted to interrupt their adventure. I was excited to see the last picture this morning of them enjoying breakfast at the airport… soon they will be home.

I thought I would miss them terrible… but it was different than that. I felt many times a day a wonder of what they were doing right then, reminded my brain that they would tell me all about it today and got on with my day. I went about my normal evenings- meetings, faith formation, running errands and finally a date night with Mr. Rick. It was a good few days… but it was weird to do it all without them. I didn’t spend a million minutes just missing them, but I spent many wondering what kinds of adventures they were on, or if they were bringing Madeline down Splash Mountain.

The thing is… divorce is hard. It is hard even long after the separation and hurt and healing. It is hard. It is a life lived separate for the children… nothing I had ever thought would happen. I love life today, separate and full of so many other pieces now. I don’t crave a life together instead of divorce. I just feel pain when this life lived separate means I am missing a milestone.

The tooth fairy visited for the first time on July 4, 2015. I missed it. I remember Amelia calling to tell me and I told her I was so excited for her, to send me a picture. I hung up and I cried. I sat in my car for a long time and cried… sad to not be the tooth fairy, sad that Madeline never lost a tooth, sad that my life was now lived separately- some of the time. Missed milestones are hard…

It has taken time, but for the most part Matthew and I co-parent well. We are flexible, we accommodate family or traditions. Rick and I watch baseball games or go to recitals, and Matthew is there. I am happy for my girls when their father takes them on adventures and he is happy when they enjoy things with me and my clan. We don’t put one another down to the children. We have gotten pretty good at conversing about and coming to conclusions when there are issues with the girls. It was hard, but I know at least on my side, that we are doing this separate living pretty well. I have seen many different dynamics of divorce in other families… and so many punish their ex with their children, or compete with gifts… it is not helpful or healthy.

So… this week was hard, but not in the way that I thought. I thought I would be all bummed and miss the girls. It was a different feeling all together… it was more like a longing- a sad longing to be with them when they were experiencing something new and amazing- an adventure I have never ventured on. I felt a sadness for me, and excitement for them. I imagine that is how parenting in this life lived separately should go— a tinge of sad for me, a pile of excitement for them.

Divorce is hard. Life lived separate is hard. It is work… work to heal and grow and build and create. It is hard work. It is worth the hard work… I want my girls to enjoy this world with me and without. I love them like crazy- and I trust Matthew with them. I love them and I am glad they love their dad… he is half their DNA. If I told those girls I hated their dad, they would think that half their DNA is crap… and that is just not true. God made them with my DNA and their dad’s… my job is to love and build those DNA sequences into some rockin’ good adults who live well- and never feel like they lived life separately.

Divorce is hard. Co-parenting is hard. Life lived separate is hard. Life is hard. Birth is hard. Parenting is hard. Working is hard. It is all hard… and beautiful and broken and lovely and terrible. Life is hard… but we can do hard things. Do them… do this life better. Co-parent, divorce, marry, parent…. Do it all better…

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Do your kids a favor… stop doing favors

Do your kids a favor parents… stop doing your kids favors. Plain and simple. In all aspects of life I see this and it is driving me crazy. I just keep asking myself “what are they looking to build?”.

Parenting is building. We are building our people that God gifted us to be good, kind, smart and responsible adults. I know I want my girls to go out and live in the world. I want them to leave the shadows of home and see things. I want them to be freaking kind, that’s it I will take kind over rich any.single.day. I want my girls to use their brains to do good, to use their history to make better choices for their future. I want those girls to be accountable for their life. If they fail a test, so be it… if they get in trouble and there are repercussions- you better believe they will get them. I am their builder… not their friend. I am not doing favors for the people I am building if I remove all the hard stuff, the responsibility or the accountability.

Parenting is NOT about making it easier… or feeling bad for the experiences a child has gone through. It IS about love those children big, offering tools to help them get through the hard stuff in their past, being damn grateful you can offer that love right now and working to build great adults that CAN do hard things. Guess what??!!!???

LIFE IS HARD.

There I said it.

It is hard today, it was hard yesterday and it was hard 50 years ago. Judging by history and God’s plan not at all lining up with our own, I think life will always be hard. So let’s stop making life easy for our children… let’s make people who can do that hard things.

This not doing favors starts young… encourage independence. I work with elementary kids… do you know how many kids can’t cut because adults didn’t let them? Let your kids make messes with markers and food- help them clean it up. Do not keep spoon feeding your people, they can do it themselves…

Don’t insert yourself into the school world and expect favors… no you do not need to call the band teacher and let them know it is your fault your child forgot the clarinet. If your child’s paper is late and they talked to their teacher about it- let it be. Let your child fail… let them be disappointed. Let them be accountable.

FOLLOW THROUGH. This one is a tough one. It is not a favor to your child’s future self if you don’t follow through… if you take away a playdate you.do.not.go. If your child had a really bad day at school and ran or bit… do not reward them with TV and an iPad. If you told your child no cell phone until … and they beg you because they are the only one without follow through. Seriously… remind them that you are not all.the.other.people. The biggest thing is follow through even when it’s hard for you- know that your future self as a parent will be so grateful. We are the builders…

Don’t try to control your children’s friendships, friendships are a skill we learn. We are not born to be good friends, hang out with a 2 year old. We develop friendship skills, and we need those for the world after school. Monitor and listen to your child, but don’t do any of that bull crap where involve yourself in the friendship. Keep your kids in the safest relationships and encourage them to talk things through with a friend, or what not. I see this so much in many areas of our society now, we want our child to never be excluded, always be welcomed and never be hurt. I mean I hate seeing my child hurting, but I hurt sometimes too… and I know how to handle it. I know what it is like to be excluded, I became an includer because of that. I developed friendship skills. I have been the not-so-nice friend and had to apologize, and I have been the hurt friend. It is all a learning and developmental experience- one that parents should not control. It is not a favor, it is not a builder…

Think about the person you want to create, that you as a parent want to mold… what are they? Are they a person who uses a hard story as a crutch, or expects people to take care of them because they are owed that? I doubt it. I bet you just like me want to build kind, strong, loving, smart, responsible adults to take on this hard world we live in. We all have a story, we all have a past. We can make excuses or we can carry it on as part of us.

My girls lost their sister. Their parents divorced. This is part of their story. The rest of their story will have hurt, death and hard. They will have joy and struggle. I want them to continue building their story as they carry those parts of their story. I don’t look at this hard life as something anyone should feel bad about… it is just their story. I will keep building them to accountable, responsible, kind and smart- until they start building themselves with the tools I gave them. Tools for stress, anxiety, hurt, joy and life…

Ask yourself what are you building your people to be? What tools can I help my child build so that as life keeps going and keeps being hard they can manage and be kind, smart, accountable and responsible adults? What favors can I stop doing for my kids…

Watching Baseball….

What does it feel like to watch me play baseball, mom?

Lucy asked me this the other day before her game.  We were rushing and rushing to get her uniform on and get to baseball on timeish… and I smiled and said I love it. 

I thought more about it as the game and time has gone by.  I love the way that Lucy thinks, she is so different and often she has such profound thoughts and ideas.  She is wise beyond her 8 years.  Lucy’s words and writing usually grounds me, she brings me back to where I should be as a mom, a leader, a teacher and beyond.  What a profound wonder she had, “what does it feel like to watch me play baseball, mom?”

She has heard me for years send her out the field and tell her to have fun, enjoy and be safe.  She has run off the field for years now with a smile, excited for a free popsicle, giving me details of the game.  I see the light in her eyes when I tell her I loved how she hit in the beginning or how she ran fast in the play with so and so.  She is so glad when she knows I saw it, and I miss things as any mom or dad does.  I never really thought to answer a question like she asked.  I wish I had a better answer on that day… but someday I hope she reads this.

“Watching you makes me feel so proud.  I love seeing you cheer on your friends and work hard… my favorite is seeing you when you miss a good pitch and your step to the side to test your swing.  I love that you look so ‘in control’ of the bat in that moment.  I watch and I feel like it is a glimpse of grown Lucy, you look so mature out there.  I love that you do it all.by.yourself… even when you had so many things to do that day you put your purple on and grab your cleats… you get your bag and you tell me to move so you aren’t late.  You hate to be late.  I love to watch you run to meet your team on the field.  Lucy I think it is awesome to see you follow the rules and participate as a team, you encourage the ones who need it and bust out in a big cheer to keep the team moral going.  Lucy, most of all, I want to tell you that seeing you do something you love is one of my most favorite things.  I can’t believe how self-sufficient and happy you are, I don’t remember being like you when I was 8.  Bubba- you know mommy likes to talk a lot… this most- you are one special girl.  I thank God every day that He picked me to help build you, and thank Madeline all the time for all she builds in you.  I am proud, but I know she is so proud.  I know that Madeline is a part of every run you get, every hit you hit and all of the smiles that you enjoy doing your thing.  Thank you Bubba for reminding me to think deeper, and acknowledge bigger.”

Maybe we should all think out more of the ‘how does it make you feel to…’  I am sure we would be more present and content in this crazy journey called life.

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3 funerals, no wedding.

I will never not break inside when I see my child hurt.  It is one of the hardest part of parenting.  I mean the big hurt, the shoulder shaking sobs that just break my heart.  In those moments, I always just pray I keep myself together for my girls, so they can just feel what they need in those moments. 

The other night, after a very cold baseball game, we settled in to watch a few Golden Girls episodes and warm up before bed.  Amelia went to grab Pinky, her pet rat.  I saw her lean down and open the cage… and look in.  She touched him and he was cold.  She was immediately upset, filled with worry and pain for her pet.  She broke into sobs and I got moving.  I took Pinky out and assured her he had passed in his sleep, he looked so calm.  I wrapped him in a small blanket and handed him to her to hold.  She pet him and felt his hands… the only time she ever felt his whole hand because he usually pulled away.  I grabbed my clay and my ink pads… we sat and made clay imprints of his paws, nose and tail so she would have a physical and tangible keepsake to feel.  I loaded his paws with in and printed them into little cards for her to save, to write all that she loved about him.  She cried for a long time, and woke up emotional.

Through it all I just tried to calm her and reassure her that he was not hurting, that he is with Madeline and she is probably showing off her rat right now.  She asked if we could bury him and I of course agreed.  Lucy has been hanging on to her friends (Jack and Jake) the Hissing Cockroaches who passed for months.  She wanted to bury them as well.  So… we set out to have a funeral yesterday and celebrate the lives of our friends who are no longer here.

It was a process for the girls to prepare final resting places, dig holes, set up chairs for the services and of course write Eulogies.  Just before dinner last night they called Rick and I to the yard for the services, Lucy was the ‘Priest’ and she led to service.  She spoke about each of the pets and how they lived good lives and we all hope they Rest in Peace.  Amelia wished for Pinky that he was as happy in heaven with Madeline as he was here on Earth.  I thought it was pretty profound…

Some might roll their eyes at this loss, but I will tell you loss is loss.  We cannot and should not avoid the feelings associated, the hurt and the missing.  My girls know what it is like to miss the most amazing sister.  They know what it feels like to wake up one morning to not have that skin next to them, and now the fir… or in Lucy’s case the exoskeleton.  Loss is loss, pain is pain.  Not honoring or feeling it is a injustice.  Some kids can lose a hamster or 20 and be ok, to others it is a heartbreaking reminder of moving on without. 

When Madeline died, I learned a lot about how to memorialize and remember.  I try to get to every child and pet to make clay imprints.  I try to get those ink prints… so later we can find them and remember.  I know that having a tangible keepsake can be a priceless gift to someone who is missing another.  I also learned that we all do it DIFFERENTLY, respect the different.  I knew in the moment I saw Amelia’s shoulders sink and heard her words… that I would let her do this the way she needed.  I honored Lucy’s desire to double up on the funeral and lay Jack and Jake to rest… I also looked forward to them not being on her dresser.  When Jack and Jake passed Lucy held each of them in their last moments, she wanted to make sure that when they left they were ok.  She knew her job as their ‘mom’ was to get them to their final place as comfortably as she could.  Now they all lay under my trees… with lilacs and simple petals over top. 

As Rick and I sat and listened to the girls I thought about how thoughtful and compassionate they are.  He messaged me later and told me the same.  I love those girls fiercely, just as I am loved by Him- Fiercely.  I am grateful for all the moments we keep accumulating, I am honored that He gifted Madeline to us for her moments.  My girls are grateful for the moments they had with the pets, kids, they loved.

In our back yard, our little hideaway back yard, now lies some of our missing friends… they will be there for the adventures, BBQs, swinging, bonfires, lawn mowing and laying in the hammock with us.  I love our little retreat… I love my girls compassion and simple faith.  I remind myself another day- God is GOOD, always.

… that hit me like a tractor trailer

Sometimes those moments just sneak up and hit you like a tractor trailer veered into my lane on the thruway.  I had to maintain composure- but on the inside I was a shaken up.  I managed to steer to a clear spot, saved for the moment… but my insides were still a hot mess.

I was sitting on the bleachers watching my Lucy play ball, Amelia had Sparky’s leash.  A few kids that I was talking to when we came onto the field were leaving and a mom I didn’t recognize asked me “How many kids do I have anyway?”.  I am sure she was wondering if all of the kids I was talking to were mine… and she knew it was a harmless question.  The thing is there is no harmless answer for me.  I think I stuttered, or asked ‘who me?’… then it felt like forever while my brain figured out the way to answer her the safest and most honest way.  The other moms sat and looked worried for me… my daughter’s father was standing behind me.

“I have 3 daughters, but only 2 are here.”  Crisis averted- honest answer that avoided darkening the sunny afternoon and embarrassing another mom.  Amelia said I acted annoyed, though I didn’t mean to be.  I really just didn’t expect it.

It is weird how that question is always a rough one… do I want to spend the time to explain Madeline being the oldest Musto Chick but is forever only 5 ½ or do I want to go into it with a person I don’t know and change the direction on my day?  The bad part is I don’t ever not want to include her in the count… so every time it is a different answer.  I guess it is part of this missing, part of this grieving process… though I often wonder when parts of this process become normal and not so Earth shattering.  I am guessing never, or at least never while I am still roaming this planet Earth.

When we got home we talked about that moment, Amelia applauded my honesty and noted that I have 3 girls and 1 isn’t there.  I told her that it hurt my heart very much, not in a way that she meant it to hurt.  My heart hurt because Madeline died and I miss her.  I mostly love the world, but sometimes I just hate it.  I hate that it spins- it spins! 

I talked to a momma who just found out she is expecting her second soon, some wondered if she would find out.  I went back to those days… those moments of hope and excitement.  I loved the preparing, the nesting.  I loved holding a tiny human and seeing the funny faces, the perfect hands that always wrap around a finger like they are meant only to hold a parent’s finger… I loved watching my girls sleep on my Boppy… watching them take each breathe.  I loved the faces we made when we would feed little ones… showing them they need to open up to devour their pears or sweet potatoes.  I really go back when I see a mom in Target trying to look at labels and still entertain their littles… lending their child a silly face and handing them something they could play with.  I still rock side to side in Mass, like when I used to have a baby…

Anyway, today we were talking about how different the second is from the first, as all progressive pregnancies and parenting experiences are I assume.  I only went to 3… so I guess others would know better.  I know for me that going from 0 to 1 was the hardest for me.  I was just me, me and my work and social life and travel and just thinking of me.  All of the sudden one day a hospital let me take home this baby that I carried for 10 months… inside where she was fine and cared for.  I felt like an alien leaving that day, like I was not at.all.prepared.or.the.correct.fit.  I went from the Erin I knew and loved to this different version of me, not ready to be recognized.  Erin as a mom…

It took me a long time to connect to Madeline, I had a very traumatic labor and delivery.  I understand it better now, that in my mess of delivery and hormones and loneliness and fear, I had postpartum depression to an extent.  As I healed and grew… Madeline and I became adventurers together.  She and I walked the wheels off a stroller… she saved me in my loneliest times.  Then came Amelia, mom’s groups and Lucy… and I started to know this new Erin better- I even felt like she wasn’t an alien.

Back to the hardest transition being 0 to 1… I learned to give up some control after.  I learned that we needed to work as a pod and when a new member joined we worked together to live and enjoy and nap and grow and cry together.  I tried to let go when things didn’t go as planned, detours and changes of plans need to be a normal with littles.  I also loved trying to figure out how to fix a change of plans with only things I had on hand… in my family we call it ‘Magyvering’.  I would challenge myself to fix the situation- sometimes with a diaper wipe and homemade onsie… other times with placemat and jelly containers as blocks- I would be super proud if I could do it for free.  I think I loved the challenge of having 2 and then 3… I loved best seeing them together.  My little tripod, my clan. 

I hate that my pod is so damn tiny now.  1/3 is never at baseball, 1/3 is never visible to the ones we have never met.  Stupid.  This world is amazing and beautiful and kind and hard and painful and terrible and stupid… I mean it keep spinning.  The sun comes up, the day goes by then comes dinner and bath and bed… and the sun goes down and it is still truth- the world can turn without her.  So must I…

I never know the next time I will be sitting on a bleacher or in an office or at an event and I will go back to all of this pain.  For now I am here… today it is softer than yesterday.  I loved going back to those early days today… for that moment of feeling her skin, hearing her murmurs, watching her breathe, feeding her food trying to avoid the spit back I might get and walking the miles and miles we walked together… our pod of ladies.

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What will I do when…

This morning as I sent Lucy down the hall, at school, I had one of those moments.

I had that wonder of when it will all change.

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 When I work at school we walk in together, me with my arms full of a lunch, a coffee and my purse… Lucy with her untied shoes, hot mess hair and dino backpack.  We always stop at the entryway and I hug her, sometimes I go to kiss her and she slides her forehead down to block me… to which I stop mid kiss and tell her ‘lips bubba’.  I watch her, with her swagger, as she walks down the hall to her wing.  Sometimes she looks back, sometimes she just chugs down to her room to start her morning work.  It’s a good way to start the morning. 

Most mornings I walk Amelia into her school.  I park my car and she jumps out of her side and we walk hand and hand into her lobby… where she is mostly on time most days.  I tell her to enjoy her day, be kind to friends and listen to her teacher.  She leans in and gives me a big kiss on my lips and then heads in through the big doors, not looking back.  I run back to my car and jet over to Lucy’s school to start our day and watch her swagger down the road. 

I snuggle the girls on the couch and feel their hair… I poke them in the belly and tickle them.  I nibble them at wake up and tell them to get their butts moving.  I love when Lucy shares her morning breath with me, it sometimes smells just like Madeline’s did.  I love her giggle when I wake her, when she isn’t cranky.  That kid can be a bit of a terd at wake up… but even in her cranky she will ALWAYS kiss me goodbye.  She holds my hand and touches my cheek…

We burrow together and watch movies.  They lay on my chest, even if I am braless and they don’t even care.  We walk through the parking lots holding hands, for safety.  They perform elaborate performances, silly dances and sing songs that they try to mimic from the radio (sometimes in their underpants).  I am still the one they come to when they wonder about things… things they hear and want to know more about.  I am still the one they will deeply cry with, share embarrassments with and ask questions they don’t know who to ask. 

A few weeks ago, the girls and I went to one of their friend’s birthday parties, a party at a firehall with a karaoke machine.  No one was singing, no one would dance… I decided to just do it.  I made Lucy come out and twirl with me… to do our little ‘dancing with the stars’ bit.  I forced Amelia to dance and laugh and be silly.  I tried to get other little ones out there, some little, little ones joined us.  I most definitely danced to the Spice Girls with my ladies… and they weren’t even embarrassed.  Amelia tried to act like I wasn’t cool… but then seeing her laughing and giggling and not running away from me, I know that I was the coolest lady she loved. 

When will it change?

When will my girls stop wanting to hold my hand?  When will they stop kissing me in front of others?  When will my crazy extroverted self… embarrass them enough to ignore me or disown me?  What timeline am I looking at?  When do I become the one they need to separate from…

What will I do… what will I be?  I know I am so many things… mom, Erin, President of Maddie’s Mark, homemaker, Teacher Aid, Teacher Assistant, blogger, writer, self-proclaimed type B lady, ex-marathon runner, sister, daughter, friend… and a whole bunch more.  My most intense and important role is that of being a mom… what do I do when parts of that role change again… parts I don’t want to lose.  I know that motherhood never ceases or stops, even if our children die, but… it will all look so different again. 

What will I do… who will I be when they stop kissing me on the lips in the lobby at school.  What about when those girls don’t hold my hand?  What is it like when they are embarrassed by me when I get all crazy and silly?  What is the next step like…

Parenting is hard.  I have had a difficult relationship with parts of parenting… the world makes it look so easy and natural.  My most proud moments were looking at my three chicks God gifted me, in the middles of my Jeep buckled in safely and singing Justin Bieber.  In all of the hard I love holding their hands, kissing those perfect ladies and seeing them at their most vulnerable.  I have loved the hard and the easy in this parenting gig… even those stinky puking moments.  I even loved the wicked hard moments, even if it took time to know that. 

My brain today… wondered what about when this part changes?  What does the next part look like… what new roles will life hold for me as me, and me with my girls?  I know that asking does nothing, but living answers so much.  I know that my children get to grow and change, and that is a good thing.  Age is a gift.  Some only make it to 5 ½ years old… if you make it 15 or 29 or 40 or 52 or 75 you better have lived it up.  I get all of that.  I appreciate the growing and the changing… but I also miss the innocence.  I am fearing the missing of innocence, the missing of all of those things ‘when they were young’.  I think, for me, the hardest part of parenting is the moving forward and living on.

We look at the history of the world and we see time periods, I see the differences and the next stages.  Time is impersonal.  Life is personal.  Parenting is super personal.  Life is hard…

Part of me knows that I know I will be just fine, okay with all of the changes… we will all get used to the newness when my girls don’t want to hold my hand, or hear my ideas… or dance with me.  I also know it when it is gone… when my role changes it will be hard, painful and positive.  We will reach another layer in relationships, but reaching it means they let go of other layers. 

My heart is going to miss all of those connection moments, maybe more than my heart, my soul will miss it all.  I need to remember to love that missing… that is the parenting part.  I need to remember how special it is the have had these moments, these handholding moments.  I need to carry it. 

Today I watched my little Lucy swagger down the hall and wondered how long I had to have that moment… how long she would care if I was there at goodbye.  Goodbye is hard, hardest part of parenting, in every different way that goodbye fits.  I will miss the lack of hand holds, the lack of kisses on my cheek or lips… I will miss when my dancing is an embarrassment.  All these changes…

What will I do?

Live on.

Build better.

Dance embarrassingly anyway.

Kiss those girls on the forehead (once lips are a no)

Hold those hands when I can…

Smiles when life is crazy….

Who knows maybe this next part will be worthy of the missing that losing this part brings.  Life is a series of getting through layers and seasons, some are hard and I think some are easier (though I can.not.for.the.life.of.me remember an easy part)… all of it is worthy of the missing, worthy of the pain and the beauty.  I will remind my brain in these moments of sadness or future anxiety of just that… to miss those moments but love the next stage. 

Embrace Me.

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Last night I experienced something amazing and profound… empowering and real.  I was lucky enough to attend Embrace, a documentary created by the Body Image Movement.  I sat in a theater surrounded by women and some men who want to build better, love more and encourage self-love.  Our world is chock full of images and words and conversations… movies and models and articles… diets, bikinis, perfect… Photoshop.  It is scary really…

I saw beautiful women, who when asked how they would describe themselves, they used words like disgusting, gross, ugly, fat.  I saw these women and compared them to me… she was skinny and calling herself fat.  I heard the word disgusting and my heart hurt knowing that at that moment she believed this to be true about herself.

Our ideas about how we should look come from all around us… and what we see is building us to feel disgusting, to feel unworthy… what a scary world for my girls.

I, just like Taryn Bromfitt (advocate for the Body Image Movement), look at my girls and see light and beauty.  I see them as awesome human beings, beautiful in their own special ways… unlike others.  They are made to be just what they are… and I want to show them how to love themselves always and anyway.  I cringe thinking they may grow up and deliver a baby and hate their body.  I fear that they will care every moment if they look like an image of a model on a billboard.  I am terrified they will not know that they are worthy of being fully and wholly loved and accepted just the way they are.

I know the feeling of hating your body after giving birth… that wobbly icky belly that no longer had a baby in it.  I know what it is like to stand in the mirror and look at myself with complete disgust… I wish very much in those moments I could have known how freakin’ amazing my body was.  I know the feeling of preparing to go out to dinner and feeling unpretty, fat and unworthy of the compliments.  I knew I was fatter than I should be, always wanting to get smaller.  I would hide in pictures and honestly I wasn’t in many of them.  I was ashamed of my body…

I look back and can remember feeling ashamed of my body for as long as I can remember.  I don’t think I ever felt that my body was up to par of other girls.  I wasn’t skinny, I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t musical, I didn’t have any particularly awesome skills… I struggled with loving myself; I failed all.the.time.

What I have come to realize over there years, especially since Madeline died, is that life is short and important.  Life is meant to be experienced, with this very body that we have.  We get one body, we get one life…

I am regularly around beautiful women, women who build others, who work hard and take great care of their bodies.  Standing in the midst of those women, knowing that I am not as skinny as I wish I could be, or knowing that my butt is full of wobbly bits and my cheeks are puffy… I see all these beautiful women.  Some are slim, some are ripped, some pregnant- all are beautiful just as they are.  Every single woman in those rooms is mad about parts of her body, wishes to have a firmer butt, less wrinkles, no c-section tummy scar… wishing for better boobs- you know the kind that don’t look like to fed thousands of meals to your kiddos.  In a room of beauty and strength, each and every one of those ladies thinks and sees flaws and hates parts of her body.  We have all spent so much time thinking about how we should be, what we could be if we worked harder and ate less… if we gave up a little more.  We all do this…

After Madeline died I knew that somethings just didn’t matter anymore.  Some things others put on the top of their list were really not important in the grand scheme of things.  I am still very guilty of being hard on myself, of seeing my flaws and feeling less confidence.  I am also very positive about myself… I don’t want to be skinny.  I miss being fit, being strong.  I miss when I ran to clear my brain… and I look forward to that adventure again.  I do love me.  I know my body is enough… my body does amazing things.

My body builds my daughters- to be strong and kind and content and confident and smart.  My body takes care of my house pretty much all.by.myself.  My body changes the world, at least the little bit I can… helping families who need it and sharing Madeline to change it.  My body loves deeply, laughs fully and cares wholly.  My body moves… it has run a marathon and so many adventures.  My body is a miracle, its own miracle. 

I love my body for all of its miracle, though I still struggle to get over wishing it were smaller.  I watched that documentary last night and know all of those feelings.  I also know that it is a practice to love yourself- especially in a world full of warped images and ideas.

Embrace was eye opening and heartbreaking.  I wish for my daughters and for your children to grow less broken, more able to love their body just.as.it.is.  I definitely woke this morning with a positive energy beaming from last night.  Sitting in a room of so many, seeing and hearing those important messages was very empowering.  I am going to start doing my work, work to build this movement.  I know this is the way…

Today I went through pictures.  I wanted to see what I hated about me when I was younger.  I tried to find pictures of moments I remember feeling beautiful and happy.  I want to share these moments.  I remember the day of my sister’s bachelorette party, she asked for boudoir shots.  I was terrified.  I was shocked when I saw a picture of me that was so hard for me to do, to be almost naked in front of another person.  I saw those pictures and was shocked at how beautiful and brave I felt after that…

I want to share so many moments in my history… moments I felt disgusting and moments I felt beautiful and strong.

I ask you to follow the Body Image Movement and I highly recommend you see Embrace.  Let’s build better, let’s love ourselves always and anyways…

Life is hard and we can do hard things…

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day of gratefulness for all those who signed on to protect our country and help build it better and safer. Today I am grateful for my grandparents and my cousins, my uncles and my sister… and a lot more. I am grateful they gifted, and yes they gifted it, their time and youth and stories to take care of us in many different times. Their gift of taking a potentially deadly job with much less pay and very difficult conditions, high expectations and missing much of their normal family time has protected a country that I love being a part of. So many of us don’t even know how good we have it… great schools, refrigerators full of food, hospitals around the corner, churches we don’t have to be scared to attend, parks to play in and homes to snuggle into at night. We do have it good… Thank you Veterans for doing hard things for us ❤

This week these elections have brought out the WORST in so many people. It is a terrible site to see and try to explain it to my girls. I have read articles and seen news of protests that were really riots, and colleges that cancelled school for a day and bought their students pizza for them to grieve. I see this and it scares me. I feel that our times lack respect and accountability, they lack people who can’t handle loss and use their voice to spout hate.

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We are creating people who can’t do hard things. It’s hard to not get the president you want, I know. It’s hard to not win every game or election… it is hard. Life is freaking hard. It is exceptionally difficult and painful and heavy and sometimes terrible. Life is an uphill battle with lots of extra difficult challenges piled on. We need to be able to do hard things, really hard things. We need to be grownups who can do hard things, but we aren’t making that kind. Why not?

It isn’t our job to make it easier for our kids to do everything, to make the path smooth and challenge-free. Life doesn’t stay easy after we make it easy… we need to have the tools to get through it, over it, under it. We get those tools by living and seeing that we can do hard things. We don’t need college students who wake up mad that their candidate didn’t win and don’t go to class and learn and get better. We don’t need those kind of adults. I know some of you are going to tell me that we need to grieve, I get it, I have a firm handle on grief. Grief is one of those hard things, and in this case grieve and do your job. If that is college, do your job. If that is parenting, do your job. If that is teaching, do your job. If you are sad or mad about the outcome- go out with hope for success and build your part of this world better. It is a hard thing to do, to get up and move and live when you are sad about an outcome. Always remember we can do hard things.

Stop making life easy for our kids and students, life isn’t easy and it would be so boring if it were (think Mr. Rogers ‘If we were all the same’). Start giving our kids the tools they need to do hard things, to maneuver this world and their story the way they want. It is hard to not make it easy, but I assure you it will be worth it. Imagine what it felt like for our parents to see us do hard things, but then fast forward to my mom seeing me stay afloat when my daughter died and my marriage fell apart. I am sure she felt pride that she did a good job building me to do hard things. I don’t know why we as parents, in this generation want to make it smooth… stand strong and build better.

I hope to feel that pride in my parenting when my girls grow, when they take on parenting and I see them do hard things and build great people who can do hard things. I know it hurts to see my children fail or maneuver rocky paths, paths that I could smooth for them, but instead I stand back and offer tools, sometimes I cry because it hurts to see them hurt, but I keep doing my job- my part in building better people who can do hard things.